Time to call out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory

Mark Lynas speech hosted by the International Programs – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (50th Anniversary Celebration) , and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University

29 April 2013, 2.15pm ET

I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.

This matters enormously because these technologies – in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential – are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change.

I am a historian, and history surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue, irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples’ lives as a result.

This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.

I believe the time has now come for everyone with a commitment to the primacy of the scientific method and evidence-based policy-making to decisively reject the anti-GMO conspiracy theory and to work together to begin to undo the damage that it has caused over the last decade and a half.

On a personal note, let me explain why I am standing here saying this. Believe me, I would much prefer to live a quieter life. However, following my apology for my former anti-GMO activism at my Oxford speech in January, I have been subject to a co-ordinated campaign of intimidation and hate, mostly via the internet.

Even when I was at school I didn’t give in to bullies, and at the ripe old age of 40 I am even less inclined to do so now. Moreover, I have been encouraged by emails and other support from globally-renowned scientists who are experts on this issue, and who all said basically the same thing to me: ‘You think you’ve got hatemail? Welcome to my world’.

I think these scientists are the unsung heroes of this saga. They carried on with their important work and tried year after year to fight against the rising tide of misinformation, while people like me were belittling and undermining them at every turn. I won’t mention names, but they know who they are. Some of them are here today, and I would like to give them my deepest thanks.

So for me also there is also a moral dimension to this. The fact that I helped promote unfounded scare stories in the early stages of the anti-GMO movement in the mid 1990s is the reason why I now feel compelled to speak out against them. I have a personal responsibility to help put these myths to rest because I was so complicit in initially promoting them.

My activism, which I wrongly thought of at the time as being ‘environmental’, has done real damage in the world. For me, apologising was therefore only the beginning. I am now convinced that many people have died unnecessarily because of mistakes that we in the environmental movement collectively made in promoting anti-GMO fear. With that on your conscience, saying sorry and then moving on is not enough. Some restitution is in order.

Following a decade and a half of scientific and field research, I think we can now say with very high confidence that the key tenets of the anti-GMO case were not just wrong in points of fact but in large parts the precise opposite of the truth.

This is why I use the term conspiracy theory. Populist ideas about conspiracies do not arise spontaneously in a political and historic vacuum. They result when powerful ideological narratives collide with major world events, rare occasions where even a tiny number of dedicated activists can create a lasting change in public consciousness.

In the 1960s the conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s assassination reflected the profound feeling that there were shadowy people high up in the CIA and government who were subverting democracy, and fighting the Cold War by devious and deadly means. More recently, conspiracy theories about 9-11 reflected the hatred many on the political Left had for the Bush Administration.

Successful conspiracy theories can do real damage. In Nigeria an outbreak of Muslim conspiracy theorising against the polio vaccination campaign there led to a renewed polio outbreak which then spread to 20 other countries just when the disease was on the brink of being entirely eradicated.

In South Africa during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki the HIV/AIDS denialist myth became official government policy, just as the anti-GMO denialist myth is official European Union policy today. The result in South Africa was that hundreds of thousands of people were denied life-saving anti-retroviral treatments and died unnecessarily.

The anti-GMO campaign has also undoubtedly led to unnecessary deaths. The best documented example, which is laid out in detail by Robert Paarlberg in his book ‘Starved for Science’, is the refusal of the Zambian government to allow its starving population to eat imported GMO corn during a severe famine in 2002.

Thousands died because the President of Zambia believed the lies of western environmental groups that genetically modified corn provided by the World Food Programme was somehow poisonous. I have yet to hear an apology from any of the responsible Western groups for their role in this humanitarian atrocity.

Friends of the Earth was one of those responsible, and I note that not only has no apology been forthcoming, but Friends of the Earth Europe is still actively promoting GMO denialism in the EU in a new campaign called Stop the Crop. Check out their Youtube video to see how they have learned nothing in ten years.

Another well-known example is that of Golden Rice, genetically modified to contain high levels of beta carotene in order to compensate for the vitamin A deficiency which kills hundreds of thousands of children around the world and blinds many more every year. One study on the prospects for Golden Rice in India found that the burden of vitamin A deficiency could be reduced by 60%, saving 1.4 million healthy life years.

Here the actions of Greenpeace in forestalling the use of golden rice to address micronutrient deficiencies in children makes them the moral and indeed practical equivalent of the Nigerian mullahs who preached against the polio vaccine – because they were stopping a lifesaving technology solely to flatter their own fanaticism.

I think this campaign is shameful and has brought the entire environmental movement into disrepute, with damaging consequences for the very beneficial work that many environmentalists do. Greenpeace’s campaign against vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice should therefore be cancelled, and I call on everyone concerned about children’s health to lobby Greenpeace and demand that this happens immediately and without delay.

The anti-GMO campaign does not even have the benefit of intellectual coherence. If you truly think that herbicide-tolerant biotech crops are an evil plot by Monsanto to achieve a stranglehold on the entire world’s food supply, why would you also oppose all other non-patented and open-source applications of biotechnology, which have nothing to do with Monsanto, apparently without exception? This is like being against all computer software because you object to the dominant position of Microsoft Office.

On a logical basis only a case by case assessment makes sense for deciding how any technology might best be applied. So if you think that Bt corn is bad for US farmers, despite all the evidence to the contrary, it shouldn’t necessarily follow that you also have to ban virus-resistant papaya, or oppose a blight-resistant potato in Ireland.

This matters today more than ever because we are entering an age of increasingly threatening ecological scarcity. The planet is beginning to move outside the envelope of stable temperatures that we have enjoyed for 10,000 years, and into an age of instability and rapid change.

Within just a year from now, global CO2 concentrations will break through the crucial 400 parts per million boundary, marking a change is atmospheric chemistry that is unprecedented for at least 3 million years.

Moreover, we are now on a global emissions path which puts us on track for 4-5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100, a transformation which will leave this planet barely recognisable and considerably more hostile to human and other life.

But what about all those who say that global warming is a hoax, a product of thousands of scientists conspiring with governments and the UN to falsify temperature data and usher in a new age of global socialism?

Well, I’ve spent more than a decade arguing with climate sceptics, and in the end I fall back on a single killer argument: that if an overwhelming majority of experts say something is true, then any sensible non-expert should assume that they are probably right.

To make the point, here is the consensus position of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences on climate change:

“The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now.”

Oh, but wait – the AAAS has also released another statement of consensus science on another area concerning us today:

“The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe… The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

So, my suggestion today is that a sensible baseline position for environmentalists and indeed everyone else is to accept the consensus science in both these areas. Instead, you have the unedifying spectacle of so-called green groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists stoutly defending consensus science in the area of climate change, while just as determinedly undermining it in the area of biotechnology.

Tellingly, the UCS utilises the exact same techniques as climate sceptics in its enduring and strikingly unscientific campaign against GMOs: it issues impressive reports based on strategic cherry-picking and only referencing its ideological allies in a kind of epistemological closed-loop, it pushes the perspective of a tiny minority of hand-picked pseudo-experts, and it tries to capture and control the public policy agenda to enforce its long-held prejudices.

Many of the most influential denialists like those at the Union of Concerned Scientists sound like experts; indeed they may even be experts. Richard Dawkins tells a story about a professor of geology, who lectured and published papers about stratigraphy in hundred-million year old rocks whilst at the same time being a ‘young-earth’ creationist who really believed the world was only 6,000 years old. His pre-existing religious conviction simply overpowered his scientific evidence-based training.

An even more striking example is Peter Duesberg, the leading light in the AIDS denialist movement, who is a professor of cell biology at the University of California in Berkeley.

Many anti-vaccine campaigners, like Andrew Wakefield, started out as qualified medical professionals. This is why scientific consensus matters – it is the last line of defence we have against the impressive credentials and sciency-sounding language of those who are really on the lunatic fringe.

Speaking of the lunatic fringe, someone else who claims scientific credentials is Vandana Shiva, probably the most prominent Indian anti-biotechnology activist, who incidentally draws much larger audiences than this one to her fiery speeches about the evils of Monsanto and all things new in agriculture. Shiva tweeted after my Oxford speech that me saying that farmers should be free to use GMO crops was like giving rapists the freedom to rape.

That is obscene and offensive, but actually is not the half of it. Let me give you my all-time favourite Vandana Shiva quote, regarding the so-called terminator technology, on which she launches constant blistering attacks without once acknowledging the salient fact that it was never actually developed.

“The danger that the terminator may spread to surrounding food crops or the natural environment is a serious one. The gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans, from the planet”.

Now, I’ve said and done some pretty stupid things in my time, but this one takes some beating. You don’t need the intelligence of a Richard Dawkins or indeed a Charles Darwin to understand that sterility is not a great selective advantage when it comes to reproduction, hence the regular observed failure of sterile couples to breed large numbers of children.

As Shiva’s case so clearly shows, if we reject data-driven empiricism and evidence as the basis for identifying and solving problems, we have nothing left but vacuous ideology and self-referential myth-making. Indeed in many related areas, like nuclear power, the environmental movement has already done great harm to the planet, even as it has rightly helped raise awareness in other areas such as deforestation, pollution and biodiversity loss.

Science tells us today that the coming age of ecological scarcity extends much further than just global warming. If we wish to preserve a semblance of current biodiversity on this planet, for example, we must urgently curtail agricultural land conversion in rainforest and other sensitive areas.

This is why organic agriculture is an ecological dead-end: it is dramatically less efficient in terms of land use, so likely leads to higher rates of biodiversity loss overall. Maybe organic producers should be legally mandated to specify on labels the overall land-use efficiency of their products. I’m all in favour of food labelling by the way when it comes to something important that the consumer should have the right to know.

Of course conventional agriculture has well-documented and major environmental failings, not least of which is the massive use of agricultural fertilisers which is destroying river and ocean biology around the world. But the flip side of this is that intensive agriculture’s extremely efficient use of land is conversely of great ecological benefit.

For example, if we had tried to produce all of today’s yield using the technologies of 1960 – largely organically in other words – we would have had to cultivate an additional 3 billion hectares, the area of two South Americas.

We cannot afford the luxury of romanticised but inefficient agricultural systems like organic because the planet is already maxxed out in terms of both land and water. Our only option therefore is to learn to do more with less. This is known as sustainable intensification – it’s about improving the efficiency of our most ecologically scarce resources.

But remember, everything is changing. Food demand will inevitably skyrocket this half-century because of the twin pressures of population growth and economic development. We need to sustainably increase food production by at least 100% by 2050 to feed a larger and increasingly affluent global population.

This is where the eco-Malthusians tend to pop up, illustrating another uncomfortable aspect of the anti-GMO philosophy. Let me share with you a rather revealing quote I read just a couple of weeks ago on Yale 360, from the US environmental writer Paul Greenberg, where he is lamenting the supposed wrongs of genetically engineered salmon. But forget the fish – when it comes to humans he says the following:

“If we continue to bend the rules of nature so that we can provide more and more food for an open-ended expansion of humans on the planet, something eventually will have to give. Would you like to live in a world of 15 billion people? 20 billion? I would not. And while it’s possible you will label my response as New Age-ish, I feel that GE food distracts us from the real question of the carrying capacity of the planet.”

Well, I think that calling these sentiments New Age-ish is to give them far too much credit. I would actually call them misanthropic. What Greenberg seems to be suggesting here, as Paul Ehrlich did before him, is the denial of food to hungry people in order to prevent them breeding more children and contributing to overpopulation.

Luckily this modern-day Malthusianism is wrong in point of fact as well as by moral implication. Firstly, the human population is never going to reach 20 billion. Instead, it is forecast to peak at 9-10 billion and then slowly decline.

Secondly, although we are certainly heading for 9 billion people by mid-century, but that is not because people in poor countries are still having too many babies. The main reason is that children who are born today are much more likely to survive, and become parents themselves.

It is a little-known fact that the global average fertility rate is now down to about 2.4, not far above natural replacement of 2.1. So pretty much all the increased population growth to 2050 will come from more children surviving into adulthood.

And that is surely a good thing. I want to see child death rates in developing countries continue to plummet thanks to better healthcare, access to clean water and sanitation, and all the other benefits the modern world can and should bring to everyone.

No doubt like all of you, I also want to see an end to the scourge of hunger which today affects more people in an absolute sense than ever before in history. It is surely an abomination that in 2013 we can all go to bed each night knowing that 900 million other people are hungry.

This scourge affects children disproportionately – one third of child deaths are attributable to malnutrition. Among those who survive, nutrient deficiencies like iron, zinc and vitamin A can lead to cognitive impairment and other health problems, reducing a child’s life chances for his or her entire future.

It is a truism to say that people are hungry not because there is a global shortage of food in an absolute sense, but because they are too poor to afford to eat. But it is a dangerous fallacy to suggest therefore that because the world on average has enough food, we should therefore oppose efforts to improve agricultural productivity in food insecure countries.

In fact probably the best way to address rural poverty is to ensure that subsistence farmers the world over enjoy more reliable and increasingly productive harvests. This will enable them both to feed their own families and to generate a surplus to sell at a profit so their children can go to school.

Is genetic modification a silver bullet way to achieve this? Of course not. It cannot build better roads or chase away corrupt officials. But surely seeds which deliver higher levels of nutrition, which protect the resulting plant against pests without the need for expensive chemical inputs, and which have greater yield resilience in drought years are least worth a try?

And real-world evidence so far gives grounds for optimism. The use of Bt cotton in China has been shown to dramatically improve biodiversity, unlike broad-spectrum insecticides which kill everything, pests and predators alike. The Bt protein only affects the insects which bore into the crop, is entirely safe for us, and has led to insecticide reductions of 60% in China and 40% in India on cotton.

The introduction of Bt brinjal in India, a project which I know people here in Cornell were closely involved in leading, would have dramatically reduced insecticide poisonings associated with that crop too, had the anti-GMO activists in India not succeeded in preventing its use.

India today seems to be perched on a scientific knife-edge, with a vociferous lobby pushing dark-age traditionalism on the brink of permanently capturing the entire political and legal agenda. If they succeed, hundreds of millions of food-insecure Indians will be the losers.

In Africa too there are a multitude of western-funded NGOs who all claim to be mysteriously protecting biodiversity by keeping cultivated plant genetic improvements permanently out of the continent. In many African countries GMOs are subject to the same kind of de-facto ban as is the case in Europe, leaving poorer farmers at the mercy of a changing climate and exhausted soils.

However, a showdown is looming, because some of the most exciting biotechnology initiatives are now based in African countries. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is putting substantial funding into these efforts – such as improved maize for poorer African soils, a project which is looking to get yield increases of 50% even where fertiliser is not available or the farmer cannot afford to buy it.

There’s also the public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa, using biotech to produce drought tolerant corn specifically for African smallholders facing the challenges of a changing climate. There’s C4 rice, aiming to improve the photosynthetic capacity of rice and thereby dramatically increase yields.

Another Gates-funded project is based at the John Innes Centre in the UK and aims by 2017 to have cereal crops which fix their own nitrogen available for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. The list goes on: there’s biofortified cooking bananas in East Africa, and cassava fortified with iron, protein and vitamin A in Nigeria and elsewhere.

I haven’t finished! There’s resistance to cassava brown streak disease, which is currently spreading rapidly and threatens the staple crop for two out of every five people in sub-Saharan Africa.

And of course transgenic technology focused on conferring wheat rust resistance at the molecular level to head off the threat of a global pandemic which could otherwise threaten one of humanity’s most important staple foods.

But if the activists have their way, none of these improved seeds will ever leave the laboratory. And this brings me, by way of conclusion, to the essentially authoritarian nature of the anti-GMO project.

All these activists, strikingly few of whom are themselves smallholder farmers in Africa or India, claim to know exactly which seeds developing country farmers should be allowed to plant. Those which are not ideologically approved by self-appointed campaigners should be banned forever.

The irony here is that predominantly left-wing activists, who are supposedly so concerned about corporate power, are determined to deny the right to choose to the most powerless people in the world – subsistence farmers in developing countries. In fact, this is more than an irony – it is a cruelty. And it is a cruelty which must stop, and stop now.

HG Wells is often quoted as saying that civilization is a race between education and catastrophe. The New Yorker writer Michael Specter, who wrote a great book about anti-science movements called ‘Denialism’, updates this, writing that civilisation is a race between innovation and catastrophe.

This is surely no more true than today, when civilisation is genuinely threatened by the twin catastrophes of climate change and ecological scarcity colliding with vastly greater food demand from a larger and wealthier population.

The solution is the same one that it always was – innovation – the uniquely human capacity to produce new tools which has saved our species so many times before from apparently inevitable Malthusian collapses. Therefore if we reject innovation now of all times we make catastrophe not just likely but probably inevitable.

This was indeed the warning the great Norman Borlaug left us with before he died. To quote:

“If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

In the final assessment only way that conspiracy theories die is because more and more people begin to wake up to reality and reject them. Then perhaps there comes a tipping point where what was once received wisdom becomes increasingly understood for the foolish nonsense that it always was.

I think – I hope – that we are close to this tipping point today. And now, with just a little extra push, we can all join in consigning anti-GMO denialism to the dustbin of history where it belongs.


  1. Jim Bell says:

    Genetic Engineering

    Hey, the world’s a crazy place. The human creature is endowed with infinite cleverness and almost zip wisdom.

    Genetic engineering is the latest example of this. But unlike past manifestations of our cleverness, genetic engineering represents the first time in history where human decisions have the potential to change life on our planet forever.

    I see a pattern here.

    The pesticides and toxic waste we’ve created and continue to release into our life support system will take tens and potentially hundreds of generations to be rendered harmless to human and other life.

    With nuclear power, we’ve created and continue to release radioactive materials into our life support system that will take thousands if not hundreds of thousands of generations to become safe for unprotected human exposure.

    Now comes genetic engineering with potentially infinite consequences.

    Given our track record up to now, I don’t believe that the human family is yet conscious enough to be trusted with making potentially forever decisions.

    Especially considering some people are:

    So insane for money and power that they are capable of doing anything to impose their agenda on the world.
    So sure they are doing God’s will that they will do anything to impose their religious agenda on others.
    So sure that their ideology is correct that they will do whatever they deem necessary to impose their worldview on the rest of us.
    And even when our motives are pure, intelligent, democratic, and totally dedicated to improving the common good, who among us has the wisdom to fully comprehend the ultimate consequences of releasing self-replicating organisms of human creation into our common environment, however noble our motives?

    I’m not saying that we should abandon our quest for knowledge in this or any other area.

    I’m insisting that for the sake of our youth and future generations, that wisdom and its partner humility should be foremost in our minds and hearts before we choose to unleash whatever our cleverness makes possible.

    The human family has lived at least 100,000 generations, each generation being 33 years (enough time for a human to reproduce and raise their child to adulthood). Our job is to ensure that we leave the next 100,000 generations with a healthy, happy, functional world.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Tell me, have you actually *read* this speech? Or have you come merely to trot out the same old platitudes and stale arguments that bedevil this debate without attempting to engage with it? Yes, we have potentially ‘infinite consequences’ in biotech but as human beings we also have the ability to innovate and to be able to discriminate good from bad applications of technology.

      Well, some of us, at least. The rest of us fall back on trotting out the same old tired arguments appealing to ‘God’s Will’ or more frequently, ‘Mother Nature’ without actually thinking about what they’re saying. It makes them sound clever, even if they aren’t.

    • GMOrderly says:

      The irony is that Mark talks about the haters who have set upon him as a result of his apology, and here virtually anyone who disagrees with his perspective are set upon in a very similar fashion. Clyde derides Jim’s comments accusing him of not reading the speech in the first place, taking a page from Internet Trolling 101. Dave dismisses Jim’s comments out of hand as “hyperbole”. I fail to see how this is helping to establish a rational, civilized discussion on scientific matters of great importance to humanity.

      Personally, I also don’t see how Jim’s comments are worthy of derision in this manner. Where I live, within a few hundred miles there are more examples of human folly in each area that Jim mentions above than I could count offhand. Nuclear waste and by products have been released in spite of planning and oversight and no reasonable motivation to allow storage to fail. This leading to cover up for decades, then giving way to evidence of significant and officially recognized, elevated levels of cancer in humans “downstream” from the sites. Foreign species transplanted with good intentions by authorities to resolve environmental issues now out of control and arguably worse than the original concerns. Areas that were formerly inhabited now abandoned due to toxins, with massive investments in simply trying to contain the poisons, with clean up and restoration little more than pipe dreams. The list goes on…

      If those aren’t warnings to humanity, then what do you make of them? Because to me, ignoring our past mistakes is like handily winning the Human Stupidity Challenge, taking first place from people who fear what they don’t understand. At least the latter can claim ignorance, and possibly educate themselves – the former have chosen to ignore reality in spite of their education and otherwise intelligent views of the world.

      Remember Oppenheimer, if you will, and his surprise and horror at what was done with his work.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Trolling? I merely observed that someone who could produce such a formulaic diatribe didn’t seem like anyone who had actually read Mark’s speech, which goes into a detailed rebuttal of several anti-GMO arguments.
      By all means let’s hear contrary opinions, but let’s have an informed debate which actually addresses the issues being raised.

    • Stanley the mechanic says:

      How many assholes on the planet….lots…so let’s just destroy it all…after all, who wants things to be as they should be…let’s just destroy ourselves and have done with it…engineers, architects, lawyers, politicians…what a joke…I’ll be laughing when it all comes to a halting end.

    • Mike Bendzela says:

      Baseless hyperbole, Jim.

    • Jim Bell says:

      Then why didn’t you run my whole comment?

    • “Hey, the world’s a crazy place. The human creature is endowed with infinite cleverness and almost zip wisdom.”

      This post is interesting, in part because it shows exactly the kind of vague fears with little substantive arguments behind them that has led to opposition to GMO food and nuclear power in the first place.

      I’ve never quite understood arguments like “we’re releasing toxins into the environment.” It’s almost like the word “toxins” has become the modern-day equivalent of the word “demons.”

      Yes, there are things which are toxic. Not all of them are man-made; nature provides plenty of toxins herself, from arsenic to belladonna plants, and yet somehow we survive.

      Especially baffling is the complaint that nuclear power creates things that are toxic for hundreds or thousands of years. Things like arsenic are toxic *forever*. Why are we more afraid of radiation than we are of any of the millions of naturally occurring or man-made toxins that persist until the heat death of the universe? Why is “toxic for hundreds of years” scary to us but “toxic for the rest of eternity” is not? Something weird, and completely irrational, is happening here.

    • george puharich says:

      It seems you are indeed one of those who would go to any lengths to impose your values and opinions on the rest of us.

      “I have met the enemy…and it is us!”

    • Tom says:

      “Have you seen Caveman Ug’s new invention? He’s made logs really hot, that release smoke. He says we should put dead animal bits on his hot logs and then eat them”

      “Hey, the world’s a crazy place. The human creature is endowed with infinite cleverness and almost zip wisdom.
      Can’t you imagine the ways this could go wrong? What if it is uncontrollable, and all the trees become ‘hot’ and turn to ash? What if there’s something in the hot logs that poisons the food?”

      Please, people say that to every new thing that comes along. Please go live in a hole and stop trying to force everyone to live in your silly, idealistic past. You are exactly what Mark means by the Neo-Malthusians bringing about their own prophecies.
      Since you have the internet, I imagine you also have more than enough food.
      Who are you to tell a starving farmer that he cannot have enough food to feed his children and ensure they grow up without permanent scarring from vitamin deficiy?
      Who are you to tell a Chinese cotton farmer that in order to make enough money eat, he has to pour chemicals on his crops that are slowly killing him, rather than simply plant Bt crops?
      etc etc

      Yes, GM, like any technology, has drawbacks and can be misused by megacorps (Roundup Ready anyone?), but so can any technology.
      Should we stop using cephalosporin because one of my siblings is deathly allergic, or electricity since idiots stick forks in sockets, or hydro-electric since the Chinese government has some rather dubious planning permission legislation?

      Simply put, GM is needed to feed the planet, what with climate change, population growth and preserving as much biodiversity as is possible. So unless you want to volunteer for euthanasia….

    • Jim Bell, your point is that something might go wrong with any new technology. Has it occurred to you that something will surely go wrong with only old technology. What, for example, will be the consequence of turning away from yield increases? Can we be sure that population will limit itself? If it doesn’t, then the land use required for all the extra food translates into habitat loss for every species except our crops and domestic animals. Don’t you feel some degree of arrogance about making us all take a chance on that?

    • Scott says:

      I see that myopic view a lot. So I don’t criticize you for taking it. But agriculture doesn’t have to automatically destroy the environment and biodiversity. Sure the conventional model does, but most organic models actually can improve both, especially if the organic model is based on biomimicry.
      Secondly organic models actually usually outproduce conventional once the land is healed. Some start outproducing conventional right away.
      Thirdly, so far, GMO’s haven’t increased production of food at all. They may increase profit, they may help in other ways, they may even have a good year here and there, but average yields are not higher. At least not yet. The talk about increased yields either is potential, or in some cases creative accounting.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Sorry Scoot, your assertion that GM crops don’t increase yields is simply not true. Read the report at http://www.surrey.ac.uk/ces/files/pdf/04-13%20Morse_Mannion_GM%20Crops.pdf . Particularly the section which reports resource-poor Indian farmers seeing a 31% increase in their yields of cotton.

    • Scott says:

      First of all I said food, not cotton.
      Second of all you haven’t seen the new figures showing an equal or greater decline in productivity in GMO cotton in India due to sucking insects (unaffected by Bt) and new resistant insects? I said average long term, not temporary gains or losses short term.


    • Clyde Davies says:

      Yes, you’re quite right, you did say food, and not cotton. But if you read that report further, you’ll see that in fact, GMOs have increased food production as well. Soybean alone saw an increase in yields of 55.6 million tonnes in the decade leading up to 2006: that’s 20%. As the report goes on to say: “Most increases are the result of pest reduction which curtails field losses and a further advantage has emerged in soybean production areas in Argentina and Paraguay where it has been possible to adopt ‘no-tillage’ cultivation i.e. direct seed drilling combined with fertilizer application instead of ploughing. This is advantageous because soil erosion is curtailed, water and energy are conserved and carbon storage in the soil is maintained. Such practice has reduced the overall production cycle for soybean to such an extent that land used for wheat production can now be double cropped with soy bean. ”

      So your statement is simply wrong. GMOs have increased yields. Period.

    • Tony says:

      The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on GE yields, in 2009:


      This isn’t the only article I found that questions the hype of the biotech industry.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Well, I read that report. Then I went on to read, a few pages down, the article “Manganese Nutrition of Glyphosate-Resistant and Conventional Soybeans…
      Setting the Record Straight” by the same author. In the abstract he states ‘The recent article (April 20, 2008) by Environment Editor Geoffrey Lean in the British newspaper The Independent (>linklink<), shows that “genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops”, further
      stating that my work “has found that GM soya produces about 10 percent less food than its conventional equivalent.” These statements, among other assertions in Mr. Lean’s article, are ripe for clarification. This brief piece is my attempt to set the record straight before the perversion of my research findings and the resulting backlash go any further. '

      Hmmm. he then goes on to say "As for the statement in The Independent that my work shows that “genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops”, consider first and foremost that the experiment was not designed to address this question. For example, plots for both varieties were worked over by hand to remove weeds, as we were interested in only studying the effect of Mn on the experiment and not on the effect of weeds in the
      crop. Furthermore, the claim that GM soybeans produce 10% less yield than conventional is misleading, in that when the lowest rate of Mn
      was applied to GR soybeans there was no yield difference
      between the two."

      Finally he says ". It is important here to note that this was a very high yielding environment where all other plant nutrients were adequate and irrigation
      was available, and that most soybeans worldwide are grown in more moderate yielding environments. So, simply put, it is inappropriate to use the results of my work to make these broad-brush claims."

      It is very simple to cherry pick results that suit your narrative and furthermore quote those results out of context to as to shore up your own position on an issue. This is why it's best to look at *all* the results, preferably in the form of a metal-analysis or systematic review. This is effectively what the Mannion paper did. You even call it 'systems thinking', I suppose.

    • Scott says:

      Actually I wasn’t cherry picking at all. In fact I chose that link precisely because it included the rebuttal. This way it would be a fair presentation and in context. Believe me I could have given to a link that said basically the same thing without the rebuttal. That went viral. There are hundreds of pages with the bare claim and no rebuttal. I actually had to look hard to find a link WITH the rebuttal.

      Point still remains. On average the increase in GMO productivity claims for food are a myth. Even your claim isn’t a yield per acre, but only a total yield, 2 very different things. In general standard breeding techniques of hybridization and introgression lines etc.. are what increase productivity of crop cultivars, not GMOs.

      Maybe one day they might significantly help, but that is an unknown future.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Listen, mate, I am pretty much on the same page as you on this issue. I happen to think that organic agriculture – as you practice it, the science based approach instead of the pseudo-mystical bollocks of the Soil Association – has a huge amount to offer us. But I *also* think that GMOs have an incredible amount of promise and in certain cases, such as combatting VAD, it’s crime that they haven’t been used already.

      Very few technologies work perfectly the first time, and the argument used by GM detractors that they don’t and therefore shouldn’t be abandoned would still see us using horses and carts to get around and lighting our homes with tallow candles. Second and third generation GM crops, which benefit the environment and consumers as well as the producers have been slow to materialise but this is almost certainly due in large part to the ridiculous regulatory burdens that have come about largely through tendentious campaigning by NGOs. ‘Unprofitable’ products don’t get to see the light of day.

      The answer, I feel, is one based on *science* first, middle and last of all. Take a long cool dispassionate look at the challenged we and the environment will face. Come up with some ideas that might work: a combination of science-based organic farming and second generation GMOs, such as say the Rothamsted wheat approach that repels aphids rather than killing them, and apply them to situations that will need new approaches, such as those Indian cotton farmers who having dealt with bollworm are now suffering from a plague of sucking insects. We are quite capable of doing this, being a very bright species, and devising a new hybrid agriculture that benefits producers, consumers and the environment. The only thing standing in our way is *dogma*.

    • Break says:

      Those were wise words Jim, thanks!

      Now to all of you, why don’t we join our forces and do a real world test?

      The group of silly guys and gals opposing GM-food (to which I belong) will from now on only eat organic old-fashioned nature-bred food. And to make matters harder on us and take the GMO proponents reasoning that organically grown food “could never feed the whole world” into consideration, we will eat 20% less than modern science tells us we should. OK?

      The group of GM-proponents will no longer touch any traditionally grown food and will only feed themselves with genetically modified food, this including meat from animals fed with GM fodder and/or feed. For this group the portions will be normal. Agreed?

      If there’s really nothing wrong with genetically modified food than we’d find out, wouldn’t we? We’d all be healthy although the silly bunch a bit skinnier of course. ;-)

      You know, my bet is that most GM proponents aren’t stupid enough or just wouldn’t have the balls to agree to this test…


    • Clyde Davies says:

      I have read some stupid suggestions in my time but this one takes the biscuit. Are you seriously suggesting that one group eat a balanced diet whereas the other eat nothing but meat, maize, soya and canola? Regardless of whether these foodstuffs contained GMOs or not, the diet would be incredibly unhealthy and people would start to suffer.

      Come back when you have some less ridiculous suggestions, would you?

    • Scott says:

      You’d be able to eat golden rice and Papaya too. :-) Oh and that blue tomato! hahaha

      You’d probably be OK. What’s the odds of you tuning into a giant blueberry like Violet after trying an experimental piece of Three-Course-Dinner Gum? LOLZ

    • Clyde Davies says:

      If I eat nothing but the golden rice and the blue tomatoes, will that mean I’ll turn green?

    • Bahadir Aral says:

      It is crazy that in current highly possible runaway global warming situation people who are knowing global warming problem, can advocate GMOs. And same people still believe that humans are clever!
      Why do we have global warming and climate change? Because humans developed new technologies to extract and use fossil fuels by ignoring all possible side effects and started to use these technologies immediately. From the beginning humans have known that burning of fossil fuels emits CO2. First they totally ignored emissions. Then they realized that CO2 is accumulated in the atmosphere.Then they ignored the significance of it. Later they found that it is significant. Then they ignored all possible negative impacts. Later they found that it has catastrophic negative impacts. Then they believed that they could adapt them. Later they found that they can’t adapt all negative impacts and if they continue to emit then humans will die by side effects of CO2 global warming and ocean acidification. Now! Let’s stop emitting CO2 but it is too difficult to stop because in this time period humans become so addictive to fossil fuels that now they can’t stop to using them. Solution Lets ignore all and continue to use fossil fuels, hope that everything will be fine.
      For GMO. Did anyone really studied side effects of GMOs. on ecosystem and human health? NO! Lets ignore side effects until some other finds. Then ignore their significance until some other proves. Then ignore its negative impacts until some others clearly shows. Then tell people we can adapt them until some others finds that we can’t. Then tell people that it is too late, we are addictive to GMOs, we can’t stop using them and everything will be fine.
      Any clear specie first analyses profoundly all possible side effects of a newly developed technologies before start to use them even if it takes hundreds years to finish the analysis because dangers associated with known and unknown side effects can be more important than benefits in the long term. Current methodology of humans, lets start use new technologies immediately after inventing without considering side effects is suicidal in the long run. It will drive all humans to extinction.

    • Brian says:

      Are you going to volunteer your descendants to be the ones who reduce the population so that we can feed the others? Or have you worked out how they are going to be fed?

      Because I can tell you one thing. The Nay-sayers have a great deal of political activist power invested in this “save the poor helpless starving people” industry and they don’t want it interfered with by people who can actually help the helpless become self sufficient. What would the “save the starving children in Africa” groups do if there weren’t starving children to take pictures. Who would fund their trips all over the world then?

      PS. I am only this cynical because I have been there and I have seen some of the forces as work. And it isn’t what you might always think.

      PPS. Mark, Damn good article. Spot on in almost every respect. Truly terrifying but it needs to said, over and over again.


    • Hi, Jim.

      Just read your post – words of wisdom indeed.

      It’s also worth reflecting that many of the arguments for GM food are directly analogous with the arguments for the exotic financial instruments that turned out to be toxic. In other words, if the analogy holds, GM food will increase the ‘boom and bust’ nature of agriculture beyond our means to control it.

      The problem being, instead of people losing jobs, homes, access to public services, etc – they’ll simply starve.

      Worth reading:


    • Todd says:

      Edward: You DO realize that the Daily Mail is a tabloid, right? That’s akin to using Weekly World News or The National Enquirer or even The Onion as a source. It actually argues against your case.

    • EvilEdd says:

      I didn’t mention the Mail.

    • EvilEdd says:

      Apologies, it’s been a while since I posted the original comment – thought you were referring to a different post.

      Re The Mail – yeah, I must admit I find myself surprised to be quoting from that particular rag; but the content is surely not too difficult to refute or confirm.

  2. Francisco G Nobrega says:

    Again a very good article concerning GM crops. Forgot to point one crucial aspect: the opposition is fueled by the stupid and anti-scientific regulations enacted by governments under the happy eye of the food giants to attain one main objective: make the technology very expensive in the absence of any route to risk in terms of the biology involved. This will benefit the giants of biotech, pratically removing any competition from university and small entrepreneurs. The general justification for any irrational action since the early 90´s is the “precautionary principle”. This state of affairs suits also, the Dark age opposition that always requires more irrelevant tests as the Séralini paper and parallel campaign require nowadays.
    As I said before to Lynas, I do not believe the catastrophic human made climate change conjecture. Unassigned general statements by scientific bodies, even venerable ones, have a clear undertone of politics and are no substitution for the hard facts. Unfortunately we will have to wait a lot more to have this clear up.
    [MD PhD working at the Brazilian GMO clearinghouse]

    • Mark Gubrud says:

      You may have credentials yourself but you are taking the kind of contrarian position, rejecting the scientific consensus view, that Lynas properly rails against.

      The consensus view is that transgenics are not harmful or dangerous per se. But the technology does have the possibility of creating things that are harmful. It is therefore reasonable to have a certain level of regulation and caution, not only for public safety but for the health of the industry lest a few dramatic accidents (the bio equivalent of TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima) result in shutting down the industry for good. (I’m not saying there is much likelihood of a Chernobyl or Fukushima-scale biotech disaster that results from an accident. But accidents could have a comparable political impact, and intentional misuse could have comparable or greater actual impact.)

      On the other hand, climate disruption due to CO2 and other anthropogenic gas levels is completely clear and a matter of scientific consensus. There is some doomsday hyperbole suggesting there’s nothing we can do about it, but there is no question about the fact that it is a serious challenge which requires a huge commitment to meet and that will have catastrophic consequences if we ignore it.

      This is what the consensus science says. Now, consensus science isn’t always right, and it can be distorted by institutional biases. But it’s the best we have, and by now it’s pretty good. The institutional biases are increasingly obvious in the modern world, and there is enough communication and enough scientific activity that with a good faith effort an intelligent person can usually come to a confident conclusion on big ideological controversies like these. One side is doing science, the other is denying.

  3. Leo smith says:

    I am ambivalent. I neither hold with the view that GM foods are inherently dangerous, nor that they are necessarily a force for the public good.

    The problem is as with all these issues where billions are at stake is who to trust?

    • J-Walt says:

      (this response replaces my previous response, in which I belatedly found poor grammar!)

      Technology is neutral, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ambivalent.

      You can read about the successes that GM crops have already achieved, and you support those who are doing worldwide good with them, by reducing starvation, famine, malnutrition, and environmental destruction. For instance, Norman Borlaug was an outspoken proponent of GM foods. His work in the field of genetic engineering had already saved over a billion lives by 1970. That’s at least 1,000,000,000 people who didn’t starve to death because we were eating newer, more productive, more disease-resistant crops.

      Does the anti-GMO camp know about his work? Do they care? Do they listen to what he had to say about GM foods? No. If they know about Borlaug at all, they dismiss it out-of-hand.

      On the other side, you can also look at the anti-GMO literature. Can you find any evidence that people are being poisoned by GMOs? No, you can not. Instead, you just find ignorant fear-mongering by people pushing a fundamentalist “food religion” on the world.

      You just have to get beyond the hype and do a little bit of research. You’ll find pretty quickly who you can trust to do good. They’re the people who are already doing good.

    • Pseudonym says:

      There is an important point here, which I think is very important to acknowledge. There are actually two distinct groups opposed to GMO foods, and their arguments are different.

      One group is the “bad food” group, who believe that GMO foods are under-tested or somehow unsafe.

      The other group is the “bad economics” group, who believe that GMO foods are probably as safe as any other kind of food, but have a problem with big agribusiness and big seed companies monopolising food and suing farmers for carrying out normal farming practices.

      Both groups of course sometimes move over into conspiracy theory territory. I think the fault here is partly that the “bad food” also adopt “bad economics” arguments, and partly that the “bad economics” group fail to see the big picture.

      The big picture, of course, is that it’s not just GMO foods that are the problem here. There is a general problem with lobbyists and political corruption, and also with abuse of the patent system to sue small competitors (e.g. farmers who choose not to buy GM seed) out of the market. And agribusiness and GMO seed companies are just acting rationally in a dysfunctional economic environment.

      So that’s what really needs to be fixed, not GMO foods.

    • Leo smith says:

      Thanks Pseudonym: that clarifies things. I certainly don’t hold with the former view, but I am suspicious of the high pressure marketing and drive to monopoly of many of the large commercial companies.

      AS for organic farming …”The deserts of Iraq and the middle east are the result of 10,000 years of organic framing”…:-)

    • Scott says:

      Impossible. Organic farming started in the 1940′s. It has developed from there on.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      So what exactly were people fertilizing their crops with prior to the invention of the Haber-Bosch process? Verbal manure?
      What you mean is that ‘organic agriculture’ as specified by the Steiner movement didn’t exist before 1940. But people were doing it well before then.

    • Scott says:

      Check out the Haughley Experiment started in 1939 by Lady Eve Balfour and Alice Debenham, that should give you an idea. It was the very first scientific comparative study of organic farming and conventional chemical-based farming.

    • Scott says:

      Because the founders of organic agriculture were Sir Albert Howard and Gabrielle Louise Caroline Howard, both formally trained scientists. The Steiner movement was biodynamic, not organic. Biodynamic was full of pseudoscience and spiritualism, organic is scientific. Basically if you remove all the pseudo science from biodynamic, you get a form of agriculture that Howard called organic, and organic has progressed since then as science has progressed.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      So putting aside mysticicsm and psuedoscience, and concentrating on the scientific foundations of organic agriculture, give me one cogent reason why GM crops and organic agriculture are incompatible. And by ‘cogent’ I don’t mean ‘ideological’.

    • Scott says:

      I personally don’t believe they are incompatible. Ask Mark Lynas. He is one of the ignorant eco hippy types that got them banned from organic in the first place. I was against that ban.

      Mark has admitted his ignorance of the time, and partially corrected that mistake. Now if he could just educate himself on the real benefits of organic and promote that instead.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      The kind of agriculture that we’d want to see would probably combine the best aspects of organic and biotech. But let’s not pretend, like some groups do, that one side has a monopoly on the answers. And let’s not behave, like some *other* groups, by trashing other people’s ideas without coming up with any answers of our own.

      I think Mark’s main concern is that organic agriculture is being promoted as a panacea. It isn’t mainly because nothing promoted as such ever lives up to the hype. And that goes for GM too. There will be effective and not so effective applications of both, but practitioners have to be given the license to experiment and to make mistakes…on the understanding that they learn by them.

    • Leo smith says:

      Finally a rational non emotive comment.

      Exactly. Genetic engineering is something we now can, in a limited way do.

      The question is what should we do with it? Of itself it could be used to – for example – find new ways to create organisms that create medicines. Or genetically engineer a virus that kills half the world.

      There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about biotech. Its what its used FOR. dynamite ad other high explosives allowed us to kill thousands on the battlefield and also to tunnel through mountains.

      Its is this naive and silly labelling of whole technologies as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that is so pernicious and so childlike. And its done because people have their own private emotional narratives about the world, caste in terms of cartoon figures of Good and Evil, and every single thing has to be fitted into one or the other characteristic likes some mediaeval Christian morality play.

      Grow up chaps. The only think more stupid than not thinking through the possible negative impacts of GM crops is tarring them with a black brush and neglecting to investigate the possibilities at all.

      I am sick to death of people arguing from whatever position supports their limited concept of what the world is, and selecting just the evidence and the spin that props up their worldviews, so they can pat themselves on the back and say ‘there: I was right’

      In my experience, thats is the quickest way to ensure you are in fact wrong.

    • Scott says:

      Panacea? Well “organic” describes a whole host of methods, some better than others. So by definition organic cant be called a panacea.

      But I do think that the basis for organic is the solution for agriculture in that it incorporates systems thinking instead of reductionism, cycles instead of single product systems

      I have always been able to use organic methods to out produce conventional. But the interesting thing for me is watching over the last 30 years while conventional BMP gradually and slowly, but consistently, adopt more and more of the methods developed by organic innovators. The two types of agriculture are actually merging. You are correct there.

    • Leo, whom to trust is a good question. Assuming we don’t make the investment of effort to understand the arguments, I have one second-best rule that works pretty well. Whenever a subject is controversial, there are going to be some valid points on both sides so when someone is 100% convinced of only one side, that is probably a propagandist who you can’t trust. So, for example, Lynas mentions Vandana Shiva. She has opposed “golden rice”, the non-existent terminator seeds, using food aid to famine victims, etc. Whatever good thing you might say about genetic engineering, you can be absolutely sure that she will disagree. Therefore she is a propagandist.

      On the other hand, I learned a great deal about the environmental dangers of GMO agriculture from the writings of Jane Rissler. She would have to be counted as a GMO opponent but she acknowledges the successes and shows appreciation for the caution that has been taken to avoid environmental problems. So I think I can trust her.

    • JReagan says:

      You should probably go for the side that’s actually based in science.

    • Mike says:

      Is there some reason that people have to always generalize GM and genetic engineering, when the topic of concern is transgenic crops? I’m referring to you, J-Walt

  4. Kevin Folta says:

    @Jim Bell . I’m sorry that you have such a negative view on the accomplishments of our human family. To me, I see it the other way around. Like you, I see us as remarkably clever, but I think we are somewhat wise. Where we don’t foresee a problem, we correct it, and learn from it.

    The one instrument and technology that has changed the world the most is attached to that keyboard in front of you now. We are now instantly connected, interactive, learning together. Health care has brought our life spans to new highs with amazing new diagnostic methods and improved therapies. I could go on and on about how the human family has been a brilliant steward of technology.

    There are bumps in that road. Use of nuclear weapons has been widely decried. Environmental disasters like DDT and others were halted, we learned, we corrected. Rivers once dead are alive. We make decisions with a consciousness that was not there years ago. We have a long way to go, but I think technology helps us be better caretakers of the planet.

    There are successes. Nuclear power serves many in a carbon-free manner. DNA-based technologies now help diagnose and treat disease. We put a man on the moon 40 years ago. C’mon, this is good stuff.

    We also have unprecedented means to predict and test for adverse effects of our technology. Genetic engineering is hardly a new science. We know more about how it works and its effects than ever. Our ability to detect problems, were they to occur, is amazing.

    So unlike you I feel that our track record as a civilization is pretty awesome. Our handle on technology is great and the benefits massively outweigh risks.

    Where we fail is in the deployment of technology. How can we use technology to get food, medicines, water, fuels to those that desperately need it? Once that is satisfied, how do we get them connected with educational resources and the best information?

    Our job is to ensure that we leave the next 100,000 generations with a healthy, happy, functional world. Health, happiness and function will come from our understanding and implementation of science and technology.

    • Alex Pournelle says:

      Of course, the DDT ban killed (and continues to kill) tens of millions of human beings, particularly in Africa, so perhaps that’s not the best example of an “environmental disaster” one might use.

  5. Keith Reding says:

    @Francisco G Nobrega
    you are incorrect that the food companies one main objective is to make the technology very expensive in the absence of any route to risk in terms of the biology involved. Have you ever read any of these companies public comments on regulations? Their goal is to have resonable regulations to ensure public safety. Food companies continually argue against unnecessary regulations. It is the anti-technology organization that misinform to scare the public and lobby for increased regulations. There are the ones keeping the technology out of the hands of more companies by making the cost of regulatory approvals financially unobtainable to most. It is also why the majority of the technology focuses on the big commodity crops. Because of regulatory costs, there is not enough return on investment with small market crops, although these crops, especially vegetables and fruit, could benefit greatly from traits like virus resistance.

    • Francisco G Nobrega says:

      @Keith Reding
      I got this argument from an article by expert Henry I Miller (2001) “The Biotechnology Industry’s Frankensteinian Creation” that you can find at the site of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I said that is an important aspect usually forgotten. A GM plant is modified with a few known genes with known gene products. A mutagenized plant gets dozens of unknown mutations and we have more than 2,000 on our tables. Is that more safe than a GM plant? What is the biological basis of the present regulatory excess? About that Potrykus (GM rice) has a short and sharp in Nature 446:561 (2010). About the rest of your post I think the same.

  6. Scott says:

    “This is why organic agriculture is an ecological dead-end: it is dramatically less efficient in terms of land use, so likely leads to higher rates of biodiversity loss overall. Maybe organic producers should be legally mandated to specify on labels the overall land-use efficiency of their products. I’m all in favour of food labelling by the way when it comes to something important that the consumer should have the right to know.”

    Right to know is good. But you are wrong about organic methods. Already on average the science of organic agriculture has caught, and in many cases surpassed conventional best management methods. In fact that is why conventional agriculture has started integrating organic methods into conventional agriculture, just to try and keep up. It may not be called “certified organic” because some few chemical inputs will probably be used from time to time, but the clear and indisputable trend is towards organic because it is far far more sustainable, far far more productive long term, and far far less damaging to the environment. In fact, in many cases organic methods have been shown to improve the environment and biodiversity instead of harm it.

    As far as GMO’s go. They never should have been banned from organic agriculture in the first place. Since they are banned, due to political pressure from fanatics that didn’t understand agricultural science, such as yourself, we have to live with it. But make no mistake, organic can and will continue to take an ever larger % of the market share, and no campaign to bad mouth organic will change that. People know the truth. Once the truth is out, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. Any common consumer who wants to grow a tomato in their back yard, can do it organically with not problems at all. It has reached the tipping point when anyone can buy Bacillus thuringiensis for a wide range of caterpillar control, a whole host of Mycorrhizal spores for gaining productivity; Various other bacterial products for nitrogen fixation, disease control, pest control, carbon sequestration etc etc etc; Massive advances in soil science, biomimicry and systems thinking. Common availability of the most productive hybrids that don’t sacrifise quality. And what is the biggest benefit? The farmer gains higher profits with less external inputs, while improving his farm and the environment instead of poisoning it.

    I have read your statements repeatedly. You seem to continually promote this this false premise that agriculture always destroys the land, and that conventional agriculture outproduces any other methods, so therefore we must use conventional agriculture or else destroy more virgin land.

    Your premises are false, therefore any conclusions you draw from it are also probably false.

    1) Agriculture always destroys the land….false. There are many organic methods that actually heal the land AND restore the important ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, cleaning water and decomposition of wastes.
    2) Conventional agriculture out produces organic…false. That is a broad statement based on ignorance of the new modern scientific advances in agricultural science. At one time conventional did have a slight advantage in some areas, but it was always over stated and now isn’t true at all in most cases. The advantage conventional agriculture has is in productivity per farmer, NOT productivity per acre.
    3) Conventional agriculture’s use of GMOs improves productivity…False. On average since GMO’s have been introduced into conventional agriculture, productivity per acre has actually dropped. Again, the advantage is profits per farmer, and profits to all the associated industries, but NOT in productivity per acre.
    4) Organic agriculture can’t feed the world….False. Not only can it feed the world, it is probably the only long term solution to a growing population.

    You have been fooled by a mega industry’s propaganda campaign designed to try and halt the ever increasing loss of market share the organic market is capturing. But no matter how hard you try, or the industry tries, it won’t work. Not only that, once the organic market share reaches a certain tipping point economies of scale will kick in, and the price for organic will be dramatically CHEAPER than conventional. Already it is less if hidden costs are included. Once the consumer price is less,even without including hidden costs, your words will fall on deaf ears. The market still grows steadily at a slightly higher consumer price, once the price is less, it will explode.

    You would be far better served in trying to reconcile GMO’s with organic agriculture and see if they can be incorporated in a safe way. Because in my lifetime I expect organic to be the dominant form of agriculture world wide. You made a mistake. You assumed organic was the same as traditional, when it was always, since its inception, science based. Fair enough. We all make mistakes. But now is the time to stop bad mouthing the science of organic agriculture and instead use your efforts to reconcile genetic science and technology with organic science and technology. Why you? Because you are one of the leaders of the activists that caused the rift in the first place.


    • Mike Bendzela says:

      “…the clear and indisputable trend is towards organic because it is far far more sustainable, far far more productive long term, and far far less damaging to the environment.”

      Nice sentiment. Too bad the data don’t agree:



    • Scott says:

      First of all that first blog you referenced has so many fallacies and 1/2 truths it is not usable at all. The second one has some factual information and is usable, but limited in scope.
      You need to use a systems thinking approach to understand that. Number one. The majority of corn, soy, and other grains are for non-human consumption. Livestock being the largest, followed by various other uses. The organic method that beats this typically doesn’t even use corn or soy at all, or if it does, at VERY much reduced levels. Because a functioning healthy grassland produces far more biomass than corn and soy. Modern methods like Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing or Holistic management, done properly, can produce 5 times or more per acre than traditional conventional grazing models, typically showing at least a 50% to 100% gain in just the first year, and gradually increasing over time.
      It is true that CAFO’s also beat conventional grazing models, up to about 4 times more in a good year. But once the grassland is healed and producing good, grassland still beats the conventional CAFO model, EVEN when some grain inputs are used. (typically far less to none).

      The second part missed in the articles is a common misconception made by many. Mark being one who has admitted his mistake….partially. Organic agriculture ALWAYS was scientific from its inception in the early 1940′s. Sir Albert Howard was a botanist and Gabrielle Louise Caroline Howard was a plant physiologist and economic botanist. They were both formally trained at Cambridge. And as the science of organic agriculture has advanced, unfortunately many claiming to be “organic” and sometimes even “certified organic” actually are not organic at all. Instead they are “traditional”. Organic is no more “traditional” than “green revolution” is traditional. Both borrow heavily from traditional, but neither are traditional. For example System of Rice Intensification (SRI) differs more from traditional rice production than BMP “green revolution” rice production. Yields more too. In fact it yields so much more that many conventional farmers are integrating SRI into their conventional fields. In fact nearly all conventional agriculture has borrowed HEAVILY from advances made by organic agricultural science.

      Why does this matter? Because those statistics quoted are NOT comparing modern organic methods to modern best management (conventional). To get an idea of that you’ll need to actually compare like to like. One place to find THAT kind of comparison is the Rodale Institute.

    • Mike Bendzela says:

      You casually dismiss the work of an agricultural scientist with over thirty years of experience for The Rodale Institute? Really? An advocacy organization for organics? What results did you think they would get? This is an example of confirmation bias.

      “…unfortunately many claiming to be “organic” and sometimes even “certified organic” actually are not organic at all. Instead they are ‘traditional’”.

      In other words, when you use the word “organic” it means just what you choose it to mean. The organics organization in my state chooses it to mean that you can use homeopathy to treat livestock.

      You can have your organics movement. I will stick to the methods that work for me on my farm, whether they involve crop rotation, nutrient recycling, pesticides or fertilization.

    • Mike Bendzela says:

      That first statement was not well-written. It should read:

      “You casually dismiss the work of an agricultural scientist with over thirty years of experience and instead cite The Rodale Institute?”

  7. Julie Kay says:

    Excellent article! I just went through the transformation of Anti-GMO Blogger turned Believer-of-Scientific-Evidence myself. It has been quite a journey to get there and I’m still evolving. Now I’m trying to inform the GMO naysayers who still visit my blog so that they too might experience their own metamorphosis. It’s a challenge to let go of beliefs, and really, they are more like prejudices in the case of GMOs, but it CAN be done!

  8. Let’s agree, for the sake of the argument, that that GM food will have no health problems, no ecological problems and no problems relating to companies like Monsanto taking over our food supply. Even, granting all of the above, GM will be very harmful.

  9. Keith Reding says:

    Monsanto is not taking over the food supply. They develop seeds with traits that farmers CHOOSE to buy. Those seeds have patentable technology according to US and international laws. If the farmers doesn’t want to buy it, they don’t. Consumers are free to buy organic food if they want or food labeled non-GMO. It is also a complete fallacy that farmers are sued because the get pollen from a GMO field. The courts have ruled this on multiple occasions. No farmer has been sued due to inadvertent gene flow. However, the anti-GMO NGO would like you to believe otherwise. Considering the biology, it just doesn’t hold up to common sense. One doesn’t have 90-plus % of the plants in the field as GMO without doing it intentional. So the question is at what point is it acceptable to steal patented technology. Can you steal it from only large companies? How about small businesses? I think we know the answer.

  10. Francisco G Nobrega says:

    The rich countries are becaming more and more overconcerned about food safety and no trace of pesticides and sometimes also “sustainability”.
    I would aggree that there will be more and more organic grown food but by big companies, in multi-story buildings shielded from the outside world and pests by all kinds of screens.

    • Scott says:

      No need. Organic deals with pests far better than conventional anyway. It didn’t always. But you are about 30 years behind in organic technology. In fact about the only “organic” producers still trying to use that antiquated form of organic are those same “big companies” you mentioned. They actually are not innovative or cutting edge at all. Those big producers simply are conventional farmers who changed their chemical use for a different set of chemicals that are technically approved for “organic” use. For the most part they do not use modern organic methods at all. In some cases they are actually doing more harm to the environment too, by their refusal to use modern organic technology. There are some conventional farmers that use more organic technology than they do! Pretty ironic!

      A good example is “no till”. This is an agricultural breakthrough developed by organic. It was so successful that wise people in conventional agriculture modified it slightly by using round up (and later GMO resistant to round up crops) and borrowed the technique for conventional use. Yet many so called “organic” farmers still don’t even use “no till” and it was invented and developed for organic use!

      Another good example is Bacillus thuringiensis. A fantastic advance in biological control developed for organic. So successful in certain insect control that it easily beat any chemical insecticides in overall risk to benefit analysis. So conventional agriculture borrowed some of those genes and made GM Bt crops. Yet many so called “organic” large producers are not using Bacillus thuringiensis and instead spray toxic plant extracts like nicotine instead! That’s no better than or very little better than the chemical company sprays.

      Another good example is animal husbandry. Organic farmers have developed several grazing management systems that beat the stockyards and CAFO’s hands down. Yet many of the large so called “organic” producers still raise their livestock in the same barns they always did, with the exception of a short period they sometimes have “access” to limited pasture. No matter than a hen house with 40,000 birds may have the majority that never stepped on foot outside through that “access”. The “access” was there so they can technically call themselves “certified organic” when actually they are not.

      Sorry, but I believe you are wrong. The future is not the “pseudo organic” big producers. That is a scam that entered the industry due to government interference. The future is in actual science based modern organic which can best be described as biomimicry. As our knowledge of ecosystem interactions increases through science, our ability to make organic agricultural models using that science will also increase.


    • Clyde Davies says:

      So, why is it that organic farmers are not allowed to grow Bt crops? There is nothing more sustainable and environmentally friendly than spraying less pesticide.
      The answer is that organic farming has taken on idelogical overtones. To ideologues, means matter far more than ends.

    • Scott says:

      OH but you are wrong. There are a lot of organic methods far more sustainable than Bt crops. Furthermore, as good as Bt crops are, Bacillus thuringiensis is still more effective than GM Bt crops.

      But if you mean why can’t organic farmers use GM crops in any circumstances, even if they are the best available solution? As Mark Lynas. He and thousands of other activist leaders are the ones who got GM crops banned from organic agriculture to begin with. I personally thought that move by the activist leaders was foolish. But that is just an opinion by a single organic grower (35 years now). My opinion didn’t count for much when they decided that. When I started growing food, there were no GM crops. It was a non issue. I personally was hopeful in the new technology, as were most my friends who grew organically. Then the hippy activists who never farmed a day in their lives, neither organically nor conventionally decided that policy for us organic growers by applying political pressure to the government. Whether we liked it or not, once the government got involved, we had no choices anymore. Not that I am too worried about it. I can very easily out produce conventional methods anyway. But it would be nice if I had that freedom to choose, assuming in some future time the genetics people ever did actually make a GM crop that would be useful.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I’m beginning to wonder if you really know what you’re talking about. Statements like ” Furthermore, as good as Bt crops are, Bacillus thuringiensis is still more effective than GM Bt crops” simply don’t add up. How can a plant programmed to defend itself against boring insects 24/7 be less well defended than one which isn’t and which has to be sprayed periodically? And doesn’t Bt spray kill other lepidoptera which *aren’t” predatory? And doesn’t spraying cost more? And aren’t BT cotton yields per hectare way above anything that the organic movement can produce?

      There are three kinds of people who set themselves up as authorities. There are people who tell the truth, there are those who know what they’re saying is untrue (the liars), and those who don’t know whether what they’re saying is true but say it anyway. I’ve heard these referred to as the BSers. Then I think we possibly have a fourth category: those who say something believing it to be true without having really thought it through at all. I’m not really sure whether you’re in the third or fourth category yet.

    • Scott says:

      Well Clyde. That’s easy. the GM Bt crops use only a few Cry toxins (δ-endotoxins) derived from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria. The first generation of Bt GMOs used only 1. Since only a few toxins are used, it has the same problem all synthetic chemicals have. Pest developing resistance. Pest resistance to first generation Bt GM crops has been identified in India, Australia, China, Spain and the United States. So then a second generation of Bt crops were developed. New resistance, new crops, and so on and so on. The same vicious cycle of limited effectiveness other conventional methods have.

      Meanwhile there are many strains of Bacillus thuringiensis with MANY Cry toxins in each bacteria. It is orders of magnitude more difficult for a pest to spontaneously develop simultaneous immunity to multiple toxins at once.

      As far as not knowing what I am talking about and trying to box me into one of your fail categories. Nothing more than a lame argumentum ad hominem. Unworthy of serious response.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Ooh my first ‘ad hominem’ bleat of the day. Guess it’ll sit nicely on the mantlepiece near to my next Godwin’s Law Invocation.

      So, allowing for the fact that BT toxin single use can cause resistance, tell me how new crops which express multiple toxins are somehow inferior to having to spray?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      And while we’re at it,. won’t multitoxin BT sprays be far more indiscriminate when it comes to which creepy-crawlies you kill? When the entire picture becomes apparent, even single toxin BT crops seem infinitely friendlier.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I’m waiting for an answer to those questions…

    • Scott says:

      Bacillus thuringiensis is a biological control that works completely different than that. You can coat a caterpillar or non target species of insect with Bt and it will suffer no harm at all.

      The mode of action for Bacillus thuringiensis is when the caterpillar eats a leaf that contains the bacteria. Inside the stomach the cry toxins are deadly to target species, and harmless to others.

      Since the live bacteria reproduce in the digestive tract of the caterpillar and each bacteria produces a large number of different kinds of cry toxins, it is nearly impossible for a caterpillar to spontaneously develop immunity. They just get sicker and sicker until they die.

      A GM Bt crop on the other hand may only have 1 or 2 Cry toxin genes spliced to its DNA and may not be producing enough cry toxins to completely kill the caterpillar. This means it is far more likely for a target species to develop immunity. And even if it only has partial immunity may end up surviving by simply finding something else to eat.

    • Keith Reding says:

      A few points. It is the endospore, or dormant version, of the Bt bacterium that contains the endotoxins, not the living bacterium itself. Just because the endospore may contain 5 different toxins, not all of them may be active towards each pest. The biotech plant expressing the endotoxins has some advantages over Bt sprays. The toxin is always being expressed so the plant is always protected when the pest arrives. Bt sprays have to be applied in each instance of infestation. Second, when the toxin is expressed in the plant, it is present at a high level during the peak growing season for the plant. The Bt spray may start off at a high level, assuming the application is accurate, then it decays or is washed off. Therefore, the pests may only be exposed to a low level of the toxin, unless another application is made. Furthermore, there is documented resistant of the Diamondback moth in Hawaii. That was a result of using Bt sprays on broccoli.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      But I seem to recall reading that newer varieties of Bt crops express 4 toxins. Resistance is a fact of all pest control, thanks to natural selection, so you will come to a point where the crop and the multitoxin spray are level pegging in efficacy.
      I still don’t believe that spraying BT is going to be more effective than engineering it in. It’s like the difference between disinfecting a hospital to get rid of an epidemic and vaccinating against it.

    • Scott says:

      That’s because you are looking at only a small part. Any in depth investigation soon discovers that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts when analyzing complex biological systems.

      And you can find exceptions BTW on both sides. I fully admit that. I have found them myself in my own fields.

      But as a general rule, in my experience, organic methods are far superior overall.

      I don’t want to knock GM Bt crops too much though. I actually think it is a far better use of GM technology than say Glyphosate resistant crops.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Well, I take back what I said: you really do know what you’re talking about. You are obviously cut from a very different shade of Green cloth.

      What do you think about GM crops that benefit primarily the consumer, sucha s Golden Rice? These are likely to be grown organically anyway. Do you think it is possible to overcome the objections of the organic fundamentalists to such crops and, if so, how?

    • Scott says:

      Golden Rice probably has its place, not that organic growers need to get all excited about it though.

      Because there is little need for vitamin A when you grow companion crops and multi crop, multi product systems.

      The reason golden rice has a place, is only in the context of a mono-crop system.

      Technically, by certification regulations, it is possible to be a monocrop farmer and still call yourself “certified organic”.

      But that kind of so called “organic” really is kind of ridiculous. However, no matter how you farm, organic or conventional, there is always that consumer that either is too poor to afford multiple foods, or too ignorant about nutrition to know to eat a balanced diet. For those consumers, golden rice can be a good thing.

      Personally I sincerely believe a far better option is growing sweet potatoes, or something like that which stores well and provides more balanced nutrition in addition to rice. In the meantime, I guess golden rice is better than nothing.

    • jf says:

      “There is nothing more sustainable and environmentally friendly than spraying less pesticide.”

      What about NO pesticide?

    • Mike Bendzela says:

      Once again, as with your other comments, “organics” means what you choose it to mean, and all those other certified farmers are not organic. This just highlights the comedy of the organic movement.

      Bt is an insecticide, by the way, and regulated as such, and the crystalline protein that kills the larva is a chemical. Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you, but it’s entertaining that you call it a “biological control.”

    • Scott says:

      The blog starts out with false premises. That is not casually dismissing it. It is simply the truth. He says “The guiding principal of organic is to rely exclusively on natural inputs.” false “That was decided early in the 20th century, decades before before the scientific disciplines of toxicology, environmental studies and climate science emerged to inform our understanding of how farming practices impact the environment.” false “As both farming and science have progressed, there are now several cutting edge agricultural practices which are good for the environment, but difficult or impossible for organic farmers to implement within the constraints of their pre-scientific rules.” false “There was one window during which the rules for organic might have been adjusted to reflect a more modern understanding. In 1990 …..” misleading 1/2 truth “Long before the final Organic Standards were published in 2002, it was clear that the industry preference had prevailed and that the rules of organic would still reflect their pre-scientific origins.” false

      It goes on and on, but if the majority of the premises are false, then yes the whole argument derived from those premises are also likely false. The one 1/2 bit of truth he got right was the failure of the USDA to properly define organic. The government messed that up badly. Partly due to fringe activist groups that were ignorant of the fact that organic always was scientific from the beginning.

      OH and by the way. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacteria. Of course it is a biological control. Your other comments about Bt and its toxins being a chemical or pesticide are simply a logic fallacy called equivocation. ie Using a term with more than one meaning or sense by glossing over which meaning or sense is intended at a particular time.

    • Mike Bendzela says:

      From The University of Iowa Extension:

      “Organic agriculture is the oldest form of agriculture on earth. Farming without the use of petroleum-based chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) was the sole option for farmers until post-World War II.”

      Old or modern? Which is it?

      From the National Organic Program:

      “In general, synthetic substances are prohibited unless specifically allowed and non-synthetic [i.e.natural] substances are allowed unless specifically prohibited.”

      Natural inputs, or not?

      Like a religion, the acolytes cannot agree which cult is the One True Way.

    • Scott says:

      The “acolytes” are wrong. That’s for sure. The term “organic” as applied to agriculture was coined by Sir Albert Howard (8 December 1873 – 20 October 1947) an English botanist formally trained at Cambridge.

      The “acolytes” confusion lies in the fact that the Howards (he and his wife) scientifically studied these ancient methods (and newer ones at the time) and painstakingly separated the spiritualism and pseudo science out, while keeping the parts that had a scientific basis, and called the resulting form of agriculture “organic” (a term he coined himself as it applies to agriculture)

    • Francisco G Nobrega says:

      I learned a good deal about this face of the organic movement that I was unawares. Recommend any book or site for reference? Appreciate your notion that GM plants are every bit organic as a Rachel Carson dream. The usual organic thinking fiercely refuses this out of ignorance as you and others (for example Stewart Brand) know.
      If you could order a useful GM plant for organic agriculture what would you request?
      About the different Bt proteins, scientists are stacking up more distinct cry proteins to increase the diversity. But to get the same results using a spray of Bt spores you have to grow the individual strains, as many as you can muster, mix and apply. To my knowledge they have done that with up to 4 strains, something that the new GM plants also carry. Also we got to go over the simplistic notion that “chemicals” are a danger. Water is a killer toxin if you drink too much (you die of brain damage due to hyponatremia). Plants defend thenselves through chemicals: they produce incredible amounts of substances against bacteria, fungi, worms, animals and other competing plants. Bruce Adams in a famous PNAS paper in the 90′s showed that 99.99% of all pesticides consumed by americans came from the plants in the diet and not from applied pesticides.

    • JTR says:

      Do you have a source for that PNAS paper? Google is failing me. Perhaps it isn’t hosted online?

    • Francisco G Nobrega says:

      Go to the site of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and you can get the pdf of ” Dietary pesticides (99.99% all natural) PNAS 87:7777-7781 (1990)
      I can send you the pdf ([email protected]). Bruce Ames site has a precious table where he lists most cancer causing chemicals: synthetic and “natural” with the usual concentrations of exposure. Remember my request

    • Scott says:

      Actually most strains of Bacillus thuringiensis that are used for pest control have a minimum of at least 6 Cry toxins or more. So 4 separate strains mixed together would potentially well over 24 different cry toxins a target species would have to spontaneously develop immunity. And partial immunity doesn’t help because the bacteria multiplies in the insects gut rapidly until the cry toxins kill it.

      Partial immunity can give a survivabilty advantage to an insect eating a Bt crop, even the most modern ones with 4 cry toxins, because the larval insect can potentially survive by simply leaving and finding something else to eat.

      There are several insects like army worms that instinctively do just that. Pass their partial immunity to the next generation, eventually developing full immunity.

      The chances to develop immunity are orders of magnitude different.

      As far as your question of what I would look for in a GM if it was available to organic farmers? I would personally look for a GM that essentially takes a disease resistance from an edible wild relative of the crop I am growing without having to use introgression lines or where introgression lines don’t exist.

      For example: Take a specific gene for producing solasodine from a Litchi Tomato (Solanum sisymbriifolium) and use it in a domestic tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) to give tomatoes a strong natural resistance to many pests and diseases. I could see using something like that once proven both safe and stable, if the regulatory agencies would get off my back.

      I would be far less enthusiastic about the gene transfer from a poisonous plant or a completely unrelated species, because in my mind, the risk for unintended consequences and unexpected interactions would be far greater.

      Keep in mind I am in no rush. Introgression lines work in many cases anyway. It just takes a lot longer. There may not be introgression lines between Solanum sisymbriifolium and Solanum lycopersicum that I know of, but there are two introgression lines Solanum Lycopersicoides and Juglandifolium that work between domestic tomatoes and many other wild tomatoes.

      As far as resource material. The list is very long. What type of information are you looking for? The history of organic science? Or modern breakthroughs?

      A good book for the history is “Organic farming: an international history”, edited by W. Lockeretz, one nice cutting edge breakthrough can be found here: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33703/title/Fighting-Microbes-with-Microbes/

      But there are so many it is hard to know what you are more interested in.

    • Francisco G Nobrega says:

      Thanks for your help and answers. All I need is some general reference about the wonderful perspectives that you announced in your comment. I looked for the book at Amazon and found one copy left and no reader comment! There, as an example, I saw the book: Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre [Paperback] by Brett L. Markham. This book got 180 reviews, I wonder if you reviewed this one. The The Scientist article I read some time ago and is very interesting. Medicine found out also that there are beneficial and harmful bugs in our intestines and some enteric diseases have been cured by injecting the healthy mixture.

    • Todd says:


      I love your intelligent and nuanced perspective on the issue, and I truly appreciate the way you are not opposed to combining both methods for the most efficient system possible. I like that you think about sustainability. Your whole attitude seems to be coming from the exact place we should be coming from.

      Can I make a suggestion, though? When I first started reading your comments, you left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t even want to read your follow-up arguments – though now I am absolutely glad I did – because of one specific trait: you are using your definition of organic is the true and only definition. I am certainly not arguing that the brand of organic agriculture you subscribe to is not the best brand, but you must realize that when most people see or hear the term “organic”, they don’t understand it in the same way you do. To the majority of people, “organic” simply means “all natural”. It means no chemicals and no GMOs. It means freerange and steroid/hormone free.

      I really think your message is important, and I want to help it be as well received by as many people as possible. I feel an urgent need to tell you: if you stopped arguing your point from the standpoint of organic farming in general and started arguing it from the perspective of *this specific style of organic farming*, regardless of whether those things are equivalent in reality, you will get a much kinder reception. This isn’t a case of a fault in your argument, it’s a case of a fault in your method of arguing. People are judging you before listening to you because you initially sound like you’re going to offer the same things we’ve heard over and over, and you truly discredit yourself by lumping yourself in with California liberals – the eco hippies, as you referred to them earlier.

  11. Keith Reding says:

    @Francisco G Nobrega

    I think we are on the same page, especially scientifically. I work in our Regulatory Policy group at Monsanto. I believe Henry Miller thinks that biotech crops are way overregulated. Monsanto is certainly not opposed to regulation. We believe it is important to ensure public confidence in the safety of our crops. Safety studies by the developing companies is often view with skepticism so review by government agencies and independent University scientists is important. We have seen the data requirements increase dramatically over the past 15 years even though there is no identified risks from these crops. We have known for years that overregulation would results in decrease opportunity for small businesses and even University scientists to develop biotech crops. Because of activists scaremongering, this has become reality. As someone that was raised in an agricultural town surrounded by cotton, soybean, wheat and rice, this is really disappointing.

  12. Robert Lindsley says:

    Interesting article. The author doesn’t really tackle the big-business aspect of the issue though. Even if GM food is safe (which there are studies that already show that they aren’t…but anyway…) the fact that Monsanto no longer has to worry about government approval or lawsuits that come as a result of any damages from their ‘product’ is a really scary proposition.

    The author also doesn’t talk about the repercussions of growing GM crops. There are new pesticide resistant bugs and theories that GM crops are related to the disappearance of the bees. We may be creating new problems faster than we are solving them! If the studies showing long-term organ damage from GM crops are correct we are also going to have a big problem. It will make smoking look positively healthy!

    Also, look at GM salmon. IF GM salmon gets into the wild, there’s a high likelihood that the GM salmon will at least partially wipe out the natural salmon population. Another really scary proposition, to be sure.

    Are all GM crops bad? Probably not. And while there may be good uses for GM crops (to support an overpopulated earth is a great example) we need to be careful about the politics, the business and the use of GM crops.

    • Tom says:

      With regards to GM salmon (I’m guessing you’re referring to the AquaAdvantage salmon) it’s actually highly UNlikely that it will wipe out the natural population. The salmon carries a single insertion of a growth hormone gene from a closely related salmon species that differs from its native gene by the fact that it’s constantly turned on. This is beneficial if you’re a farmed salmon because you will get a constant supply of feed. However, although this genetic trait could easily arise in the wild, it hasn’t. The reason is that in the wild, food supply is not constant – especially during the winter months. The wild salmon stops feeding (and growing), hides from predators and waits for spring. A GM salmon would be completely unsuited to this environment and basically use up all its reserves on body growth and then starve to death once the food ran out. (The GM salmon is also triploid, which makes it sterile.)

    • Tom says:

      Hello again. When it comes to herbicide and pesticide resistance, GM crops are no different than conventional crops. There will always be an ongoing battle between growers and pests/weeds. However, from what I understand, the appearance of resistance to Bt crops in insects have been much slower than anticipated (Steve Savage in this comments section would be the authority on that). I should also point out that some insects are naturally resistant to some or all Bt toxins.

      Regarding organ failure/tumor development in experimental animals fed with GM crops, I’m guessing you’re referring to the work of Seralini and co-workers in France. His published study last year (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637) has been the subject of much discussion and at the moment the consensus seems to be that the study is seriously flawed (if you click the link you will find a long list of “letter to the editor”-type responses). The three main criticisms if I remember correctly was that (1) they used a special strain of mice that are very prone to developing tumors, (2) the number of mice in the study was too low for proper statistical analysis and (3) the statistics that were used in the study was not up to scratch. Again, I’m not 100 % on the details but you can read the responses to the paper on the page I’ve linked to.

  13. @Jim Bell
    Mate I am afraid that your comment is flawed. It sounds like the classic anti-progress lets-all-join-hands-and-run-naked-on-the-prairie idealisation of the past. Let’s forget that for 100,000 generations life expectancy was 25 years.
    Men already radically changed life in our planet 10,000 years ago -in neolithic times- with the invention of agriculture. Perhaps men also radically changed it in palaeolithic times causing the mass extinction of big mammals (that can be debated).
    Britain hasn’t had a wilderness for over 2000 years. All present forests are man made. The surface of cultivated land in 1947 was the same as in the peak of the Iron Age.
    If people with your ideas had prospered in the past of human kind (and they clearly didn’t) we would have never left Africa; who knew what terrible things awaited out there in the big unknown. We would never have dared to hunt mammoths; who knew how dangerous that could be. We would have never invented agriculture; who knew what horrible effects it would have in our health. The list of fears could go on and on.
    If you chose to leave in an idealised past that never happened that is your choice. Human kind on the other hand, has the right and the necessity to continue making progress to face new challenges.
    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with technology if it is carefully and thoroughly tested. Most cleaver crops (GM crops) have passed the safety test. There is nothing wrong in using them.

    • Break says:

      Also nothing wrong with the endlessly tested and approved depleted uranium munition. The industry gets nicely rid of its ‘high tech’ waste in a totally legal manner, and the soil in Iraq, Bosnia and Serbia is polluted for a long, loooong time. The best part is that nobody cares, nobody takes responsibility and nobody cleans up the mess. Shows you how people (governments, United Nations, etc.) care!

      Now do we really think that a money grubbin’ chemistry giant responsible for things like Agent Orange and worse, who never cleaned up their mess anywhere either, will suddenly start behaving responsibly after getting into the agricultural business and changing the company name into “Monsanto”?

  14. Steve Savage says:

    A very well written article. Mark is more optimistic about public rationality than me, but I hope he is right.

  15. Tom says:

    Hi Mark. The Zambia incident from 2002 get thrown around up a lot from the pro-GM side but I ‘ve had a hard time finding a properly researched (and detailed) account of what actually happened in Zambia, who said what to whom and exactly how many people ended up starving needlessly (until the warehouses storing the GM grain were broken into). Robert Paarlberg (“Starved for science”, pp. 141-146) gives a few bits of information but has anyone written a in-depth account of the whole episode? Thanks.

  16. Rat in the kitchen says:

    God why is this obvious charlatan still given any public oxygen??? He’s done more to further the anti-GMO cause than any activist could have hoped for, with his hopeless mischaracterisation of his own role in the anti-GMO movement, & his propensity for rudimentary errors & misrepresentations, the Irish potato trial being the most egregious example. He’s such an easy target for the anti-GMO crowd I can’t believe pro-GM observers would want to associate with him. Every time he speaks he does his supposed cause more harm.

    Of course I suppose he could be a Trojan Horse of some sort…

    • Clyde Davies says:

      At least he has the guts to put his name to his views. And you?

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      Hardly guts. He blocked me from his public Facebook page so I had to use a pseudonym here. And he’s still “moderating” a post that exposes his LIES about Zambia. He’s a coward. Only a matter of time before I get blocked here too.

      In any case he’s a (relatively) high profile journalist, your concern should be with his blatant LIES, not anonymous internet posters’ real identities, or is that what you spend your day doing? Why don’t you go around this blog demanding every poster reveal their real names?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Perhaps he got sick and tired of being slandered?

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      Unlikely, as he wasn’t being slandered, but *was* in the business of slandering the anti-GM movement (the Irish potato trial for eg), more of which he’s done here wrt Zambia. For one thing, according to New Scientist, “the main reason behind Zambia’s decision to reject food aid in 2002″ was “doubts over the safety of genetically modified foods voiced by the British Medical Association”, *not* Greenpeace or FotE.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      So let’s look at NS really said shall we?
      “In its policy document on GM foods, written in 1999, the BMA says: “We cannot at present know whether there are serious risks to the environment or to human health involved in producing GM crops or consuming GM food products … and adverse effects are likely to be irreversible.”

      In particular, the BMA fears antibiotic-resistance genes, which act as “markers” in GM crops, could spread to bacteria, making them resistant to antibiotics. The report also says some GM foods might cause allergies. Neither fear has been substantiated so far.”
      And it then goes on to say:
      “Delegates at the summit from other African nations want Zambia to review its position, saying the BMA is at odds with other bodies. “The American Medical Association backs GM food, as does the Royal Society in Britain, the Third World Academy of Sciences and the Food and Agriculture Organization,” says Jocelyn Webster, the South African head of AfricaBio, an organisation promoting African biotechnology.”
      But of course, Greenpeace and FotE would have put the BMS straight, wouldn’t they? Like hell they would.

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      You missed these bits for some strange reason:

      “New Scientist has now been told that Zambia was influenced predominantly by negative advice about GM foods from the BMA. The claim comes from Luke Mumba, a senior molecular biologist at the University of Zambia in Lusaka who is attending a summit on farming in Brussels.

      Mumba says that before the Zambian government made its decision on the American maize it asked a group of prominent scientists to compile a report on the pros and cons of accepting it. And although the scientists interviewed 150 organisations and researchers around the world, they seemed to have been most heavily influenced by the BMA.

      “In Zambia, they are always citing the BMA as the reason [for the decision]. They say that the BMA has no confidence in the safety of GM foods.” The association is considered an authoritative body because of Zambia’s historical links with Britain, Mumba says.”

      So Lynas assertion is incorrect.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Funnily enough, I Googled zambia, FotE and Gm and found these press releases:

      ‘Friends of the Earth International, on the basis of the precautionary principle, supports the right of any country to impose a moratorium or ban on the introduction of GMOs into the environment and the food chain, until GMOs have been proven safe through comprehensive and independently conducted assessments.’
      – foei.org, June 2003

      ‘Zambia made a brave choice to preserve their agricultural heritage and its future.’ [...] ‘If the choice really was between GE grain and starvation then clearly any food is the preferable option but that’s a false and cynical picture of the choice in this situation.’

      – Greenpeace.org, 30 Sept 2002

      Looks like Lynas was telling the truth after all.

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      Nope. And now you are also misrepresenting the very truth before your own eyes. As has already been pointed out, “the main reason behind Zambia’s decision to reject food aid in 2002″ was “doubts over the safety of genetically modified foods voiced by the British Medical Association”. You’ve even quoted from the same article. Maybe you haven’t read what Lynas wrote, or maybe you have severe comprehension difficulties. Here are his words:

      “Thousands died because the President of Zambia believed the lies of western environmental groups that genetically modified corn provided by the World Food Programme was somehow poisonous.”

      His words are directly contradicted by the New Scientist article you yourself have quoted from. The fact that Greenpeace & FoE applauded the Zambian decision has nothing to do with Lynas’ incorrect accusation.

      I wonder if FoE will act on an accusation that they are complicit in the supposed deaths of thousands (which of course didn’t actually occur)?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Well, they certainly didn’t seemed to be that bothered about the consequences of their opposition. If the only alternative was starving to death, I’d eat the arse out of a dead mole. If I was given the choice.

  17. Rat in the kitchen says:

    Tom, nobody at all died in Zambia in 2002. The food crisis was averted without the need for any GM food aid. Yet another of Lynas’ lies.

    • Tom says:

      And what’s your source to back that up?

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      This is:

      “Despite the dire situation it faced in 2002, Zambia managed to cope with the crisis without GM food aid. In 2003, Zambia even produced a bumper crop of non-GM maize. Production of maize (a staple food) was estimated at 1.16m tonnes – almost double compared with 2002 and about 28 per cent above the average for the past five years.xlii”

      What’s more, the US used the crisis to try to force GM food aid on an unsuspecting & desperate public:

      “In October 2002 the Heads of States from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) declared that its member states had a right to accept or reject GMO food aid grain.xxxviii Notwithstanding, this right to choose was in fact, seriously impaired. The US and the WFP told those African countries that imposed restrictions or bans that they should accept some GM content. Often in this context the question was put “It is better to die than to eat GM food?” which is misleadingly presented a stark choice between starving or eating GM food donated from the US. An unnamed US official was even quoted as saying “Beggars can’t be choosers.”xxxix

      This lack of choice was nothing less than political ‘arm twisting’. Alternative non-GM stocks of food aid could have been made available to those countries. Research from the FAO at the time showed that enough non-GM maize and non-GM cereals were readily available from the African region itself. Food was also available from India and Mexico. Indeed, non-GM maize was also available from the US itself.

      It must be noted that that at the time of the crisis, the WFP/FAO Mission to Zambia in May 2002 only assessed the 2002 cereal production.xl The “need assessments” and food deficit calculations did not take into account available supplies of non-cereal foods despite the fact that 30 per cent of the population in Zambia eats cassava as staple food.

      The WFP failed to take into account surplus supplies of cassava in the country. Civil society groups estimated there were around 300,000 tonnes of surplus cassava available in northern parts of the country. A member of the National Association of Peasants and Small Scale Farmers in Zambia, Charles Musonda, said there was a long history of using cassava as a key crop for food security in Zambia as it was drought resistant, easier to grow and had a host of other commercial uses. Mr. Musonda said that “This is a win-win situation, people are fed and happy, our produce is bought, we are solvent and able to grow food for the next season. What could be better?” xli”

      GM food aid: Africa denied choice again? Earthlife Africa, 2004
      available here: http://www.eldis.org/go/home&id=15385&type=Document#.UX–F8qGb2U

      It should be noted that even pro-GM Professor David King, then the UK’s chief scientific adviser, launched a blistering attack on US policies re Zambian food aid:

      Observer 1 Sep 2002

      “· A rift between the UK and the US over genetically modified foods erupted last night when Blair’s chief scientific adviser denounced the United States’ attempts to force the technology into Africa as a ‘massive human experiment’.

      In a scathing attack on President Bush’s administration, Professor David King also questioned the morality of the US’s desire to flood genetically modified foods into African countries, where people are already facing starvation in the coming months.”

      And according to New Scientist, “the main reason behind Zambia’s decision to reject food aid in 2002″ was “doubts over the safety of genetically modified foods voiced by the British Medical Association” http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn3317

      Nothing to do with Lynas’ pretend erstwhile buddies.

    • Tom says:

      Hmmm, ok – the first link is an NGO report so it’s likely to have an anti-GM slant (just as you would expect a pro-GM slant from agribusiness). Second link only contains a reference to someone’s opinion – and third one doesn’t work (at least for me). I’m looking for an account by a proper journalist that tries to be unbiased either way.

      The two issues I have the Zambia episode (with the still limited unbiased information available to me) is that on one hand it is impractical that by law US food aid has to be in the form of actual food items from the US instead of funds to buy food but at the same time that food had been consumed by the American population for eight years at that point. I think a deciding factor in the Zambian government’s rejection of the GM corn/maize was actually the fear that farmer would try to plant some of the seed, which would in turn threaten Zambian agricultural exports to the EU (Robert Paarlberg talks about this in his book). I seem to remember that the Zambian government would have been more willing to accept the GM corn if it had first been milled into flour (but I could be confusing African nations – again it’s in Paarlberg’s book).

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      To be fair Tom, the NGO report cites/quotes UN bodies, & US & African officials. What are Paarlberg’s sources?

      The ‘opinion’ happened to be that of the pro-GM chief scientific advisor to the British government.

      The third link works fine for me, & both myself & Clyde have quoted from it extensively – have a look at our other posts. There’s no question whatsoever that the Zambian govt’s decision was primarily influenced by the BMA.

    • Tom says:

      Something’s up with my web browser, I just get a dead link. i can’t tell you about Paarlberg’s sources at the moment because I left the book at home but he tends to cite governmental agencies, UN organs etc as well. Sorry to be vague, I’ll have a proper dig through his references when I get back home. What’s BMA’s current stand on GMOs?

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      Not sure about BMA’s current stance, don’t think they’ve issued a statement since 2004.

      As for the Zambian situation, the most salient point & one which appears to be beyond dispute is simply this – thousands of people DID NOT DIE! I can’t find ANY substantiation of this claim ANYWHERE.

      Sorry for shouting, but unless Lynas can back up his assertion, the claim that 1000s died is nothing short of scandalous.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      No more scandalous, and indeed a good deal less scandalous than the lies and misrepresentations habitually employed by the anti-GMO crowd. Greenpeace certainly got involved in this issue: there is a nice little account of it at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3301336/Will-their-protests-leave-her-hungry.html, which basically confirms what Mark was saying.

      I am neither pro nor anti GMO. I am however rabidly anti-ideological. When people resort to exporting their ideologies to other countries I like to ask myself: what have they got at stake here? In the case of Greenpeace, the answer is nothing compared to the Zambians. They should butt out and let these people make up their own minds.

  18. Robert Lyons says:

    From, “How Not to Parachute More Cats,” RMI:

    “In the early 1950s, the Dayak people of Borneo suffered from malaria. The World Health Organization (WHO) had a solution: it sprayed large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died; the malaria declined; so far, so good.

    But there were side effects. Among the first was that the roofs of people’s houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT was also killing a parasitic wasp that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT-poisoned insects were eaten by geckos, which were eaten by cats. The cats started to die, the rats flourished, and the people were threatened by potential outbreaks of typhus and plague. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the World Health Organization was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo.”

    From Michael Wines, “Monarch Migration Plunges,” NYT:

    “The American Midwest’s corn belt is a critical feeding ground for monarchs, which once found a ready source of milkweed growing between the rows of millions of acres of soybean and corn. But the ubiquitous use of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to wipe out the milkweed, and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.”


    Are there parachutes for butterflies, Mr. Lynas? And what is your considered opinion on the similarly advancing and related [?] illnesses: colony collapse disorder, white nose syndrome, and chytridiomycosis?

    Thank you.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “Are there parachutes for butterflies, Mr. Lynas? And what is your considered opinion on the similarly advancing and related [?] illnesses: colony collapse disorder, white nose syndrome, and chytridiomycosis?”

      Are you suggesting that the latter three diseases are somehow caused by GMOs?

    • Robert Lyons says:

      Hey Clyde,
      Category error, eh? Mashing GMOs in with industrial agriculture and the rampant chemicalization of our environment, generally.

      I am blinded by science, sir, at least the tale that paleobiology tells. Epic cycles of of peak origination and peak extinction. Advent of the Holocene: peak origination. Since: escalating extinction. Advent of industrialization: enter the Anthropocene or Sixth Mass Extinction, now well underway.

      And Science as well-meaning handmaiden to commerce, you’ve got some epic blunders to answer for. Oh, the many “wonders” we’ve been most earnestly assured were, “effective, beneficial, and proven safe.”*

      Rough logic? Unfounded caution? Lead- paint induced numbskullery? “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me, uh — you can’t get fooled again.”

      “[Am I] suggesting that the latter three diseases are somehow caused by GMOs?”

      Your question appears to concede that monarch habitat loss is clearly an outcome of GMO “success.” To which I might ask, is that alone not too high a price to pay or, at minimum, grounds for caution? Are you perfectly certain that GMO use is not implicated in the latter three?

      Are GM endo-toxins (Bt corn, etc.) truly bug-specific and otherwise utterly benign? In use now for all of a single human generation…

      Now that corn borers and other critters are glyphophate tolerant, 2,4-D resistant food crops are in the hopper. Are you honesty sanguine about the cascading impacts the widespead use of this Agent Orange component will have, up and down the food chain, on our soil biology, our water ecology, our kids?

      There are threads to disentangle, hairs to split, much-needed nuance. Stalwarts and converts to GM biotech – Mr Lynas here, Ramez Naam, Stewart Brand, amomg many others – might argue that, rather than harming pollinators and amphibians and so on, GM tech can be employed to save them! Okay! GM tech is unquestionably here to stay and full of promise.

      How about a category error of a different sort? Is all GM tech “good” and “safe?” Must we be so hubristic and ham-fisted (GMO sceptics and critics are “conspiracy theorists” and “cultists”) in our support of the industrial-scale implementation of whatever new GMO Monsanto rolls out?

      It seems like too nascent a science and too uncontrolled an experiment to me, now massively underway. Do we know with perfect foresight all the outcomes this experiment might avail?

      There is no saying “No!” to GM biotech. It’s here. It will advance. And it is full of promise.

      Count me a sceptic urging both precaution and empiricism decoupled from short-term profitmaking schemes that benefit a few while risking so much.

      Sorry I didn’t manage to be more twitteresque here. Just laying out my bias and perspective as plainly as I can.

      Thank you, Mark Lynas, and all commenters here for this much needed conversation.

      * “Better living through chemistry!” Oh, wait…


    • Clyde Davies says:

      “Count me a sceptic urging both precaution and empiricism decoupled from short-term profitmaking schemes that benefit a few while risking so much.”

      Well, count me a pragmatic optimist who can differentiate between schemes that benefit the producer, and those that benefit the consumer and the enviroment. There are several biotech initiatives in the pipeline that have the latter outcomes: I’m all in favour of those. I’m not greatly in favour of schemes that encourage more spraying of herbicide, but if herbicide is going to be sprayed anyway then it might as well be a fairly benign one like glyphosate.

      Regarding CCD, the EU has just slapped a moratorium for two years on neonics, which I totally support. We don’t have GMOs grown on any real scale in the UK but our bee population has still plummeted. So my thoughts on this matter are to be fully aware of the rirsk involved and weigh them up against those of not going ahead. In certain cases, like Golden Rice, it’s a no brainer.

  19. Rat in the kitchen says:

    Hi Tom I’ve posted a fairly lengthy post with refs & 3 links but it’s taking a long time to get through moderation for some reason, hopefully it’ll be posted soon enough!

  20. John Fryer says:

    USA originated GMO research in 1971 and Robert Pollack described it as the Worlds Worst Experiment.

    Now in 2013 the use of GMO crops has become widespread in that country.

    There has been time to consider the effect on the life style and health of that country and the results are not pretty.

    Everyone that considers science knows that the present state of health in USA is poorer than other countries such as Europe and that USA people die younger than their counterparts elsewhere.

    How much of this is due to the food they eat? And how much is due to the rising intake of GMO food?

    Whatever else using some humility it might be better for USA to look to its own state of health and longevity before trying to save the rest of the world with GMO foods which many simply DO NOT WANT not out of luddite fears but believe more of the science of Pustzai, Russian workers and French workers on specific GMO crops than blanket statements that GMO food is just fine when 90 per cent of GMO foods have already been replaced with hopefully better types of GMO food. Starlink corn beiong one of dozens that didnt quite come up to the standard even of Monsanto et al.

    The problem/solution is not to consider profits for the manufacturer or less work for the farmer but how about safe food for USA citizens so their health can be better and they can live longer?

    My own salvation has been to move towards organic foods almost for the first time in my life as a response to my own bad health which may or may not have anything to do with forced imports of GMO foods to France that means on average we eat a kilogram a week at least of GMO food directly or indirectly.

    I also believe that France is catching up with the poorer health and shorter life of USA citizens possibly from their forced GMO imports. Certainly if you look around the health of the nation seems to be drifting downhill in many ways. Increased obesity, autism in youngsters, diabetes rampant and irregularities of the heart etc etc.

    • Henrique says:

      John, I just looked up the numbers. America’s life expectancy has been climbing at a consistent rate since 1930 and is the same as the average European nation, with a few of them surpassing the US by 1 or 2 years here and there.

      Those were just the facts I could obtain.


    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      Americans ‘are sicker and die younger’ than people in other wealthy nations

      Damning official report on US health finds death and disease taking huge toll on population, particularly among young

      “America may be one of the richest countries in the world, but its people are less healthy and more likely to die early from disease or accidents than those in any other affluent country, a damning official US report has found.

      Even the best-off Americans – those who have health insurance, a college education, a high income and healthy behaviour – are sicker than their peers in comparable countries, says the report by the US National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.”

      “”Americans are dying and suffering at rates that we know are unnecessary because people in other high-income countries are living longer lives and enjoying better health. What really concerns our panel is why, for decades, we have been slipping behind.”"

    • Scott says:

      It is possible there is a connection. But highly unlikely that GMOs have anything to do with it at all directly. POSSIBLY indirectly. Most GM crops are used to feed livestock. That livestock certainly is far less nutritious and far more likely to cause health issues if raised in a CAFO. So maybe indirectly using GM crops to prop up a failing factory farming livestock model could be partly responsible. I wouldn’t say that causality has been proven though.

    • Rat in the kitchen says:

      Fair enough Scott I’m not claiming any causation, merely replying to Henrique’s post.

  21. Bob Meinetz says:

    Mark, I’m a big fan of your commitment to nuclear power and advocacy for a realistic approach to fighting climate change. I agree that the idea of a Monsanto conspiracy is silly, but there are big problems with charging ahead with GM as things stand now:

    1) Patents shouldn’t apply to sterilized seed. You buy the genome once, you get it forever – anything else is ransom.
    2) GM of animals (as in Aquabounty salmon, which is so big it’s nearly immobile) is cruel.
    3) GM differs from hybridization in that hybrid DNA has thousands of altered DNA proteins, where GM may have as few as one. Do these additional alterations serve a beneficial purpose for survival of the plant (and it’s nutrients)? Not well understood, but natural selection would support that conclusion. Could crops with altered GM DNA have disadvantageous characteristics we don’t know about, which could spread to hardy existing strains essentially “poisoning” their genome? Of course.

    • Tom says:

      Hi Bob,
      Could you elaborate on your first and third points because I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at (especially the third one). My understanding of patenting is that it’s not about the genome but certain varieties that are developed through trial and error costing a lot of money. Wouldn’t patents make sense if you have developed a novel crop variety? About your second point – is that true? I thought the AquaAdvantage salmon just reached full size quicker.

    • Bob Meinetz says:

      Tom, farmers have for eons used seed from one year’s crop to plant next year’s, formally or informally using hybridization to optimize their yields for their soil conditions and climate. Though Monsanto has made sterile or “terminator” varieties unavailable due to public outcry, they’re still legal. Totally my opinion, but I (and quite a few other people, evidently) think it sucks and they should be banned.

      Re: #3, Monsanto is clueless about how airborne GM pollen might interact with native species and be harmful to them, either by making them vulnerable to disease, creating a competitor which becomes invasive, etc. By the time we find out one of their experiments has gone awry, it’s too late (transplanted native species are enough of an invasive challenge already).

      Re: #2, when genetically modified calves in New Zealand died from ovaries that grew so large they ruptured, AgResearch’s applied technologies group manager shrugged it off, saying it wasn’t a big deal, just “part of the learning process”. Who knows how animals suffer from these freakish experiments, but it’s certainly not weighing on the conscience of livestock producers who are only interested in maximizing profit.

    • Keith Reding says:

      Bob, terminator technology or at least any products with it does not exist. This was a product concept developed by USDA and Delta and Pineland. Monsanto had nothing to do with it. Furthermore, Monsanto has publicly stated on its website that it will not develop any such technology for use in food crops.

    • Tom says:

      Hi Bob. Two quick thoughts now and I’ll return in a bit. Firstly, I was under the impression that farmer are free to use whatever seed they like – no-one forces them to buy Bt and/or glyphosate-resistant variants. If they use a conventional, non-Gm variety, they are free to re-plant it at their heart’s delight. I think the reason why GM crops are so dominant in US agriculture is because farmers prefer them. They can use less harmful herbicides and pesticides as well as get better yields.

      Second, resistance to insect pests (through Bt) or glyphosate (through RoundUp Ready) could potentially spread to neighboring species (plant biologist, feel free to help me out here). However, if non-crop species picked these traits up, they would be probably not become invasive. Glyphosate-resistant weeds can only be invasive in a field where glyphosate is sprayed – nowhere else. Bt-containing weeds could possibly have a competitive edge for a while but insects can quickly develop resistance (any entomologists out there care to comment?). Current Bt formulations (i.e. variants of the Bacillus thuringensis Cry proteins) have a limited life-span before insects become resistant – just like any other pesticide used in agriculture.

      To be continued…

  22. John Fryer says:

    Mr Lynas talks of hatemail.

    I find this difficult to believe and sad for without evidence of hatemail it seems just so much hot air.

    Rather like his utterings here in fact.

    Controversy there is for sure but conspiracy is his idea.

    Billons not understanding seems over the top as in my view there are few indeed who understand this technology and sadly those most ignorant are those pressing ahead and despite the objections of those who have legitimate concern. They are just destroyed.

    Dr Pustzai first congratulated one day by his boss and then sacked the next day by the same boss shows not conspiracy but dictatorial control of the GMO debate and the political power over science with no power.

    Not surprising then that others who have found GMO harm have been sought out and destroyed or at least the attempt has been made.

    Professor Seralini and three million euros and ten years of work was attacked before the world saw his papers in print.

    Going back to Dr Pustzai his one complaint of many was being given a six foot stack of research documents and being told he had to pass the results as safe in 3 hours.

    There is no proper discussion of GMO food and what is really happening.

    The evidence is clear if you have need for a job then going against the GMO lobby is the best way to ruin a career and lose your income.

    I would like to think man is clever enough to organise DNA and RNA and control it safely but to date we can change it easily now but safely?

    One worry is the fact that before Berg and his hybridisation we had no accepted known retroviral illnesses. Today first came AIDS closely related to GMO work and then one by one other retroviral illnesses are being identified but again anyone who researches these are again thrown out of work. But to date there are a few known and numbers are around the half dozen or so.

  23. Bravo and thank you! All of us need to join the battle against the neo-Luddites.

  24. Clyde Davies says:

    “Professor Seralini and three million euros and ten years of work was attacked before the world saw his papers in print.”

    Seraliniwas most recently attacked after his paper went into print. The study was criticised for its shoddy methodology and highly suspect analysis of the data. But it still saw publication, even after peer review. Basically the reviewers should have done their job properly.

    The conclusion I draw from this episode is that on the whole the reviewers do perform their job properly, which is why similar shoddy studies don’t get through the process. I’m sure if I were so inclined I could design a study to produce any answer I wanted. Whether or not the methodology was sound would be a different matter.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Clyde, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Seralini ‘leak’ his results to selected (read sympathetic) members of the press before it was published? This is the same tactic used by GP with the Losey report 15 years ago. Aside from the fact that it was rubbish, maybe this ‘science via press release’ contributed to the backlash against the poor guy.
      John, three million euros and ten years obvioulsy don’t guarantee solid results.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Yes, I think he did leak his findings and them – surprise, surprise – he published a book on GMOs. Stoking up a nice little media controversy before publication: clever guy, eh?

      Whatever. The main issue is whether the study deserved to be taken seriosuly. The EFSA published a report on the study pointing out nunmerous methodological flaws and why it shouldn’t.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      I thought I had that right. What is maddening is that this a totally unethical way of releasing data that won’t pass muster when peer reviewed. By releasing it early, they can ‘get out in front’ on the issue of public opinion, and with that cry foul when confronted by us big, bad industry types. This is more politics than science.

    • John Fryer says:

      Hi shoddy methodology

      Do you mean that he tested the GMO only for a very short time?

      Do you mean he didnt look at the herbicide with the added chemicals that takes it into every cell in the insects body?

      Do you mean that dead animals were reincarnated?

      Are you implyinjg his work was FRAUD?

      Can you give specific details?

      His team of scientists from around the world ADMITTED one flaw in their work but REPORTED it without stating it was PROVEN.

      This problem with MONSANTO GMO NK603 maize or corn was that it was found to be causing CANCER at significant levels but not up to the standards of 2013 cancer research.

      This meant that there was a NEED to recheck his work.

      And not a need to VETO his science or claim it should not be published.

      Are you claiming that when significant but unproven harm is found we should NOT BE TOLD?

      Keep taking the FLUORIDE, MERCURY etc as it not 100 per cent proven to cause CANCER?

      Only 99.99 per cent sure. We need another 20 years to check and then another 20 years to be really sure.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Hi, ALL CAPS USER:

      I really don’t have time to issue a point-by-point rebuttal of your rant. Instead, go away and read this paper from end to end, like I did:
      http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/2986.pdf . And before you start denouncing these scientists as ‘shills’, come up with valid counter argument sfor each of the points they raise. In other words, put up, or shut up.

    • Scott says:

      Good article and good post Clyde!,
      We are on the same page regarding Séralini et al.

      I do have a problem with the scientific community’s reaction to Séralini though.

      Where is the study using 50 rats per treatment per sex as recommended in the relevant international guidelines on carcinogenicity testing?

      Isn’t that the point of peer review? To find possible flaws in a paper and then make a new study to confirm or deny them? ie falsify?

      I agree Séralini et al. is not usable proof in and of itself, but where is the usable long term study that corrects Séralini’s use of only 10 rats rats per treatment per sex by using 50 rats per treatment per sex? Or any other of the minor flaws in the study?

      Why wasn’t Séralini given funding to expand upon his work to meet relevant international guidelines on carcinogenicity testing?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Scott, the best place to get detailed answers to your questions is by reading the report in new Scientist (which brought this issue to my attention in the first place) : http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22287-study-linking-gm-crops-and-cancer-questioned.html . Looking at the criticisms contained therein causes one to wonder whether the whole study was a ham-fisted attempt at a stitch-up. There isn’t any logical reason why either glyphosate or the maize used should have caused tumours in the rats in question, and the lengths and contortions that this study went to and through to try to prove the opposite probably convinced most scientists that this line of enquiry had reached a dead end.

      On your comment about peer review: it’s intended primarily to make sure that published findings don’t fall down at the first instance of any criticism. It’s there to protect the reputation of the publishing organ, mainly, as a quality source of reliable information. Once the obvious criticism have been dealt with then publication can go ahead. In this case, lots of flak was directed at the paper subsequent to publication, which is unusual but not unheard of. In such as case it’s up to the author making the claims to substantiate them somehow in the face of such criticism.

      In the case of Seralini, the main question arising from this study is not whether there should be subsequent studies, but why he didn’t do it properly in the first place.

  25. Tom says:

    Many are skeptical of of GM crops and animals. But how do you feel about GM PEOPLE?


  26. JTR says:

    Hi Mark. Thanks for writing this!

  27. Paul says:

    As a corollary to Godwin’s Law I would posit “As an online GMO discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Monsanto quickly approaches 1″

  28. JRG says:

    Thanks for this article! I’ve long been frustrated by the misinformation of many of my environmental activist friends. I’m not a scientist myself, but thankfully I’ve known people that research in these areas, and I’ve always been grateful to learn about these topics from their perspective. My issues with companies like Monsanto have more to do with them being a monopoly and with patenting naturally-occurring entities, such as plant genes, so that they can monopolise their uses for health or medicinal purposes. But as a friend that completed doctoral research in genetically modified canola crops once said, in our industry, we’re more concerned with all the chemicals people have been ingesting for the last 50 years than with our products, which is really just organic biomatter being cross-bred with organic biomatter to prevent disease. It’s still all-natural!

    As you’ve pointed out, people are needlessly dying because groups are indicting the wrong causes. Is it worse to have people eat GMO rice, or worse to do nothing about the corrupt governments/infrastructures that prevent them from accessing any food? In many cases, we actually have sufficient resources for many of the poor, but we fail to understand the real mechanisms behind poverty and its alleviation, and consequently help no one by engaging in activities that would actually bring about positive change for all the world. It takes greater courage to stand up to a country’s dictator than to a genetically modified kernel of corn.

  29. Jamie says:

    I started out as pro-GMO or just apathetic to the issue, and especially so when it came to GMO conspiracy believers.

    Then I realized that GMOs don’t exist in a magical context-free vacuum in which capitalist corporations also don’t exist somehow or have the political and financial sway that they currently enjoy.

    If people could afford the food they were paid slave wages to grow in parts of the world where people are starving, then we wouldn’t even need GMOs. I’m not saying they’re poison because that’s ridiculous. I’m saying that until capitalism and corporate person hood are abolished, I’m in opposition to everything Monsanto does to profit from both starving populations (including factory farm livestock) and their proposed GMO “fix” to the very same problem.

    That means, unfortunately, being halfway steeped into anti-GMOism. That does not, however, mean being a conspiracy theorist about it. It means addressing the deeper problems, which also effect Greenpeace (which has hijacked the environmental movement to generate enormous profits and clout that they can further profit from).

    Throwing your hands up in the air and letting Monsanto go wild isn’t going to fix the damage you feel you’ve done by protesting GMOs. Even protesting GMOs couldn’t possibly have done the damage you think it did without a significant helping hand from the stock market.

  30. Clyde Davies says:

    If people really want to debate the issues involved, as opposed to name calling or labelling others as ‘shills’, I have set up a DebateGraph at http://debategraph.org/GMOsAndAgriculture . I welcome constructive participation, but I warn you that this tool only allows discussion and development of issues and argument, nothing else. Cutting and pasting of long tracts or single links will not be tolerated.

  31. Bill King says:

    I have one question…what does a supposedly benign food company need with a private army ? http://www.darkgovernment.com/news/monsanto-now-owns-blackwater-xe/

    • Keith Reding says:

      I have worked for Monsanto for 16 years. If we own Blackwater, that is news to me.

    • Bill King says:

      Did Monsanto ever hire the services of a company called Total Intelligence in 2008/9?

    • Keith Reding says:

      Not that I’m aware.

    • Bill King says:

      Are you in a position where you would be aware if these transactions occurred? I’m just trying to separate fact and fiction……

    • Keith Reding says:

      Tomorrow I will ask people that would know. There is so much blatant false information on social media about Monsanto that nothing surprises me anymore but I promise that I will report back truthfully.

    • Bill King says:

      Thank you Keith, that is all I could ask….Hope you don’t get hobbled ;)

    • Keith Reding says:

      Thanks, Bill. I have nothing to hide and I am very proud to work for Monsanto. I came to Monsanto because I believe in what they were doing to improve US agriculture. I will get back to you tomorrow.

    • Keith Reding says:

      Bill, here is Monsanto’s official response.


    • Bill King says:

      Thanks again Kieth, we have established Monsanto don’t own it but uses its services. How should I interpret this…….. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Intelligence_Solutions It basically links Total Intelligence Solutions to Blackwater, despite what Monsanto were assured……

    • Keith Reding says:

      Bill, I’m not sure of the concern or issue you are trying to address. Monsanto used that company to gather public information about activities or groups that could pose a risk to the company, its personnel or its global operations. I don’t see that any link to Blackwater is relevent regarding the legitimate services Monsanto received from TIS.

    • Bill King says:

      In the Monsanto official response you posted it says ‘Monsanto specifically inquired and was informed that TIS was a completely separate entity from Blackwater, when it would appear that it is not. I know its a small point and possibly not even Monsanto’s concern, but If I were hiring an intelligence gathering, logistical company, I would be staying as far away from Blackwater as I could. Anyway thank you once again Keith, you have been very forthcoming and I appreciate that….I might catch up again later on one of Mark’s future postings…I agree with much but not all that he says and he certainly stirs the pot…Cheers

    • Keith Reding says:

      Nice chatting with you, Bill. I’m happy to contribute to the discussion.

    • Robert Lyons says:

      Did my own web hunt the day before yesterday when I read this here. I gather there was a Spanish news story translated to Russian. The Russian translation misconstrued “hired” or “contracted” as “purchased,” and a viral news story was born.

      See Jeremy Scahill’s reporting:

      One of the most incendiary details in the documents is that Blackwater, through Total Intelligence, sought to become the “intel arm” of Monsanto, offering to provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.


      [This is a repost- "caught in moderation; removed by Administrator..(?)" Pardon duplication.]

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Fascinating. Now go back and read the title of this article and think about whether Mark might actually be onto something

  32. Scotty says:

    No greater conspiracy than a global chemical industry that foists patented pesticide-enhanced bug & weed killer enabled foodstuffs onto the world’s population under the guise of sameness. It’s an industry sponsored legal BS construct of epoch height, girth and stench. No better person to top it off, his highness of olfactory odiousness, the GMO kingpin, Marky-Mark.

  33. marta says:

    This is crap! Bio tech is not going to save the world it is going to destroy it! There have been no long term safety studies and no tracking so where do you get your info that they are safe? Mono crop farming is killing the earth and poisoning the water. If you want to site global warming buddy the biggest producer is the cattle industry and all these gmo crops they are growing to feed the cattle. You are an idiot in my opinion sir and i will stick to all the research articles that I have read by scientists that are very concerned. Good day to you

    • Tom says:

      Hi Marta. There have been plenty of long-term studies showing no harm of GM foods (sadly it’s theoretically impossible to prove ‘safety’ of pretty much anything). The BioFortified blog has set up a database called GENERA where you are able to browse by crop etc (http://www.biofortified.org/genera/guide/).

  34. RS says:

    I am from India. I have only one point to say, please stay out of this country. We don’t need this useless piece of crap technology, and its absolutely airy nonsensical promises. As an example, BT cotton has completely failed in India. In case you want to read more , read here:


    14,000 farmers have already committed suicide in India, thanks to this GM crap.


  35. Clyde Davies says:

    “14,000 farmers have already committed suicide in India, thanks to this GM crap.”

    No they haven’t:

    yet another ‘zombie argument’

    • RS says:

      Well, the article is just pointing out a correlation between number of deaths, introduction of GM cotton in India. It doesn’t point to any evidence based analysis, but is based on pure hypothesis.

      GM based deaths have been verified on evidence basis, not as a pure statistical correlation, by many agencies in India. The article which i have pointed is the agriculture minister speaking and not a random guy (as in the news article pointed by you) sitting on his laptop and trying to figure out a data correlation. I wouldn’t even call it a research or even a thought in that direction.

      Bt cotton needs twice as water as compared to traditional varieties. GM is just suited to satisfy big pockets & big greed & big multinationals, however is not the solution to multi dimensional social economic problem that India faces. The solution is deep rooted in social financial independence of farms, farming & farmers in India and not the other way around.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      I always find it amusing when someone from India (like yourself or that quack Shiva) has the chutzpah to preach to the rest of the world about how to farm. You have upwards of 61 million children under the age of 5 who are malnourished, far and away the highest in the world, and it has been that way for a long time. I’m old enough to remember when the main job of trash collectors in Calcutta was to clear starved people. “Oh, but industrial farming and GMOs will destroy us!!” The rest of the world seems to be able to feed itself with these methods. Why don’t you try to take yes for an answer??
      You say “the article is just pointing out a correlation between number of deaths, introduction of GM cotton in India. It doesn’t point to any evidence based analysis, but is based on pure hypothesis.” And then “GM based deaths have been verified on evidence basis.” Which is it? “GM based deaths” implies causation, not correlation.
      “Bt cotton needs twice as water as compared to traditional varieties.” Really? Cite the study. Bt cotton also yields about twice as much. Are you proposing that we reduce water use by reducing yield.?

  36. Susan Williams says:

    To say that Paul Greenberg and Paul Ehrlich advocate starving people in order to reduce their reproductive abilities is a ridiculous and inflammatory thing to say. Wanting to see a sustainable population is not the same as trying to starve people, and ironically will actually lead to enough food for all.

    Organic crops are lambasted here as being inefficient and requiring whole continents of farmland. Instead of promoting GMO crops and that technology, why aren’t we instead promote the technology of multistoried crops, i.e. farming in controlled (no or little herbicides or pesticides needed) huge multistoried buildings. Any one, any company can grow in this environment, there are no patent issues. Oh, maybe that’s why technology money isn’t going that direction.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      How exactly do tou propose to get sunlight to these plants? Or if you’re going use lights how do you produce the power in an environmentally friendly manner?

    • susan williams says:

      To start, I imagine that both windows, solar tubes, and solar power would let one grow in a multistory enviornment. As I mentioned, we could put our research money to alternative ways of farming instead of alternative crops. That would improve this type of farming. But of course, if there is no perfect answer right now, that means that the GMO industry will bray about that. Nevermind that GMO was once a concept that was thought would never come to be. Just because GMO got here first doesn’t mean it’s better.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      How about just planting the crops in fields and cutting out solar tubes, solar panels and the suchlike? How about engineering crops like rice to make better use of sunlight, as in http://c4rice.irri.org/index.php/19-about/55-why-c4-rice ?

      Anything but GMOs, eh! Why do the ends always have to play second fiddle to the means?

    • Scott says:

      That’s pretty funny. I could ask you why GMO’s are an end instead of food?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      You can ask all you like, mate, but you’d be barking up the wrong tree. I made my position on this issue perfectly plain in another thread. I don’t believe any particular approach has all the answers, and if we are going to serious address some of the challenges we are facing as a species then we will need to learn the best lessons from all of these approaches.

      To portray the issues as a binary either-or choice is disingenuous or naive. When one of those choices is building multistory farms with solar panels versus simply growing crops that can use sunlight better, then it’s getting silly.

    • susan williams says:

      Ah, so anything OTHER than GMO is contrived, but manipulating genes is not. Amazing thought process there.

    • Keith Reding says:

      We should consider that DNA doesn’t care from which it was derived. It is only a sequence of 4 nucleotides. That is shared among all living organisms. Just because nature hasn’t found a specific need for a particular sequence doesn’t mean that any uni

    • Keith Reding says:

      We should consider that DNA doesn’t care from which organisms or evolutionary process it was derived. DNA is only a sequence of nucleotides that is shared among all organisms and even viruses. Just because nature hasn’t found a specific need for a particular sequence doesn’t mean that any unique sequence is bad; it only means that sequence has not been needed to fulfill a specific need, until now.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Please yourself: I’m sure you’ll put whatever spin you want to on it. I’m pointing out the lengths to which people will go to avoid GMOs, which some treat as a moral evil.

    • Scott says:

      It’s simple really. There is a fundamental difference to the way people view agriculture. From Agri-biz POV. Any development in agriculture must be patent-able. That’s why they focus on GMO’s and new chemicals. You’ll never see a new advancement from Monsanto or the like unless there is some way they can control it to make a profit. They have reduced the number of farmers as a % of the population so successfully, farmers are no longer able to have any power as a consumer group. So the farmers POV can generally be safely ignored. That leaves only the consumer with any power at all. The consumer prefers little to no chemicals or GMO’s manipulation, low price and high quality.

      So what it boils down to is that the only group capable of filling the consumers wishes has absolutely no power to do it, even though ways to do it are well known and have been well known for years. That’s because a single farmer, or small group of farmers, hasn’t the numbers to create economies of scale that agribiz has. And so if they fill the consumers wish for quality, it cost more. Not because it is more expensive in real costs. Because of no economies of scale which reduces consumer costs.

    • Bill King says:

      Sorry Keith couldn’t resist….If i hand you a sandwich and tell you it 94% ham and 6% shit, would you eat it ? ;)

    • Bill King says:

      Sorry mate, I realize it is a ‘straw man’ point but sometimes Occum helps…..

    • Susan Williams says:

      Clyde Davies– Once again, the way things are said manipulate thought (and where our money goes). You said: “I’m sure you’ll put whatever spin you want on it”. So, only GMO-free statements must be “spin”, but not pro-GMO statements.

  37. Rick says:

    I find it quite disappointing that an article that is intending to refute a good size class of people and in which the author is advocating for the sciences, introduces no references to scientific evidence, but merely expects those who are either on the fence or grossly opposed to trust his version of common sense on the issues he has approached. I’m not particularly advocating for either side. In fact, I’m attempting to learn more about the issue, but nothing here is supported by reference. What I would like to see, and perhaps I need to simply do my own searching, is the studies that show that the GM foods in question are safe for long term consumption. End the end, that is really all that matters.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Ok, how about this line of reasoning. There have been three trillion meals based on GM food eaten over the past two decades. If there was a toxic effect due purely to the process involved, then we can use the statistical ‘rule of three’ to work out the maximum risk of a side effect within 95% certainty: divide the number of doses into three. So three divide by three trillion gives a *maximum* risk of one in a trillion. The real risk is like to be even smaller.

      You can’t ever prove anything is totally safe. All you xcan do is weigh up the risks of eating something compared to the consequences of not eating it. In too many countries of the world still, not eating is a major cause of sickness and death.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Hi Rick,
      If you’re looking for references to toxicity and feeding studies on GMO’s, check out the GENERA tab at the Biofortified site. They’re up to around 600 studies so far. As far as the Seralini study is concerned, a co-worker gave me an article by Arjo, et al. entitled, “Plurality of opinion, scienctific discourse and pseudoscience: an in depth analysis of the Seralini et al. study claiming that Roundup Ready corn or the herbicide Roundup cause cancer in rats.” Transgenic Research (2013) 22:255-267. It provides an exhaustive assessment of that study and it’s flaws, not to mention the disgraceful and self-aggrandizing behavior of the Principal Investigator

  38. Clyde Davies says:

    The figures simply don’t bear out your claims. As is plain to see from the graphs in that article, the frequency of suicides has been pretty static. In fact the suicides predated the introduction of any GM crops. As the article says:
    “But in 2008, the International Food Policy Research Institute, an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations that aims to end hunger in the developing world, reached an entirely different conclusion.

    “It is not only inaccurate, but simply wrong to blame the use of Bt cotton as the primary cause of farmer suicides in India,” said the report, stating that the introduction of Bt cotton in India had actually been effective in producing higher yields and decreasing pesticide usage by nearly 40%.”

    Perhaps the reason why BT cotton needs twice as much water is because the crops themselves, free from the burden of pestilence, end up being twice as productive?

    • Scott says:

      There is little doubt you are right about GM not being the cause. But the conversion by most of India to “green revolution” agriculture has a lot to do with it.

      In Western countries the farmers simply went bankrupt, sell the farm and move to the cities. That in itself is traumatic enough. India is a completely different culture. So the result in farmers reactions is completely different.

      You are incredibly callous to dismiss this serious problem.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Oh come on, I’m doing nothing of the sort. Yes, it’s a problem, and I don’t deny it or dismiss its impact. What I do dismiss is that there is ONE cause for this issue and the ludicrous scenario that is touted as an explanation. by the anti-GMO brigade.

  39. zero says:

    This article is wonderful rubbish, awesome hit article. The reason of cynicism lies in the fact that one must have mastered particle physics to properly maneuver through a genome. As an accomplished electrical engineer, and as an accomplished writer in my field I must say this individual has absolutely no research to back himself up with. Show me actual diagrams and electron microscope captures of the cellular interaction on the particle scale and prove that something is safe. Be transparent, show me you’ve done research in your field and prove that the research is sound beyond a reasonable doubt. This guy is just regurgitating, he didn’t even do his own project to prove it. If he really wants to prove that they’re safe, then he should be provided a supply of GM crops and eat them straight for years, I would love to see the research then. Now I’m not using any charts or diagrams or scientific proof because I don’t have to, it’s not my field, and I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything concrete, rather, I’m attempting to resuscitate what common sense may be left in this thread.

    What everyone else should also know is that in certain places, like Thailand, almost nothing grown is GMO, nor do they use pesticides because they cost too much, and Thailand has no problem maintaining biodiversity or being one of the worlds leading exporters in rice.

    This guy is an academic nightmare, who has no idea what the word epistemology means. This will more than likely fall on deaf ears, I’m going to assume most of you have herd mentality, and also that none of you are attempting to head towards self sustainability, in other words, you are children in adults bodies, incapable of taking care of yourselves. You grew up consuming that rubbish called “knowledge” which was fed to you in textbooks in grade 9, now you adamantly debate over something which you have no knowledge of. In order to understand anything, one must understand what is the pervasive force of the universe. Particle physics and the electromagnetic realm is a great place to start. Many biologists believe that they bring gospel to the scientific method, however, biology has been given a huge hand by electronic diagnostics, which only electrical engineers truly understand and know how to interpret and calibrate.

    Also as a side note, this is a wonderful comment on the world today. It’s not like for decades there haven’t been huge groves of individuals who called on their democratic leaders to go easy on the environment, or to consider valuing quality of life over growing economies. Instead of debating what is “right” and “just”, instead of questioning why we have so many humans doing useless jobs such as call center work, this article says there is a food problem and it can only be solved by “science” and all of you are keeping people from eating because you want to hold GMOs back. What absolute rubbish and naiveté. Many where I’m from have been calling on their members of parliament to establish greenhouses and home gardens galore, empower everyone to grow their own sustainable product. This article calls on someone else to take responsibility. How convenient, all these people arguing over something they wouldn’t lift a finger to address, including this clown at the podium. Good luck being bereft of any real wisdom you sheep. And good luck having someone clean your diapers, babies.

    There is such a lack of real science here I must depart or else I may explode from pseudo-science nausea.

    By the way, I’ve already accounted for your retort, you’re going to say that I’m a gutter-loving hippie who believes the world should be run by chaos and everyone has polio. Good luck with that.


    • Loren Eaton says:

      Hi z,
      Bear in mind that Lynas came from a background where adherence to pseudoscience was worn like a badge of honor. Anyone who questioned their conclusions was labeled a shill, regardless of how logical the rebuttal. I don’t know the guy, maybe he knows more than he did before and maybe he doesn’t. But as someone who has made around 20K GMO plants since 1986, I can tell you that our industry has been attacked by psuedoscience for the better part of two decades; starting with the Monarch butterfly BS and most lately with the Seralini thing. As Bill Clinton famously said, “I feel your pain.”
      Oh, and “this article says there is a food problem and it can only be solved by “science”.” That’s a bit of a strawman, no? Certainly, very few in this industry think that GMO’s or science is the only solution, but it needs to be part of the solution.

    • Robert Lyons says:

      Mr. Loren,

      Can we dot our i’s and cross our t’s here? Which MB BS are you pointing out? The inconclusive endotoxin (Bt pollen) link or the “success” of exotoxins (primarily glyphosphate) at decimating milkweed and, in turn, monarch populations?


    • Clyde Davies says:

      That’s a red herring. spraying any kind of herbicide will kill weed species which are beneficial to insects. This isn’t a problem unique to herbicide resistant GMOs, and some thoughtful establishment of refuges alongside the main crop would go a long way to feeding monarchs.

      People like you latch on to problems with the application of a technology in order to try to discredit its whole basis. It’s like saying that all medicines should be banned because antibiotics cause the development of resistance. It’s a lazy, facile argument which might wash in the kind of circles you move in, but here you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better.

    • Robert Lyons says:

      “People like you,” eh? Within your brief rebuttal here, Mr. Davies, rounded out so ardently with mocking slurs, I read a roiling desperation so tightly concealed it is armored with no less than four of the classic Freudian defense mechanisms: denial, rationalization, intellectualization, and projection. While I am sympathetic, it’s probably not advisable to attempt to unravel such naked fear in this setting. Confirmation bias being so central to the social cohesion of your type, you may have to look outside the kind of circles you move in to find the patient and tender counsel needed to unmask and integrate these fiercely suppressed (though detectable – it must be excruciating) tensions. Perhaps at some later juncture then, when you can return with a greater psychological authenticity and wholeness, absent some of the cognitive distortions you are prone to, we can resume this important conversation. Oh, but you know me – lazy and facile! I’d just as soon go take a nap in front of the TV. Cheers mate.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “Perhaps at some later juncture then, when you can return with a greater psychological authenticity and wholeness, absent some of the cognitive distortions you are prone to,..”

      Do you really talk like this to everyone? I really don’t have the time or energy to unpick this tangle of latinate polysyllabic verbiage, mainly because I think that whatever argument I end up finding at the core of it wouldn’t very profound or interesting. I’m pretty confident’ I don’t see this issue through any ‘cognitive distortions’. I don’t, for instance, take one aspect of agricultural husbandry and use it to discredit a whole approach. Milkweeds don’t grow in glyphosate resistant fields? Very well, we’ll make sure they grow in refuges. It’s a totally manageable problem in the the application of these new crops. And you can bet your bloody life that what’s gone on elsewhere and previously has had a far more profound impact on our insect life than this particular regime.

      Oh, and when I want lectures on how to go about thinking about issues, I’ll ask for them, and then seek them from my intellectual peers: research scientists with doctorates who have a track record in thinking about and dealing with real problems.

    • Robert Lyons says:

      “Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster.”

      ~ Tom Atlee

      Dear Mr. D,

      In the first note I addressed to you on this thread, I sought to expose my own bias and impugned my own logic! I have doubts and suspicions and, yes, fears – the latter not unknown for blurring one’s vision. Admittedly, most of my observations are correlational and pattern-based: increased incidence of ABC/ increased incidence of XYZ – Hmmm? I copped to generalizing; to lumping synthetic biology in with the over-chemicalization of our environment, among other trends in the advance of industrialization. I’ve chimed in here seeking to become better informed, wanting to be persuaded, hoping that the confidence and assurance evinced by some here (if sometimes smugly) might just rub off. If you, Mark Lynas, Ramez Naam (who pointed me here), and others can liberate “people like [me]” from our doubts and fears on this matter, please do! And thank you!

      In turn, well, your apparent absence of doubt on certain points brings to mind this sort of quip:

      “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

      ~ Bertrand Russell

      Seriously, between my precautionary scepticism and your pragmatic optimism on this subject, the edge toward zealotry is more clearly in your court.

      While, in particular, I am muddling through more of the evidence and findings on glyphosphate (much of it laudatory), I continue to plod along mostly in generalities and pattern searches. For example:

      We are thick in the midst of the Anthropocene or Sixth Mass Extinction, our own ecological niche imperilled on several fronts.
      [Do you dispute this?]

      Worldwide, we are seeing marked increases in chronic, noncommunicable diseases, including autoimmune disorders.
      [Do you dispute this?]

      On this score, Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), explains:

      “With the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases, it clearly suggests that environmental factors are at play due to the significant increase in these diseases. Genes do not change in such a short period of time.”

      The most widely-spread and significant implementation (and potentially the most consequential – for good or ill) of all of our experimentation with GMOs is in global agriculture. The widespread use of GMO food crops involves the concomitant (and similarly massive) introduction of numerous synthetic biocides (whether endo- or exo-) into the environment.
      [Is this disputable?]

      Increasing amounts of active pharmaceutical ingredients, endocrine disruptors, and genetic pollution are being found in our waterways (the Thames, the Potomac, Puget Sound, the Artic!) and drinking water.

      Questions begging answers:

      Do you know what’s in your drinking water?

      Could you hazard a guess of what a “body burden” assay of your own blood might reveal?

      Am I party to a lynch mob, madly in search of a “suspect,” my pitchfork wrongly poised at the throat of “Frankenfoods?”

      Accelerating species loss, rising disease rates, increasing use of pesticide-paired GMOs – all in historical tandem. Hmmm?

      Yes, let me trot out something from Joseph Mercola (“How GE Trees Affect the Environment”), who Ramez Naam has dismissed as in irredeemable “quack”:

      “Genetic engineering (GE) of our food supply amounts to a massive science experiment being performed on mankind, without consent or full disclosure. Although the biotech industry continues to claim GE products are safe, the truth is that no one knows what the long-term effects will be, because no one has done the necessary studies.

      The loudest proponents of GE are the ones who stand to profit the most, and they don’t seem terribly concerned about the human or environmental costs.

      What do we know for certain? We know genetic engineering is riddled with unpredictable effects, so we should expect the unexpected.”

      I’ve never bought any of the products Mercola is selling or read any of his other writings, but I’m definitely invested in exactly this point of view. In part, I’m persuaded on grounds of risk assessment and the potential scale of damage involved. What potential risk does the perspective and business of this particular quack (small/light footprint) pose to Life on Earth, contrasted with the aims and business (huge/heavy footprint) being carried out by mega-corporations like Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, et al?

      Is there no cause for pause, possibly to remediate some of our other self-inflicted wounds, before burdening ourselves and Ol’ Ma Nature with more of our well-meaning “scientific” detritus?

      “Lazy” this, mon frere.

      Again and still,

      A cautious sceptic



    • Scott says:

      You should be skeptical. Because in biological systems it is quite common for the whole to be more than the sum of its parts. This was proven in agriculture particularly in the first side by side experiment ever done comparing organic with conventional, the Haughley Experiment 1939-1972 by Lady Eve Balfour and Alice Debenham. It has been confirmed and expanded upon over and over again many times since.

      You are also quite right to view GMO’s as part of the larger conventional Ag system, and not taken in a reductionist manner. I sincerely believe GMOs could be put to beneficial use, but like all technology, it is the use that makes the technology good or bad, not the technology itself. Right now that isn’t the case.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      ““Genetic engineering (GE) of our food supply amounts to a massive science experiment being performed on mankind, without consent or full disclosure. Although the biotech industry continues to claim GE products are safe, the truth is that no one knows what the long-term effects will be, because no one has done the necessary studies.”
      Look at my comment about the ‘rule of three’ earlier in this thread. And then tell me whether this argument still has any legs to it. Or if you don’t understand that, then at least posit a hypothetical mechanism by which GMOs which have been cleared for allegernicity and toxicity can go on to cause chronic health effects.
      And if you’re going to insist on officiously bandying honorifics, referring to me as ‘Mr. D’ ro ‘Mr. Davies’, then at least get it right and accord me the basic respect of referring to me by my proper title , would you?

    • Robert Lyons says:

      By the canons of free-range flame throwing and pissing competition (what many internet conversations devolve into), your last point is a Grand Canyon opening to snark on steroids. But I won’t go there. Instead, it may just be that you deserve a pat on the back for tempering your derision and pulling up short of lobbing any outright slurs this time. Bravo!

      To your other point, from Wikipedia, Rule of three (statistics):

      “For example, a pain-relief drug is tested on 1500 human subjects, and no adverse event is recorded. From the rule of three, it can be concluded with 95% confidence that fewer than 1 person in 500 (or 3/1500) will experience an adverse event.”

      Fair enough.

      In your rule of three reference above, you site 3T meals of GMO foods consumed over the last two decades. You go on to say:

      “So three divide by three trillion gives a *maximum* risk of one in a trillion. The real risk is like to be even smaller.”

      Your example appears to posit that 3T meals have been consumed – “and no adverse event is recorded.” Hence, the risk of any toxic effect from the consumption of GMOs is less than 1 in 1T.

      There are some very negative health trends within the cohort you site – the human consumers of those 3T meals. A graph line of the advance and acceleration of these “adverse events” in the last two decades would probably overlay neatly on a graph line of the rates and increases in GMO food consumption.

      Let’s see. It do happens that Justin Beiber was born about two decades ago. And ascribing increased incidence of chronic disease and autoimmune disorders on the last two decades to increased consumption of GMOs is the same as blaming it on the Beeb. These are all historical parallels, but where’s the proof of causation?

      All I’ve got is correlation and conjecture. The studies that purport to link human disease with GMOs are all debunked as pseudoscience or marketing ploys. And of course, the medical science conducted and published by Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, and Big Pharma would never be fuzzied up by petty marketing considerations.

      In the realm of concession speech, snippets from another conversation with Ramez Naam, et al, on GMOs:

      Personally, I continue to fret. The scale of the consequences – realized and potential; good or ill – is HUGE. I suppose I’m “caving in” along some lines of this broad and broadening subject matter, synthetic biology – a new terrestrial life phylum – is less and less a “black or white” issue to me. Besides, whatever our sentiments, passions, and persuasions may be, and given the scale of GMO experimentation/implementation already underway, “organic” biology on this planet may already be a relic.

      Absent massive revolt with attendant seed, crop, lab, literature, and (possibly) a few scientist burnings [!], the genie is out of the bottle, come what may, the magnitude of “stamping it out” too improbable (politically and otherwise), if not impossible. We’re on to “conscientious management” of what appear to be indelible, irreversible changes to Earth’s biology.

      It’s likely I will continue to shake my pitchfork at the “monster,” lamenting the loss of the dear ol’ Natural world we inherited. And it’s not altogether bravely that I accede to this Brave New World.

      On a brighter note, your kind patience, Ramez, and your confident assurances do go some ways toward tempering my fears and assuaging my grief. “C’mon in! The water’s fine!” You and others have coaxed me in to the wading end of the pool, where we are all challenged, now, to jump in kicking and screaming or jump in better-informed. Increasingly, that appears to be the extent of any remaining choice we have in this matter.

      * * *

      This debate, including our conversation here, is akin to the debate that preceded the detonation of the first atomic bomb. I live in the leeward shadow of the Sandia Mountains, atop which some of the Manhattan Project scientists stood and gazed a couple of hundred miles to the south, to the Trinity site, where “Little Boy” was exploded. Many laypeople and esteemed scientists alike predicted catastrophe, some fearing that Earth’s entire atmosphere would ignite and incinerate us all. And it’s reported that soon after the detonation, the project director Robert Oppenheimer exclaimed (quoting Hindu scripture): “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

      The GMO bomb, the first wave at any rate, has been dropped – carpeting the planet – all of its reverberations and fallout yet to be accounted for. Doubtless, the nuclear naysayers were called Neo-Luddites, quacks, and conspiracy theorists in their turn, too. Now, whether these are truly “friendly” goads here, urging and inviting us into a “better” future, or simply insults heaped upon injury, well, that is yet to be determined, too.

      W e w i l l s e e.

      And we will hope, along with our truly patient and well-meaning GMO proponents here (some of their fingers are crossed, too, you can be certain) that the GMOs loosed in the world will not seal our doom, with human history, our legacy, summed up in Oppenheimer’s quote.

      And also, quite possibly, as with the nuclear naysayers, things may not turn out as awful as some of us fear they might.

      * * *

      Clyde, you’ve a good sport, dogged and, yes, insightful in your advocacy of GMOs. It’s been a stimulating and informative dialogue that Mark Lynas has inspired and hosted here. My sincerest thanks to you and all the other participants.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Um, I’m not advocating *for* GMOs. I’m advocating *against* the current anti-GMO mindset. I am neither pro- nor anti-GMO myself. I’m just pro-science. I also think we need to keep our options open.

      On the subject of correlations, do you have any idea what’s entered our food supply over the past two decades? We have ingredients in our foodstuffs that we never dreamt of in the seventies and eighties: stuff like pine nuts for example. If there’s been an increase in food allergies, then you need to compare the increase in Europe where GMOs are as a whole not consumed and the US where they are. I’d expect you’d find little difference in the trends. (The same for bee decline, by the way).

      My favourite graph showing a correlation->causation fallacy can be found at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/de/PiratesVsTemp%28en%29.svg/800px-PiratesVsTemp%28en%29.svg.png .

      And I am very glad you have stopped calling me Mr. Davies but are now using my first name. Thank you.

    • Robert Lyons says:

      My fondest discovery in this conversation thus far: your sense of humor! Thanks for the graph!

    • Clyde Davies says:

      On the subject of food allergies being causes by GMOs, it’s worth listening to this program from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01dhcg2 . It’s an eye opener. One interviewee lists the new NON GMO ingredients that have made their way into our diets as part of heavily processed foods over the past decade: Pine nuts. Sesame. Buckwheat. Lupin flour even. And that’s just a small sample.
      I have a gluten intolerance. I can eat little or no pasta or bread without severe consequences. I can’t drink much beer, and also I have to avoid red wine. It’s a pretty miserable diet sometimes. GMOs in my case are definitely not to blame as we don’t consume them in the UK.

  40. Clyde Davies says:

    “You grew up consuming that rubbish called “knowledge” which was fed to you in textbooks in grade 9, now you adamantly debate over something which you have no knowledge of. In order to understand anything, one must understand what is the pervasive force of the universe. Particle physics and the electromagnetic realm is a great place to start. Many biologists believe that they bring gospel to the scientific method, however, biology has been given a huge hand by electronic diagnostics, which only electrical engineers truly understand and know how to interpret and calibrate. ”

    Ok, here’s a challenge for you. Explain how ‘particle physics and the electromagnetic realm’ can possibly explain the theory of Natural Selection, let alone predict it – the single most important force in biology and possible the best idea anyone has ever had anywhere.

  41. Vickie Jackson says:

    I am so enjoying this discourse. It’s good to hear (some) intelligent people debate an issue that has real implications. Please never lose your passions and please keep communicating with each other.

    My small bit of wisdom? “Don’t believe everything you think”. It takes an exceptional person a great deal of self-examination to be aware of his inherited beliefs and prejudices. We ALL think we are rational and most of us think we are above average.

    Thank you!

  42. Neil says:

    This article actually reinforced my concern about these crops. Other than being nutritionally inferior the idea that eating GMO food is “safe” may in a very strict sense be true – we are not immediately poisoned or MAY not develop cancer from them (then again we may). Even if true, it is the soil destruction, bee colony and other insect species collapses, heavy petrochemical use and intensive processing that is breaking our food system. This article ignores the damage wrought by modern monoculture food production systems. There is no need for GMOs with healthy, biologically diverse and balanced natural farming methods. GMOs are a symptom of a failing and desperately ill modern monoculture farming system.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Go and tell that to the people dying and going blind from Vitamin A deficiency. And before you retort with ‘they ought to grow a greater variety of vegetables’, then reflect on the fact that (a) if they could grow them, they’d need a hell of a lot of them to match other options in the pipeline (b) poverty begets a monotonous diet, not the other way around and (c) why should they change their way of living just to overcome the aesthetic objections of some pampered Westerners?

    • Scott says:

      That’s not entirely true Clyde. While poverty may have many causes, the current conventional monoculture model actually is an important cause in many places around the world.

      So the solution of changing to a more sustainable agricultural model also is an important help to BOTH poverty and nutrition. And this change is completely separate from GMOs in a reductionist view, but has everything to do with GMOs in a systems thinking view. Primarily since GMOs like golden rice are part of the conventional models attempt to prop up that failing agricultural system.

    • Scott says:

      Exactly correct. Simply taking a reductionist approach focused on GMO’s alone, without also studying the systems in which those GMOs are used is meaningless.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      OK, so let’s use a ‘systems thinking’ apporach on another pernicious health problem. Poliomyeletis is still rife in many places. It is a disease transmitted by contact with faecal matter. This kind of contact arises mainly because sanitation is poor, and that in turn is characteristic of poverty.
      So, a Systems Thinker says: ‘I’ve got a great idea! Let’s rip out all the world’s open sewers and bury them with new sewers, ensure that every single house on the planet has running water and water closets and deep clean them while we’re at it every month! It’ll only take fifty years!’ Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation quietly gets on with its vaccination program.
      In fact, this analogy is totally apposite: we have a integrated, ‘systems’ approach that does everything except engage with the crux of the problem: eradicating the virus. Similarly, the ‘systems’ approach fails to engage with the issue with VAD: making sure that people get enough of the vitamin in their daily diet by integrating it directly with their staple food, which is rice. Minimum disruption entails and they can get on with their lives much as they did beforehand, except that none of them go blind or die from the disease now.
      Vaccinating people against totally preventable diseases means that more of them live to adulthood, and many fewer workdays are lost. It helps them pull themselves out of poverty. Allowing people to grow their own nutrients as easily as possoible and with the minimum of readjustment means that they similarly get to lead healthier and more productive lives. Why do they wait for every piece of the jigsaw to fall into place first?

    • Scott says:

      Interesting take on it. What makes you think organic isn’t that fix that allows people to continue their lives healthier and more productively while waiting for the rest of the puzzle to fall into place?

      Seems to me that we are working on different puzzles.

      What makes your puzzle take priority of the organic puzzle? The fact that the industry got a big boost from WWII? Or that it is actually a superior model to build on?

      Personally I believe the organic model is a far superior model to build on, in so much as it builds on the biological systems model all life on the planet evolved around. Biomimicry seems to me to be the obvious choice as a start since biological systems are already proven to function. If they didn’t we wouldn’t be even having this discussion.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      A couple of things:
      Neil, ‘nutritionally inferior’? Can’t let that one slide. Cite the studies, please. If there is a higher concentration of some nutrients in organic crops (I assume that is what you’re talking about), it is typically due to 1) more stress on the plant and/or 2) less water content in the edible part. The question I have is this: is the increase in nutrient offest by the decrease in yield that is seen in most organic crops. Do you actually produce LESS nutrient per acre? Is THAT sustainable agriculture? Also are the increases claimed by these folks actually biologically relevant; or do have to eat 400 more strawberries to see the benefit?

      Scott, us GMO types don’t operate in a vacuum, if that’s what you’re implying. Plant breeders, pathologists, physiologists, nutrtionists and growers ARE always involved. If you don’t satisfy the grower or processor or whoever your customer might be, you don’t have a product.
      And you can call it a reductionist approach if you want, but GMO or not, that approach continues to fill the tankers with grain to send around the world to feed those who have a food shortage regardless of what local method is failing at the time.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      What makes me think that ‘organic’ isn’t that fix that allows people to continue their lives healthier and more productively while waiting for the rest of the puzzle to fall into place? Well, aren’t they doing this already? These are on the whole quite poor subsistence farmers who farm sustainably through force of circumstance. The issue is not whether they are are to do this: it’s the simple fact that the kind of farming they do, which involves a lot of rice growing, doesn’t allow them to grow the kinds of vegetables that would get them enough vitamin A and they can’t buy those vegetables either. I know you think that organic farming is far superior, but in this case sustainability isn’t the issue, and when all you have is a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail.
      I’ll give you my own ‘systems thinking’ approach on this issue. Poverty begets malnutrition, malnutrition begets disease and death, and disease and death beget poverty. It’s a vicious little circular kind of system, and is easily, most quickly and effectively addressed by breaking its first link. Golden Rice would cost $100 per individual per year to treat VAD. Dietary supplementation would cost upwards of a thousand. Either approach, however, is infinitely better than the neo-colonialist, `let them eat broccoli` kind of condescension on offer from the likes of Greenpeace, The Soil Association and Friends of the Earth.

    • Scott says:

      Well Clyde. You made the same mistake again. Traditional subsistence farming is not the same as organic farming. They may appear similar to the novice or the ignorant, but they are not the same thing.

      Organic is a science based approach to farming, Traditional is often steeped in pseudo science and/or cultural traditions, mythology etc…. Organic may sometimes LOOK like traditional, but the tool kit is significantly more diverse than “only a hammer”. The advantage to organic is instead of looking at maximizing production per farmer, it maximizes production per acre. Yes that may mean more labor, but in those poor countries you are speaking about, driving the farmer off the land and into abject poverty to reduce labor costs of conventional “green revolution” farming, then being charitable and supplying them with free monoculture grain surpluses is the cruel irony.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I don’t think I’m making any such mistake. The farming relies upon introduction of man-made pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, in which case it is ‘conventional’, or it doesn’t and relies instead upon closed loop nutrient cycles and pest management, in which case it is what most of us would understand as ‘organic’.
      Buit as I said, the kind of farming you embrace addresses the issue of environmental and resource sustainabIlity. nothing wrong with that. it’s just i see more pressing issues facing these people, and sometimes a quick ‘tech’ fix is just the ticket.

  43. A1 says:

    I liked reading this a lot. However, it would be so helpful for GMO supporters like myself if you cited your sources so I can help spread the word as well.

  44. Ben says:

    I am a genetically modified organism, so are you, and all living things we see around us. If there was no genetic modification there would be no diversity, and life as we know it would not exist.

    Genes become modified in plants and animals all the time, whether this modification occurs in the natural environment or in a laboratory is irrelevant to the potential risks. Engineered modifications could arguably be safer than natural ones because they are tightly controlled and stringently trialled.

    GMOs are not inherently evil or dangerous, though the pseudoscience and bureaucracy surrounding them may well be. Just label ALL foods GMO, and rightly so. Countries banning them will quickly reconsider their unjustified position.

  45. Blake Ludwig says:

    I understand the position that Mark is taking, alongside people like Stewart Brand’s view, that within a limited time frame and the vast need to help avoid starvation in a changing environment, then GMO’s might make sense.
    However, if you take out the’urgency’ arguments, and also take a big look at what real evolution for our specias might look like, I believe something more akin to understanding soil and microbes would be the way forward.
    To me, GMO’s are like a last gasp attempt to keep a chemical fertilzer business alive. If instead we could really harness the power of microbes to rebuild depleted agricultural land and one that worked with nature rather than against it, then we’d really be on to something with integrity and vsion for the future . Here’s an article about research my friend Christopher Cooke has been doing in Australia: http://www.sustainabilityleadershipinstitute.org/downloads/CookeArticle_Mar2011.pdf

    • Clyde Davies says:

      How about engineering non-leguminous plants to they fix their own nitrogen, just like the John Innes Institute are doing right now? No more chemical fertilizers. And lots of microbes :-)


    • Scott says:

      The only “urgency” is to lock up the food industry world wide into a conventional model before it becomes common knowledge that organic methods actually outproduce conventional methods long term and are healthier for both the environment and people. This has been proven since the Haughley Experiment, started in 1939. The only other urgency is to apply GMOs before the conventional model collapses, since that is what the majority of GMOs are designed to do…prop up a failing conventional model before it causes a world wide collapse. From that POV, absolutely you MUST approve GMOs! YES, I agree 100%. Without GMOs the conventional model will fail and cause serious damages to world wide civilization.

      The irony is that the conventional model is not the only model. Organic models are far more robust long term. Some problems like ecosystem services, carbon sequestration etc are easily fixed by organic methods, so you don’t have the urgency to approve GMOs before the failure of ecosystem services and global warming collapse the model.

      Does anyone see the difference?
      You have to have GMOs because conventional Ag has the environment so messed up that it will eventually collapse without GMOs.

      But if you switched to an agricultural model that doesn’t mess up the environment in the first place, and many times can even heal the land after conventional methods made it barren, then the urgency goes away.

  46. Derek says:

    All I see in these comments is an argument about: “Who read the speech”, but there was video..

  47. Luis Ramos says:

    There is no doubt the technology is here to stay. The trouble is in the money side, I suspect, as investors see an option and do wish to minimize their risks as much as possible. It is not only a matter of prejudice in the front landscape, but of economics behind; patent holder groups versus non holder in the background, I suspect…

    Prejudice from the lay people who have not enough knowledge on the subject as from the resource owners who despised the importance to educate the same final technology users. The owners mistake was to ignore the importance of educating people on this and other relevant matters. Rather they prefer the cheapest option, to advertise the “wonderful” virtues of their products betting on winning along. In fact, those above us all have the potential to manipulate the owner’s law on their best interest, much easier than the reverse.

    So, those “who have not” do prefer delaying the matter as long as possible, whatever excuses be necessary. The patent issues are the “safeguards” to investors: the more restrictive they are the higher the chances to make money but more restrictive to scientists also. The reverse is also true… Of course patent holders understand this and prefer to take the matter to legal courts (do they have less expensive options?), as seen in all high end field technologies; they have the power to play this game.

  48. Vijay Gupta says:

    “….if an overwhelming majority of experts say something is true, then any sensible non-expert should assume that they are probably right.”

    Disagree. And the reason is simple: Most experts in any field (be it GMO, vaccinations, energy, or transportation) work for, or have financial ties with, a bottom-line driven company. And as Upton Sinclair once said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    Therefore, these experts are incapable of fully understanding everything that they are supposed to!

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I think that take on it is nonsense. Most experts on, say, climate change really don’t give a damn whether or not their results show that the earth is warming or not. What they do care is about is whether their results hold water and can stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny. As has been the case up to now, regardless of how much bullying and slanders have been directed their way.

      All we can ask is that people act with integrity when presenting their findings and as thorough as can reasonably be expected.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Can we then assume that any science (read propaganda) that comes out of Greenpeace, OCA, FOE and the Soil Association is tainted because the main goal in their case is fundraising? Do the experts on organic farming from the Rodale Institute or that place in Switzerland (the name escapes me) have a vested interest in seeing it succeed? Do the organic afficionados here in the States have a financial motive when they try to use the ballot box to outlaw GMO? Or should we call the new Pope and have all of these people beatified?
      The original premise of your argument virtually guarantees that you will always come to the conclusion you’re seeking. Your assumption of dishonesty based on association is conveniently impossble to disprove. Like proving you’re not a witch!!

  49. Gonzalo says:

    Science is with Lynas

    In January, at a conference at Oxford University, Mark Lynas sent shockwaves through environmental circles by publicly apologizing for his role in launching the anti-GMO movement. With these remarks he instantly became the worst ‘villain’ to many environmentalists. For this ‘betrayal’ he was attacked at a very personal level. Where did this radical change in thinking come from and how should we take it? Should we condemn Mark Lynas as a ‘flip-flopper,’ dismissing his comments on the biotechnology matter? Or is this ‘flip-flopping’ something we should acknowledge, praised and applaud?

    What Lynas did is actually not unique, or at least not unique in the history of biology. Many men have changed their minds after reviewing scientific evidence. The most remarkable example I can think of is the one that Richard Dawkins tells in his book The God Delusion “A well respected elder Zoologist at Oxford University for years believed and taught that the Golgi apparatus was an artifact, an illusion, not a real organelle in cells. One day an American cell biologist visiting as a guest lecturer presented completely convincing evidence that the Golgi Apparatus was indeed a real organelle present in all cells. At the end of this ‘shocking’ lecture, the Oxford Zoologist shook the American by the hand and said, My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years” (Dawkins 2006). Examples like this scientific change of heart happen on a regular and daily basis. And in scientific circles, we are all ok with it. We do not condemn each other as ‘flip-floppers’; rather, we accept and embrace new thinking because we know that this is a strong foundation of science per se – to accept supported and empirically tested evidence that challenges and disputes the theories and ‘dogmas’, no matter how dearly held.

    So it is ‘science’ that made Lynas change his mind, as he himself said at the Oxford Conference. What scientific evidence is Lynas talking about? What literature supports Lynas’ change of mind? Well, there are a lot of studies and relevant work that can be cited that support Lynas’ arguments and address other issues commonly brought up by the anti-GMO movement. He did not discuss these, so I will take the time to cover some of them here. Let’s take a look at them.

    Arguably, the most controversial transgenic issue is about Bt crops (Bt corn, cotton, eggplant, etc). Comment such as: (1)‘They are not safe to eat’ (2)‘They have negative effects on non-target organisms’ (especially on those natural enemies that help suppress pest populations), (3) ‘They negatively affect biodiveristy’, and (4) ‘only big corporations benefit from GMO’s’ are ubiqutous and are usually brought up by anti-GMO advocates, including the very influential Green environment movements.

    (1) Are GMO’s safe to eat; who says so? And where is the scientific evidence regarding GMO safety?

    Many respected organizations have come to the same conclusion: that food containing ingredients derived from GM crops (whether Bt or otherwise) is no riskier than the same food containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques. They are as safe as their non-GMO counterparts according to:

    1. The World Health Organization (WHO)
    “…This toxin (Bt) is currently used as a conventional insecticide in agriculture and is safe for human consumption. GM crops that permanently produce this toxin have been shown to require lower quantities of insecticides in specific situations, e.g. where pest pressure is high.”

    2. The American Medical Association (AMA)
    “To date, no evidence has supported an increased degree of allergenicity of bioengineered foods compared to their non-bioengineered counterparts. This is due in part to the safety assessments to which bioengineered foods are subjected prior to marketing.”

    3. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
    “…The committee said it was not aware of any evidence suggesting foods on the market today are unsafe to eat as a result of genetic modification.”

    4. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
    “The Panel concludes that the information available for GM maize 59122 addresses the scientific comments raised by Member States and that maize 59122, as described in this application, is as safe as its conventional counterpart and commercial maize varieties with respect to potential adverse effects on human and animal health. If subjected to appropriate management measures, the cultivation of maize 59122 is unlikely to raise safety concerns for the environment.”
    http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/3135.htm and

    5. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
    “…FAO recognizes that biotechnology provides powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture…biotechnology can be of significant assistance in meeting the needs of an expanding and increasingly urbanized population in the next millennium.”

    6. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)
    “The aim is to find out if there are any differences between the GM food and its conventional counterpart, which we already know to be safe to eat….”

    7. Union of the German Academies of Science and Humanities
    “Foods from approved GM crops are safe for humans and animals; Approved GM crops do not pose environmental hazards; Small farmers, not just large corporations, profit from the adoption of GM crops, so contributing to the alleviation of poverty; GM crops pose no irresolvable conflict with organic farming; GM crops can make a major contribution to the quantity and quality of food in the world; Freedom of choice should apply to all farmers and consumers, not just to some of them”
    http://www.akademienunion.de/pressemitteilungen/2006-06/english.html and

    8. Others: Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the World Food Program (WFP). See also: Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Foods Derived from Biotechnology http://www.fao.org/ag/agn/food/pdf/bi03al.pdf

    But what about scientific studies? There is massive evidence to support the rejection of poorly founded accusations that GMOs cause allergic reactions, are carcinogenic or negatively affect our helath. In 2011, Bt crops (cotton and maize) were grown on more than 66 million ha in 26 countries. They are grown extensively in the U.S. (24 million hectares in 2011) and in large quantities in Argentina, South Africa, Canada, Spain, and the Philippines (James and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech 1999). If Bt corn affected the endocrine system, or caused or induced cancer as some people claim, we would all be dead by now since we have been eating Bt corn for more than 20 years. And the reality is that up to this date there have been zero (0) reports of cancer, death or health problems due to GMO consumption.

    Cited below are just a few findings from studies on GMO safety. These are all easily accessible using Google Scholar, a free web search that indexes the full texts of scholarly literature across an array of peer-reviewed journals. These studies and others are available for everyone to read critically, study, and challenge. At the end of this post I am incluing a full reference list of the studies presented, as well as others that may be of interest (Fu et al. 2002; Goodman et al. 2005; Goodman et al. 2008; Kuntz 2012; Ladics and Selgrade 2009; Ricroch et al. 2010; Ricroch et al. 2011; Sinagawa-García et al. 2004; Snell et al. 2012).

    1. Snell et al. 2012. Food Chem Toxicol 50: 1134-1148
    “Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed…The studies reviewed present evidence to show that GM plants are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and can be safely used in food and feed.” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691511006399

    2. Goodman et al (2005) International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 137: 153-166
    “Recently, IgE binding tests were performed by other investigators using sera from allergic individuals having high apparent soy- bean-specific IgE, but negative clinical challenges. The results did not show any differences in IgE binding to a number of varieties of the GM and non-transgenic soybeans.” http://www.karger.com/Article/Pdf/86314#login

    3. Sten et al. 2004. APMIS 112: 21-28
    “All three methods showed variations in the allergenic potency between the individual extracts but allergenic potential was not affected by presence of the transgene. By using standard in vitro methods and SPT for determination of allergenicity we were not able to detect any significant difference in the allergenic potency between GM and non GM soybean.s” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0463.2004.apm1120104.x/abstract?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+on+11+May+from+10%3A00-12%3A00+BST+%2805%3A00-07%3A00+EDT%29+for+essential+maintenance

    4. Sinagawa-García et al. 2004. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 52: 2709-2714
    “Individual sequence analysis with known amino acid sequences, reported as allergens, showed that none of these IgE elicitors were identified in amarantin. Amarantin was digested within the first 15 min by Simulated Gastric Fluid treatment as observed by Western blot. Expressed amarantin did not induce important levels of specific IgE antibodies in BALB/c mice, as analyzed by ELISA. We conclude that the transgenic maize with amarantin is not an important allergenicity inducer, just as nontransgenic maize.” http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf035487k

    The list could go on and on, but I will stop here; the point is that scientific studies to date have not documented proof that any approved, commercially grown GM crop has caused allergic and/or poisonous reactions because of a transgenically introduced allergenic protein, nor that the generation of a GM crop has caused a biologically significant increase in the endogenous allergenicity of a crop (Goodman et al. 2005; Goodman et al. 2008). These studies have been funded through universities, mostly European, such as:

    The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom., AgroParisTech, France., Laboratory Végétale Physiologie Cellulaire, CNRS-INRA, France., Institut de Recherches in Technologies et Sciences, Grenoble, France., Univeristy of Copenhagen, Denmark (Allergy Clinic, National University Hospital, Copenhagen; Dept. of Dermatology I, Allergy Center, Odense University Hospital, Odense; Department of Agricultural Sciences, The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen, Denmark)., Centro de Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados del IPN, Mexico (Departamento de Biotecnologia y Bioquomica e Instituto de Diagnostico y Referencia Epidemiologica), to name a few.

    Also, this website disputes many fraudulent “scientific” reports stating that GMO’s are dangerous: http://academicsreview.org/

    (2) As for the second comment: are GMOs (specifically, Bt) incompatible with conventional crops? Do they have ‘negative effects on non-target organisms’ (especially those natural enemies that help suppress pest populations)?

    A study by Marvier, published in the well-respected journal, Science, supports the claim that GM plants can reduce environmentally undesirable aspects of agriculture, particularly the non-target impacts of insecticides. They concluded that the adoption of Bt cotton or maize may entail ecological benefits since invertebrates are more abundant in Bt maize fields than the counterpart. “…A meta-analysis of 42 field experiments indicates that nontarget invertebrates are generally more abundant in Bt cotton and Bt maize fields than in nontransgenic fields managed with insecticides…” “…Regardless of one’s philosophical perspective on risk assessment for GM crops, enough experimental data has accumulated to begin drawing empirically based conclusions, as opposed to arguing on the basis of anecdote or hand-picked examples (Marvier et al. 2007).”

    Another elegant study was carried out by the entomologist Tony Shelton, reporting that plants producing Cry proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) control pests (Lepidoptera) on cotton and maize, and do not harm important natural enemies. “The Bt toxin does not affect the biological control function provided by natural enemies” (Shelton et al. 2009; Tian et al. 2013). This is in accordance with the findings of de Maagd, since the Bt protein is specific to certain types of insect (Lepidoptera) and not to others. “Bt does not have a significant history of mammalian pathogenicity, and research has concentrated on the insecticidal nature of the crystal proteins…” (de Maagd et al. 2001).

    For more information on this topic, please take a look at the work carried out by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research from Germany here: http://www.gmo-safety.eu/. They perform lot of research in the biotechnology area and provide both scientific information as well as extension-type information that may be easier to comprehend.

    (3) As for the third comment: GMO’s reduces biodiversity.

    Klaus Ammann from the University of Bern, Switzerland, have investigated this issue in great detail. In 2005 he published in the Trends in Biotechnology Journal a great study on biodiversity. Quote:

    “The use of GM crops can positively impact agricultural species biodiversity if the GM crops enable the management of weeds and insect pests in a more specific way than chemical herbicides and pesticides. In particular, the adoption of insect-resistant Bt crops, expressing highly specific Bt proteins, represents an opportunity to replace broad-spectrum insecticide use. The insecticidal proteins expressed in Bt crops such as Bt maize and Bt cotton are so narrow in their activity that they have little or no activity against non-target organisms. Furthermore, the toxins are expressed within the plant tissues, minimizing the exposure of animals that do not feed on the crop plants. As a consequence, considering the large number of field studies that have been conducted, few or no differences have been seen with respect to community structure or individual species abundances where fields of Bt crops have been compared with conventional crops that have not been treated with insecticides (Ammann 2005)”

    Mannion from the University of Reading in the UK published in “Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment Journal” some work on the matter.

    “…Biotechnology could lead to mutual benefits. Indeed, it is incumbent on politicians and policy formulators to make it so. In agriculture especially, the applications of biotechnology are legion. The examples and comments presented above epitomise the reciprocal relationships that obtain between agriculture, environment and biotechnology. The latter has the ability to transform the energy flows and biogeochemical cycles which underpin both agroecosystems and ecosystems. … biotechnology and ensure that it benefits all and not just a proportion of the world’s population as well as the global environment (Mannion 1993; 1995)”

    See also the work of Cohen: “The improvement of crop production, in principle, should also create environmental advantage. Less land, and particularly less marginal land, need be cultivated so reducing problems like soil erosion and desertification and promoting ecosystem conservation (Cohen 2005)”

    (4) Do only big corporation benefit from GMOs?

    Kathage and Qaim from the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, at University of Goettingen in Goettingen, Germany, addressed this very specific issue by analyzing the economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt cotton in India. They showed that “Bt has caused a 24% increase in cotton yield per acre through reduced pest damage and a 50% gain in cotton profit among smallholders. These benefits are stable; there are even indications that they have increased over time. Bt cotton adoption has raised consumption expenditures, a common measure of household living standard, by 18% during the 2006–2008 period…. Bt cotton has created large and sustainable benefits, which contribute to positive economic and social development in India” (Kathage and Qaim 2012).

    Now, I do not know why all GMO topics revolve solely around Bt crops. There are many other notable GMOs, such as Golden Rice, staple crop with increased bioavailability of pro-vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, and zinc, with the aim of helping children suffering from vitamin A deficiencies. Poor farmers in developing countries have access to Golden Rice seeds at the same cost as non-GMO cultivars as it was an agreement between the University-based inventors of Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany) and the Institute for Plant Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute (Zurich, Switzerland). Moreover, in June 2005, the principal investigator (Peter Beyer of Switzerland) received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Philanthropic Foundation to further improve golden rice (Golden Rice 2). Why is this remarkable? In 2005, 190 million children and 19 million pregnant women in 122 countries were affected by a lack of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency was responsible for 1-2 million deaths, 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness, and millions of cases of xerophthalmia a year; Golden Rice can definitely help to minimize this.

    Lynas himself quoted Robert Paarlberg’s book ‘Starved for Science’, in which Paarlberg made an excellent point on this subject. In 2002 the Zambian government turned away a 10,000-ton shipment of unmilled GM corn. “Thousands died because the President of Zambia – Levy Mwanawasa –believed the lies of western environmental groups that genetically modified corn provided by the World Food Programme was somehow poisonous, dangerous to their health” (Paarlberg 2008). Thousands of people unnecessarily died for turning down the same foods we have been consuming in the US for the last 20 years. To read more, please see http://www.scidev.net/en/news/who-urges-africa-to-accept-gm-food.html
    and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2233839.stm

    The European Union has dramatized the GMO issue suffocating African development, which is unfortunate, because Africa is probably the continent that needs the most the help from this technology. Greg Bodulovic said it best: “It is clear that the European Union’s unwillingness to accept GM crops, even in the light of favorable scientific evidence, is having an impact on African development. It is impacting on the improvement of farming practices and restricting the availability of food aid to those suffering food shortages. This is unlikely to change until the EU fully accepts GM crops and an import market for GM produce is established” (Bodulovic 2005). Sadly, the risk assessment for GM crops for Europeans is no longer a matter of science; it is a matter of philosophical perspective (Marvier et al. 2007).

    Read also Paalberg’s review published in ‘New Biotechnology Journal’ in 2010: “There is a scientific consensus, even in Europe, that the GMO foods and crops currently on the market have brought no documented new risks either to human health or to the environment. Europe has decided to stifle the use of this new technology, not because of the presence of risks, but because of the absence so far of direct benefits to most Europeans (Paarlberg 2010)”

    Final Remarks.

    Genetic engineering is a useful and powerful ‘tool within the toolkit’ that needs to be complemented with good agricultural practices to achieve its maximum potential. Therefore, crop rotation, rotation of pesticides/herbicides, IPM, and plant breeding are also necessary, and in fact, essential. Genetic engineering alone is by no means a panacea, but biotechnology should not be banned on the basis of emotions, personal philosophies, or likes/dislikes.

    Unfortunately, the recurrent diatribe of some (but by no means all) environmentalists and anti-biotechnology movements often consists of emotional and alarmist arguments that are based on paranoia, ignorance, and fear; this does nothing to help ensure food safety. The American agronomist and Nobel Prize Laureate for Peace (1970) Norman E. Borlaug said it best: “The power of genetic engineering to improve the nutritional quality of our food crop species is also immense…. but extreme environmental elitists seem to be doing everything they can to derail scientific progress. Small, well-financed, vociferous, and anti-science groups are threatening the development and application of new technology, whether it is developed from biotechnology or more conventional methods of agricultural science (Borlaug 2000)”.

    We should, of course, encourage scientific debate at all times. This is necessary, as we as a society benefit and derive nourishment from it. However, we should elevate the level of the agricultural biotechnology debate and stop personal attacks. When attacks become personal, insulting, and rude, we are leaving the subject altogether and lose focus. The debate must remain scientific. With Mark Lynas’ recent statements, we have seen the leading European anti-GMO warrior dropping the sword to embrace science. In doing so, he has wounded the vanity of many people. To them I say, do not take it personally; take it as an example of how to graciously consider the facts and reassess your position. There is no shame in changing your mind, especially when science is on your side.

    Gonzalo Villarino, MSc.
    PhD Candidate,
    Plant Sciences.
    Cornell Univeristy.
    [email protected]


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    • Mark Lynas says:

      Thanks Gonzalo – great to see such a strong, well-supported, factual argument. I must point out however – before anyone else does – that I was far from ever being “the leading European anti-GMO warrior”. I played a small part in the early stages of the UK anti-GMO scene back in the mid 1990s, co-organised some specific actions and participated in various events including covert and non-covert vandalism of GMO test sites up until about 1999/2000. I wrote a lot on this, including some of the first screeds against Monsanto in our ‘Corporate Watch’ journal, but I was certainly not a leader. As I said in a recent talk, I was a follower, I was not thinking for myself based on the evidence, and that was precisely the problem.

    • First Officer says:


      Are you planning to copy this to your own blog? I’d love to reference it.

    • First Officer says:

      Sorry, “Gonzalo”. My apologies

    • Gonzalo says:

      Mark, sorry for my incorrect sentence, but thanks for clarifying that.
      ‘First Officer’, I do not have a blog, but please feel free to use/reference any of the above.

  50. Carl Hewitt says:

    The problem is Mark, how do we implement this glorious utopian vision of a engineered plant future, without compromising the right of people who wish to grow organic crops in this country. The United Kingdom is simply to small, to grow both organic & GMO crops together, cross contamination of GMO pollen & seeds which can carry upto 50 miles. Simply to say well tough, you can’t grow organic crops any more isn’t acceptable to most fair minded people.

    Until there is an answer to the problem of cross contamination, & other issues like super weeds, it’s a non starter. People have to be given a choice, GMO only is no choice, & if we allow GMO crops in this country ,it will be the end of organic farming. Seed & crop diversity, are already being threatened by EU legislation, the last thing we need is for agriculture to be dominated by a few huge multinational conglomerates, that ‘own’ all the rights to the plants that we grow as crops to eat.

    Although in some ways I agree with, projects like Golden Rice, The risks to non GMO agriculture in this country are simply too great to embark, on what is essentially a huge one way experiment, a gamble the consequences of which we can never reverse, once started in this country.

    I think there is a place for marker assisted selection, reverse breeding & doubled haploids (DH), but GMO no. If I see any sign that our government is likely to allow widespread planting of GMO crops, I will be the first into the fields, protesting & pulling them out, we cannot afford to take the risk….

    • Scott says:

      @Carl Hewitt,
      I wasn’t aware that the UK was feeding the world with its rice crop, golden or otherwise.

    • Blake Ludwig says:

      Here here Scott. Well pointed out.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      So, Carl, why should organic advocates have an effective veto on how other people decide to grow and consume food? This is what you seem to be implying. Or should only one faction be allowed freedom of choice?

      As for the risks involved in growing GMOs, I think you should read my comments on the ‘rule of three’ and especially Gonzalo’s detailed and well-substantiated rebuttal. Going by the evidence we present, GMOs present almost no risk to human health and the environment. Moreover, there are plenty of publically funded organisations that are carrying out this research and intend to publish their results in the public domain. Look up Rothamsted or the John Innes Institute to see what’s going on. These have nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘M word’.

      If you really want to go out and pull up commercially-grown crops, then you don’t do it in my name or that of many people contributing to this thread. Moreover, if vandalism is the most inspired response you can think of to this new development, can I suggest that your energies might be better directed at crops where there is a significant, well-established and well-known effect upon human health? Such as a few tobacco plantations? Then we might actually begin to take you a bit more seriously.

    • Tony says:

      One of the problems with so-called freedom of choice for all growers is that the Monsantos of this world have patents on plant genetics and vigorously make use of them. I heard of yet another case where a farmer had bought seeds that were unknowingly contaminated with patented genes. He had to pay $84,000 dollars to the company. If there were no patents then we could have some freedom (though I don’t think long term safety has yet been proven) for all. However, this is not the case.

      It seems you want freedom only for the genetic engineers, under the guise of wanting freedom of choice for all.

      So, with unfair practices, unproven yield increases and unproven long term safety, genetically modified crops should be immediately withdrawn until these things are put right.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I like to think of myself as an environmentalist with a pragmatic approach to biotech, but it’s comments like the previous one that really bring out my inner Clarkson. No sooner have I posted references to the ‘rule of three’ and Gonzalo’s incredibly detailed arguments about why GM crops are more productive, don’t damage the environment and even have higher yields, than some dim bulb goes and regurgitates a whole load of unsubstantiated ‘zombie arguments’ that should have been laid to rest years ago.
      * Fact: Monsanto have *never* sued anybody because their crop has become cross fertilized with GMO pollen. In fact they have offered to remove contaminated plants from farmers fields for nothing.
      * Fact: it is possible to calculate the risk of GMOs being harmful to health, being that they’ve been in the field for twenty years and not even an upset tummy has resulted. The maximum risk is one in a TRILLION. You are more likely to get hit by a meteorite.
      * Fact: GMOs have substantially increased yields for some crops, such as soya and BT cotton.
      I’m not going to post references to these because *you* ought to have read my posting and followed up on my comments instead of coming out with the usual glib, totally baseless bollocks. GMOs should not be withdrawn from the market because there is no rational reason why they should be. If you can produce peer-reviewed evidence to suggest so, I’d love to see it. But that would mean you’d have to read some scientific journals for a change. Somehow, I tend to think that you prefer not to get your information from the horse’s mouth, but its arse.

    • Tony says:

      My apologies. I believe you’re right that Monsanto (I don’t know about other GE companies) hasn’t sued farmers for cross contaminated crops and state that it is their policy not to sue where there are “trace amounts” of such contamination. However, I don’t know what they mean by “trace amounts”, whether they are likely to change their policy and whether cross contamination could eventually lead to substantial amounts of contamination. However, there is also the possibility of seeds blowing onto neighbouring property and germinating.

      Not all GE crops have been genetically altered in the same way and there is no way to know how nature is going to act on such crops. So I’m not convinced by the safety arguments. However, the fact that only a couple of GE crops have had increased yields (one assumes from the genetic modification and not from other aspects, which may invalidate the results). One is not a food crop (and has environmental consequences) and the other is a food crop that has health questions over it. Not a great record, in my opinion.

    • First Officer says:

      It’s never the GMO crop that makes the superweed but the improper application of herbicide, whether GMO’s are involved or not, that spurs the evolution of herbicide resistance. You may argue that particular GMO’s allow the greater use of herbicides but how does that apply to GE itself? To advocate a ban on GMO’s because a particular application may not be wise is like banning kitchen knives because some were used as weapons.

      And, why does superweeds matter to organic growers when they don’t use the very herbicides that they are complaining the weeds are gaining resistance to and also advocate never using them for any purpose ?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “However, the fact that only a couple of GE crops have had increased yields”
      Which particular set of ‘facts’ did this originate from? The facts in this report, for instance: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/ces/files/pdf/04-13%20Morse_Mannion_GM%20Crops.pdf , which quotes plenty of references to examples of increased yield, both in terms of total output and output per area. I’d like to know which of these food crops has ‘health questions’ over it.

      You then go on to say ‘Not a great record, in my opinion.’ Well, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, certainly. Nobody is entitled to their own facts.

    • Tony says:

      Quite right. I was going by your previous comment but mis-read the “such as” bit, though it was odd that you chose to highlight those two crops, one of which is not a food crop. Pesticide and herbicide resistant genes also allow more intensive use of such poisonous chemicals.

      However, I have seen plenty of articles (even in “mainstream” science mags like Scientific American) that show the supposed promise of genetic engineering has not been met so far, but it has certainly made some people very wealthy.

      Although I accept that the risks of GE in safety and in litigation may be currently less than I’ve made out, there are still question marks over those things and over yields.

      I don’t really understand why humans constantly think they can do better than nature; look at all the consequences of that mindset. In nature, you can’t do just one thing and there are bound to be consequences for everything we do. Let’s hope that the impacts of GE don’t come back to haunt us all as the genetically engineered genes spread everywhere, as they inevitably will if its supporters get their way.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Why can’t humans do better than nature? I always seem to think this when I hear of some expecting couple who are going for a ‘natural’ birth as opposed to a modern hospital based one. Science gave us hospitals, incubators, IVF and incubators . Nature on the other had has given us earthquakes, volcanoes, the malarial parasite, pain, death and bloody tofu. There is *no* design, intelligent or otherwise in nature. The Almighty Maker folded up His Dark Materials a long time ago and left them on a shelf to gather dust.

      So yes, I think we can do better than nature. If I were designing a human being, for instance, I’d start with our fallen arches and bad backs, both consequences of us having to leared to walk upright too quickly. I’d also fix our eyes so we didn’t become overly longsighted in old age and the photoreceptors were at the front of the retina like in the eyes of a squid, not the bloody back of it which causes all sorts of problems and gives us inferior eyesight. I’d also think about reactivating whatever gene it was that gives birds an extra set of photoreceptors that work in the ultraviolet and ought to do so for us.

      Nature is *expedient*, not efficient, and certainly doesn’t have ours or anybody else’s best interests at heart. It doesn’t even think.

    • Scott says:

      You said, “Why can’t humans do better than nature?” Actually we can. On average it can take nature 500-1000 years to make one inch of new topsoil. Organic methods can optimize those processes and make that same new topsoil at the rate of 1 inch in 10 years or less. Sometimes much less.

      The problem is that conventional agriculture actually destroys topsoil. Sometimes at astronomical rates.

      So yes humans can do better than nature, by using nature and giving it direction and purpose with our brains. This is called biomimicry. But it is a fallacy to think that conventional agriculture is better than nature. It isn’t. Conventional agriculture is more like mining resources nature produced eons ago.

    • Tony says:

      It has nothing to do with Intelligent Design or some magical creator. Nature has been at it for a few billion years. It’s done the experiments and got lots “wrong”, no doubt, over the eons. What works now is what has evolved to work in each eco-system. Humans come along and think it can make a few tweaks here and there but the human event horizon doesn’t really afford the time for these sorts of experiments. Perhaps we can keep copious notes for the survivors of the far future who will we able to figure out what went wrong and what went right – hopefully, what went wrong wouldn’t have gone too wrong to wreak havoc.

      It’s not too far removed from all of the mistakes we’ve made introducing one species to try and control another, only to find that it didn’t work and that there were unforeseen consequences. There are always consequences in nature but it only seems sensible to work with what nature ultimately gave us after many, many experiments. It seemed to work pretty well, until we started messing with it; agriculture and all.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Tony – I’m getting tired and bored of having to repeatedly deal with this line of argument, wherever I find it. You talk of ‘unforeseen consequences’ yet this really belies the flimsiness of your stance. If I asked you to come up with some specific, concrete albeit hypothetical risk from deploying, say Golden Rice in the field, you’d be totally stumped and have to fall back on generalities. You might even have to resort to dragging in that creaky old argument about it being a Trojan Horse to gain general acceptance of GM technology.

      Yet for hundreds of thousands of people the world over, there are very real consequences arising from this development not being available. Compared to the risks to human health, which are nonexistent, and to the environment, which are nebulous at best, the potential benefits are enormous yet the crass and simplistic attitude of various NGOs has prevented these from being realised.

      I’m get sick of appeals to trepidatious inaction and trusting to ‘Nature’ or ‘Mother Earth’. This is the blinkered attitude of the smug, complacent and well-fed Westerner. It makes me sick. These people need all the options they can get yet all we seem to exporting to them at the moment is our neuroses. Greenpeace should put its $300M turnover where its mouth is, and actually *help* these people as opposed to preaching from the comfort of a website.

      And if anybody wants to wave a red flag while walking in front of *my* wagon, they’d better have a convincing explanation, otherwise they can either fuck off or get run over.

      End of (this particular strand of ) argument.

    • Tony says:

      Sorry to make you sick, Clyde. I hope you get well soon (perhaps by eating organic food).

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I can think of cheaper ways to feed myself to the same degree of wellbeing. I also take it from your last statement that you won’t be positing a specific and significant risk from deploying GR in the field.
      Like I said previously, if you really want to go out trashing crops, the do us all a favour and start with tobacco, will you?

  51. Clyde Davies says:

    “Until there is an answer to the problem of cross contamination, & other issues like super weeds, it’s a non starter. People have to be given a choice, GMO only is no choice, & if we allow GMO crops in this country ,it will be the end of organic farming.”

    Nobody is setting up this binary opposition between organic growing and GMOs except the organic movement itself. I went to the Centre for Alternative Technology when I was in my teens, and then about 10 years ago. The way their mindset had changed was profound. In the early days the CAT would probably have embraced GMOs wholeheartedly as it was driven by a spirit of open inquiry and was edded to ends, not means.

    Recently however they had decided to junk that and to throw their lot in with the organic movement. They had a poster exhibition explaining this reasoning: it was all based on the idea of ‘closed loops’ Closed loops meant that what we grew eventually got recycled along with manure and our own waste. So far, so good. Then they used it to justify the exclusion of GM crops, as the ‘closed loops’ were being broken by transgenic technology.

    This logic, insofar as it can be called that, is shot so full of holes that it becomes laughable. The whole point of organic agriculture is *sustainability*: we rely upon renewable rather than finite resources to grow our food. GMOs only introduce new *information*. As long as the organic movement continues to indulge such sophistries then I see no hope for any reconcilation between the two sides in this argument. Like many other fundamentalists, they’ve forgotten the message, and now they worship the creed.

  52. First Officer says:

    Who decided that the GM enhanced content of Organic food be mathematically zero?

    • Ben says:

      I am totally perplexed by the polarised GMO vs Organic debate. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but a GM crop can either be grown organically or not, just as a non-GM crop can either be grown organically or not?

    • Scott says:

      You are correct in theory, but not correct in realistic terms.

      Yes, GM crops theoretically can be grown organically, but so far as I know, there are no certifying bodies either private or government that have allowed GM technology to be “certified organic”.

      So even though it is theoretically possible, and even in some cases theoretically beneficial, as a practical matter, any farmer who is organic certified can’t use them.

      As an organic grower over 30 years, I simply chalk it up as more government interference by bureaucrats who never grew a damn thing in their life, organic or otherwise.

      In my opinion, (and this is me only, not the vast majority of organic activists) There is potentially FAR more that can be done combining organic and GM than any other conventional agriculture.

      Personally I primarily blame Monsanto for all this. The reason why? The first commonly used GM was glyphosate resistant crops that resulted in actually using far more synthetic herbicides in the fields. Since organic is definitively against using these and other synthetic pesticides, the two (GM and dangerous chemicals) became forever linked in peoples minds. Secondary blame can be placed on activists like Mark Lynas, who jumped the gun and jumped on that anti-GM bandwagon without thinking first. (Mark Lynas has apologized and retracted, but still doesn’t understand organic is and always was since its beginnings in the 1940′s, science based)

      However, the technology of GM actually has great potential of reducing or even eliminating pesticide use when combined with organic methods. So I was definitely using a broad brush to eliminate ALL GM technology from organic forever. A very foolish move in my mind. Counterproductive.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Scott: I am in almost total agreement with your last postiing. The only difference of opinion comes over the “more government interference by bureaucrats”. I think that in the UK the Soil Association carries lot of baggage from the biodynamic era. I personally don’t see anything more organic than engineering a wheat crop to repel, not actually kill, aphids. Try telling them that.

    • Scott says:

      I am American. So I don’t deal directly with the Soil Association. I know that originally the whole point of “organic” was to take methods like biodynamic and old traditional methods like were found in India, and weed out the pseudo-science, mythology, and cultural traditions, while verifying what could be verified by science. Then add to that base with additional science. That’s why it is called organic, and not biodynamic!
      Biodynamic had benefits, but also a lot of non-scientific baggage and hocus pocus. It was developed in Germany. The English actually developed the first organic methods. Exactly how the English, who were the first to apply modern science to these agricultural methods and invented organic, forgot their roots, I have no idea really.
      To me the solution is painfully obvious though. If the Soil Association insists on Biodynamic instead of organic, then let them certify Biodynamic, and leave organic growers alone. We don’t appreciate that hocus pocus nonsense from pre WWII Germany. I thought WE won the war, not Germany! ;) Didn’t WWII prove once and for all that attaching all sorts of mythical pseudoscience (like the whole Aryan race mythology) to real science fails every time? I probably am tracking a bit off topic. Sorry for that. But history is a hobby for me.

    • First says:

      Why is Organic against synthetic fertilizers, synthetic herbicides, etc? To be against them is to posit that nothing designed by mankind can be better or equal than what has occurred through the chances of evolution and chemistry, on principle. This is clearly not the case for certain pesticides and herbicides. If the world were to return to all organic farming, it would doom billions to starvation as the natural rate of nitrogen fixing can’t keep up with our demand.

    • Scott says:

      “as the natural rate of nitrogen fixing can’t keep up with our demand.”

      That is completely false. I don’t know where else to go with that statement except it is ridiculous.

    • First Officer says:

      mmmmmm…, maybe not so ridiculous..


      Yes, the article points out several problems with synthetic fertilizer but, nonetheless, billions of people alive today would not be without it. Ironically, GE can help mitigate such problems by creating self nitrogen fixing crop strains of our most common grains, or make them more efficient uptakers of fisted nitrogen so less need be applied.

    • Scott says:

      Yes. Regardless of the link you posted, it is a ridiculous statement. Oh and BTW. It is fairly easy to fix nitrogen. There are plenty of nitrogen fixing bacteria that live in good soil free living. No GMO required.

      What you are talking about is Rhizobia. And yes Rhizobia are great nitrogen fixation bacteria when they form a symbiosis with legumes.

      But there are Cyanobacteria, Azotobacter, and others in healthy soil that provide plenty of nitrogen. Azotobacter in particular is very effective and even available commercially for organic growers. I have used it myself so I know it works and works well. That article link you posted makes the same false assumption most arguments against organic make ie.. confusing traditional subsistence farming with organic. There are also a few comments in the link that are so wrong as to be laughable. Worse than an ignorant child.

      For example:
      “In Europe and North America, increases
      in agricultural productivity have been
      matched by luxury levels of nitrogen
      consumption owing to an increase in the
      consumption of meat and dairy product,
      which require more fertilizer nitrogen
      to produce”—

      That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Livestock require absolutely ZERO nitrogen inputs. ZIP ZERO NADA. They don’t need a single drop of any sort, organic or haber process. In fact using nitrogen inputs to raise corn to feed livestock actually makes livestock sick. Those sick livestock then need antibiotics in their feed just to stay alive on such an unhealthy diet. The whole thing is wasteful and ridiculous. If you know what you are doing, you can easily produce MORE meat, eggs and milk per acre than any CAFO, and never use a single drop of pesticide or nitrogen fertilizers ever. Further, after 5-10 years of that you can expect carbon to be sequestered and new soil created. Especially fertile soil. Unlike the destruction and erosion of the soil that commonly happens in corn and wheat fields raising grains for CAFOs that make animals and people sick. The whole thing is ridiculous and stupid. Cows thrive on grass and forbs. They have a whole extra stomach called a reticulorumen to ferment that grass. GRASS thrives when it is properly grazed by cows. They produce upwards of 40 pounds of manure per day per cow. All extremely rich in nitrogen. The grass loves it. The worms love it, the insects love it, the microbes love it, the whole soil biosphere loves it. The entire symbiotic relationship evolved over millions of years.

      Sorry for the rant. You are probably a nice guy. It just gets me angry when ridiculous articles like the one you linked are passed off as “expert” analysis. It would be better classified as analysis by the willfully ignorant.

    • First Officer says:

      But cows don’t fix any nitrogen and neither do worms, insects or grass itself. It doesn’t matter how many cows, stomachs or symbiotic relationships there are. They’re all limited by the overall rate of nitrogen fixation. Rate of nitrogen harvesting (crops, milk, meat, and any other farm products) will be less than rate of nitrogen fixing plus rate of nitrogen inputs plus net depletion of stored fixed nitrogen. Fixed nitrogen also tends to break down on its own, a further loss to the system. You say those bacteria give plenty of nitrogen. How much per acre? How much per acre of bacteria do you apply per year? (the bodies of the bacteria themselves are nitrogen sources when they die)

    • Scott says:

      @ First Officer

      Number 1. Cows’ stomachs ferment. So yes it does matter. A healthy cow derives much, if not the majority, of its nutrition from the bacteria in its digestive system. That is completely different than humans. We derive our nutrition from our food directly. A cow can thrive on even low quality nutrient poor food because the bacteria in the fermentation process produce the nutrients needed. More important to a cow is making sure they have the minerals needed to have a healthy bacteria population. In the wild ruminants use salt licks for this. In domesticated cattle we use salt/mineral blocks and supplements.

      Number 2 You said, “They’re all limited by the overall rate of nitrogen fixation” which is true. But in the soil there are billions of bacteria in every handful of soil. If the soil is healthy there is a lot of organic material in the soil in the process of decay. As I pointed out to you before. Bacteria (and archaea) in the soil break down that organic material in the process of biological decay, using the energy and fixing nitrogen. As a group these are called diazotrophs. There are both free-living diazotrophs and symbiotic diazotrophs. There are some that provide nitrogen as a waste product, and some that mainly provide nitrogen as a result of being eaten by another organism. In the end MOST the nitrogen used is a result of the decay or digestion of proteins. So the whole food chain that bacteria provide releases nitrogen which becomes available to plants, who with the energy of photosynthesis build new proteins and carbs making a completed loop or cycle. When you have problems is when you break parts of that cycle. (Especially prevalent in conventional agriculture) Why does the conventional model of removing cattle from the land and feeding them in CAFOs require so much inputs of energy and nitrogen it is called “Luxury”? Because removing them from the land breaks that chain or cycle. This has been known in principle by science at least 100 years and more is being learned in detail every year. Yet still to this day there are ridiculous articles like the one you linked.

      I’ll say it plainly though. Cows do not REQUIRE any luxury produced grains (with high nitrogen ferts grown conventionally) and are actually healthier without them. Further, when properly managed, a grazing pasture model and especially an integrated multi species model can out produce the best CAFO model easily in terms of amount of food produced per acre.

      Lastly you asked me how much bacteria I personally apply per acre. The answer is I apply minuscule amounts. What I do is make sure there is plenty of organic material in the soil, then I inoculate enough by various methods to make sure the diazotrophs, other beneficial bacteria, mycorrhiza, earth worms etc in the soil have plenty enough of a good start to multiply on their own. This year I applied 4 commercially available micro-organism products in total measuring in ounces per acre and costing only about 30 dollars. Once the balanced cycle is restored, you don’t have to do much at all but harvest. Nature does the rest. After about 4-5 years most organic farmers who know what they are doing don’t have to do much at all. The life in the soil takes care of it. That first 4-5 years can be difficult, but after that it is easy. Nature very quickly heals itself if you farm with biomimicry.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I think that the best assessment of how much impact the Haber-Bosch process had is that approximately 50% of the nitrogen atoms in our bodies came from a chemical plant. Now, I’m about six-three tall and half as wide, and I doubt very much that I would have grown to quite the size I am without a leg-up from chemistry. I also tend to agree with the article in the link. There are a lot of people alive today who wouldn’t be were it not for these two gentlemen, and some of them stayed alive by drinking milk and eating beef.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “here are some that provide nitrogen as a waste product, and some that mainly provide nitrogen as a result of being eaten by another organism. In the end MOST the nitrogen used is a result of the decay or digestion of proteins. ”

      I hate to get pedantic, but what you’re talking about here is not nitrogen *fixation* per se. Fixation is the conversion of nitrogen from a comparatively high oxdation state to a low one. It’s another term for chemical reduction. Nitrogen gas – N2 – is a bastard to fix (reduce) as the N-N triple bond is so strong. I imagine that what the bacteria you apply are doing is simply converting the nitrogen atoms from one chemical environment to another without changing their oxidation state: amines (and amino acids) to ammonia, for example. You still have to apply reduced nitrogen, whether it’s in the form of manure, compost or chemical fertilizer, and the energy from that reduction has to come from *somewhere*.

      Now, that can either come from fossil fuels or sunlight. Cyanobacteria will do the latter quite happily but won’t work in soil as it’s too dark. In the case of Rhizobium, it’s living inside a plant which provides it with food, shelter and an oxygen-low environment, but the energy comes from sunlight. What you’re doing, Scott, is unlocking that energy locked up in amino acids in vegetable matter and manure. Some of it will have orginated in a chemical plant: that’s unavoidable. But most of your bugs are consuming energy to either liberate or fix nitrogen, and that process isn’t that efficient. It’s best of all to get plants to do it for themselves.

    • Scott says:

      You are partly right and partly wrong. Some bacteria like Azotobacter in particular are free living soil bacteria that actually fix nitrogen. Other micro-organisms recycle nitrogen and that isn’t technically nitrogen fixation.

      However, talking about true diazotrophs . There are 3 that have significant agricultural use. While cyanobacteria live in all soils usually in the upper levels and help some, the only significant cyanobacteria used in organic agriculture as an alternative to adding chemical nitrogen that I personally know of is Anabaena. (rice) This bacteria can fix enough nitrogen to almost eliminate inputs, and combined with organic animal sourced inputs (in the form of manure and urine) can completely eliminate it. Another is Rhizobia which you mentioned above lives in a symbiotic relationship with legumes. That’s why even conventional farmers use crop rotation. A third is Azotobacter which is unusual because it is both Aerobic AND a diazotroph at the same time. But it requires very good healthy soil that “breathes” to make a significant difference.

      There are several others though that each add their little bit that are in the healthy soil anyway, just not normally added. Methanotrophs and other types of cyanobacteria are a good examples.

      When you combine everything and add the fact that carbon in the soil in the form of humus locks nutrients in a similar way that activated carbon is used for filtration. Then you can begin to understand that in fact you CAN farm without chemical nitrogen inputs AND produce as much or more per acre long term.

      There is no use saying it cant be done. It already has been done. It is being done as we speak and it is not “hocus pocus”. Pure advancements in science and technology.

    • First Officer says:


      Where did that organic material in the soil come from in the first place? If it’s organic, then the nitrogen therein is already fixed. The decay process is only releasing it, not creating more fixed nitrogen. The cow’s digestion scheme still only extracts nitrogen that is already fixed. The manure and urine are also sources of previously fixed nitrogen, not newly minted fixed nitrogen that is needed to replace that which is harvested and that which naturally, “oxidizes”, back to “unfixed”, forms. I’m sorry but it seems that what you are describing is something akin to a fixed nitrogen perpetual motion machine.

      What proportion of your land is used for crops and what is used for your livestock grazing?

    • Scott says:

      @First Officer,
      In organic farming you use BOTH fixed nitrogen AND recycled nitrogen. I thought I explained that to you already pretty thoroughly. What part are you missing?

      As for me personally, I don’t personally use animals right now. I did years ago. I have been researching it for over a year though. I plan to reincorporate animals either next year or within the next 2 or 3 years. That’s why I have knowledge. I used animal husbandry in the past and intend to use it in the future. Right now I use what is called “green manures” cover crops, mulches, compost and companion planting and a very small amount of horse manure I get from a neighbor. Once I add animal husbandry I expect my total productivity per acre to increase substantially. I have researched many ways it is being done already and have a few ideas of my own to test out in a trial. The trial actually started this year. But I won’t be adding animals til next year at the soonest. I intend to trial ways to integrating animals directly in the same fields as I grow crops, but control them with modern high tech portable electric fencing etc to keep them off the crops and using what most farmers call weeds and pests as forage for the animals. Right now I use a mower and compost. My fields have nearly no bare ground ever, some is still strips of virgin sod that never gets tilled. I use as much solar energy as possible. The bare ground found between rows in a traditional monocrop field is converting solar energy into biomass for me. This does several things. 1) little to no erosion. Actual net increases in both top soil and fertility of that soil. 2) No need for years a field must be made fallow, since between the rows is already “fallow” every year. 3) Populations of predator insects are high because they always have habitat. this means pests are kept at reasonable levels and don’t soar out of control 4) The excess biomass from between the rows gets used for mulches and compost to replenish the fertility and prevent weeds from growing directly in the rows. 5) I need less than 10% of the irrigation my neighbors are forced to use and my crops have less drought stress.

      Once I start adding animals I know the dynamics will change. So I am taking it very slowly step by step. While no one on the planet is doing exactly what I am doing and exactly what I will trial, every part of what I am doing has been done and is proven. I didn’t “invent” any of it. I am simply a guy who looks at what other people have done, good and bad, and take the best ideas from all of them I can find. All I can say is it works for me already and I intend to bump it up a notch even further.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I have to say that where my credulity begins to wear thin is when it comes to claims about being able to get all the nitrogen you need through organic methods. Most nitrogen fixing bacteria – both in terms of species and sheer biomass – exist in symbiotic relationships with plants. Yes, you are using ‘organic’ nitrogen and ‘fixed’ nitrogen but I simply don’t believe that the advances you claim have been made since the turn of the 20th century in organic agriculture are supplying the nitrogen needed purely through the action of bugs. Limiting factors are the amount of energy it takes to do this, whether solar or saprophytic in origin, and certainly the amount of trace molybdenum available.
      By all means chuck shit on the land that wouldn’t be around were it not for the Haber-Bosch process. I can’t think of a better use for it, personally.

    • Scott says:

      Well Clyde, I am already 90% closed nitrogen loop already. There are lots of organic farmers that raise animals that are 100% closed nitrogen loop already.

      My particular goal will be to add just enough animals to take my 90% up the rest of the way to 100% and at the same time increase the total productivity (and profit) per acre. Credulity aside, that’s my goal. I see no reason for you to doubt my goal. There is no reason to doubt my claims for my own crops, since I haven’t claimed 100% closed loop yet.

      That leaves doubts as to whether removing animals from CAFOs and putting them on the land can work without adding nitrogen. That actually is well proven. Just wiki “Managed intensive rotational grazing” or “Holistic management” for plenty of information as to how that can be done. Or even read up on the “Haughley experiment” for another completely different way to close that nitrogen (and other nutrients) loop. For a third way look up “permaculture”. Many of those guys have closed the loop. For several more modern methods with either low or no outside nitrogen inputs check out the 70 years of research by the Rodale institute. There is nothing all that radically new I am trying to do. I am simply trying to borrow from all of them and use it in a way that is scale-able and usable for more traditional crops and larger more modern sized farms.

      There is little doubt conventional “green revolution” style agriculture requires huge inputs of nitrogen. Most fields need more and more as the years go by. But the main reason for that is the slowly deteriorating soil.

    • First Officer says:


      I take it that the cover crops are planted and then plowed under at the end of the season? Also, where do your other green manures come from?

    • First Officer says:

      I see you get some part of your green manure from between the rows. But you also mention fields that you mow and mulch. So, what percentage of your fields are for growning the green manure and what percentage is used for actually growing the crops? And, what, exactly are you growing and what are your yields per hectare or acre? And, are those yields per unit area of just where crops grown or that plus the area where the green manure is harvested?

    • Scott says:

      It seems you are confusing the trial I am doing, which is in year 1, and what I have done in the past, and the proven techniques I am borrowing from others and mixing them all up together.
      I have to apologize for this. Because in a discourse, if there is confusion, it is always the fault of the presenter and that is me. You seem to have honest questions, so hopefully I can clarify.

      I have no results from the trial yet. But I can give you a pretty good idea of what I am doing with this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJk4R1xpMC8&list=PLmwY2K-O1lmUmMwoyjfZ8kkEAHqMy-olT&index=1

      Keep in mind though I am changing up on Helen’s ideas a bit. I don’t use black plastic mulch. Instead of plastic mulch and huge compost piles I have much smaller compost piles and biodegradable mulches in the rows. Step 2 of my trial (at least a year away) will be to bring the animals into the field to replace the mower and further reduce the need for compost piles.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Have you got a blog, Scott? If not then you should have one. It would be fascinating to read and an invaluable resource for anyone who is vaguely interested in this issue.

    • Scott says:

      @ Clyde,
      No I don’t have a blog or website yet. I am posting on a forum for now so it is being followed by others who have interest in such things. Whether it succeeds or not I won’t know for a while yet.

      In the mean time it is a little project to add to a million other little projects others are doing around the world. It would be arrogant of me to think anything special will come from it when I haven’t even taken results from a full year yet. But I know that it certainly won’t happen if no one tries. Sometimes it is the attempt that matters more.

      “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward”-Thomas Edison

      As for organic in general. Forget my unproven trial. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that for years organic farmers HAVE been making the inovative attempts and plenty have succeeded. SRI is a great example. For years under huge criticism for being unscientific and un-testable, now about 5 million farmers around the world use it. The world record rice production of 22.4 tons per hectare was done by Sumant Kumar in 2011. He used no pesticides at all and only a very tiny amount of inorganic fertilizers. The rest was organic SRI methods. Or look at farmers like Joel Salatin. “40,000 lbs beef; 30,000 lbs pork;10,000 broilers; 1,200 turkeys; 1,000 rabbits; 35,000 doz. eggs all off of 100 acres. And at the end of the year; there is more biodiversity, not less; there is more fertility, not less; there is more soil, not less. This is NOT a zero-sum system!” Michael Pollan discussing Joel Salatin

    • First Officer says:


      Thanks for the video and clearing up that you have yet to go through a full annual cycle with the, “new”, techniques and also for the video link (and thanks for it only be 10 minutes :) )

      But, what i can see from that video is that her fixed nitrogen, “collector”, or creation area, is much larger than her actual crop area. First she spreads her rows widely to create cover crop rows, which she alternates with the crop rows from year to year. Plus she adds nitrogen to the crop rows from hay and more cover crops grown elsewhere (an adjacent field) plus she adds nitrogen from the sheep she has that themselves have collected their nitrogen from other fields. (She doesn’t mention whether she purchase feed for the sheep or not at times, which, if she does, would be yet another nitrogen input from elsewhere)

      So, while she may make a case that her yield per crop row area is very high, the land area involved to support that yield seems to be far higher than it would need to be if synthetic fertilizers were brought into play.

    • Scott says:

      @First Officer,
      You are correct. These issues you brought up are exactly why and what I will be working on with my trial project. I believe, but have yet to prove, that breakthroughs made in animal husbandry with “Managed intensive rotational grazing” (MIRG), if integrated into Helen’s system, will close that loop completely.

      Keep in mind, there are plenty of people using MIRG without ANY nitrogen inputs at all. In fact variations of MIRG have already become the dominant grazing system in the UK. It is still relatively rare in US but it is very well proven around the world. Over 30 million acres around the world are in holistic management and that system of rotational grazing uses no nitrogen at all. Not counting even more millions in other forms of rotational grazing that doesn’t use outside Haber process nitrogen. The problem with MIRG is that you cant grow a tomato with MIRG. There are people using MIRG in the US with corn and wheat production, but in between crop seasons, not at the same time. (ie They harvest the grain first, plant a cover crop, then harvest the cover crop with cattle, then plant the next grain crop.) So basically I am attempting to do what no one I know of has done before. Integrate several methods in the same fields at the same time.

      Think of it this way. Lets say for argument sake a farmer has 100 acres and grows annual crops on 20 and raises animals on 80. Some of his animals require grain so he grows grain for the animals on 10 of those 20, leaving 10 for vegetable production.

      I am thinking that Helen’s system has wider rows, but not that much wider than conventional market farmers. All vegetable farmers have to be able to get into their fields anyway. The black plastic she uses is very common in USA, but here we usually plow everything and have bare dirt between.

      So integrate the two methods on the whole 100 acres. You’ll basically have increased the usable crop acreage to equivalent to 30-50 acres while keeping the usable grazing acreage about the same or greater at 80-100 acres. (you’ll use all 100 acres, but not in the crop rows until after harvest) You still only need 10 acres for grain for the animals, that hasn’t changed. That leaves equivalent to 20-40 acres in vegetables instead of 10 without reducing the animal production! I am throwing out basic numbers without results to confirm or deny. It’s year 1 of my trial remember.

      Keep in mind, in MIRG, there are periods of heavy grazing and periods rest. You allow vegetative growth during the periods of rest. So those animals are not on all the acres at the same time anyway. You rotate them through. This Idea I have is to carefully time and manage the rotations so that annual crops can be grown on the same land at the same time as it is also raising animals. In each case the waste from the one becomes the food for the other. Weeds and pests for annual crops are forage for animals (and crop residue after harvest), and animal manure and urine is food for crops.

      There is a guy, Sepp Holzer, that is doing it already, with no chemical inputs at all, and getting huge productivity both animal and vegetable from formerly un-arable land. But he has not produced a method usable for mass production. Great yields per acre, especially considering the land he does it on formerly produced little to no food at all. But his version of permaculture would take huge changes in labor infrastructure and farm size, equipment etc… So while I admire his work a lot, I don’t think it could be easily adapted to modern agricultural systems.

      So I will repeat again. I am borrowing a little here and a little there and a little from somewhere else, adding my own experience with both conventional and organic farming, and trying to come up with something scale-able and usable in today’s modern world. I am not the only one either. It is being worked on all over the world in various different ways. The ability to use the internet for the spread of information between previously isolated people has dramatically accelerated the process.

      Anyway, thanks for the conversation. The sun just came out finally after a few days of overcast rainy days and its back to work for me. As we say, “Make hay when the sun is shining!”


    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Scott – Well, I hope you do start to write a blog. I’ve learned a lot here from our discussions and come to enjoy them, and I think an enlightened soul from the Organic movement could do a lot to reconcile what seems to be two bitterly opposed stances in this argument.

  53. Clyde Davies says:

    So, Scott, how do we move on from here? I mean, we all really want the same goals: secure and accessible food suppy, good nutrition, and proper stewardship of the environment. Is it simply that priorities differ? or opinions about the means?

    • Scott says:

      I actually mentioned it above. You replied too fast. In my honest opinion, if there is a consumer base that insists on the Biodynamic mythology and refuses new technologies like GM, then let the Soil Association certify Biodynamic, and leave us organic growers alone. We organic farmers don’t need the soil association to tell us that a GMO that is glyphosate resistant is not organic and useless to us. We also don’t need them telling us that ALL GM crops are the same. A case by case basis should apply. In my mind pulling lost genes, found only in wild versions of domesticated crops, with GM technology is the greatest potential benefit of GM technology and completely compatible with organic in every respect.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      You mention pulling in lost genes. Did you know that Mimulus, the monkeyflower, used to be grown because of its musky scent, but this mysteriously disappeared about the time of WW 1 ? Nobody really knows why it happened, but putting the scent back into ‘musk’ would be a nice application of transgenic technology.


    • Scott says:

      I know nothing about monkeyflower. Sorry. But you would be surprised the different strong scents in wild tomatoes, especially the S. Lycopersicoides introgression lines, but also in some of the S. Habrochaites, and S. Pennelli lines.

  54. Clyde Davies says:

    @SCott: I also think that techniques that improve the nutritional quality of the crops, such as obviously Golden Rice but also the John Innes ‘purple tomato’ should get a look-in: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7688310.stm . These benefit the consumer more than anyone else.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      PS: I’m a research chemist by training, by the way (now I develop computer software). No interest other than intellectual in this topic. And a desire not to see ignorance and fear triumph over science and reason.

    • Scott says:

      Now you are talking a subject I have substantial first hand knowledge. I actually breed and grow tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, okra, sweet corn, and a few other crops for market. Primarily specializing in tomatoes. I am in fact growing over 80 varieties of tomatoes this year, including hybrids, heirlooms, and new experimental cultivars. I have even tasted that tomato, called “Blueberry” in the underground tomato growers circles (although technically it was never released and isn’t legal to sell). It tastes terrible. A real “spitter”. I wouldn’t grow it even if it does get released. Novelty only.

      However, there is a breeder named Tom Wagner that is a firm believer in organic that has introduced many blue tomatoes derived from wild tomato introgression lines. They actually taste good too. The aft gene is common in wild relatives to the tomato and has already been successfully bred into larger better tasting domestic cultivars without the use of GM technology or snapdragons. I am growing right now a few tomatoes that have moderately purple/blue/black coloration. (none completely blue though and none GMO) Actually, while Tom Wagner may be the most well known tomato breeder introducing the aft gene into potatoes and tomatoes, there are many other conventional breeders working on it too.
      In fact I am actually growing an experimental sweet corn variety too (not a GMO) this year that contains anthocyanin in the leaves and stalk, but not the kernels. Lots of potential there! I am also growing a purple cabbage.

      So I would say yes, there is potential for GM technology to speed along what conventional breeders are working on already. Although you can keep that “blueberry” tomato. It is fail. To me the best use of GM seems to be in insect and disease resistance. This way we can reduce and/or eliminate pesticide use.

  55. Clyde Davies says:

    It sounds like a fun job to have :-) . I was a keen domestic tomato grower for a while. I used to grown one called ‘Golden Sunrise’ which was yellow and tasted fantastic: I mainyl grew my own because they were much better tasting than the supermarket variety. My main complaint about commerical toms is that they are harvested too early and end up tasting like and having the texture of cavity wall insulation. Which is why I was disappointed that the Flavr-Savr didn’t make it to market. Food has to taste nice as well as be nutritious.
    Unfortunately my greenhouse went when we extended our house into the garden. I miss being able to grow my own salad veg and, if I did it again, I’d probably do it organically just to see how it compared to my usual, Tomorite-heavy, approach.

    • Scott says:

      Another friend of mine is attempting to breed cold hardy tomatoes. He has some Russian bred cultivars and wild varieties and a couple others as breeding stock. He has some really promising early results too, surviving temps down to 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 C), setting fruit down to as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 C). So there is hope for you even without a greenhouse. Unfortunately none of my 80 varieties have those genes, even though I am growing several Russian cultivars. :( I could have used them this spring. We have had terrible weather here with several late frosts and ice storms. I am a full month behind last year.

      Just keep in mind this is also breeding work done WITHOUT GM. The idea that improvements in production can only be solved by GM technology, (and not by organic growers) is completely false. It would be nice to add GM to the organic toolkit. I would love it personally. But there is no urgency. Even without that tool, significant improvements can and are being made every year.

      That’s one reason I get so furious with people like Mark Lynas when he bad mouths organic.

      @Mark Lynas
      Mark, if you are still watching this conversation, lay off organic will you please? If you want to attack non-scientific pseudoscience in agriculture, attack the biodynamic or traditional guys. They have plenty of hocus pocus added to their “dogma”. Some of the stuff they do is good, but since it is all mixed up with mythology and dogma, it isn’t “organic” as the term was originally intended. You lumping them in with organic is not helping one bit. It only further confuses people. It confused people when you were a supposed organic activist, and it is even more confusing to people now that you are not.

  56. Susana Curatolo says:

    Dr. Lyas says”…It is a truism to say that people are hungry not because there is a global shortage of food in an absolute sense, but because they are too poor to afford to eat. But it is a dangerous fallacy to suggest therefore that because the world on average has enough food, we should therefore oppose efforts to improve agricultural productivity in food insecure countries.” and is his comment on food security. R&D has a right and a duty to explore a venues for better food production and survival. B UT..what is in question here is not that BUT is instead the FOCUS and the driver for that research…Intelligent Genomic Design should consider their prime Directive FOOD SAFETY …because when we don’t…you start getting your spliced (Insect, Fish, Animal) genes BINDING with the cells of the Human Body.So, if ALL you EAT is GMO by aggregation there is change in the physiology!…and since no RISK LIST and Tests are available by or done by FDA, it certainly would give a very very bad press to the Scientific Community, which after all is trying to help through the Advancement of Science. The problem is that the COST MODEL for GMO IS available and the the NonGMO COST MODELl IS NOT. When this imbalance is corrected the PICTURE WILL CHANGE….!

    • Jim Bell says:


    • Ben says:

      @Jim Why? Are you not entertained by these sorts of comments?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “Intelligent Genomic Design should consider their prime Directive FOOD SAFETY …because when we don’t…you start getting your spliced (Insect, Fish, Animal) genes BINDING with the cells of the Human Body.So, if ALL you EAT is GMO by aggregation there is change in the physiology!…and since no RISK LIST and Tests are available by or done by FDA, it certainly would give a very very bad press to the Scientific Community, which after all is trying to help through the Advancement of Science. ”

      I think you will find that tests *are* done on GMO crops relseased for human consumption. they are tested for allergenicity and toxicity, and some have failed. In fact they are tested more thoroughly than conventional crops are on anything else has been to date.
      As for genes ‘binding’ with the cells in the human body, I don’t know what you’re worrying (or talking) about. We eat beef but we don’t sprout horns. We eat peas and broccoli but we don’t turn green. So, how exactly are plant or animal genes supposed to ‘bind’ with our cells?

  57. Chris S. says:

    Anyone got a link for the Shiva “terminator gene” quote that isn’t a reference to this speech?


  58. Hein_JHB says:

    I also don’t agree with Mark Lynas. The cancer rate is also up and Iost my mother and also people who I knew who had cancer and also other people with health problems.

    I am also avoiding GMO’s where I can and will support the anti GMO petitions and blogs

  59. Ben says:

    A crop sprayed with BTs is still certified organic, but a crop which creates it’s own BT proteins is not. This makes no sense to me.

    Over thousands of years agriculture has improved the yield and pest resistance of food crops through selection, and this method is certified organic. But technology which allows us to see immediate and very specific benefits is not. This makes no sense to me.

    I understand the backlash against Glyphosate resistance, as it invites the use of more chemicals. But surely crops which require fewer or no chemicals/fertilisers should be embraced by the organic movement? Why is this not the reality?

  60. The problem I see w this and other arguments wrt GMOs ensuring food security is that they refuse to address the biggest culprits leading to food insecurity – monocultures which are inherently more prone to pest damage and impoverished soil , and poor distribution systems – these are the two top factors for food insecurity – not lack of GMOs – GMOs are a band aid, and steer focus away from addressing the real problems that lead to food insecurity – because addressing them wdnt be profitable for big AG -

    • Scott says:

      Here Here! Well played!

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I don’t think anybody is claiming that GMOs are the sole answer, rather one of an arsenal of many weapons against poor nutrition. As for ‘poor distribution systems’, I’ve heard the argument that if we somehow miraculously sorted out global inequalities in wealth then we’d have no need for any ‘tech fixes’. Well, I think people have waited long enough for Paradise Postponed. Let’s give them some real options for a change – now.

    • Scott says:

      The historical problem with Tech solutions to end hunger in developing or war torn countries has always been not properly defining appropriate technology. Molding a country into our Western view of technology and what is appropriate does not always translate into what is best for other countries.

      GM technology, at least right now, is part of our own model of industrial Agriculture. Certainly not an appropriate technology for the majority of the world. Some would argue, including myself, it isn’t even appropriate technology for the industrialized West!

      Theoretically it COULD be part of appropriate technology. But at least for now, it isn’t the reality of the situation.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      So why don’t we let developing countries make up their own minds about this technology? Agorchemical firms and proselytizing NGOs should butt out.

  61. Loren Eaton says:

    Hi Ben,
    When having this discussion with anti-GMO types, the notion of ‘rational’ rarely comes up. Unforunately, I’m so old I remember when GMO’s came on the scene. I think at first there were organic GROWERS (as opposed to the movement) that were quite ready to embrace the technology where applicable (ie. coat protein mediated virus resistance). I also understand that it was NOT the USDA’s original intention to ban GMO from organic standards, but that some in the organic movement objected to that inclusion, so the USDA backed down. The die was cast and here we are; with no way of combining GMO with organic, even when it makes sense.

    • Scott says:

      As an organic grower I would like to point out something. Maybe it is a minor point, but I think it bears mentioning.
      Many of us organic growers have simply decided to opt out of the organic certification programs and market directly whenever possible. Some have succeeded and some have failed. That’s one reason for the growing “local” movement. But the point is that there is a growing number of organic growers that are dissatisfied with the “certified organic” programs that were forced on us. Some of the regulations are too strict and not science based, others are too lenient and not science based. Some of them are simply ridiculous and amount to fraud. So I wouldn’t go so far as to say the “die is cast” forever.

      Sure we can’t call ourselves “certified organic”. But that doesn’t mean we necessarily aren’t organic, more organic than a lot of the frauds out there that found loopholes in the regulations. That’s certain.

  62. jack says:

    If MANSANTO gifted their creations to the world instead of suing farmers when their crops bow into their organic fields…THEN WE COULD MAYB TRUST THEM> But the BULLY the small cottage industries…. SO mayb their GM crops can be utilized to feed africa and struggling countries [re:Bil Gates and the Gates foundation current work, which is commendable is solving a problem] but in developed nations where the sue and use big money and law to destroy small producers…this shows us where their intentions lie in creating their unnatural foods…just saying ;]

  63. Karin says:

    To me the debate comes down to this: I, as the consumer, get the final say in what I choose to eat. If I want to eat organic, non-gmo, grass fed beef, then it is my business and my business alone. I DEMAND to be informed on how my food was modified, raised or prepared. I consider any company that refuses to disclose this information to be shady. Let’s face it…Monsanto and it’s CEOs don’t give a crap for “feeding the world”. The do give a crap for making money. They don’t want products with GMO labeling because they think they might lose money. Instead, they want to make the decision for the consumer that GMOs are harmless. As the consumer, I am pissed at that. We moan and groan about “big government” making decisions for us, but if it’s a big corporation unilaterally deciding what is “good” for us, we are all like “yuh sure, whatever you say”?!?!?!

    Now maybe GMOs are perfectly fine, maybe they’re not. Let’s put it this way – if you want to be the guinea pig, go ahead and eat all the GMOs you want. That’s your choice. I think I would rather wait and see for a little while and eat non-GMOs though. That is my right as a consumer and labeling food gives me that choice. Monsanto does not have the right to make that choice for me.

    I remember the trans fat fiasco…you know, when the government and food industry starting pushing people to switch from butter to margarine, because margarine is a “healthier fat”?!?! Then they discovered that it was deadly? Oh…oops.

    • Bill Ellis says:

      I’m willing to listen to both sides of the argument and make a hopefully reasoned decision for me and my family. But what keeps bothering me is the refusal of the advocates to require GMO labeling. If there is nothing harmful, or at least more beneficial than harmful, why not let people decide for themselves? More information is always better than less, and the secrecy and extreme defensiveness of Monsanto and their allies does leave a lingering suspicious that they have something to hide.

  64. James Kurtz says:

    Can someone please explain why GMO corn is nutritionall deficient to organic corn, if GMO are suppose to be the same.

    Please read and comment:


    Also why do wild animals prefer organic over GMO?
    Possibly the answer is the same. GMO is nutritionally deficient.

  65. James Kurtz says:

    Here is another article I would like to see explained by those that are pro GMO.

    A new study reveals an insecticide produced in GM corn actually gets absorbed into the human body.


    • Clyde Davies says:

      No, it doesn’t:
      “The information is spurious.

      The scientists reporting finding Bt protein in the human samples (Aris and Leblanc) are detecting only noise in the assay system because they use an invalid assay system (Agdia) intended to test plants, not animals for Bt.

      The inconvenient truth about this is described in an earlier paper Paul and others 2007 that demonstrates how to do a valid assay for this Bt protein and also shows what kind of results you get from a valid test with animal samples.

      The basic message is that: no detectable Bt protein in GM food enters an animal body from the gut.”

  66. stee says:

    Hard to take you seriously when you believe in the global warming lies.

  67. patrick benedict says:

    The failure, that you haven’t mentioned, is to point out the greed-driven corporations who put people’s health over profits. They are not interested in feeding hungry people. There’s an abundance of good food around the world, the problem is in the distribution of it.

    So for example, imagine a wealthy corporation like Monsanto being a charitable cause using some of it’s BILLIONS in profits to pay for the distribution of good food shipped to those countries that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it? There are many corporations that could be doing this if they wanted to.

    Vandana Shiva knows exactly what she is talking about. You’re going to have a hard time convincing people that terminator seeds are a good thing.

    And yes… homeopaths should be in charge our medical system, and we should dissipate Big Ag which is making people sick. Natural fruits and vegetables, herbs and everything else natural we haven’t discovered yet along with a healthy lifestyle IS medicine.

    Change is constant, with everything, and that’s a given. Using chemicals to deter insects is not the answer. Over time insects and diseases change to adapt.

    Every living thing on the planet learns to adapt to it’s environment – and that is determined by the available resources. Every thing works in perfect symbiosis. Except humans.

    Why? because we have created a huge artificial limb that our modern civilization now depends upon. It’s not natural to mass produce foods. Crops, like people, are prone to diseases on such grand scales. If we did not create this artificial mass production, and that’s what it is – completely unnatural – then our population levels would be kept at bay. Industry, driven by monetary greed, has created this limb which is now collapsing because it cannot be supported naturally.

    The one thing humans have never done right is to calculate the earth’s carrying-capacity. To this day we still dont know how many people the world can support sustainable, and until we do we won’t be able to put together a suitable plan of action to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the planet. Not very intelligent eh?

    There is nothing shameful about protecting our planet from mad money-hungry scientists working for publicly-held biotech companies. Are you receiving funds from these people to write this commentary?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      This is exactly the kind of thinking that exposes the anti-GM campaigners to an increasing torrent of ridicule. Full of glib, smug complacent platitudes, regurgitation of untruths, crass stereotyping and the presumption to comment on an article without even reading it properly.
      Yes, the first world has too much food while the third world has too little, but the latter is sick and tired of waiting for us to develop a conscience and have decided to come up with their own solutions, and it’s only when SCIENCE starts to get involved that people like you sit up and take notice. Until then you probably did nothing.

      Vandana Shiva doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. Firstly the Terminator technology enver made it into production, secondly as mark points out it would never spread into the wild population and thirdly Mark isn’t trying to sell it to anyone.

      Homeopaths couldn’t find their arse with both hands, let alone manage outr health services. Our medicine is on the whole evidence-based : homeopathy has NO rational basis behind it and NO evidence to support that it works, other than a handful of dubious trials.

      Then we get to the really objectionable material: ” If we did not create this artificial mass production, and that’s what it is – completely unnatural – then our population levels would be kept at bay. ” So you’re advocating that the best method of population control is mass starvation, eh? Despite the fact that the global population is beginning to level out, mainly because more people are surviving into adulthood?

      “There is nothing shameful about protecting our planet from mad money-hungry scientists working for publicly-held biotech companies. Are you receiving funds from these people to write this commentary?”

      I’m a scientist, and I’m not mad or money hungry. Many scientists, like Ingo Potrykus and Norman Borlaug, set out to do some good in the world by feeding people better. I’ll tell you what’s *really* shameful: dealing in crass stereotyping and imputations of corrupt and mercenary motives.

      Quite simply, is this is the level of thinking you’re capable of, you should keep your thoughts to yourself. You come across as being both spectacularly dim, shockingly uncritical and also quite a nasty individual.

  68. There doesn’t need to be a conspiracy to make GM food dangerous. Just one of the many issues:

    In transferring genes from one organism to another, the scientist doesn’t transfer the gene separately to each of the millions of individual plants that would make up a crop. The gene is transferred once, and the plant cloned. Clones are like identical twins, in that they are genetically identical. In other words, the more GM crops that are planted, the lower the genetic variation within the crop.

    This is an unstable situation.

    Sooner or later a pathogen will evolve that can infect the crop, regardless of what protection has been genetically added, or what pesticides the crop is treated with. When it does so, it will be able to infect all of the crop, because the whole crop is genetically identical.

    In other words, after a few years of stability – perhaps even bumper crops – whole crops will be lost, with catastrophic results. If considering an analogous situation helps – imagine that instead of every mobile phone having an individual PIN, they all had the same PIN: once the PIN of one phone is guessed, a thief could access them all.

    Or compare the situation with Ash die-back: some trees survive because of resistance to the disease, due to genetic variability. If they were all clones, no trees would have resistance.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Ever heard of the irish Potato famine? One million people died in that because of dependency on one variety of potato, which fell prey to blight. And not a GMO in sight.

      Or consider your everyday banana. These are *all* clones propagated vegetatively from a single plant. This single plant is a mutant having a triploid chromosome compliment instead of the normal diploid. Triploid bananas are sterile. We have already lost at least one banana variety to disease.

      So the present reality is pretty much as you fear the future to be. GM gives us the opportunity to introduce disease resistance into many of these crops, just like we’ve done already with papaya. isn’t this a good thing?

    • Hi, Clyde.

      Let’s take those points one by one . . .

      You quite rightly point out part of the issue with the Irish potato famine was a narrow genetic range in the crop – but you advocate using GMOs, even though you would be making the genetic variability even narrower?

      You recognise the issue with bananas – but advocate creating analogous situations with other crops?

      Re papayas – no, it’s not a good thing. It’s a short-term gain, inevitably leading to a longer-term crash.

      The arguments are exactly the same as those used to promote the use of exotic financial products – the difference being, the crash will bring famine, not just economic woe.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      One other thing:
      “Re papayas – no, it’s not a good thing. It’s a short-term gain, inevitably leading to a longer-term crash.”

      Go tell that to a papaya farmer who’s had his crop ruined by ringspot. Perhaps we shouldn’t vaccinate people against measles because they might end up being laid low by another disease we havent’ thought of, eh?
      Stunning logic.

    • Yeah, that is rather a stunning leap.

      Which I didn’t make.

      Because it isn’t analogous.

      People already have a huge amount of genetic variation. The analogous situation wouldn’t be vaccination, it would be replacing the diverse human population with a number of clones.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Well, I’m more concerned about real, current problems with real, current consequences than worrying about hypothericals that may or may not occur decades or even centuries into the future. People are suffering throughout the world because they can’t get enough to eat or they can’t grow enough to sell because their crops are ravaged by disease. I’d rather focus on the here and now.

    • Tony says:

      Ah, come on. The sole focus of the Monsantos of this world (and, to be fair, almost every other corporation) is profit. Let’s not pretend that they are anxious to feed a growing population; they simply see the difficulties of feeding an exponentially growing population as being a money earner. Of course they will indoctrinate many people with their arguments against genetic tinkering and their supposed solution to world hunger. There are quite a few enthusiasts out there playing on the fears of others.

    • Focus away, Clyde. Perhaps you’ll see that that isn’t what GMOs are doing.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      What exactly *are* they doing, here and now, then, that I haven’t apprised myself of? I’m not talking about ten or even a hundred years down the line. I mean, you just have to read Mark’s article to see is actually happening *right now*. As I’ve pointed beforehand, the precautionary principle is all very well but these crops have proven themselves in the field over and over again. And they have helped to prevent and continue to fend off real disease while you sit there fretting about hypothetical plagues.

      Risk is an element of eveything we do, but your kind of trepdiatious inaction would have got us nowhere at all as a race. We make mistakes, we get things wrong, we learn by the mistakes and we also make sure we have a Plan B. Everything you have talked about is easily anticipated and contigency plans easily put in place. ‘Nuff said.

    • Where is your evidence that one person who would otherwise have gone hungry has been fed thanks to GMOs? The talk of feeding the world’s poor is nonsense.

      “Everything you have talked about is easily anticipated and contigency plans easily put in place.”

      Really?!? Where’s your evidence?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I’m not the one saying we shouldn’t use this technology: you are. So stop waving the red flag in front the wagon and come up with a real reason why they shouldn’t be deployed.

      As for ‘the talk of feeding the world’s poor is nonsense’; this could only come from a complacent, middle class Westerner. Let’s let the people they’re supposed to benefit decide whether or not they’d be good for them. Oh, wait a minute, Greenpeace has decided that they *aren’t* any good for them. Good old Greenpeace: that releives the ignorant savages of the need to do any of their own thinking.


    • Well, thank you for summing me up so succinctly, Clyde. Middle class? Hmm . . . debatable. Complacent? No . . . that would seem to apply to you. ‘Let’s not bother with the cautionary principle, even though it’s the world’s food supply we’re talking about; and lets see if goes wrong and fix it afterwards.’

      My reasoning is clear, and based on sound biological principals. I have an undergraduate degree and a post-graduate degree in Biological Sciences – what’s your expertise?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I have an undergraduate degree in Chemistry, a PhD in Chemistry post-doctoral experience and have worked for 15 years in Pharmaceutical Research. I understand risk perfectly well.

      You stick to your precautionary principle if you want: it’s run its course. The evidence is out there: these crops have been grown for getting on for two decades and there have been no disasters at all. Not even so much as an upset stomach.

      Oh, and don’t rub those two sticks together, they might burn down the cave.

    • I have also worked in the Pharmaceutical Industry, Clyde – though it in no way made me an expert on GMOs. Maybe you work in a different type of Pharmaceutical Company. Hopefully not in product development or testing – your complacency seems a match for those who okayed Thalidomide.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Oh just get stuffed and stop being so bloody pompous. Testing *anything* is based up an a priori assessment of risk, and the risks from novel small molecules vastly exceed those from known proteins. GM crops are tested for allergenicity and toxicity, and as for the risks from ‘clones’ being susceptible to diseases, well, when it all goes wrong, you can just smile and say ‘I told you so’.

      Of course, some intelligent crossbreeding with conventional species might just go a long way to mitigating this risk. Or perhaps more likely somebody is doing it already.

      Actually, it’s your categorical, sweeping dismissal of the work of the likes of Ingo Potrykus that really gets up my bloody nose. At least he’s *doing* something with his scientific training, instead of sitting on his backside pontificating.

    • Clyde, Clyde, Clyde . . . How many things are you going to accuse me of, that apply better to yourself?

      You’ve decided what class I am, that I’m complacent, sitting on my backside; you’ve resorted to personal insults; you refuse to back up your assertions; you claim it’s not for yourself but on behalf of Ingo Potrykus you are indignant -

      - and you call me pompous?

      Look in the mirror, Clyde – look in a mirror.

      On a more scientific note – I’ve said nothing about the potential toxicity of proteins, who are you arguing against?

      I have also made no mention (until this post) of Ingo Potrykus, or his work; never mind dismissing it, categorically, sweepingly, or otherwise.

      On a personal note – I sincerely hope I’m wrong; but nothing I’ve read in this thread, or the blog before it, addresses the issue. As for smiling if I’m proven right – I sincerely doubt it.

    • First Officer says:

      I think GE adds biodiversity to a species. Before GM’ing, you have X number of strains in a species. GM one of them, you still have the orginal plus a new strain, i.e. X +1. Indeed, there are many Bt corns available and all they previous hybrids are still around or brought to bear in short order. The GMO has one advantage over the hybrid though, it can breed true for the GM trait.

      Even now, new corn strains are being developed using both mutagenesis and GE to better withstand drought. These strains never existed before and now they will be added to the total number of corn strains.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Edward – you stated quite categorically that ‘Where is your evidence that one person who would otherwise have gone hungry has been fed thanks to GMOs? The talk of feeding the world’s poor is nonsense’. This includes by implication the work that Dr. Potrykus is doing, whatever you argue otherwise.

      When I read your jeremiads against monocultures and cloning, I am reminded of nobody so much as Dr. Dionysius Lardner, whose diatribes against steam engines and steam trains were typical of the ‘nothing shall be done for the first time’ attitude.

      Life is risky. Things sometimes go wrong. the best we can ask of anybody is that they mitigate the risks that they take. Nobody is seriously advocating that we grown ONE strain of rice or ONE strain of soya. So stop pretending otherwise because it suits your narrative to do so.

    • First Officer says:

      Frankly, there are much worse things than being profit driven. At least profit motives can be persuaded to change course. This is not always so with ideological or romantic motives. The Nazi ideological drive for racial purity trumped any profit motive and even the victory motive in the War. Trains destined to the death camps actually had priority over trains to the fronts and factories.

      Now, the anti-gmo movement is not out to commit genocide but while they cry profit motive at companies they completely ignore their maniacal adherence to their ideological and naturalistic worldview motives no matter how much pain, death and suffering that such implementations of such would cause.

      They also, whether willfully or by ignorance, ignore that people can have both a profit motive and the motive to do good and do so through the same actions.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I’m all for profit, personally. Profit buys tractors and farmhouses, and means that people get rises in wages. The alternative is subsistence farming and who the hell wants to go back to *that*?

      It’s also worth remembering that big companies like You-Know-Who who sell modified seeds have no interest whatsoever in grabbing all the profit for themselves. Farmers may be venal and selfish at times, but they aren’t stupid and aren’t going to put themselves slavishly in hock to suppliers who only want to fleece them. They’ll only invest in new technologies if they can see the benefit.

    • Tony says:

      Profit is unsustainable. Simple as that. Profit requires growth, which is unsustainable.

      You may not want to go back to what you think of as subsistence farming but you or your descendants will most certainly have to do something like that, as the world hits limits on multiple fronts. I expect you to deny that, of course, but it’s really a matter of scientific record.

      To avoid subsistence farming, better to plant a food forest. Try permaculture; it about as close to nature as you can get without nomadic hunting and gathering (though you will be gathering in a limited space).

      GMOs may be fun to play with and may make a lot of profit for some corporations and the odd person, but it’s not a technology that will persist, so it’s probably better to go back to nature.

    • Scott says:

      You are wrong. Nature is not a zero sum system. That means there is the potential for both sustainability and profit. If you truly understood permaculture you would know that. It is one of the proven core tenents of permaculture that a healthy functioning natural system multiples productivity with the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts.

      In fact, there is far more profit potential in a permaculture system than ANY conventional Ag system. That is also well proven. Where you get the warped idea that it must be some kind of subsistence farming I have no idea. Subsistence farming is hugely destructive to the environment and is NOT even close to permaculture. As a general rule subsistence farming is even more destructive than conventional “green revolution” farming. In fact you could almost say permaculture is the opposite of subsistence farming. The huge ecological damages caused by subsistence farming is reversed by permaculture. Further the idea that somehow permaculture is close to hunter gathering is ridiculous. Permaculture is agriculture, pure and simple. PERMAnent agriCULTURE = Permaculture.

      Anyway I can see your heart is in the right place, but whoever taught you these strange ideas about profit, sustainability, and permaculture probably had a completely separate political agenda. Most certainly the idea that permaculture can’t be profitable is wrong. Actually permaculture systems as a general rule are many times more profitable than other forms of agriculture.

    • Tony says:


      It was Clyde who referred to subsistence farming and I agree that permaculture is not that.

      Of course, permaculture embedded within our present culture can generate a profit but that is not its aim. Of course, it can generate a surplus and that should be shared, among those who cannot meet their needs but, otherwise, everything should remain in the area that produces the wealth of nature.

      A profit is obtained when the income exceeds all costs. So someone is paying more than the service or product costs. That profit will go into expanding the business or consuming more than is needed. That is not sustainable, unless you append “over the period X”, in which case it has to end some time after that period.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I think there is plenty of opportunity for *sustainable growth*, particularly in countries where soil quality is poor and alumnium toxicity is rife. Getting better yields out of existing land is better for the farmer, better for the consumer and for the environment.

      I don’t deny that we will come up against limits to our expansion as a species. What I don’t deny is that your proscription of subsistence farming is going to be the solution. I quite frankly have better things to do than growing vegetables, and I suspect this goes for a lot of other people as well. If you read Mark’s book, ‘the God Species’, he explores these boundaries in very great detail but proposes a variety of approaches to meet them. The nitrogen and land use boundaries are prime candidates for a varied approach, and GMOs will inevitably feature as part of this approach.

      So, when you proclaim that ‘ it’s not a technology that will persist, so it’s probably better to go back to nature’ then I wonder how you have come to this conclusion. From where I’m standing, the opposite looks likely.

    • Tony says:

      Hah! You exemplify my point. You simply can’t imagine a world where technology continues to develop (in your mind, probably “progress”) powered by some source of energy that we just haven’t figured out yet. I realise that you didn’t say this in so many words but it is, effectively, what you’ve said. That you think you will always have better things to do than grow vegetables is a case in point. The central driver of all people will ultimately be “how do I survive”, and one of the crucial elements is growing food. Perhaps you think there will always be someone else who will do it for you. You might be right for your life (depending on how old you are) but I don’t think that mode of thinking has too much longer to go (a generation or two, perhaps).

      This is no such thing as “sustainable growth”; it’s an oxymoron. However, the messages you get bombarded with from our consume society make it difficult to become aware of reality. At least you do acknowledge limits. If you care to look at the science about the environment, ecology, resources, you will find that limits are already upon us. Why do you think it has been so hard for nations to get back to meaningful economic growth for the last 5 years?

      It doesn’t have to be subsistence farming, mind you. If we can start to accept reality, instead of trying to invent it, then there are other ways of growing food, ones that are very much aligned with natural systems. And they are very, very productive. However, I don’t see much evidence of that acceptance of reality coming about soon enough to avoid a lot of suffering, so good luck to you and yours.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “What I don’t deny”

      What I DO deny

    • So, Firts Officer, you ‘think GE adds biodiversity to a species’.

      It doesn’t.

      The variation within the crop is inevitably reduced, the more of one strain you grow; and this loss of diversity is far, far more extreme when the strain you’re talking about is a GM organism.

    • So, Clyde – I’m now responsible for jeremiads and canards – and I’m supposed to be the pompous one . . .

      There is a parallel with steam engines. Early steam engines kept blowing up, killing people, until legislation was put in place to improve safety. We are (analogously) in the period before this legislation.

      I’ve never suggested there would be just one strain of any crop. Your straw-man production line is working overtime.

    • First Officer – so ‘the anti-gmo movement is not out to commit genocide but . . ‘ – what a but!

      I suspect many in the anti-GMO movement are motivated by a desire to avoid humanitarian disaster.

      The idea that GM food is the answer to starvation is a complete red herring.

    • Clyde – I don’t think I’ve anywhere voiced some absolute opposition to profit. But once again, it gives you a foothold to pretend I have.

      And the idea that the alternative to GMO is subsistence farming is an absolute nonsense, and again of your own invention.

      “It’s also worth remembering that big companies like You-Know-Who who sell modified seeds have no interest whatsoever in grabbing all the profit for themselves.” What exactly gives you this infallible insight into the motives of all of these companies? The fact that they’re prepared to sue farmers whose crops have – completely outside their control – become contaminated with GMOs, and threatened farmers with litigation for saving seeds, suggests a far less benevolent ethos than that you suggest.

      “Farmers may be venal and selfish at times, but they aren’t stupid and aren’t going to put themselves slavishly in hock to suppliers who only want to fleece them. They’ll only invest in new technologies if they can see the benefit.”

      Yes, but when only the benefits are spoken of, and not the risk, then this stuff is being mis-sold.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Edward – nobody has been sued for inadvertent contamination. Monsanto has even offered to decontaminate farmers whose crops have been polluted. They’e only been sued when they’ve decided that they’d like to enjoy the benefits of the crop without having to pay for the seeds.

      Then you say “I’ve never suggested there would be just one strain of any crop. Your straw-man production line is working overtime.”

      Well, first you started talking about the danger of cloned monocultures. Now you’re denying that you ever started off this line of argument.

      Quite simply, I give up.

    • Clyde – when did I ever even mention monoculture? YOU’RE MAKING IT UP!

      Re ‘Quite simply, I give up.’

      I’m glad, you were getting nowhere.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Whatever. please yourself. You’re simply splitting terminological hairs now and this is extremely tedious.

      I personally have better things to do than indulge in this kind of fruitless conversation.

    • No, Clyde – you are misrepresenting my arguments in order to try to defeat them. Cynical, and ineffective.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Look: either you’re *implying* by your reference to ‘clones’ that we will end up with a monoculture comprised of a very small number of individuals, or that GMOs will still end up being diverse but insufficiently so – which Loren has rebutted in a previous comment.

      It’s either one or other of these variations on essentially the same stance. So just spit it out, will you?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “I suspect many in the anti-GMO movement are motivated by a desire to avoid humanitarian disaster.

      The idea that GM food is the answer to starvation is a complete red herring.”

      Well, we all know what these people *don’t* want. What *do* they want? What positive visions do they have? A whole world farmed according to the edicts of the Soil Association with twice as much land under the plough as we have right now?

      And what *is* their answer to starvation? As far as I can see, biotech is simply an extension to the Green Revolution, when new rice strains were introduced andm millions of lives were saved. With Golden Rice perhaps even hundreds of thousands more will be saved and a virtual circle will be introduced which will lift people out of poverty.

      You simply come across now as being dismissive and glib.

    • Scott says:

      I don’t know what “edicts of the Soil Association” means exactly. But Organic methods as a general rule outproduce conventional per acre by a significant amount.

      The advantage conventional has over organic is in production per farmer (ie labor), not production per acre.

      You asked, “And what *is* their answer to starvation?”. Well the problem in the Western model ie….high labor needs, is the solution in those “starving” countries. Labor as a farmer in those countries may not make the farmer rich, but he will eat. Much better working on a small piece of land than sitting on a corner in an overpopulated city with your hand out begging for food because Monsanto introduced an agricultural model that forced you off your land.

      You want real improvement? This is real improvement.

      MORE food. WITH all the other benefits of a mostly organic modern sustainable system. It may look like traditional subsistence farming to the ignorant, but it is far from it. It beats even the top conventional ag scientists’ best, and on a consistent basis.

    • Well, I think my posts have been pretty self explanatory.

      I have never mentioned monoculture, I have mentioned a reduction in genetic diversity, which leaves crops more vulnerable.

      And I don’t think Loren has effectively rebutted anything. Point out where if you disagree.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I have better things to do than argue about semantics.

    • Clyde, once again your accusations that I’m being dismissive and glib apply more to your own posts.

      What evidence do you have to suggest GM food has saved any lives, anywhere in the world?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      None, because the kind of crops that would actually make people more healthy have been implacably opposed by the likes of Greenpeace and FoI to the extent that they haven’t actually been grown. Golden Rice hasn’t yet been grown in anger, and if these organisations have their way it never will be. mind you, I suspect there’s a few Hawaiian papaya farmers who are better off and better able to feed their families.

      It’s a bit of a circular argument really:
      “We oppose GM crops because they haven’t been shown to help people.”
      “So why haven’t they been shown to help people?”
      “Er…because we’ve opposed them?”

      Now, where’s your evidence that they’ve harmed people?

    • Clyde – why do you think there are governments around the world who block the import and / or growth of GM food? Including Angola, who turned down GM food aid? Are people just paranoid? Should Monsanto be above the level of national democracies, and get its way despite this resistance? Should people be forced to eat GM food, because of lack of labelling? What world do you live in, to think these things are okay?

    • Clyde – “I have better things to do than argue about semantics.” So you keep saying. Say something useful and verifiable, that actually addresses the issue instead, then.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      No, I don’t think people should be forced to eat GM food. I think all food should be labelled to allow informed choices, then people like me who simply don’t give a damn could go ahead and eat what we liked.

      Actually, what I’m in favour of is regulation to allow progress to occur at a responsible pace. That’s why we have speed limits so people can drive at a speed that’s not reckless and appropiate to their context. Trouble is, people like you seem to think hat under such circumstances the only options are either the Red Flag Act or hurtling over the cliff with our foot to the floor.

    • Tony says:

      Oh boy, you really are inculcated into the “modern” world. Speed limits aren’t imposed in context at all. They are a “one size fits all” imposition on freedom. It can be quite safe to drive way beyond the speed limit, in some situations, but the law doesn’t care about that.

      It’s clear that you “don’t give a damn” but I’m glad you support GM labeling. That’s actually one of the most sensible opinions you’ve offered here.


      You want me to produce evidence to back up an argument I have never made!

      If you’re going to debate the issue, at least read what you’re responding to.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “Clyde – why do you think there are governments around the world who block the import and / or growth of GM food? Including Angola, who turned down GM food aid? Are people just paranoid?”

      Yes. People are just paranoid: none of this is based in science, or is based in the addled application of the ‘precautionary principle’. The likes of Greenpeace, who are paranoid, got to them first. Greenpeace would oppose fire if it had just been invented.

      Greenpeace IMHO has become exactly the kind of organisation it affects to despise: a multinational with a turnover of hundreds of millions of dollars that is accountable to virtually nobody yet continues to export its antiscientific, regressive doctrine all over the world. At least Monsanto is accountable to its shareholders.

      Now, this is all I have to say about this subject to you. I just want you to ponder one question before I write you off as yet another ideologue: ‘what would convince you otherwise?’ I know what would convince *me*: if the science showed these crops to be irremediably harmful. It hasn’t and won’t. End of discussion.

    • You call me dismissive and glib; yet you class reasonable calls for caution as paranoia.

      You make claims about GM food being the answer to starvation, based on no evidence. Even if you are right about the reason for the lack of evidence, you have to agree – there is no evidence.

      You talk about Monsanto being responsible to its shareholders, as if that’s a good thing. We are all stakeholders in the global supply of food, and our interest is not profit-based.

      Greenpeace did not ‘get’ to me – I’m talking from the point of view of basic biological principals, of which my own university education has made me aware.

      Write me off for whatever of the spurious reasons you have suggested; but don’t pretend to have given a satisfactory answer to the issue I have raised.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      This is my last word in this discussion, so perhaps some of these points will eventually get through to you:
      “You call me dismissive and glib; yet you class reasonable calls for caution as paranoia. ”
      Reasonable calls for caution are being reasonably addressed but there comes a point when one has to stop waving the red flag. As I have *agreed*, lack of genetic diversity would be a problem…were it not already on the radar. And it’s the just the same for non-GMO crops.

      “You make claims about GM food being the answer to starvation, based on no evidence. Even if you are right about the reason for the lack of evidence, you have to agree – there is no evidence.”
      No I haven’t. I’ve stated that it’s one in an arsenal of techniques that should be *tried* in dealing with malnutrition. At the very least it deserves a chance to prove itself. And where the fuck is the evidence going to come from if we don’t even permit it that?

      “You talk about Monsanto being responsible to its shareholders, as if that’s a good thing. We are all stakeholders in the global supply of food, and our interest is not profit-based.”
      Compared to Greenpeace and other NGO groups, who are risking *nothing of their own* by exporting our neuroses about GMOs to other countries, they are the very model of accountability.

      “Greenpeace did not ‘get’ to me – I’m talking from the point of view of basic biological principals, of which my own university education has made me aware.”
      Glad to hear it. I’m talking from my considerable experience of weighing up evidence, both scientific and otherwise. More than can be said for many people

      “Write me off for whatever of the spurious reasons you have suggested; but don’t pretend to have given a satisfactory answer to the issue I have raised.”
      Well, it would help if you just got it into your head that I *agreed* that lack
      of biodiversity would be a problem but I *disagreed* that it might be a showstopper as I also believe that this issue could be actively managed. I would also disagree that the problem would be any worse than what we face now or in the past. Go and ask the Irish if you don’t believe me.

      Now, I’m sure you have your own worries, but having looked at them myself I’m not getting worried, and that isn’t through complacency either. Good day to you.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Scott – what kind of rice were these farmers growing: a descendant of IR-8, perhaps, which was arguably the first application of biotech?

      @Tony, you say “Oh boy, you really are inculcated into the “modern” world. Speed limits aren’t imposed in context at all. They are a “one size fits all” imposition on freedom. It can be quite safe to drive way beyond the speed limit, in some situations, but the law doesn’t care about that. ”

      Don’t talk crap. Speed limits are set dependent upon context, just as regulations should be. There is NO intrinsic risk to human or other health from GM foodstuffs and so there should be no health-based regulations imposed on them. And as for ‘one size fits all’, you’d be one of the first to be indiscriminately tearing these crops out of the fields regardless of their purpose or the ends to which they were put. So don’t lecture me on being ‘inculcated’.

    • Scott says:

      Sumant Kumar planted the Bayer hybrid variety Arise-6444

    • Tony says:

      “So don’t lecture me on being ‘inculcated’.”

      Too late; I already did. This is clearly evident from your remarks. Even acknowledged areas of possible concern are claimed by you to be “on the radar” and so are bound to be solved, apparently. But, generally, you acknowledge only benefits to GMOs and never any downsides. You think the yield and nutritional benefits have been proven emphatically even though there are studies showing it is by no means emphatic. You think that the driver for GMOs is the defeat of hunger. You think that, in all cases, speed limits are appropriate and will save lives if adhered to, but take lives if exceeded. You accept the official line without question.

      We don’t need GMOs to increase yields and increase nutrition (even if there were no side-effects) – we already have the knowledge to do both with more natural techniques. However, this might mean that more people get involved in producing the food that sustains them. That, of course, is a heresy to you.

      However, as I’ve said, Mark uses an implicit assumptions (both in this matter and the matter of nuclear energy) that our technological societies can be powered into the future and that they will remain stable for ever. As we see limits bearing down on us from all directions, these seem untenable assumptions to make and thus render the arguments which are built on those assumptions untenable.

    • “As I have *agreed*, lack of genetic diversity would be a problem…were it not already on the radar.”

      What doe s that even mean? That you and / or Monsanto have thought of a solution? What is it? Forgive me if I find it difficult to believe just because you say it’s ‘on the radar’. Complacency writ large.

      “I’ve stated that [GM food is ]one in an arsenal of techniques that should be *tried* in dealing with malnutrition. At the very least it deserves a chance to prove itself. And where the fuck is the evidence going to come from if we don’t even permit it that?”

      Why permit that, when there’s enough food in the world to feed everybody?

      “Compared to Greenpeace and other NGO groups, who are risking *nothing of their own* by exporting our neuroses about GMOs to other countries, they are the very model of accountability.”

      Monsanto, a model of accountability?!? IS THIS SATIRE?!?

      “I’m talking from my considerable experience of weighing up evidence, both scientific and otherwise. More than can be said for many people”

      But providing no answer at all to a real concern, other than to say it’s ‘on the radar’. Forgive me if I don’t find that reassuring.

      “I *agreed* that lack of biodiversity would be a problem” -

      I must have missed that.

      - “but I *disagreed* that it might be a showstopper as I also believe that this issue could be actively managed. I would also disagree that the problem would be any worse than what we face now or in the past. Go and ask the Irish if you don’t believe me.”

      So it’s not a showstopper, despite here being the potential for it to be AT LEAST as devastating as the Irish potato famine. Whoop-de-do.

      And none of this is complacency. At last, a point we can agree on – it is recklessness, hubris, and arrogance rolled into one.

      Can I just ask, before I say good day to you, Sir – were you involved in the development of neoniconitoids?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Yes you can ask, asshole. And I wasn’t: I’m a beekeeper as it happens, and I am totally behind the ban on neonics because the science supporting their continued use is questionable. I also think that their suspension should tell us whether they are responsible in part for bee decline.

      Whereas there is no evidence that BT crops affect non-target species at all. If anything, the lack of use of pesticides has now meant a free for all for sucking insects like aphids. They have become a victim of their own success.

      But I really can’t let this comment go: ‘Why permit that, when there’s enough food in the world to feed everybody?’ Spoken like a true bigot : ‘I have all the answers therefore other people aren’t allowed to even explore alternatives’. Just like the Catholic Church did when confronting Galileo: I can imagine you with a mitre and surplice. Well, guess what sunshine, we permit LOTS of things that can achieve the same outcome. And it seems I’m totally justified to write you off as an ideologue because ideologues are fixated entirely on means and not ends.

      So, you sort out the iniquitous global distribution of food and rampant inequality, and while you’re building your new Jerusalem, people will starve, go blind and die. Never mind, they’ll be quite happy to hold out for Paradise Postponed, opening at just the same time that Hell freezes over.

      Rant over. I tried to be polite, but now just piss off.

    • *Clyde shows true colours*

  69. Cheryl MacDonald says:

    This quote was here a few weeks ago, as I shared the link???

    “I’m all in favour of food labelling by the way when it comes to something important that the consumer should have the right to know.”

  70. Clyde Davies says:

    I’ll just refer you to a comment made by Loren Eaton earlier on this topic:

    “Scott, us GMO types don’t operate in a vacuum, if that’s what you’re implying. Plant breeders, pathologists, physiologists, nutrtionists and growers ARE always involved. If you don’t satisfy the grower or processor or whoever your customer might be, you don’t have a product.”

    And that includes, presumably, selling something that has enough diversity to show resistance to disease, possibly by interbreeding with conventional varieties.

    • There’s a lot of room for error in that ‘presumably’ . . .

      Unfortunately, it’s not plant breeders, pathologists, physiologists, nutrtionists and growers we need to convince – it’s nature itself, which is far more nuanced and complicated than the collected knowledge of all of the above.

  71. robin says:

    Why then is the behavior of Monsanto very sneaky and sketchy? Why would anyone want to eat food covered in a toxin in which the worker has to be in a full body suit? Why is it that my digestive problems went away when I changed my diet to Organic? I believe the conspiracy theory. So does my intestines. As long as I am not in the DR. office then I will keep eating Organic and marching. I don’t trust a company who sues farmers, keeps their lobbyists in government roles, and needs a protection act from the President.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Better hope that organic lettuce you eat is free of E. coli from improperly composted cow manure. Speaking of digestive issues.
      Oh, and what ‘toxin’ are you talking about?

    • Tom says:

      Are you generally opposed to GMOs or just the ones from Monsanto?

  72. Loren Eaton says:

    Ooops! Let’s try again.
    Nature doesn’t have feelings. It really “knows” only one thing and that is fitness. It is a pitched battle for resources (sunlight, water, nutrients, escaping predators and disease, etc.), not balancing on the wings of a butterfly or some other new age touchy feely notion. Put simply, in a conflict with weeds, bacteria, fungus, or viruses the crops will lose the battle without human intervention.
    Clyde, the diversity you speak of MUST house the gene or genes that confer resistance to the disease in question. This has been successful in some crops, but in others there simply aren’t the genes needed (even in wild species) to fend off the pathogen. Even in cases where there are resistance or tolerance genes, they are often insufficient to make a real difference in the field or multiple genes are required for an effect (making plant breeding quiite difficult.)
    And one more thing, Edward. Your biodiversity argument really doesn’t work. The GMO plants produced are nearly always crossed into many genotypes to give the grower the choices he/she needs to deal with the environment. For instance, corn and soy grown in Iowa are different than those grown in Indiana and those grown in Kansas.

    • Hi, Loren.

      I never said nature had feelings, new-age touchy-feely or otherwise. My use of the word ‘convince’ perhaps made you think that’s what I meant; it wasn’t.

      You have to admit by its very nature use of GMO crops reduces genetic diversity; as does the outlawing of collecting and planting seed. Iowa, Indiana and Kansas are pretty big . . .

      ” . . . in a conflict with weeds, bacteria, fungus, or viruses the crops will lose the battle without human intervention.” Why? Seriously. Plants survived for quite a long time before there were any humans; what ha suddenly made them so weak?

    • Loren Eaton says:

      The corn genome has 10 chromosomes that contain around 32,000 genes, some of which are already homozygous. ADDING one gene does nothing to biodiversity, even if it is homozygous. The biodiversity is in the rest of the genome.

    • That makes very little sense. Are you saying the added gene is spliced into each individual plant separately?

    • Loren Eaton says:

      No I’m not, and that has nothing to do with biodiversity. If all the growers in the country were planting the SAME variety of corn or soybean, then we would have a problem, GMO or not.

    • Of course it does. The total number of genes in the plant makes little difference if they’re clones. And America is a big country – the Irish potato famine happened on a much smaller scale, and those potatoes weren’t clones – the actual planted area at which this becomes an issue is far, far smaller than you’re suggesting.

    • First Officer says:

      There used to be an old saying before the green revolution and modern biotech came along about yield:

      one-third for seed, one-third for the rats and one-third to eat.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Edward: please stop lofting this particular canard, will you? Loren – I’m still not sure whether I should be using ‘he’ or ‘she’ here – has already said that the spliced crops are going to be crossbred with existing cultivars to increase diversity. There is a problem with using clones, it has been recognised, and it is being managed. We human beings are quite good at doing that sort of stuff.

    • Re the saying about the rats – that’s so catchy, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it.

      The point is, if you swap long-term stability for short-term gain, you will see periodic catastrophic collapses. The thinking, the arguments, are all precisely analogous with the thinking that leads to bubbles, booms and bust in the financial system.

    • So, “spliced crops are going to be crossbred with existing cultivars to increase diversity. There is a problem with using clones, it has been recognised, and it is being managed”. And you called me complacent . . .

      So you’re saying the diversity of the crop has not been reduced, as the crop isn’t made up clones, only one of its parents. Can you not see the flaw in this ‘logic’?

    • Loren Eaton says:

      GMO or not, corn growers these days plant hybrids. Much of the time the parent plants are genetically diverse, leading to UNIFORM hybrid vigor, which is why these plants are so tall and yield so well. Many growers will plant more than one hybrid in the field to see which performs better. Almost no one plants inbreds (clones) and very few people plant open pollinated varieties (at least on an industrial scale).

    • Hi, Loren.

      If cloning plays any part in the process of introducing new genes into a plant, then this involves a reduction in genetic diversity, by definition.

      A reduction in genetic diversity makes a crop more vulnerable.

      This is being done for no good reason.

      As I’ve said to Clyde, there doesn’t have to be a monoculture for this to cause problems. Potatoes were not the only crop being grown in Ireland in 1740 – and the blight affected crops in many countries, not one of which solely grew potatoes. The problem was, so many people in Ireland were dependant on cheap potatoes, they could not survive without them.

      Monsanto is not some sort of global saviour, trying to eradicate starvation.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Explain to me your mechanism for how inserting one or several genes reduces diversity.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      As for the potato story, bear in mind that Solanaceous (potato, tomato, pepper) crops are native to South America (and maybe Central America?) and the potatoes were introduced to Europe. The pathogen in question, Phytopthora infestans, does REALLY well in the Irish climate. The problem is that 1) potato is vegetatively propagated (cloned) and 2) these potatoes had no resistance or tolerance to the pathogen. R Genes do exist in wild potato species. If the Irish potatoes contained a resistance gene(s), they would have survived, at least until the pathogen developed a mechanism to overcome the resistance.

    • Hi, Loren.

      If we’re going to discuss the actual mechanism, perhaps we first need to agree on a basic outline of the process.

      I find this one relatively clear and straight-forward – do you recognise it as broadly accurate?


  73. Loren Eaton says:

    It is not simply about survival. The purpose of domesticating plants in the first place was about productivity. Present day corn can survive in a weed infested field, but at a much lower yield.

    • So . . . crop cultivation has reduced the resilience of the crop in the face of weeds, etc, because we plant lots of the same crop in one place (ie decrease diversity); and you think the solution is to reduce diversity further?

      There was an old woman who swallowed a fly . . .

    • Scott says:

      @Loren Eaton

      “Present day corn can survive in a weed infested field, but at a much lower yield.”

      Don’t be so sure about that. There are an incredible number of factors involved that make a blanket statement like that false.

      Sure in the conventional agriculture model anything other than a corn plant is a weed that reduces yield. But conventional ag models are not the only model and yield is very narrowly defined.

      We typically don’t eat corn per se. The vast majority of corn is used for livestock feed. And what is “weeds” in a corn field is often usable biomass of far better quality for livestock feed than corn. A field of “weeds” actually produces many times the “yield” of a weed free corn field. Switchgrass “yields” 5 times the usable biomass for either livestock or biofuel production as “weed free corn”.

      But even when growing just corn there are many so called “weeds” that actually are beneficial to the corn. Pigweed (Portulaca oleracea) is a good example. It actually helps corn in many ways. Its tap roots can break through hardpan soils allowing the corn roots to “follow” them down deeper to sources of water and nutrients not available without pigweed. It carpets the ground reducing erosion and moderating the soil surface temps and moisture loss. It harbors beneficial predatory insects, reducing damage done by pests to the corn. It only grows a maximum of around 2 feet tall. Too short to block the corn from the sun. It is both edible by humans (called purslane then) and an excellent forage for livestock. (as the name suggests)

      So you really need to rethink that statement. In models other than the conventional model, one man’s “weed” is another man’s “beneficial companion crop”. I purposely plant “weeds” in my sweet corn rows. (other crops too) Improves my “yields”! ;)

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Scott, I’m referring to grain yield, that’s all. Agree with it or not, this is what most growers are after. After reading a few extension articles, there is a positive correlation between weed number and size and diminishing yield. If you’re seeing something different, good for you, but you’re the exception. The other thing is that if you have too much ‘matter other than corn’ in your crop delivery you get dinged at the elevator. They have to be able to harvest the grain without the weeds.

    • Scott says:

      There is a sucker born every minute. If some farmer insists on being a commodity grower and slave to the system, by all means they have that right.

      It doesn’t pay well though. It makes money for everyone else except you. It destroys your land and your health. But if you are lucky you can earn just enough to get by till the “final harvest”. ie..when you sell the farm and retire.

      Free country though. By all means. Go for it.

  74. Josh Sweet says:

    I have always considered myself a scientific man and I often am very excited about new scientific discoveries. From this perspective I can clearly see the benefits and ideals of GMO crops, especially with regard to the global issue of malnutrition and widespread starvation. However, that is where it ends for me, because I also consider myself a polymath and, as such, draw on other backgrounds of knowledge and study.

    The major flaw I see both with science in general and this article in particular, is that much of the discussion is based on ideal and theoretical outcomes, but the reality is much more severe. The reality is founded in the application of these technologies. For that you need both scientific field research but also the sociology and politico-economic sides of the equation. The truth is that while the GMO seeds may be drought or disease resistant and may yield much more produce with greater nutritional content, they are ludicrously expensive. This expense is twofold: not only are the seeds expensive for second and third world farmers, but they are not subsidized by the governments like they are here in the US. Such subsidies create a well-documented unfair advantage for US farmers and an inability for poor third-world farmers to compete in a global market. This inability to compete means that the farmers can not sell their produce for the same price as other farmers and thus cannot reestablish a baseline profit to buy more or even the same amount of seeds the next year. It is an unsustainable system. Whether one wants to debate about this fact being intentionally built into the current system or not is questionable, but the unsustainability of the practice is not a question.

    When the article addresses ‘radicals’ like Vandana Shiva, this is one of her major points. She is targeted as a ‘radical’ because one of her main points of objection is the sociological impact of GMO foods on local cultures and economies. Sociology is often considered the outcast of ‘pure sciences’ like biology and chemistry because the human, as an individual or as a group, is rarely reproducible in a lab experiment. I digress…

    There have been numerous sociological studies suggesting that GMO crops are not only not sustainable in third-world countries due to the economic imbalances, but also the practical applications of the crops themselves. While often overlooked by pure/theoretical science, the law of conservation of mass factors into applied agriculture in a huge way. The soil where crops are grown only has a very set amount of minerals and nutrients in it that the crops can take up into their systems. These nutrients and minerals are not only necessary for the growth and health of the plant, but also the health of the consumer of that plant. Once a plant has absorbed the nutrients from the soil and the harvested plant is taken away to be consumed the soil is devoid of nutrients. GMO crops which supposedly provide more nutritional value than non-GMO or provide a larger yield of crops per acre will absorb and deplete the nutrients and minerals much more quickly than non-GMO crops. While the first round of crops may be healthy and beneficial to the consumer (and even the farmer for selling better produce), this is not a sustainable practice and the soil will eventually (more quickly than before) be devoid of nutrients to support either crops or nutrients for the malnutritioned consumer. This effect has already been measured in US produce across the board. While most Americans are not suffering from accute malnutrition due to thier wealth and acess to resources, there are many in the world that are and they can’t afford to be eating any less nutritious food. One solution for this problem is adding fertilizers and other nutrients to the soil, however this process is expensive both in time and materials and is once again not sustainable for impoverished third-world farmers.

    I will leave off with an real-world anecdote:
    There was a hopeful individual from the Red-Cross who realized that the clothing donations for Red-Cross were piling up faster than they were being used, at least here in the US. Realizing that many poor people in Africa were without proper clothing, the individual arranged to have huge shipments of these free donated clothes sent over to specific areas in Africa. While many individuals in the specific regions of Africa were overjoyed to have free clothes, within 2 years a number of the local textile and garment factories shut down because they could not compete with free donated clothes. These factories were employing large numbers of the local people and when the factories went under, the people who were once subsisting from day to day were out of jobs and out of money to feed thier families.

    The effects of our actions are often unknowable in the begining and only after a period of time are we able to see the effects.

    It is understandable that a scientist may feel like there is some conspiracy to undermine GMO crops because he doesn’t understand or see the full effects of his projects on the people that are suffering as a result. However, it doesn’t do any good to sit in a lab and feel victimized. The point of innovative science is to improve on or fix problems that exist in the world. So it makes much more sense to listen to the criticisms that people are voicing and see if there is a new or better solution, because the current solution seems to be gaining momentum and that is the reemergence of organic GMO free produce grown in time-tested sustainable ways. Time has proven that genetic diversity of crops proves effective against both drought and disease and there are any number of ways to grow produce that is insect resistant. If GMO could do better than that, they should take up the challenge, not cower behind victimhood and claim conspiracy.

    • Tom says:

      As far as understand it, golden rice will be free for farmers (at least in the developing world) once it gets final approval. The virus resistant papaya in Hawaii (http://www.hawaiipapaya.com/rainbow.htm) is probably also free to replant (I’m not an expert on papaya agriculture). And some of the Monsanto glyphosate-resistant crops will be coming off their patents soon, although corn/maize farmers will still be paying for their seed (which they have been doing since the mid-1930s anyway) but will be paying less.

    • First Officer says:

      The organic papaya growers that want to ban the GM Papayas should be careful what they wish for. Currently, most of Hawaii’s papaya crop is GM and virus resistant. They are providing herd immunity to the Organic growers. If they are forced to go back to the old strains, theat herd immunity will be lost, setting the stage for a ringspot virus comeback.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “The truth is that while the GMO seeds may be drought or disease resistant and may yield much more produce with greater nutritional content, they are ludicrously expensive. This expense is twofold: not only are the seeds expensive for second and third world farmers, but they are not subsidized by the governments like they are here in the US. Such subsidies create a well-documented unfair advantage for US farmers and an inability for poor third-world farmers to compete in a global market. This inability to compete means that the farmers can not sell their produce for the same price as other farmers and thus cannot reestablish a baseline profit to buy more or even the same amount of seeds the next year.”

      The truth is that here in the EU there are huge hurdles to surmount to anybody wishing to produce and sell a GM-derived crop. Third-world farmers who could make use of these technologies to open up promising new export markets simply can’t. And then you have the questionably-intentioned meddling of NGOs who seem to think they have the right to decide what people should be able to grow.

      Much of the world’s crops are grown in soils which are made toxic by aluminium ions; crops are stunted and have poor yields. If farmers could grow a surplus then they’d have more to sell and even export. Luis Herrera-Estrella came up with a very good idea which was to engineer crops to release citrate into the soil, which would then complex the aluminium and thereby reduce toxicity. http://www.isb.vt.edu/articles/JUL9703.HTM .. Then Greenpeace turned up in Mexico and pressurized the government to stop the trials.

      I’d suggest that this kind of mindless neo-colonialism is far more damaging to the export prospects of third-world farmers than any scenario you’d be likely to come up with.

    • Scott says:

      I want to address just one part of your long post. Vandana Shiva is a genius pure and simple. She is attacked partly because people attack what they don’t understand. She is also attacked by people who do understand, but have a financial stake in the status quo.

      If that makes her a “radical”, good for her! We need more compassionate radicals like her on this planet.

      PS. When I said Shiva was a genius that was not hyperbole. She actually is a real genius who has moved beyond her Phd formal education and is now using that magnificent intellect to address problems most people are not even smart enough to know exists. Ok, well ….. magnificent might be a little hyperbole. ;) LOL But a physicist who wrote her thesis on quantum theory with a Phd in philosophy too? Who is also a writer? Who also understands more thoroughly multiple farming systems than 99.9 % of the so called agronomy experts? AND who has done original research on the environment! And can tie all those interdisciplinary fields together? It actually would be very difficult to exaggerate the degree to which she is a genius.

      Anyone attacking Vandana Shiva better have some pretty substantial back-up. I know you didn’t. But just saying. I have seen some arrogant mental midgets try to attack her. It is a pitiful sight to watch. Painful even.

  75. CJ says:

    if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. i’ve been growing my own veggies for years now and believe me, they taste much better than the fish-dna tomatos i sometimes have to eat when dining out.

    the only reason there are food shortages is because of lack of education and of course the rich hoarding from and exploiting the poor. plain and simple.

    • First Officer says:

      “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. There ain’t nothing in that about don’t try to improve it. If we were forced to actuly liive by that idea, we woudn’t evn have invented the wheel.

      You can only hoard food so long. The stuff spoils. And while we do produce enough food to feed all today, IF we could get rid of a lot of wasting AND improve distribution significantly, both very large problems and very difficult to solve, that won’t be true tomorrow. We got to build the roof today, not when it starts to rain next Teusday.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Gee CJ,
      In a previous life I produced several thousand transgenic tomatoes. Never heard of fish DNA anything. As a matter of fact, can you tell me which company is marketing transgenic tomatoes?

  76. Luis Ramos says:

    Both sides claim conspiracy – GMO and Anti-GMO groups, it seems.

    Conspiracy means an organized plot with a sure intent. However, “It seems that applying the tag “conspiracy theory” to something is the new way to get rid of it quickly. Evidently, people have been trained to stay away from anything given that title, assured that they will be embarrassed and ridiculed if they don’t gain some distance. …” (From “THE REAL PROBLEM WITH CONSPIRACY THEORIES” http://www.freemansperspective.com/conspiracy-theories/).

    Tagging is a technique to make something rejectable by an audience. It is very powerful when labels get fixed in the media and in the audience mind. So, it is costly to bring a tag out of nothing… Someone has to bear the costs. Which group has the most?

    Another converted, this time the reverse, a GMO scientist… “Former Pro-GMO Scientist Speaks Out on the Real Dangers of Genetically Engineered Food” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/05/28/gmo-dangers.aspx?e_cid=20130602_SNL_MS_1&utm_source=snl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=ms1&utm_campaign=20130602

    a different perspective.

  77. RJ Hooer says:

    I would simply list two historical points for consideration (seeing that the author is an historian): slavery and CO2 emissions. The first is a problem of bias about life, the second is a problem of not knowing what you don’t know when something scales. Slavery in America was maintained by a consensus of intellectual and economic experts who maintained for scientific and moral reasons that people of African descent should remain as property. The introduction of the internal combustion engine was seen as a boon for mankind yet the small of amount of emissions were never considered to be a problem until we went to scale with the car. It can be fairly said that we have attempted to address the errors in both case (and one could right respond, but at what cost). There are two main points here: consensus of experts is not a safeguard for some issues and expert knowledge is by definition limited. What is missing in this discussion is wisdom…wisdom is something outside the realm of science, and something the common person understands. It is not the the work of experts or ideologues or religion. I don’t claim to have it on this subject, but I can certainly see it’s lack in the discussion that ensues around GMO.

  78. John H says:

    The actuarial tables for the US show us to be living much longer. Yes, there are issues to be concerned about but we still are living longer. The gains in agriculture have helped us to live longer and have a better variety of healthier food. The obesity problem is a food choice problem. It is pretty easy when you think about it. However, I am sure there are those who wish to make this issue of GMO a life and death issue. Which it can be if we do not allow technology toprovide foods that can benefit the world population.

    • Scott says:

      Major logic error John. Correlation maybe, causation not established.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      Actuarial doesn’t cut it. ‘WE’ aren’t living longer, humans are ON AVERAGE living longer. That’s because many once would have died young; in birth, from sepsis, from a range of diseases now vaccinated against, so MORE people survive to adulthood and beyond, thus raising the AVERAGE lifespan. The age humans can aspire to is still the same, eighties seems to be more normal now, although theoretically the max is 120. There have been aged people throughout evolution, hunter-gatherers might not have had many ancients because of the risks of the lifestyle, but there hasn’t been any lengthening of individual human lives, just a higher probability more individuals would reach their ‘natural’ lifespan.

      People who dream of us living forever are just scared of death. A natural process that can’t be escaped, and which is at the heart of the life cycle. Back into the biomass, going home!

  79. Well worth a read – a scientific article about Glyphosate toxicity in humans:


    For those who don’t have a background in biology – the Cytochrome p450 system is basically a process for detoxifying things we take into our body. Examples would be certain plant-based toxins, and many medicines.

    Block the Cyt p450 system, and you reduce the body’s ability to break down these toxins – ie much smaller amounts become toxic.

    This can also be used in beneficial ways. The anti-HIV drug Ritonavir, for example, is a potent inhibitor of the Cyt p450 system, which means that even a small dose of Ritonavir enables the dosage of other anti-HIV drugs to be reduced, as they are not broken down as quickly.

    Other drugs induce the Cyt p450 system (ie make it work faster) – for example, the anti-epileptic phenytoin – which means other drugs may be cleared form the body too fast for them to be fully effective.

    Some naturally-occuring substances also affect the Cyt p450 system. Chemicals in grapefruit juice (for example) inhibit part of the Cyt p450 system, so grapefruit should be avoided when taking certain medications. Conversely, smoking tobacco speeds up parts of the Cyt p450 system.

    More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytochrome_P450

  80. LEX says:

    wow a professor working at a college funded by Monsanto suddenly changes his mind who’d have thought. weird how he was against GMO’s when at Oxford (not funded by any GMO establishment) and suddenly onboard when he transferred to Cornell. CRAZY.

    The real problem not being discussed here is meat. The huge overproduction and carting around of cattle, pork, and poultry plus their necessary food supply (one days worth of which could feed the entire planet for 3-10) produces more carbon than the entire (human) transportation industry. Not to mention the thousands of trees (which would offset some of the methane output of the shitting burping farting animals who also contribute to our dwindling fresh water supply) in order for the livestock to have grazing land. With the exception of B12 which we’ve already proven to effectively make in a laboratory there is literally NOTHING in animals that the human body requires for survival; and even the B12 necessity is of much debate… The vast majority of obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, cancers of the digestive organs and related illnesses are caused directly from over eating animal products.

    Think about it, why would mother nature ever intend for one species to drink the milk of another? Your body will naturally become lactose intolerant if you stop drinking it for more than a few months. Countries who drink the most milk have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Along with cow’s milk comes the acid from the cow’s stomach, which your body tries to neutralize with a base, the go to supply being bone marrow. VS eating say Spinach for your calcium needs, which as no acid to deal with. This acid does not however negatively affect the baby calf, the only being the milk was intended for because the two share the same immune system.

    Why would our bodies become sick from eating raw (uncooked) meat if we were indeed meant to be carnivores? Why don’t we have pointed teeth for tearing this meat? The only reason humans ever began eating/cooking meat was because some migrated away from areas where plant foods could be grown / were readily available and the animals were all they had to survive harsh winters. They were in fact eating second hand plants. Sure meat has protein, but beans have just as much if not more. In fact anything that is a whole food, a plant from the ground unprocessed / undiluted (ie white rice has almost 0 whole grain is about ~11%) has protein. The meat industry has perpetuated the myth about ‘needing more protein’ for years to continue selling meat. Meat however has no vitamin content at all.

    Don’t believe me? Check out the USDA’s own website regarding the amino acid, vitamin and nutrient content of whole foods.

    What would small non profits making practically nothing have to gain by convincing the world to not eat meat or purchase GMOs?

    What would large meat manufacturers and patent owning seed sellers have to lose if we stopped eating garbage / harmful food that wasn’t ever meant for us in the first place? Everything. You can’t put a patent on nature and thats why GMOs exist.

    If you’re a skeptic but still here, I urge you to do the oranges to oranges test. Buy one of those giant 5×5 inch oranges from a ‘conventional’ grocery or deli, and buy an organic one which will be roughly 2-3×2-3 inches. Every single time, the big orange a. tastes like cardboard and b. has about half the juice (thus vitamin C) despite being half the size. The skin is also exceptionally thick and of course, there’s the GMO problem in general where the seeds of a GMO plant a. produce no crop and b. even if they did Monsanto (or other patent owner) is then entitled to sue you.

    There is plenty of food in the world to go around for the humans if only the rich countries would stop wasting vast amounts of communal (Earth) resources to overbreed certain animal species and instead decide to share with hungry foreigners of their own species.

    • Scott says:

      Nice try Lex. But it is not meat that is the problem, it is how that meat is raised.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      Excellent points. Another that occurs to me is the question of bTB currently taxing the brain [!] of Patterson. It’s known that maize is deficient in certain minerals [uncertain which ones, but I could google, as can anyone] and farmers give supplements to their cattle to counter this deficiency. Badgers like maize too [despite some pro-cullers claiming they're predators] so clearly get to eat it. Their immune system is thus compromised and they get bTB. A farmer, Dick Roper [google it] has been placing nutrient/mollases licks out for badgers, and he, surrounded by TB infected herds, doesn’t get it on his farm [actually he's had one or two cases in a number of years but no spread]. Defra aren’t interested in running trials even. Immune systems of animals are key to disease and why so many humans are often sick, we habitually ignore or trash our immune systems with antibiotics when once we would have coped and survived. Cattle kept in damp, filthy sheds without sunlight [vitamin D] are bound to be more susceptible to infections. But try telling farmers that, they want to kill wildlife rather than understand disease mechanisms.

    • Scott says:

      I agree with some of your post. But you are wrong about farmers. The vast majority are simply waiting for a proven alternative. And by proven I mean both proven scientifically and a proven business model.

      Most farmers have too much at stake and too thin a profit margin to go around experimenting, even if they believe it might work.

  81. Nancy Noyes-Ward says:

    “This is why organic agriculture is an ecological dead-end: it is dramatically less efficient in terms of land use, so likely leads to higher rates of biodiversity loss overall. Maybe organic producers should be legally mandated to specify on labels the overall land-use efficiency of their products. I’m all in favour of food labeling by the way when it comes to something important that the consumer should have the right to know.”

    Well, I would assume he is suggesting that to grow organically, a grower needs to use more ground for rotation, etc. I would agree to this if we can also label conventionally grown food crops in terms of land nutrient depletion and inputs (synthetic/petrochemical fertilizer, pesticides) to that acreage. Yes, let’ talk land use efficiency.

    Another thought, the scarcity of land comment. Can I mention CRP? I sit here and can look west to 300 acres currently in CRP. I get up and move to my east window 80-100 CRP acres.

    • Scott says:

      Actually you are partly right but it goes deeper. He is confusing subsistence farming with organic farming. Often the two are combined in statistics to make it seem like organic methods are less productive. They are not.

      OH and BTW if the fallow ground is raised with animals or produces legume hay for animals, then it shows in statistic as “fallow” producing no crop when actually it is producing food. Just not the food in the statistics.

      Any real in depth analysis show organic to be far more productive per acre than conventional. Researchers who try and pretend differently are very myopic. ie They can’t see the forest for the trees.

  82. Peter Simmons says:

    First we have abuse of argument; anyone who disagrees with me is one of the crazies I’m insulting now. Nice one Mark, you’ve lost a lot of respect, and I’m even doubting you were ever ‘an environmentalist’ as you claim. Since you now appear to be part of the [recent] GM fightback from America, with willing tory lamebrains like Patterson doing the disssemination, you reallly have chosen your side. Ad hominem arguments to start your campaign [well I know you have a book to sell, so perhaps that's all it is and a coincidence you jumped in just as Monsanto tried again] diminish YOU rather than critics; so we’re all conspiracy theorists and akin to climate deniers, guaranteed to make people angry.

    Let’s get a few things straight first. The initial campaign against GMOs was deliberately pitched as a ‘human health’ issue because, let’s face it, most people are uninspired by appeals to a higher consciousness, lack an appreciation of ecology, or an understanding of how the web of life works. They just respond if they think their health is at risk. Whether it was a good idea to only use this argument is moot, I have never been that bothered and don’t rate homocentric concerns that highly. That some science is backing these concerns up is fine, but it isn’t the main issue, even though it’s all you ever talk about. You have apparently been convinced by scientists, all of them hand-picked from the GM industry and not in any sense unbiased. You claim you have studied the science and decided it is safe. Then claimed brownie points for admitting you were wrong. Bully for you. Perhaps you were embarrassed that you were seemingly on the same side as the Mail? Just because a tabloid goes on about frankenfoods, doesn’t mean there’s no issue to address.

    What you don’t address though is the environmental effect, surprising for someone who calls themselves an environmentalist. At the beginning of this giant experiment GM plants were grown in hermetically sealed laboratories, great care was taken to prevent the escape of anything, it was rightly understood then as highly risky and the need to go carefully was apparent to all, even the chemists. Then the US started field trials and the geni was out of the lab and floating in the atmosphere. All the ‘scientists’ you put so much faith on were claiming it was ‘safe’ because there were barriers round the fields which would prevent spread, thus illustrating their total ignorance of ecology – why would they know about it, they’re chemists – and then it was all a done deal, get used to it, it’s out there, they said. It certainly is out there now, thanks to the GM corporations being so powerful in America.

    Europe still said no to American pressures to let them spread GM crops across our lands or even sell us GM food without labeling it, so they went to poor countries like India where they thought they might stand a better chance since there was less education. They managed to convince a lot of peasant farmers with their lies of bumper crops, but it didn’t take long for these farmers to see the lie, their yields were no better, and when Monsanto wanted to sell them seeds and pesticides every year, they started to understand. Many have now told them to go away and reverted to their own seeds, developed over thousands of years to suit their conditions, and sustainable for small farmers who can’t afford to shell out to a multinational every year. Didn’t Monsanto try to patent the Neem tree, or was that one of the other thieves?

    Monsanto have been at the centre of the disinformation about GM, and if anyone is to blame for the way most people in Europe view their products with suspicion, it is them. They have behaved as if they were the CIA or at least had the backing of them, convincing all who had the ability to think critically, that behaviour like theirs indicated something to hide, and at the least an unsavoury and careless attitude to people and the environment and no respect for truth. It seems they have not changed, and are launching another assault on what they see as a potentially lucrative market – unlike environmentalist, GM companies are only interested in profit, their spurious claims of feeding the world are intended to deceive, not difficult with Patterson, but I had thought you had a more critical mind.

    So now you are among the anti-environment mob, visible here supporting you of course, what strange bedfellows since most of them are opposed to action on climate as well, and vehemently opposed to wind and solar energy. And I assume that’s coloured your language as you seem to be slipping into the anti-green insults they trade in, in their ignorance. I think many of them have been anti green for a long time and no way will accept anything greens have been saying, antipathy is all they have, probably started with despising hippies who were the first to think alternatives to continuous capitalist growth trashing the ecosystem should be sought. Always, somewhere in their argument, money and taxes rear up, resentment of government taking their money. It comes from the US where your new friends are, and where there’s a strong anti-tax sentiment. Perhaps that’s why you’ve started speaking in the American way on this issue about left and right, and since you can’t claim, as many American climate deniers do, that it’s all a leftwing conspiracy, you try to square the circle by labelling us leftwing fascists. Nice one Mark, how to win friends and influence people. Or sell a book at least.

    So some might argue that since it’s a done deal, since there’s already billions of GM pollens floating round the stratosphere and back to Earth, there’s no harm adding more en masse. But what next are the GM scientists going to invent? They won’t stop with what they have, they must dream of yet more things to do to make them feel all powerful. When the dangers from existing contamination are yet to be discovered, it would be even more foolhardy to add even more exotically impossible organisms to the mix. Where would they stop? They clearly have no point beyond which they would not go. So not only is the future unknown, but it could be much much worse than anyone imagines.

    Think: ALL our food crops have been developed from wild plants over tens of thousands of years of agriculture, they are all cultivars. This means that genes can breed back into wild cousins, and when the giant, unstoppable weeds resistant to everything even Monsanto can drench them with appear, what then? Feed the world? You just have no idea.

    To compare the aggregated impartial findings of tens of thousands of unconnected climate scientists to the carefully crafted claims of chemists working for the GM industry is dishonest and manipulative. You must know that, as you must know that those that oppose GM from an environmental position of thoughtfulness and care for the planet, are nothing like the uneducated idiots who spout about the climate and copy and paste from oil-industry-funded disinformation sites. So your insults are deliberately chosen to inflame and irritate, ellicit responses, create a ‘buzz’ and, of course, sell some books.

    The alternative is to accuse you of being in the pay of Monsanto, and I wouldn’t accuse you of that, despite the need to support your family and your cosying up to America.

    I personally don’t accept that anyone can claim to be an environmentalist when they think pouring chemicals onto soil is a sustainable thing to do, and genetically altering plants to survive stronger and stronger poisons is anything but a disaster. We are already losing masses of topsoil due to degradation by spraying, and with the increasing chaotic climate and excessive rainfall, this is increasingly being washed off and into water courses, which are then suffering poisoning of plant and animal life. Perhaps you don’t have much contact with the environment, I do and see it happening all the time; a few days ago we got a downpour over an hour that put down enough water to flood gardens to a depth of several inches, and the main road also, the latter still has an inch of mud [topsoil] left. We are all now used to ‘two weeks rain in two days’ ’48 hours average rainfall in an hour’.

    With what you found out in order to write 6 Degrees, why are you wasting time promoting GM when by the end of the century, and probably much sooner, it will be more a question of where do we grow food? rather than what do we grow. Unless Monsanto are developing food crops which can be grown on mountain slopes, is there time for them to feed the world so that it can be drowned?

    You have elected to join the agrochemical fight with nature. Siding with Monsanto, what did you expect but a lot of criticism? That doesn’t mean it;s a holy cow that mustn’t be questioned, it’s just that people are disappointed, it’s a hard enough slog against vested interests without those one thought were with us jumping ship.

  83. Peter Simmons says:

    Clyde Davies says:
    30 April 2013 at 8:35 pm
    ‘Trolling? I merely observed that someone who could produce such a formulaic diatribe didn’t seem like anyone who had actually read Mark’s speech, which goes into a detailed rebuttal of several anti-GMO arguments.
    By all means let’s hear contrary opinions, but let’s have an informed debate which actually addresses the issues being raised.’

    ‘Trolling, moi?’ Yes you ‘merely observe’ of course you do. But where’s the ‘detailed rebuttal’? I see a lot of unsubstantiated claims straight out of the GM lobby’s PR department, but short on details. So very similar to Patterson’s speech that I’m wondering if Mr Lynas isn’t working part time as speechwriter for him, he clearly couldn’t have written it himself.

    I’m currently doing a linguistic analysis of the two speeches side by side… I’ll let you know.

    But then Mark is ‘moderating’ or censoring as we used to call it back in the day. So maybe you won’t read any of this.

    But over and above all this, I’m particularly struck by the nature of Lynus’ argument, the tone is aggressive, name-calling and redolent of so many rightwing American shills I’ve heard arguing against ALL aspects of environmental awareness, but especially climate change, that I’m a little shocked actually. This quote below illustrates what I mean. He quotes first from ‘US environmental writer Paul Greenberg’ -

    “If we continue to bend the rules of nature so that we can provide more and more food for an open-ended expansion of humans on the planet, something eventually will have to give. Would you like to live in a world of 15 billion people? 20 billion? I would not. And while it’s possible you will label my response as New Age-ish, I feel that GE food distracts us from the real question of the carrying capacity of the planet.”

    And goes on to accuse him, on the basis of this statement of wanting to prevent hungry people breeding:

    ‘Well, I think that calling these sentiments New Age-ish is to give them far too much credit. I would actually call them misanthropic. What Greenberg seems to be suggesting here, as Paul Ehrlich did before him, is the denial of food to hungry people in order to prevent them breeding more children and contributing to overpopulation.’ If he really understand it as meaning that, he has a problem with English. ‘open-ended expansion of humans on the planet, something eventually will have to give’ is a warning we can’t go on like this without a thought of how many of us the planet can sustain. That is actually a perfectly vallid concern, and the usual people who cry Malthusian whenever anyone mentions population growth are extreme rightwingnuts who also think that the Club of Rome publication Limits to Growth is a nazi plan to rid the world of most of humanity. They get confused after that and then rant on about DDT and all kinds of disconnected paranoid fears. If Lynas is using their arguments, and indeed he is, one has to wonder at his grasp of reality.

    He also says ‘I would much prefer to live a quieter life’ … went to the US for a quieter life?

    He accuses anyone who disagrees with him as a conspiracy theorist, which might be fair enough if Monsanto hadn’t conspired for decades to fool governments, farmers and consumers. The reason why there’s so much suspicion is because they behaved like a secretive, powerful organisation, unanswerable to anyone and intent on world domination of agriculture. Nothing has changed, except they now have more apologists. The value of someone who once described himself as an environmentalist [without much evidence] now supporting GM is huge, if inexplicable.

    Not once in this lengthy speech does he do more than make unsubstantiated statements about GMOs, straight from the GM horse’s mouth. Still we hear they will feed the world, cure disease, make the blind see and the lame walk, hey, just like Owen he fell for the whole sorry number. How naive. Why he fell for it is another matter that time may reveal.

    Then we have ‘… impressive credentials and sciency-sounding language of those who are really on the lunatic fringe.’ insults heaped on insults, sure sign of a shaky argument, and these are people who he admits are probably highly qualified scientists. And your science qualification is what Mr Lynas?

    ‘We need to sustainably increase food production by at least 100% by 2050 to feed a larger and increasingly affluent global population.’ But Mark, in 6 Degrees, you explain how it’s unlikely we’ll be doing anything other than trying to survive by 2050. Had you forgotten? You read like some dickhead tory who thinks it will all continue like now, only people will get richer. We are already seeing the result of just some of the Chinese population getting close to Western wealth, buying cars, foreign holidays etc. and they are choking in their own smog and starting to build desalination plants along the coast because they are running out of water. Does anyone really think Africa is going to achieve that level too? It isn’t that I wish to deny Africans anything, I just know that OUR lifestyle isn’t sustainable, so WE should be simplifying, reducing our wants back to needs, and sharing more [that means not ripping Africa off]. There is no way every citizen of every country can have two cars in the drive in suburbia, fly off on holiday every six months and consume everything they wish for.

    Mark may not wish to give up his comfortable life, but that’s what has to be, all this GM fandom is just excuses for doing nothing. He knows really his lifer is unsustainable, and to deal with the guilt of knowledge about the world’s poor has caused him to accept the big con – You can have it and the rest of the world can have it too, so don’t feel bad. A something for nothing mentality that no real environmentalist would have. Abuse of argument displayed by noth Lynas and Patterson isn’t going to convince anyone capable of doing their own thinking, no matter how much you or he insult them.

    So yes, let’s please have an informed debate. Let’s start with some real evidence that GM can increase yields without putting anything else back in [it's a logical absurdity if you do understand ecology]; that GM can produce healthier foods that will cure all humanity’s ills, and that it will lead to paradise on earth into the next century.

    50 billion anyone? Standing room only, mind your heads.

    I look forward to some informed debate.

  84. Clyde Davies says:

    “I just know that OUR lifestyle isn’t sustainable, so WE should be simplifying, reducing our wants back to needs, and sharing more [that means not ripping Africa off]. There is no way every citizen of every country can have two cars in the drive in suburbia, fly off on holiday every six months and consume everything they wish for.”

    OK, let’s see you lead by example. What are YOU prepared to give up first? How about your car? Your centrally heated home? Personally, I’d like to see you give up your computer and internet connection, both of which would have been considered luxury items twenty years ago. I’m sure I’m not the only one around here who would welcome that.

  85. Loren Eaton says:

    Well, Peter….I believe it was Shakespeare who coined the phrase ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’ Unfortunately, 2 dozen paragraphs on and you still can’t hide your ignorance of biology.
    ‘At the beginning of this giant experiment GM plants were grown in hermetically sealed laboratories’ I was there, no one did that. Plants were grown in growth chambers like any other tissue cultured plant.
    ‘This means that genes can breed back into wild cousins, and when the giant, unstoppable weeds resistant to everything even Monsanto can drench them with appear’. Sometimes the genes can be crossed back into wild species, oftentimes not, depends on the crop. The rest of your premise is just silly.
    ‘So some might argue that since it’s a done deal, since there’s already billions of GM pollens floating round the stratosphere and back to Earth, there’s no harm adding more en masse.’ Please, PLEASE tell me you’re joking. If not, go back to high school.
    ‘carefully crafted claims of chemists working for the GM industry is dishonest and manipulative.’ Paranoid? Much?

    And my favorites, ‘The alternative is to accuse you of being in the pay of Monsanto, and I wouldn’t accuse you of that.’ BUT WAIT ‘You have apparently been convinced by scientists, all of them hand-picked from the GM industry and not in any sense unbiased.’ Six of one, half dozen of the other.

    Wanna have a REAL discussion? The first thing people on your side need to do is to realize that not everyone who does this kind of work is a shill. DISCUSS the data. Not where it comes from. Don’t yield to the knee-jerk reaction and cry conspiracy when people like Carman and Seralini are skewered by scientists who actually have no axe to grind. Both of these papers have serious flaws, regardless of who points them out.

    • Hi, Loren.

      Did you have a chance to look at that outline of the GM process I posted, so we could be sure were discussing the same things?

      Here it is again, if not: http://www.nepadbiosafety.net/subjects/biotechnology/process-of-developing-genetically-modified-gm-crops#sthash.zphlGA70.dpuf

      In terms of genes making it out of the species they’ve been added to – even if the plant is sterile, this can happen. Viruses can pick up genes from organisms they’ve infected, and deposit them elsewhere.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Sorry for the delay. I’ve been dealing with a sinus infection. Yes, in broad strokes, that document looks OK. I’m not quite sure how viruses fit into this, as getting the gene OUT of the infected plant would probably require an insect or some other vector.

    • Hi, Loren.

      Hope you’re feeling better.

      The virus thing was an aside. Though a virus can act as a vector in nature; as can bacteria and (as you say) an insect. My point was, even without cross-pollination, genes artificially introduced into crop plants can end up elsewhere.

      In terms of the mechanism outlined, I’m particularly interested in the following

      “Plant transformation: The modified A. tumefaciens cells containing the plasmid with the new gene are mixed with plant cells or cut pieces of plants such as leaves or stems (explants). Some of the cells take up a piece of the plasmid known as the T-DNA (transferred-DNA). The A. tumefaciens inserts the desired genes into one of the plant’s chromosomes to form GM (or transgenic) cells.”

      In other words, the gene is introduced into several different explants from the same plant.

      The plants generated from these explants are, by definition, clones.

    • Scott says:

      Actually Carman and Seralini are not as flawed as the commentary that pretends finding a flaw in a paper is an excuse to NOT do a follow-up study. That logic is far more flawed than even the worst flaws in Carman or Seralini.

      Yet I see that logic over and over in these commentaries.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      Well Loren, thanks for your patronising response, you really do think yourself superior.
      ‘I was there, no one did that. Plants were grown in growth chambers like any other tissue cultured plant.’ So the GM companies and the scientists conducting the trials were lying then? That’s exactly what we the public were told, and campaigners who warned against escapes were reassured it could not happen. So someone somewhere is lying, they or you?

      Re: ‘Please, PLEASE tell me you’re joking. If not, go back to high school.’
      You might find this helpful

      and this

      No idea what source I found years ago but distinctly remember it said pollens travel round the Earth in the atmosphere, perhaps it was the troposphere rather than the stratosphere, I’m not an expert, just someone with a brain who remembers and thinks. Too many specialists have tunnel vision as well as arrogance which can lead them to thinking they are both superior and more able to form opinions because they ‘discuss the data’, but, lacking a holistic understanding fail to connect the dots, but argue instead about the places the dots should occupy, even the colour of the dots, and their importance. Joining things up and seeing the [very] big picture is really important.

      ‘Paranoid? ‘ Not in the least. I have just watched Monsanto’s behaviour over the years. They act like spies, like CIA, like they have something to hide. They lie repeatedly, they bribe politicians [ever willing], they con farmers [even American farmers http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/dan-brown-kansas-monsanto-gmo-wheat_n_3504473.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003, they behave like a bully who just will not take no for an answer; thus this latest push by Monsanto and its paid shills like Lynus and Lilley [whose two speeches were so similar they could have been penned by the same person, not that I'm suspicious of course].

      Your constant attempts to patronise and insult and insistance on discussing the data, which anyone knows can and is manipulated constantly are noted, and I have no wish to discuss anything with anyone so clearly intent on doing the work needed to get the UK ‘won over’ so it can act as Monsanto”s representative in the EU which has said a clear NO. No is no to Monsanto though, and back they come with yet another try, with yet more lies; this time they are going to help the blnd see and the lame walk and anyone opposing them wants these poor people to continue suffering or dying from starvation. You know, abuse of argument [you must have encountered that concept even in your narrow education, even though it's from philsophy].

      ‘Sometimes the genes can be crossed back into wild species, oftentimes not, depends on the crop. The rest of your premise is just silly.’ what, the bit about giant unstoppable weeds? Well the sole intention of GM is to breed plants resistant to the company’s chemical poisons isn’t it? The only way that would work is if the plants were really really resistant, so that huge amounts could be used without damaging them, but killing everything else, most like the insects and birds as well; alreqady signs of birds being poisoned by insecticides and bee populations are crashing the world over along with other pollinators.

      I’m on the side of life, the side of the other species who have the misfortune to inhabit this planet with the arrogant, greedy, careless, stupid monkey who thinks it can interfere with everything that evolved over many millions of years just to make itself ‘rich’ whatever that means. Rich in what? What’s the driving force behind GM? Behind you? Mark wants to feed the hungry, that’s how much of an environmentalistt he is, when already the planet is way past its support capacity for the billions already polluting it, he and the other GM apologists want to ensure billions more survive, so were easily conned by a company that has lied repeatedly about that and still has zero proof that yields are boosted at all.

      It’s ALL about profits, it’s ALL about killing weeds, it’s ALL about living the unnatural life.
      Perhaps you should go back to school and learn something. This might help to fill you in, and it saves me typing too much since you obviously object to anyone being too thorough.


      Yesterday I saw a tweet about the biggest wasp nest ever found, followed the link to a purported entomologist who acted more like a mountainman retard, and who was so excited by this BIG one, he bragged about how many wasps there were, and the damage they could do if they all came out and attacked [unlikely] then said ‘if someone fired a gun through this’ no! They’d defend themselves and their nest? Surely not! He was there to destroy it, to gas them all or set fire to it and burn them alive, he was excited at the prospect, this American ‘entomologist’, so pardon me if I don’t bend down and worship at your feet for all the data you have.

      Wanna have a REAL discussion? Not fiddling about with ‘data’ but a REAL discussion about life, what it means to be human and a murderer of any life that gets in your way, what it is to be a bee even. Because there is something it is to be any species, and they know what it is, but we don’t. Most of our stupid species don’t care. Most think we could survive well enough if we cleared the planet of all ‘pests’ just kept the pretty, cuddly ones because we, in our homocentric obsession, think they’re lovely.

      All this insulting others is fair enough on a forum, I do it with the retards who deny climate change all the time, but you seem reticent in stating the real advantages and gains of GM. Do you agree with all that Lynas claims straight out of the Monsanto hymn book? Any reservations? Any DATA that it would feed the world? Any DATA it does what they claim?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “Actually Carman and Seralini are not as flawed as the commentary that pretends finding a flaw in a paper is an excuse to NOT do a follow-up study.”

      @Scott: we’ve been through this so many times now. A flawed study is just that. It behoves those doing the study, not the detractors, to do it properly again. I could do countless studies on homeopathy better than the originals which set out to prove something, but I have better things to do with my time than going on a scientific wild-goose-chase.

      @Loren (and Scott) if you want to get in contact with me personally then there should be a link on this post to my FB site. I’d be very happy to discover more about what you both do.

    • Scott says:

      Let me explain realities Clyde. Money talks. Carman et al and Seralini et al both have the biggest flaw in that they didn’t have enough money to do a larger study. So Seralini used 10 rats per group instead of 50 and Carmen used commercial land race hybrid pigs instead of isogenic, and too few as well. Should have run longer too. Both also could use more detailed investigation of pathologies instead of relying so heavily on gross examination. They also overstepped their conclusions. There are other flaws too. YET instead of sparking a push for proper funding of larger more rigorous similar studies ie falsify, as is what should have happened, the big players with the money are all trying to squash it and ignore them etc etc and refusing to look at them closer. Apparently afraid of what they might find. You can sum it up by saying they are attacking them with words (and worse) instead of science. It is ludicrous that there never was such a long term systems study ever done.

      Politically there was a push of legislature that came into effect only this year in USA that basically would allow the USDA to continue giving approval even if a study proved beyond a shadow of a doubt it was harmful.

      When you combine those two things, no falsifying long term system studies and back room politics, it at the very least LOOKS suspicious.

      So I believe (yes believe, no proof) that Monsanto is up to their shenanigans again, just like Anniston, Al. I believe they know something and are covering it up, hoping to ride the cash cow they set up for themselves as long as possible before the truth comes out.

      There may be nothing to it. I honestly don’t know. For me at least it doesn’t matter because I am developing alternatives to that model. The whole conventional model was set up as a way to use up (waste) all the excess commodity grains in the first place, and to eliminate 99% of farmers. Not for health. Not for sustainability. Not for ecology. Not for food safety.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      If Seralini didn’t have the money to do a proper study then he should have put in for a grant application like everybody else, instead of trying to spatchcock it. If there was any merit to the application then it would certainly have been considered and probably been funded.

      The most likely course of events was that he did put in a grant application, got it turned down (because the overwhelming consensus at this point would have shown that GM crops had *no* toxic implications and the money would have been wasted), so he just went ahead, did a poor job of it and drew completely spurious conclusions. This is shoddy science, period.

  86. Sean says:

    The problem with the Anti-GMO lobby is that they are not motivated by science or truth, I fear. Many of them, the majority of them, have attached themself to a romantic idea, of an idealized past of communal farming societies where men lived in harmony with nature, and so on. What they fail to realize, and cannot accept, is that this idea is a myth and a dangerous one. Farm land is a major impetus behind deforestation and removing preexisting ecosystems and replace them with crops of human creation. Organic crops are a chimera; for since man has discovered agricultural, we have been breeding, cross breeding, and selecting crops and animals for there best features and creating hybrids, breeds, and entirely new foods that did not exist before. Corn is the be-all end-all of human genetic modification, for without selective breeding (genetic modification) over the course of centuries by pre-columbian and post columbian inhabitants of the Americas, it simply would not exist. GM crops are the reason that India can feed itself, why the United States has enough food to feed itself and export massive amounts overseas. The attachment to a non-existent, romantic idea of the past is dangerous, for it is the kind of thing that can prevent the application of human ingenuity to create things that can save lives and improve the livelihood of those living in the world where they are currently unable to produce enough food to feed themselves. I genuinely fear that many of these anti-GMO people are indeed okay with the idea of the human population dwindling, of ending human “overpopulation,” or do not see that that is the logic conclusion of their goals. Moreover, “organic” farming requires massive more land and “natural” fertilizers (also known as manure), which presents its own environmental and health hazards (organic foods have been responsible for a disproportionate number of food poisoning events in recent memory; ask Odwalla). People have lived and eaten like this for millenia–it is true; they also had 6-8 children, and were luckly to live to 40.

    • “The problem with the Anti-GMO lobby is that they are not motivated by science or truth, I fear. Many of them, the majority of them, have attached themself to a romantic idea, of an idealized past of communal farming societies where men lived in harmony with nature”

      Says who? What evidence do you have to back this up? None, it is a myth, used to discredit those who have serious and well-grounded doubts about GM food.

      As is the idea that GM food is a boon in India:


      Selective breeding and genetic modification are not the same thing.

      You also misuse the word ‘chimera’.

      Your attachment to a romantic future, where commercially-developed GM food becomes a gift to the starving, is a dream, and a dangerous one.

      “I genuinely fear that many of these anti-GMO people are indeed okay with the idea of the human population dwindling, of ending human “overpopulation,” or do not see that that is the logic conclusion of their goals.” Well, don’t. It’s a stupid fear, and has no bearing on the argument. GM crops make the food supply more vulnerable, not less – see my previous posts.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Sean,
      That is an interesting post. Several salient points, however there are quite a few misconceptions about organic agriculture and logic errors as well.

      The first and most important error is that modern organic methods are less productive than conventional. Conventional is more productive per farmer, organic more productive per acre. Further compounding the error and a common mistake made by many, including Mark Lynas, is in using statistics combining traditional subsistence agriculture with modern organic agriculture. In the developing world, many producers farm according to traditional methods which are comparable to organic farming but are not certified and may or may not include the latest scientific advancements in organic agriculture. This phenomenon can also sometimes be seen in the West in so called “hobby farms”. So when you use statics to make a claim that organic uses more land, you are categorically wrong. Actually the opposite in most cases.

      Another error you made was in blaming organic agriculture for the problems with diseases in manure. It is the extremely dangerous factory farming conventional CAFOs that turn a very beneficial part of farming (manure) into toxic waste. The danger is caused by NOT raising animals organically. Not the other way around.

    • Loren Eaton says:

      Where are you getting your yield numbers?
      According to PEI Curmudgeon, organic yields are as follows:
      ■Soybean yield from organic farms is equivalent to other methods from 1979.
      ■Corn equivalent to 1985 yields
      ■Spring Wheat equivalent to 1986 yields
      ■Winter Wheat equivalent to 1973 yields
      ■Flaxseed equivalent to 1985 yields
      ■Oats equivalent to 1983 yields
      ■Barley equivalent to 1975 yields

    • Scott says:

      First off the majority of grain and soy crops are fed to livestock. Those yields are not yields of food. Meaningless stats unless you are a commodity farmer. Feed that grain to animals then calculate compared to pasture. Managed intensive rotational grazing beats it hands down WITH all the side benefits of various ecosystem services and increases of biodiversity. One grain that is mostly grown for food is rice. SRI (an organic or mostly organic method) actually doubles on average rice yields per acre.

      Lets take biofuels, another use of commodity grains. Switchgrass produces 5 times the net energy yield as growing grains then converting to biofuels. Counter intuitively, the best way to improve yields of switchgrass is to graze it. The grazers and the grass have a symbiotic relationship that actually means you get livestock production AND more switchgrass both. (of course IF you know what you are doing)

      Then of course is the problem in the statistics inherent because of not calculating multiple use. In a monocrop, you simply calculate the single crop. In most modern organic systems, things like culls are fed to chickens or hogs, cattle may be let into a field afterwards turning weeds and crop residue into meat. Companion plants like basil and other herbs double as additional cash crops. Beans peas or other legumes may be intercropped with sweet corn or other high nitrogen using crops. There are countless more examples, but that should be enough to hammer home the point. These organic methods are more labor, difficult to mechanize, thus yields less per farmer, but actually yields per acre are many times higher. AND with all the benefits in organic of less pesticides, higher biodiversity, less erosion, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, water cycling, etc

      Even when you average the higher yields found in certain areas of conventional with the built in inefficiencies of land use using conventional in other areas, the average is pretty close to the same in good years, but much less in drought years. (mostly due to the fact carbon in the soil acts like a sponge and is far more resistant to drought)

    • Scott says:

      Sorry, I forgot links. Here is an old link.


      And here is a good write-up on that study.


      and an article by one of the reseachers in that study


      That’s a bit old numbers, organic has advanced a lot in the last 7 years. For example, SRI at that time was still considered controversial and the numbers used for that study back in 2007 were a wash, taking into account both sides of the controversy.

      “One controversial management practice is the system of
      rice intensification (SRI) in developing countries. Its
      proponents claim that it boosts yields substantially, while
      its critics argue that best-management conventional practices perform just as well. A reviewer commented that our
      cited publications on SRI did not provide the minimum
      information about soil and environmental conditions for the
      sites where the studies were performed. This criticism
      applied to some of the studies cited on both sides of the
      debate. We tried to avoid bias by using data from both”

      Turns out now that well over 5 million farmers are using SRI that it actually has on average done twice as well as predicted. A full doubling of production per acre MORE than conventional. Back then it was controversial if you claimed it could even do AS MUCH as conventional.

      Here is another organic study a bit more up to date. But a controlled long term trial study using best management practices for both organic and conventional side by side in exactly the same conditions.

    • Scott says:

      I provided links to the information you requested, but the post is awaiting moderation. Just a heads-up so you know I wasn’t ignoring you.

  87. Peter Simmons says:

    Seems the US hasn’t rolled over with its legs in the air for Monsanto

    And Lynas is answered quite explicitly by Peter Melchett here

    I personally think this turnaround shows precisely how Mark Lynas was never an environmentalist, depite what he ‘thought’ since his argument is solely about humans and their needs, with all the same old Monsant lies dressed up such as feeding the world, when we all know a US company that’s spent decades bullying, lying and dissembling isn’t going to be altruistic, unless some of us are terminally naive.

    Being an environmentalist isn’t just about being in favour of ‘taking care of the environment for our children and our blah blah blah’ it’s about putting the environment FIRST, and if benefit comes to us, as it will, then so much the better. Understanding the biosphere and how to works, is intimately interrelated and dependent on each and every species, is not the same as thinking of some species as ‘pests’ or ‘weeds’ and waging war against them, chemists don’t do an environment module in their training as far as I’m aware, thus the chemists here and their obsession with the minutiae of experiments, papers and dissing each other.

    In the words of the ISB track The Hedgehog Song, you know all the words and you’ve sung all the notes, but you never quite learned the song you sang, I can tell by the sadness in your eyes that you never quite learned the song. That applies to the ‘experts’ who come here and elsewhere with their ‘epert’ opinion to which we are all supposed to bow down and ‘respect’, when they haave no respect for those with different opinions or of the environment WE care about. And it all comes down to you can’t get something from nothing, which is what the GMO conspirators are promising. Too bad some fall for such an obvious con.

    • Tony says:

      I only half agree about what you think environmentalists should be about. However, it really is about humans. What everyone needs to understand is that humans need a healthy environment. It so happens that all other species also need a healthy environment, so a win for the environment is a win for humans. It is not incidental that humans benefit from a healthy environment, it’s a basic requirement. So there really is no dividing line between what is good for us humans and what is good for the environment. If some people think there is some compromise to be made, they haven’t really thought it through. Humans are part of nature, after all.

  88. Peter Simmons says:

    Edward Barrett says:

    ‘Enjoyed that post, Peter.’ Thank you.

    ‘Thought it worth noting that, as living standards improve for the poorest, so birth rate falls.’ Yes theoretically. But it doesn’t always work that way. If the poor people are Catholic or Muslim, they won’t reduce number of children. If they are too stupid they may not use contraception or work out how – plenty still having four or more children in the rich world. I believe it to be a convenient fallacy that population growth will slow and stop eventually. Since we already have unsustainable numbers, we need to reduce and that won’t happen unless the US invents some even more efficient means of killing people.

    • Plenty of Catholics use contraception. I strongly suspect the same is true of muslims.

      If neither of us have the figures to hand, it’s difficult to debate; but I cannot believe families with 4 or more children are anything more than a very small minority in the developed world.

      I also wonder about the current numbers being ‘unsustainable’. We are incredibly wasteful of many basic resources, so current lifestyles are unsustainable rather than numbers.

  89. Peter Simmons says:

    ‘The problem with the Anti-GMO lobby is that they are not motivated by science or truth, I fear. Many of them, the majority of them, have attached themself to a romantic idea’

    Not that I think there’s anything wrong with romantic ideas, and many scientists would benefit from having a few ideas that weren’t part of what they were taught as students, I dispute your theory, for which, unlike scientists usually, you produce no data, just your ‘fear’ apparently. You are right, we, the anti-GMO lobby [though I'm not a signed-up member of anything, it's just me] are not ‘motivated by science’ why should we be? I assume from this that you are. Why? Why not motivated by a deep and abiding love of the natural world? Why not motivated by a fascination with how evolution has worked so far, together with a respect for a process that worked and not something that needs fixing by clever primates with opposed thumbs?

    I can see how, having studied science for years, you could be swayed into thinking new means progress, new means better, new means gotta have, and against new is backward, Luddite, stupid. But scientists have shown repeatedly that their edcation lacks some vital ingredients, making them ill-equipped to make important decisions that could affect the lives of everyone and all other species. They lack any study of humanities, of philosophy, and crucially in this case, chemists [I assume this is a branch of that science] know nothing about ecology as demonstrated repeatedly. While coming over as arrogant know-alls they don’t know what they don’t know, but assume it’s of no worth anyway in their ignorance.

    There’s not a lot one can say to that except one day you may understand.

  90. Peter Simmons says:

    ‘Clyde Davies says:

    ‘I’m all for profit, personally. Profit buys tractors and farmhouses, and means that people get rises in wages. The alternative is subsistence farming and who the hell wants to go back to *that*?’

    Profit buys RangeRovers and holidays across the world for farmers round ‘ere boy. The taxpayer subsidies help, mind. Subsisdence farming is where the soil is poor and the people ignorant. That would be going back, noi one suggests that, although a total collapse and die-off might cause it.

    ‘It’s also worth remembering that big companies like You-Know-Who who sell modified seeds have no interest whatsoever in grabbing all the profit for themselves.’ REALLY! Try telling Monsanto, whose name you appear not to dare print.

    ‘Farmers may be venal and selfish at times’ – only some – ‘but they aren’t stupid’ – some are – ‘and aren’t going to put themselves slavishly in hock to suppliers who only want to fleece them. They’ll only invest in new technologies if they can see the benefit.’ Exactly why Indian farmers, conned initially with the very promises Mark Lynas has fallen for have been going back to traditional growing, keeping seeds for next year rather than buying them every year from Monsanto. Perhaps that’s why they’re trying again to bully Europe, Indian farmers are increasingly telling them to fuck off. Even a peasant can understand a setup when they get caught in it and have to pay a multinational over and over. That’s what all the fuss about patents is about.

    Nice try at a whitewash.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Oh for God’s sake, say something new and interesting, will you? I don’t talk about Monsanto because quite frankly I’m sick of how people with very little imagination drag this topic back to them every time. They’re a convenient big bogeyman for the the obsessives of the Green movement. And I’ve heard all the ‘reductio ad Monsantum’ arguments ad nauseam. They’re trite and boring, to be quite honest It’s all black-and-white either/or reasoning: GM is owned totally by evil multinationals and there is no independent research going on, and organic farming is nothing but a total boon which will save mankind.

      Well, what’s going on in the labs of Ingo Potrykus, in Uganda and elsewhere give the lie to that. Many independent research organisations in other countries are developing their own solutions appropriate to the problems they face. And funnily enough, Indian farmers have been trying to pirate Monsato’s BT cotton because they know it saves them pesticides and eventually money. Like I said, they’re not stupid (and good luck to them!).

      Now, your particular Manichean arguments support your simplistic narrative no doubt, but as far as I see it the situation is a lot more complex and requires a much more nuanced response that your four-legs-good two-legs-bad approach, such as evaluating each application on a case by case basis. Like I said: I’m not pro- or anti-GM, just pro-science. So leave the difficult thinking to the big boys like Mark, me and some of the others how have responded here in a more considered fashion and go off and indulge your infantile paranoid fantasies on your own, will you? Or at least with people who share them.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      Hey big boy, swomething pull your lead? It’s not about Nigeria in case you forgot, it’s about softening up the UK population to not reject GM, the project to sell in Europe is pure Monsanto, doubtless all the others too, but Monsanto it was which behaved like a bogeyman, so have only themselves to blame when met with suspicion.
      Don’t mind at all talking about other companies, but it’s all the same and you just don’t get it. Sorry about that. But when it comes to awareness, I’m afraid you really aren’t one of the big boys at all, you really somewhat backward. Lynas has totally lost it, that’s why he’s attacking with the conspiracy theory crap, the problem for him is the opponents of GM are anything but conspiracy theorists, very down to earth [literally] and with more understanding than you test tube experts give credit to [excuse me for using a phrase like that, but you started the name calling and you seek to defend the mindset], and thoughtful, and full of experience of the real world. Science often employs people who know nothing about the real world, because they spent most of their lives concentrating on their speciality, and when challenged about whether something they really want to do might be inadvisable, they get all superior and dismissive because the critics aren’t like them, have a different worldview [any worldview is suspicious to some of the really narrow minded] and think they know better.
      So which part of that was ‘infamtile paranoid fantasies’? The bit about Indian farmers rejecting a GM product? Look it up. [by the way, typos are purely down to an aged keyboard that I should replace, misses letters sometime, clumsiness as I have a broken left arm, and speed, I just can't be arsed to proofread what I typed, not an indication I'm thick, I'm very literate sunshine].
      Was it the bit about farmers and subsidies? All totally true, if you doubt it there are ways to find out what taxpayers give to farmers every year, you could even listen to the Archers, they have an agricultural consultant, and since I live on a farm, and have lived on farms, I again might have more knowledge than you.
      What else was there? Only the quote from you left.

      The main thing which you fail to address, and Lynas too ignores, is how the hell a GM plant is needed which is resistant to a spray, when plants are sprayed now? If a MORE resistant plant is thought to be needed, that would be because they can’#t spray enough on the field to kill weeds without harming the crop. With me so far?

      So to say GM means LESS herbicide/pesticide/ is used, is logically unsound. If less was used, the present plants would find it easier to resist it.

      Further, it’s been shown consistently that GM crops are no larger, and are even smaller than non GM, and plenty of evidence organic beats them all, it just takes a lot more work for more people, needs an understanding of soil and the millions of soil organisms and the job they do which chemicals kill. We know they kill them because soils which have been farmed like that for years have dead soils, organically dead, no organisms. It takes many years for soils to rrecover and become accepted by Soil Association standards as not containing poisons dangerous to human health, and with a normal quantity of micro-organisms [they make nutrients available for take up by the crop].

      So next time you want to feel like a big boy, take care who you think you’re superior to; someone who thinks Mark Lynas is talking sense has a lot to learn before they can even discuss this issue with any kind of credibility.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      ‘[...] funnily enough, Indian farmers have been trying to pirate Monsato’s BT cotton’ if they were really clever they’d be saving all the money spent on pesticides by growing hemp which needs none and provides faqr superior fibres to cotton, which can be made into a huge range of products from clothing to building.

      It’s all to do with this http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/05/indiana-farmer-loses-battle-against-monsanto/ I didn’t fantasize this by the way.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      It’s called Senate Bill S.510, and doubtless benefits some big US food producers. The FDA is similar in tactics to the Nazi Party when they were consolidating their power. You see, history too, no end to my knowledge.

      ‘I’m not pro- or anti-GM, just pro-science.’ So you’re very young and have just heard of this issue? Or you’ve known about it for years but are still undecided. Case by case sounds to me like decided. What criteria used? If it’s will this be of benefit to the shareholders, many people think that’s inadequate. Who decides if not the people? You? The consumers are decided, across Europe they have decided. The governments have done as they were instinctively sure they had to. It isn’t a closed mind that sticks to principles and doesn’t lose interest over time. This attempt too will fail, despite them having an ex-cabinet tory loonie and a tame ‘environmentalist doing the dirty work.

      My advice to you is lose the naivete, live in the adult world where some people actually are nasty bastards who would poison anyone for money. The mass murderers are often in suits at boardroom tables or in government offices, the ones we send to jail are the amateur DIYers, no match. So do try to be civil, it just pisses me off when people are simplistically insulting without knowing what they are ignorant of. I really hate ignorance you see, which is why I can’t let the epsilons get away with their silly climate change denial, there are some real dildos in that shrinking cult. So, far from being anti-science, I’m OK with science, I even defend Mark when one of these dimjobs calls him a silly fantasist! That’s on another forum, funny old world innit?

    • It always ends in Hitler . . .

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Right – if it has to be this way:

      I’d be tempted to invoke Godwin’s Law when you compare the FDA to the Nazi party, as this shows you to be a very silly individual with very little perspective on what real evil actually is. And write you off as not very bright either: how the hell does ‘case by case’ make me out to be categorically decided on an issue? All I’m decided on is that each case has to be decided on its own merits and detractions and approached without any prejudice – for or against the issue. Or is that too complex for you to grasp?

      But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to direct you to the most recent, comprehensive, independent and exhaustive report on GM crops written, by a chap called Mannion at Surrey University. He got *no* funding for his report from the industry. You can read it at http://www.surrey.ac.uk/ces/files/pdf/04-13%20Morse_Mannion_GM%20Crops.pdf .

      It’s no whitewash. It’s an impartial report which tells the story warts and all. However, it’s intensely readable. This is what the report says about hebricide use:
      “In relation to pesticide use, Barfoot and Brooks (2008) have shown that major gains have been made in terms of quantity used, environmental benefits and cost savings. Their data, for 1996-2006, are given in Table 6. This shows that pesticide use for all major GM crops has declined substantially with a parallel decline in the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ). The EIQ is a model which reduces data on environmental impact to a single value; it combines information on the three main components in agricultural systems: farm worker, consumer, ecological impact. As Table 6 shows the greatest gains were for herbicide tolerant soybeans. Barfoot and Brooks state that this was particularly important in the USA and Argentina and for GM herbicide tolerant canola (rape) in
      Canada. Such data are important for the protagonists of GM herbicide tolerance because scenarios of increased herbicide use have been presented as a deterrent and this has clearly not occurred.”

      Quite. And also there are two kinds of pesticides: herbicides and insecticides. The BT cotton grown in India which you were fulminating about showed a total global reduction in the amount of *insecticide* sprayed of 128 million Kg from 1996 -2006. That 128 THOUSAND TONS LESS sprayed over a ten year period. NOT *herbicide*, which you then went on to rant about.

      Furthermore, the report then goes on to say
      “An additional beneficial affect has been a shift to the herbicide glyphosate which is more environmentally benign than the alternatives atrazine and metolachlor. The latter are environmentally mobile and contaminate groundwater, and may have adverse toxicological effects on aquatic organisms. The shift has been especially noteworthy in the USA (Rivard, 2003). In addition, Livermore and Turner (2009) report that in the USA there has been an annual reduction of some 27,000 tonnes of active pesticide ingredient between 1996 and 2006.”

      Now, you can argue as some people have done that the amount of glyphosate sprayed per acre went up in certain cases, but this kind of argument deliberately overlooks that the amount per tonne yield falls substantially in comparison, so for the same amount of foodstuff produced less herbicide is used. You can also resort to your questionable arguments about resistant crops needing more herbicide (?!) but this simply ignores what these figures are saying.

      You may well live on a farm but I don’t see how that better qualifies you to talk about this issue than me. I could go out and buy a hat with big neon letters on saying ‘LION TAMER’ but the results would be too predictable if I got into a cage with one. Perhaps you could go out and get a hat with ‘I LIVE ON A FARM’ on it? You’d be better off learning the difference between an insecticide and herbicide first, though.

      And if this is your idea of an ‘informed debate’, then include me out.


    • Scott says:

      Environmental benefits? Seriously? So the argument is so biased that less harm is now considered benefits? I mean sure, I am in favor of less harm when there are not alternatives. But there are alternatives.

      The only difference is that Monsanto et al. don’t get their cut. So the alternatives that actually heal the land don’t get promoted much except for lunatics like me. ;)

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Scott, let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good, shall we? How do you propose to wean farmers off herbicides and insecticides, other than by making them superfluous? I’m sure there is a lot of merit in the way you grow food and it is certainly worth looking at but most farmers (well, the ones I’ve met) tend to be a deeply conservative bunch and aren’t going to embrace radical changes to the way they grow crops.

      To me, doing less environmental harm is a step in the right direction. Let’s keep on encouraging behaviours that do that. And I was lambasting Peter because he claimed exactly the *opposite* to the plainly evident facts in this case. There’s far too much loose talk about both GM, conventional and organic agriculture. Too much bloody emotion, full stop.

    • Scott says:

      Well as you know Clyde, I am actually working on that very thing, making them superfluous. What you may not know is that an anonymous philanthropist has expressed an interest in my project, even though it is in infant stages right now. I have a tentative pending potential offer to provide the land (and maybe even materials needed for start up?) to run the project full scale.

      That’s why for now I am keeping it fairly low key. That’s why no blogs or facebook pages yet. I submitted the land usage plan with a general methods outline and am waiting for it to be approved. I have several experts contacted for advisers. I have a film company lined up for video documentation. I have someone lined up for publishing results. I have done research on crops, species, local climate, markets etc… I have researched grants. NONE of which can come to completion until I get a decision from the anonymous philanthropist. It is all tip of the iceberg. I want to start doing more detailed work, but have to wait on his decision. The wait is the excruciating part. I am almost to a point where I would prefer a NO rather than this waiting with no answer. Yet I refuse to rush it. We will see.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      I hope to God you succeed, Scott, because there’s no reason why we should be producing and spraying chemicals if we can get away with other equally effective practices. But by those other practices I also include GMOs.

      One of the reasons I want you to succeed is because I am wedded to ends, not means. I’m an optimist by nature: we tend to see solutions to every problem, whereas the pessimists see problems in every solution. I may differ with you about the shape of the solution but if it works, then who cares? And it’s far better to have somebody *doing* something about an issue while others sit on the sidelines carping about why it *shouldn’t* be done that way. So much easier to point a finger, than lend a helping hand.

      And who knows, perhaps there’ll be a convergence between your brand of organic farming and biotech? I hope so, because I can see it adding up to far greater than the sum of its parts. So good luck.

      Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists and fundamentalists can do the likes of you and me a favour and just fuck off .

    • Scott says:

      Well of course I personally have no problem with cis-genomic GE if all it means is taking a gene from a wild relative of a domestic crop like producing vigor, nutrition, disease or pest resistance etc…. I always was in favor of things like that. Heck if the people who domesticated those species to begin with had known better, those genes probably would have never been lost. What I am quite opposed to is using GM technology to sell herbicides to grow grains for livestock in CAFOs that produce an inferior food AND screw up the environment too! It’s crazy to me. Just doesn’t make sense unless you are the company selling the GMO and the herbicide it must be used with.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      @Scott: how would you feel if say, two genes were taken from an unrelated species but just inserted to complete a biochemical pathway that exists in many other plants but not the food crop in question? And completion of that pathway led to some very desirable enhancements of the nutritive aspects of that crop? That’s essentially what’s happened in Golden Rice: they’ve pat up a pathway that now produces beta-carotene as its end product. I like to compare it to borrowing some railway engineering know-how to connect up a town that has hitherto lain just out of reach.

      This isn’t to decry the advances you mentioned in rice growing using new organic methods that have yielded 22 tonnes/hectare. That kind of farming is both impressive and desirable. But 22 tonnes of rice with a zero beta-carotene content is still 0% vitamin A at the end of the day. So why not combine the two? Seems like a marriage made in heaven to me.

    • Scott says:

      That particular use is a grey area for me. I mean it is a novel pathway to plants. The way the pathway works is through the use of a gene from bacteria. It’s not the same as any known plant. It’s more simplified. One would think that likely it is safe though. I am not knowledgeable of the intricacies of the novel pathway, nor any nuances of the differences between the pathway in plants and the pathway found in bacteria to know for sure.

      I am just being honest. I simply don’t know. I read the material available, and understand in laymen’s terms, but it isn’t my field of expertise.

      If I was forced to eat only rice the rest of my life, I guess I would choose that kind of rice. But to me the real solution is to grow and eat something that balanced the nutrition. Sweet potatoes and rice are highly compatible just as an example, not in the same fields but nutritionally. In Okinawa prior to WWII up to 80% of the local traditional staple diet was sweet potatoes and rice. They ended up being the longest lived population on the planet in spite of being on average quite poor in Western terms. You can quite easily get 300+ bushels per acre sweet potato, which is at least as much nutrition as even record rice yields.

      Of course not every culture even likes sweet potatoes. Cultural factors do play a role in hunger. So I suppose there is a role for golden rice there somewhere.

  91. Peter Simmons says:

    The US attitude to organic food and the free people who grow and share – they aren’t allowed to sell it.


    Is this a police state or am I a paranoid fantasist?

    Land of the brave, home of the fee.

  92. Bob says:

    It would be beneficial to know what Mark learned to prompt him to change his mind. Was it new information? What caused him to change his mind and reverse course?

  93. JJM says:

    Anyone who touts the words “Conspiracy Theory” right before giving a very drawn out speech on why GMO is good must be one hell of a fool.

    The case has been made. It’s hardly a conspiracy to say that GMO is very bad. The evidence is here. There is no disputing it. And anyone who trusts their own human intuition and wisdom over science will easily be skeptical when seeing that big gigantic, monstrous crop of corn that looks like its trying to reach the sky. Just down the road from my house, every day I pass one of those crops. And a small signpost next to it that states: “Dyna-Grow”. But every other enormous corn crop in the county is half as tall. Actually, corn around here is usually taller by now. But it isn’t because of the strange, cloudy weather that has covered up the sun most of the summer thus far.

    That hasn’t stopped the Dyna-Grow GMO Corn from growing like poison ivy. I remember back in the 80s when toxic waste was secretly brought down from Ohio and dumped in our county. I happened to live in that area 7 years later. Never in my life have I ever seen the things that were growing there. And the insects were mutants. And believe me. I know a lot about plants.

    It’s the typical rebuttal we have heard many times when a greed filled group of people get exposed for the crimes they are committing. They yell “Conspiracy Theory!” like a black man yells “Racist!”. All effort is focused upon turning all attention away from the facts. It’s the usual tactic we see in the news media every day of the week. Some people (like myself) do not have a short term memory. And we spend every waking minute of our life making sure others do not forget things so easily. In the case of the GMO threat, we will not stop exposing it for what it truly is.

    Just like the evidence against GMO is here, so is the evidence of HAARP and similar weather protocols that are politically motivated. By being able to grow corn in the dark, you can make it dark to kill all the small farmers. You kill two birds with one stone. And I mean that in a very literal way. Our corporate minded people have no qualms about killing people for profit. And just because that GMO Corn is sweet. Don’t think for a second that a tumor isn’t growing on your brain. You’re playing the lab rat if you buy it. And unless we murder the weather control program, we will see nothing but GMO produce and meat in the stores. And without any way to grow the good stuff because the sun will be covered up.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “Just like the evidence against GMO is here, so is the evidence of HAARP and similar weather protocols that are politically motivated. By being able to grow corn in the dark, you can make it dark to kill all the small farmers.”

      Yeah, and all the black men who call ‘racist’ can sneak around with being shot by Zimmermans like you.

      This has to be the most knuckleheaded comment I have ever read about GMOs. And you have the temerity to call Lynas a fool?

  94. Kevin says:

    Can anyone here explain why I have developed sever gluten sensitivity symptoms out of nowhere over the past year? I initially thought it may be due to GMO wheat taking over the market, but I am seeking information on the subject as I am just trying to figure out how to best avoid discomfort.

    • Scott says:

      No I doubt anyone could explain your current symptoms except your Doctor after extensive tests.

      I can say that it is pretty unlikely to be caused from GMO wheat. Possible? Maybe, but very unlikely. Some change in processing maybe? Possibly fusarium? Indirectly fusarium, which is known to cause toxic reactions in both people and livestock, has been linked to Glyphosate use in wheat fields. However it is sprayed on non-GMO wheat fields PRIOR to planting and rarely just before harvest to kill everything and have uniform drying. No GMO wheat has been approved for use anywhere in the world yet. Although cross contaminated GMO wheat has been found contaminating regular wheat in a few cases. I would think that the tiny trace amounts present from cross contamination would have statistically no chance of causing your symptoms. Pesticide residue? Maybe. Processing? Maybe. Plant pathogen? Maybe.

  95. N8 says:

    Last time I checked, irrational policy making was the result of corporate greed and lobbying resulting in unsafe vaccines and bio foods. Interestingly enough, the same lobbyists are starving our country of true innovation and forcing us to literally consume their crap.

  96. Todd says:

    I’ve argued with anti-people a lot. 9/11 truthers, alien conspiracists, birthers, climate change deniers, and now the anti-GMO crowd. I wanted to point out that, for every single organization I quote, the anti-GMO camp has a way of tying that organization to Monsanto or, failing that, the biotechnology industry in general, and therefore invalidating said source in their own minds.

    Your killer argument? To them, the experts do NOT agree. To them, there are vast amounts of opponents who cannot get their voice heard due both to a corrupt peer review process and the inability to essentially pay off government agencies. Your AAAS quote will go in one ear and out the other. Far from being a killer argument, quoting a source they deem to be a puppet for the enemy only solidifies their argument that you represent corrupt political and business interests.

    I realize that I’m jumping in this conversation long after it was finished, and I apologize if my remark has already been made on this comment thread.

    • EvilEdd says:

      Hi, Todd.

      You complain that the ‘anti-GMO camp’ invalidates many arguments by linking them to Monsanto -

      but you also link those who are anti-GMO with “9/11 truthers, alien conspiracists, birthers, climate change deniers” . . .

      If the tactic is wrong for your opponents, it’s wrong for you.

      I for one have posited some scientific reasons GMO crops are riskier than non-GMO, and am yet to see any scientific rebuttal. I remain concerned.

  97. Tim says:

    I can see that this presentation by Lynas has generated a lot of heat but not that much light. I’m open to the debate about GMOs, but this Lynas talk is mostly a kind of extremism and scare tactics not unlike what he spends many paragraphs screaming about in the supposed reaction to his “conversion” to a GMO advocate. In fact, the bulk of his comments would seem to be more about the irrational arguments and tactics of anti-GMO groups, not about the reasons for accepting GMO approaches. His extremist rhetoric about this practically compares anti-GMO forces to Hitler’s reign of terror in Europe. He would have us believe that the opposition has caused millions of people to die unnecessarily.

    Is Vandana Shiva then wrong when she claims that 250,000 farmers in India committed suicide and that was largely due to the failure of GMO cotton to produce the promised yields? She claims that these figures come from the Indian government itself, and that the bulk of the suicides were in the cotton-producing regions. How exactly were farmers lured into using GMO cotton, and what is the effect of this planting? I’m interested to know the relevant facts here and in the GMO discussion generally. What I see here are arguments and counter-arguments, some with links to more and more of the debate’s subtopics.

    As for efficient production, it’s my understanding that smaller farms have been shown consistently to produce higher average yields per acre than large farming operations. This is said to be an established fact, though the reasons why are not yet fully understood or documented. I think the key elements here are not just total yield but also long-term effects on the soil and water resources, the surrounding environment (and helpful insects like bees), and the quality of the food produced. If, as many claim, monoculture growing practices (GMO or otherwise) are detrimental to a long-term healthy soil and to biodiversity, then the practice needs to be changed. I doubt the claims about increased yields with large agribusiness, but that’s still only one of the considerations when we look to have sustainable farming practices for the future.

  98. S McCumsey says:

    When you base your arguments on the ridiculous statements that people make (on both sides of this issue) it skips over the real issues here. Both sides of this issue irritate me when they ridicule each other or post blatant lies. I come from a background in science and have researched the science itself to see that it is flawed. Fact: The claims about golden rice, drought tolerant crops and higher yields do not hold up (at least over a few short years). Fact: Some things are consistent and that is the increased use of pesticides which has a very detrimental affect on health and environment. Fact: Most of these crops are herbicide resistant. Fact: The crops being marketed do not address “feeding the world” but filling the pockets of a powerful industry that has put a powerful grip on the media, government and scientists. This is simply about making money and controlling a market. Fact: With the imprecise methods of placing a gene from another organism in a plant you affect the entire genome of that plant. This is the unknown aspect of production that causes differences which affect the plant in that it can loose it’s natural resistance to pests, loose nutritional value and new proteins that are created cause all sorts of issues we see in animal studies. If you question this science you can expect a huge backlash. It seems this man certainly does not base any of his decisions on science itself but on the consensus of those who are too arrogant to be open to the truth. I would not have looked to him for information when he was anti-GMO. Maybe he can write but I don’t see hope in the future when we can’t open our eyes to see past the smoke screen.

    • EvilEdd says:

      You call them ‘zombie’ arguments; but I’ve never seen any rebuttal of the idea that genetic variation is vastly reduced by the cloning that is an inherent step in genetic modification. Vast reduction in genetic diversity = vastly reduced crop stability. You may get several years of great results, but a pathogen will evolve the ability to attack the crop, and the losses will be much. much worse than with a non-GM crop.

      The equivalent would be if all mobile phones had the same PIN. Break into one, and you can break into them all.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll call them. Ever heard of the Cavendish Banana? Probably not, although I’ll bet you’ve eaten a few thousand of them in your lifetime. All the bananas imported into the UK are vegetative clones of a single triploid mutant (which is why they don’t have seeds). They are all genetically identical. GM bananas designed to resist diseases such as wilt can only increase diversity.

      Moreover, GM crop developers actively cross their first-generation transgenic plants with other non-transgenic varieties, just to increase diversity. Compare this with the conventional assault-and-battery on the genome method of using sodium azide or radiation to induce mutations. I know which I’d rather trust.

      Any other topics you’d care to lead-with-your-chin on?

    • S McCumsey says:

      It certainly is a different time we live in when scientists are respected until they publish studies that do not toe the line of corporations. It certainly is a different time when we feel the need to insult others and their intelligence when they point out the alternatives to feed the poor but instead expect them to live on a diet of one crop owned by one of those corporations. It certainly is a different time when open dialogue no longer exists and instead the comments I read resemble that of a bully in a school yard. It certainly is a different time when I am expected to believe that a crop designed to be sprayed with herbicide is going to decrease the use of that herbicide? It certainly is a different time when four multinationals control the food of the world and biodiversity continues to shrink. It certainly is a different time when poor farmers scrape together money to buy a promising seed that does not deliver but puts them out of business. It certainly is a different time when we point out how lack of biodiversity puts us at great risk and choose to ignore examples in the science of GM technology like GM soy in Argentina right now. It certainly is a different time when we are expected to continue to swallow the numerous lies told by corporations who do not have any interest other than making a profit. Your words:In short, let’s behave like the small minded, anti-scientific, anti-progress, pampered, Western clique of intellectual deadweights with a total poverty of imagination and whose only stock in trade is utter cynicism. Let’s oppose everything we can and display no initiative of our own, and generate lots of heat and utterly no light while we’re at it. -

    • EvilEdd says:

      “GM crop developers actively cross their first-generation transgenic plants with other non-transgenic varieties, just to increase diversity.”

      So all of the plants share one parent – and share 50% of their genome. Better than 100%; still a LOT worse than non-GM.

      “Compare this with the conventional assault-and-battery on the genome method of using sodium azide or radiation to induce mutations. I know which I’d rather trust.”

      So we should trust GM food because it’s not quite as bad as other types? That’s your argument?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Well, it’s certainly a different world to the one I inhabit: a world far removed from reality and where all opinions are based on supposition and rumour, not evidence. I could take apart your last posting point by point, but I’m not going to as I really have more important things to do than lay zombies to rest yet again.

      When it comes to dealing with facts, there are three kinds of people. Those who know what they are saying is true, the liars who know what they are saying is false, and then the bullshitters who really don’t know one way or the other but say it anyway. There’s a roaring trade in bullshit in the anti-GMO community. It would just make a change for once if some of it were fresh.

    • EvilEdd says:

      ” . . . all opinions are based on supposition and rumour, not evidence”

      - erm – no. You’re claiming all opinions you don’t agree with fall into that category. That’s both wrong and arrogant.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      ‘”GM crop developers actively cross their first-generation transgenic plants with other non-transgenic varieties, just to increase diversity.”

      So all of the plants share one parent – and share 50% of their genome. Better than 100%; still a LOT worse than non-GM.’

      As far as I am aware, no GM crop is based solely on clones of one individual. Moreover, your biodiversity argument is a total chimera. There are biodiverse non-GMO crops that have been wiped out by disease, such as in the Irish potato famine. Or the Hawaiian ringspot plague, or citrus greening where no single orange plant has been found to have any resistance to the bacterium. Regarding the second and thiord diseases, GM technology has (a) actively thwarted the disease and (b) offers hope in so doing.

      So let’s celebrate our biodiverse crops being wiped out by new diseases rather than deal with the real issue.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      ” It certainly is a different time when we feel the need to insult others and their intelligence when they point out the alternatives to feed the poor but instead expect them to live on a diet of one crop owned by one of those corporations…
      ….It certainly is a different time when I am expected to believe that a crop designed to be sprayed with herbicide is going to decrease the use of that herbicide? …
      …It certainly is a different time when four multinationals control the food of the world and biodiversity continues to shrink…
      … It certainly is a different time when poor farmers scrape together money to buy a promising seed that does not deliver but puts them out of business. ”

      Show me some sound evidence to back up these ridiculous claims, then.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      You seem to have developed a talent for ignoring the substance of my posts and indulging in nitpicking instead. It’s all getting a bit too cheap for me now.

  99. Blake Ludwig says:

    Dear Mark
    I’ve been following your post and the forum responses for many months now. To go back to the beginning, Mark, I find you do yourself a big disservice by apologising for your actions as a young activist. You did what you felt you had to do at the time, within the culture and your generation’s consciousness. I too remember being a very angry activist in anti-gm marches in America and at rallies we were so thankful of the actions of activists in the UK who risked their liberty to stop gm field trials.

    Why? because in the States GM had been introduced without any democratic process; gm was rolled out and we woke up being told it was ok for us to eat. There still are no labeling laws and no choice (other than to eat organic). And now Monsanto is in charge of our agricultural agenda in the USA.

    So thankfully the likes of you,Mark, and Greenpeace and other brave souls slowed that process down in the UK so we could have pause to consider whether this was something we wanted.

    Now if you want to change your stance, in the same fashion as Stewart Brand, then great I support you for re-evaluating your philosophy. As a long time environmental activist myself I’ve given pause to re-evaluate my own position on nuclear power and gm technology – and I’ve come to a different conclusion to yours.

    This forum has shown if anything how polarised the subject really is – it’s far from one that will be easily won by pointing to supposed ‘clear scientific evidence’. It’s not that any of us are ‘stupid’ or we ‘just don’t get it’. As we’ve read, there are many caring people on both sides of the issue who are passionate about the issue of GM.

    So how on earth do we go forward? How can we create a better world if we’re trying to force one another to see our point of view and yet not really listen to one another? Do we use force? Or is their another way? Can we come together without such strong positions and actually address the issues from a deeper place – one that brings into the open the deeper underlying issues. Is it fear of the unknown, or fear for the future? Are we really afraid that people will starve if we don’t allow GM? Is it anger at environmentalists that stand in the way of ‘progress? Or maybe ‘fear of technology’ taking over without a moral compass?

    And maybe just maybe we could come to see something different together beyond the polarised debate that we seem to recreate with this and other issues.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      “So how on earth do we go forward? How can we create a better world if we’re trying to force one another to see our point of view and yet not really listen to one another?”

      It’s very simple. It involves taking a case-by-case approach on the basis of risk-versus benefit. In some cases, particularly that of Golden Rice, it’s plain to anyone with half a brain that the risks of use are vastly outweighed by the consequences of not using it, namely upwards of 245 million children suffering from VAD.

      Of course, the likes of Greenpeace don’t see it this way; they are vehemently opposed to the deployment of any GMOs for any purpose whatsoever, regardless of the human cost. In fact, their ‘moral compass’ has only one axis of reckoning, that of the good Green versus the evil Multinational.

      As for me, I’m sick to death of people thinking that their passion about an controversy stands in for a coolheaded assessment of the real issue at stake. I’m also on the side of the people who come up with real solutions to problems, not those who look for problems in every solution.

    • EvilEdd says:

      Even if all other dangers are dismissed (hubristic though that would be), the reduction in genetic diversity entailed in deploying GM crops directly increases the instability of the food supply.

      As for GM foods ‘solving’ any of the world’s ills – when have they? The creators of these plants are not charities.

    • S McCumsey says:

      Very cool headed here with much more than 1/2 brain. If we are to work out these problems together dismissing and missing the point that people are trying to make about these issues will only create more problems. Golden rice does what do you think? It will not in itself solve the problem that the developers repute it to do. They even admit that it does not contain enough vitamin A. So how about the many varied solutions that are all ready available? They do not benefit the companies that make them. Why do we need it then? Some of the many concerns here about these products would certainly hurt the poor. Should we use them as guinea pigs? Should we force an expensive technology that is heavily subsidized upon them when we have many other more viable options? Should we not concern ourselves with the harm it can (and has) caused to biodiversity, human health and environment? This is the worst lie this industry has used to mystify the real truth about how flawed this technology is. Read something about the “science” from someone who understands it and admits there is an issue! Maybe start with one of the most respected scientists ever:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81rp%C3%A1d_Pusztai

    • Kurlee says:

      Thank you, Clyde. I appreciated your post.

      I have followed this blog subject for a long time and have seen nothing new to positively advance the arguments. Facts get in the way of the emotions. But, there must be the truth somewhere, even if we don’t like it.

      Please stick around though for those of us who are rationally, not emotionally trying to learn and understand the issue, or direct us to any other page you find more positive and productive. So far, for me, I cannot get past two things: 1) no science has proven GMO to be harmful, 2) GMO has prevented millions of deaths.

      What is the agenda by opponents that can possibly legitimately trump these two facts?

    • Blake Ludwig says:

      GMO has prevented millions of deaths? Really? Based on what well-scrutinised evidence?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      God, it’s a depressing experience reading these posts. I thought I’d thrown down the gauntlet whenh I suggested that GMOs be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Instead, the replies I got just resurrect all the old zombie arguments about negative effects on biodiversity and human health, lack of any real nutritional value, people in developing countries being forced to adopt these technologies…the list goes on.

      So let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good rant, shall we? Such as one clinical study performed on Golden Rice showing it was up to SEVEN TIMES as effective as delivering Vitamin A as green or leafy vegetables? Or Vandana Shiva’s characteristically half-baked claims that BT cotton has driven farmers to suicide (demolished at http://www.nature.com/news/case-studies-a-hard-look-at-gm-crops-1.12907)? Or that it’s being forced on developing countries by ‘multinationals’ (which presumably explains why Filipino scientists were dismayed at having their work trashed by the likes of Greenpeace)?

      No, let’s start dragging up Puztai and Seralini and Carman, all of whom have conducted very flawed studies, as ‘evidence’ of harm to health, and ignore the hundreds of other studies that show no harful effects whatsoever. Let’s, while we’re at it, start dragging out the bogeys of ‘multinationals’ and mad cackling scientists, while ignoring the very real problems that malnutrition causes throughout the developing world. Let’s start rallying around VAD/Golden Rice opposition as a banner of convenience, conveniently ignoring the fact that hitherto we paid it no attention whatseover, and even if we did we had no better ideas of our own for dealing with the issue.

      In short, let’s behave like the small minded, anti-scientific, anti-progress, pampered, Western clique of intellectual deadweights with a total poverty of imagination and whose only stock in trade is utter cynicism. Let’s oppose everything we can and display no initiative of our own, and generate lots of heat and utterly no light while we’re at it.

      Well, talk is cheap, and good ideas are thin on the ground. If I cease commenting here it’s not because I’ve lost the argument. It’s because I find the level and tone of discourse to be utterly dispiriting and getting worse as I write. At least Potrykus had some ideas he could call is own. I doubt if any of you have had a single create and progressive thought inm your entire lives.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      It’s hard to prove that GMO has prevented millions of deaths. But it’s even harder to prove that they have caused them, such as in Vandana Shiva’s asinine claim that tens of thousands of Indian framers are committing suicide because of them. Moreover, from what I’ve read, effects on biodiversity appear to be limited, and those on health totally non-existent.

      I focus on Golden Rice not because it’s the ‘poster child’ of the GMO industry but because I simply want (and want others) to *focus*. GM is neither a miracle nor the worst threat to the ecosphere that has ever been conceived. The truth is, and always will be, somewhere in between, and each case needs to be evaluated on its own merits. And people who wilfully ignore this imperative are either up to no good, or too stupid to deal in anything but crass and childish generalisations.

    • EvilEdd says:

      “And people who wilfully ignore this imperative are either up to no good, or too stupid to deal in anything but crass and childish generalisations.”

      Crass and childish generalisations like that one?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Is that the best you can do, EvilEdd? I mean, can’t you come up with any justification for your broad-brush and dismissive response towards an entire domain of science, other than indulging in cheap shots? Can’t you actually come up with any *reasons*? Can’t you muster the intellect required to deal with each case on its own basis? Can’t you even-handedly assess risks and benefits, without politicising the debate?

      Forget it: I might as well be talking to a brick wall for all the good it will do me.

    • EvilEdd says:

      Hi, Clyde.

      Just pointing out – as is often the case – that you are guilty of what you’re accusing me of, in the very post you make the accusation.

      Very little I’ve said could be accurately described as ‘politicised’ – but, as ever, don’t let that stop you making your generalisations.

      I’ve still seen no rebuttal of any of the scientific points I’ve made.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      The rebuttal I made used the case of the Cavendish banana, which showed that many conventional non-GMO crops suffered from exactly the same genetic diversity problems as non-GMO crops. Do you think for example that we should stop growing these? Or Bramley apples? Or Worcester Pearmains? Or countless other fruit varieties bred from a single individual?

      Now, this doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away at all, but when people are dying through lack of Vitamin A, I’d suggest that it’s now probably as easy (and now pretty quick) to develop a completely new variety of Golden Rice were the original to succumb to disease. And that it’s even probably easier to develop that resistance in a lab by, say, including antisense RNA than select by conventional breeding. And that to obsess about hypothetical threats when there are very real consequences from not going ahead with a crop shows a rather unbalanced set of priorities. And that several crops have succumbed to disease pandemics regardless of how biodiverse they were anyhow. So we might as well just bloody well be damned if we do because sure as hell we’ll be damned if we don’t.

      Now rebut *that* reasoning, if you can.

    • EvilEdd says:

      None of these are staples.

    • EvilEdd says:

      “I’d suggest that it’s now probably as easy (and now pretty quick) to develop a completely new variety of Golden Rice were the original to succumb to disease.”

      Quickly enough to replace the failed crop?!?

    • Clyde Davies says:

      Your point being what precisely? That hypothetical future risks should always trump immediate, quantifiable and very pressing concerns, such as stopping people from dying from VAD? Because if it isn’t that and you concede that there is a role for some GMO crops, however monocultural, then you’re just wasting my time. And that *is* your point, then I rreally don’t think it’s for you to judge. Let’s leave it up the people that we’re trying to help to decide whether the risks are acceptable, given the parlous situation many of them face on a day-to-day basis.

      There are many moncultures in cultivation right across the globe right now. If we’d applied your reasoning to say Borlaug’s dwarf wheat, and allowed that kind of thinking to prevail regardless of the human cost, then the Green Revolution would never have happened and famines would be far more widespread than there are right now. Mind you I can’t help thinking that some people in the Green Movement might actually think that this was a *desirable outcome*.

    • EvilEdd says:

      “I can’t help thinking that some people in the Green Movement might actually think that this was a *desirable outcome*.”

      Why can’t you help thinking that? No-one’s said it.

  100. S McCumsey says:

    Don’t know what your point is Clyde. I guess we get that you don’t like animals, people and things.

    • Clyde Davies says:

      My point? You claim for instance that the Golden Rice developers have admitted that it doesn’t contain enough Vitamin A. This is is stark contrast to the most recent strains, which contains huge amounts of Vitamin A and has a bioavailability vastly exceeding that of green vegetables and fruit like peppers.

      My point? I don’t care much for bullshitters, that’s all.

  101. Luis Ramos says:

    Besides my comment of May 10, 2013, I still like to add the following:

    What happened to the private seed market? A huge verticalization; smaller companies disappeared, being swallowed by the big ones. Aside from the economic aspect, when big companies buy the small ones, the most important and PRICELESS asset is their germplasm, who are also concentrated in the hands of a few: this is very dangerous in my view. Now, who are the owners of those big tech companies? This was published in a Sci magazine sometime back and shown to be same shareholders of other big institutions as banks… They are far more powerful than many countries altogether. They do influence governments to make laws on their favor by several “techniques” they mastered worldwide. That means they don’t need to play fair games anymore, and they don’t if not watched. So why do we expect anyone else in favor or against GMO play a reasonable logic game? Where were the consumers left? Most of US consumers would like to see GMO’s be labeled, but the owners not. If it is such a good thing as they claim (and I don’t dispute), they should love their products labeled as such. What concerns me is that owners feel bad about labeling thinking consumers would avoid their products. This is a matter of educating, spending money on intelligent advertising, such like those of the cigarette industry, which made millions die of cancer and still people keep buying it. This comparison is just to point that when someone wants to sell a “bad” thing he can do with good advertising, despite the real bad side. Why not then making good GMO’s advertising labels that most of us believe to be a great thing, without fearing the law?


    Luis Ramos says: (10 May 2013 at 2:15 pm)

    There is no doubt the technology is here to stay. The trouble is in the money side, I suspect, as investors see an option and do wish to minimize their risks as much as possible. It is not only a matter of prejudice in the front landscape, but of economics behind; patent holder groups versus non holder in the background, I suspect…

    Prejudice from the lay people who have not enough knowledge on the subject as from the resource owners who despised the importance to educate the same final technology users. The owners mistake was to ignore the importance of educating people on this and other relevant matters. Rather they prefer the cheapest option, to advertise the “wonderful” virtues of their products betting on winning along. In fact, those above us all have the potential to manipulate the owner’s law on their best interest, much easier than the reverse.

    So, those “who have not” do prefer delaying the matter as long as possible, whatever excuses be necessary. The patent issues are the “safeguards” to investors: the more restrictive they are the higher the chances to make money but more restrictive to scientists also. The reverse is also true… Of course patent holders understand this and prefer to take the matter to legal courts (do they have less expensive options?), as seen in all high end field technologies; they have the power to play this game.
    - See more at: http://www.marklynas.org/2013/04/time-to-call-out-the-anti-gmo-conspiracy-theory/#comments

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