Mark Lynas plenary speech for International Rice Congress 2014, Bangkok, Thailand

1.30pm Bangkok time, 31 October 2014

The theme of this conference is ‘Rice for the World’. A few years ago the UN had an entire year dedicated to the theme ‘Rice is Life’. There can be no doubting the importance of rice in the world’s food supply, or in the cultural and national identities of dozens of countries, most especially here in Asia.

Here in Thailand, as we heard from the minister of agriculture, half the country’s farmland is devoted to growing rice. In Bangladesh, a country where I have spent a lot of time recently, rice paddies are everywhere – you get the sense that other crops are just filling in space between the rice. Rice provides staple food for 3 billion people worldwide. Along with wheat, it is probably the world’s most important source of food calories.

I feel very privileged to address a room full of the world’s foremost rice scientists, and I am humbled that my only formal qualification to address you is an MA in modern history and politics. Having said that, and coming to the title of my talk, ‘It’s the 21st century, where’s my GM rice?’, it is not science that has held back the use of molecular genetics in rice breeding – it is politics. So perhaps I am not so unqualified to address you after all!

Looking to the future, the essential contours of our great challenge are well known so I will only recall them briefly. We have to feed a growing world population heading towards 9.5 to 10 billion over the next 35 years. We probably therefore have to double overall food production, but do so without increasing the area of cropland in order to spare rainforests and other remaining natural ecosystems.

We also have to make agriculture more sustainable overall – to reduce the environmental damage done by fertilisers, pesticides and other chemical inputs. And we have to do all this within the context of a rapidly-changing climatic situation where global temperatures may well have risen by 2C or more by mid-century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that this temperature change will lead to increased droughts, heatwaves, floods, pests and diseases.

Asia is the epicentre of this challenge – it contains the most densely-populated large areas, and is also growing most rapidly economically. Most Asian countries will have achieved developed world status within the 2050 time-frame, and will therefore increase their food and energy consumption substantially. Asia is also of course the main rice-producing and consuming region.

It has been estimated that for every 1 billion people added to the world’s population, 100 million more tonnes of paddy rice need to be produced annually – using less land, water, nitrogen and energy, and resulting in less greenhouse gas emissions, of which rice is a currently a major source.

As rice breeders and agronomists every aspect of this challenge will no doubt concern you. You will know intimately the tools you have available and how you might use them. You will be highly aware of how the growth in rice productivity has stagnated in recent years, how new diseases are emerging and how you might want to address these challenges.

Crop genetics comes into every aspect of this picture. Changing the biology of rice plants offers the chance to combat major and emerging diseases, to tackle pests with fewer and less toxic pesticides, to increase water- and nitrogen-use efficiency and to increase overall productivity to feed more people on less land.

Familiar tools include conventional cross-breeding and hybridisation, marker-assisted selection and mutagenesis. However, in order to be able to access the widest-possible pool of germplasm it will be essential for rice breeders to be able to use transgenic techniques as well as conventional breeding.

And yet the use of these molecular biotechnology techniques, which are improving all the time in accuracy, variety and usability, remains needlessly controversial.

As soon as the dreaded term ‘GMO’ enters the conversation, researchers and journalists that cover the science can find themselves at the centre of a whirlwind of hyperbole, hysteria, hatemail, and even death threats. This is where politics comes in, in other words.

Indeed politics can surely be the only reason why, after two decades of rice breeding involving many projects using molecular techniques for genetic improvement, there is still currently no commercially available rice anywhere in the world that might attract this dreaded moniker ‘GMO’.

Even though there were an estimated 175 million hectares of genetically modified crops grown worldwide in 2013, none of these hectares of officially-approved GMOs were of rice. According to ISAAA, genetic modification is the fastest- adopted crop technology in recent history.

But this fast rate of adoption does not include rice. Indeed so far rice has been entirely locked out of the crop biotechnology revolution.

Why? Is this because genetic techniques offer no advantages to rice breeding, unlike to every other crop currently grown by humans? Of course not. The reason is simple: GM rice has been overwhelmed by the tide of misinformation and superstition that passes for a GMO ‘debate’ nowadays.

It seems that no-one quite dares to move things forward. Rice breeders are wary of putting forward GM rice varieties for approval, however much promise they show. Regulators have yet to approve GM rice, however safe and beneficial the new traits may be. Traders are nervous of trading GM rice. Retailers are worried about losing markets with GM rice. Consumers are wary of eating GM rice.

Those in the rice trading sector are haunted by the spectre of the 2006 LibertyLink disaster, which ended up costing Bayer $750 million to settle lawsuits after an unapproved herbicide-tolerant rice variety was found in US rice exports. Who would risk this kind of exposure again?

It is important to remember that there was never any plausible risk to human health or the environment from LibertyLink rice. But just as with the Oregon wheat contamination scare, the facts about any real risk come a very distant second to the politics of the food scare.

In China right now the same thing is happening with Bt rice. In this case there is no private company standing to benefit, as the rice was developed by state-funded scientists at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan. But it has recently become the centre of a major food scare following the discovery of unapproved Bt rice on supermarket shelves in some Chinese provinces.

The hysteria that has followed is worryingly reminiscent of medieval witch-trials. Millions of otherwise perfectly sane Chinese people now apparently believe that GMOs are an American plot to turn Chinese people infertile and thereby prevent the country becoming a superpower to challenge US military dominance.

Add to this geopolitical paranoia the usual mix of scary myths about cancer, autism and so on and you have all the ingredients for a nationwide moral panic that could set back GM research in China for another decade or more.

Anti-GMO activists have now honed exactly the right ingredients to spark a moral panic – witness the eruption during the Golden Rice child feeding trials in China in 2012 following a minor breach of protocol in the experiments. This led to the state-approved hounding of the researchers involved, no small matter in a country like China.

I would be very surprised if Golden Rice were ever able to be released in China now, so vitamin A deficiency in Chinese children must be tackled by other means or, more likely, not at all. I won’t guess at a figure of likely resulting deaths, but we can get a sense of the probable order of magnitude from a recent paper published in the journal Environment and Development Economics estimating the impact of 10 years of non-availability of Golden Rice in India.

The authors estimate a figure of 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India thanks to vitamin A deficiency. Remember, these years of life lost primarily affect vulnerable young children, 125 million of whom suffer vitamin A deficiency around the world.

This in turn leads to a quarter to a half a million cases of blindness in children per year, and a half of these children die within a year. Many more have their immune systems compromised by lack of vitamin A, increasing the risk that common childhood diseases will end in death.

So when Greenpeace started the media panic in China, there was something of an irony in its claim to be defending the rights of children not be used as guinea pigs in Golden Rice feeding trials. By helping block golden rice in China, Greenpeace will not be helping young children – it will be hurting them, on a scale that as a parent of young children myself I find painful to even imagine.

The Bt rice scandal in China, which has also been stirred up by Greenpeace, will have made the situation even worse. What is frustrating is that there is an obvious solution: the authorities must rapidly consider and hopefully approve the Bt variety, and only then must it be made available to consumers in fully labelled form.

This label need not say ‘Warming: contains GMO’, as the antis would no doubt prefer. Given the facts of how dramatically Bt technology has provably reduced insecticide use in cotton and other crops, Bt rice might instead by labelled: ‘Low insecticide, ecologically-friendly’. In the US the USDA recently reported that farmers growing Bt corn reduced their use of sprayed insecticide 10-fold, and similar results have been reported on Bt cotton in India and China.

This is the other great irony – even tragedy – at the heart of these controversies. The truth is that while there is no remotely likely risk of Bt rice causing cancer and infertility, the same cannot be said of the alternative. Conventional rice in China is often exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from fungicides to insecticides, some of which do indeed have suggested links with infertility and may be carcinogenic, particularly when used inappropriately.

So this is where the environmental movement has ended up, defending chemical-based monoculture against competition from more technologically advanced and environmentally friendly alternatives because of a potent cocktail of ideology and superstition.

And this anti-GMO superstition is now holding the world to ransom by preventing plant breeders from moving forward to tackle the pre-eminent challenge of feeding the growing world population sustainably using one of the best technological options available.

And it is particularly sad because the world needs an effective environmental movement now more than ever given the challenges of climate change and wider sustainability. But an effective environmental movement must be science-based and amenable to change in changing times.

I do not want to single out Greenpeace either – Greenpeace has conducted admirable campaigns recently on climate change, overfishing and deforestation in East Asia, all of which I support wholeheartedly. In particular I applaud Greenpeace’s commitment to defending the scientific consensus on climate change – but in doing so I can’t help noticing the contradiction with their denial of an equivalently strong scientific consensus on GM.

I would love to be able to point to reasons for optimism, but if anything in my view things are getting worse rather than better. China, once the great hope for agricultural biotechnology, is now increasingly lost to fear and anti-GMO hysteria. Thailand was lost back in the mid-2000s – I will tell you the story of how in a minute.

Philippines is on a knife-edge, with a Greenpeace case now in the Supreme Court that could ban GM field trials for a generation. India was lost over the Bt brinjal furore – another pesticide-reducing crop that was blocked by so-called environmental activists ostensibly concerned with reducing pesticides. And I’m still only in Asia – I could mention the 10-year moratorium in Peru, or the GMO import ban in Kenya.

Worst of all is probably the situation in Europe. Here an entire continent, supposedly guided by evidence-based policymaking, has been retreating further and further into an unscientific dark age regarding crop biotechnology. Just next week the European Parliament is set to overturn a carefully-crafted compromise intended to allow those member states who want to allow GM cultivation on their territories to do so. This comes after years of EU policymakers ignoring the advice of their own scientists at the European Food Safety Authority that many GM crops should be approved.

The quid pro quo would be that those EU countries that wish to effectively prohibit GMO cultivation will also be allowed to do so, without the need to put forward any scientific evidence to justify this decision. And many will surely do so – at the last count in February 2014 19 governments were fiercely opposed to the proposed authorisation of GM insect-resistant maize. Unfortunately this nationally-devolved compromise is the best we can hope for.

The worst outcome for the EU would be many more years of stalemate – which for the antis is just as good as a ban, and perhaps better because it leads to uncertainty and chaos, the kind of political environment within which they thrive.

Without a doubt, in many areas this is a difficult time to be a scientist. Technological advances in human understanding and potential have triggered backlashes from different ideological camps – the political right in the case of climate change science, the left in the case of GM crops.

If you include anti-vaccine activism, conspiracy theories about Ebola, religious extremism and various other challenges to the modern Enlightenment view of the world, it is clear that those of us who care about empiricism and evidence-based thinking are in danger of losing a wider war and have to learn to fight back.

That is why I am proud to have joined the Cornell Alliance for Science, a new initiative based at Cornell University’s world-leading College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, aimed at depolarising the GMO debate and advancing science-based solutions to agricultural challenges across the world. Cornell’s College of Agriculture is a land-grant US university with a historic mandate to serve the public as well as to promote ecological sustainability and social well-being.

The Cornell Alliance for Science is solely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has an interest in combatting anti-science rhetoric as it threatens work in health and development, particularly in vaccines, as well as in biotechnology.

Our Cornell Alliance for Science first worldwide campaign, launching next week, is called ‘Access2Innovation’ – we are launching this campaign to try to ensure that farmers across the world can access the best tools to improve productivity and sustainability in agriculture, and can partner with scientists who are free to research these in the best way possible.

The Access2Innovation campaign will also ensure that publicly funded scientists and international academic institutions are able to create knowledge about important staple crops like cassava, Matoke banana, eggplant and papaya. Access2Innovation will encourage scientists’ ability to innovate and improve agricultural productivity for those people in developing countries who are most likely to suffer from the dual challenges of population growth and climate change.

Access2innovation matters, most especially for those trapped in poverty and subsistence agriculture. Please join the campaign if you can.

I know scientists aren’t, and most of the time shouldn’t be, campaigners. But my fear is that if the scientific community remains silent or retreats into studied neutrality, it cedes ground to those who have no interest in objective truth. I’m thinking, for instance, of the anti-GMO activists in Uganda who visit remote farming districts armed with photoshopped images of babies’ heads emerging from ears of corn.

Or those who spread rumours in Muslim constituencies again in Uganda of GMO bananas containing genes from pigs, nearly causing riots in the process. I don’t think scientists should stay neutral in the face of such blatant and destructive misinformation campaigns.

With this in mind it is important not to under-estimate the anti-GMO movement or to misunderstand its objectives. Yes, there are specific campaigns about labelling and particular issues like weed resistance, which are reasonable and need addressing.

But it seems pretty clear to me as a long-time observer and a former anti-GMO campaigner myself that what the vast majority of activists seek is a permanent worldwide ban on the research and application of all forms of crop biotechnology.

In other words what they are trying to do is prohibit an entire field of human scientific endeavour. This really is an extraordinary demand – analagous to burning a library of books before anyone has a chance to read them.

Who knows what benefits this emerging field of knowledge might deliver? If the antis have their way, we will never know, and never find out. They think they already know the answers, and therefore science must stop. Can there be a bigger challenge to the values of the Enlightenment that are supposed to guide the modern age?

More prosaically, there are also direct economic losses attributable to this blocking of GM rice. A recent paper by Demont and Stein, published in New Biotechnology journal, estimates the benefits foregone by the non-commercialisation of GM rice at $64 billion per year.

Put this another way. The cost to the global economy of the anti-GMO movement’s activities just for rice alone is $64 billion a year, a loss of income that primarily affects poorer farmers and countries here in Asia. This is the price paid by real people for the current global campaign of misinformation on GMOs.

Let me give you a very specific non-rice example that I am intimately familiar with. Cornell University scientists were involved in helping Bangladeshi scientists develop a genetically modified eggplant that promises to allow farmers to dramatically reduce pesticide spraying on this important vegetable.

What happens currently on conventional brinjal is that farmers are forced to spray 80-100 times during the growing season to control the fruit and shoot borer pest. Farmers almost never wear protective clothing, and tens of thousands succumb to poisoning each year. Consumers, meanwhile, are threatened with brinjal containing very high pesticide residues.

However, anti-GMO activists, all funded ultimately by rich countries in Europe through various NGOs, have done their utmost to block this technology. When I visited numerous farmers who were the first to grow the crop this year in Bangladesh, every single one had been visited by activists telling them they would contract cancer, that their children and even grandchildren would be paralysed, and that they should carry on growing conventional brinjal and spraying pesticides instead.

No wonder that the Bangladeshi agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury has suggested that pesticides companies – who stand to lose markets if Bt brinjal is successful – are now in direct collaboration with anti-GMO activists. I heard such stories myself at grassroots level, but have so far not been able to confirm them first-hand.

The antis know the stakes are high in each case. If they can block a single GMO, then they can likely block all of them – as with Bt brinjal in neighbouring India, where a spineless populist politician called Jairam Ramesh allowed the antis to bias the political process towards an eventual moratorium in 2010.

Nothing has happened since in India, and the new Modi government is far from assured of being able to open the process up again.

In Bangladesh, the activists know that if they can stop farmers being able to grow Bt brinjal, then they also stand a good chance of blocking blight-resistant potato, and golden rice, both currently in the country’s development pipeline.

This is why access to innovation is such an important concept and campaign.

If this analysis seems unduly pessimistic, you only need to remember what happened right here in Thailand. I am very familiar with this case too, having co-authored a book chapter on the fate of Thailand’s GMO papaya with my Cornell Alliance for Science colleague Sarah Davidson Evanega. This chapter is now published in the Oxford Handbook of Food, Politics and Society, available online.

Very briefly, Greenpeace was able to stop virus-resistant GM papaya being made available to farmers in Thailand. This is the same virus-resistance technology that saved the Hawaiian papaya industry from annihilation after the ringspot virus began to spread rapidly there in the late 1990s.

But in Thailand, just as with rice currently in China, some seeds were used by farmers before official approval – and Greenpeace successfully created a media firestorm using the loaded term ‘contamination’ that embarrassed the government and stopped the project in its tracks.

Some of the saddest images I have seen since I began working on this issue show the researchers on the Thai papaya project being forced to destroy and bury their healthy papaya trees in pits on the research site. They were forced to destroy their own many years of hard scientific work, and today the only GM papaya seeds are under lock and key in a fridge.

Greenpeace successfully blocked access to innovation, not just for one project, but for the entire crop biotechnology sector in a whole country – a tragic situation which persists to this day.

These high stakes explain why activists are if anything even more determined to block GMO projects that potentially have a high humanitarian or environmental value. The best example of this, which I mentioned earlier, is Golden Rice.

You will doubtless all know about the vandalism of one of IRRI’s Golden Rice field trials in August last year. What you might not have heard is that the activist groups behind this destruction – not including Greenpeace in this case – actually received funding which originated with the Swedish government, specifically the Swedish International Development Agency.

Several Swedish plant scientists protested to the Swedish government at the time, but to date there has still been no official investigation nor any assurance given that funding to this group will be discontinued. So one of the richest countries in the world will potentially continue to fund destructive activities that threaten the lives of thousands in the poorest countries.

In fact I am worried that the situation may deteriorate further now the Green Party has joined the ruling coalition in Sweden after the recent elections. I would appeal to the Greens to consider the humanitarian objectives of Golden Rice and to carefully consider the available scientific evidence before making any decision.

Unfortunately, the Green Party member of the Swedish Gene Technology Advisory Board has publicly declared that he will vote against the approval of any GMO irrespective of any scientific evidence that may ever be presented to him.

For Green politicians, this isn’t science, it is religion. And they risk betraying the cause they are pledged to serve, that of protecting the environment, because they ignore environmental science.

Let me be clear. Religious thinking should have no role in an evidence-based risk assessment process. The problem with ideologies is that they start with conclusions and marshall facts to support them. Good science has conclusions as the end point, not the beginning.

Because ideologists already know the answers, they are not interested in evidence. They are only interested in seeing their worldview prevail. This results in a creeping authoritarianism, based on groupthink and peer pressure starting with rich-world elites.

This is particularly the case when it comes to the forcible destruction of scientific research. Greenpeace, for example, insists that GM crops have not been sufficiently tested even as it physically destroys any attempts to sufficiently test them.

Just last week Greenpeace launched a slick new website further denigrating the Golden Rice project and asking that people join the campaign to, quote: “Ask the Philippine government to immediately stop the field trials, the planned feed testing and eventual commercialisation of Golden Rice”.

It promotes numerous myths, calling golden rice a “fake remedy” and an “illusion”, and asserting bizarrely that rice intended to address a nutrient deficiency will somehow “undermine food and nutritional security”. Instead, Greenpeace suggests, inhabitants of slums in Manila and Mumbai should instead nurture organic carrots in imaginary little backyard plots.

I can only hope that Greenpeace will not join in any further vandalism attempts of Golden Rice field trials in the Philippines. Indeed I would ask the leadership of Greenpeace International, based in the Netherlands, to offer an assurance to this effect to Filipino scientists – that they will not destroy ongoing scientific research that could have a high value to humanity.

But the omens are not good. In Australia, Greenpeace destroyed a wheat trial promising to dramatically improve the productivity and nutritional quality of wheat. In the Philippines, Greenpeace destroyed Bt brinjal being tested in the fields of the University of the Philippines, Los Banos. There are numerous other examples.

Compare this attack on science by anti-GMO greens with the attacks on climate science by the political Right. As Fred Pearce wrote recently in the NewScientist, even the worst climate sceptics don’t go round smashing up thermometers.

The anti-GMO lobby is full-scale psychological denial – refusing to admit that the expert opinions of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, numerous Academies of Science around the world, the American Medical Association and every relevant academic body in the world adds up to a meaningful scientific consensus on the inherent safety of GM technology.

This does not mean of course that every GMO will always be safe – it means that GM technology almost certainly presents no inherent process-based risk, and should therefore be assessed on a case-by-case basis just like everything else, not opposed in totality as a class.

So why does any of this matter? It matters, in rice at least, because there are numerous projects using crop biotechnology that could make a meaningful contribution to delivering a food-secure and sustainable world this century.

Golden Rice is the poster child, and has received a lot of attention, but there are many others. In West Africa, for example, NEWEST rice is proceeding well in field trials. NEWEST stands for nitrogen-efficient, water-efficient, salt-tolerant. This rice aims to improve both the productivity and sustainability of rice production across sub-Saharan Africa. And yes, it is GM – these genetic traits could simply not be brought in together using conventional breeding.

An even more ambitious project is C4 rice, another international collaborative scientific project being piloted by IRRI. Converting rice from using the C3 to the C4 photosynthetic pathway could result in dramatic productivity gains – again resulting in more rice per unit of land, water and fertiliser.

As well as golden rice at IRRI, good progress is being made towards iron rice, thanks to a ferritin gene added from soybean that codes for iron storage. Iron rice could help address anaemia, which affects more than 1 billion people globally, particularly poor women and children.

By way of ending, let me be clear that I don’t want my pro-GM musings here to be the flip-side of the anti-GM movement. I am not religiously attached to the technology. There are of course numerous non-GM rice breeding projects which are already delivering clear benefits in the real world.

A great example would be Kenongy Xu, David Mackill and Pam Ronald’s discovery of a gene for submerence tolerance, and the subsequent development of scuba rice by breeders at the International Rice Research Institute. This flood-tolerant rice, which Bob Zeigler highlighted in his opening keynote speech earlier this week, is now protecting millions of farmers’ rice harvests even during flood events.

And yet I know Pam would be the first to defend the right of plant breeders to use GM technology when conventional breeding or other strategies cannot deliver. Saying GM should be banned because non-GM also works is like saying mobile phones should be banned because people can already make phone calls using landlines.

And yet I am sad to say that Greenpeace is today right here in Bangkok launching a report calling for transgenic techniques to be banned because plant breeders can use marker-assisted selection instead. Greenpeace do not seem to have realised that many researchers are already using both technologies simultaneously, because they do different things. Forcing scientists to choose between two different but complementary technologies betrays a wilful lack of understanding of the basics of crop genetic research and development.

Moreover I reject this assertion by Greenpeace and many other campaigners that this is somehow an either-or situation. I don’t think we have to choose between GM and agro-ecological farming – I think they can be complementary and mutually supporting. There are numerous important lessons that organic and ecological farming methods have to offer conventional farming.

For example, it is important to move away from monoculture and to promote crop genetic diversity, not least to reduce vulnerability to pests and disease epidemics. Cover crops, widely used by organic farmers, can help fix nitrogen, reduce erosion and add organic matter to otherwise degraded soils. Integrated pest management, crop rotation, native wildlife refuge strips… all have an important part to play alongside improved seed breeding.

So let me end by praising the activities you are all involved with in rice growing, whether using GM technology or not. Most here will acknowledge that we need a second Green Revolution in rice, one that delivers increased productivity combined with increased sustainability. Let us not throw out any tools that can help deliver this better world.

And then, in the words of the founder of the first Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, we must “take it to the farmer”. This is the leap we have yet to make with GM rice, anywhere in the world. I would hope that by the time of the next International Rice Congress, in 2018, many more rice breeding projects – whether GM or not – will be out in the field delivering benefits to farmers.

And I hope these benefits to farmers will also be benefits to consumers and benefits to the environment. Rice is too important a crop to be locked out of the biotechnology revolution. For the sake of 3 billion rice consumers, and for the sake of the world’s environment, we can and must use this technology where appropriate to make farming more productive and more environmentally sustainable.

Thank you.


  1. Buck Field

    Despite marked differences, expanding the definition of “breeding” to include artificial cell competence through unnatural conditions to insert alien genes seems a bit like expanding the definition of “romance” to include artificial compliance of a young lady by drugging her to obtain sex. Both appear to seek selfish gain while transferring the bulk of risk and harm to others.

    While both perpetrators tend to consider and claim themselves and their efforts justified, in the case of date rape, popular opposition has succeeded in outlawing those who violate norms for informed consent based on understanding of potential consequences. In the case of GM, “it’s fine and probably would have happened anyway” is regarded by some as valid…even admirable. In the other, we have very good, clear, criminal law putting such claims in a more generally accepted context.

    Opposition to widespread consumption of synthetic materials not rigorously tested by evolution or in the case of GMO’s: best FDA practices may be due to emotional instincts, but from a risk management perspective, they appear to be good instincts.

    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      Comparing GMOs to rape – that’s classy.

      Have you been talking to Vandana Shiva by any chance?

    2. Buck Field

      Fearing such a response, I’d hoped for better.

      Since obviously, neither “classiness” nor personal conversation bears on the validity of any claim, your snark seems dishonest to the degree it’s conscious – but I don’t take it that way.

      Instead, the reaction appears to vent a sincere emotion. You probably have to deal with a lot of unreasonable opposition, and I know how that can get.

      It’s important to avoid the strawman of attacking zealots, whose religious devotion is weaker that the strongest opposing position. When we fail, we become not the opposite of the zealot, but a reflection.

      A strong, reasonable-sounding position might be: “Rigorous scientific testing prior to deployment of anything that entails (currently) unknown downside risk is proper.” Destroying that claim with evidence would be productive, for example: citing a reputable health risk management best practice that yields a different result.

      I agree with you GMO’s “should be assessed on a case-by-case basis just like everything else”. Where we diverge is that I apply this rule in what seems a more even-handed way. I want it to apply in contexts of opposition (where you insist it be rigorously applied) as well as support, a situation about which you seem silent.

      I’ll be delighted to support GMO’s if and when good evidence supports it is indeed the free lunch panacea corporate marketing propaganda claims. If it turns out that GM tech really is a dream miracle, fine. If it turns out (as seems likely) to be a technology like every other technology since mastering fire, with pluses and minuses, we ought to be able to make reasonable guesses about how to deal with them. I’d like that.

      Unlike the boogie-man anti/pro-GMO zealots against which others rail, I don’t believe that just because one is classy/not, fan/hater of Vandana Shiva, and/or a reincarnation of Hitler that justifies any claim as right or wrong.

      I doubt you really believe that either. Difficulty of applying criteria with an even hand is a flag to me that I’m doing something wrong.

    3. Clyde Davies

      God, you’re a sanctimonious prick, Buck.

    4. Clyde Davies

      People are starving and dying either because they can’t get enough to eat or what they do eat doesn’t contain the correct nutrients. GMOs are far more likely to improve than worsen this situation, and other risks have been shown to be negligible.

      If Buck’s kind of thinking is indicative of all ‘risk management consultants’, then they ought to be consigned to the Golgafrinchan B-Ark along with Vandana Shiva, Greenpeace and the remaining useless third of the population who have no real ideas of their own and just stand in the way of those who do.

    5. Buck Field

      I agree with your claims of potential GMO upsides, and would even go farther than “the risks have been shown to be negligible”. In fact, there appear more studies which show there are neither risks nor health impacts.

      Setting aside suspicions any result so one-sided should arouse, and ignoring the unprecedented involvement of corporate lawyers in altering regulations surrounding GMO’s, my concern is that GMO studies do not seem to be of the same type and quality we would properly expect of any new drug or food additive.

      Is it that we disagree about the type & quality of studies, the principle of substantial equivalence (i.e.:”food is food”), or something else?

  2. Jonathan Brown

    There is no shortage of rice. Part of the problem is the promotion of consumption of “staple” foods rather than the promotion of varied balanced diets.

    Most of the so-called shortages of rice are caused by nations hoarding rice to increase prices or to gain political power. Recent examples of supposed rice shortages were in 2008 and again in 2011. The reality was that there was more than enough rice to go around.It was classic stories of shortages that weren’t.

    To look at rice in abstract from politics is a bit like considering the Irish potato famine without any reference to absentee landlords.

    The rice business is full of shadowy trade deals, corrupt government officials, and warehouses full of rice in countries that don’t need it.

    Japan has signed only a few limited free trade agreements, thanks to its tough stance on agricultural tariffs. Consumers pay more than twice the global average price for rice, and four times more for wheat. That said they did not suffer in the supposed rice shortages of 2008 and 2011.

    Unlike rice, Japan-grown vegetables do face global competition, with most import levies between 0 percent and 3 percent. Even so, around four-fifths of the vegetables the Japanese consume are homegrown. Vegetable growers, in Japan, on average earn far more than rice farmers. Much of the rice growing business in Japan is on the verge of collapsing as a consequence of those subsidies.

    The assertion that Greenpeace is somehow the evil demon responsible for all the political animosity towards GMO rice is to a great extent misplaced – it suits governments to be seen to oppose GMO rice for many complex and diverse reasons.

    The promotion of GMO’s as some “magic wand” answer to the supply of rice is also over-hyped, simplistic rubbish that disregards the changing nature of agriculture, poverty, what people eat, working practises (most of us need fewer calories), politics and so on.

  3. Justin

    Monsanto & GMOs:

    Patented seeds. Essentially a patent on life and altering how nature works.
    Runs farmers out of business.
    Kills bees with toxic pesticides. (CCD)
    Spends millions to deny people the right to know what is in their food.
    No long term studies. No labels
    Sues states that get GMO labels.
    Has not “fed the world”. Ask families of the thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide.
    Increased pesticide use due to gradual resistance.
    Created a new “Super Weed”. Google it.
    Banned in many countries and labeled in more.
    Have a revolving door with the FDA. (Michael Taylor)
    Suppress and discredit opposition. (Thierry Vrain, Irina Ermakova, Seralini)
    Poisoning humans, animals and the environment for profit and control.
    Keeping us sick and big pharma rich.

    Took over our food supply without knowledge, consent or long term studies. Many people are still clueless most of their food is now either sprayed with a toxic pesticide or comes with one built inside it.
    We now have less nutrition, less yields, more pesticides, sick animals and sick humans. People are still starving. It was all lies and propaganda and so is this article above. BUT, please don’t believe me, do your own research. The same chemical company that gave us Agent Orange, DDT & PCBs controls our food. Wake up. Eat real food. Buy organic. Grow some of your own. Vote with your dollar. Find a ‘March Against Monsanto’ near you. Watch “The World According to Monsanto” on YouTube. Visit Tell a friend to tell a friend. Say no to GMO.

    P.S. – The White House and Monsanto cafeteria serve ORGANIC FOOD, NOT GMO. Just a fun fact for the day. Peace.

    1. Rebecca Gavin

      Your entire comment is chock full of false information, or perhaps more correctly, disinformation. But rather than a tiring exercise in taking it apart point by point and posting links that you will never read…I will focus on your last statement. That is nonsense. That is a myth/rumor that has been disproved many times over. They do not serve only organic food in the Monsanto cafeterias. Period. I don’t know about the White House, but I would seriously doubt that claim, as well.

    2. Scott

      If they don’t, they should. Every cafe should.

      As far as the rest? Some parts are exaggerated. And what? It doesn’t change the fact that modern organic methods are much better for both the environment and human health.

  4. Robert Bright

    Thank you to Jonathon Brown and Buck Field for their well thought out and reasoned comments. Sadly, when dealing with tobacco science/ pseudo-science/ corporate science promoters like Mark Lynas, there is rarely the opportunity for rational critical debate, as they simply do not believe in such a thing. Their’s is a world of black and white, right and wrong, with no subtlety and no shades of grey. They are the ‘all or nothing’ contingent of the anti-science movement, promoted by corporatocracy (plutocracy, oligarchy — whatever you want to name it) and are blinded to anything that does not provide them with a dollar sign.
    It’s sad to think this is the direction science is going — used as a blunt and unrefined instrument to benefit a small, wealthy, handful of elites at the expense of everyone else. Their language is reminiscent of the old church-run Inquisition (and I fear their intentions are no better.)

    1. Buck Field

      I have no reason to think Mark Lynas does not believe in rational debate, but whether he is or not has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the merit of specific claims.

      You (and Brown) seem to be largely casting aspersions and making what seem overbroad assertions. This suggests any claims made re: my comments being “well thought out” would be based more on emotional appeal than reliable assessment of their solidity.

    2. Jan Woods

      Rob is right on target with his assessment of Mark Lynas and most pro GMO folks. They try to elevate GMO to the status of a religion–take their word for it they say, believe their promises, don’t look at the evidence–how failed a technology it is and always has been and will be–BELIEVE the high priests of GMO when they tell you to lay aside any rational worries and TRUST THEM. I cannot count the number of times I have been told that I can’t have an opinion on GMOs because I am not–they think–a scientist. The attempt to limit debate on GMOs to what happens in the laboratory and not what is actually happening in the real world is a typical low-life magician’s trick. This way of debate is hardly “rational”; it is arrogant, irrational and deceptive. Argentina went full GMO, and that is all the evidence any rational person needs to decide how much to believe in the promise of GMOs. Getting beyond direct health effects of ingesting GMO foods, Argentina highlights the social, environmental and economic devastation brought about by massive conversion to mono crop GMO. The country went into famine–small farmers were driven off their land and a corrupt few gained control of huge mono-culture farms. The crops were then sold overseas and those few became rich, while the small farmers and people they used to feed starved. In the meantime, aerial spraying of glyphosate more than doubled the rates of kidney disease, cancer and birth defects–and death– in the countryside and villages near the industrial farms. GMO is a cash cow for a few and a death sentence for the rest. No one in good conscience can promote this type of “agriculture.” (I guess Buck Field wants to be a one man show Rob. The only “rational” anti-GMOer among heathens.)

  5. Debbie Owen

    Well I am no scientist, just an ordinary person, but even I can tell this speech is full of outright lies. GMO crops have never been about feeding the world, that has already been proven not to be true so I don’t know why anyone would believe that GMO rice would be any different. One example of how the author of this speech is intentionally trying to mislead people is when he speaks of Bt corn reducing the amount of insecticide sprayed. What he doesn’t mention is that the Bt corn is genetically engineered to produce it’s own insecticide and that it is even registered with the EPA as a pesticide! Bt corn is in so many of our food products such as cereal, do we really want Bt rice as well? What will the cumulative effects of all these repeated doses of poison have on our health? Another thing that isn’t mentioned is that use of herbicides has skyrocketed because of GMO crops.
    The fact that the author of this speech tries to fool people into thinking that Golden Rice would have been a good thing and that Greenpeace and activists are to blame for it’s failures is also very telling. No one else is to blame, the IRRI themselves say that Golden Rice is “still under development and evaluation”, in other words millions of dollars later it is still not ready. GMO Golden Rice is not needed, it is way to expensive and is not as effective as supplements and a variety of veggies would be when it comes to vitamin A. Besides the study for Golden Rice is skewed (as are often done with GMO crops), the people in the study had to eat this rice with 10% of the meal being butter. Who would actually ever eat their rice with so much butter, especially in poor countries?
    One thing I got from this speech, loud and clear, it comes from someone who studied politics and speaks for the GMO biotech companies whose only concerns are their own profit. These are the same companies that spend millions of dollars to fight GMO labeling, they don’t want us to know what is in our food. If GMOs were safe they would have just labeled them in the first place and saved a fortune.

  6. Sadie

    I am sorry but ‘NEWEST’ rice is destined to fail like all Genetically Engineered crops have failed including Golden Rice..

    Golden rice falls at first hurdle

    Scientist tries to sue journal for planning to retract discredited Golden Rice study…
    Chinese authorities issued US$13,000 to each of the parents whose children were illegally experimented on GM Rice, the families are also demanding proof that their children will not suffer long-term health effects from the GM rice:

    GM Golden Rice Paper to Be Retracted Amid Ethics Scandal

    ALL of the wonderful promises made by the genetic engineering corporations have proven false. I am not anti-science but I am anti-science strictly for 1. big AgriChemical cartel profit and 2. take over of the food supply. 3. No reasonable long term independent studies showing safety for us and the environment. I also do not appreciate me and my family being their science experiment. I pity the families and the children who were used in the golden rice experiments without their knowledge.

    THE GMO EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES (covers all the false promises)

    10 REASONS WHY we don’t need GM foods
    1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
    2. GM crops do not increase yield potential
    3. GM crops increase pesticide use
    4. There are better ways to feed the world
    5. Other farm technologies are more successful
    6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat
    7. Stealth GMOs are in animal feed — without consumers’ consent
    8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers
    9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist, GM contamination of conventional and organic
    10. We can’t trust GM companies
    with references

    Once released into the wild, it will replicate. There is no way to recall it if it is found to do harm…

    How long before it’s too late?
    GMO crops contaminating non-GMO crops across globe through cross-pollination.

    This is my biggest fear.. Putting genes back in bottles.

    Experimenting With Life by David Suzuki
    “The difference with GM food is that once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be difficult or impossible to stuff it back. ”

    We just do not need these mad scientist experiments. They are ruining biodiversity, our air, water and soil and killing off many needed species…

  7. Anne Temple

    Mark, I was exhausted by the time I got through reading your article, not because it was so long, but because it spent so much time spinning the pro-GMO science drivel that we have heard time and time again. “We must come up with a science based solution….” blah blah blah.

    I will not even pretend to have the written elegance of Buck Brown, because I am just a simple person living in Wisconsin, but will I say is this:

    We have always had everything we have ever needed to feed the world, and before we stepped in and mucked up the works, the weed problem was rarely every talked about. But we thought we knew better and tried to bend her to our will, and just like in the movie “Jurassic Park”, nature always finds a way.

    Well man, especially greedy ones, aren’t going to accept that, and have basically lied and cheated their way to our current pitiful situation by getting people to worship at the altar of pharmaceutical, scientific and corporate mysticism. They are hoping that we will be too stupid, ignorant or lazy to challenge “science”. Well, I have news for you, “science” has spoken and has clearly told us that what is being done is NOT working.

    We already have enough food to feed the world. We have more than enough, so please put that argument to rest. The problem isn’t the amount of food, it’s the logistics of getting it to the people who need it most.

    And the fact that bio-tech is hopping around gleefully talking about saving lives by getting more vitamin A into the bananas and blah blah blah. How about the fact that glyphosate is a chelator? How about the fact that it is grabbing a hold of essential minerals and phyto-nutrients that the plants need to thrive. Yeah, it is what helps to kill the weeds, and then the crop is able to soak up the glyphosate and the animals eat it, and they get sick cause they aren’t getting the essential nutrients they need, and then we are eating the animals and the crops and WE aren’t getting the nutrients we need and we get sick. Its so simple that I could explain this to a first grade class and they could understand it.

    But the biotech industry doesn’t want to talk about that, cause they have shareholders they would rather talk to. Those pesky little first graders aren’t going to help their bottom line.

    So, my bottom line is this, until Dow and Monsanto pony up their seeds and nasty chemicals and give them freely to some independent scientists that have NO ties to the biotech industry, please just shut the hell up, cause we don’t want to hear any more of your idiotic industry driven rhetoric.

    1. Clyde Davies

      “So, my bottom line is this, until Dow and Monsanto pony up their seeds and nasty chemicals and give them freely to some independent scientists that have NO ties to the biotech industry, please just shut the hell up, cause we don’t want to hear any more of your idiotic industry driven rhetoric.” – See more at:

      I love the way that the antis like Anne simply deal with opinion unencumbered by mere fact.

      According to an NPR interview with Gary Toenniessen of the Rockefeller Foundation, the story of Golden Rice began in 1984 with an after-work brainstorming of a group of breeders at a meeting at IRRI. The idea that was discussed there – that regular white rice does not provide enough beta-carotene to protect children from vitamin A deficiency and that they can be harmed for the rest of their lives – persuaded Toenniessen to start a Rockefeller programme to develop “yellow rice”. You can read the interview here:

      So GR has NOTHING to do with Monsanto and EVERYTHING to do with independent breeders and scientists, save for some IP that Syngenta donated. If people like me and Mark shut the hell up, we’d simply be allowing people like you to peddle your nonsense unchallenged.

  8. John Green

    Transgenic will do nothing but suck up research and development funding where cheaper, more effective methods of providing nutrition and increasing yield already exist. And they exist without creating a system whereby biotechnology companies stand to benefit without proving anything that could not have been provided without them.

  9. Adrian Dubock

    Buck, in note in your 3.57pm message you ask “Is what we disagree about….or something else”.

    I think it may be something else: the nature of selection used to produce new crop varieties, including those grown by organic farmers.
    For plant breeders to improve a trait by selection and introgression through generations they have to have at least a trace of the trait of interest to begin with. When it is absent, or they need more variation to work with, they have, since the 1940’s created it. Almost all crop varieties today have been initiated in a process which purposefully induced random genetic changes in the plant through inducing mutagenesis using irradiation or chemical mutagens. (see ) This process mutates hundreds or thousands of genes, and deletes whole chromosomes sometimes. There is a lot of plasticity in genetics and most plants grow fine. The ones without useful characteristics are literally weeded out by the plant breeders. The useful ones are developed further into the crop varieties which end up on our plates. No one tries to identify what has happened at a molecular level, because it’s not important.

    At the molecular level there is no difference between conventional breeding, including these techniques of inducing random genome changes and recombinant DNA technology use in genetic engineering to make gmo crops. Natural molecular evolution of genetic variants also, and genetic engineering, involve the same three processes: small local changes in nucleotide sequence, internal reshuffling of genomic DNA segments, and acquisition of small segments of DNA from another type of organism by horizontal gene transfer (which is a common and naturally occurring phenomenon).

    The same genetic engineering techniques as are used to create gm crops are also used to produce a wide range of pharmaceuticals (such as insulin essential to keep diabetics alive) and food processing enzymes routinely used in the manufacture of all bread, cheese, wine, and beer. 70% of processed food in the US contains components obtained from GM-crops. Europe’s animal feed industry would collapse without imported supplies of gmo-feed meal from soya and maize.

    We are currently about 7.2 billion, and already around 1 -2 billion are either macro and or micro-nutrient deficient – eg starving. And the world is already consuming more than 1.5 times the current world’s sustainable capacity present (

    Gm-crop technology is just another seed breeding technology. It only needs to be used when other techniques can’t deliver. But it can, and has delivered.

    You admit that safety is clear. And it is only the gmo-crop-opposition which reinforces the oligopoly which denies developing countries and small companies and universities the opportunity to participate. The opposition does this by driving up the costs and risks of research and development so only large(ish) companies can afford them. (Actually all agri-businesses, even the largest ones, are small by comparison with big companies in other sectors. Everything is relative.)

    Anyway, even if you are still unpersuaded, thanks for your thoughtful dialogue – it makes a change from the ‘ranters’.

    1. Buck Field

      I’m curious why you might think we disagree about the historical development of artificial mutagenesis…ontologically speaking.

      The fact is I neither know nor care sufficiently about that history to justify any agreement or disagreement as it has no obvious evidential weight to my claim regarding the need for strong, reliable testing.

      Casting my opinion as one of “GMO safety is clear” indicates a fairly large misunderstanding. I would compare the evidence for GMO safety on a par with the evidence for atomic bomb safety provided by Patrick Stout’s photo ops at Trinity in ’45.

      As for GM being just another seed breeding technology: Let’s assume a man accused of rape claims “Ours was just another hookup” for both of them, and that the claim is technically true in rough approximation. His claim, having no bearing on whether he had broken a good and important rule, is properly rejected as irrelevant, however accurate.

      When interested in reliable inquiry, we reject nebulous (but accurate) views in favor of more granular, better elaborated, and precise views capable of informing us on the question at hand: such as potential adverse conditions.

      It seems we prefer gross categorical views to easily available, informative analysis when we feel a need to support apathy, perhaps motivated by a desire to avoid dealing with a less-preferred outcome.

  10. Adrian Dubock

    Buck, in note in your 3.57pm message you ask “Is what we disagree about….or something else”.
    I think it may be something else: the nature of selection used to produce new crop varieties, including those grown by organic farmers.
    For plant breeders to improve a trait by selection and introgression through generations they have to have at least a trace of the trait of interest to begin with. When it is absent, or they need more variation to work with, they have, since the 1940’s created it. Almost all crop varieties today have been initiated in a process which purposefully induced random genetic changes in the plant through inducing mutagenesis using irradiation or chemical mutagens. (see ) This process mutates hundreds or thousands of genes, and deletes whole chromosomes sometimes. There is a lot of plasticity in genetics and most plants grow fine. The ones without useful characteristics are literally weeded out by the plant breeders. The useful ones are developed further into the crop varieties which end up on our plates. No one tries to identify what has happened at a molecular level, because it’s not important.
    At the molecular level there is no difference between conventional breeding, including these techniques of inducing random genome changes and recombinant DNA technology use in genetic engineering to make gmo crops. Natural molecular evolution of genetic variants also, and genetic engineering, involve the same three processes: small local changes in nucleotide sequence, internal reshuffling of genomic DNA segments, and acquisition of small segments of DNA from another type of organism by horizontal gene transfer (which is a common and naturally occurring phenomenon).
    The same genetic engineering techniques as are used to create gm crops are also used to produce a wide range of pharmaceuticals (such as insulin essential to keep diabetics alive) and food processing enzymes routinely used in the manufacture of all bread, cheese, wine, and beer. 70% of processed food in the US contains components obtained from GM-crops. Europe’s animal feed industry would collapse without imported supplies of gmo-feed meal from soya and maize,
    We are currently about 7.2 billion, and already around 1 -2 billion are either macro and or micro-nutrient deficient – eg starving. And the world is already consuming more than 1.5 times the current world’s sustainable capacity present (
    Gm-crop technology is just another seed breeding technology. It only needs to be used when other techniques can’t deliver. You admit that safety is clear. And it is only the gmo-crop-opposition which reinforces the oligopoly which denies developing countries and small companies and universities the opportunity to participate. The opposition does this by driving up the costs and risks of research and development so only large(ish) companies can afford it. (Actually all agri-businesses, even the largest ones, are small by comparison with big companies in other sectors. Everything is relative.)
    Anyway, even if you are still unpersuaded, thanks for your thoughtful dialogue.

  11. Jonathan Brown

    For all the weasel words, bullying from Clyde and so on, let me say this – GMO’s are wonderful, shame that they don’t address the real problems that this world faces now.

    I know of no edible crop that can withstand a total absence of water. An alarming satellite-based analysis from NASA finds that the world is depleting groundwater at an unprecedented rate.

    What the pro-GMO lobby will claim is greater drought tolerance for their crops – it will be too little, too late and does not do anything to resolve the underlying problems that cause those severe droughts.

    Our seas and oceans are acidifying at an unprecedented rate. Shellfish, a critical part of the food chain and a key factor in cleansing waters of diseases, are dying in vast numbers. Elsewhere, flooding has become the real concern washing essential nutrients from the soil.

    The evidence is conclusive, not that GMO’s are intrinsically bad, but that they are wholly inadequate in addressing the multiple and different risk issues and threats that we face. GMO’s are a simplistic, two dimensional solution to a multi-dimensional range of problems.

    If all fruits and vegetables, whether or not they were GMO, had to conform to a 1950’s rate of micronutrient content – the result would be that most stores globally would have little or no fruit or vegetables to sell.

    The scale of the problems are significant and arguing about GMO’s or not, does not allow room for any debate of those far more pressing issues.

    1. Jan Woods

      It’s been shown a number of times that organic crops do better under stress and drought that GMO crops do. University of Wisconsin, University of Washington, Union of Concerned Scientists, the UN and Rodales are a few of the places that conducted studies. Permaculture, hydroponics (water reused in a number of ways), biodynamics, etc. all show more promise than GMOs under drouhgt conditions. The power of propaganda surrounding GMO is simply amazing. Black is white, white is black…

    2. Clyde Davies

      Bullying? You must have led a very sheltered lifestyle. Let’s get something straight here. Mark Lynas wrote a book called ‘The God Species’ where he outlines nine planetary boundaries to human population growth, and also boundaries which we cross at both our peril and that of the environment. One of those was the freshwater boundary. So talking about there being ‘no room for any debate of these issues’ is quite simply bollocks. If you’d read the book, like I have, then you’d know this.

      However, I’ve got the impression by now that you much prefer the sound of your own voice to that of other people’s, and that you are totally preoccupied with your own perspective. Mark is outlining how a useful tool might be deployed and is being prevent from so doing by those who think that we know all the answers already to the extent of prohibiting even asking the questions in the first place.

      And as for Buck’s comparing GMOs to rape, that’s the lamest and possibly the most offensive line of argument I’ve come across so far. It’s down there with Sandra Harding’s comparison of Newton’s Principia to a ‘rape manual’.

    3. Buck Field


      If we are unwilling to apply to ourselves the same rules we apply to others, we are hypocrites, and have excused ourselves from rational adult conversation, especially regarding any moral issue.

      You falsely attribute to me a comparison I didn’t make, and then suggest it should be dismissed based on your personal emotional reaction.

      The comparison was epistemically synthetic, not ontologically descriptive. Even if you don’t get that, surely you can understand that emotions of readers have no bearing on the truth of any claim.

      Whether opponents or supporters attack or praise, their feedback is only reliable to the degree it’s justified. This is why I reject Brown & Bright’s unjustified support for my opinion (almost) as well as Mark and Clyde’s irrational objections.

      Contrary to Jan’s assertion that I want to be a one-man show: I want everyone to meet in the arena where honesty, truth, and respect for productive dialog are the foundation. Without it, publicly changing one’s mind can be regarded as very threatening.

      Far from being anti-GMO, I’m pro-management and believe we should apply our best knowledge practices, wherever they lead. To do that, we must commit to conservative, careful weighing of evidence for all options in situations with potentially extreme impacts.

      But for this to happen, our first loyalty must be to the process. If we can commit to that, every time we change our mind based on our commitment, it’s a win – and we have the opportunity to thank our “opponent” for changing our minds.

      These are very pleasant conversations, and ones I’ve had and hope to continue to have with both GMO advocates and critics who present solid info for specific claims.

  12. Jonathan Brown

    Clyde at least you confirm the multi-dimensional nature of the problems we face and that the availability of freshwater is but one of those.

    Now tell me please how any GMO crop has really addressed any of those other issues that I referred to earlier? Food security – yields drop after a few seasons of GMO’s, so it’s not feeding the world.

    Mark does acknowledge how “intensive” or “standard” US farming systems have contributed to those problems Even the US Department of Agriculture and the EPA admit those hazards and risks.

    To deal with one of Mark’s other comments about the Bayer 2006 fine of $750 million – To cite the Bayer 2007 annual report: “A long-term investor who purchased Bayer shares for €10,000 five years ago (i. e. on January 1, 2003) and reinvested all dividends would have seen the value of the position grow to €37,846 as of December 31, 2007, giving an average annual return of 30.5 percent. That huge fine and delisting from the New York Stock Exchange really hurt Bayer…

    The 2008 report includes: “Biotechnology enables plants to deliver high, stable yields over the long term in spite of fluctuating environmental conditions.” – DR. Michael METZLAFF, Research Liaison Manager Bayer CropScience.

    Compare that in the same year, 2008, with: a study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.

    Maybe you should all check out:

    1. Clyde Davies

      Everybody who is pro-organic/anti-GMO ends up quoting the Rodale institute. Are there any other places that run any other studies that might bear out their assertions, or does a few datasets by one institute trump all the other studies out there that might suggest that alternative ways exist?

      I have never claimed that Bt crops eliminate pesticide use, only reduce it. And so what of some other bugs are now muscling in on the lepidopterans’ vacated turf? Tell me: are *all* risks out there to be run away from, or managed?

      Soil quality is important, but throughout this debate I have pointed out many times (and you have singularly ignored failed to acknowledge) that both the best of organic and biotech practices can be combined to good effect. Why can’t Golden Rice be grown organically?

      The only obstacle to this kind of approach is ideological. And from the general substance of your comments and the unwaveringly anti-GMO line you have taken and continue to take, it’s plain that you have ideology and little else to offer.

      So, I’ll spell it out in very simple terms so that you cannot dodge this issue yet again:

      I don’t care whose approach is right. Whatever approach deals with the problems these people face is the right one. There is room for a variety of approaches to be tried, and individual techniques can be combined if necessary. And champions of one approach would be better off focussing their energies on demonstrating that their way worked instead of trying to prove that somebody else’s way didn’t work.

      And I happen to think that stopping people from dying and kids from going blind from VAD is just as important as fetishising soil quality, if not more so.
      Anybody who claims the contrary is simply lacking in human decency.

      Now, this is the last time I am going to make this point. I hope to God that *this* time it’s penetrated your thick skull.

    2. Jonathan Brown

      Clyde, as I have pointed out many times Golden Rice doesn’t do the job it is supposed to do, in all the ways it is supposed to do it. Until such time as it does work, there is little point in allowing people to suffer VAD and going blind awaiting that universal panacea – that is ideological egocentricity gone bloody stupid. Then again, you know so much better than the IRRI who are developing Golden Rice.

      I did not only cite Rodale, but several other sources including the FAO that show how those economics in the Plos One report are way off. A cost of 83% just for synthetic and unsustainable chemical inputs, mostly fertilisers, is much too great a risk for most poor farmers to accept.

      This year, the World Food Programme states that Initial estimates of the consequences of drought put the number of affected and food insecure people at about 2 million in South America alone – WFP estimates 1.5 million people will need food assistance. Most severe impacts are felt by poor subsistence farmers in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

      Your suggestions are; that those farmers, with not enough to eat, should somehow borrow money, to spend 83% of any potential revenue on synthetic chemical fertiliser inputs, not including the costs of GM seeds. With annual interest rates to many of these farmers at above 17% per annum. In those circumstances, how are they supposed to make a profit? Those farmers are, after all, high risk borrowers.

      What happens in those circumstances? What would you do? Rely on charity such as micro-finance or state subsidies of fertilisers (touch forelock and say “God bless you, zur” as you forfeit part of your possible harvest ) or do you find ways to reduce the spend on synthetic chemical fertilisers whilst maintaining yields?

      You know all the answers, yet so obviously don’t understand or appreciate the economics of real poverty at all.

  13. Bill Crabtree

    Great article Mark!
    You hit many nails on the head. Your detractors should honestly declare why they are so keen to scare people off a well proven safe technology. We use it in medicine and in many smart processes. The gmo tech has been demonised and I know about 20 plant breeders personally and they all roll their eyes at the fanatical concerns whipped up against the technology – honestly, it’s a senseless waste of intellect. Time to move on folks, let this good safe technology go and do good for humanity.

  14. Jonathan Brown

    The EU chief scientist, Anne Glover, has been called a dangerous imbecile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University, over her belief that the Precautionary Principle should be abandoned with regard to GMOs.

    His co-authors are also intellectual heavyweights. They include the well-known researchers Raphael Douady at the Institute of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics in Paris and Yaneer Bar-Yam at the New England Complex Systems Institute, as well as the philosopher Rupert Read, author of “Wittgenstein among the Sciences”.

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb at New York University and a few pals say that abandonment of the precautionary principle vastly underestimates the threat posed by genetically modified organisms. “Genetically modified organisms represent a public risk of global harm,” they say. Consequently, this risk should be treated differently from those that only have the potential for local harm. They conclude that “The precautionary principle should be used to prescribe severe of limits on genetically modified organisms.”

    According to them, even more serious is the introduction of monocultures — the use of single crops over large areas. This dramatically increases the likelihood that the entire crop might fail due to the action of some invasive species, disease or change in the environment.

    1. Buck Field

      It’s fine to cite conclusions, but do you understand their reasoning which justifies the conclusions, as well as how pro-GMO reasoning also applies the principle?

      If so, how do you think we as a society ought to decide which argument is stronger?

    2. Clyde Davies

      Here’s some questions for you. We have had twenty years of growing GMOs commercially and over 3 trillion meals have been consumed.
      So (a) what possible side effects might these crops have that we have not yet discovered and (b) what is the maximum risk of such a side effect occurring? Also, (c) when should the precautionary principle give way to a risk-benefit analysis on a case by case basis, (d) what are the consequences of NOT proceeding with growing these crops and (e) who should be making these decisions: the people they are intended to benefit or the likes of Greenpeace?

      Answer these questions for me, directly, without trying to derail the debate like you usually do.

    3. Buck Field


      You have had this answered already: the most obvious and predictable consequence seem likely to be alteration of the gut biome, important for health, but largely Terra Incognita.

  15. davidflint

    Buck, Your first para is highly offensive. First, comparing defending GMOs to defending rape is highly offensive to Mark Lynas. You owe him an apology.

    Second, by doing so you introduce emotion into what ought to be a reasoned debate. That’s damaging to the rest of us who want such a debate and inconsistent with much of your other stuff. You should resolve to think really hard before saying something like that again.

    1. Buck Field

      Hi David,

      Your “criticism” was so charming, I was moved to reply.

      >Your first para is highly offensive.

      I freely admit this is plausible, given particular people at a particular time if they both hold particular views and priorities and lack others.

      Nevertheless, perhaps both we we and the thread might be better off if we leave manners to, and social analysis to social scientists?

      If you have justified belief that my contrast/comparison of rationalizations related to GMO’s vs. rape are invalid, I sincerely hope you would be willing to share your justifications. This is a case where I would be delighted to learn my preconception was in need of updating.

      >[I]…introduce emotion into what ought to be a reasoned debate

      This seems a throwback to Aristotle, or at least Kant’s transcendental idealism of the 1700’s. Since then, we’ve realized that people are inherently emotional. Neither debate nor reasoning occurs without emotion, assuming we define desires and/or wants as emotions. I think such definitions are pretty well-accepted by most.

  16. Chuck

    This post seems to have attracted a number of very knowledgeable antis. I wonder if one of you can help me in my quest to make sense of this issue. What do you consider the single most compelling study done that supports the claim that GMOs cause harm to animals or humans?

    I make my living in agriculture, and while GMOs are not represented in the crop mix I work with, at some point, I expect that will change. Unless, of course, a universal ban on the technology becomes a reality.


    1. Anne Temple

      The Seralini study was the longest done — two years, which is the life expentancy of a rat. It showed massive damage done to the rats, with most of the main damage being showed at 11-14 months, and if you take the age of the rat and compare it to humans, we haven’t even seen the full effects of the damage being done now for another decade. This study was discredited when a Monsanto man was hired at the journal it was printed in, but over 1000 scientists rallied to Seralini’s defense. Monsanto’s study was only 90 days, not long enough. You can look on his site and the study was printed there. All of us “antis” have nothing to gain by this. We just want a safe and healthy planet for us and our children.

    2. Buck Field


      The most reliable indicator I know is the long-term, opposition or suppression of open and unrestricted research by GMO related corporate boards with no obvious ties to each other – consistent for decades across complete changes of personnel.

      Plausibly accused of massive risks and/or harm, the potential advantages to free research are astronomical to these corporations, and their boards are as focused on such upside rationality as human institutions get, like the military, intel services, and science at its best.

      Consistent action of this type is highly suggestive on its own. When secrecy is enforced by the only sources with unlimited access, with high motivation for correct information, and an entire community of more or less independent boards acting all in the same way? As far as I know, there has never been a claim of safety that under such conditions was historically resolved as “reliable”.

      There are always infinite number of historical events of which we’re unaware, but as a heuristic, this seems as trustworthy an evaluative criterion as we might want, absent any evidence to the contrary.

      Such evidence might include instances where claims of safety were made with unprecedented legal interference, suppression of science, and other conditions above, where the claims of safety by corporate actors were trustworthy. I don’t know of any instances of this, nor does it seem plausible to our common sense, but it would be interesting to learn of such a case if anyone know of one.

    3. Chuck

      Thanks Anne, others have cited Seralini as well. Seems as though his work represents the gold standard to those who argue against the development of this technology.

      And thank you too, Buck, for your generous reply. It spoke volumes.

  17. Jonathan Brown

    What GMO crops tend to do is reduce biodiversity and encourage the adoption and widespread use of monoculture style of farming.

    In 1970, Southern corn leaf blight, caused by Race T of the fungus Bipolaris (Helminthosporium) maydis, forced US crop breeders to consider the detrimental effects of planting only one genotype of a crop. If the specific genotype used is not resistant to a particular invader, then the whole crop could be lost if the pathogen establishes itself in the environment. Almost 85% of US corn fields, in 1970, were planted with one type of corn, called Texas cytoplasmic male sterile (Tcms) corn. The actual pathogen was known for around 60 years but it was the combination of circumstances that made the results so devastating.

    A combination of very wet weather conditions and the high susceptibility of the Tcms corn to B. maydis race T led to rapid spread of the pathogen and a devastating epidemic. The losses of corn were catastrophic, reaching as high as 50-100% in some areas of the US. The actual food energy losses were considered to be greater than those caused by the potato late blight epidemic of the 1840’s. The economic losses from southern corn leaf blight disease totaled about 1 billion dollars.

    In a world where extremes of weather are becoming more commonplace the risks of another combination of factors coming together becomes more likely. Add to that the growth in human populations and any problems of “risk” to crops may have severe consequences.

    The precautionary principle suggests that where a catastrophe could be global rather than local, taking such risks should be very strictly controlled. Whilst there is competition between the various developers of GMO crops that does, consequentially, provide some biodiversity in the crops planted.

    Farmers (understandably) go for the crops that consistently provide most profits. Even then, the measures of overall quality, costs, price and performance are rarely considered in conjunction with long or even short term sustainability – including energy costs, carbon footprint, soil depletion, soil synthetic fertilizer additions, herbicide and or pesticide use, micronutrient content and so on.

    In these circumstances, it is very difficult to compare like with like except on a very superficial level. This problem is made worse by the granted protectionism (again, understandable) of those GMO crop developers. That said, the evidence is increasing that GMO’s are not the magic bullets that they were originally purported to be. Over 90% of all GMO’s crops planted are to provide resistance to the action of herbicides. However, it seems that that only works in the short term.

  18. Clyde Davies

    This just in:
    A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops,

    “On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.”

    1. Buck Field

      The report suggests the average use of GMO technology is a bonanza of benefits far beyond any technology ever developed or used by humans.

      Perhaps even more trailblazing: GMO crops appear to be the first instance of a technology with no adverse consequences, ever, to anyone.

      If taken at face value, these extraordinary claims suggest science has produced a technological perfection.

    2. Anne Temple

      And the amazing thing about all these reports, especially the ones stating that less pesticides/herbicides are being used? Well, take a look here. And with the fact that they won’t release ANY of their product for long-term human studies? And they just want us to take their word on it? What color are the skies in their world?

    3. Jonathan Brown

      I’m just a dumb ass know nothing non-scientist but are the guys who prepared this meta-data study ex-bankers or what?

      The study reports GM crop impacts in terms of one or more of the following outcome variables: yield, pesticide quantity (especially insecticides and herbicides), pesticide costs, total variable costs, gross margins, farmer profits.

      They say: “On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.”

      Over the same period, use of chemical fertilizers has increased by around 2% per annum simple, or nearly 43% compound. So a 43% increase in fertilizer use has only produced a 22% increase in yield? Yet fertilizer inputs are not even considered in this report.

      If pesticide (including herbicides) use is being reduced so dramatically, then why are significantly more pesticides being manufactured and used over the same period, globally?

      According to the FAO: “The food price index in 2011 at 233 crossed the earlier peak of 200 in 2008. Under such scenario, the high agricultural commodity prices provide incentives for farmers in market-oriented economies to invest in fertilizers and other inputs for higher productivity. However, it is a disincentive to invest in fertilizers, particularly on P&K for farmers having smallholdings and producing the bulk of their food production for family consumption.

      There are a few other countries, less or not responsive to price signals, such as China and India, which have strong government support in the form of direct farm subsidy or input subsidy to increase productivity in order to ensure domestic food security.”

      I know of no farmer who ploughs in dollar bills or any other currency for that matter into the ground, so to use data based upon total variable costs, gross margins and farmer profits is of dubious value in the circumstances I have given.

      As 56% of all food crops grown is by farmers having smallholdings and producing the bulk of their food production for family consumption, i.e. those who are not incentivised to use chemical fertilisers. Add to that as both China and India directly subsidise chemical fertilisers it is predictable that any meta-data study would fail any sensible reality test.

      Furthermore, the way fertilisers are being used in developed countries is radically changing to reduce costs and improve profitability.

      Finally, it is critically important to consider how the implementation of various methods to increase yield may also cause adverse side effects. What this report fails to consider is the environmental impact and cost of these adverse effects. Additional yield increases may require increased amounts of fertilizer unless accompanied by greater nitrogen-use efficiency by the crop. And depending on the type of changes in the physiology of the crop, such increases in fertilizer may provide diminishing returns—where less of the added nitrogen is used by the crop, leaving more to cause environmental degradation (Tilman et al. 2002, Figure 2). Water pollution caused by nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers degrades water quality, contributing to “dead zones”—in the Gulf of Mexico and in many other bodies of water—where oxygen levels are too low to support commercially valuable fish and other sea life (Rabalais et al. 2001; Turner and Rabalais 1994). Nitrogen Fertilizers are also the primary source of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (N2O), which is a heat-trapping gas some 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

    4. Clyde Davies

      “If taken at face value, these extraordinary claims suggest science has produced a technological perfection. ”

      No it doesn’t. The claims aren’t ‘extraordinary’ at all: they suggest that substantial gains are possible, but less than those seen under the Green Revolution. A reduction of 37% in pesticide use is a GOOD THING whichever way you look at it.

      Jonathan, in his characteristic way of trying to drag the debate away from issues which he can’t grasp properly, goes on to say:
      “Over the same period, use of chemical fertilizers has increased by around 2% per annum simple, or nearly 43% compound. So a 43% increase in fertilizer use has only produced a 22% increase in yield? Yet fertilizer inputs are not even considered in this report”

      Well, this is what the report’s authors say: “We chose the percentage difference between GM and non-GM crops for five different outcome variables, namely yield, pesticide quantity, pesticide cost, total production cost, and farmer profits per unit area. Most studies that analyze production costs focus on variable costs, which are the costs primarily affected through GM technology adoption. Accordingly, profits are calculated as revenues minus variable production costs (profits calculated in this way are also referred to as gross margins). These production costs also take into account the higher prices charged by private companies for GM seeds. Hence, the percentage differences in profits considered here are net economic benefits for farmers using GM technology.”

      Guess what: healthier, more vigorous crops producing more yield require more fertilizer. And as I have pointed out many times beforehand, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to grow a GM crop using organic methods and still see substantial gains, for instance on eliminating pesticide use, just like BT brinjal is doing in Bangladesh. The ‘fertilizer’ issue is just yet another red herring that Jonathan likes to introduce into this debate.

      And, as for Anne’s comment: the UCS is a well-known lobbying group who have been vehemently against GMOs right from the outset. I doubt very much whether this meta-analysis, which flatly contradicts their mere assertion (because that’s what it is) would change their mind. Evidence seems to count for very little in the minds of these people.

  19. Jonathan Brown

    Clyde, you missed my point completely.

    56% of all crops grown are produced by smallholder farms, mostly to feed their own families and selling any excess to generate a little extra money. They farm less good, more difficult, land than the larger “intensive” farms.

    Do you really think that those smallholder farmers keep the sort of accounts that monitor expenditure in fine detail and account for produce for home consumption (animal and human) and barter? The reality is that those smallholder farmers produce more yield per hectare, from fewer hectares than any GMO crop. Typically, they produce that 56% of all crops from less than 30% of all arable farmed land – labour intensive and not cost effective from a westernised developed nation viewpoint but survivable none the less.

    What those smallholder farmers don’t do is produce single crops in high tonnages. Therefore, the report does not and cannot compare like with like.

    A financial measure of cost does not represent the actual use by quantity when, in many countries, chemical fertilisers are free or so highly subsidised as not to appear as a deduction from gross margin but rather appear as a general overhead – often only the transport cost between depot and farm.

    Generally, gross margin is calculated as the selling price of an item, less the cost of goods sold (production or acquisition costs, essentially). The report figures tend to support that view by pointing out the differences in profitability between in developing countries supposedly being greater than those in developed countries. If fertiliser is not included in the gross margin but is reflected in overhead it would not register as part of gross profit. However, as I pointed out, it is still an artificial measure – someone somewhere has to pay for those subsidies. It is one reason why India and China are less agricultural crop price sensitive.

    If you ask a smallholder farmer in a developing country what his revenues are, he will usually reply based upon the average “market” price rather than the actual revenue received. If he or she sells half their crops at “market” price and a third at a much lower farm gate price and the remainder is family and animal feed, they will still give “market” price as the basis of their revenue. Most small to medium size smallholder farms in the developing world only survive upon credit. If the lender acknowledged just how marginal it all really was then many agrarian based economies would collapse.

    This from the Plos One report: “We estimate mean impacts of GM crop adoption on crop yield, pesticide quantity, pesticide cost, total production cost, and farmer profit.”

    I don’t think that anyone argues that in the short term GMO crops do improve crop yield – at “GM crop adoption”. However, a number of studies suggest that those short term benefits tend to be short-lived. Anne Temple’s example is but one of many. The IRRI and their yield figures for golden rice is another example of questionable yields. This headline dated 29 July this year: Will Corn and Soybean Yield Models Continue Decline?

    Few studies can or do span the period covered by the Plos One report. Yet there is no mention of this limitation within the report. What you have is a report that looks at studies that assess a switch from Non-GMO to GM crops – how can there be a meaningful comparison otherwise? If your Non-GMO crops are doing very well, thank you; then why the hell would you switch?

    The report confirms my contentions when it says: “Most studies that analyze production costs focus on variable costs, which are the costs primarily affected through GM technology adoption. Accordingly, profits are calculated as revenues minus variable production costs (profits calculated in this way are also referred to as gross margins). These production costs also take into account the higher prices charged by private companies for GM seeds. Hence, the percentage differences in profits considered here are net economic benefits for farmers using GM technology. Percentage differences, when not reported in the original studies, were calculated from mean value comparisons between GM and non-GM or from estimated regression coefficients.”

    All that the Plos One report is saying is that for a very small minority of farmers overall, who switch to GM crops will see a benefit “at adoption”.

    1. Clyde Davies

      If you spent as much time *doing* what you think is right, as you evidently do *telling* other people why they’re wrong, and then were able to show some concrete figures for why your way is better, then I’d find you credible. You just have to look at the example of the brinjal farmers to see how biotech is helping them. No pestcide spraying at all.

      You don’t. You haven’t any such figures. And you continue to lecture people like me and Mark who happen to think there are alternative ways and equally good ideas about how to solve problems with food supply about the error of our ways. Until you do come up with some concrete proof then I’ll trust the PLoS report (and countless others which say exactly the same thing)

      In other words: *do*what you think is right and leave the rest of us to encourage and support what we think is right. If the whole world operated according to this model it would be a much better place for everyone. Until then, we have to put up with clueless individuals who think that they have a great contribution to make simply by obstructing others. People like you, as a matter of fact.

    2. Jonathan Brown

      Clyde, your comments focus on a very narrow set of criteria rather than looking at the much broader range of issues that most smallholder family farmers face.

      Your assertion that the use of Bt modified GM crops eliminates the use of pesticides is BS.

      For example, specifics:

      Mirid bugs are serious pests in the cotton, strawberry, and alfalfa industries. They also damage apple blossoms and small growing fruits. The green mirid damages many types of field crops. The potato mirid is a noted pest of potato and clover plants in New Zealand.


      Long-term ecological effects of transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops on non-target pests have received limited attention, more so in diverse small holder–based cropping systems of the developing world. Field trials conducted over 10 years in northern China show that mirid bugs (Heteroptera: Miridae) have progressively increased population sizes and acquired pest status in cotton and multiple other crops, in association with a regional increase in Bt cotton adoption. More specifically, our analyses show that Bt cotton has become a source of mirid bugs and that their population increases are related to drops in insecticide use in this crop. Hence, alterations of pest management regimes in Bt cotton could be responsible for the appearance and subsequent spread of non-target pests at an agro-landscape level. Science 28 May 2010: Vol. 328 no. 5982 pp. 1151-1154, DOI:10.1126/science.1187881

      Your sublime use of the application of developed nation financial models demonstrates a profound lack of knowledge about the real economics of poverty , harvest credit financing in developing countries and so on.

      See the following is the Abstract from Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing Countries:

      Despite great recent progress, hunger and poverty remain widespread and agriculturally driven environmental damage is widely prevalent. The idea of agricultural sustainability centers on the need to develop technologies and practices that do not have adverse effects on environmental goods and services, and that lead to improvements in food productivity. Here we show the extent to which 286 recent interventions in 57 poor countries covering 37 M ha (3% of the cultivated area in developing countries) have increased productivity on 12.6 M farms while improving the supply of critical environmental services. The average crop yield increase was 79% (geometric mean 64%). All crops showed water use efficiency gains, with the highest improvement in rainfed crops. Potential carbon sequestered amounted to an average of 0.35 t C ha-1 y-1. If a quarter of the total area under these farming systems adopted sustainability enhancing practices, we estimate global sequestration could be 0.1 Gt C y-1. Of projects with pesticide data, 77% resulted in a decline in pesticide use by 71% while yields grew by 42%. Although it is uncertain whether these approaches can meet future food needs, there are grounds for cautious optimism, particularly as poor farm households benefit more from their adoption.

      or this, from the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, Volume 24, Issue 2, 2004, Evaluating the Benefits of Organic Farming in Rice Agroecosystems in the Philippines.

      Organic farming improved the soil quality. The paddy soil was loose and had deeper mud which was attributed to the higher soil organic matter (SOM) accumulating as a result of crop residue recycling at 3-4t ha−1 and animal manure 1–2 t ha−1 crop−1. Loose and deeper mud led to easier and faster land preparation (26 hrs in Conventional Farming while 16 hrs in Organic Farming), and lesser weed growth which reduced the labor required in hand weeding and time to do rotary weeding. The net revenue in organic farm was higher (332 USD ha−1) than in the conventional farm (290 USD ha−1) despite the slightly lower yields (3.25 t ha−1) in organic compared with the yields obtained (3.52 t ha−1) in the conventional farms. The higher cash cost in the conventional farms was due mainly to the agro-chemical inputs which accounted for 83.2% of the cash cost (fertilizer, 65%; pesticides, 18.2%). The fossil fuel based energy inputs (FFEI) in the organic farms was only 18.3% (546.0 Mcal ha−1) of the conventional farms (2,977.21 Mcal ha−1). For every 1 cal of fossil fuel energy used in the conventional farm, only 4 cal was produced while it was 19 cal in the organic farm. Organic farms were less energy consuming. One tonne of paddy rice utilized only 170 of FFEI while 844 Mcal in the conventional farms. The case study had shown the socio-economic, energy-use and environmental benefits of organic farming over conventional farming.

      Herbicide resistance: According to Weed Science:
      There are currently 437 unique cases (species x site of action) of herbicide resistant weeds globally, with 238 species (138 dicots and 100 monocots). Weeds have evolved resistance to 22 of the 25 known herbicide sites of action and to 155 different herbicides. Herbicide resistant weeds have been reported in 84 crops in 65 countries. The website has 1941 registered users and 442 weed scientists have contributed new cases of herbicide resistant weeds.

      and then there is the development of Bt resistant insects…

    3. Clyde Davies

      What the PLoS report says – because unlike you I have actually *read* it – is:
      “Controlling for other factors, yield gains of IR crops are almost 7 percentage points higher than those of HT crops (column 1). Furthermore, yield gains of GM crops are 14 percentage points higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Especially smallholder farmers in the tropics and subtropics suffer from considerable pest damage that can be reduced through GM crop adoption [27].”
      And then it goes on to say: ” The profit gains of GM crops are 60 percentage points higher in developing countries than in developed countries (column 6). This large difference is due to higher GM yield gains and stronger pesticide cost savings in developing countries. Moreover, most GM crops are not patented in developing countries, so that GM seed prices are lower [19].”

      That’s what matters. People are able to drag themselves out of poverty by making a profit. When I look at your vision, which basically involves you telling smallholders why they’re going wrong, and encouraging them to spend *all* their time ‘farming organically’, I tend to be reminded of Mother Theresa. She liked to portray herself as a friend of the poor. She was a bigger friend to poverty.

    4. Scott

      As impressive as those numbers seem to be, modern organic technology and methods beat them hands down and at far lower cost, making the technology available to a far greater % of the worlds poor.

      I suggest you read it all but the important part is this:
      “The second model yielded 4,381 calories per person per day, 75 percent greater than current availability-and a quantity that could theoretically sustain a much larger human population than is currently supported on the world’s farmland.”

      So while your 14% increase is impressive, Organic’s 75% increase easily destroys it. Importantly it does it without destroying the ecology. It actually improves ecosystem function without needing to resort to GE technology.

      Now, that leaves one important missing component. If organic technology can increase food production 75% without GE technology, how much more could organic production be boosted if it allowed appropriate GE technology? I don’t know the answer to that question. My pure speculation is likely well over 100%?

      But what good is doubling the food supply when we already produce double the food we need? The numbers above have all been already adjusted for waste. The real advantage of organic technology is that it is accessible to the poor at low cost. It doesn’t matter if you produce all that food if it rots in the wasteful conventional business model. But it is real hard for that wasteful conventional business model to get between a small organic farmer and the food he grows for himself and his local community.

    5. Buck Field


      If some evidence might get between me and support of my corporate salary, professional esteem of many, and swanky trips to Bankok, I don’t think I’d have much time or interest to consider such evidence.

      Would you?

    6. Scott

      You said, If some evidence might get between me and support of my corporate salary, professional esteem of many, and swanky trips to Bankok, I don’t think I’d have much time or interest to consider such evidence.”

      Well Buck, I never had a swanky corporate salary complete with trips to Bangkok. So I don’t know the answer to that question. But I have extensively researched modern agricultural methods, even tried several out for myself. I know organic can outproduce conventional. Doesn’t always, but it can. Depends of what organic method we are talking about. I know many times I had perfectly fine crops while my neighbors all had crop failures. That’s because instead of using a conventional business model that is exceedingly risky, and paying for crop insurance to help protect against that risk, I instead invested in the quality of my soil, which now can produce decent crops whether flood or drought. The soil is my insurance.

      So my opinion as a farmer and not some swanky exec? They can keep their business model and let other farmers finance their trips to Bangkok for them. I want no part of it.

      If someone wants to send me to Australia though…. 😀

  20. Anupam Paul

    I have been doing organic farming for the last 14 years, mainly conserving , distributing and characterizing our rich folk rice varieties.
    My observations are-
    1.There are safer and cheaper alternative to GM crops
    2.Farmers are not interested to safe guard the seed industry as seed is a matter of exchange and it has intrinsic values.
    3.India is home of 17 mega diverse countries – we have so many crop varieties- Rice 82000, Brinjal 3686, etc.
    4. The amazing potentialities have not yet been explored meanwhile 90% of them have become extinct because of seed industry.
    5 There is no scientific study on these. Why spending millions of dollars on what we do not have? Cant we study and nurture what we have?
    6. Organic farming can feed the world- Those who are bookish they may think differently. Some of the rice can give you a grain yield of 6-& ton per ha with organic input or almost zero input like Azollla.
    7. Pl have a look at the IAASTD reports- Are they fools?
    8. No doubt Genetic Engineering is an important scientific tools used in medicine and industry. As there is an alternative to safer and cheaper alternative to risky GMOs we may think of the cost of production, environment specially in the third world where more than 50% population are in agriculture and family farming provides more than 70% food.
    9. Those who biodiversity they may think of other thinks like MSB etc .Indian have more crop diversity.
    10. Now those who talk about GMOs people with common sense may doubt about their scientific integrity.

  21. Jonathan Brown

    “We’ve known about nutritional immunity for 40 years,” says Matthew Barber, Ph.D. Though scientists have known of the offensive strategy, they failed to realize how pivotal the battle over iron has been in the conflict between host and pathogen.

    “Interactions between host and pathogen are transient and temporary,” says senior author Nels Elde, Ph.D., assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Utah. “It took casting a wide net across all of primate genetic diversity to capture the significance.”

    Take glyphosate, developed as a chelating chemical, micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc that can all be reduced due to glyphosate’s chelating mechanism…


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