A closer look at the GM debate

May 02, 2013 by John Hewitt report
Genetically Modified Crops
Genetically Modified Crops. Credit: brucestutz.com

In the first chapter of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin detailed his examinations of the skeletons of a variety of different breeds of domestic pigeons. To agreement today, he concluded that they all descended, by selective breeding, from the common Rock dove. Clearly, the genetic manipulation of nature by farmers and breeders is nothing new. It is only recently that the process has been given a boost by the tools of genetic engineering. In places around the world today, this has precipitated a bit of crises. Nature magazine has dedicated their most recent issue to a discussion of genetically modified (GM) products in farming. In a series of diverse articles, they explore some of the fears and concerns that have made GM contentious, but optimistically conclude that the greatest benefits of GM still lie ahead.

Opinions in Europe have tended to run hotter than elsewhere, especially with regard to rights of companies to tamper with the agro-heritage we hold in common. Perhaps as long as Europe's traditional wines, and singular monastic brews, still command the highest prices worldwide, they may continue to be the first to cry foul and be heard. Many companies throughout the world now distribute genetically engineered products, but perhaps no name is more synonymous with GM, than that of Monsanto.

The scientific successes of Monsanto include crops resistant to both natural challenges like drought, and artificial assaults like glycophosphate (Roundup). They have also developed BT () cotton, , and soybean which contain insecticidal protein. Of less clear universal benefit are products that help farmers more than consumers, like for example, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) which increases milk production. Most dubious among their products are those which alter the crop to help neither consumer or farmer, but only themselves. Their "terminator seeds," which produce plants that are sterile, have value mainly for corporate profit. At each level, not only a lack of transparency, but also visibility, in the form of clearly labelled products detracts from the universal acceptance of GM.

In many respects the most onerous aspect of GM is not fears and concerns about the products themselves, but the behavior of the companies that peddle them. In the case of Monsanto, clear examples of litiginous zealotry, prosecutorial patenting, and backhanded lobbying have been found at every turn. When the individual faces the corporate, a fair system must equally distribute doubt and preserve the human over the entity. For example, in 1997, Monsanto brought a case against a farmer named Percy Schmeiser. In his own defense, Schmeiser claimed that roundup-resistant canola growing on his farm had blow in from neighboring farms. After extensive court battle, and several losses by Schmeiser, the only final victors in the case were the attorneys.

In cases like Schmeiser's, where doubt dominates fact, the judge should not be asking Schmeiser to defend why nature grew on his farm, but instead ask Monsanto if their product could contaminate Schmeiser's farm. The concept that plants growing in a farmers soil do not belong to the farmer, is no more valid than to claim a parent does not own a videotape of their child's dance recital if the background song has a copyright. The licensing model is an artificial one that only applies in territorial waters. Like the music industry, the GM industry continues to make the mistake of trying to apply its licenses in real-world international waters.

Perhaps the biggest threat to acceptance of GM is when it intersects areas where there are no facts, but doubts abound. For example, the Mayo clinic has reported that the incidence of Coeliac disease is four times more common today as it was in the 1950s. They further concluded that something in the environment, or in wheat, must have directly caused this change. While that is a logical postulate, the hard reality is that there is no practical scientific study that can be done to prove it. In that void, there is only anecdote.

Perhaps the best solution then, is to scientifically organize the real anecdotes. Trying to create artificially controlled anecdotes, as in a special-interest study, would inevitably lack universal acceptance. Formal submission and open conglomeration of anecdotes is a good way to expose and dehorn unfounded fear. It is also a good way to vet and amplify legitimate correlations whose broader interpretation may be productive.

One Nature article entitled, Case studies: A hard look at GM crops, points to even more insidious claims that have been made against GM crops. In India, Bt cotton has been blamed for an increase in total suicide rates across across the country. The larger truth now appears to be that, at least for farmers, the suicide rate itself hasn't even changed. The path forward for GM will no doubt have a few bumps, but it appears that many new products of tremendous benefit to mankind are just on the horizon. Visibility and communication will be an essential feedback mechanisms to ensure that corporate introduction of these new technologies proceeds at a pace where consumer trust has sufficient time for verification.

Explore further: Designer potatoes on the menu to boost consumption

More information: www.nature.com/news/specials/gmcrops/index.html

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User comments : 11

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cantdrive85
3.1 / 5 (12) May 02, 2013
Visibility and communication will be an essential feedback mechanism to ensure that corporate introduction of these new technologies proceeds at a pace where consumer trust has sufficient time for verification.


How about sufficient research for safety, longevity, and health effects before these profit driven products are released on nature and unwitting consumers. Monsanto "scientists" and executives should be the guinea pigs, if they are so sure of their technology there should be no problem with them being the test group.
dogbert
3.5 / 5 (12) May 02, 2013
A measure of Monsanto's control is that they have fought successfully the disclosure that food contains GM products or is a GM product.

The observation that they would not be hiding if they had nothing to hide comes to mind.
eHofmann
3.7 / 5 (3) May 02, 2013
... the fact that these people create something like "terminator seeds", which produces plants that are sterile, shows to me that they must have a serious mental disease (greed), this is totally irresponsible. But more troublesome is the fact, that seeds created on such mental ground can be patented at all. What is wrong with you guys out there, they are not the creator of the complex genetics of the plant they are able to patent, but merely tamper with minor changes (mostly created in nature anyway) ... still are granted the right to own the whole. It's like I go and change the name Harry Potter, in J. K. Rowling books, to Henry Plotter and claiming total ownership and copy right of the whole work ... ridicules, isn't it ... but not so in US patent law.

I always wondered why the group around Percy Schmeiser didn't counter sue Monsanto for spoiling Schmeiser crop with that rubbish ... ah, yeah, perhaps they didn't have the money ... but Monsanto had.
Claudius
1.9 / 5 (9) May 02, 2013
The scientific successes of Monsanto


Success like engineering crops to contain pesticides, only to see the pests become resistant. Or engineering crops to resist Roundup, so crops can be saturated with poison. Or crops that yield less than traditional crops. With success like this, who needs failure?
JRi
5 / 5 (3) May 02, 2013
... the fact that these people create something like "terminator seeds", which produces plants that are sterile, shows to me that they must have a serious mental disease (greed), this is totally irresponsible.


I do find logic here, and that is to prevent the GM-genes to spread wild. On the other hand, it is not that good if that pollen is still able to pollinate other crops, but yields infertile seeds. The other crops should see the GM-pollen as alien and omit it.
cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (10) May 02, 2013
And in completely related news, parents are reporting higher incidences of food related allergies.

http://news.yahoo...398.html
GraemeMcRae
4 / 5 (4) May 02, 2013
And in completely related news, parents are reporting higher incidences of food related allergies.
The last thing we need in these comments are anecdotal reports of anecdotes.
LarryD
not rated yet May 02, 2013
Ha! Same old story; once industry gets hold of scientific discoveries they're running to the bank. What is needed is a separate Independent Body that has all the facilities to examine claims from both sides. Yes I know, this is easier said than done because it would require a lot of money to set up and where would the money come from? GM etc is here to stay and if one country outlawed such procedures another would endorse them.
The World is becoming hungry for more food all the time and the poor old farmer has to look at alternative methods for protecting crops/livestock. (Does any know if the once infamous 'food mountains' still exist to control prices?)
I remember years ago that ICI (I think) were conducting research for growing grass in deserts but I suppose that didn't go down very well with companies using GM.
Some 'controlling body' is needed but that might take years to set up not to mention the time delay when processing claims but this might be the only route to go.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2013
Success like engineering crops to contain pesticides, only to see the pests become resistant. Or engineering crops to resist Roundup, so crops can be saturated with poison. Or crops that yield less than traditional crops. With success like this, who needs failure?

The same effect is being seen with BT crops. Predictably, resistance evolves. Note, though, this works in Monsanto's favor, as farmers will have to keep returning for new solutions.

I have some concern that this strategy of engineering plants to contain new complex chemicals will yield long term health problems in humans consuming them - problems that willl show up years later, at which point many people will have been affected, and it will be too late to do much for the victims.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) May 03, 2013
I do find logic here, and that is to prevent the GM-genes to spread wild.

You really think that was the reason to create terminator seeds?
Not, (just maybe) that farmers can't use parts of their crop to plant the next year but have to rebuy seeds at outrageous prices from Monsanto?

I know that Monsanto are angelic beings who only have the best interest of nature at heart - but that explanation is stretching it a bit.

What is needed is a separate Independent Body that has all the facilities to examine claims from both sides.

In the US it's called the FDA. (But like any such organisation the ones wanting to profit soon pick up on the fact that it's easier to buy bureaucrats/lawmakers than to make ecologically sensible products.)

As a side note: Roundup is a Monsanto product (duh)
Humpty
1 / 5 (4) May 04, 2013
Percy Schmiezer - 4 vids

Parts 1 - 3

https://www.youtu...LZSCsRLs

https://www.youtu...ga2EKev8

https://www.youtu...uhJ2mrf8

Documentary.

https://www.youtu...ELDt3d2I

Conclusion.

The people working in Monsanto are NOT nice, honest or ethical.