The Science Guy goes after GMOs

November 8, 2014 • 10:01 am

Okay, all you Bill Nye fans who have dissed Bill Maher for his “anti-vaxer” views, be prepared to exercise some consistency vis-á-vis Nye. Over at Keith Kloor’s Discover Magazine website “Collide-a-Scape,” you can read how “Bill Nye explains why he is a GMO skeptic.” (GMOs are, of course, genetically modified organisms.

Kloor says this:

So now it’s nearly a a decade later and GMOs are still saddled with a fear factor that activists have worked hard to promote, much to the dismay of the plant science community. Where is Nye in this battle between scientists and those that frequently contest (and muddy) the science of agricultural biotechnology?

He’s MIA.

You don’t see him stepping into the fray to communicate the known facts about genetically modified crops, much less advising people to “chill out” about GMOs, as Neil deGrasse Tyson did earlier this year. This reluctance appears to stem from Nye’s discomfit with GMO technology, which he expresses in his new book. Appearing on reddit yesterday, Nye had a revealing exchange with one questioner, who poses this question:

Hi! I’ve been a long time fan, and I’d like to ask about something a bit old. I work in plant science, and we have this controversy that is every bit as unscientific, damaging, and irrational as the controversies surrounding evolution, vaccines, and climate change, so I was thrilled to see there was an Eyes of Nye episode on GMOs…right up until I watched it, and saw you talking about fantastical ecological disasters, advocating mandatory fear mongering labels, and spouting loaded platitudes with false implication. You can see my complete response here, if you are interested, and I hope you are, but it was a little disheartening.

When I look up GMOs in the news, I don’t see new innovations or exciting developments being brought to the world. I see hate, and fear, and ignorance, and I’m tired of seeing advances in agricultural science held back, sometimes at the cost of environmental or even human health, over this manufactured controversy. Scientists are called called corporate pawns, accused of poisoning people and the earth, research vandalized or banned, all over complete nonsense. This is science denialism, plain and simple. That Eyes of Nye episode aired 9 years ago, and a lot can change in nearly a decade, so I want to ask, in light of the wealth of evidence demonstrating the safety and utility of agricultural genetic engineering, could you clarify your current stance on the subject, and have you changed the views you expressed then? Because if so, while you work with public education, please don’t forget about us. We could use some help.

Nye’s response is curiously nonresponsive:

We clearly disagree.

I stand by my assertions that although you can know what happens to any individual species that you modify, you cannot be certain what will happen to the ecosystem.

Also, we have a strange situation where we have malnourished fat people. It’s not that we need more food. It’s that we need to manage our food system better.

So when corporations seek government funding for genetic modification of food sources, I stroke my chin.

Well, nothing’s happened to the ecosystem so far, so is Nye saying that we should never use GMOs because there’s always a nonzero chance that some catastrophe can occur? That’s a recipe for doing nothing.

GMOs, of course, aren’t just there to give us “more food”. They’re also there to give us better food and healthier food. One example of this is the case of “golden rice,” a strain of rice genetically engineered to produce the compound beta-carotene, which, in turn, is metabolized by the human body into vitamin A. It turns out that vitamin A deficiency is a serious cause of blindness and death in children; in fact, the Golden Rice Project estimates that 1.5 million children die yearly from vitamin A deficiency and a further 500,000 go blind. While not all of these individuals could be saved or cured by eating golden rice, many of them would. The product is safe, cheap, and the license to grow it is given free to “subsistence farmers” making less than $10,000 per year, so there aren’t many “big agro” issues involved. Farmers can replant seed, too, so (unlike hybrid corn), they don’t have to keep buying it from companies.

Nevertheless, because golden rice is a “GMO,” it’s been opposed by organizations like Greenpeace, field trials have been vandalized, and the grain has yet to be adopted on a widespread scale. Meanwhile, kids continue to go blind and die. Misguided opposition to GMOs is responsible for some of those deaths and illnesses.

The fear of GMOs is like creationism: an unfounded belief based not on facts, but on a form of faith: genetically unmodified food is better. Yes, GMOs vary in their efficacy and in the profits they make for Big Agro, but there’s no doubt that thousands of lives can be saved by adopting a GMO like golden rice. And, after all, breeders have been doing a form of genetic engineering for centuries, by outcrossing plants or animals to others to incorporate desired genes.

Message to Bill Nye: creationism doesn’t kill kids; dissing GMOs, as you have done, can.  If you really care about using science to improve human welfare on this planet, then for God’s sake look up the data on GMOs and use your influence in a positive way. Stroking your chin is not helping!



237 thoughts on “The Science Guy goes after GMOs

  1. Nye and other GMO opponents are foolish. If one avoids anything that has been genetically modified then they would starve to death. Nearly every fruit and vegetable has been modified in one way or another. Most animals that are consumed are also modified. I wonder if they enjoy their 2 inch long corn-on-the-cob with 12 kernels.

    1. Most animals that are consumed are also fed with antibiotics to make them grow faster and fatter – is that a reason why we should embrace this practice and be cool with it?

  2. My objections to GMO crops have nothing (or very little) to do with the genes of the organisms and how they got there. Rather, this page from Monsanto itself is the most damning indictment of GMO crops I can possibly imagine:

    Seed saving is, literally, the very foundation of civilization; civilization began when humans started saving some of the seeds of plants they ate and selectively planting the best of them in the best of locations. Telling farmers that they need to pay Danegeld to save their seeds for the next season is as insanely evil as telling them that they also need to pay Danegeld for the air and soil the crops grow in. And using American Constitutional patent law for this protection racket borders on incomprehensible — I can’t imagine the drafters of the Constitution being anything but horrified to even hear of the notion.

    There’re other reasons to criticize specific GMO crops. Farmers who plant RoundUp-Ready crops liberally apply glyphosate, that being the whole point of those GMO crops. But that application kills everything else in the vicinity, wreaking ecological havoc. And BT crops are literally permanently producing insecticides that again wreak ecological havoc.

    So, it’s not at all the technique of genetic modification I object to; it’s how that technique gets used in practice. If genetic modification were only used for golden rice and similar efforts, I’d almost certainly cheer it with the same enthusiasm I cheer the work of Luther Burbank and Gregor Mendel before him. But the reality of application is quite distressing, to put it mildly.


    1. The fallacy in that argument is simply that seed saving isn’t the way most modern agriculture works anyway. Farmers find it more cost effective to simply buy seed every year.

      Which is something to keep in mind the next time you bite into as seedless grape or have some seedless watermelon. Where do you think those things come from?

      1. Is that a “fallacy” that invalidates the use of golden rice? I’m not sure how many small farmers buy seed rather than use their own, but golden rice seed is cheap.

        Even if you had to buy seed at a low cost, golden rice is a good thing.

        1. Golden rice itself is basically immune from criticism…but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

          RoundUp-Ready and BT crops are the rule, and they’re quite evil.


          1. How are round up ready and Bt crops quite evil? With the introduction of Bt crops the US is using 20 percent of the insecticides it did in 1995 before their introduction. Most farmers using Bt are not using any insecticides. How is this anything but a great thing? I know something about some bugs that wear capes will come up but this is an issue of farming that has gone on for now about 12,000 years.

            And what is the problem with Round Up ready? Replace some nasty herbicides with a well tested and safe fertilizer? Oh and one that has allowed over 70 percent of US farm land to go conservation tilling and about 20 percent no till. In South America no till is over 80 percent because of Round up ready.

            1. Bt crops the US is using 20 percent of the insecticides it did in 1995 before their introduction.

              Considering that the BT crops are themselves insecticides, this is nothing but pure industry propaganda, and most transparent. The reality is that BT crops represent a vast surge in insecticide application, even if those insecticides are no longer being sprayed.


              1. Even if we go with that belief. So its quit evil to replace 80 percent of the insecticides used in 1995 with a harmless insecticide to mammals? Bt is harmless to mammals because it only works in caustic environments and with the Cry receptors.

                What would you suggest we do instead? Go back to spraying and killing non targeted insects and using insecticides that do have effects on mammals?

              2. Initially I thought that’ was a good point. Even though I worry about the bt toxin gene escaping to wild crop relatives and causing ecological havoc, this danger would have to be weighed against the ecological havoc caused by more dangerous pesticides.

                But why would they use more dangerous pesticides if the crops didn’t have bt toxin incorporated into them? Why wouldn’t they simply spray with bt? And this would eliminate the risk of ecological havoc caused by bt-incorporating wild relatives of crops.

              3. “Considering that the BT crops are themselves insecticides, this is nothing but pure industry propaganda, and most transparent.”
                Here is transparency, and it is not on the part of “organic farmers” quite the opposite.

                Addressing only BT GMO crops, what is funny about this argument is that for BT to work it must be ingested by the insects and if it is built into the genes of the plant only those insects (it works best on larvae)that eat the GMO crop are affected and it protects from the roots on up. It does not affect those insects who dine on plants other than the GMO.

                BT pesticides, sprayed from planes, tractors, etc. are legal pesticides for “certified organic” crops and have been used by organic farmers for the last 50 years, covering everything in and around those fields. Killing not only insects that would feed on the crop but also indiscriminately killing the insects that might feed on everything else in the field. (See link)


                With regards to this specific issue, I contend there is much less environmental damage from GMO BT than from organic farming techniques.

              4. “Considering that the BT crops are themselves insecticides, this is nothing but pure industry propaganda, and most transparent. The reality is that BT crops represent a vast surge in insecticide application, even if those insecticides are no longer being sprayed.”

                Blanket statements like this give the word “insecticide” an automatic negative connotation without any context. Plants naturally contain insecticides such as glucosinolates, should we limit our vegetable consumption? Of course not, that would be a ridiculous statement to make because those compounds are actually very beneficial to human health.

                Similarly, BT protein is an insecticide and has not been found to be detrimental to human health and farmers can employ techniques to prevent BT resistance in insects. This is a protein that we’re talking about and not a chemical application, its important to make that distinction because its much easier to predict how our bodies will process the former over the latter.

              5. Similarly, I love this argument, not original to me, … recently having a discussion on prop 105 here in Colorado about labeling GMO foods, (it failed by a fairly wide margin)… something like ..She said,”BT crops are full of insecticide, I don’t want to eat them, they are dangerous.”
                “Yes”, I said, “to insects, not people. You love chocolate? Well, you shouldn’t eat it because it’s deadly to d*gs.” … That kind of brings the irrationality home …

              6. A possible counterargument to that “chocolate” argument is that chocolate has a long track record of being consumed by people without ill effects. Bt toxin does not have that long track record.

          2. If you think glyphosate is evil, take a look at atrazine and other far more toxic herbicides it replaced. Are you sure you have looked into the relative toxicity of glyphosate?

        2. I don’t really know how much rice is grown by small farmers world-wide who save seed themselves from year to year. My wager is that the number of such farmers might be high but the relative amount of rice produced by larger scale operations is much higher. Presumably, seed-saving farmers could still save non GMO seed from year to year, no?

          Golden rice is a very good thing. Presumably the cost of golden seed will be low enough to make it affordable to farmers in areas where it will be most valuable.

          There is some info about the Golden Rice license arrangements here. It includes this bit:

          “Terms of use include royalty-free local production by farmers who earn less than US$10,000 annually, which applies so to say to 99% of the target farming community. The inventors were also granted the rights to grant sub-licences for the same purpose.”

          1. “…and where do all y’all think the hybrid seeds come from? The magic seed faery, or smaller plots of land devoted to seed production? ”

            That’s just silly. You actually think farmers are producing their own hybrid seeds? They’re not. It would be a tremendous waste of time and resources. There may be legitimate arguments against genetic engineering, you’ve even made some of them, but seed saving isn’t one of them.

      2. The problem with the seed saving argument, is that farmers don’t save seed anyway, because hybrid crops, (which includes virtually all of modern agriculture), generally don’t come true to seed. Farmers can’t depend on them so they buy guaranteed seed, (which is also guaranteed disease-free), every year.

        1. …and where do all y’all think the hybrid seeds come from? The magic seed faery, or smaller plots of land devoted to seed production?

          Farmers who want to pay others for the task of preparing seeds for the next season are of course welcome to do so. But requiring that all farmers be prohibited from preparing seeds for the next season is sheer insane lunacy.


          1. Unless I’m wrong, any farmer can save any seed from any non-GMO plant. Nobody is preventing them from doing so in perpetuity, as far as I can tell.

            And still, most purchase seeds every season because it is more cost effective to do so. In general, it isn’t farmers who are making this “seed” argument, it is people who need another arrow for their anti-GMO quiver.

            1. The cost-effectiveness is reduced in part because growing crops just for seed takes land, limiting the amount of land used for cash crops.

              Growing most of the fresh produce eaten by two people in our urban potager, I learned earlier on that there was no sense in growing my own seed despite my really wanting to. I do choose to buy seed from a family business type grower though. A bit more expensive, but I love the quality/selection/service I get.

            2. There are non-gmo seeds that cannot be saved. For instance the clear-field line of crops which are herbicide resistant and created with mutagenesis are non-gmo and really no different that the GMO RR crops (except that the GMO ones are highly regulated and tested). The clearfield line of crops have the same patent rules (see the link below under the “Stewardship Requirements”).


              However, there is no shortage of seeds that can be saved. But as you are buying seeds that have a poor return on investment for the developer you can hardly expect those seeds to be as good as the ones that have a higher return on investment for the developer.

            3. You are slightly wrong. Most seeds including some organic seeds sold to commercial farmers will include a tech agreement preventing replanting. But, its not an issue farmers where moving away from saving seeds for even non hybrids years before the introduction of GMO crops.

              The main reasons are economic. It is much better to use that 10 to 20 percent of crop land to produce actual crops for market. There is a cost to saving seed. Its increased labor as you need to clean the equipment an extra time. You need to clean the seeds, you will need to run the field at least once or twice to lay down what is in the seed treatments. They are not uniform size.

              Then of course seed companies are great at their job producing newer varieties that require either less inputs or have higher outputs.

              1. I’ve been making your main point elsewhere on this page. And thanks for pointing out the error I made in implying that it is only GMO seeds that include re-planting restrictions. You are, of course, right.

      3. It was widespread for soybeans before “Roundup-Ready” soybeans were introduced. Because soybeans are wind pollinated, farmers who didn’t plant the patented seed were still sued into paying Monsanto because their saved seed had the protected DNA.

        1. The “Monsanto will sue you for growing their patented GMOs if traces of those GMOs entered your fields through wind-blown pollen” thing is a myth.

          1. That’s funny, I saw a program on NPR a few years ago that interviewed farmers that had exactly that experience — they were sued until they ran out of money (Monsanto didn’t have to win in court to defeat them). And then there are people I know that have to pay these fees.

              1. If you simply search under, “Farmer sued by Montsanto”, you’ll see what a can of worms this is: it’s a “Jurassic Park”-type, “nature will prevail” scenario in that there is absolutely no way to guarantee that the genes from these GMO crops won’t eventually contaminate ALL the same crops in this country (and the world, eventually)- so long as Montsanto holds the patent, they can sue any farmer whose crops contain the gene, whether the farmer intentionally used their seed, or not. They have, for years, been making spot checks without permission on the private property of “suspect”farmers, and have bought seed from them under fraudulent circumstances in order to “prove” the existence of the gene in their crop. Hundreds if lawsuits are currently going on, from both sides. They “accidentally” released GMO wheat into the system several years ago (which hadn’t been licensed for use in the U.S.), which jeopardized sales of wheat to countries who as yet won’t accept GMO wheat.

                As for the BT corn, populations of BT-resistant insects have been emerging all over the country, as have glycophosphate-resistant weeds (which is why the USDA is now being heavily lobbied to allow the use of 2,4-D along WITH the glycophosphate)- Montsanto HAD to have been aware that these things would happen; they’re just following the new corporate “rule” of, “Get in, make a bundle of money; then walk away”. I consider them the “Bank of America” of chemical/seed companies, and I don’t believe that they have the slightest concern for anything other than their own profit.

              2. Huh?

                brianbreczinski referred to fees being paid. I’m just wondering what the nature of these fees is.

            1. Oh yeah? I once saw saw a show on PBS showing the exact opposite rendering all your anecdotal evidence moot with my own. Monsanto never sued any farmers for accidental contamination of their crop. It never happened, it never even came close to happening.

          2. Your very link explains the evil under dispute:

            Schmeiser had an explanation. As an experiment, he’d actually sprayed Roundup on about three acres of the field that was closest to a neighbor’s Roundup Ready canola. Many plants survived the spraying, showing that they contained Monsanto’s resistance gene — and when Schmeiser’s hired hand harvested the field, months later, he kept seed from that part of the field and used it for planting the next year.

            Now, it’s certainly Monsanto’s bought-and-paid-for legal “right” to sue farmers who cultivate seeds from plants that grew on their own land, but I’d argue that it’s highly illegal for them to do so. It’s no different from them tossing dollar bills into the air and suing you for picking them up from your own property and depositing them in your own bank account. They don’t want you spending their money, it’s their own damned responsibility to keep it from blowing onto your property.


            1. Understand… I’m no fan of Monsanto. But I do like honest reporting. And “Monsanto sues farmers who…” is different from “Farmer sues Monsanto for….

              There seems to be no evidence for Monsanto suing farmers as the myth asserts. If I’m wrong, please provide documentation of the suit. I’d love to have another reason to hate Monsanto, but I don’t want to just make them up.

              1. Am I really missing something?

                The idea, however, is inspired by a real-world event. Back in 1999, Monsanto sued a Canadian canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for growing the company’s Roundup-tolerant canola without paying any royalty or “technology fee.” [emphasis added]

                Monsanto pollen blew onto the guy’s field. The guy saved the seeds and planted them, contrary to the insistence from all y’all that farmers don’t actually save and plant seeds. Monsanto sued the guy.

                How is that not evil? How is it not exactly what I keep railing against?


              2. Monsanto pollen blew onto the guy’s field. The guy saved the seeds and planted them, contrary to the insistence from all y’all that farmers don’t actually save and plant seeds. Monsanto sued the guy.

                Why are you repeating the claims by the farmer as if they were fact? In court, he didn’t present any defence that pollen blew onto his field and the court agreed that the evidence showed it could not have happened by accident.

              3. As I understand it, there’s no controversy about what happened. Some of his crops on the border of a neighbor got cross-contaminated, and he saved the seeds that resulted and propagated them throughout his land.

                That’s the way that agriculture has worked literally since the dawn of civilization. If Monsanto doesn’t want others planting crops with their unconscionably patented DNA in it, they shouldn’t be broadcasting that DNA on the wind in the first place.


              4. Ben posts a claim that Schmeiser was sued for accidental contamination. It went through 3 court cases all the way to the supreme court in Canada with the courts going out of their way to make clear that this was not a case of accidental contamination, but deliberate concentration of GMO seeds.

              5. Here I read this:

                “The case drew worldwide attention and is widely misunderstood to concern what happens when farmers’ fields are accidentally contaminated with patented seed. However by the time the case went to trial, all claims had been dropped that related to patented seed in the field that was contaminated in 1997; the court only considered the GM canola in Schmeiser’s 1998 fields, which Schmeiser had intentionally concentrated and planted from his 1997 harvest. Regarding his 1998 crop, Schmeiser did not put forward any defence of accidental contamination.”

                Which is rather a bit different than the myth, no?

              6. Ronald Bailey also wrote a good piece about the Schmeiser court cases at the time.

                I read through two of three court transcripts (which are probably still available online) many years ago so I agree with him about what was presented in court (vs what has been spread in public).

                “But as often occurs, court cases turn on particular facts. First, expert testimony accepted by the court explained that mere cross-pollination could not produce a canola crop that was 95 percent to 98 percent Roundup Ready. Second, in 1996, when the alleged cross-pollination would have occurred, the nearest farmer licensed to use Roundup Ready Canola was five miles away. Third, an expert in road vehicle aerodynamics testified that canola seed falling from passing trucks would travel no more than 8.8 meters.

                Furthermore, although Schmeiser claimed that he used other herbicides to control weeds in his fields, including Treflan, Muster, and Assure in 1997 and 1998, he could produce no receipts to show that he had purchased those chemicals. However, he did have receipts that showed that he had bought Roundup. Finally, a neighboring farmer testified that Schmeiser’s hired hand had told him several times that Schmeiser had grown Roundup Ready canola and then sprayed Roundup on the crop.”


            2. I agree with other posters that the Schmeiser story is a myth based on a real series of court cases in which Schmeiser himself admitted to illegally using saved seeds in defiance of a signed business contract. Monsanto did not sue him because his field was contaminated by his neighbors. That part is a myth; please stop repeating it as if it were fact. You’re starting to sound like Mike Adams the Healthranger.

            1. Your link is from which is always problematic.

              “The US Supreme Court upheld biotech giant Monsanto’s claims on genetically-engineered seed patents and the company’s ability to sue farmers whose fields are inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto materials.”

              The court did not do this. Monsanto was sued by the organic industry and some farmers. The court asked them to provide any evidence of Monsanto ever suing any farmer over accidental contamination. They could not do so, because their has never been a case where that happened. The case was rightly dismissed.

              Does Monsanto have the ability to sue a farmer for accidental contamination? Yes. But, it is pretty much a guarantee they would lose, and lose badly.

              1. Maybe the farmer should sue Monsanto for contaminating his seed with their DNA. After all, their DNA trespassed on the farmer’s property.

              2. Do you have a citation for the supreme court ruling that you say did not represent correctly? I found didn’t provide evidence for either side of the assertions and for someone who is trying to get to the bottom of the claims, this is difficult.

              3. To Waywardson

                That case actually bars Monsanto for suing for accidental contamination as the court held them to their memo never to sue for accidental contamination which they have never done anyways. Also, worth pointing out since 1996 Monsanto has sued less then 150 people for GM crops. Only 12 even went to court. And in nearly all of these cases it was other farmers that informed Monsanto.

        2. Soybeans are not wind pollinated. They are self pollinated – each soybean flower pollinates itself.

          There are two types of seed protection in the US, patents and PVP (Plant Variety Protection). Patented seed can not be saved for replanting.

          PVP protected seed can be saved by the farmer FOR HIS OWN USE. That was not always the case; because of ambiguity in the PVP law, some farmers saved seed and sold it to their neighbors. That part of the PVP act was changed in 1994, so that farmers can only save seed of PVP varieties for their own use, without the ability to resell.

          Some varieties are also released by universities as public varieties. They may or may not be protected by PVP. If they are not protected, you can save seed and share or sell it to others.

          Most farmers were already moving to purchasing seed each year before patents became widely used. Some crops that used to be PVPed are now patented for better protection of intellectual property.

          Someone said earlier that purchased seed is guaranteed to be disease resistant. That is not the case. A seed company can not reasonably guarantee that diseases won’t change from one growing season to the next. What they do guarantee is that the seed will germinate with a given reliability (if handled and planted properly), that it is free of weed seed, and that the seed is the variety stated. If you buy seed from a neighbor, you may not get that guarantee.

        3. Soybeans are not wind-pollinated, i.e., they are mostly self-pollinated (the pollen grains and rather heavy and are deposited onto the stigma as it emerges) (, with a small percentage of insect pollination (which can be increased for the production of hybrid seeds), and have only very low rates (probably 1% or less) of wind pollination. Corn, on the other hand, is wind pollinated.

    2. I don’t find your position reasonable at all.

      If a company spends millions or billions of dollars engineering a better-performing plant genome, and get a patent on that genome, then they have a legal right to control where it’s deployed.

      That’s the only way such advancement can occur outside of government-funded research.

      1. That’s the only way such advancement can occur outside of government-funded research.

        Thank you for so eloquently making the case for government-funded research in fields that so dramatically affect society as an whole.

        These corporations would be unable to perform their research without the huge prior investment of society. Why should they be able to profit so handsomely from that investment at the expense of society itself?

        I’ll add that the Constitution explicitly states that patents must be for a limited time and to foster development in the arts and sciences. If we had the original limited scope of patents, I’d be all in favor of them. You could get your monopoly for several years: long enough to fund your next big innovation, but not long enough to build an empire. In return, society gets paid in the long term for the profits it guarantees in the short term.


        1. The argument that making profit on needs of others is somehow immoral is quite old. The whole Soviet Union and the block of East-Europeans countries was build on it. Here in Poland we had only companies which were owned by “society”: agricultural, pharmaceutical etc. They all worked not for profit but “for the good of the people”. The only problem was that their products were of very, very poor quality, there were no innovations, no new medicines, and on top of that there were shortages of everything, from carrots to houses. Those awful companies in the West which worked for profit (and were of definition immoral or in the best case, suspect) churned out vaccines, antibiotics, painkillers, new seeds and Ceiling Cat knows what more. This seems so unfair! Either you are working “for the good of the people” and people are suffering, or you are working for profit and agricultural production soars, diseases are cured and suffering is alleviated. Ceiling Cat should have arranged the world differently.
          But those who despise profit are repeating a mantra: “Better to die of hunger that to watch day after day how the baker is getting richer”.

          1. Fair enough, but we should keep in mind that an unregulated free market is as much of a myth as the totally regulated one.

          2. Oh, I’m most emphatically not calling for Communism or Soviet-style Socialism!

            As I mentioned, most of the foundational work for the “innovations” these private companies are profiting from comes from the basic research done by public land-grant universities and their agricultural extension offices.

            I’m increasingly skeptical of and opposed to the whole notion of “intellectual property,” but a strong advocate of private property. National parks and other similar public treasures should be publicly owned and protected, but farmland and houses and factories and what-not should be privately owned, and with restrictions limited to preventing damage outside the borders (such as pollution).

            So, I would have the universities continue to develop the new strains of crops, but the seeds they produce would be available for anybody to propagate. If you wanted to buy seeds from somebody, you’d be more than welcome to do so; however, once you’ve bought those seeds, they’re yours to do with as you wish. If you’re a farmer, you might plant them, harvest most, and save some for next season — or, indeed, you might save them all to sell to others. Or you might be a miller who grinds them into flour who sells the flour to the baker who sells the loaves to the grocer who sells them to you to eat, all but you passing along the costs plus profits.

            The situation we have now in the States is the socialization of risks and damages and the privatization of profits — a guaranteed recipe for corruption and concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few.


            1. Ben, that is how the first canola plants were developed.
              Canola is a form of rapeseed, which produces a toxin that is dangerous to man & animals.
              Researchers at the University of Manitoba used artificial selection (not GM) to breed a non-toxic plant that was renamed canola. And it wasn’t patented by the UofM because it was funded by the Canadian taxpayers.
              I think any research that is publicly funded, or underwritten by a publicly funded institution, like a university, should be treated as “freeware”.

          3. “They all worked not for profit but “for the good of the people”. The only problem was that their products were of very, very poor quality, there were no innovations, no new medicines, ”

            Profit isn’t the only motivation for innovation, and probably isn’t the primary one. There is a whole industry that turns out “Open Source” software and whose main motivation is “the good of the people”.

            We also have examples in the US of government institutions turning out innovative products, when the are allowed to do so.

            There are also huge numbers of profit-driven companies that can’t innovate themselves out of bed in the morning.

            So I hesitate to pin eastern-block problems solely on state ownership.

              1. “first make sure that people are paid enough that they don’t have to worry about money.”

                Agreed…Maslow’s hierarchy of needs does come into play.

                I was struck by Krugman’s praise of FRED, a website produced by federal Reserve St. Louis, which he said is better than anything produced by the private sector. When you read about how it originated, it really was a bottom up effort by the IT staff, who saw a need and wanted to fill it.

                Thanks for the video link.

              2. “The trick is to first make sure that people are paid enough that they don’t have to worry about money.”

                Ah, but objectify people by calling them “human resources” and “human capital,” and it becomes a little easier to feel good (enough) about not paying them enough so that they don’t worry about money, eh?

              3. I am not so implying.

                I am reflecting on the attitude of The Masters of The Universe, and one means by which they strive to avoid sufficiently paying (what they perceive to be) their servents/serfs.

            1. ‘There is a whole industry that turns out “Open Source” software and whose main motivation is “the good of the people”.’

              Seems that to do good is generally true of those who go into “STE(A)M” fields (as well as health care, teaching, law enforcement and social work), and also to satisfy intellectual curiosity and respond to the numinous. I gather (reasonably, I trust) that those are not motivators for most MBA/JD Romneyesque venture capitalist types.

              (Another motivator, of course, as a college chum put it to me about engineering, “One thing about it, Slick, you can get a job in this.”)

              1. I think that most industries/professions have the ability to satisfy the “numinous”. For the most part, even the lowest wage workers take some pride in their work and will often go the beyond duty in order to satisfy their needs that way.

                When I hire someone to do work for me, I’m very conscious of this fact and am careful to try to let them do the work in a way that gains them satisfaction.

        2. “If we had the original limited scope of patents, I’d be all in favor of them. You could get your monopoly for several years: long enough to fund your next big innovation”

          Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean trait goes off patent in a couple months. It is the most popular trait worldwide.

          I guess you should be in favor now?

          1. If patents were my only objection, yes. But, as I’ve repeatedly explained, RoundupReady crops are the leading cause of over-application of glyphosate, which is creating monocultures and devastating wildlife that depend on the “weeds” (especially milkweed) being needlessly sprayed.


            1. “RoundupReady crops are the leading cause of over-application of glyphosate,”

              If GMOs were banned tomorrow, farmers would switch to other herbicide resistant crops, such as the clearfield lines. So your opposition to GMOs seems very misplaced on this issue.

              “which is creating monocultures”

              Monocultures existed long before GMOs. Like most things they have plusses and minuses. Without monocultures we would require a lot more farm land which I am pretty sure would have a devastating effect on wildlife. You are also an adovocate of organic farming which is an extremely inefficient way of farming, and requires more land to produce the same amount of food. That is much more devastating for wildlife.

              “and devastating wildlife that depend on the “weeds” (especially milkweed) being needlessly sprayed.”

              It is not needlessly being sprayed. It is being sprayed to increase the efficiency of the land used so that less farm land is needed. Milkweed does not need to be grown on farmland. When I see people who are up in arms about this issue start to plant milkweed on their lawns and demand it be planted in parks and other public spaces, instead of only on productive farmland, I will maybe start to take them seriously. Until then they are just hypocrites.

              1. When I see people who are up in arms about this issue start to plant milkweed on their lawns and demand it be planted in parks and other public spaces, instead of only on productive farmland, I will maybe start to take them seriously.

                Then you only have your own ignorance to blame. I’m a certified Master Gardener in Maricopa County, and I can’t think of a single other Master Gardener whose garden is bereft of pollinator-friendly plants, with milkweed being one of the favorites. Go to the Extension office on Broadway at 42nd Street in Phoenix, and, as you walk into the main entrance, you’ll pass a pollinator garden on your right with a number of milkweed plants I personally put in the ground (along with a number of other volunteers).


              2. Well if there are so many examples of milkweed in gardens and other places then there should be absolutely no need for milkweed to be on productive farm fields. The farmers can go about their actual business of growing food for people to eat.

              3. Way to move those goalposts!

                What on Earth makes you think that a few scattered urban gardens can in any way compensate for the vast acres obliterated by destructive commercial agribusiness profiteering practices?


              4. Milkweed can be also be planted in ditches, on lawns, in parks and other public spaces. There is no need for it to be on productive farm land, and forcing farm land to grow weeds that competes with their product only decreases efficiency and increases the amount of farm land needed.

                Farm land is not a natural environment. It is not their responsibility to conform to your wishes about what the monarch butterfly population should be. I live in an area that used to have lots of deer and bears, but now there are very few. That sucks. Yet, I don’t hear calls for there to be wild deer and bears roaming through my molecular biology lab or any other place of work.

              5. Again, you’re making my argument for me.

                Historically, it’s been the ditches and inter-crop rows and roads and what-not in the midst of farmland where these so-called “weeds” have lived. You’re advocating that they should be obliterated even from the vicinity of farmland — that we should essentially pave over the farms and neighboring spaces save for little holes in the ground through which we’ll let grow the particular crops themselves.

                And your answer for what should replace this substantial segment of the environment? That we should now appropriate other spaces that already have their own dedicated uses.

                That’s classic corporate crony capitalism: privatize the profits, socialize the costs.

                You may be happy giving away the farm to the Monsanto executive board, but most of the rest of us would rather keep things sane.


    3. Hmm, so you think they shouldn’t issue patents on novel plants that have characteristics that farmers desire? You know that this would effectively kill all research and development by private companies, since once they sold one copy of it, it would effectively be in the public domain. Without any profit potential to recoup the millions needed to design and develop them in the first place, they won’t bother to do so.

      Do you know of a better way to do this so that companies can recover their cost and make a profit without using patents? (I can’t think of one.)

      BTW, farmers are free to save seed from many many other varieties of plants that are in the public domain.

      1. Do you know of a better way to do this so that companies can recover their cost and make a profit without using patents? (I can’t think of one.)

        So close, and yet so far.

        First, individual farmers who develop successful seeds will be at an advantage over their neighbors for at least a season or three. Second, farmers who collaborate together on such research will again be more successful. Last, what on Earth makes you think that only private companies are capable of doing this kind of research? Indeed, that’s the entire purpose of land grant universities and their cooperative extension programs — where most of these “innovations” trace their origins to.

        Yes, I would do away with seed patents in an instant. All they’re good for is CEO bonuses.


        1. Nothing prevents *anyone* (farmers, scientists at land grant universities, etc) from developing novel plants with beneficial properties. (And they are free to patent them, or not, if they so desire. Indeed, Universities have a long tradition of patenting the results of their research and reaping the economic rewards of those patents.) Patents in the US don’t last forever: they have a duration of 20 years from the date of filing (which often is many years before a product ever hits the market).

          I’m not sure why you are okay with everyone else (farmers, consumers, seed dealers, etc) from profiting from a novel plant but specifically want to prevent the company that spent the time, money, and effort to develop a plant with desirable traits from doing so.

    4. Seed saving – that’s an issue for farmers to deal with. If they decide that their interests are better served by buying seeds every year, what difference does it make to you?

      Glyphosate – this is one of the most benign and ecologically friendly herbicides in use. Maybe it gives you an ‘ick’ factor or something, but if you care about the environment or sustainability, you should be supporting technologies which reduce the amount of harmful herbicides and that would definitely include GMO crops.

      Re technique in practice – it sounds like your issues are with industrial agriculture, is that right? By targeting GMOs, you are ignoring the real issues and targeting a red herring, all the while bolstering the anti-science arguments used by ignorant detractors. I think you care about sustainability and if so, I would encourage you to stop targeting the technologies (GMO) and instead look at how they’re applied. In that context, organic and non-GMO crops can be as bad or worse.

      1. By targeting GMOs

        I’m not “targeting” GMOs. I’m pointing out that they’re a very real symptom and significant problem of the whole industrialized agribusiness problem. Whether or not you agree with me that agribusiness is fraught with peril, you certainly can’t deny that GMO crops are increasingly representative of the practices of agribusiness.

        You might as well criticize an advocate of gun safety laws for “targeting” large ammunition clips in a discussion about large ammunition clips when so many other factors play a role in gun violence. Today’s topic is GMO crops, and they’re a big part of the problem, even if they’re far from all that’s problematic.


    5. “My objections to GMO crops have nothing (or very little) to do with the genes of the organisms and how they got there. Rather, this page from Monsanto itself is the most damning indictment of GMO crops I can possibly imagine–”

      There’s your problem. You need to always make clear that you are talking about companies or corporations and their businesses, not about GMOs, the technology.
      You are making it worse, you keep alive this confusion between the potential of a technological tool and the people associated with making a profit from it.
      As you make that, people will cite you and others, and they’ll say, in conclusion: “See, that’s why GMOs are evil!”
      GMOs, not the specific companies or corporations that happen to use the tools available to them.

      1. Yeah, I keep hearing “Monsanto” all the time, as if it were the only company doing GMO crops. It isn’t. I wonder if the average anti-GMO activist could name five other companies making GMO crops.

        Heck, not all GMO crops are even from corporations.

      2. You need to always make clear that you are talking about companies or corporations and their businesses, not about GMOs, the technology.

        I did that with my very first post on this topic, and I’ve done so in many subsequent posts. If I’m not providing a twelve-page disclaimer with each and every post I make here…sorry to disappoint you. I have no interest in doing so, and our host would have my hide if I did.


        1. But your very first sentence starts with “My objection to GMO crops–” <— Right there! You begin with a confusion, and the less rational who actually are ignorant and afraid of every new technology will leap upon such turns of phrases which you provide; they will see this as a general indictment of the technology in general, instead of the way business practises utilize it at the moment.

    6. If a farmer saves seed from a patented plant and is violating his license, then he or she is breaking the law and stealing.

      That farmer has the choice to purchase different seed, indeed, cheaper seed, and save it for the next year. Instead, he chooses to save seed from this plant, which he has no right to do so. Why? Clearly he sees an advantage to the GMO seed, otherwise he would not have purchased it in the first place. He could have purchased cheaper non GMO seed and legally saved the seed from that crop for as long as he wanted. But he didn’t.

      Monsanto has a product that is patented, and they are protecting their patent. Farmers are not forced to buy it. Clearly farmers see advantages to using these products.

      I do have a problem with Monsanto and other GMO companies entering onto private land and taking farmers crops without permission. I don’t think farmers should steal seed, but I also think GMO producers should be required to abide by trespassing and theft laws.

      They shouldn’t be allowed to just walk onto a farmers field and take things. That makes it harder for them to prove their case, but that’s their problem.

      I wonder what’s going to happen when the patent runs out. Or will it ever be allowed to run out? Will changes in patent laws keep these plants as property forever? Will they make useless changes so they can extend patents, much like drug companies do?

      1. If a farmer saves seed from a patented plant and is violating his license, then he or she is breaking the law and stealing.

        This is true.

        And the laws that the farmer is thereby breaking are as evil as evil can be. As I’ve repeatedly observed, civilization started when people started saving seeds. Making it illegal to save seeds without paying Danegeld is as insane as making it illegal to breathe without paying Danegeld.


        1. And as I pointed out, farmers are fully capable of purchasing other seed that they can save and replant, year after year after year with no fear of penalties.

          As someone else pointed out, farmers have been purchasing seeds instead of saving them long before GMO’s were a glint in a scientists eye.

          It’s called specialization and is a feature of said civilization.

    7. To me the fallacy is that GMOs exist in a vacuum, that they don’t replace other, more harmful methods of increasing crop yields – irrigation, synthetic fertilizer, insecticides and herbicides. Negative aspects of GMOs need to be considered against the negatives they replace.

    8. See a post I made below but seed saving was not an issue with maize for 65 years of its existence. It only became an issue with the Anti GMO crowd. Its not a real issue with farmers. Farmers have a choice. The cranks can choose to grow non patented soy and cotton varieties if they want to save seed. No law at all against this. They will not have the yield of their neighbors but that is their business.

      LOL at applying glyphosate liberally. They are resistant not immune to glyphosate. The amount of glyphosate for RR Soy (picked this because it has the highest application rate) maxes out at 16 oz an acre. In return for the use of glyphosate we have replaced other herbicides like paraquat. Ask a farmer about that one and how much they miss it. Glyphosate has a high LD50, short half life, breaks down into non toxic base products. It has allowed over 70 percent of US farm land to go conservation tilling and about 20 percent no till. In South America its about 80 percent no till.

      Bt crops only target insects that are pest. They cant effect non pest because it requires the pest to attempted to eat them in order to work.

      GMO crops have lead to a dramatic drop in insecticide use, 20 percent of the level of 1995. It has increased real world yields with this year Illinois corn crops hitting 190 and many areas well over 200 bushels per acre. It has replaced nasty herbicides with much less harmful ones and lead to no and conservation tilling to take over.

    9. I wholeheartedly agree. GMO’s, in and of themselves, are not the issue.

      But the patenting of their genes is. Defenders of GMO’s often ignore the menace that multi-national corporations like Monsanto pose to small-time, ecologically responsible farmers.

      If a farmer chooses to use non-Monsanto seeds, and wind/insects carry some of those patented genes over to his fields, he is screwed. Monsanto has ruined many lives in an effort to protect its investment.

      I am amazed at how little attention is given to this issue.

      1. “If a farmer chooses to use non-Monsanto seeds, and wind/insects carry some of those patented genes over to his fields, he is screwed. Monsanto has ruined many lives in an effort to protect its investment.”

        Screwed in what way?

      2. Where are these examples of a small time ecologically responsible farmer being driven out of business by Monsanto? In these scare movies like omggmo and food inc its the same 7 farmers featured. Funny thing is none of them are what you described they just wanted DeKalb seed without paying for it.

        And it does not even make sense. Any farm like you describe is a purely marketing driven hobby farm. They would not be growing dent maize, soy, rape seed, or Sugar beet in the first place. I guess some could be growing alfalfa or cotton but its not common in these types of farms. They are not going to be growing Papaya which leaves a couple of squash. They grow next to a conventional farm they need to build refuge. Oh wait refuge is required in the organic standard anyways.

    10. Totally agree. Also, what long-term scientific studies have been done showing that glyphosate has no adverse on human health? I’m surprised that Professor Seralini’s name hasn’t been brought up in this discussion. His censored paper was republished in spite of Monsanto’s attempts to have it discredited and permanently withdrawn:
      Wikileaks has revealed that Monsanto has been using underhanded influence and threats to get Europe to accept GMOs despite the fact that we prefer non-GMO foods:
      There is at the very least a reasonable doubt concerning the ethics of Monsanto scientists. Especially when you consider that two of Pamela Ronald’s scientific papers (published in 2009 and 2011 respectively) were retracted in 2013, and questions raised about a third paper due to errors, which included mislabeled samples and failure to use replicable experimental conditions.

      1. I knew that Seralini’s study was retracted in some shady circumstances under the pressure of GMO industry, but wasn’t aware that it has eventually been republished. I’m afraid that most people are unaware of this fact, as I have been until now.

        1. No just no. The Seralini paper was retracted because it basically was fraud and was tore apart by public scientist (public here meaning both public in they work for public Universities and pubic in that they have a public outreach with a blog or column) from different fields its methodology and results where that bad.

          1. Um, are you aware that Professor Seralini works at the University of Caen, France? Monsanto’s essentially in-house studies were stopped too quickly – just before the rats started developing cancer. Seralini’s studies lasted two years. At the very least another long-term study needs to be done by a respected authority that this time follows all the peer-developed roolz. What exactly is the objection to this very reasonable demand? And, once again, the problem would seem to be more the glyphosates, not the technology of GMOs.

      2. Funny IonianWonder mentions Ronald’s retractions as evidence of guilt but Seralini’s retraction as evidence of a conspiracy. You also forgot to mention Seralini republished his discredited study in a non-peer reviewed journal. Monsanto had nothing to do with it.

        Conspiracy theories…without them, the anti-GMO movment truly has nothing to talk about.

        1. I don’t get your point. Ronald published in a peer-reviewed journal but her peers did not catch her rather enormous errors – on three different occasions. And your conclusion is what? that Ronald is no worse than Seralini? Or better somehow? How?
          I would still like to know whether there exist any long-term studies showing absolutely no harmful effects on living beings. Or is the long-term study everyone who now consumes GMOs and does not immediately die? And how would one prove the connection between GMOs and deaths or illnesses way down the line? Practically impossible. I suppose you know what Karl Popper said about unverifiability? According to his criterion, this is therefore not Science. Just business.

    11. Ben,
      Do you have proof Bt is causing “ecological havoc”? Because those are pretty loaded words if you do not have evidence. You criticized a poster below for repeating corporate propaganda when he was making a factual statement about Bt. Throwing “ecological havoc” around as if it were a proven point is like repeating Greenpeace propaganda. Are those the people you really want to represent plant science to the public?

  3. Why cant the products be labeled as such?
    I have no problem with mingling banana DNA with tomatos or mixing apples with oranges but mixing Dow’s pesticide with corn seed make my ears perk up. Are we saying there is no concern?
    “’ “Pesticide Induced Diseases Database” provides access to a wide array of scientific studies on the dangerous health effects of pesticides. Glyphosate and Roundup, the herbicides which GE crops depend upon, are implicated in numerous adverse health impacts in human beings. Roundup formulations are of particular concern because the “inactive/inert” ingredients in the product have been shown to enhance the toxicity of glyphosate. One particular “inactive” ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, a surfactant used to adhere and allow glyphosate to penetrate into plant leaves, was shown to be capable of killing human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, according to a study published in Chemical Research and Toxicology”

    1. Why shouldn’t GMO crops be labelled? Any producer is free to label their products as GMO-free, but there are regulations around what can be mandated to appear on a label. Because labels necessarily create a negative impression, laws say that the labels should only appear when they indicate a substantial difference in the product. Since GMO produce is not substantially different than non-GMO produce, the label provides no information about the product and unnecessarily creates confusion and fear in the consumer.

      But I as a consumer wish to support growers that don’t use GMOs or to punish those that do, why shouldn’t I be allowed to do that? Well, you can to some extent as some producers will voluntarily label. I believe the courts have found that when you go into questions of curiosity or discussions of the process rather than the result (when the process has been found to be safe and compliant with regulations) then you don’t have a *right* to know. In many ways, this makes sense. Imagine all of the things consumers may wish to know about their food – was migrant labour used, did non-Muslims handle the food, was the field tilled, was it grown in a greenhouse, what type of nets were used for fishing, and so on. The list is potentially endless.

      1. As a consumer, spending my hard earned cash, i demand to know what’s in the food I eat. Mixing in who touched it during production is not a concern to anyone ( though some folks want only kosher food).
        Peanuts are safe for me to eat but to some they are lethal.
        I dont think the studies are complete in the GE components I cited in my post.If pesticide dna is including in corn does it leach into the edible product?
        Why do you try to deflect from my concern? Touching or the religious persuasion of the farm worker does not change the DNA.

        1. Peanuts cause harm to those with allergies, and there is very good evidence for this. They are labeled because there is a good reason to do so. Not so with GMOs; there is no documented harm from them as a class of organisms. Same for hybrids, which we also do not label. GMOs could contain DNA for any protein in the known universe, so it makes no sense to label GE foods as “Contains GMOs” just like it makes no sense to label foods “Contains DNA”. It is meaningless information-wise and only serves to mislead and manipulate consumer choices in favor of a specific industry. Rational people should oppose this.

          There are also no labels for foods modified by mutagenesis, no labels for foods modified by induced whole genome duplications, and no labels for food poisoning dangers organic foods present (remember those 31 deaths and hundreds of injuries from organic sprouts in Germany in 2011?).

          So why should we label GMOs and suggest they are dangerous by doing so when no dangers exist? Answer: marketing advantages for organic growers who want a scarlet letter slapped on their competition, all based on ignorance of science, hysteria, and paranoia. The government has no interest in giving the organic industry free propaganda based on vacuous science, and we should resist these attempts to manipulate us with scary, information-free buzzwords like “GMO”.

          The safety or danger of a trait is related to that trait, no on the technique used to introduce it.

        2. DNA gets broken down during digestion, it simply isn’t an issue. And pesticides don’t have DNA.

          It’s nice to know that you don’t care about the religions or ethnicity of the people that handle your food, but other people have and still do. Some for purely racist reasons, some because they are opposed to migrant labour. Their interest, which you blithly wave away as being of no concern to anyone, are at least as relevant as whether the crop is GMO or not.

    2. In the US we have the 1st amendment. We can only require speech if there is an overriding public interest. What is that in the case of GM crops? That you think they might be icky? Well I might want to know what the nationality and immigration status of the pickers are. There was a grand total of 1 peer reviewed study that was later retracted in a mid or high impact journal showing harm from GMOs. There are hundreds of independently funded papers in high and mid impact journals showing safety of GM crops.

      You mention pesticides. All crops sold at your grocery store including organic used pesticides. So not sure what use that would be. I mean you have now on labels where companies can list either natural or artificial flavor in the list of ingredients in order to protect trade secrets. What is labeled natural could come from a beavers anal gland and be used for a strawberry taste (cant remember what beaver anal gland really taste like but it is a widely used natural flavor) while the artificial flavor could be something like salt flavor that is produced with pure Sodium and Chlorine.

  4. It’s obviously ignorant to blanket-condemn all genetic modifications, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want them to be properly tested for effects on our anatomies and on possible environmental impacts. And I’m not sure I trust companies such as Monsanto to do that. If anything, I want transparent science done by a neutral agency.
    Monsanto’s current strategy of an arms race with nature — ever more resistant crops combined with ever more toxic weed and pest killers — just doesn’t seem sustainable. Is that an anti-science stance on my part?

    1. Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and the real largest agrichemical company Syngenta along with the dozens of others are required by law to run these tests. There are 3rd party tests done and some great ones just came out in the last few months.

      A decade of EU funded GMO research. I would link but I only have a direct link to the PDF.

      There are hundreds more too.

      That is the thing we are using less toxic weed killers which have replaced some nasty stuff and we are using only 20 percent of the insecticides we where using.

    2. In a world with limitless funding and technical resources, we could do all those safety tests private companies are required to do using tax payer funded research labs. Those companies would be only too happy to let taxpayers food the bill. The question on testing comes down to: who will pay for it? Do you really think the public should pay for private companies to bring new products to market?

      As for the arms race with nature, that is not a Monsanto-specific strategy, that is what most humans do with every endeavor that is important to us. You wouldn’t refuse a new antibiotic to cure an infection with multiple drug resistant bacteria for fear of enabling this “arms race” would you?

  5. The GMO issue is not black and white. The ecological risks are real, and more should be done to test and regulate GMOs.

    NewEnglandBob in Comment #1 is just as guilty of making inaccurate statements as some of the anti-GMO people. GMOs are not necessarily analogous to crops modified by ordinary crossbreeding and selection. The sudden introduction of a gene from a different phylum (eg bt toxin genes from microorganisms, or anti-freeze genes from mollusks or fish) can give its possessor a huge selective advantage over its natural competitors. That’s a simple consequence of the pace of evolution- in nature a complex gene never arrives fully formed in a single step; slow small steps give an ecosystem’s components a chance to evolve to deal with changes.

    Thus if a wild plant species that incorporates one of these genes suddenly is freed of caterpillar predation, or frost damage, there is a high probability that it would be as devastatingly invasive as kudzu or buckthorn or other ecologically disastrous introduced plants.

    Having said that, I don’t have a problem with the health impacts of most GMOs. Golden rice has no problems or risks that I know of, neither for health nor for ecosystems. Roundup-resistance likewise seems unlikely to pose a danger to health (except indirectly through increased use of Roundup close to harvest). I do wonder about bt crops though.

    Finally, I have to say that Obama’s appointment of a Monsanto VP as an FDA food safety czar suggests that our regulatory structure is not necessarily as independent as it should be on this issue.

    1. I agree that we want to be rational about assessing the benefits and risks of genetically engineering organisms, and not sweepingly oppose a potentially useful technology. But I also think that, rationally, there are some concerns that shouldn’t be ignored.

      More specifically, I think there are at least two different varieties of genetic engineering that should involve very different levels of concern. For alterations like golden rice, and the introduction of genes to produce pharmaceutical or industrial chemicals (such as goats that produce spider silk), there is little chance that such changes provide a general selective advantage in the wild to the target organisms, or to any wild organisms that might have those genes transferred to them. In such cases, the issues are largely those of economics and health, and I think it GMOs are relatively beneficial and well worth developing.

      The concerning cases with GMOs are when the introduced genetic changes provide a huge selective advantage that can potentially convey inadvertently to unintended targets (such as pesticide resistance). In such instances, I think much more caution and research is required when adding in capabilities to organisms that might cause them, or via transfer, other organisms, to massively outcompete in their ecological niche. Humanity’s track record with invasive species, both intentionally and unintentionally introduced, suggests that we’re not particularly good at determining the outcome of those kinds of manipulations.

      I think it is reasonable to consider whether, when doing genetic engineering of that sort, one shouldn’t also require some sort of feature that prevent the change from being exploited by other organisms. One sees this kind of intervention not infrequently in the lab, where genetically modified microorganisms are created lacking the ability to synthesize some critical amino acid or other chemical, and thus cannot survive outside the lab. (Of course, that approach was also used in Jurassic Park, but in that fictionalized account it didn’t work out very well…)

      1. Yes, I agree. And I think sometimes these sorts of controls are in fact added to some GMOs. Such controls should be mandatory and would go a long way towards easing the reasonable fears of ecologists.

    2. How do you imagine these genes will be jumping from a crop to the weeds? Whatever answer you come up with, why is this worse with GMO than with the wild plants that already have these genes?

      Remember that our food crops are very heavily transformed from any wild cousins. In many cases, our crops won’t grow at all without the constant intervention of a human farmer, some won’t even fertilize themselves. They grow so well because the conditions are artificial, but remove the farmer and they do not compete well with wild plants.

      1. Alex, to answer your first question, GMO genes from crops do jump to their wild relatives. This has been extensively documented, for example for canola and its relatives in the western US. Your second question assumes that these genes already exist in some wild plants. That is not the case for the cross-phylum GMOs, which are of greatest concern in terms of potential ecological effects. Such plants are at least as risky as known invasives. And the US government has recently proposed regulating importation of even a few seeds of high-risk invasive plants. Yet potentially riskier plants can be grown freely in massive quantities just because they are GMOs. How is that sensible?

        1. Exactly. Genes can jump in rare cases, but it has happened for a billion years and guess what, it hasn’t led to the ecological disasters we keep hearing about.

          Think of the LHC and the detractors saying it would create a black hole and consume the earth. Well energies that high are reached regularly in our upper atmosphere so if this were a real concern, the earth would already have been destroyed. It’s the same thing here.

          1. No it isn’t the same thing. We have abundant evidence that introduction of new alien species often DOES lead to ecological disaster. It has happened in many places and it continues to this day, as alien plants, fungi, and insects eliminate entire ecosystems like the hemlock forests of the NE US. Cross-phylum GMO plants are at least as risky as the alien plants which wreck ecosystems.

            1. We have abundant evidence that introduction of new alien species often DOES lead to ecological disaster.

              If you took that argument seriously it would be used to shut down virtually all agriculture. GMOs do not significantly alter this risk.

              1. “If you took that argument seriously it would be used to shut down virtually all agriculture.”

                How so?

              2. It’s not just that no modern crop resembles its wild predecessor, it’s that once a useful crop is discovered it’s spread across the world. If a given crop is grown in the region where it was discovered and evolved, it’s likely to be a coincidence. And whatever dynamics existed to keep it in check with its ecosystem has been totally destroyed by agriculture which from the beginning has been about upsetting whatever natural balance might exist so that the crops we chose will win. They are, almost without exception, invasive.

                Apples are as American as anything, yet they’re invasive (originally Turkey, I think). Tomatoes are invasive to Italy. Cassava is a staple in Africa yet came from S America. What is more iconic in Western North America than endless fields of wheat, yet wheat arose in the middle east. Rice originated in China so should we burn all rice crops in India?

                If one really has a problem with invasive crops, then no crop is safe.

              3. You and I have different definitions of “invasive.”

                Most of the crops you mention prosper only due to huge inputs on the part of the growers to increase the favorable odds for them–fertilizers, irrigation, weed control, not to mention, of course, usually having to sow seed each year.

                If you want to know invasives, see kudzu, garlic mustard, spotted knapweed, loosestrife, etc., including many common plants that have been with us so long we assume they’re native–Queen Anne’s Lace, Chicory, et al. (Speaking for the US, of course–other ecosystems will have other invasives.)

              4. You and I have different definitions of “invasive.”

                I was responding to the comment “We have abundant evidence that introduction of new alien species often DOES lead to ecological disaster” as a reason to oppose GMOs. Perhaps “alien” is a better term than invasive which does seem to be reserved for species which are both alien and harmful.

            2. In other words, your comment about tomatoes is simply an attempt to muddy the waters, and makes no sense in the context of genetically engineered crops possibly being harmful to the local environment.

              1. In other words, your comment about tomatoes is simply an attempt to muddy the waters, and makes no sense in the context of genetically engineered crops possibly being harmful to the local environment.

                The argument that GMOs should be rejected solely because they’re introducing new genes into the environment makes as much sense as rejecting tomatoes. Less, because tomatoes introduce not just one gene but thousands.

                Yes, it’s silly. But why is it silly to say that tomatoes are safe but GMOs are not? I can’t see any reason, but I don’t think there will be an environmental apocalypse.

              2. Alex, in post # 7 Lou Jost has presented a very good short summary of why some caution is warranted.

              3. Diane – we’re replying to Lou’s #7 post, so that’s hardly a place to go for clarification.

                He says alien species cause ecological devastation. Simply not true. All crops are alien and whatever their impact, it has been largely intentional. New genes are not being added to super-kudzu, they’re being added to crops we know and understand and which already exist in the environment (though they are, still, alien). Because they’ve been modified already so heavily, they require human intervention to thrive – you won’t see corn growing uncontrolled in ditches. Adding new genes to make them slightly more tolerant to drought or salt will make them more productive than other versions of the same crop under some conditions, but they’re far from being a pest.

                Lou is talking about there being problems solely because they’re alien which is nonsense.

                If we wanted a serious discussion, we’d look at the real risks. Would use of pesticides breed tolerance in weeds, not through gene transfer but the old boring approach of providing strong selection pressures?

                Kudzu and other invasive species aren’t a problem because they have one gene, but because they have a whole constellation of genes that evolved to combat predators and conditions that don’t exist. Just getting a single gene won’t make a dull plant into a super-weed. If there were serious concerns (due to the type of crop & genes, who knows), then we should deal with it on an individual case-by-case basis. There’s no reason to think that GMOs are any riskier than any of the other alien crops we all eat.

              4. “He says alien species cause ecological devastation.”

                Alex,that’s an unfair representation. He says some alien plants have demonstrably proved to cause such devastation, and nowhere does he mention crops in that context. And he speculates on what could happen if bt-producing crops manage to breed with local species.

                His point is that some GMO modifications may indeed result in a competitive advantage if they spread to the environment, when the modifications are sufficiently alien & ‘advanced’ that the existing biota would not have time (in the evolutionary sense) to respond accordingly.

                As to your corn example–corn is wind pollinated, which makes the possibility of gene transfer quite good.

                “If there were serious concerns (due to the type of crop & genes, who knows), then we should deal with it on an individual case-by-case basis.”

                I believe that’s about all he’s asking for. You keep misrepresenting the argument by making sweeping statements, when the rest of us are making distinctions on a case by case basis.

    3. Most of the ecological concerns you mention are also present with other methods of farming. In fact, they are potentially far worse with traditional farming techniques, which often introduces not single genes but entire organisms or untested hybrid varieties to the field. The rates of acquisition of genes by lateral gene transfer or escape and hybridization with wild populations does not occur frequently enough to justify concerns about GMOs when greater concerns about conventional agriculture are largely ignored. You are making the same error in logic that Bill Nye has made: hyperskepticism of GMOs, which present low levels of risk, but completely ignoring dangers of traditional agriculture, which presents far higher risks.

  6. GMOs could certainly go a long way toward improving the health of our landscapes, waterways, and humans (and other creatures) who use them. For example, Big Ag could be using transgenics to develop drought-resistant germ plasm and cereal crops that grow as perennials rather than shallow-rooted annuals. However, most applications of the technology have been what is most profitable for Big Ag, such as Round Up Ready corn and soy. Herbicide-resistant crops have only INCREASED the use of herbicides while at the same time leading to the evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds. In some cases, these resistant weeds have required farmers to return to deep-tillage practices that require more energy and promote the degradation of soil (via erosion and nutrient losses).

    Good applications of the technology include Golden Rice and disease resistant crops. I’d like to see more of these beneficial applications, but on the whole, Big Ag has a dubious history in how it licenses and rolls out these technologies. Arguably, there are some GMO applications that would be better developed by government or other non-profit research groups and then freely licensed to growers around the world.

    1. Yes. GMO is like any technology. It can be used for good or it can be used for evil.

      The anti-GMO activists don’t understand this. If their logic were followed systematically, they would oppose everything from automobiles to screwdrivers.

      1. That certainly applies to some who oppose Big Agriculture, but not all of us. See this very thread for where I myself have praised Golden Rice and expressed the hypothetical possibility that I could consider GMO innovations comparable to those of Luther Burbank.

        To continue your analogy: I have similar ethical problems with many features of modern automobiles, not the least of which is their use of mined petrochemicals for fuel. But that doesn’t mean that I’d rather live in a world with no automobiles at all; quite the contrary. I just want to see them owned and operated responsibly.


          1. I’m just trying to make sure that you’re not painting all those who oppose Big Agriculture with the same brush. Some are Luddites, but many have legitimate and specific beefs that happen to cover a majority of real-world practices without applying to the principles.


        1. As Ben has said better than I ever could, the issue isn’t with the technology or all of the products of the research. The problem is that the technology serves a wide range of intent – From Norman Borloug to Monsanto. It doesn’t mean you won’t eat any thing genetically modified. Just that it would be nice to know what’s in the food I’m thinking about eating.

          1. I’ll wager you haven’t a clue about what’s in any of the food you eat. And I’m not being insulting here. I have no idea either, not being a food chemist. What’s in that tomato I just ate? I haven’t a clue beyond some obvious things and useless generalities (water, some acids, some sugars, a bunch of redness).

            If that tomato had “GMO” on it would I actually know what I was eating? Nope. It would be a completely useless label, except in the political/emotional sense. GMO labeling isn’t offered to better inform customers. It is a technique by some corporations (calling themselves “organic”) for frightening people into purchasing their product instead of the other guys.

            1. Obviously, the particular TLA in question would be of little use. Proper labeling would be more informative, such as that this came from a RoundUp-Ready crop (which might have higher residues of glyphosate than other crops, but probably still negligible for human consumption) or some new soybean crop with peanut genes in it (which might be hazardous to those with peanut allergies but are just fine for everybody else).

              I’ll wager you’re pretty confident that there wasn’t any peanut oil in that tomato you just ate. But if the tomato had been engineered to express peanut oil for some reason or other, and you were allergic to peanuts, wouldn’t you want to know?

              Or do you oppose food labeling in general? Because I’m really at a loss as to an argument against specific GMO labeling as I’ve described that wouldn’t equally apply to all other labeling requirements as they stand today.


              1. Of course I’m not. I’m opposed to labeling that is uninformative. “GMOs inside” isn’t informative. A label that identifies actual hazards, like your hypothetical peanut case, would be useful. That isn’t the type of labeling that any of the GMO activists is advocating, as far as I’ve seen. It’s all argued in the abstract… “I should be able to know what I’m eating” which is a kind of deepity. On one level, of course you should. Everyone should be able to know what they are eating. But on another level it is BS, because “GMO” is not a meaningful label.

              2. Ben you seem like the type to be well informed abut the things you argue about, which is why I am so surprised to see you make such a stupid argument as possible peanut genes in a tomato. I can see where someone who is pretty ignorant of the subject could think its a good argument and a good point. But its complete and utter crap and you should know better.

            2. I really don’t think that you have to be a food chemist to be thoughtful about what you consume. I’m fortunate to live in a region where lots of fresh foods are available. Fresh foods as in things that don’t require a label to identify.

              Since we’ve evolved eating that type of food, I’m less worried about the local tomato than I am about processed food that includes additives, chemicals and additional sugars that aren’t critical to nutrition.

              And in the case of certain GMOs it’s not just the nature of the foods themselves – it’s the agricultural processes that are enabled by them. For example, Round-up resistant seed leads to agricultural practices where large quantities of the agent are saturated into the soil.

              1. Then you should be demanding labeling that addresses Round-up ready agriculture, not “GMO’s Inside”.

                I didn’t advocate that one not be thoughtful about what one eats. I don’t eat meat because I’ve thought about it and reasoned my way to a particular position. I’m simply arguing that GMO labeling, as advocated by health food faddists, is meaningless and dangerous. It tells you nothing useful about the food and it prevents the use of prevents the use of profoundly helpful technology. It is scare labeling, not informative labeling.

              2. Again, it’s not about the three letters. Labeling the presence of GMOs allows people like myself to examine the track records of the producers in question and decide if we want to vote with our pocketbook. The other point is that not everyone is a food fadist who has concerns about GMOs and agri-business anymore than those who are concerned about the human effect on climate are tree hugging alarmists.

              3. The point, Pliny, is that the labeling advocated by anti-GMO activists doesn’t do what you think it would. I can see no useful information information being proposed in the suggested labels. If I’m missing something, please show some examples of proposed meaningful labels. I’m willing to be wrong if you can show it in some tangible way.

              4. Here in Oregon we had a labelling initiative on the ballot, (which went down by a single percentage point), which would have required: ” …the manufacturer shall include the words “Genetically Engineered” clearly and conspicuously on the front or back of the package of such commodity.” That would be the entire label. Doesn’t really tell you much.

      2. Yes. GMO is like any technology. It can be used for good or it can be used for evil.

        It’s mainly used for profit. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that corporations are overly concerned with good or evil.

    2. Herbicide use has gone down an average of .8 percent per year between according to the USDA. Glyphosate is off patent and the Chinese have been dumping it on the market for the last 10 years. Herbicide resistant weeds are fact of farming and its a 12,000 year battle that will never be won. If round up ready did not exist there would still be herbicide use. The holy grail in weed research is the use of a product like glyphosate that is broad spectrum and post emergent and only requires 1 application per season. There are plenty of ways to combat this problem before even getting to tilling which is the last resort. And now there is enlist.

      1. Here’s a data source you may be interested in:

        Your claim about herbicide use is not supported, at least with respect to glyphosate (the companion technology used in Round-up ready germ plasm). I checked all crops for the years 1990 through 2006, and total glyphosate use is up as is use in lbs per acre. For all corn and soybeans, the trend is up.

        Corn went from a high of 1.07 lbs/ac in 1991, to a low of 0.51 lbs/ac in 1997, and has been steadily creeping up since. Once corn gets tall enough, it can get by with less herbicide as it shades most weeds.

        For soybeans, 0.98 lbs/ac in 1990, dipped to a low of 0.93 lbs/ac in 1994, and climbed to 1.4 by 2006.

        Herbicide resistance is most certainly NOT a 12,000 year old problem, given that the technology didn’t come into being until the 20th century.

        1. Corn is the worst crop! The sprays to allow it to grow kill everything. There is a whole section of my woods that is dead because it is next to a corn field that was sprayed (most likely when it was windy). The land to grow corn craps out pretty fast too so you need to rotate your crops a lot – a lot of farmers put something like alfalfa in there for a few years in between.

          1. Corn is definitely input and energy intensive, requiring lots of fertilizer and fuel, in addition to herbicides. This is where the GM technologies could really make a difference, by finding ways to reduce these inputs (as the Bt trait does, but the Round-up ready trait does not). I’d like to see the crop developed as a deep-rooted perennial that can get by on fewer fertilizer inputs, add carbon back to the soil rather than deplete it, and be better adapted for variable climates.

        2. If you are going to move the goal post can you please let me know first before you then try a gotcha on me?

          Yes my claim of herbicide use going down is supported by the USDA. Which is what you claimed in your first post how was I supposed to know you really meant glyphosate. Yes Glyphosate use is up. This is a good thing. Its replacing atrazine and paraquat and the like.

          Soybeans which require the largest dose use 16 oz per acre in the worst case of glyphosate. This according to the label and to university annex.

          Weed resistance is most certainly a 12,000 year old problem. There are weeds for rice paddies that look just like rice to fool humans picking weeds. There are weeds that can survive tilling.

          1. Citation, please. And your charge of goal post moving is bs, but nice pivot there with your re-characterization of herbicide resistance that has now morphed into “weed resistance.” Goal post moving, indeed! Yes, mimicry is widespread in nature, but this can hardly be considered an example of herbicide resistance or “weed resistance.”

  7. The commercial and scientific aspects of GM are completely distinct and there is no reason why one must involve the other. Monsanto is, quite rightly, one of the most reviled organizations on Earth, and I quite understand why anyone would want to avoid supporting them. But it’s quite possible for GM research to be done in the public interest, as it is for instance at Rothamsted Research (, where their GM wheat trials are publicly funded and the results non-patentable — and where the specific traits they are trying to introduce through GM are not resistance to pesticides, as Monsanto does (so it can sell more pesticides!) but production of a natural aphid repellent in the wheat so pesticides are not needed.

    If there was more Rothamsted in the world, and less Monsanto, the whole conversation would be a lot simpler.

    1. Excellent response. Too often GMO has become synonymous with Monsanto. There’s much excellent research going on, such as you’ve described, in other countries. Even Monsanto isn’t all bad, but they have poisoned public opinion in relation to GMO.

  8. Pro and contra GMO appear like dogmatic positions, when it is not hard to produce examples that show that either position is wrong when taken as absolutes. Humans have modified genes for thousands of years through artificial selection – including Ray Comfort’s banana. Likewise, it is easy to think up genetic modifications that can be devastasting to our ecosystems.

    However, looking at each organism and modification requires hard work and it is easier for many to go with general rules. Conservatism is a superior “general rule” in this case, as it won’t wreck ecosystems or cause devastating Black Swans but at the same time it doesn’t improve the situation for hungry people, either. It’s easy to have that view when your stomach is filled.

    Hence, GMO companies need to demonstrate, on a case by case basis, what happens when their modifications “go wild” and they need to show what the costs are in worst case scenarious. If these costs are too high even if the risk is small, that particular modification cannot be set free.

    Other than that, like any technology it can benefit great many people but it also requires greater responsibility.

    1. Artificial selection generally results in traits changing rather slow, often over many years, so we have time to react to any adverse effects. Even then, sometimes things go horribly wrong as with the infamous killer bee.

      Genetic changes can cause much more dramatic changes in a single generation. You can wait for the Day of the Invasive Sunflowers which take over their neighbouring vineyard.

  9. The central point should be that we care about the nature of any modification, not how it was produced. The problem is that people who have issues, e.g., with Monsanto, use fear and ignorance of GMOs to fight their battles rather than targeting the specific abuse that they perceive.

    1. I would add on that there is a real ignorance of farming. People really seem to think a farm is what is on the label of their food or that is what its supposed to look like. They have this ideal which if was reality would result in a couple of billion people dying of famine.

      I mean there is discussion about seed saving going on. This is not a real issue in the agricultural world any more then evolution by natural selection is a real issue in biology. Maize farmers have not saved seed for about 80 years now. No one was crying about saving seed in 1993. In the 80s and 90s cotton and soy farmers where moving to buying new seed each year instead of saving. When the seed companies first came out with Bt Cotton and Soy in the mid 90s they where worried the tech agreement would hurt sales instead they had demand far greater then even their most optimistic projections. There is a reason why in crops with a GM trait they soon become 90 percent of the market share. Farmers love them.

      Honestly if you look at the anti GMO argument most of them come down to some version of farmers are stupid. Which is funny coming from someone whose experience growing food is their backyard garden if that.

  10. What are the ecological implications of known, controlled mutations that make them substantially worse than the unknown, uncontrolled mutations which have been going on for a billion years?

    If someone truly believed that a mutation could devastate an ecosystem, then there must be a real chance of that mutation occurring naturally. So why the apparent lack of concern? And if we’re worried about the possibility of harm, then I think this would only serve to justify testing (which we have) not the sort of paranoia and demonization which has lead to these GMO labeling initiatives.

    1. Well… inserting a gene from one genome to another is rather different from a mutation.

      Still, I agree that GMO technology is far more controlled, in the sense of knowing what is actually happening, than old fashioned crossing methods.

      1. Different from a mutation or natural processes in which respects?

        Humans have viral DNA in our genome. Mutations can create new alleles but they can also create whole new genes. What does it matter if the new gene arose “naturally” or through careful insertion? It’s almost like there’s some notion of original genetic sin, that a gene is all cool if it arose through radiation, a chemical fluke or a retrovirus, but is tainted and evil if it was added intentionally.

        1. No, the fundamental point is the one made so clearly by invasive species: members of ecosystems need time to evolve adaptations to each other. Competitors can keep up with mall changes. Not so with big, sudden changes. If you take a complex set of shellfish genes and stick them in a plant, and if those genes give the plant a major selective advantage over existing plants, we can expect large disruptions. As we always tell creationists, there is absolutely no chance that evolution will naturally produce such a gene combination all at once—that’s not how evolution works. It probably took tens of millions of years to evolve that gene in the shellfish. It is unreasonable to expect that the competing plants in an ecosystem will be able to quickly evolve their own shellfish-like genes in order to be able to keep up with the GMO-influenced plants.

          1. Farms are not natural in any way. With few exceptions the crops grown could not survive without human intervention. I am not even talking about maize and soy grown in the Midwest that is thousands of miles from their original home either.

        2. Mutations can only happen on existing genetic material. Lacking the precursor conditions, mutation could not mimic the kind of complete gene transfer that can be done with GMO technology.

          Professor Ceiling Cat might correct me if I’m wrong.

    2. What are the ecological implications of known, controlled mutations that make them substantially worse than the unknown, uncontrolled mutations which have been going on for a billion years?

      BT crops constantly produce an insecticide, rather than on a limited as-needed basis with traditional application. It’s the same basic problem as with ranchers who dose all their livestock with antibiotics even when the can’t possibly be ill.

      RoundUp-Ready crops are planted with the expectation that they’ll be liberally sprayed with glyphosate, resulting in the same sorts of ecological damage.


      1. “BT crops constantly produce an insecticide”

        So do coffee plants and camellia (tea) plants which both produce the insecticide called caffeine. There are bucket loads of other alkaloid insecticides that plants constantly produce, and that is just the alkaloids.

        1. Sorry, but that’s just the naturalistic fallacy and irrelevant. The particular pesticide these particular plants are producing is novel to the environment and in unprecedented quantities, and that’s the problem. Your might as well have objected that nightshade is poisonous to cattle, so what’s all the fuss about?


            1. I’m sorry, but your responses are really only consistent with either trolling or shilling. Clearly, BT is novel to the environment in the quantities introduced, as I wrote, or else it wouldn’t even theoretically be effective — as even an introductory understanding of Evolutionary biology would tell you.

              There’s likely no point in me continuing to provide a foil for you to parrot Koch Brothers, etc., talking points.


              1. What is with the anti GMO side and calling those that disagree shills?

                You got to warn me before you move the goal post. You said Bt is novel when its not. Basically its going to be in any soil that you can grow crops in naturally. Now you want to change it in quantities introduced. Well its contained in the plant and can only go into the environment if a bug tries to eat it. Its a widely used insecticide for non Bt crops too.

              2. The larvicidal proteins from Bt crops can (and do, in the case of corn) exude from plant roots, as many plants leak various proteins and sugars in their rhizosphere. The proteins are unlikely to persist very long in the soil, but even so, there is the potential for non-target effects or for selecting Bt resistant pests. Although Bacillus thuringiensis is ubiquitous in soil, the concentration of the larvicidal proteins is known to increase with cropping system. Bt resistant pests have emerged throughout the Midwest, but like any other form of resistance, it is conceivably a manageable problem (i.e. crop rotation and integrated pest management).

        2. BT crops produce a chemical which humans have labels as an insecticide.

          The real question is:
          How does that chemical effect the ecosystem and eventually, humans after consumption?

          Does BT have adverse effects on non targeted insects? Yes.

          Are BT products consumed by humans? I’ve heard it’s gotten into the human food system. Although it’s not been certified for human consumption (last I heard), if it’s not hurting farm animals, I doubt it’s hurting humans. I don’t think we can know without studies, but I don’t know if the studies have been done.

          I think if BT GMO’s products are being grown in India and China (or sold to them) then I think it’s extremely likely they are getting into our food.

          If some people don’t mind putting poison into baby milk, I think it’s highly likely they will do substitute BT products if those are cheaper.

  11. Well, that is a buzz kill.
    I guess I can say that I like Nye, despite his GMO stance and lending some monetary assistance to the Hamites.
    I also like Neil DG Tyson, though I have not agreed with him on everything.
    I like Dawkins, Krause, Collins, E.O. Wilson, Bill Maher… but I do not agree with them on everything.
    I have to say that this is a doozy about Nye.

    1. There are lots of people that I like and admire, but never do I agree with them on everything. I think Bill Maher is great, but his anti-vax stance is just stupid imo. I’m more ambivalent about Nye – the stuff I don’t like is slightly more, including his anti-GMO stance – but that’s not going to stop me agreeing when I think he’s right.

      1. Yeah, but he is now moving down several rungs in my list. Saying poorly thought out things is one thing, but this stance of his is harmful in a very real sense.

        1. I was agreeing with you Mark. Sorry I didn’t make that more clear. My bad.

          My dig is at people who diss a person completely because of one or two differing opinions, like the vilification of Dawkins in some quarters.

          Nye has gone down in my estimation too because of this stance.

  12. I cannot say good or evil in all of this but Monsanto, along with a very few others pretty much have a monopoly on the farmers of the mid-west. You might say the farmers work for them. In the corn and bean belt the business is a one trick pony and every one does the same thing. They plant corn or beans and that is it.

    If there is an over supply of these two crops what do the farmers do, just plant more of the same. If the price goes to nothing what do they do, just plant more. The entire structure is based on doing this one thing.

    So they pour on more fertilizer and plant more and raise more. It pollutes the rivers and the Gulf and the cycle continues. We just hope China keeps buying more.

    1. There honestly has to be more nonsense in the GMO debate then any other science “debate” and this includes evolution and global warming.

      No Monsanto is not even close to a monopoly in the mid-west. They are not even the largest seed seller. That would be Dow Pioneer.

        1. He claimed Monsanto had a monopoly on seeds in the Midwest. They don’t they have about 11 percent of the US corn seed market share. Dow the biggest went from about 40 percent of the market share before GMO where introduced to about 18 percent of the market share. Independent seed companies collectively have the highest market share.

          In Illinois, Iowa and eastern portion of the Dakotas there are about 30 seed companies to choose from. The rest of the corn belt has between a dozen and 2 dozen seed companies to choose from. The small seed company is getting stronger not weaker.

  13. The anti-GMO campaign is a very dangerous kind of dis-information. One probem looming on the horizon is population growth, and so our species very much needs to find new ways to increase crop yields. There is now some new developments that might help us do that one day, in the form of crops that are modified to have a more efficient form of the enzyme rubisco. This key enzyme is what ‘fixes’ carbon dioxide into organic molecules, and so is the cornerstone of most of the food for life on earth. But rubisco is one of the least efficient enzymes around. I mean it really sucks, with an an unbelievably slow reaction rate and a tendency to react counterproductively with oxygen. So modifying it to make it better should (in theory) improve crop yields and thereby save billions of lives in the future.
    But GMO fears could interfere with its implementation should the new kinds of crops ever be developed.

    1. One probem looming on the horizon is population growth, and so our species very much needs to find new ways to increase crop yields.

      Why is it that this conversation always just assumes that we’re guaranteed to have an exploding population, that this is a good thing, and that we must wreck our planet to feed ever-expanding numbers of humans?

      Why don’t we ever discuss ways to keep the human population in check so we don’t need to go to such drastic measures in the first place?


      1. Because we have reality that shows a growing population. That the previous projections showing a leveling off are no longer valid and now projections have us with 3 billion more people. Unless you want to be the one to start killing billions we need real solutions. The one proven way to decrease birth rate is to increase the wealth of farmers.

        1. Sorry…didn’t realize my SIWOTI was hanging out like that. I’ll shut up, now, though there’re already a few replies to me I’d otherwise reply to….


        2. Ben Goren is the small, persistent voice that best presents the “other side” of this discussion. He’s almost alone against everyone else. The discussion is being dominated by the pro-GMOers. There are rules and intelligent exceptions to rules. GMOs is not a cut-and-dry issue. (By the way, my previous comment got posted after Jimisawesome, whereas I had “replied” to Ben Goren’s comment in post 15. It is now lost somewhere in the middle where no one will read it.)

  14. Some of us have been trying for many many years (Zero Population Growth, Planned Parenthood, etc.) but too many people, and often those who can least afford to, ignore the message.

    1. I’m reminded of Hitch’s comment about the empowerment of women.

      Have you ever heard bizness-types express concern about overpopulation (or concede that the Earth has a limited carrying capacity)? More people to buy more stuff.

    2. Well, Luckily, the worldwide rate of population growth is receding since 1984, and in some areas it is in free fall.
      And nobody knows exactly why. Lower infant mortality? Urbanisation? Empowerment of women? Availability of contraceptives? all of it and some more.
      Population will probably peak below 10 billion. GMO and modern, always improving, agricultural production are the means to keep that population fed without having to use every rural square centimetre for food production.
      I think that some minor negatives that *might* be associated with GMO’s do not outweigh this huge benefit.

  15. I see a number of arguments here and a lot of people saying “I don’t like Monsanto, but…” and a number of people who don’t believe food should be labeled if it’s GMO.

    If I don’t want to support Monsanto, I don’t have a choice. I have no idea if something I eat is a product of Monsanto, or any other product. One of the only methods a consumer has in our society to make a difference is not available to me. The choice to avoid supporting a company.

    There are also the claims that GMOS are just like any other plant, which is not true. Pigs don’t mate with petunias. Or if they do, there is no offspring from either.

    Are there any virologists who can tell us if putting pig genes (or other animals genes) into plants can cause viruses to jump species more easily?

    We are told GMO’s are safe and the genes don’t and can’t migrate. I’ve read otherwise, starting with the BT Corn, which was found to be in both bacteria and weeds in fields around BT corn. My problem is I don’t know enough to research this to find out if it’s true. I don’t know enough to really do an effective search and wind up with anything other than 22 pages of hysteria. I’m too ignorant to make an informed decision on the level of information I’ve seen.

    I don’t have a problem with eating GMO food, nor do I have a problem with the concept of GMO. But it needs to be kept in mind that genetic modification is the most powerful technology we have ever had. Just because problems from organisms haven’t been massive yet doesn’t mean they can’t be in the future.

    I’m annoyed that I haven’t seen real advancement in GMO’s that make me want to run to the store and buy them. Like tomatoes that taste like home grown fresh picked tomatoes. I want strawberries as big as my fist but still taste as sweat as the locally grown and picked ones. I want potatoes I can make into french fries that are 10 percent complex proteins, sweet and tasty that supply every single nutrient I require, and can be cooked in GMO oil that cleans out my arteries at the same time.

    Much of the progress I’ve seen so far has been for the farmers. I suppose that’s reasonable, to get the industry started, but I want really great tasting food. I want GMO companies to succeed. But I don’t trust GMO companies anymore than I trust Exxon, or Royal Dutch Shell, or the Koch brothers.

    I want a way I can not buy their products if they have practices or products I don’t think are healthy for our society. That requires labeling, and I don’t see why that is a problem.

    I can’t do that right now. I have no way to avoid buying these companies products. I can’t even begin to guess what products contains ingredients from Monsanto or any other company. In the same token, I don’t see it being a problem knowing where the food’s ingredients came from. We’ve seen the problems with ingredients from China and India. Every food company keeps records on their ingredients. It wouldn’t be costly for them to make those records public for consumers. As I stated, it’s one of the few methods we have as consumers. Those methods are being denied to us at the moment. It’s up to Monsanto to have a clean public image. I shouldn’t have to pay for it with a reduction in my purchasing decisions.

    We have seen regulatory agency after regulatory agency get captured by the industry in the USA and other countries.
    Care needs to be taken that this powerful technology stays under the preview of government. I would point out after the mid terms that government may not even be effective considering some of the people appointed to scientific committees by the Republicans.

    We have also seen in the USA a deliberate weakening and destruction of regulations and regulatory agencies when GW Bush was in charge. I expect the same will happen if Republicans can ever get in charge of the white house again. I don’t like to think of anti science Republicans and teapartiers in charge of keeping Americans safe from GMO companies. But I suppose that is a different discussion.

    1. Much ado about nothing. Without facts to the contrary, GMO is no different from the “powerful technology” of artificial selection that we have lived with for 15 kyrs.

      Only more precise.

      1. Not so. As explained above by several commenters, moving a gene complex from one phylum to another is a big, sudden change that could give plants large selective advantages over their competitors, and those competitors will not be able to evolve countermeasures or parity quickly. Novel, complex, highly functional genes do not normally arise out of nowhere in eukaryotes. Introducing them suddenly via GMOs is at least as risky for ecosystem functioning as introducing invasive plant species (and for the same evolutionary reason–it takes time for members of an ecosystem to evolve responses to each other).

  16. While I agree with you in my disappointment that Bill Nye gives such an unscientific response, I do give him more credit than I would for creationists. He holds the belief that Biology classes often put in the minds of young individuals–if you manipulate an ecosystem in any way, it can have disastrous consequences. However, there are clearly manipulations one may make to an ecosystem that would cause no external harm–Golden rice is a great example.

    The reason I grant Bill Nye a little bit of forgiveness for his stance is that I am personally worried about the implications of gene drive in order to exterminate the mosquito population in sub-saharan Africa. This fear is not founded in any grounded science, but rather in a dogma that has been planted in my head. If it turns out that manipulating things on an ecological level can produce positive results (as we know they can), then perhaps we should approach the topic of ecosystems differently in high school classrooms.

  17. You can add that to my grievance list on Nye.

    In fact, it is too much: I will henceforth protest his position on science and scifi shows. (If not Planetary Society as such, where he is still doing good work.)

    1. If I can pop back up for a moment…please stop with the strawmen. Not a single person expressing opposition to Big Agribusiness here has made anything even remotely like the argument you’re implicitly criticizing, and I’m nearly certain we’d all object to it every bit as much as you do.


      1. Much as it may surprise you, Ben, my posting of that image was not in response to one of your comments. The image is representative of the anti-GMO propaganda I see daily. As I understand it, this page’s post is about anti-GMO attitudes in general, not just your personal views.

  18. Googling Vandana Shiva plus Golden Rice brings up many points that have not been addressed yet in these comments.(If I had the appropriate technology I would supply several useful links).
    They give an expanded view of the interaction between local cultures, ‘ignorance’ and profit. And downstream effects of intrusions of Western money and technology on traditional cultures(lots of people).
    I am not categorically opposed to GMO’s. Some seem categorically stupid like introducing more Glyphosate resistance genes in response to the arising of ‘super weeds’. And I have trouble also with the notion of Bt in every ear of corn. And also the encouragement of vast monoculture fields soaked in herbicides etc which destroys the soil ecology and kills many insects-notably pollinators.

  19. I wonder if Bill is aware of the extent of GMO in US agriculture? And I mean the extent after we’ve excluded selective propagation. I’d be surprised if he’s not habitually eating GMO plant matter. Hey, I eat cows and I don’t worry about their DNA possessing me and exacting revenge. Maybe Bill needs a year or two of biology courses and some time talking to people in plant labs and observing what they really do.

  20. A very good reply to pin hole vision radicals. Without science we would have already starved the poor nations already. It is true that organic foods are better, but the cost to the planet is it takes 7-8 acres to feed what 1 acre can feed with modern science and genetic modification who do you want to feed?–the world or just a few people? No process is perfect but chastised companizedcompanies such as Monsanto are critised when their motto is to feed theworld. Not just the few. Dr dan Sent from my iPhone


  21. My main concern is starvation, which is terrible. Why would any of us want people anywhere to starve whether food products are GMO or not and whether labeled as GMO or not?? If GMO rice, corn, wheat and cassava (or any other GMO crop) can reduce starvation and nutritional deficiencies leading to disabilities in the world, they should be made available.

    Existing labels on food identify chemicals and dyes that most of us have no idea of what they are and of their affect on humans.

    Much of the GMO crops grown in the U.S. is not used primarily as food for humans. Corn, especially, is broken out into numerous products: oil, starch, petrol, animal feed, etc. Corn fed to cattle makes them ill (since they are by nature grass-eaters) and leads to their routine treatment with antibiotics. The downstream effects are detrimental to humanity. GMO labeling on food products for human consumption will not prevent this.

  22. yes, big Agra should also be commended for adding all that corn syrup to nearly everything we eat and drink. Diabetics really appreciate it too.

  23. Our family own over ten thousand square meters of rice farmland. We are not farmers ourselves (landed gentry and all that) but we do know that buying seeds is generally preferred to saving seeds. We haven’t used Golden Rice crops yet since it is still a hot-button topic and eco-terrorists have already shown their willingness to resort to violence (google golden rice destroyed by activists in the philippines).

  24. Kloor: “Scientists are called corporate pawns . . . .”

    As a practical reality, is that not so? Science-types are included in that great pool of flesh-and-blood human beings non-scientist corporate tyrants and investors refer to as “human resources” and “human capital.”

  25. BTW, is there any big, environmentalist group that is pro-GMO? I was at the mall last week when a young woman approached me, asking if I would like to sign a petition promoting responsible fishing. I was about to sign it myself when, out of curiosity, I asked her what her organization’s position is concerning GMOs. She said they support Greenpeace’s condemnation of franken-foods. I nodded, and returned her petition without signing it. I said I cannot support any environmental group that lets its political ideology to dictate its science.

    Now I do support most environmental causes, it’s just that it seems to be a shibboleth of the major enviro-orgs to suppress GMOs. Which group can I support given this current zeitgeist?

    1. Sometimes it helps if you explain that before GMO’s, new mutations were induced by massive doses of irradiation, followed by selection.
      People do not like ‘genetic manipulation’, but they don’t like ‘irradiation’ either.
      I’m not 100% sure, but isn’t (gamma?) irradiation used to prolong shelf life (just like some GMO’s, btw)? Prolonged shelf life allows for less production, which in turn leads to less surface area that needs to be cultivated…

  26. My concer over GM crop does not come from the consumption of such crops – our guts are pretty efficient at reducing what we eat to small molecules.

    My concern comes from what is going to happen to the escaped genes in the environment.

    Already there are concerns over ’round-up’ created giant weeds that are no longer sensitive to ’round-up’. A few years of research may show the safety of the GM crops when eaten, but watching the effects on the environment is going to take a long time.

    There have been successes with biological controls, but there have been calamatous failures – cane toads in oz being the best known, but there are plenty more.

    The precautionary principle needs to run for a lot longer before dumping these things all over the world.

    1. I’m strangely convinced that with this interpretation of “precautionary principle” we would not have aspirin, antibiotics and many other things which saved countless lives, though they do have some unexpected and negative consequences. With this principle you never count the costs of negative consequences of abandoning the innovation, only the putative costs of something which might (or might not) go wrong. So let children still go blind in the Third World, let Indian farmers return to their miserable existence (much improved thanks to GMO) so that well fed people in the First World may be satisfied that they are so prudent and caring about environment.
      All new techniques and procedures ARE tested, as they should be, but waiting for decades with their application in case some unknown (and not very likely) factor might appear means condemning untold multitudes to suffering.

      1. There is at the very least a reasonable doubt concerning the ethics of Monsanto scientists. Especially when you consider that 2 of Pamela Ronald’s scientific papers (published in 2009 and 2011) were retracted and questions raised about a 2013 paper due to errors, which included mislabeled samples and failure to use replicable experimental conditions:

  27. Ben Goren is the small, persistent voice that best presents the “other side” of this discussion. The discussion is being dominated by the pro-GMOers. There are rules and intelligent exceptions to rules. GMOs is not a cut-and-dry issue. (By the way, my previous comment got posted after Jimisawesome, whereas I had “replied” to Ben Goren’s comment in post 15. It is now lost somewhere in the middle where no one – and probably not Ben Goren and the very few who take his side – will ever read it.)

  28. I have no issue with GMOs as a concept. I have an issue with GMOs as a business, and the effects of that business on the environment.

    Golden rice is a fantastic innovation. Unfortunately, I can’t use that sentence to wave away some of the things companies like Monsanto are doing. Ben Goren has done a good job elucidating some of them.

    Of course, I think the fear the majority of opponents have about GMOs, is about the food itself – hence the pushes for labelling them. That has nothing to do with ecologial effects, and everything to do with non-specific fear of the end product.

    1. Monsanto is doing what it is doing because that’s what corporations do in the current political climate so as not to go extinct.

      If Americans cared about what corporations do they should elect those who will enact regulation and effective governmental oversight.

  29. “There’s no reason to think that GMOs are any riskier than any of the other alien crops we all eat.”
    But the “other alien crops we all eat” have been around for thousands of years. And they have not been modified to be Round-Up resistant. And we really know nothing about the long-term effects of glyphosates on living organisms. This is what is worrying. Why the reluctance to carry out a long-term study that meets all the peer-developed requirements? As it is, both positions (for & against) can be affirmed and remain unverifiable.

  30. But the “other alien crops we all eat” have been around for thousands of years.

    No they haven’t. They have been subject to thousands of years of modification by humans. They have been altered to the extent that they are nothing like their wild ancestors. And a great deal of the modifications have happened in the last hundred years. For the most part, they couldn’t survive without human agricultural activity.

    Here’s an article on plant genomics and domestication.

    You’re appeal for conducting a “long term study” seems disingenuous to me. Who’s advocating against studying anything? And the final sentence is a self negating muddle. If “both sides” are unverifiable there’s no value in a study since no determination could be made. But then it also says “both positions (for & against) can be affirmed” which can’t be true if “both sides” are actual alternatives.

    This argument is really nothing but fear of the unknown.

  31. See my several comments above regarding Professor Seralini.
    First, GMOs in the past were not Round-Up ready (ie contain GLYPHOSATES).
    Secondly, as said previously, I would like to know whether there exist any long-term studies showing absolutely no harmful effects on living beings. Or does the long-term study consist of everyone who now is consuming GMOs that are Round-Up ready and does not immediately die? And how would one prove the connection between GMOs/glyphosates and deaths or illnesses way down the line? Practically impossible. I suppose you know what Karl Popper said in “The Spell of Plato” about unverifiability ? According to his criterion, this is therefore not Science. Just business.

  32. But the non-toxicity of Round-up plants IS debatable (Professor Seralini’s study went on for 2 years and not just a few months like Monsanto’s studies).
    This stance of maintaining that Monsanto knows and Roundup is safe because they say so (and so we don’t need long-term toxicity studies) reminds me of the position of the Church when it was in power. No one could contest it’s being right – and if they did, they were persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake. There was no choice. The Enlightenment, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc was supposed to have changed all that…

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