GMO Crops: A Growing Concern

Genetically modified organisms, such as certain strains of corn, soybeans, and other farm fare, aren’t as safe as proponents would have the public believe. Pro or con?

Update! Podcast: Hear the experts respond to your reader comments. Download or listen here

Pro: Suspect Practice

Genetically modified crops have been hailed as a way to make agricultural products safer and more affordable, but they have accomplished neither of these goals.

One persistent danger lies in the prospect of crops unapproved for human consumption becoming mixed with the food supply. In 2000, Friends of the Earth and other groups discovered an unapproved strain of genetically modified corn on grocery store shelves. StarLink corn, which had been deemed safe only for animal consumption because of human allergen concerns, was showing up in Kraft (KFT) taco shells. The discovery led to recalls, mill closures, halts in exports, and buybacks of contaminated corn.

Safety concerns related to genetically engineered crops can also create larger-scale economic risk. Just look at what happened to the U.S. rice market in 2006, when illegal varieties of genetically modified rice were found contaminating the U.S. rice supply. Some estimates indicate that this incident caused more than $1.2 billion in damages and additional costs to the U.S. rice industry, whose export sales dropped dramatically.

Another problem: The modification of some crops to improve their resistance to herbicides has given rise to a rapidly growing population of herbicide-resistant weeds, which has led to more herbicide use. This can cause economic hardship for farmers who find it harder to grow crops and have to spend more for herbicides. It also results in more chemical runoff into streams and rivers. Furthermore, increased herbicide use threatens humans, because it means potentially higher levels of toxic chemicals in our food.

Americans concerned about food safety and economic stability would be well advised to take a cue from their neighbors in Europe, and demand more stringent oversight in regard to the genetic modification of crops.

Con: Safe and Abundant Sustenance

Today Americans enjoy one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world’s history. But access to healthful and nutritious food is not enjoyed by everyone. According to the United Nations, more than 850 million people worldwide suffer from malnutrition. This situation will likely worsen by 2050, when the world’s population will increase by 50% and the cultivable land will decrease by 50%, placing new pressures on global agriculture.

How do we address this international crisis? While there is no easy and singular solution to starvation, we know that biotechnology can expand and enhance the global food supply. Over the past decade agricultural biotechnology has improved plant productivity and crop quality, increased farmer income, supported stewardship of the land, and contributed to a safe food supply. Biotech crops constitute part of the diet of billions of people around the world without one single documented health problem.

In the U.S., biotech crops receive scrutiny from three separate federal agencies—the Agriculture Dept., the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration. There they undergo intensive safety review, from the research lab to field trials and ultimately to commercial plantings by farmers. No conventional or organic crops undergo this level of premarket testing, review, and regulation.

This safety record is backed by a broad range of international scientific organizations—the American Medical Assn., the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Dietetic Assn., the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization—who all endorse biotech crops as safe.

Sometimes, biotech crops are actually safer than conventional or organic crops. An Iowa State University study found that biotech corn contains substantially lower levels of cancer-causing compounds and mycotoxins linked to cases of spina bifida.

In the future, consumers will likely have access to nutrient-enhanced biotech foods, which could serve as powerful tools in combating famine and malnutrition in developing countries.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek.com Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Bob

Total People Killed by GMO crops = 0
Total People Injured by GMO Crops = 0

Now compare that to the number of people who die each year from starvation.

Sadly, at some point in time someone somewhere will find some minor flaw in a crop, and there will be a chorus of "I told you so's" and everyone will forget about all of the good they have done and can do.

Tom

Bob's comments above are so very accurate, but only part of the story. Here are a couple of organic farming's dirty little secrets. First, each year, about 200,000 men, women, and children worldwide die or suffer terrible illnesses caused by organic farming practices. Some of this is caused by the use of animal waste as a fertilizer in organic farming. This results in bacterially induced diseases and severe allergies for some people.

More important, organic farming methods are far less efficient at killing insects than GM crops modified to resist attacks by bugs (especially in damp climates when the pesticides used by organic farmers often simply wash off). These less effective methods used by organic farmers cause crops, particularly cereal crops, to develop more cracks in their stalks and leaves. It is in those places that the fusarium fungus grows and produces deadly mycotoxins that then enter the food chain. By contrast, genetically modified crops, which offer their own resistance to being eaten by opportunistic bugs, provide far less opportunity for the fusarium fungus to grow. Simply put, GM crops are safer for people.

Another dirty little secret of the organic farming industry and its corporate hype machine is that organic farmers use chemical pesticides. Granted, these pesticides are "natural," not synthetic. For instance, a pesticide derived from nicotine (a natural component of the tobacco leaf) is "natural" and allowed in organic farming. But just because something is natural does not mean it is good for you. For example, arsenic is a natural element, an organic mineral. And it will kill you.

The very simple fact is that organic farming is not good for people. Organic farming is also an environmental disaster. Since GM crops protect themselves from bugs, no chemicals pesticides need be manufactured, so they create no greenhouse gases or toxic byproducts. No passes have to be made with tractors to tend the crops for insect control. No insecticides gets into our land, nor does it run off into our streams and rivers or enter any of our water supplies. Farmers and their families are not exposed to such poisons by air or water. By contrast, the "natural" chemicals (and there is quite a list of them) allowed to be used by organic farmers must still be manufactured (producing both greenhouse gasses and toxic byproducts). Those pesticides must then be sprayed by tractors, again polluting the air, producing yet more greenhouse gasses and exposing farmers to a host of toxins, getting into our soil and running off into our water. And organic farming uses more land (as it is more inefficient).

Organic farming is one of the most overhyped frauds perpetrated on the people. It is incredibly expensive (how many low-income people do you think shop at Whole Foods?) It engages in claims that are right out of Orwell's 1984. For instance, it claims to increase biodiversity. But, in fields with GM crops that don't require sprays to kill bugs, beneficial insects such as spiders, beetles, grasshoppers, etc., thrive, because the protein produced by the plants is very selective and is harmful only to specific targeted insects. But the "natural" chemicals sprayed by organic farmers kill just about every bug. But in the Orwellian world of the organic farmers, all bugs being dead equals more biodiversity. If it was not so sad, it would be laughable.

Thank goodness for the sound, objective science that has produced the innovations of genetically modified crops. Those crops will help feed the world and improve the environment. And no amount of anti-GMO hysteria can change that happy fact

Amir Barzilay

This entire issue has long gone beyond science and landed in the politically correct land.

GMO crops are fully safe and are in many aspects the only hope for Third World countries to grow vital crops on poor land, under poor climate conditions.

As a strong supporter of the environment, I am truly hopeful that in the specific case of GMO crops, reason and human compassion will overcome ignorance.

Richard

What about the long-term effects? Can they cause cancer 40 years down the line? Let's not play with our food in this way--we don't need GMOs.

People in starving countries can be better fed through changing the incentives in the farming industry (get rid of subsidies and the CAP), and good governance.

The future's organic, not GMO.

Irving

The real question that needs to be addressed with genetically modified organisms is this one:

Would you, knowing that you only have limited knowledge of genetic systems and how they affect other systems that may be out of your scope, tinker with something that you know is essential for your survival (e.g., food) without overseeing the consequences?

The answer is for everyone different and yet so similar.

random

As much as Friends of the Earth want to be environmentally friendly and responsible, they're missing the point when it comes to what genetically modified food is and what it does. Environmentalists imagine freakish alien life forms breeding only God knows what within their fibers, waiting to unleash a plague on all humanity a la 1950s sci-fi horror flick. Or an Outer Limits episode. But the truth is that genetically modified crops aren't very different from their natural counterparts--they just have an extra gene or a few genes replaced, a process that actually happens in nature all the time when plants reproduce. It's just that here, scientists--not nature--are doing this gene manipulation.

If we were to keep this in mind, the con article's main points aren't all that convincing in their description of the supposed damage genetically modified crops do. Let's take it from the top.

"StarLink corn, which had been deemed safe only for animal consumption because of human allergen concerns, was showing up in Kraft (KFT) taco shells."

Concern is not the same thing as proof that it was dangerous. Did the FDA find that most humans who ingested this corn had extreme allergic reactions? Allergens are already in our food; it just depends who's allergic to what. By this logic, we should ban peanuts, milk, and eggs because there are so many people allergic to these foods. And yet, we still have peanuts, milk, and eggs on the shelf because allergies and their intensity are particular to specific individuals.

"Just look at what happened to the U.S. rice market in 2006, when illegal varieties of genetically modified rice were found contaminating the U.S. rice supply."

"Contaminating" is a loaded word here and rather dishonestly used since the only reason genetically modified rice was deemed a contaminant is that it was genetically modified. The only reason they were illegal was because they weren't approved by the FDA. Or am I missing something here and these strains of rice have been known to poison those who ingest them? How many people would've been hospitalized or killed if they ingested it?

"Another problem: The modification of some crops to improve their resistance to herbicides has given rise to a rapidly growing population of herbicide-resistant weeds, which has led to more herbicide use."

Herbicide-resistant weeds have been around since the use of herbicides. The reaction of many farmers? To use more herbicide, giving rise to ever more herbicide resistant weeds. Genetically modified plants just happened to be there, and Friends of the Earth showed no conclusive evidence that it was just the genetically modified plants and not the already existing populations of herbicide resistant weeds that were already there, exploding again.

Brendon

There are still fewer pesticides used today than before biotech crops first began. There has been near elimination of insecticides sprayed on corn.

Herbicide rates are half of what they were before herbicide-tolerant corn. Herbicide-tolerant weeds are here because the system got too cheap and was abused, but the rest used today to control weeds in corn and soybeans are less than 10 years ago.

Dante

Don't know about the safe part. Definitely abundant. I have found that, as long as 10 years ago, I developed an allergic reaction to certain fibrous fruits. Thought nothing of it, figured it's just me. Than my friends and acquaintances also complained about an itchy throat feeling after I'd brought up the subject serendipitously. But hey, this may be America's salvation for the obesity problem. If no one can eat the food, no one can be obese, right?

Fran

We know that GMO food has to pass the most tough and detailed scientific and regulatory multiple hurdle processes before being approved for human consumption. Who controls organic lettuce? Which reputable organizations such as FDA and EFSA are attesting that organic tomatoes do not present health and safety issues or risks to the environment? With GMO, at least we know what we are eating.

candace

What about the argument regarding the resistance to herbicides? I, for one, am concerned about the environmental impact of herbicide-resistant weeds, which require more herbicides to be used. As it is, we are poisoning our rivers and lakes with toxins.

Unfortunately, I think that there is lots of money in genetically modified crops, and while they may feed more people, the farmers who are growing the crops are forced to purchase the seeds at a much higher cost than they would have to pay before. If the farmer can't afford to purchase the seeds or the increased herbicide, then the crop won't be produced at all, and the people will continue to starve.

Abasse Asgaraly

The issue is not to count the number of registered deaths due to GMO as Bob says in his comments. The critical issue with the GMOs is that we do not know the long-term effects and consequences of ingesting the altered foods. Nature has not produced tomatoes with a fish gene in them. Nor has Nature created corn with a frog gene in it. All the blah, blah, blah of the GMO manufacturers has not yet proven to be effective, such as bigger crop yield, better protection against disease, etc.

Casey

Both sides have their points, but I'd have to go with con.

We are reaching an age in which it will be very necessary to improve upon our resources in order to sustain life. And that's just the point: progress, not perfection.

In theory, we could be working on pest-resistant strains of crops to battle the problem of pesticide-resistant crops. We could also cross certain strains of crops to contain more nutritional value than they originally had. There are many options we could research to our benefit.

The problem lies in cross breeding of certain GMOs and of GMOs and natural plants. Birds, humans, animals, and even winds carry pollen and/or seeds of crops many miles to new destinations. In order to avoid the problem of cross breeding, we have to be very careful as to how near to each other these crops are grown. There needs to be a better game plan as to how to protect these plants. Like I said before, progress, not perfection. GMOs are potentially life savers.

And I agree with Bob's statement above, too.

eric

It is not about safety.

And suggesting that the No. 1 problem with GMO crops is that they are unsafe is the biggest service you can do for companies such as Monsanto.

The hidden, big issue is not that GMO crops are unsafe. Monsanto has a very keen interest in making sure the crops themselves are safe for humans (or at least would seem so and as long as side effects wouldn't start showing up until after this generation of corporate leaders has cashed out for retirement). What they want is a monopoly.

The problem with GMO seeds is that they are invariably patented. The corporatization of our food system is first about control and second about money, since control secures money for the long term.

The truly interesting studies being done in this field come from experts like Vandana Shiva, who has written extensively about the tried and true practices of organic, cooperative farming. Did you think that GMOs and mass-produced monocrops provide more bang for the buck--i.e., more nutrients per acre? It's simply not true.

Even though greater quantities of food can be grown with large-scale farming techniques, do not succumb to the blanket philosophy of the industrial revolution and conclude that it means efficiency equals effectiveness. Yes, a GMO plant is more resistant to pests and diseases--of today. But a GMO crop is far, far less resistant, not being given the full chance to evolve properly to defend against evolved pests (or as Gillian and Ian point out, evolved weeds). Second, quantities of food produced large scale and with GMO crops are far less laden with nutrients than are organic crops (actually, even conventionally grown, non-GMO ones). We can feed our rising global population without corporatized farms, because we need far fewer of them.

Monsanto is doing everything right in order to secure a monopoly: Make safe food in massive quantities even if its nutrient content is on par with iceberg lettuce. Do it cheaply in order to drive family farms out of business. Offer family farms deals so that they will buy Monsanto seeds. With enough people locked in, it becomes less apparent that natural farming techniques are a viable option--even though they always were (again, yes, even with our rising population worldwide. Read Vandana Shiva).

Okay, so maybe you don't have a problem with that, since you live in a First World country and don't care about repression of Third World economies. Perhaps you even have the extra ante to invest in companies like Monsanto so you can profit from the insanity.

The upshot is, you'd better be profiting, because when virulent strains of drug-resistant pests wipe out the vast majority of all of our corn or all of our wheat--because they've all got the same damn DNA--and our monopolistic friend Monsanto is forced to raise prices thirty-fold, you'll need the extra cash at hand.

Or you can wake up and see that the issue here is not about food safety, or at least not so simply. It's far bigger and much more insidious.

bill3301

I don't get why people choose organic over GMOs. Organic farmers often use sewage as fertilizer (hence ecoli deaths from time to time). GMO companies have billions invested in safety testing. I would not knowingly serve my kids excrement (no jokes about my cooking), but I would have no problem serving them food that wasn't sprayed with pesticides. I personally think organic is just some marketing plot from the big multi-national food companies to charge more at our pocketbook's expense.

eric

@Tom:

There is a good distinction that you bring up, albeit somewhat unfairly, as regards organic farming. In short, the "dirty secrets" you expose do not really apply to organic farming as a whole--and therefore, fail to discredit its practices as a whole--but rather to a subset of the organic movement.

It is disingenuous to say 1) organic is bad for people (a misrepresentation if I ever saw one), and 2) it's a fraud perpetrated on people, which insinuates bad intent on top of that. You sound like Senator Inhofe.

The saddest bit is that tried-and-true farming practices (and this is based on case studies on actual farms; check out the farm cooperative movement in India) are better for health (far more nutrients in food, requiring less quantity than mass-produced crops, and a diversity of nutrients that have been lost in the GMO version), but more important, divest corporate interests from our food production.

The biggest problem with GMO is not safety, but control. It's a mistake to conclude that the issue is about safety, because once the public is convinced that crops are safe (which, of course, Monsanto wants, because they need safe crops to amass control of the world's food supply), they'll be converts.

That's a red herring. We should not allow corporate entities like Monsanto to "own" seeds and therefore make it illegal for farmers to cultivate their own and share food (can you appreciate how ridiculous this is?) with one another.

Gillian

Thanks to you all for contributing to such a lively discussion of GMO safety.

As one of the authors, I'd like to make a few points in response to what has been said.

First, I want to make clear that Friends of the Earth is not against genetic technologies. We are "pro-science," especially since we do believe that some genetic technologies do hold great promise for environmental problems. However, we believe that the federal government needs to properly regulate genetic technologies to protect human health and the environment. When we begin to change the basic structure of life as it has existed and evolved for millions of years, we need to use extreme caution and care.

GMO crops are not tested for long-term effects by the USDA or FDA. They are only tested for direct results from human consumption. There is no analysis for long-term human health risks, such as cancer, infertility, and other degenerative diseases. There is also no analysis of the broader environmental effects, such as cross-species contamination, invasive species, food chain effects (the Monarch butterfly was almost wiped out by GMO Bt corn, because there was no thought given to how the pest moth-resistant corn would affect the similar life cycle of the beloved butterfly who feeds on neighboring grasses), and the loss of genetic diversity for future generations.

GMOs have devastated people in developing countries, not helped them. All GMOs are patented, which means that in order to grow the "magic" seeds, farmers must pay royalties. And, as happened in Mexico, farmers who did not plant the GMO crops can be charged royalty fees if, by natural processes (wind, genetic drift), the GMO crops end up growing on their property. This means that some farmers cannot afford to eat their own crops--there are villages in Mexico that have been forced to stop making their staple tortillas since corn has become so expensive. There is also the case of the "terminator" seed being marketed in India--this seed is genetically modified to only grow for one season and then die, forcing farmers to buy seed again from the large companies instead of reharvesting from their crop. This is a prime example of how unsustainable and exploitive GMOs can be in the developing world.

I come from a biological science background--I was a molecular and cell biology major in college before switching to bioethics. I love genetic science and think that it holds some important answers for society's increasing problems. However, we need to proceed with strict oversight and proper governance to ensure that both human health and the environment are not sacrificed for careless, industry-driven technological advances.

LunarRyder

Not for or against, but more research needs to be done. Plus, food should be natural anyway.

Kate

Studies have not adequately proved the safety of genetically modified foods. Many studies have confirmed the fact that genetically modified foods are not ready for human consumption. Dr. Arpad Puzati of the United Kingdom and the Russian National Academy of Sciences have both proved this. There are untold numbers of people who have had severe allergic reactions to GM foods--for example, in 1996 when Pioneer Hi-Bred spliced Brazil nut genes into soybeans. Individuals who thought these products were safe to eat ended up going into anaphylactic shock. If these foods are safe to consume, why do the majority of countries in the world have laws and regulations limiting the sale of modified foods?

The unpredictability of the human body to the uptake of genetically modified DNA is very dangerous. According to Jeffery Smith, author and the director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, in the only study ever conducted on humans consuming GM soybeans, the modified gene in the soybean transferred to human gut bacteria. Not only did the gene transfer but it also was incorporated on a steady basis, potentially changing the function of intestinal cells for an undetermined amount of time.

World hunger cannot be used as an argument for GM foods. Starvation is a political problem. A shortage of goods is not the cause of hunger in the world; poverty is. According to the book World Hunger: Twelve Myths, "The world today produces enough grain alone to provide every human being on the planet with 3,500 calories a day." This estimate just concerns grain, it doesn't take any other food group in to consideration, such as meats, vegetables, fruits, or dairy. Providing more food for people will do no good if those people cannot afford it.

brian

I love how so many "experts" are weighing in on this issue. Herbicide-resistant (GMO) corn, cotton, and soybeans have reduced herbicide load in the environment by millions of tons since their inception in 1996. Do you realize that glyphosate, the herbicide primarily used in this system, is one of the safest herbicides on this planet? Much safer than that which was used before GMO crops. I would challenge you to look at the toxicity (LD50) data for glyphosate compared to something like MSMA or cyanazine or other previous herbicides, which have been reduced to almost nothing because of this technology.

Second, do you realize that, as Americans, you spend less than 10% of your annual income on food? Because of GMOs, farm subsidies, and the great American farmer, you are guaranteed the safest, cheapest food supply in the world.

The "terminator" seed is not commercially available. Yes, it was looked at as an option to protect patent rights, but has never been commercially released. Some of you need to check your facts before commenting on something you know nothing about other than what you've read from some liberal media outlet in New York City that wouldn't know a farm if it hit him in the face.

Why don't you thank a farmer instead of complaining about something for which you have limited knowledge of? I would bet most folks commenting here live in urban areas and have no appreciation for how an actual farm operates. Sad, I think.

tom

Let's see if we can cut through some of the hyperbole and deal with facts.

First, some complain that companies that invent genetically modified seeds should not be able to patent them and charge royalties to farmers. The first thing to note is that patent rights were expressly provided for by our founding founders in the Constitution. Second, patents promote innovation and have brought innumerable valuable products to people, such as the light bulb, the telephone, computers, and a host of medicines. Next, it cost hundreds of millions, indeed billions, to develop some genetically modified crops. Assuming that profit is not a dirty word, how are these costs to be recovered so that additional research and development can take place, workers can be paid, and a reasonable profit can be made on the investment? Gee, I guess that means the company will have to charge for its invention. Now, how much do they charge? Well, no farmer could pay a billion dollars up front for use of that seed. So, instead, farmers pay a small royalty per bag for the patented technology. With many purchasers paying a small fee, the growers can get access to the technology they want while at the same time, the company can earn a reasonable profit.

Now, let's talk about the fallacy that GM crops are bad for family farmers. Let's start with the proposition that farmers are pretty smart people. Each spring they have to decide which seed to buy and what systems they are going to use kill bugs and control weeds. They can plant conventional seed, use chemicals to kill bugs, and use mechanical means (e.g., tillage) and a variety of selective herbicides to control weeds. When farmers make this decision, they look at all the costs, consider the yield of the crop they hope to get, and consider other factors like convenience and safety. At the end of the day, farmers are going to make choices that are in their best interests. And, it is precisely because GM crops are so much better economically for the farmer that demand for GM crops have exploded. A great example is herbicide-tolerant soy beans. In 1996, they did not exist in this country. But a bag of soy seed sold for abut $10 per acre, and weed control cost the farmer another $40 to $60 per acre and required the time consuming use of noxious selective herbicides and mechanical tillage. In 1996, genetically modified soybeans were introduced in the United States. Did they cost more than conventional? Absolutely, at about $20 per acre. But, the farmer's cost for weed control was reduced to about $6 to $10 per acre and required no mechanical tillage or noxious selective herbicides and was far easier. So, instead of a total cost of $50 to $70 dollars per acre, the farmer was able to raise his crop at a cost of only $26 to $36 per acre. The farmer saved a tremendous amount of money, which went straight to his/her bottom line. Both the company that sold the seed and the farmer were better off. Because farmers did so much better economically, they demanded more of the seed in more varieties to plant more acres. As a result, by 2000, more than 70% of the soybeans planted in this country were GM soy. Multiple studies by the USDA and independent universities confirm that tangency crops have substantially increased farmers' incomes. If they did not, they would not buy it. It really is that simple. That, for instance, is why demand for GM cotton in India increased from 4 million to 16 million hectares in just this past year (most of which are on farms of less than a hectare, the epitome of a family farm).

Now let's talk about the precautionary principle, reasonable risks, and safety. The precautionary principle essentially says that until it is proven that something absolutely cannot cause harm now or forever in the future, one should not use it. Thank God, Columbus did not have to operate under that principle before setting sail for the New World, that Salk did not have to operate under that principle when the polio vaccine was introduced, or that Jenner did not have to operate under the precautionary principle when he started injecting people to prevent smallpox. Taken to its logical conclusion, under the precautionary principle, we would all still be living in caves, suffering from diseases long since brought under control. With respect to GM crops, after extensive study of a variety of data, including toxicological data, GM crops were approved by three separate federal agencies under President Clinton, (the EPA, FDA, and USDA). Since then, there can be no better long-term study than what has happened in the United States. For almost 12 years, hundreds of millions of consumers have eaten untold billions of meals made with ingredients from GM crops. Total deaths--none. Total injuries--none. Anti-GM proponents have to live with that reality and not the fanciful and speculative notion that some day far in the future some person might suffer some allergy as a reason not to use GM crops. The USDA, the European Commission's Scientific organizations, the United Nations' scientific organizations, and every independent objective scientific study has concluded that genetically modified foods are safe. In fact, the EU's own scientific bodies totally oppose the decision of EU's politicians to suppress the planting of GM crops (a decision based purely on politics, not science). Indeed, it is in the interests of companies that sell GM seeds to ensure the safety of their products to ensure that they are continued to be bought and to avoid being bankrupted by the plaintiffs' class action lawsuit regime.

Twenty years ago, corn seed produced an average yield of about 70 bushels per acre. This year, that average will exceed 150 bushels per acre, mostly due to protection of yield provided by GM traits (and better germ plasm). Indeed, GM corn incorporating the most traits available that protect against insects above ground and below ground and herbicide tolerance have yields close to 200 bushels per acre. Go look at some University of Illinois studies. GM crops are safe, effective, environmentally friendly, and good for farmers. That is the simple fact behind their success.

Finally, the myth about terminator seeds must stop. It is ironic that any GM opponent would oppose terminator seeds if indeed they existed. That is because any such seed would be sterile. If is was sterile, it could produce no pollen to create unintended superweeds or the other nightmares that anti-GM opponents use as part of their scare tactics. If such technology did exist, you would think the anti-GM crowd would embrace it is a solution to some of their supposed major concerns. That irony aside, the simple fact is that there is no terminator technology being sold anywhere by any company that sells GM seeds. One very simple reason for this is that, given the very complicated science involved, no one could figure out how to get it to work, much less on any kind of consistent basis.

As biotechnology works to bring us crops that will require less water to grow (very important to the planet since approximately 70% of the fresh water used each year is for agricultural purposes, and fresh water supplies are becoming more scarce, not less) and less fertilizer (another substantial environmental benefit), we can only hope that science and rational minds prevail over scarce tactics so GM crops can realize their full potential to bring all of us substantial benefits

Bob

To Abasse Asgaraly,
You could write an entire library about what we don't know about things. If we waited until we knew everything about something before we did it, we would all be huddled in a cave somewhere.

For example: When you take medications, there is no knowing if it is going to work (at least no guarantee that it will work on all people) or what the side effects, if any, will be. You just know that taking the medicine is better than the alternative, which in this case, is starvation.

john mcdonald

If body count is the criterion for winning a war, then one must admit that Monsanto has carried the day. The effectiveness of their products is right in front of our eyes, namely, the complete lack of bug splats on the windshield of automobiles. That is, all bugs.

Many of us are awaiting the new bee-keeping season to see if last year's catastrophic die off is repeated.

It's a bit early to crow,"mission accomplished"

eric

@tom,

The problem here is that several assumptions are going unchecked. The argument against patents isn't generally that people don't want corporations making money at all. The problem is that when you have a corporation that controls 90% of the world's GM crops and doing everything it can to continue spreading its monopoly, the stranglehold on our food supply becomes unacceptable.

Patents aren't bad. Unreasonable patents, on the other hand, are extremely bad. Consider software patents. Even bare intellectual property patents are horrible for innovation--one need look no further than the music industry to see why there is such outrage at the way outright control can and is abused. These are critical matters--literally life and death since this particular topic is food. We are not discussing Monsanto making a "reasonable profit"...rather, the phrasing should include "ungodly profits at the expense of basic human rights." Bad patent law stifles innovation (let's get down to business here: I'd be happy to point you in the direction of several great academic studies showing this to be the case) and, in this case, with grave consequences.

You aren't talking about farmers who are simply able to make informed decisions about the seed they purchase and have the luxury of having all resources at their disposal. When farmers switch to start growing corporate seed, more often than not it makes sense because they are being forced by the market to do so. Monsanto, like Wal-Mart, has long ago been able to assert its power and influence to direct the course of the marketplace at large, and swallow up small farms simply because they can no longer compete. What is the practice of suing family farms because Monsanto's GM seeds have been carried by wind or bird over to another's land? You call that reasonable profit?

The alternative approach is to educate small farms on cooperative farming practices where nutritional yield can be far greater than GM crops and with less investment. But these efforts must be started by groups who are willing to fight, as BW says, on the ground, not only on the farms to reconnect with truly sustainable farming practices but also in the courts by advocacy groups. Make no mistake, to fix these problems we have to overturn assumptions and an unfortunate assortment of legal (not ethical, mind you) precedent. And that is already happening (see work of Vandana Shiva's organization), but we do disservice to those efforts if we fail to even recognize the dangers at hand, and continue to trumpet the apparent benefits of corporate-controlled food supply.

There is a problem with corporations running amok in a landscape of unfair government policy. It is the furthest from rivals being good sports in a level playing field. Farmers who get to decide what to plant each year are part of your example, but I'd like to talk about the farmers who need to make the choice whether to sell their farm to a corporation or continue running it themselves, because they're being priced out of the marketplace. The loss there is huge, because it is more control in the hands of profit seekers.

Let's talk about safety--long-term safety. It is not enough to hope that the tomatoes I eat won't kill me (even if I have to eat seven times as many to obtain the same amounts of nutrients I can from a sustainably grown tomato). It is also vitally important that the soil it was grown on can be reused for the future and not injected with a host of chemical fertilizers because there are no living worms to process it. And that I didn't spray Roundup (which I bought from Monsanto), which doesn't break down in the soil, but rather accumulates and reaches the groundwater, leading entire countries like Denmark to ban Roundup entirely. Sustainability isn't just a buzzword--not incorporating it into the core of our food system approach is asking for death.

Bill_

Me thinks you got the thumb icons inverted in the article.

Paul

Comments from folks like "Tom" indicate that industry has sent its emissaries to post on this site--the rhetoric is far too absurd to be any educated adult's actual belief. Organic agriculture a threat to human health? GMO crops subjected to stringent testing? Oh, please. No GMO crops are ever tested on humans before they're marketed, none are labeled, and if anyone has ever had an adverse reaction, there was no possibility to trace it to the GMO food unless he died with the food in his mouth. Even the limited testing done by the industry on lab animals is very poorly designed, and when it shows problems--and it sometimes does--the research is buried. Read the facts, such as in Jeffrey Smith's Genetic Roulette, which published the results from many of these tests. The rest is just rhetoric.

Greg

Life is a risk, but if we have come so far only to ignore what we have learned, we are in for a rough ride on this. I agree with Eric that the driver here is not safety but money and monopoly. If it wasn't, intellectual property wouldn't be an issue.

Consider how much effort was expended to gain generic ARVs for HIV AIDS treatment in the developing world. Then consider the one big thing that Monsanto and others won't invest in: understanding the system effects. The world we live in has come to us after a very long period of field trials where the system effects have all been worked out to be the environment we have. What we do now and understanding what we will affect from here on is what matters and shouldn't be easily dismissed.

As John says, it's way too early to call "mission accomplished," and there are more failures in history of so called "risk taking" than successes. We just choose not to think about them. What about Thalidomide to name just one?

As for the references to cave dwelling and starvation, are you all sure the root cause is crop productivity or is it perhaps something more sinister to do with the way the developed world deals with the developing world? It is too early to salve consciences through the redemption offered by Monsanto.

This is not an "either or" decision, and the examples given of organic being done badly or medical side effects frame the discussion in the wrong way. It is one that needs great consideration and real scientific objectivity and skepticism.

Bob Irving

Friends,
If you trust Monsanto to produce the seed that grows your food, try googling for "Brofiscin quarry." This is a waste dump in the UK where Monsanto dumped the nastiest poisonous rubbish in the world for years and then walked away from it. That is what I know about Monsanto.

As for organic food, I know the people who grow my organic food and I trust them. Can you say that of your food? It's cheap, maybe, but is cheapness absolutely everything?

AllergyKids

With the introduction of GM soy in 1996, there was a 50% increase in the soy allergy and a doubling of the peanut allergy. Ten years later, 1 in 3 American children has allergies, asthma, ADHD, or autism. One in 3 American children also has diabetes, and 1 in 3 is obese. Not only has GM soy been engineered to be "high sucrose" in order to fatten the livestock to which it is fed, but also engineered with neurotoxic chemicals. Having engaged the American children in one of the largest human trials in history, shouldn't we stop and assess the damage?

Quentin

Just a couple considerations:

(1) Sewage sludge is not allowed to be used on organic crops. In the late 1990s, "industry" wanted to make this permissible, but this was not approved by the USDA (due to public outrage).

(2) There is enough food each year grown to feed the world. The problem is that people don't have access to it, not that it isn't being grown. The root causes of famine are social instability in the countries in question and a lack of willingness to help in countries that could help (not to mention subsidies in developed countries, which undercut domestic markets in developing ones).

(3) Standard agriculture is unsustainable. (a) Annual soil-loss rates in the U.S. and Europe are around 17 tons per hectare, while in other parts of the world they are as high as 40 tons per hectare. The annual rate of soil production is about 1 ton per hectare--total estimated cost in the U.S. due to erosion (nutrient replacement, water table damage etc.)--$44 billion per year. (b) Industrial agriculture results in less water retention, and water shortages are problematic in many areas and only expected to get worse. Organic agriculture has a much lower erosion rate (if done right, it can add to soil growth) and has a much higher water retention rate.

anyonymous

Isn't this similar to what P&G did with the cosmetic industry? They monopolize the entire industry; they force-feed us shampoos that have unnecessary chemicals; they make it so we can't purchase shampoos from overseas.

I happen to be allergic to the new chemical in all the shampoos in the U.S. I have a systemic anaphylactic reaction when I use it on my scalp. The same H&S for Sensitive Scalp just six months ago I could use without any reaction.

Why has this been allowed to happen? Seems like Monsanto is just doing what P&G got away with.

Tom

It never ceases to amaze me that when folks repeat a lie often enough, they actually believe it to be the truth. Let's deal with some of these and then let's take note of some facts that have stood unrefuted.

First, on at least a couple of the postings above, it is claimed that Monsanto is a "monopolist" that "controls" the world's food supply. In fact, companies owned by Monsanto sell seed in only the following row crops: corn, soy, cotton, and canola. In the United States, companies owned by Monsanto sell seed planted on approximately 30% of the corn acres planted (yes, that means 70% of the seeds planted by farmers do not come from Monsanto). For soy, Monsanto's market share is approximately 20% (yes, that means that 80% of the seeds do not come from Monsanto). For canola, Monsanto owned companies have less than 15% of the U.S. market. Indeed, in the United States, there are approximately 300 companies not owned by Monsanto that sell seed to farmers. And cotton is not really a food crop. And, Monsanto owns no companies that sell wheat, alfalfa, potatoes, and any number of other crops that make up our food. Nor does Monsanto own any companies that raise and sell hogs, chickens, or meat of any kind. Outside the United States, companies owned by Monsanto sell fewer than 5% of the total seeds planted by growers. By any definition, Monsanto is not a monopolist. Nor does it control or seek to control the world's food supply. And no amount of demonization of Monsanto or other producers of GM products (companies like Pioneer, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, etc.) or willful refusal to understand those facts can make it so. By the way, to Dante above, their are no GM fruits or vegetables commercially available except for a papaya genetically modified to resist a virus that kills the papaya plant (and without which resistance Hawaii stood to lose its entire papaya crop). So you cannot attribute your allergy to fibrous fruits to GM crops. Monsanto does own a company called Seminis, which sells vegetable seeds, none of which are genetically modified and which represents far fewer than 10% of the vegetable seeds sold in the world.

Now, let's talk about the absurd idea that somehow Monsanto is forcing small, family farmers to sell out to corporations. First, please note that none of those who have attacked GM crops have addressed or disputed the very simple economics contained in my second post that pointed out that GM seeds have resulted in significantly lower total input costs for growers and have, therefore, increased total farm income. You cannot ignore that fact and claim that GM crops or Monsanto is leading to the destruction of the family farm. There are many reasons for the shift of farming away from small, family owned farms to large ones, such as the increased efficiencies realized by farming larger tracts of land, the high cost of land, and property taxes, especially as urban sprawl takes land out of food production and uses it for construction, changing demographics, which have raised the median age of those who farm, incomprehensible subsidy policies of the federal government, and a host of other issues. But that problem cannot be laid at Monsanto's doorstep. Oh, and to Eric above who accuses Monsanto of swallowing up small farms, the very simple fact is that Monsanto owns no farms other than those it uses to grow the seed it sells to farmers.

Next, let's deal with another myth that Monsanto has sued thousands of farmers, including anyone who has ever had pollen from GM crops get into their fields. Each year, approximately 400,000 farmers in the United States purchase seed containing a genetic trait invented by Monsanto. Since the introduction in 1996 of the first transgenic soybean, that adds up to more than 4 million farmers having planted crops containing Monsanto's patented traits. And, to date, after over a decade of selling such seeds, the total number of farmers Monsanto has sued is (drum roll, please) 84 (that's right, fewer than a hundred). And not one of those was for simply having seed blow into their field. In each instance, the courts found that the farmer intentionally made use of seed knowing it contained patented traits and used it for the purpose of taking advantage of that trait without paying for it, often in violation of written agreements they made that they would not do so (look up the public documents for farmers like Mitchell Scruggs from Mississippi, Kem Ralph from Tennessee, and Robert McFarling). Even the courts in Canada found that Percy Schmeiser was just flat out lying when he claimed that he innocently used seed containing Monsanto's traits. There is no case where Monsanto has sued a farmer for just having GM seed blow onto his or her land. And before GM opponents say that again, they should please find a case to the contrary.

I also note that none of those who oppose GM crops have disputed the undeniable environmental benefits of GM crops I laid out in my first post. GM crops that resist insects have reduced the use of toxic chemicals by billions of gallons. How is that not good for the environment or for sustainable agriculture? Government statistics show that not having to run tractors to spray those insecticides has reduced greenhouse gasses equivalent to pulling 6 million cars off the road. How is that not good for the environment? None in the anti-GM crop address those simple facts. They would prefer to ignore it. But ignoring it undercuts the credibility of their claims.

At the end of the day, there is room for organic crops (for those who can afford them---like I said, how many low income people do you see shopping at Whole Foods?), there is room for conventional farming, and for those who want to grow crops with no pesticides, using one of the safest herbicides known to man, glyphosate (Eric above is so far off base it is ridiculous. Glyphosate binds tightly to soil so runoff into water supplies is not a problem, and within 10 days to two weeks, it breaks down into carbon, hydrogen, and some other nontoxic components. That stands in stark contrast to many selective herbicides that remain residually active in soil for up to a year), that produces higher yields, that promotes preservation of top soil through no-till farming, and that in the future will use less water and less fertilizer, there is, and should be, room for GM crops.

kevin

Couple of points I will agree on about GMO foods:
- Produce high yields
- Reduce pesticides & herbicides

Couple of points that should make people very concerned about GMO foods:
- No studies on humans
- No long term affects
- No long term safety studies

Don't believe it? Read Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey M. Smith, published in April of this year. It is up to date on the so-called safety studies of GMO crops.

Monsanto pulled out of the "veggie GMO market because of direct adverse reactions in humans. They are concentrating on grains that are 'buried' into the food chain and will be extremely difficult to trace adverse reactions back to their GMO seeds. I would agree that is smart business sense on Monsanto's part.

Organic yields? See the studies by Ivette Perfecto & Catherine Badgley of the University of Michigan (http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936)

And when cows, given a choice between GMO feed and non-GMO feed, eat the non-GMO and leave the GMO feed untouched, that is enough for me not to eat it, and certainly enough not to give it to my growing children.

Also remember, cheap usually means low quality. And that is what we are getting.

kevin

@Tom,
To your comment about low-income people shopping at Whole Foods. You're right, they don't. But they are shopping at Wal-Mart, Costco, Sams Club, Meijer, Krogers, etc, and they are all carrying organic products today. Prices are dropping; supply is inching up.

It's about education. Every person I have engaged in a balanced discussion about organic products has started to buy organic.

john mcdonald

Fearful that the global backlash against gene-foods is spreading to the U.S., Monsanto, Aventis, Novartis, Dow, BASF, Zeneca, DuPont, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization have launched a $50-million-a-year public relations campaign to confuse and mislead the American public.

Kathy

Those who say GMO products are safe are unaware and misinformed. For example, when GMO soy was introduced to Europe, there was a 50% increase in soy allergies--the U.S. government doesn't track this type of data. Farmers living near GMO cotton fields suffered respiratory and allergic reactions when the cotton was pollinating. GMO L-tryptophan manufactured by a Japanese company caused deaths and permanent nerve damage--and it wasn't the filter. I could go on and on with additional examples, but I don't need to because Jeffrey Smith has already done this with Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette. So if you want the truth, read these two books and become enlightened.

Just Me

What are the long-term effects of plasma TVs? Until we have done studies on the long-term effects of them, we should go back to natural television until we know more.

If this sounds ridiculous, it's because it is.

Abasse Asgaraly,
Nature has not produced tomatoes with a fish gene in them. Nor has nature created corn with a frog gene in it.

Maybe not...yet. Nature modifies genes all the time.

Paul,
Comments from folks like "Tom" indicate that industry has sent its emissaries to post on this site--the rhetoric is far too absurd to be any
educated adult's actual belief.

I think that the "industry" has better things to do than to do damage control on message boards. Tom seems to me to be stating a lot of facts and figures...hardly rhetoric.

Allergykids,
With the introduction of GM soy in 1996, there was a 50% increase in the soy allergy and a doubling of the peanut allergy. Ten years later, 1 in 3 American children has allergies, asthma, ADHD, or autism. One in 3 American children also has diabetes, and 1 in 3 is obese.

What you describe is a correlation. By the same logic, my male pattern baldness is causing autism just because it happened at the same time.

A lot of the posters cite references from people and organizations who stand to lose by GMO's success. I don't see Tom referencing Monsanto.com.

What is the reason to fear? Just because you don't happen to know much about it? I don't know much about plasma TVs, but maybe I'll go look them up and learn about them, and then they won't seem so scary.

john mcdonald

Why is it that as I read through the pro letters about GMOs, I get the feeling that by the style they seem to be written by the same person? Furthermore, several turn into anti-organic rants. The organic movement (whatever that is) is a convenient target since the impression is given that it is a single, monolithic organization. The organic people I come in contact with range from "New Age" tweeties to thoughtful, successful producers whom we could all envy. You can count on this: In the fast-approaching age of expensive petroleum, we can fall back on systems that have been validated as being sustainable that are functioning right now in our own backyards.

Just Me

John McDonald,
You are taking a giant leap to assume you know the motives of the industry. "Fearful that the global backlash"..."to confuse and mislead"? Where do you get this information?

There is nothing wrong with spending money on public relations. It is needed, because people like you are fed misinformation without scientific backing, and actually believe it.

Apparently John McDonald doesn't have a farm, because if he did, he'd be planting biotech crops--bad joke, I know.

Sweet Tooth

Monsanto claims there has been sufficient safety testing on genetically modified (GM) foods. They failed to disclose that the person in charge of the FDA's GMO policy was Monsanto's former attorney, and later their vice-president. The policy claimed that the agency is unaware of information showing that GM foods are substantially different. But documents made public from a lawsuit reveal that the overwhelming consensus among agency scientists was that GM foods could lead to allergies, toxins, and new diseases. Evidence now shows their warnings to be valid.

The only human feeding study ever conducted found that genes inserted into GM crops transfer into the DNA of human gut bacteria and remain functional. This means that long after you stop eating a GM food, you might still have its potentially dangerous GM protein produced inside your intestines. Analysis reveals that biotech companies meticulously design their superficial studies to circumvent finding these and most potential health problems.

It seems only the thundering clamor of wallets snapping shut, and not good science, will inspire U.S. food producers to remove GM foods from stores the way they have in Europe.

azrulnizam

We should study more about GMO's environmental effect.

Quentin

Monsanto controlling 30% of the market would lend credence to the definition of a "highly concentrated market" in accordance with the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index--i.e., oligopoly status, once combined with other corporations.

Nor does Monsanto own any companies that raise and sell hogs, chickens, or meat of any kind.

What is this supposed to mean? Insofar as 70% to 80% of corn and soy go to animal feed (perhaps less given the recent ethanol trends), Monsanto has a heavy stake in that industry.

So you cannot attribute your allergy to fibrous fruits to GM crops.

I do agree with you on this point--allergen concerns seem somewhat minor, although the lack of labeling contributes to the anti-free-market tendencies regarding consumer choice (but in cases of allergic reaction, lack of labels lead to a lack of the ability to accurately make a causal attribution).

GM seeds have resulted in significantly lower total input costs for growers and have, therefore, increased total farm income.

Total farm income yes, but also a decrease in the number of family farms and an increase in monocultures. The entire system has lent itself to the pursuit of higher and higher yields, which are obviously seen in the decrease in farms and the increase in production.

..increased efficiencies realized by farming larger tracts of land...

At what cost does this come? Higher rates of soil erosion (17 to 1 erosion to creation ratio), lower overall soil quality, massive industrial inputs to the nutrient base. The effects down the road--"dead zones," contaminated water tables, clogged water systems, etc. When we have to measure those costs, industrial agriculture looks less and less appealing.

...incomprehensible subsidy policies of the federal government, and a host of other issues. But that problem cannot be laid at Monsanto's doorstep.

Agreed to the first part, but Monsanto and others, in accordance with arguably "pre-established" subsidies, try to milk the system as much as it's worth. The government agency responsible for the food pyramid encourages whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, while the government oversight concerning the subsidies for "worthy" industries in fact gives money to those that encourage a use of unhealthy feed for cattle and poultry stocks and high-fructose corn syrup. Do you wonder why the price of soda hasn't increased all that much in the last 15 years?

GM crops that resist insects have reduced the use of toxic chemicals by billions of gallons.

The use of synthetic fertilizers still is an issue (dead zones, contamination of water tables). Moreover, the overall health of the surrounding ecosystem can be affected by the constant use of monoculture style agriculture. Reducing the rate of monocultures is probably a better option, which is not encouraged by companies like Monsanto, particularly so with the introduction of GMOs.

At the end of the day, there is room for organic crops (for those who can afford them---like I said, how many low income people do you see shopping at Whole Foods?)

Why can't they afford them? Why does a package of Twinkies produced 400 miles away cost less than a package of carrots from your local farmer? Look to the subsidies and unconsidered externalities (in agriculture, energy, and transportation), which you already suggest are problematic.

Laura

The biotech industry tries to convince us that we need genetically manipulated crops to feed a hungry world.

Yet the search for a biotech fix for hunger distracts attention from hunger's underlying causes and from alternative interventions that are more appropriate. Farmers in Third World countries want to breed and grow crop varieties that adapt to their diverse ecosystems. Plant biodiversity is essential for a balanced diet. Yet numerous crops are pushed to extinction with the introduction of genetically engineered crops.

Small-scale farmers have evolved systems of seed exchange for future seasons and generations. They don't want to become dependent on genetically engineered crops that will push traditional crops to extinction. Genetic engineering of food crops locks farmers into a system of non-sustainable, industrial agriculture, making them dependent on large corporations for seed and other inputs. This creates a fragile food system and thereby increases food insecurity.

How about providing farmers in developing countries with better wheelbarrows, maintenance-free water pumps, grain storage that is rodent-proof, and money to purchase seeds which maintain their traditional agricultural systems?

Let the hungry speak for themselves. African delegates to the United Nations did just that, by stating, "We....strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us. On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge, and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia and that it will thus undermine our capacity to feed ourselves."

allan

The number of people dead from airplanes crashing into tall buildings until 9/10/01: Fewer than 10.

After 9/10: 3,300.

Dumb statement, isn't it?

The same people who are pro-GMO are anti-stem cell research. What does that tell you? It's all politics and money. No science involved. Oh yeah, they don't believe in evolution, but they think man knows better than God.

Wonder where all the bees have gone? Use your common sense. If you feed poison to your kids, what happens?

john mcdonald

"Old McDonald" does have a farm. For many years, while also teaching biology, he got up at 5:30 a.m. to milk the family Jersey cow and feed the horses. Raised a couple of pigs every year, raised a family with four kids on that stuff. Had a couple acres of veggies that went to a farm market so I probably have had more exposure to "real" agriculture than all of the debaters combined.

Actually, it was my use of bT on my "organic" cabbages that later led me to suspect that Agri-corp products might be killing the honeybees.

Tom

So much hyperbole, so few facts. But I just could not help but to respond to the last two postings of Allan and John McDonald. For the record, Allan, I believe in evolution. Whether most scientists, including biotechnologists, entomologists, geneticists, microbiologists, and other specialties that work in this area believe in evolution, stem-cell research, or anything else that really has nothing to do with the current debate, I cannot answer. But it does seem wholly irrelevant and is a great example of using a red herring to make an argument when you don't have facts. In fact, I am a firm believer in science and when the collective and consensus opinion of the scientists from our government, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the European Commission have all concluded that GM foods are safe and pose no dangers to humans, I tend to believe those scientists than rely on anecdotal stories to the contrary. As to honey bees, most articles point out that their decline is a complete mystery (though there is some evidence that shipping such bees over long distances is causing tremendous stress to develop in the hives), I am unaware that anyone claims GM crops as the cause. There is of course a simple reason for that. In the United States, insect resistance is provided in two crops, corn and cotton. Soy and canola have only been modified to tolerate certain herbicides. The gene used in GM corn and cotton expresses a protein that binds to receptors specifically found in the gut of target insects, (e.g., the European Corn borer, the bollworm). Bees do not eat corn plants or cotton plants. Nor do their guts contain receptor sites to which the GM protein could attach. Now, I know the anti-GM crowd likes to blame GM crops for many of the world's ills, but disappearance of the honey bees isn't one.

Charlie Rader

Gillian has posted several statements that are simply not true, and therefore I would say she cannot be trusted.

For example, it is not true that terminator seeds have been marketed in India (or anywhere else). Terminator seeds are a patented idea but have never been commercialized.

No GMO crops have been approved for growth in Mexico. No farmers in Mexico have been forced to pay royalties for growing crops contaminated by genetic drift.

Monarch butterflies were not "almost wiped out" by GMO corn. Their numbers have increased dramatically since the first GM corn was introduced. The author of the study that showed GM pollen is poisonous to monarch butterfly larvae has pointed out that the monarch butterflies are safer near a GMO crop than they are near a crop grown with pesticides (including organic pesticides).

Gillian also repeats the endless claims that there are no analyses of various possible safety and environmental effects. It might be arguable that there are too few such studies, but not that there are none. The fact is that there are more studies of the safety of GM crops as foods and as environmental dangers than have been done for any other crops. Gillian must know this. Gillian can complain about no long-term studies only because no study duration can be long enough.

One false statement would be enough for me to become suspicious of everything else Gillian says. Here we have four.

charlie Rader

Kathy, you say that when GMO soy was introduced into Europe there was a 50% increase in soy allergies.

Yet the Europeans have persistently refused to allow GMO soy to enter their human foods. GMO soy in Europe is almost entirely restricted to animal feed. Assuming that there really was a 50% increase in soy allergies, attributing it to a cause that is still in the future seems rather far fetched.

Don

First off, if people are going to say "there's no proof GM crops are safe," they cannot then turn around and say "GM crops are killing the bees" without any proof.

If you want to get right down to it, genetic modification has been done by humans for thousands of years. People identify a trait they want, breed selectively for that trait and after a few hundred years, we have both St. Bernards and Chihuahuas. The truth is that some untested, unknown freak genetic mutation caused some dog to be abnormally large and hairy and slobber a lot, while different freak genetic mutations cause another dog to be bald, small, and shiver a lot.

I used the dog analogy, because they're easier to visually, but if you look at the corn grown in the 1980s (pre-GM crops) and the corn grown in the 1780s, they look very different. There was, and is, no guarantee of the safety of those crops, and no real understanding of why it was just observed that the corn was bigger and more yellow and that's what was planted next year. One could, of course, argue that if the farmer died from eating the corn, the big yellow corn didn't get planted next year.

Increased herbicide resistance can be at least partially explained by the continued use of the same herbicide on the same field for several years. Only the plants that survive the application will breed to grow next year. After several years, you have resistant weeds. It's happening to antibiotic-resistant bacteria at an alarming rate. In fact, it's almost certain we'll all die from resistant bacteria long before we die from GM crops. As instructed, I am using my common sense. GM crops were introduced in the mid 1990s, and their use has grown at a measurable rate since then. However, bee mortality has not followed. Rather, it was sudden and sharp. It is behaving much more like smallpox did when introduced to the Americas by the European explorers, so it seems far more likely it is a virus or bacteria introduced at some point. As for the obesity argument, gosh, you're right. I'm sure the increase in obesity has nothing to do with high-fat diets, sedentary lifestyles, and higher stress.

Food allergies are a real concern, but the jury is still out on that front. Granted allergies have increased dramatically; however since said children are allergic to organic products as well as their GM counterparts, that is a tenuous correlation to make. Other environmental factors almost certainly play a role.

Farmers are not in any way, shape, or form, obligated to plant Monsanto (or anyone else's) seeds. Farmer Bob can continue to set aside seed and replant it as they've done for generations. The driving force is that they look across the road to Farmer Fred's field and see Fred's getting 150 bushels an acre and Bob's only getting 80.

Finally, some other food for thought. A lot of people are accusing corporations of being untruthful so they can make money and point to Jeffrey Smith's book for "the truth." Well guess what, Jeffrey Smith is selling his book. By using that same logic (people exaggerate if not lie to make money), Smith is not a reliable source, either. In fact, given that he's also penned a sequel, a video, and an audio CD, and has been involved in several other projects suggest he's just as unreliable a source as the biotech companies in terms of milking the cash cow.

Jerry

I'm not as worried about Monsanto or other U.S. biotechs that must adhere to strict standards. I'm concerned about some Third World biotech company introducing some less expensive seed that doesn't have an adequate pesticide. This will cause some insects to become immune to the pesticide in the GM crop. This, in turn, will require stronger pesticides to be used, which in turn, will require stronger GM crops to be created, etc. It will happen if we let it.

Playing God can be fun and profitable. It can also kill us--even indirectly.

john mcdonald

Au contraire. Bees gather pollen from corn tassels in large quantities for the purpose of brood rearing, and pollen is the primary source of protein for the growing larvae. Pollen grains contain the same genetic constituents as somatic corn cells.

Plant and animal breeding over the centuries is not the same as the creation of transgenic crops. Conventional hybridization utilizes only the basic genome of the organism and any fortuitous, useful mutations that might appear, whereas genetic modification inserts genes that are not naturally present, or are the genes from another species.

There exist bT strains that are effective against a wide spectrum of different insects; indeed there is one which affects earthworms and another which kills stream insects. Remember that when the trout disappear from your favorite stream.

Juan

After 12 years of commercialization of genetically modified crops, the U.S. Department for Agriculture has already recognized that "currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety." How can GM crops help feed the world if GM crops do not yield more than conventional crops? So far, there is no evidence that GM crops have contributed to tackling food security in the world, and in addition, they have not improved the quality of our food or made it cheaper. For an in-depth review, please see "Who Benefits from GM crops?" from Friends of the Earth International at http://www.foei.org/en/publications/pdfs/gmcrops2007full.pdf. The burden of proof is beginning to shift to the biotech companies, which face increasing pressure to show the benefits of GM crops to our society.

Levi - Madison WI

LOL at people who think GMO crops are safe for human consumption.

The FDA and other government agencies can easily be bought out by super-organizations. The food is often not tested for long-term effects--which companies do not want you to find out.

GMO crops are less nutritious and less flavorful than conventional/organic farming products are. They often leach all the nutrients from the soil in about 20 years or so, leaving said soil unable to sustain crops for decades again until it has been replenished.

GMO will do nothing for the future of humankind; it's just one way to make a few billion dollars before investing in something else and taking the money and running.

Earthlings

I've read that Dow Chemical and DuPont are also developing genetically modified seed that will be competition for Monsanto. So maybe there will be some "competition" on Wall Street and the commodity markets of the world. To me, though, there is something really eerie about Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and DuPont running the show in food production. Maybe I have a backwoods, Third World, tree hugging outlook, but I just don't trust these people.

organic

Hey Tom, America has the cheapest food in the world; you are right.

Hey Tom, America has the largest number of obese people in the world.

Hey Tom, America has the highest number of manufactured products in the world.

Hey Tom, manufactured products use preservatives and sweeteners that are made from GM corn (have you heard of high-fructose corn syrup? Yeah, it comes from corn--GM corn, largely).

Hey Tom, cotton is used for food. Have you heard of cottonseed oil, the most common oil used for potato chips and snacks, which Americans eat so much of?

Hey Tom, I lived in America for 12 years and it has great things, but as far as food goes, it sucks. People have terrible eating habits and think eating from a can, a box, a jar, or fast food is OK. That's where all the bad stuff goes, in these kind of foods.

Hey Tom, you really believe world hunger is caused by lack of food?

Hey Tom, do you own stock at Monsanto? Do you think they really care about your food and stopping world hunger? If they did, they would be a nonprofit.

Take care.

eric

@Tom,
Topic: Monsanto monopoly. You list the seeds Monsanto sells as if to show that 1) it is short and thus 2) cannot possibly constitute monopolistic control. However, that's failed to demonstrate either one, since your numbers are either wrong or completely omitted, and your conclusions unfounded. Furthermore, since my arguments reach far beyond accusing Monsanto of being a monopoly, your comments fail to even address what I was saying, even though they give the appearance of doing so. (Good job.)

Your figures on Monsanto's position in the marketplace are vastly misleading, if not outright incorrect. We know that Monsanto's GM crops account for 90% of global GM acreage. Not a monopolist, eh? We also know that Monsanto owns Seminis who has (quoting from their press releases) "20+% of the global vegetable seed market" and "leading positions in nearly every major vegetable crop" (I have more stats that are even worse, so by all means, let's keep going). You relegated Seminis to a footnote, when in fact they are the world's largest supplier, and said they represent "far fewer than 10%" of global veggie seeds. Are you lying or misinformed? Neither one is good for your health, or credibility. By the way, upon acquiring Seminis, Monsanto stated that it would not apply biotechnology to Seminis veggie seeds at this time.

Monsanto knows full well that it cannot expand into the vegetable seed market without acquisition. Like a good little oil company reading the weather vane to see ethanol on the rise, it has purchased a market leader in order to expand its domination. (Yes, I expect corporations to make money. No, I don't think they should do so at the expense of social and environmental welfare. We can discuss that at length, too; I just didn't want you accusing me again of not wanting companies to make "reasonable profits.")

Also, you omitted numbers on cotton, which was convenient for you, but we can all be happy knowing that Monsanto owned 76% of the U.S. cottonseed market as of 2005. They also have 84% of U.S. soy, 45% of U.S. corn. Which crops are America's largest in the world?

A summary of the above: "By any definition, Monsanto is not a monopolist." I think you've been shot down on this one. Even if you claim technical definition of "monopoly" and assert Monsanto's oh-so-feeble stake in the global GM crop market, its role as the largest member of the world-food-supply oligopoly is enough to give pause.

You then made a very peculiar statement: "Nor does [Monsanto] control or seek to control the world's food supply."

More than anything else you've said, this seems a bit much, even amid your pattern of incorrect and cherry-picked statistics. A slip of the tongue, perhaps? Please let us in on what insights warrant your conviction in regard to Monsanto's intentions. Do those insights involve paychecks placed in your mailbox? (Just being whimsical and imaginative.)

Topic: Monsanto throwing its weight around. The problem with your continued focus on increased farm income for some farmers is manyfold.

1) A farmer decides to "go GM" for economic reasons. The reason that she "goes GM", though, cannot be viewed purely superficially, as you have. Yes, it makes sense for tens of millions of Americans to shop at Wal-Mart--even though they shouldn't for their own long-term economic welfare. It makes sense for them to work at Wal-Mart--even though they shouldn't for their own long-term economic and social welfare. It makes sense for competing local businesses to try to stay in business even when a Wal-Mart moves in next door--but they can't.

There are many reasons people "go cheaper," and they invariably involve trying to make ends meet and doing what's practical. The problem is that in these cases, the cards are stacked against them, because the market is not entirely free, corporations have enormous lobbying power to enact policies friendly to them, and the real social, ethical, and environmental concerns are hidden because people like you and companies like Monsanto are constantly vigilant, shifting the debate to issues that aren't significant and trumpeting facts that do a great disservice to us all because what's not said is actually the most important stuff going on.

You can count on people trying to save money--large corporations actively take advantage of that. (Again, I'm not accusing corporations of being inherently bad. Some of the actions they take are smoking guns in the realm of proving bad character, though.) People act against their long-term interests when they are given compelling reasons to save now, and when they don't really know the full story. That's why companies like Monsanto wage gigantic PR campaigns (like silencing groups who speak out against growth hormones), lobby and get in bed with government policy makers (like Monsanto lobbyist becomes Senate Ag Chair, 1/8/05; like Monsanto's buddy Dick Crowder becomes U.S. Agri Trade Negotiator), and try to keep consumers uninformed by banning labels indicating the presence of GM/rBGH, etc.

So, no, I don't think it's useful for us to be dwelling on why farmers "go Monsanto." I think it's compelling for them to do so, but that's exactly the problem. Companies like Monsanto make it compelling. Chevron and Conoco and BP make it compelling for me to buy more oil instead of invest in a more expensive hybrid or electric car. What I might not know is that they, in the past, have amassed huge efforts to stop cheap electric cars from entering the market and they've resisted higher MPG standards. Your logic, Mr. Tom, is stupefying.

2) Also, you keep trotting out the "greater efficiencies" argument, which is completely undercut by my "greater nutritional yield" argument. You're saying that corporate farms can be more efficient and crank out more food. Notwithstanding that this is not true (industrial factory processes simply do not apply to agriculture, as would seem the case), the mass-production of food necessitates practices that severely decrease its nutritional value, without question. We are talking sixty-fold decreases in vital nutrients and countless lost nutrients. It's obvious, for example, that growing millions more acres of iceberg lettuce is simply a waste of time, and detrimental for long-term sustainability.

3) Last, you said I accuse Monsanto of swallowing up small farms, when Monsanto doesn't itself own them. I ought not to have given the impression that Monsanto buys them up; that was not what I should have said. What I mean is that small farms become entirely beholden to Monsanto because once you enter the cycle of bare-bones economics and only being able to afford Monsanto's seeds, you are stuck. Once your soil's nutrients are depleted and you can't grow anything except Monsanto's chemical cocktails, you are stuck. Once you sign Monsanto's "Technology Agreement," you're stuck with Monsanto because if you decide to discontinue use of Monsanto, you face patent infringement in the case that you inadvertently have sprouts spread unwittingly from the previous year. Sometimes, though, farmers don't stay stuck. Sometimes they commit suicide. (http://vidarbhacrisis.blogspot.com/2007/10/ten-more-farmers-suicides-in-vidarbha.html)

Topic: Monsanto assaults family farmers with lawsuits. Way to go: You built a straw man. You said: "Next, let's deal with another myth that Monsanto has sued thousands of farmers, including anyone who has ever had pollen from GM crops get into their fields."

No one said "thousands of farmers," and no one said they're suing "anyone who has ever." I know it's convenient for you to frame it this way so that you can refute it and look like you are addressing the topic. The point is, they do sue farmers, and they do intimidate them. It's disingenuous for you to focus on the number of farmers sued (that's like saying out of the tens/hundreds of millions of American file sharers, the RIAA has only sued several thousand) and, worse, to focus on the few farmers who were found in the wrong. Monsanto has, as of 2005, a $10 million annual budget and a dedicated staff of 75 people focused completely on investigating, then prosecuting farmers. They have a toll-free number for reporting suspected farmers. They investigate and trespass on farmer land before bringing forth accusations. Out of 90 suits brought against 147 farmers (yeah, I don't know where you got your numbers either), 25 of the suits [accused] Monsanto [of] forging farmer signatures on their technology agreements. The problem here is not that some farmers infringe on patents or contracts they (may or may not have) signed-- but rather the problem is the ideological basis for seed patents, the methodology behind the patent protection, the intimidation and surveillance, the fixation on control of commodities that are the most basic public good.

It ain't just lawsuits either. Monsanto also backs legislation hostile to farmers (who knew?). Here's one out of dozens: http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=377.

Topic: Environmental benefits. Before we delve into why glyphosate is bad, let's talk about Monsanto's dedication to food safety:

"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.'s job" --Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications, "Playing God in the Garden" New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998.

Perhaps that would be okay if the FDA didn't have the exact same idea:

In general: "Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety"--FDA, "Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties" (GMO Policy), Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 104 (1992), p. 229. To Monsanto directly: "As you are aware, it is Monsanto's responsibility to ensure that foods marketed by the firm are safe, wholesome and in compliance with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements." http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/biocon.html

Glyphosate as is used for spraying on Monsanto crops is actually in a mixture of other chemicals, and this cocktail is bad for:

Humans: increased lymphoma cancer, miscarriages, decreased sexual function, genetic damage.

Animals: liver damage in rats, sexual and immune function in fish and frogs, genetic damage in insects, reduction of spider populations, and lots more.

Plants: Its whole point is to kill plants; it prevents the creation of important amino acids, which is also why nutrient content is greatly affected; but more seriously, it contributes to certain plant diseases like Pythium root rot in sugarcane, sudden death syndrome for soybeans, fusarium head blight, and more.

Soil: Earthworms, which recycle soil, die; with less good soil you have an increased need for artificial agricultural practices, no?

Water: Denmark banned glyphosates for most uses, because there was too much of it accumulated in groundwater.

We can also discuss weed resistance. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406E3DB1231F937A25752C0A9659C8B63&sec=health.

We can even discuss rBGH/rBST if you really wish. Monsanto's chemical concoctions are safe? Spare me. They're safe enough to be sold in mass quantities until evidence against becomes too much to bear.

Topic: Whole Foods. This particular fallacy is introduced again and again, so it deserves special attention. The market for organic crops isn't limited to higher-income people because it's exclusive or because it's not worthwhile. It's because our agribusiness-food policy complex favors generic, conventional, monocrop, mass-produced food production over nutritious, sustainable, small-scale food production. It's a skewed system. And as long as companies like Monsanto can continue to take advantage of the skewed system (and contribute to its imbalance in its own favor; see the cornucopia of methods above), the adoption of organic, local, sustainable, etc., will take a longer time than it could. The reason it has gotten so big is despite industry and lobbying attempts to prevent it from happening--fortunately, individuals and nonprofit organizations and people who pay attention work to fight this very worthwhile struggle.

Bob

To Allan:
The same people who are pro-GMO are anti-stem cell research. What does that tell you? It's all politics and money. No science involved. Oh yeah, they don't believe in evolution, but they think man knows better than God.

I am pro-GMO, I am also pro-stem cells, do not belong to either political party, believe that it is a good thing that we have an organic food market, and I do believe in evolution. I am also not a shill for Monsanto.

I can also tell you that farmers are businessmen; if they were not getting a benefit from using Monsanto's seeds, they would not be paying extra for the privilege of using them.

The future of GMO products will proceed despite all of the critics out there.

John

Trust Monsanto? It's up to you. Ask the Vietnamese and American vets of the war about their lovely product called Agent Orange.

Some of their other creations include: aspartame (NutraSweet), bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone; BST), and PCBs.

eric

@Bob, 12/11
To your comment that farmers are businessmen: It is not that simple.

In a free market where the playing field is level, yes you can make the argument that individuals are free to make rational economic decisions. However, frequently when markets are dominated by corporate entities that have sought and obtained access to government policy, the playing field is not level. This is one of those such cases.

Farmers, just like individual consumers, can be convinced to act in favor of their own short-term benefit but against their long-term needs, when there is either a sufficient amount of short-term benefit or a deficient amount of full information on the scenario, or both.

We can delve into more concrete scenarios and examples if you like.

fitasafiddle

I take issue with Mr. Greenwood's initial premise, that "Americans enjoy one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world’s history."

While it's certainly abundant, the dramatic rise in morbid-obesity, diabetes, and other nutrition-related ailments over the past few years suggests our food supply is far from safe.

It seems more than coincidence that rising obesity rates track perfectly with a rise in certain additives to our food supply, namely cheap fillers such as high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats, and over-processed carbohydrates.

Lest we forget, many of these toxic food additives were created and marketed by industrial behemoths similar to Monsanto and touted as safe. Of course, they are safe in the sense that they won't kill you right away. However, the threat they pose has proved to be far more insidious by slowly degrading a population's health over several years, while at the same time allowing economic dependency on these toxic additives to grow.

Jeremy

Anyone who thinks that the U.S. assessment of GE crops is rigorous or scientific isn't looking very closely. The U.S. requirements for assessment, field trials, and monitoring vary between poor and nonexistent. Approvals are given for foods and crops based almost exclusively on company data--and there is a mountain of evidence to indicate that reliance on company data is suspect at best. The standards used to assess GE crops aren't scientific but political; take a look at the concept of substantial equivalence, which is the foundation of the system--it has no scientific basis. When people comment that no one has died as a result of eating GMOs, they don't know what they are talking about--no one knows whether people are dying because no one has done any testing prior to release, and there is no monitoring or surveillance system in place anywhere. Companies such as Monsanto correctly assume that a dangerous product is better on the market than not. If health problems are found--and someone has to be willing to look and to pay for the looking--then regulation, not prohibition, will be the response, just like in the tobacco industry.

LorenE

Jeremy, it seems you should look a little closer. The bottom line is that it costs companies $1 million to $1.5 million to deregulate a single GM event so that it can be sold. This money is spent on field trials, allergy testing, metabolic profiling, etc. The data is then evaluated by government agencies (USDA, FDA, and sometimes the EPA). Your gripe that company data is being used is puzzling because whether you're testing GMOs, drugs, or medical devices, the companies always conduct, or contract for, the trials (field or clinical, depending on the industry). The government doesn't do the testing.

"No one knows whether people are dying because no one has done any testing prior to release." Come again? First, if people were dying from GMOs we'd know, because they'd be dead; the crops have been out there for 10 years. No crops, no matter how they're modified (mutation breeding, GMO) or grown (conventional, organic), are monitored. Personally, I'd like to see some studies on the levels of mycotoxins in organic crops. Perhaps we could put them on hold until we prove they are safe. Second, these GMOs are being tested more than any set of crops in the history of the planet. Your assertions are simply incorrect.

Fred Mitchel

Another issue I didn't see mentioned was that it is difficult for a farmer to not plant GM soybeans or corn, because with the vast majority of farmers planting them, and getting much better yields, the price per bushel is reduced, and the farmer wanting to not plant GM soybeans or corn simply cannot stay in business. Also, remember that we have been changing the genetic make-up of plants ever since Mendel played with his peas. This is just a different (more radical) way of doing it. What we desperately need is a worldwide radical population control program. If we had half the people on this planet, we wouldn't need GM plants to feed the hordes. As it is, with ever increasing populations, we will not be able to survive without them, so the whole discussion is moot. We have to go forward and hope for the best. Or institute radical birth control, and back away from GMOs when the population comes down enough to afford this luxury.

Tanuki

I have read this article with great interest. But there seems to be so much energy expended for no reason other than shouting your own point.

In food-stressed high-human-density Asia where I live, it is more pressing to feed people, to get them up the job value chain, and to have clean air and water, so that life simply will continue. India, China, Indonesia, etc., have all gone ahead with GMOs, without Monsantos as we do not want to be beholden to a foreign player for the millions of farmers.

As with jobs, services, and now increasingly farming, the future of this debate is being worked out in Asia, not in the USA.

There was a gentleman above who mentioned rather knowingly the debate should focus on Third World Monsanto wannabes who come up with an inferior product and the resulting devastation. I am also concerned about that; life moves so fast here, and the checks and balances are rarely in force. It will do perhaps everyone more good if your debate focuses on Asia's GMO practices. The spillover effects will spread to your world sooner or later.

Have a festive season,
U Ki Tan

nation of gandhis

Not one mention of hemp as a food crop here.

Hemp has no natural pests and grows in a wide range of climates. It has all eight basic amino acids to form all other nutritional needs. It has plenty of oil and can be used for paper and motor oil.

The miracle crop has been ignored because of fear, ignorance, and marijuana paranoia. No one has ever died from a pot overdose.

purebushit!

If GMOs are so good for us--like DDT, PCBs, nicotine, etc. once were thought to be--then why are they so afraid to label the junk? Nothing has been tested long enough to prove anything. Remember, these guys are after profits first and foremost. Also remember Detroit/UAW is in a big bind, because they got Congress and presidents to allow them to produce gas guzzlers for 30-plus years instead of doing what is right. Most of these firms are paying Congress to look the other way--prove me wrong or publish this, BW.

Squeezebox

Let's talk about alternative technologies. I'll be up front; I have a financial stake in a company called Gardening Without Cultivation. It's a variation on no-till that's been around for about 50 years. It uses polyethylene film (the same stuff that's in your milk jugs) to keep out weeds, conserve ground moisture, and extend the growing season a little. You enrich your soil with manure, fertilizer, anything you like. Then you lay your plastic down and leave it for 10 to 20 years. This particular product was engineered to be nontoxic and leach free, but it does break down somewhat in 20 years (about the same rate as milk jugs left outside). You can't use a tractor on it, so it's not good for grain crops. You are restricted to using chemically inert fertilizers and pesticides due to potential damage to the plastic. The company strongly advises consumers to use pest-repellent plants such as marigolds instead.

My point is that you don't have to have genetic modifications for weed control. This is just one of many systems out there that don't play God.

Garnet

With the increasing share of agricultural cropland being used to produce biofuels, it is important to consider the use of genetically modified crops designed specifically for biofuel production. The present use of existing food crops to produce fuel is wasteful and inefficient, in particular the use of ethanol produced from corn. Not only is the resulting fuel expensive but also it subtracts from the food supply of an already hungry planet. If we are ever to replace the oil from the Middle East and achieve energy and financial independence, we have to find a better way.

Food crops produce complex hydrocarbons, such as starches. These are vital for human nutrition but don't make very good fuel for automobiles. Energy is required to produce the molecules; then more energy is required to break them down again. A fuel should ideally be a light hydrocarbon, liquid over a wide range of temperatures, and non-toxic both to humans and to the plant that produces it. It would be best produced in the leaves of a plant (like peppermint oil), rather than seeds or fruits, as this would allow a more rapid (and perhaps repeated) harvest.

A plant gene to produce a starch is large and complex, but a plant gene to produce a light oil could be fairly simple. Designing such a gene and inserting it into the DNA of a fast-growing plant (for example kudzu) would not be a difficult task for a genetics lab. The land that grows such a plant could be marginal land, not the prime agricultural land now producing ethanol.

It is vital that we channel our resources toward finding the means for energy independence, and we should set the goal of creating genetically modified biofuel crops as a step in this direction.

Kelly

GMO is what it is--modified by someone who is making a very big profit by doing so. It is also affecting the future of farming in ways the general public doesn't understand. Research patents for a few months--and what is being allowed to be patented--then ask yourself if you'll even have access to "real" food in the future.

Maybe we can feed more people today--but isn't it the strain of more people and more everything that is causing the desperation of societies to seek out ways to produce more, more, more?

I don't want to rely on a group of profit-motivated corporations and the scientists they employ for my food future. It's too bad so many are so short-sighted. It's not just about today, but even if it were, teach a man to fish, don't "grow" fish for him.

mike

DDT was considered safe, as was a certain combination of diet pills and hundreds of other chemicals and drugs, until problems started developing and people died.

It is obscene for people to believe that we know enough to play with the basic mechanisms of life, and in such a way that they are self-replicating. We don't know enough about what we are doing, and sooner or later it will bite us.

The original article woefully understates the problems caused by genetically modified corn. So far, this so called safe modified corn, that was "unable to escape" has done so. It has escaped into the wild, and in a way that was thought to be impossible. Pollen spread the modified genes to weeds, which then caused the weeds to take on the modified genes. And did you know that they found some bacteria that also took on the genes from the pollen? All of which the inventors said was impossible. They said it was impossible for other plants to be affected, and it was impossible for other organisms to be effected. It was impossible for the corn to "escape," because there would be buffer zones of a few hundred feet where regular corn would not be grown. Pollen from the modified corn was found to be carried miles away by the wind.

This was the BT gene, which has now escaped into the wild, and has the potential to destroy many species world wide should the gene become entrenched in many wild species, especially if it becomes entrenched in bacteria or if it becomes crossed with a virus, which is possible.

In nature viruses cross with bacteria and other organisms, creating new viruses every day.

Not only did different plant species take on the gene, but different species in a different order. All of which was supposed to be impossible. This has terrifying consequences for future commercial products that are being rushed to market with little oversight and even lower ethics.

We know so little about what we are doing to our environment, yet we rush ahead in the name of profit.

We know almost nothing about how our DNA works; we know just enough to cause irreversible catastrophic harm. Just look at what simple foreign animal invasions have done to many ecosystems all over the world--from starlings in North America to rabbits and toads in Australia, and rats and snakes in New Zealand. A small organism that has reproduced and produced long-term negative consequences, including destroying many native species, all over the world.

Genetic modification also has the possibility of destroying native populations should something go wrong. And our blunders with foreign organisms show us that we can do very little to stop them once they have been let out.

Let's hope that we are not the next organism to find itself being delegated to the dustbin of history.

We simply don't know enough about the long-term consequences of this science for it to be used as a mass-scale commercial method without strict oversight.

Meg

My biggest problem with GMO is that there is no way to protect the ability of people to freely grow their own food and save their own heirloom seeds, if there is no way to protect their crops from pollen borne on wind and pollinators, from GMO products. People must have the right to save their own seeds and plant their own crops, and protect genetic diversity. Corporations must not be in control of every breath we take, every bite we eat. There must be the right to pursue a self-sufficient life.

Oh, and biodiversity must be preserved, as well as natural, wild forms of things.

jennifer

I've been sick for two years. I was once considered very pretty. Now I have welts all over my body. I have trouble breathing and have block dots and needle things coming out of my skin and throat. I had blood tests done that say my genes have been mutated due to soy GMO. My friend just died from the same symptoms I have. Please don't tell me these things are not dangerous or killing anyone. If you say this then you are working for the companies who are selling these items.

Starlink

The US does not require GMO food labeling (special interest), so doctors cannot diagnose GMO allergies.

Starlink

Call to arms. Folks, EU will not eat GM.

John

That's correct the US does not require GMO food labeling. Therefore there is no traceability and therefore no liability.

It's also scary that ex-employees from certain GMO patent holders work in US government.

Not enough studies have been done on the long term effects of GM Foods. Japan is watching this generation of American kids to see what sort of health effects from GM foods.

Personally, I want to know my self what I am buying in the store - but it seems that the US government does not support that right and therefore is interfering with our health through lack of disclosure. Isn't a government supposed to be a body working for the benefit of it's citizens, why is it taking such a poor stance on this topic? Are these large corporations funding the government or making financial contributions and therefore the money is outweighing the right choice - label foods so consumers are %100 aware of what they're eating, so the ones of us who actually give a damn can have that choice?

I do believe in natural selective breeding and cross pollination to strengthen genetic traits. I strongly disapprove of genetically modifying genes to achieve this. I'm sorry but pro or con GMO - inter species genetic "mutation" and manipulating genes of our primary food source is an abomination to nature, and is not natural.

If we find out tomorrow, that the risk of cancer is increased by certain GM foods who is liable in the USA? Government for not protecting it's people when it knows it damn well should, or the Corporations who say the FDA is responsible for human safety not them?

If you would like some information on GM Foods there's a few good films.

Food Inc
Future Of Food

john paul

December 6, 2007,
"Total People Killed by GMO crops = 0
Total People Injured by GMO Crops = 0

Now compare that to the number of people who die each year from starvation." Isn't this what really matters? People die all the time from anything. But the only thing we should look out for is the honey bees. I think we must look at the future and see our kids growing up, but that can't happen if the honey bee population is running low because of man made creations killing them. I think all you people are thinking of yourselves. Actually take time to breath the fresh air and look at the clouds and stop thinking about calulations and mumbo jumbo. Just think of what your kids are consuming.

monitor oddechu

Bookmarked your website. Thank you for sharing. Definitely worth the time away from my workload.

bezdech u niemowląt

I actually knew about most of this, but having said that, I still thought it was useful. Nice job.

Taraaaa

We are having a debate in science on this subject. I'm not sure exactly what I think yet but after watching the movie Food Inc., as biased as it was, had some really good points. I understand that there are benefits to this including feeding third world countries, but I think that if we honestly don't know the long term effects, this whole idea could end up backfiring on us. I think we need to do a lot more research on this subject. Also, as helpful as this might end up being, it just seems wrong. Why mess with nature? Look at how screwed the world is already (global warming, pollution, etc.), and that is all caused by humans and all the things that we previously changed because it would make our lives supposedly easier and better. I think everyone just needs to think twice about this.

c.bronson

There will be various protests regarding genetic engineering/modification throughout the u.s. on 3/26/11.
The purpose of the protest is primarily to:

1. Get all food products containing genetically engineered/modified organisms labeled.

2. Get mandatory FDA testing of genetically engineered/modified organisms before they are allowed to be used for human consumption.

3. Get better regulations for those growing/keeping genetically engineered/modified organisms, to reduce the contamination of organic farms etc.

If you wish to participate in the protest and want to find out where the nearest protest to you is, or you can not attend a protest but would like to sign petitions regarding labeling genetically engineered/modified foods etc. please use these links for more information.

Protest info
http://www.facebook.com/rallyfortherighttoknow2011

Tell the fda to label all GMO and GEO foods in the U.S.
https://ssl.capwiz.com/grassrootsnetroots/issues/alert/?alertid=15248881

Tell major supermarkets in the U.S. to label GMO and GEO
http://www.capwiz.com/grassrootsnetroots...16&type=CU

Pizza

Powered by pizza, the men arrive home to find their wives asleep, to be awoken only by having fragrant slices of pizza dragged beneath their noses. Pizza had wedged its way into the nation’s hearts and stomachs almost overnight, a phenomenon befitting a food that became synonymous with quick and easy.

Becca

Taraaaa,

It is rhetoric only that genetically modified organisms which are creating herbicide drinking crops, immune deficient soils, diseased crops, superweeds, sterile livestock and wildlife will feed the world.

Monsanto and the biotech will say anything to get farmers to sign their contract and buy their seeds and chemicals. But in fact, they are destroying fields with constant spraying of Roundup or other chemicals.

Organic farmers either cut and mulch under weeds, or pull vines out. This method, while time-consuming, does not destroy the soil and kill the beneficial organisms that live there. It adds necessary nutrients to the soil and humus, needed for healthy plants.

I suggest that my grandson's generation will be unable to reproduce, due to Roundup and incessant spraying on the earth, plus wanted vegetation for food will be unable to grow in years to come. It is already occurring today, but each party, Democrat or Republican, has refused to read the studies by independent scientists and even the USDA and FDA's own scientists. They only follow Monsanto blindly praising the Emperor's New Clothes.

We are being deceived at best and more like lied to, just as occurred in India, Argentina, and other countries.

The only esteemed countries are the European Union, where activists and independent scientific studies prevailed and have stopped GMOs from being planted and the corruption that has followed.

Becca

If genetically modified foods are so safe, why have Monsanto and the biotech industry blocked the studies by independent scientists in the USA?

Why are there no peer-reviewed studies in the journals?

Why doesn't the US FDA and USDA listen to their own scientists, choosing instead to listen to the Monsanto scientist and policy maker instead?

Why don't we have the right to know via mandatory labeling of genetically modified crops?

Why are the biotech companies putting organic and small farmers out of business by contaminating their crops with GMOs and then either taking them to court or intimidating them to the point they give in?

Why did the Obama Justice Department's Christine Varney get stopped from doing her job with the investigation of Monsanto for anti-trust? Nothing has been done. Now Varney has left to DOJ for private practiced. Has she been 'sucker punched' like the rest of us?

Why is the truth being held from the American people? We want our foods labeled for these so-called safe genetically modified organisms! The entire European Union, Taiwan, Indonesia, and myriad other countries have either the right to know or have banned the planting of GMOs. Their science is allowed to be published; why not here? There, they have the right to know, so why don't we?

John

Nerds...

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