A Conversation for Genetically Modified Foods

Ethics

Post 101

clzoomer- a bit woobly

The suit was brought against a farmer who had an adjoining field to a Monsanto one. Testing of his crop showed a certain percentage of modified seed. He was accused of stealing it, when a second test found that only a percentage of the crop was modified. His arguement was that some of the seed had blown over to his side when it was sowen. It has been in and out of court for years now, but a complication is that some of the modified plants have been producing viable modified seed.


Ethics

Post 102

Ste

So, basically he was found guilty of stealing it, and the court didn't believe that the seed blew over from the neighbouring field?

Thanks for the further links by the way smiley - ok

Stesmiley - earth


Ethics

Post 103

clzoomer- a bit woobly

Subsequent appeals have indicated that the amount was less than Monsanto had said it was (they tested), so it's in the courts again.

The viable seeds are a bigger concern. That means the *safety factor* Monsanto said was built in doesn't exist.


Ethics

Post 104

Felonious Monk - h2g2s very own Bogeyman

But the safety factor is only relevant if (a) the gene gives rise to a dangerous phenotype and (b) the gene is not going to be selected against in the wild anyhow.

If nature has a 'natural wisdom', it's that it doesn't expend effort supporting features with limited biological utility. Herbicide resistance and other transgenic traits will die out once they cease to be useful, such as when they escape into wild plants.


Ethics

Post 105

clzoomer- a bit woobly

So what of a plant that is genetically engineered to actually produce insecticide? What would happen if it became the default plant for the world? What would happen to all the insects that we depend on to pollinate the rest of the plant world?


Ethics

Post 106

Sea Change

Ste has a point about the Natural Law party link. They are some weird folks. clzoomer has an unstated point about North American agribusiness, that they are stodgy enough to have foolishly destroyed the american wheat gene by natural hybridisation and standardisation. The fact that we had to import wheat from Russia is a United States historical shame. Agbiz are also known liars and cheats. They have enormous political and monetary power on this continent.

Based on the links we have, vital information is missing.

It seems that Monsanto thinks it can prove the seed was physically stolen? Isn't the movement of large amounts of seed something that is easily visible? Is the seed in question a hybrid seed whose F1s are being sold to the farmer, and can Monsanto prove that their parent fields got swiped from? Can Monsanto prove that the F1 seed they sell is absolutely and throrougly sorted away from leftover parents-crops, who might be having adolescent pre-harvest post-Roundup sex in the neighboring, licensed field? These articles are peculiar because some proprietary information is either missing or being deliberately omitted.

One could call the 'safety factor' a 'politeness factor' or a 'profit factor' : if noone wants to buy or eat something that you've grown due to someone else's actions on your crop, she has done you damage and you have a tort. To me this isn't a direct argument against GMO-Monsanto's scientists could go back to the drawing board and engineer a product that truly won't reproduce.

For the american market, where noone is starving for institutional-shortage-of-food reasons, it *doesn't matter* if the consumer's choice is irrational. A box of Cheerios which sells for $3 has only $0.15 of oats in it, so the actual caloric value or nutritional value which are presumably the reason humans buy grain, is not the thing being purchased. If it pleases my neighborlady to spend $4 on a box of Oatyos (brand name is my invention because I can't remember what she served me) that not only floats in milk, has a cute name with an anthropormophised seal on the box, is fun; but is also organic, then this merely makes her the kind charming oddfolk one likes for a neighbor, to me. The retail and distribution markup on many other foods is similarly usurious. I don't have a general farming-related problem with this. My objection would be antitrust, which is not relevant here.

One could call the 'safety factor' a 'pollution factor': No one knew DDT would be harmful, so it was allowed to pervade the environment for years. It's entirely possible every last GMO isn't harmful, based on what we know *now*. Science isn't perfect, and folk have a right to be cautious, even if it looks scientifically silly. If there's such a thing as windspill, which Monsanto is trying to refute, how does one clean the crude oil off the pinfeathers of your maize?


Ethics

Post 107

Sea Change

smiley - erm I am not sure why hootoo or my browser thinks F-1 is a link. It's a hybridization term. I didn't do that deliberately. smiley - erm


Ethics

Post 108

Felonious Monk - h2g2s very own Bogeyman

The point you raise about escaping insecticidal genes is a very valid one. It's probably worth looking at some parallels in 'normal' plants. Much of the potato family (the Solanacaea) make alkaloids: nicotine and atropine are two that come to mind most readily. They do this because alkaloids are toxic, and kill any bugs which *eat* the plant. Note the use of the verb: the plant has to be ingested in order to kill the bug. However, they are flowering plants which of course means that they need to be pollinated by insects.

However, there are insects which *can* and *do* eat solanacaeous plants: Colorado beetle is a particularly devastating pest of tobacco. The battle between plant and insect for survival is an arms race: deadlier toxins force evolution of more resilient insects, and so on.

If we engineer cotton to contain Bt toxin then we have to accept that at some point the insect foe (the boll weevil) will become resistant to the toxin. This will happen all too soon, so the prevailing wisdom is that non-GM plants need to be planted alongside GM plants in 'reserves', so that the non-resilient insects will swamp the genes of the resistant insects by finding it much easier to survive and breed. The insect always gets the mighty force of natural selection on its side, the plant engineer has to fall back upon his/her wits repeatedly and often. I know who I'd put my money on in the long term.


Ethics

Post 109

The Walking Dictionary and Grammar Guide

Earlier in the thread, someone was comparing the current GMO resisters to the people who were horrified by fluoride in their water supply. He was implying that they both were over-paranoid. I think the comparison is quite a valid one, though for different reasons: fluoride is a toxin. It can, and does, cause multiple kinds of cancer and brain damage. Fluoride once-bonded with ore in the ground is left over after the ore is refined, and the government apparently decided that the best thing to do about it was dump it in our water supply and say it was for the good of our teeth, when really the only people it benefited were whoever would have had to spend the money to dispose of it in some less harmful way. Still don't believe it's a toxin? If you're ever in your parents' or grandparents' basement, take a look at an old rat poison container, and look at the active (poisonous) ingredient. Yup, you guessed it: sodium fluoride.

Those who extoll the virtues of GMO foods say we could use them to feed the world, specifically the starving people in less-developed countries. How??? In theory it all works very well--load 'em on a boat or a plane and ship 'em to Darfur, then the government there will distribute them to the masses. Unfortunately, the people who imagine this ideal scenario are basing it on false premises that are only true in the abstract:
1. The idea that someone would load them onto a boat or plane rather than selling them for their own power and profit--nearly always, those with money and power will do whatever they feel they must to increase their money and power, not necessarily what is good for others. Need proof? Try thinking of the millions of people that die each year in the so-called civilized countries because of the toxins from corporations/factories leaking into their homes. Try thinking of the 211 children born missing heads, with overly large heads, stunted limbs, fused bones, etc. etc. in 2003 in Iraq or Iran or whatever country the US was bombing then, due to irradiation from the bombs. That is valuing profit over life, specifically the profit of those in power. That is inherent in our civilization, in the stories we tell ourselves.
2. That the government in Darfur, or whatever less-developed, no, let's be honest, call it poor, call it ravaged by genocide, country--if there even is a government--is honest and pure as the snow (then again, since when is snow pure anymore, what with all the toxins we release into the air daily?) and will actually distribute the GMO food to the masses rather than selling it to the highest bidder and using their new-found fortune to escape to yet another war-torn country--there are hundreds, and if you point at a map the chances are you'll either hit ocean, a war-torn zone in its own way, or a poor, ravaged country--and most likely, the US government at least paid for weapons for whatever group was doing the ravaging, if we didn't aid in the ravaging ourselves.

My second argument against GMO foods is: how would you like to have someone tampering with your genes without asking you? The premise here, which western civilization as a whole subscribes to, is that human beings are inherently superior to all other life on the planet. This is an unsustainable way of being, and therefore, in my opinion, rather stupid. There are many people who would laugh and say "Plants don't make decisions for themselves. They're not sentient. It's positively ridiculous." I say, go plant a seed, let it grow wild, and you will damn well see decisions: which way to expand, when to take over another plant species, when to die.

Many, many ecosystems today are teetering on the brink of collapse. Even something small could trigger it. Ecosystems, like people, can only take so much before they break down: my mother, for one, patiently does the housework, ferries myself and my siblings around on a regular basis, but every once in a while, she has to rant at us. You don't see it coming 'til it's here. A study done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that it is true for ecosystems: "[Many of them] could collapse with little or no warning," one scientist writes. So, doesn't that make you think about what could happen were one particularly strong strain of wheat released into a rainforest? That on top of the damage that logging is already doing.

I realize that this is not a popular viewpoint--the viewpoint that not everything on earth revolves around humans. Well, Galileo wasn't popular for saying that not everything in the universe revolves around the earth, was he? Yet he was right. Unfortunately, now those who don't assent to popular belief are quietly assassinated, preferably before their beliefs can spread too far, rather than burnt at the stake or some similarly public punishment; is the culture afraid that if alternate views are popularized other people might *gasp* begin to think for themselves and realize that those alternate views are worth at least thinking about?


Ethics

Post 110

Felonious Monk - h2g2s very own Bogeyman

My argument *for* GM foods is that in many cases, the consequences of *not* growing them are patently obvious and far more serious than the consequences of growing them. Take, for instance, the golden rice grown by Ingo Potrykus. This has been the target of a campaign by Greenpeace (yawn), but nobody has actually been able to posit even a hypothetical risk. Yet leaving people in the developing world without access to a ready source of vitamin A leads to orphanages being filled with blind children.

Not every scientist is a dupe and a pawn of a 'multinational'. Moreover, there is *no* reason whatsoever why the application of GMO's should not be assessed on a case-by-case basis. They aren't a panacaea, but they aren't the foul spawn of the devil either. It requires intellectual effort and discretion to distinguish which are useful and which not.

My view, as it happens, is *not* that the world revolves around humans. No either is it that nature is a sacrosanct deity and that we tamper with it at our peril. Our genes have been tampered with since time immemorial. Ever since a virus got into a sex cell we have been swapping genes with microbes. And releasing a strain of rice that uses valuable energy in making vitamin A into the wild will mean that it will eventually become selected against and *die out*. And the toxin in rat poison is sodium fluoracetate, which works by inhibiting beta-oxidation. So, at the very least, let's try and have an *informed *debate about the subject instead of trotting out old cliches such as multinationals and mad scientists in white labcoats.


Ethics

Post 111

Ste

A well-intentioned, but tragically misinformed rant based on little or no thinking or evidence.

I'll ignore the bizarre "GMOs on boats" part for charity's sake.


"The premise here, which western civilization as a whole subscribes to, is that human beings are inherently superior to all other life on the planet. This is an unsustainable way of being, and therefore, in my opinion, rather stupid."

We started to breed crops and animals thousands and thousands of years ago. It is perfectly sustainable - otherwise we would have starved the human population back down to preshistoric levels pretty quickly.


"So, doesn't that make you think about what could happen were one particularly strong strain of wheat released into a rainforest? That on top of the damage that logging is already doing."

Wheat is a temperate crop. Also any expression of disease/insect resistance genes is usually a burden on the plant without the selective pressure of insects/disease. I'd love to see wheat in a rainforest!


I was going to write more, but I think I'll go do something constructive instead - like take a shower and finish my damn PhD.

Stesmiley - mod


Ethics

Post 112

The Walking Dictionary and Grammar Guide

My apologies for being so ill-informed, but my basic beliefs remain, though I doubt I can convince either of you. Yes, we did start breeding animals and crops about six thousand years ago. I know that. However, we're currently using energy faster than it's coming in. Salmon have all but disappeared from the rivers in North America. Half the male fish in southern England are switching gender because of all the hormones dumped in the water, and that's a conservative estimate. There is not a single stream in North America that doesn't contain toxins, nor a single mother's breast milk. A child in Los Angeles, California breathes in enough toxins in the first two weeks of its life than the EPA says is safe for an entire lifetime; in San Francisco, it takes three weeks. Twenty-five percent of women in the U.S. are raped and another nineteen percent have had to fend off sexual assaults, and many women consider these numbers conservative.
If that's sustainability, I would hate to see people living what you consider UNsustainability.
PS--In case you ever have time for some harsh truths and interesting insights into the many ways our civilization is killing the planet we live on, try reading some of Derrick Jensen's books: Language Older Than Words, Walking on Water, Endgame, etc.


Ethics

Post 113

The Walking Dictionary and Grammar Guide

"It is perfectly sustainable - otherwise we would have starved the human population back down to preshistoric levels pretty quickly."

On a geological scale, 6,000 years is pretty quickly, isn't it?


Ethics

Post 114

Felonious Monk - h2g2s very own Bogeyman

Nobody's talking about sustainability here. They're talking about whether or not any ethical boundaries are breached in using GM.

Years ago, I went to the Centre for Alterative Technology in Machynlleth. This place has become hijacked by the Green fundamentalists - it used to be the Centre for Alterative Energy. They had a series of posters explaining their philosophy and, of course, GM was in there and their opposition to it. There was a huge non sequitur in their reasoning: they tried to lump everything together under the idea of 'closed loops = good'. So organic agriculture was a closed loop of resources, and GM broke the closed loop. God knows how, because GM involves introduction of *information*, not extra resources, and decreased use of pesticide and fertiliser seems a good thing to me, not a bad one. They had, quite simply, forgotten the *message* behind what they were doing and were worshipping the *creed* instead.

So don't letucre me on sustainability, mate, because my thought processes are pretty well developed compared to those of some.


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