Are GMOs good or bad? Genetic engineering and our food


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/30/are-gmos-good-or-bad-genetic.html


#2

Nice, but they don’t really get into the crucial question: good or bad for whom, and on what timescale? A lot depends on how you scope the question. See for example, this analysis: http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/2012/05/systems-thinking-and-genetically-modified-food/


#3

This is propaganda promoting GMOs. In isolation, GMOs are neither good nor bad, and success stories such as the fungus-resistant papayas make the case that GMOs can be lifesavers in certain situations. However, saying broadly that GMOs are “Helping to save and protect nature and minimize our impact on the environment.” is not helpful.

Parroting the ‘reduced pesticides’ line from the pesticide industry is especially disingenuous. Weed resistance to glyphosate is already a huge problem, which puts pressure on farmers that have to deal with them, and is driving the next big push through the pipeline of crops resistant to 2,4-D, a pesticide that persists in the environment and is a neurotoxin, endocrine disruptor, and cancer agent. The vast majority of GMOs plantings are made to sell pesticides.

The video also breezed by gene flow, which is a huge problem. GMO glyphosate-resistant bentgrass is already near to becoming an uncontrollable pest in eastern Oregon, and it crosses with native and crop grasses. It escaped from field trials and their ‘boundary areas.’ The potential for gene flow exists with nearly every GMO crop, and buffer zones have not proven effective. Bentgrass overview:
http://natureinstitute.org/nontarget/reports/bentgrass_001.php

The chief problem with GMOs is that they are barely regulated, and APHIS, the agency responsible for their regulation in the US, is fully captured by the industry, and its review is limited to finding whether or not a GMO is a plant pest or noxious weed. Despite the bentgrass being both, APHIS just deregulated it after its creators agreed not to develop it.

Pretending that GMOs are some kind of benign panacea is as bad as irrational fear of GMOs just because they seem icky or scary.

Please take down this ridiculous propaganda piece.


#4

Great video, it explained a lot. If GMOs can be the ‘savior of our biosphere’ then it cannot be directly linked to profit, and that IS the issue. If some farmers can’t fix their tractors without permission form a gigantic corporation and paying through the nose, then we can’t let a gigantic corporation have even more control over what gets planted and when. I know that the corps spent a lot of money to modify the DNA but the self replicating is not something they own so they should not have any control over it. Basically Monsanto has to be fined, broken up and the entire industry heavily regulated so it can save our biosphere or the people who profited from ruining it will be the same people ransoming the fix for it.


#5

I for one just hope Monsanto, Bayer, et al don’t ruin it for everybody because we sure as shit will need GMOs in the future.


#6

This video is bullshit. It’s a one-sided fluff piece for GM food that performs perfunctory hand-waving to any concerns people have by simply claiming that people in white lab coats have said everything is fine.

For example, “30 years and numerous studies” don’t prove that GM food is safe; it only proves that no symptoms were seen for 30 years and numerous studies. As a consumer I demand to have the choice between a 30-year old GM food that a scientist says is fine, and a traditionally-bred cultivar grown on multiple continents and enjoyed by people of numerous genetic backgrounds for several hundred years or more.

Please take this story down.


#7

A good summary. But he unfortunately glosses over a large part of the controversy with products like Golden Rice. These aren’t crops that are “being worked on”, they are crops that are done and ready for roll out. And they’re often are not intended to be technological wonders to make us healthier in the future. As with Golden Rice they’re varietals intended for the developing world. To halt famines and serious nutritional deficiencies that exist now. And the roll out of many such crops is being blocked by the anti-gmo set. Even to the point of setting fire to fields and violence. Likewise those GM papayas that saved the Hawaiian industry, well they nearly didn’t happen for the same reason.

You often hear that the “real problem” with GMOs is corporations, or industrial agriculture or Monsanto etc. And yet those same anti-gmo groups are often blocking the adoption of crops developed outside those companies. By academics and scientists. And intended to be distributed cheaply to people in pretty desperate need. So if the real concern is in profit driven seeds like your round up ready corn, and weird IP structure around GMO crops, and big agri-business. Its rather ironic that the efforts of the anti-GMO crowd have mostly ensured that those are the only GM crops that are making it out there.


#8

I’m a bit tired of the failed ‘golden rice’ experiment constantly being rolled out to pimp GMO. The problem with GMOs isn’t the huge numbers of life-saving crops being blocked, but the reckless implementation of millions of acres of them without robust regulation and testing.
https://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/millions-spent-who-is-to-blame-failure-gmo-golden-rice/


#9

Makes the point that GMO foods are generally safe to eat, but glosses over issues related to patents and corporate control of the food supply. The big GMO seed producers are trying to use patent law to do what they couldn’t do with sterile seeds–force farmers to give up seed saving and buy new seed every year.

One of the big differences between ‘traditional’ food and GMO is just that–traditional food is part of the common heritage of humanity, and GMO food is proprietary.

Also, when discussing the need to grow more food in the future, it doesn’t mention the enormous wastage of food that occurs in our current food supply system. We could, in fact, feed a lot more people with the food we grow now if distribution was more efficient. There’s plenty of food in the world. If some people aren’t getting enough, that is a problem of money and distribution, not production.


#10

A gross over-simplification (surprise, it’s a cartoon). Especially the glossing over about whether GMOs are safe to eat. The corporations that engineer the GMOs are responsible for testing them themselves, and they report their results to the government for review. This kind of arrangement has a very poor track record. I feel sure most would agree about that. Also, testing of one GMO has no bearing on whether another GMO is safe, so lumping any together is meaningless. Different plants inserted with different genes all have unique potentials for danger. And there is really very little long-term testing for most GMOs; most studies are a month to three months long. Many experts believe this to be entirely too short a period to test for safety. And one cannot test for oneself. In order to do independent testing one has to have access to the plants/seeds, and mostly the corporations will not give it to you, and will point you to their own studies—that many times you can’t read because it’s all intellectual property protected. Buying GMO seeds comes with so many contractual limitations, that you simply cannot test them in a manner anyone would say is scientific. The book The GMO Deception is a very good source of info on this. Everyone should read it IMHO.


#11

Anti-GMO people are really grasping now. There are safe drugs on the market right now that haven’t been tested for 30 years. How long will it take? 50 years? 100? Hey, let’s wait until we can’t grow enough food, and people start starving. All because I don’t understand science. The question I want answered is one of the first ones from the video. Why is everyone OK with standard selective breeding, wherein we judge plants based on their external characteristics, potentially changing dozens of genes at once, thus creating unintended consequences when, say, a redder apple produces tasteless fruit…but not with genetic manipulation, where specific genes are targeted, and there is much less room for error? You’re talking about the same process, one using a slow shotgun, the other using a quick scalpel. Yes, there are concerns with how the majority of GMOs are being handled currently, but as the video points out, this is more a concern with how the agricultural industry is structured and incentivized, rather than with GMOs themselves. It’s like saying raising cows is evil, because factory farms exist. You can have one without the other. Also, touting ridiculously propagandistic books like The GMO Deception isn’t doing your argument any favors. You can’t just scream “Corporations!” and expect to be taken seriously. Or maybe you can, given where this discussion has gone (or rather, hasn’t) over the past few years.


#12

A neighbor and friend - terrific writer with a solid background in non-fiction and heavily researched pieces - just released a book on this very subject. By my understanding, he went into the project with an expectation that he’d come out anti-GMO. Didn’t really turn out that way, though I’d encourage you to read the book to pick up on all the subtlety that I’m not conveying here.

[edited to fix typo]


#13

Please state the scientific basis for your objection. Otherwise, it sounds like you have irrational fears based on a fallacious naturalistic viewpoint.


#14

1st that source is apparently an openly anti-gmo publication from an anti-gmo activist group. The founders are apparently of questionable credibility (do some googling). Though there’s not a lot out there about them or their group that isn’t by them or their group. Which is not in itself a great sign. But also means that they’re probably not out and out insane/biased. Or at least haven’t garnered a ton of attention. But I wouldn’t generally cite it as a reliable source.

2nd regardless of what else might be going on with the golden rice project how does [this] (https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS594US594&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=golden+rice+fields+destroyed&*) and many similar incidents in dozens of different crop projects around the world. Effect “reckless implementation of millions of acres of them without robust regulation and testing.”

How does preventing testing rectify a supposed lack of testing? How does holding up or preventing small non-profit pushed development projects for poor countries solve a problem with American/european corporate practice, farming techniques, and food regulation?

More over how are any of these issues commonly cited as “the real problem” with GMOs unique to GMOs? Counter to claims GM crops are already subjected to increased safety and environmental testing vs conventional crops. Despite representing nearly the same risks and dangers. The real problem with GMOs is actually the real problem with our farming systems and crops in general. The glyphosate resistant crops, probably the best example of unintended consequences with GMOs, could have been easily developed by entirely conventional means. The gene editing approach was simply cheaper, faster, and cleaner (fewer undesirable or out and out dangerous traits piggy backing along)

Like I said GM crops are already subjected to additional testing. And they could probably stand to do with a bit more. But so could conventional crops. We could stand to have better regulation and more considered approach to purely profit driven crops like glyphosate resistant ones. Or the purple tomatoes visually referenced in the video. There are already (delicious) heirloom purple tomatoes. The ones being developed are just purpler, under the idea that more purple pigments means more anti-oxidants, means more cancer fighting. But the anti-oxident thing has been shown to be over blown. Those tomatoes won’t be saving any lives. That’s just an attempt to develop a marketable variety to chase a fading health food trend. But a fair lot of those sorts of products are conventionally developed. There are plenty of conventional extra purple health food varieties out there already. None of those problems. Not IP control over seeds. Not stupid corporate profit varietals, not mono-culture, not any of it. Is unique to GMOs. Caused by GMOs. Or even about GMOs. All of it can be done, and has been done (often to much greater extent) with conventional crops. So doesn’t it make more sense to work to change that? Instead of focusing on, and knee jerk opposing GMOs in the face of all evidence that they’re just as safe (and just as complicated) as any other crop? If those were really the things people were concerned about?

In short. If you 100% ban all GMOs tomorrow. All of the problems you are citing will still exist.


#15

I remain open minded on the topic. I can see the benefits and downsides of GMOs. I prefer to think that science can help us eat better, be healthier (though there’ are definitely counters to that already playing out). But I’m not a fan of the anti-science screed that messing genetically with food production is inherently bad. We’ve already been doing that for centuries!


#16

While I’m sure it isn’t the case for most farmers in the developing world, farmers in the developed world typically don’t save seeds, and purchase new seeds every season. The seeds they purchase typically have better performance than saved seeds, due to the quality control performed by the seed companies.


#17

Good luck with that! I often try to break down how processes in society are incentivized, and most people appear hostile towards that type of discussion.

Sometimes, if people refuse to treat the cause, treating the symptom is the best you can hope for. Even if it seems to largely miss the point.


#19

Seed saving has gone out for a number of reasons. That being the big one. As I learned growing heirloom veg in my garden the last few years. It taker a ridiculous amount of control to keep seeds in a way the breeds true season after season. We’re talking sealed greenhouses with serious environmental control. I’ve never met a farmer who saves seeds (though I know some who plant potatoes using spuds from last years crops, few people grow potatoes from seeds). I’m sure large seed growers efforts against seed washing haven’t helped though. BUT

As I learned here a few years ago. Its not big GMO companies. Its major seed companies. And they’re perfectly able to do this with conventional crops. Although the legal structures used are different. A developer of a new plant variety, regardless of how its developed, already gets ownership of that variety in a very similar way to patents. And they can use that perfectly well to sue seed washers over conventional crops. Or prevent farmers or other seed companies from creating or distributing new seed without license.


#21

How many years and studies for the same issues have been done on food that have had their genes randomly modified by humans? Take it down? Censorship sure is easier than well a sourced rebuttal.

But of course, I must be a shill for , so you can just ignore anything I say. Right?


#22

It’s time to stop hating on GMOs just because the US can’t get their patent system fixed.

We NEED to modernize our food networks. Stifling GMO research into heartier or more resilient species is a great way to keep countries dependent on the western world for food supplies, I guess?

I’m fairly certain no amount of “testing” will ever be enough for the anti-GMO folk who seem to be happy to ignore the plights of the rest of the world to ensure they can go shop at Whole Foods without worry.

In a lot of ways, that mindset is worse than anti-vaxxers. The constant suppression of legitimate research has far more wide reaching consequences.