How Does Crop Biotechnology Help Food Security?

By Keith Kloor | February 26, 2014 10:36 am

In the U.S. food is taken for granted. There are well-stocked supermarkets and no shortage of cookbooks and eateries to indulge appetites. This bountiful supply allows Americans to focus more on the aesthetics of food and, to an increasing degree, where and how it is produced.

For the millions around the globe who do not live in an affluent society, the main concern about food is more basic: Getting enough of it on a consistent basis. For many in Africa and Asia, this entails growing cash crops and staple foods.

As the Gates Foundation points out, agricultural enhancement in the developing world is also the key to a better life:

When farmers grow more food and earn more income, they are better able feed to their families, send their children to school, provide for their family’s health, and invest in their farms.

One way to do this is through biotechnology. Note that I said ONE WAY, not the only way. Nor is this just my opinion. Global sustainability guru Jeffrey Sachs has said this.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the GMO debate is how it is framed. Forget the cranks who dominate the discourse–I’m talking about smart, influential thought leaders who simplistically portray GMOs as a well-meaning technology that hasn’t delivered on its grand promises.

A prime example is Jon Foley’s recent essay, titled, “GMO’s, Silver Bullets and the Trap of Reductionist Thinking.” He starts off:

To begin, GMOs have done little to enhance the world’s food security. Mainly, that’s because GMO crops primarily in use today are feed corn (mostly for animal feed and ethanol), soybeans (mostly for animal feed), cotton and canola. But these aren’t crops that feed the world’s poor, or provide better nutrition to all. GMO efforts may have started off with good intentions to improve food security, but they ended up in crops that were better at improving profits. While the technology itself might “work,” it has so far been applied to the wrong parts of the food system to truly make a dent in global food security.

This is a narrow (dare I say reductionistic) way of looking at food security. Feeding the world’s poor, as Foley knows, also requires improving their livelihoods. It’s about lifting their incomes, helping them break the vicious cycle of poverty. There’s much that goes into that economic development equation but in Africa and other areas of the developing world, the role of commodity crops as an income generator for small farmers is crucial.

To cite one example, look at what happened after Bt cotton was introduced in India. (I’m not talking about a certain popular urban myth.) Recent studies show that Indian farmers who turned to genetically modified cotton have increased their yields, lowered their input costs and as a result, boosted their household incomes. Does that not contribute to food security?

Nor is this the whole story. As University of California plant geneticist Pamela Ronald notes:

To understand why farmers have embraced GE crops and how they benefit the environment, consider genetically engineered cotton. These varieties contain a bacterial protein called Bt that kills pests such as the cotton bollworm without harming beneficial insects and spiders. Bt is benign to humans, which is why organic farmers have used Bt as their primary method of pest control for 50 years. Today 70–90 percent of American, Indian, and Chinese farmers grow Bt cotton.

Recently, a team of Chinese and French scientists reported in the journal Nature that widespread planting of Bt cotton in China drastically reduced the spraying of synthetic chemicals, increased the abundance of beneficial organisms on farms, and decreased populations of crop-damaging insects. Planting of Bt cotton also reduced pesticide poisonings of farmers and their families. In Arizona farmers who plant Bt cotton spray half as much insecticide as do neighbors growing conventional cotton. The Bt farms also have greater biodiversity.

It’s puzzling to me that such benefits are ignored by GMO skeptics who profess a deep interest in human welfare and more enlightened environmental stewardship.

In his piece, Foley goes on to make additional arguments against GMOs that some agricultural biotech proponents have already responded to.

It’s important to bear in mind that this is a young technology. Sometimes the value of a scientific enterprise is not appreciated until years down the road. Have GMOs lived up to the hype of their most exuberant advocates? No. Does any new technology?

Perhaps the naysayers should check back in five or ten years. Maybe food security for those who need it most will be more strengthened with new advances that will be harder to ignore by the GMO-averse champions of sustainability.

UPDATE: Due to time constraints, my critique of Foley’s piece was narrowly focused. In the comments, David Ropeik makes a good point, which was also raised in a series of tweets (starting here) by University of Wyoming’s Andrew Kniss.

UPDATE 2: Science writer and futurist Ramez Naam has weighed in with his response to Foley’s essay.

UPDATE 3: University of Wyoming’s Andrew Kniss has also put up a post addressing one of Foley’s claims.

  • mem_somerville

    I was glad to see someone pointed out in the comments that nobody calls GMOs “silver bullets”–except people building strawmen.

    But mostly I can’t figure out what he thinks would happen if we stopped working on Golden Rice today. How does this help the things he claims he wants?

    • Buddy199

      He and people like him would get to feel good about themselves while millions of children they will never meet will go blind.

    • Robert Wilson

      A simple illustration of your point: google “GM crops silver bullet”. What you will find are opponents of GM crops telling us they are not a silver bullet, and GM advocates also telling us they are not a silver bullet.

      The same goes for nuclear energy. My favourite recent example was the letter James Hansen et al. wrote urging environmentalists to drop their opposition to nuclear energy. Many people then attacked Hansen et al. for claiming nuclear energy was a silver bullet. However Hansen et al. literally used the phrase “nuclear energy is not a silver bullet” in their letter.

      This silver bullet argument really just seems to be a straw man to be erected and then set alight.

      • JH

        “What you will find are opponents of GM crops telling us they are not a silver bullet, and GM advocates also telling us they are not a silver bullet.”

        *sigh* Advocates of GM crops frequently claim that GMOs are and/or will be a significant factor in feeding the hungry and changing the lives of the poor. The fact that advocates don’t always proclaim “This is the ‘silver bullet’ we’ve been looking for!” is hardly relevant.

        Just up the thread you chastised Foley for not seeking the obvious answer to his own question. Essentially you chastised him for engaging in rhetoric, which is exactly what you’re doing with your “silver bullet” comments. Right?

        Nothing personal, Robert, I’m on your side in the debate, but the relevance of who call what a silver bullet is questionable.

    • Robert Wilson

      Yes, Golden Rice. Why is Foley asking questions in this piece that have been asked to Golden Rice advocates many times? I mean they have a FAQ on their website that actually answers the question he asked. It literally took me 1 minute to find this FAQ with a Google search, and to locate the answer to the question he asked. How difficult would it be to read their answer and state if he agrees or disagrees with the response? The question he asked implies that he has not engaged seriously at all with the advocates of golden rice, which is very frustrating because he then implies that golden rice advocates are not very good at engaging. Could he not have just emailed the IRRI people in advance of this piece to get an answer to the question? The question then seems to have just been rhetoric, which as I say is frustrating given how much he criticises GM advocates in the piece for not engaging with others.

      • mem_somerville

        Yeah, I was re-reading a comment by AJ Stein about the rice color thing. Asked and answered, if anyone cared to investigate:

        ….But of course this was also a question that I asked local stakeholders and experts when I did my research in India and the general answer was that if the government approves of it and if its introduction is properly managed there is little doubt that people will eat it. That may be overly optimistic, and behaviour change can be different, but it is not impossible, and a conducive press will help increase acceptance of Golden Rice. Here I also see a direct responsibility of the media and
        key journalists, such as Michael Pollan, not to vilify a crop that may do a lot of good but to help and facilitate its acceptance.

        http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/from-mark-lynas-to-michael-pollan-agreement-that-golden-rice-trials-should-proceed/?smid=tw-share

  • davidropeik

    It is also, frankly, intellectually disingenuous to criticize GM foods for not having improved food security, when criticism of GM technology has kept most food crops from coming to market in the first place. They can hardly fulfill a promise if they’re allowed to try.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Yes, see series of 5 recent tweets by Andrew Kniss, beginning here: https://twitter.com/WyoWeeds/status/438714592705798144

    • Michael Phillips

      Good point, David. It is also worth mentioning that it is unrealistic to expect a private company to chose humanitarian, non-profit projects instead of those that make money. That is what public research is for, that thing we keep cutting back on, effectively forcing younger scientists into industry. How many who criticize GM foods for not being a panacea have ever written their political reps demanding we invest more in basic and applied research for plant biotechnology?

      • mem_somerville

        In fact I’ve seen them organize to stop funding for academic research in the developing world because the mere word “biotechnology” was in the bill. Despite the fact that a great deal of biotech that is not “transgenic” is required for any plant science related fronts today.

    • Devin_MacGregor

      How do you know the food is not going to market? There are no labels telling us? Just by looking at a plant can you tell which is which? Just by looking at a can or jar can you tell which is which of its ingredients?

      • Michael Phillips

        You are confused again, Devin. He is talking about activist efforts to ban and vandalize GMO field trials. He is referring to the irony of destroying GMOs and then complaining they didn’t do all that was promised. And if you feel I shamed you for your position below, you certainly deserve it. Your mentality is an impediment to helping people. Your ignorance of basic plant biology is no excuse.

        • Devin_MacGregor

          LOL, but you are not helping people.

  • J M

    When people talk about food security and point a finger at GMOs, they should also acknowledge that organic farming did not save over a billion lives in developing countries in the past 50 years. It was the application of the latest plant technology, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

  • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

    I believe GMOs will play an important role in food security of the future by offering things like drought tolerance, disease resistance, and use of less pesticide. But, I don’t think GMOs like Roundup Ready crops will be common a hundred years from now. I predict that the overuse of herbicide will become a bigger and bigger problem, and that ultimately alternative methods of weed control will prevail. I believe weed control methods such as soil steaming, mechanical weeding, cover crops, hydroponics/aquaponics/aeroponics, etc will prove to be a more long term sustainable environmentally friendly, and affordable option as more high tech improvement develop. Similar to how wind, solar, and wave power will most likely replace fossil fuels as our power sources of the future.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Michael,

      You keep leaving this comment–nearly identical–in every comment thread. You really need to mix it up a little.

      • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

        Hi Keith, Thanks for the advise. I will try to mix it up a little more in the future. I would love to hear your thoughts on issues of 1. glyphosate persistence in sea water, 2. potential for problems in conducting safety studies on herbicide active ingredient vs actual formulations of herbicide 3.your thoughts about potential for herbicide overuse in general. Also, I am curious if you agree with my prediction that herbicide resistant GMOs will be replaced in the future with any of the alternative methods of weed control I mentioned in previous comments?

    • Michael Phillips

      Would you actualy believe any of the research if it was presented to you exactly the way you ask? Would you then change you mind and consider glyphosate a less toxic alternative to atrazine? And what if the alternative energy sources you cite simply can’t sustain our growing global appetite for energy?

      • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

        Yes, I like to keep my mind open and gladly change my views if scientific evidence justifies doing so. And, I actually do consider Glyphosate as less toxic alternative to Atrazine, similar to how I consider “clean coal” power plants as being better for the environment than older coal power plants. My point is that I think the money being spent to develop clean coal power and herbicide resistant GMOs would be put to better use in development of renewable energy and alternative weed control methods I mentioned previously. In regards to your last question, from the research I have done on alternative methods of energy that I cited it appears that they can sustain our growing global appetite for energy, but if you like to provide evidence on the contrary then I would be happy to look at it. I am especially interested in tidal power.

        • Michael Phillips

          The money may be better spent developing cleaner technologies, but forcing a private company to do this is another matter. In academic research, there is much more interest in using transformation to make plants resistant to drought, insects, pathogens and accumulate higher levels of vitamins. Why haven’t we seen more results then? Cutbacks to basic research of course. And researchers actually produce lots and lots of improvements to crops that don’t involve herbicide resistance, but a combination of misguided activism, violence, vandalism, and regulatory gridlock keep us from enjoying them.

          A private company has resources basic researchers do not, but management only puts them on the profitable ones. Want to see more application of biotechnology of the sort you mention? Lobby your congress people to return investment in public research to the Bush years, sad as a goal as that is (Obama has actually been worse than Bush for research funding, and it pains me to admit it.)

          Regarding your last point, we already know that fossil fuels work, albeit with side effects we don’t want. If you feel you have a better alternative, the burden of proof is on those supporting alternative sources to demonstrate

          they are up to the task of satisfying the world’s energy demands. Do you think China can fuel its industrial juggernaut with underwater tidal power?

          • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

            Hi,
            Those are excellent points that you make. Also, I believe another way to make an impact is through one’s everyday purchases. For instance, if one believes that cleaner alternative methods to herbicide will be the future of agriculture and they want to support those methods they can buy organic food, which uses more alternative weed control methods than conventionally grown food. If one wants to support wind, solar, and tidal energy, they can move to a location that already uses a lot of these alternative sources of energy, or buy a hybrid or electric car, or put solar panels, wind turbine on their property. I am hopeful that China’s, as well as the rest of the world’s fossil fuel energy will be almost totally replaced with wind, solar, and tidal energy within a couple hundred years.

  • Timothy James Rogers

    Ok, last time I say anything on this topic and I’m done. The obvious number one problem is indeed how overpopulated and plagued the Earth is from humans.GMO’s are engineered and can be made to better suit the environment that would kill the crop and as well benefit the people who eat it. When you release that amount of food that are engineered and something overlooked slips nobody deeming it harmful causing horrible problems such as a rapid developing cancer and millions who’s DNA beceomes corrupted by whatever virus was used to manipulate the plant’s gene code in the first place, are you can pat yourself on the back for being such an awesome propagandist?
    Luckily, though the cure of cancer is on the way from doing just that, using viruses to manipulate our own genetic code; so I guess when we get our DNA corrupted in the future we can just do the same thing to un-corrupt it, so who cares? Though we’re not there yet so let’s hope this scenario is simply science fiction or doesn’t happen until then.

    All I am saying is that it can harm us hardcore stop acting like it is impossible. Also why would having some corporation controlling the world’s food supply going to benefit people of the world?

    • Michael Phillips

      Timothy,
      I appreciate your concern, but there are many conceptual errors in your post that suggest you don’t really understand any of the relevant science involved. Viruses, DNA, cancer…nothing you say about these topics is true.

      • Timothy James Rogers

        Maybe you need to look at how genetically modified crops become genetically modified. You’re the one wrong you think tweak genetic codes on plants is magic you’re wrong. Bacteria and viruses are used, why don’t you do some research.

        • Michael Phillips

          Actually, Timothy, that is what I do for a living. I make transgenic plants in my research all the time. That is why it is obvious to me that you do not understand anything about biology. However, I still respect your interest in the subject. But paranoia, hysteria, and ignorance are no basis for an informed discussion. Actually learning this material would better equip you to form critically-based opinions.

          • Timothy James Rogers

            You can call your “GM transgene” a protein or whatever you want, it’s still a virus mac, if you’re changing DNA, promise you’re doing so with viruses, you’re not fooling me. Look at what Trans Fat “rumors” from the early 1900′s to just recently, everyone like you was all like “it’s a preservative, the food won’t go bad” except it couldn’t be broke down by the body”. I’m looking for my source and when I find it, I’ll reveal how easily you deluded yourself into thinking that you’re playing with anything that isn’t a “virus”.

          • Michael Phillips

            Viruses, DNA, protein…I can see it is all the same to you. I can’t wait for you to reveal your “source”. Here is one for you: Do you know many viruses are in every drop of the ocean?

            http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/36120/title/An-Ocean-of-Viruses/

          • Timothy James Rogers

            “Use of transgenic plants increases yields and decreases the need for pesticide use, thereby preventing significant ecological damage. GM pesticide-producing crops are engineered to produce Bt toxins, a crystal protein naturally synthesized by the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis.”

            http://12.000.scripts.mit.edu/

            This statement is from an unbiased journalist site, it was not my source however I remember it does say what it said word for word, that talks of the so called “transgenetic protein that is not made by bacteria or viruses” that you lied about Michael. Either A) you’re a sociopathic troller. or B) you’re a liar which is it?

          • Michael Phillips

            C) You are wrong. Your link only goes to the MIT website, but that quote seems accurate enough. Please pay attention to what it says! The Bt toxin was cloned from a bacterium but only that gene is expressed in the plant. The whole bacterium is not present. You cannot become infected by this bacteria by eating this plant because the bacterium is not there, only one of its genes. It comes from a soil bacterium anyway, not a human pathogen. Learn some basic biology instead of calling people trolls or liars. That rude tone is unnecesary and counter productive. Your mitochondria also contain genes derived from bacteria and you probably have >30 different species of bacteria living in different parts of your body. Doesn’t this news terrify you?

          • Timothy James Rogers

            And this happens also in nature? The genes cloned from bacterium are spliced in some natural way I think is what one of your links was trying to explain, to cause a plant to have pesticidal characteristics. Find me a plant that occured in nature and we will continue this discussion from the right approach. The reason I ask this question Bt Toxin how does it act as a pesticide? Can it cause an allergic reaction to a human? This is our food supply the green revolution that saved billions, won’t kill billions by people like you messing with geneticc? This is the questions that people want to know because when your plants have exhausted the strains of plants that grew organically by mother nature herself are tainted with your GMO species what will we have left? This is why there is fear and it’s reasonable. If Keith would present his ideas in a manner that were unbiased he could present true and non-political information and nobody would call him a shill anymore.

          • Timothy James Rogers

            Not to mention the herbicidal qualities to kill plants around it that could be placed within a plants genetics is above all the main line of fear for most.

          • Michael Phillips

            You recently called me either a sociopathic troller or a liar, despite some effort on my part to explain basic concepts in biology to you. Apologize and we can continue this conversation.

          • Timothy James Rogers

            I do apologize good sir, Michael Philips. My mind has been a little more open toward the GMO’s after realizing certain things as to the transgenetic principles and if you were to genetically make a plant bigger or change physiological properties of a plant, I would say harmless but if I went down the wormhole on the subject I would know better and expect you to also know as well. But the idea of the pesticide toxin trait not too sure. I talked to a biologist who didn’t seem to keen on the idea, she had said her problem she thought had something to with the way we regulate sugar and causing people who eat or drink the GMO product may suffer from fatigue. What are your thoughts?
            And truly I am sorry, you do know what a troller is? a person who just goes on forums being a bullshitter and causing misconceptions just to be an assholem that is not you. I would like to hear real input.

          • Michael Phillips

            No problem! And sorry for the late reply. There is a more recent GMO thread on Keith’s blog where I have added a few comments. Do check his latest post out if you are interested. Regarding the issue of sugar regulation, fatigue, and GMOs, those are complex subjects that probably cannot be explained by something as simple as the effect of GMOs generically. In other words, because so many different proteins exist in nature, it is not possible to say that all GMOs will all have a certain property or effect, it simply depends on the properties of the protein encoded by the gene that has been inserted into a genome. Increasing the sugar content of food does cause serious problems for many people, including diabetes and fatigue, and this might be because we did not evolve with simple sugars as a major part of our diet but recent agriculture (last 1000 years) has altered our diet very quickly. However, this is not strictly related to GMOs but rather to changes in our diet in general and the sudden availability of food our ancestors probably did not have >10,000 years ago.

          • Timothy James Rogers

            “Use of transgenic plants increases yields and decreases the need for pesticide use, thereby preventing significant ecological damage. GM pesticide-producing crops are engineered to produce Bt toxins, a crystal protein naturally synthesized by the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis.”

            http://12.000.scripts.mit.edu/mission2014/genetically-modified-crops

            This statement is from an unbiased journalist site, it was not my source however I remember it does say what it said word for word, that talks of the so called “transgenetic protein that is not made by bacteria or viruses” that you lied about Michael. Either A) you’re a sociopathic troller. or B) you’re a liar which is it?

  • Guest

    First, is this author a paid employee or of Discover? His articles are always hostile and anti anything non GMO.Is he an employee of Monsanto or another bio tech firm?

    Second, if your concerned about getting food to hungry people the issue right now is not supply but distribution. Food is thrown away by buisinesses and destroyed ratherthan redistributing what doesnot sell. We subsidize farmers to not grow. I dont think the answer is gmo crops. The answer is resolving at this time the distribution issues. Corporate greed, corrupt government, war… I mean really. Way to take a seriouse issuethat kills thousands of our most vulnerable every dayand make it about…. pushing GMO. THIS is a prime example ofwhy people dont trustbiotech corperations.They are out of touch with human needs and decency.

    Improving economics in poverty stricken areas. Gee. Why didn’t they think of that? There are bigger and more pressing issues blocking poor populations than GMO cotton and crops.

  • Kitty Davenport

    First, is this author a paid employee or of Discover? His articles
    are always hostile and anti anything non GMO.Is he an employee of
    Monsanto or another bio tech firm?

    Second, if your concerned about getting food to hungry people the
    issue right now is not supply but distribution. Food is thrown away by
    businesses and destroyed rather than redistributing what does not sell.

    We subsidize farmers to not grow to their best potential rather than subsidize them to grow food for the hungry.

    I do not think the best answer right now is gmo crops.

    The logical answer is resolving at this time the distribution issues. Corporate greed, corrupt government, war… I mean really. Way to take a serious issue that kills thousands of our most vulnerable every day and make it about…. pushing GMO. THIS is a prime example of why people do not trust biotech corporations.They are out of touch with human needs and decency.

    Improving economics in poverty stricken areas. Gee. Why didn’t they
    think of that? There are bigger and more pressing issues blocking poor populations than a lack of GMO cotton and crops.

    • Michael Phillips

      “I do not think the best answer right now is gmo crops.”

      I have news for you Kitty: everything in your store is GMO, even stuff on the organic shelf. Fear mongering GMOs generated by transformation but ignoring those generated by hybridization or mutagenesis is just a marketing tactic. Please don’t fall for it. By the way, biotechnology can address many problems with shelf life/distribution, but getting there through crosses or mutagenesis alone will take a very long time. Transformation is just another tool we would be foolish to ignore.

      “There are bigger and more pressing issues blocking poor populations than a lack of GMO cotton and crops.”

      The point of the article is that GMOs can help farmers become more self-sufficient and climb out of poverty. Just pouring money on them through aid programs hasn’t worked very well historically. It all disappears down the rabbit hole of corruption and never reaches the intended people. Providing them better production means is a smarter approach.

      • Devin_MacGregor

        The point you miss is that not all people in India grow cotton so ONLY the cotton farmers move up? Plus GMOs are not conventional hybridization but transgenetics. We already have strains of corn that are drought resistant for example.

        • Michael Phillips

          No, I did not miss that point at all. The article makes the point that Bt cotton helps Indian farmers. I agree and find the objections from activists to be thinly veiled ideological warfare. Are you against a technology that likely benefits Indian farmers because it does not solve the poverty problems of every sector of society? If so, you place the bar quite high. Can your personal contribution to solving poverty satisfy such criteria?

          Hybrids cannot be used a second generation. Homozygous transgenics can. Each technology has advantages and a combination of different genetic modification techniques (hybridization, transformation, and mutagenesis) is an intelligent means of addressing poverty. It would be stupid to let misguided (and well-fed) activists derail humanitarian-oriented research to appease their ignorant nature fantasies.

          I have no idea what point you are trying to make about corn. You know it is a completely synthetic organism, right?

          • Devin_MacGregor

            No, you did miss the point. It again is not like you have an unbiased opinion. What I have been seeing you do is create strawmen while shaming people as if you yourself are actually making meaningful contributions to society.

            My point was that cotton farmers are a SMALL percentage of all farmers in India as well as non farmers in India. It is a drop in the bucket to actually solving poverty. It is not that nothing should be done but is hardly a badge of solving poverty in the world. I work for an ITO and BPO company. These companies around the world pay poverty wages. Now I work for them because I myself have been outsourced to one. I personally do not outsource anyone but it is a trend that has continued for 14 years now. These companies are destroyers of people’s ability to advance. These companies as well destroy domestic wages. What are you doing about these? How is your superfood going to solve this? These companies enforce poverty and thus peoples inability to buy basic things such as food but hey your food has super potential to sit on a shelf and not rot. YAY!!! You can go home at night and sleep well knowing that when those people finally do get money that that food will still be waiting for them sitting on that store shelf.

            Farmers for eons have been collecting seeds from their harvest to mix with seeds they buy from a local store to plant for the next crop. The point I was making about corn was that it is from Mexico and through what farmers have been doing we already have drought resistant corn. There is no need to create one in a lab then patent the seed then license them to the farmer and not allow him to do what he has been doing for eons.

            I am not a tree hunger nor a proponent for vegans who often lie but you are simple being stupid with your assumptions and shaming tactics. Like I said we lack distribution not simply supply and apparently you have no idea what that is yet want to blast others for ideology but of course you have none yourself.

          • Michael Phillips

            Your point seems to be that is it not worth trying to improve the lives of a group of farmers if we cannot do the same for every other person in India. You’ve repeated this point several times in this thread, and it makes no sense.

          • Devin_MacGregor

            LOL, no again you create a strawman.

          • Michael Phillips

            Shaming tactics…you should be ashamed for using an ignorance of plant biology to advocate against a technology that helps people. Shame on you. The corn you mention is genetically modified. Also, you are confused about the patenting process, licensing, and farming in general. You’re just sitting back, throwing stones while other people try to improve things using a technology you do not understand, but criticize anyway.

          • Devin_MacGregor

            Yes shaming tactics when you are not actually improving lives and ending poverty. Michael you are being dishonest bt Corn/Cotton happens in the field? You mean a farmer can do this without a laboratory?

            You do understand that the main reason for starvation is lack of distribution not growing more food? You do understand that due to non laboratory means of altering plants that mankind has grow far too fast for itself and the planet, right? Due to conventional farming techniques less and less people need to grow food and this has created larger and larger populations putting more and more strain and thus is a well a contributor to poverty.

    • Devin_MacGregor

      I noticed Michael skipped over the important parts of what you said just to pimp GMOs. We lack distribution of food not simply supply. We have the supply. It sits and rots.

      Plus not everyone in India can be cotton farmers so big whoop if cotton farmers can grow more cotton and put their kids in school. There are what … a BILLION people in India?

      • Michael Phillips

        Shelf life and resistance to rot are of course major focuses of plant research that are addressed with genetic techniques. It’s what public research is for. Or we can remain in the dark ages. Please explain the contribution of people like yourself to solving the issue of poverty?

        Again with the ridiculously high bar: no improvement in the lives of any group is acceptable unless it also cures every malady known to man? Your objections are clearly motivated by your ideology. Considering you likely lead a comfortable 1st world existence, I find that rather cruel and insensitive.

  • alykatma

    As a consumer I prefer not support technology that encourages ever increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, harming ecosystems and depleting the soil. The only good GMO is perhaps the golden corn, the rest of it is profit driven. I can and do grow my own vegetables and support organic farming as the best possible method. Mass production of food is not exactly my idea of healthy food sources.

    • Michael Phillips

      Do you mean golden rice? Corn already makes carotenoids, but let’s not forget it is a completely synthetic organism. Non-GMO corn does not exist. I appreciate your opposition to using ‘chemicals’ in agriculture, but I assume you understand that everything is chemicals? Do you mean it is environmentally persistent and toxic chemicals that you oppose? Do you have other ideas about how to feed 7billion+ people without causing deadly food riots? Step one should be everyone has enough to eat, do you agree?

      • Matthew Slyfield

        “but I assume you understand that everything is chemicals?”

        That’s a bad assumption. In my experience, for the vast majority of anti-chemical activists; chemical = man made and man made = unhealthy. The fact that both are untrue never occurs to them and they will resist if you try to educate them on this.

        If you were to make a list of the 10 or 100 deadliest toxins known to man, both lists would be heavily dominated by 100% natural compounds.

        • Mark White

          If you take this list of the 10 most deadly poisons known to humankind:
          http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2013/01/top-10-most-deadly-poisons-known-to-mankind-2526172.html
          (the first Google result, not necessarily the most scientific list), it
          appears that 7 of the 10 are “natural”: Cyanide, Arsenic, Anthrax, Polonium, Strychnine, Mercury and Oleander.

          • Matthew Slyfield

            As I said, natural compounds heavily dominate the list.

        • Devin_MacGregor

          Lead is natural as well so should we make cups out of them and use them drink out of? The lot of you simply being dishonest. Sure everything is basically chemical but that does not mean we should just guzzle them down, you know because they are natural and all.

          • Michael Phillips

            You misunderstand. The point is that “natural” does not automatically imply “healthy for us”.

          • Devin_MacGregor

            No you do not understand the point in that we can stretch the meaning of natural out. Humans are natural and thus everything we do is thus natural.

            I understand that things that are natural in our environment may not be healthy for us but I just see your comments as corporate stooge comments and conflating the issues.

          • Michael Phillips

            Ad hominem? Corporate stooge? You cannot understand the simple point made above and when it is explained to you, you react like this? Based on your initial response, I would say you do not understand what “natural” means.

          • Devin_MacGregor

            LOL, yes Michael. This is what you do for a living as you claimed making you a bias opinion. You had been making ad homs from one post to the next. There is no proof here of your alleged credentials.

            No I understood the simple point that the world outside of man has many deadly things. AND? Do you miss the point that regardless of that that many things man does will never happen outside of man’s involvement and thus what he does does not mean it is good just because the process he may be using is a process that nature uses, ie again outside of man.

          • Matthew Slyfield

            Actually, the point which Devin still misses is that man made does not automatically imply unhealthy for us.

  • alykatma

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/25/roundup-health-study-idUSL2N0DC22F20130425
    182 million lbs of Roundup are sold anually, The predominate use of GMO’s in the USA appears to be Roundup ready crops of corn and soy. One question for GMO experts, If you plant GMO Roundup ready crop one year, do you have to plant similar crops the next year, thereby limiting what crops you can rotate to prevent soil depletion? Does the herbicide persist in the soil or is it in runoff and does it biodegrade?

    • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

      There is recent study showing that Roudup aka glyphosate persist long time in sea water. http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/glyphosate-persistence-in-seawater/ Also, most safety studies done on Roundup are done on the active ingredient, glyphosate, and not on the actual formulations of Roundup. As I’m sure you know, there are dozens of formulations of Roundup and glyhosate herbicides. There is potential for unforeseen chemical reactions taking place during manufacturing that can cause a relatively non-toxic active ingredient mixed with relatively non-toxic “inert ingredients” to become quite toxic, for instance Agent Orange. I believe the EPA should require safety studies to be done on each actual formulation of herbicide being sold rather than the active ingredient only.

      • Devin_MacGregor

        I noticed the other Michael here has not given his opinion on this. When I was in the Army we had a guy who was cleaning our latrine and decided to miss ammonia and bleach into the same mop bucket unaware of what would happen.

    • hyperzombie

      FYI, you can plant non tolerant crops HOURS (48-96) after applying Roundup, it has been used as a pre emergent herbicide for decades.

  • Rayana Kb

    it is true biotech improves, but not GM croping alon. more all GM cropping needs good irrigation & or moisture regiems, else from germinaion to hsrvest any where failure of crop. hence it is one impsct which fails to moderate the returns.

  • ft

    The problem is the way the focus on GMOs in general obscures understanding of the many other, cheaper, lower-tech, more accessible ways of improving livelihoods. The problem is all the things we’re *not* talking about when we’re talking about GMOs.

    http://boringdevelopment.com/2014/02/18/what-were-not-talking-about-when-were-talking-about-gmos/

  • J M

    When you ban GMOs you get this. All unregulated and untested:
    “Crop breeders increasingly are using radiation and gene-altering chemicals to mutate seeds, creating new plant varieties with better yields — all without regulation.

    Mutation breeding, after booming in the 1950s with the dawn of the Nuclear Age, is still used by seed developers from BASF SE to Dupont Co. to create crops for markets that reject genetic engineering. Regulators don’t demand proof that new varieties are harmless. The U.S. National Academies of Science warned in 1989 and again in 2004 that regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.”
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-13/mutant-crops-drive-basf-sales-where-monsanto-denied-commodities.html

    • Michael Phillips

      Thank you, good points.

  • http://www.vivalaevolucion.com/ Michael Fons

    I would love it if Keith Kloor wrote a piece about any legitimate problems he sees with current GMOs, along with any applicable improvements or suggestions he has.

  • Devin_MacGregor

    Hmmm, so the answer to poverty is to make everyone in India a cotton farmer? The issue we have is food distribution not simply supply. In the US a good measure of it and somewhere around half ends up in dumpsters never been bought. We could end all food aid govt programs in the US if a fraction of this were donated. But it is not. Food that we send money overseas to feed those fly infest kids does not get to them due to political local issues.

    Plus the distrust comes from the fact that corporations are not known to tell the truth.

    • Michael Phillips

      You sound a bit racist. Fly infested kids? Really?

      While you sit around fantasizing about the US donating their leftovers to solve world hunger, scientists take a more practical approach and actually work on solutions. So you sit and throw stones?

      • Devin_MacGregor

        Gee, never see the commercials wanting you to give 20 bucks while showing you some kid with flies all over him? Once again you resort to attacking people by demeaning them to boost up your own rational that you personally are help saving the world.

        You do not even understand what I was saying. You obviously cannot understand the difference between supply and distribution.

  • Michael Phillips

    “…most of the plant is not transgenetic?”

    You make no sense, Devin. Your response to someone giving your real information is to call them a corporate stooge. Public research has improved everyone’s lives in countless ways and I am proud to be a part of it. Your criticism of Wallstreet, tobacco corps, and congress…it’s wasted on me.

    Cotton productivity has increased dramatically based on the use of the Bt toxin. One gene. Pesticide use has gone way, way down based on the use of this same single gene. I must admit I laughed when you wrote “…most of the plant is not transgenetic [sic]“. I am guessing you are a young person who has not studied biology in college yet. I hope someday you will. Learning about these subjects will help you form better opinions than what I’ve seen you post here so far. So you know: all the cells in an organism have essentially the same DNA, so all cells carry the same trangene in Bt cotton. You almost invented a hilarious justification for accepting GMOs: most of it is still not GMO!

    Aside from the science misunderstandings, it sounds like you’re angry at lots of people…libertarians, corporations, the government, and “fly-covered” children in developing countries. I cannot figure out if you resent the notion of being forced to give them food or if you think sending food from a grocery store dumpster will solve world hunger. If it is the second, it is an unrealistic proposition to say the least. If it is the first, there is not point talking to you further.

    Let’s try to find some common ground here: assuming we both think reducing hunger in the developing world is a good idea that benefits all humankind, how do we go about this? Public research on transgenic crops often deals with providing better means of production in developing countries, not to feed people like yourself (versus transgenics developed for a commercial end by a private corporation). Therefore, it would be a waste of all that research investment not to apply it to a clear problem that was the basis for developing the technology in the first place. Would you agree that the use of technology to feed people in a situation of poverty is a noble and logical objective? (Please drop the corporate stooge accusations and politics in general until you can show a little higher level of understanding of those issues).

    • Devin_MacGregor

      LOL, drop the condescension. You are an ALLEGED expert. As well as all your assumptions. And again you are a corporate stooge because of you ALLEGED affiliation of working in that industry hence why your opinion is bias.

      You do understand that the main reason for starvation is lack of distribution not growing more food? You do understand that due to non laboratory means of altering plants that mankind has grow far too fast for itself and the planet, right? Due to conventional farming techniques less and less people need to grow food and this has created larger and larger populations putting more and more strain on the ecosystem and thus is a well a contributor to poverty.

      • Michael Phillips

        Wrong and wrong again, Devin. What are “non-laboratory means” of altering plants? Is “laboratory” a scary word for you? Even plants altered by mutagenesis and hybridization pass through the lab. Do you know what QTLs are? Metabolite profiling? Genetic mapping? This is all done in the lab, and every crop is studied using these and many other laboratory techniques.

        It is sad you think distribution is the only thing perpetuating world hunger. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day…you know the other half of that saying? Your suggestion is to just “give the man a fish” and hope that solves it. That is short sighted. Public researchers generally aim to improve crop performance because that is what helps farmers more in the long term, i.e. teach a man to fish. Plant scientists have done this kind of work for generations, part of the reason you have enough to eat, and they’re not afraid of the lab. It’s why you’re not just another “fly infest [sic] kids” you so compassionately mentioned. As for my credentials, it is the strength of one’s argument that counts, not degrees, but anyone could easily look up my publications if they cared to.

        According to your comments, anyone who engages in public research or has the proper scientific background is automatically a “corporate stooge”. You like throwing that term around. What does that say about you?

        Also, your grammar is painful to read. Please work on it.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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