Why it Matters What Liberal Validators Say on GMOs

By Keith Kloor | August 4, 2014 1:58 pm

When Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks, people listen. I was on vacation when America’s most prominent scientist made news for railing against GMO fearmongers. “Practically every food you buy in a store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food,” he told a French interviewer. It was an impromptu, oversimplified response on a complex, hot-button subject, but Tyson’s stance was clear to all: GMOs are nothing to be afraid of.

He has since expanded on his views in a Facebook post that is well worth reading. (More on this in a minute.)  Tyson did not intentionally thrust himself into the GMO debate. Nonetheless, what he said carries tremendous weight. What’s interesting is how some are interpreting this importance.

At Vox, Ezra Klein seizes on Tyson’s statements as further proof of a key difference between agenda-setting liberals and conservatives on science. Sure, the liberal base of the Democratic party is anti-GMO, Klein acknowledges. But this hasn’t mutated into the liberal equivalent of conservative climate denial, because the Democratic establishment–particularly its powerbrokers—-haven’t embraced the anti-GMO views of its base, he argues.

This is true. In the 2008 Presidential election, Barack Obama paid lip service to the nascent GMO labeling campaign, but has since steered clear of the battle. (And it is heating up.) The State Department during Obama’s tenure has challenged international trade barriers that restrict products containing GMO ingredients. Last year, Obama infuriated the anti-GMO wing of his base when he signed the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” (a much misunderstood bill). Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democratic standard-bearer, has come out strongly in favor of crop biotechnology. As Klein correctly notes, “You don’t see President Obama or Democratic congressional leaders pushing anti-GMO legislation.”

But this is a narrow lens to view GMO politics and policy. Consider the case of AquaBounty Technologies, the company that develops a genetically modified salmon. The transgenic fish has been stuck in a regulatory black hole for nearly two decades. A final decision by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), was set to be released in 2012, but opposition from environmental and consumer groups apparently nixed that.

NGO’s self-identifying as public interest groups are typically aligned with liberal causes. Many people, especially those who consider themselves progressive Democrats, presume these groups to be a force for good, motivated by truth and science. But as journalist Marc Gunther details in a recent Guardian piece, these groups don’t deserve such trust on GMO issues. He specifically cites the AquaBounty case:

The FDA found the biotech salmon do not pose a threat to the environment and are “as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon”, with “no biologically relevant difference”. But it may never reach stores, as a result of a hard-hitting campaign launched by the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch and Friends of the Earth.

The campaign has successfully kept genetically modified salmon off the shelves of about 60 supermarkets, including Kroger’s, Safeway, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market. It sent this “nutrition label” (pdf) for the salmon to numerous restaurants and retailers and asked them not to sell the fish. (Note that this isn’t about labeling or choice; it’s about keeping a product off the market.)

Complete with skull and crossbones, the mock label cherry picks data from a 180-page FDA analysis to suggest that the salmon are unsafe and unhealthy – just the opposite of what the FDA found. The label disingenuously misleads consumers.

Much of what constitutes criticism of GMOs from consumer and environmental groups is, to put it charitably, disingenuous. At best, groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth cherry-pick science to emphasize uncertainty (straight out of the climate denial playbook), at worst, they scare-monger and demagogue, using Monsanto as the great bogeyman. In short, mainstream consumer and green groups pollute the discourse on GMOs in the same way that climate skeptics pollute the conversation on global warming.

There are also real-world consequences to the drumbeat of misinformation and fear-mongering disseminated by anti-GMO activists. Mark Lynas, during a speech at Cornell last year, discussed this:

The best documented example, which is laid out in detail by Robert Paarlberg in his book ‘Starved for Science’, is the refusal of the Zambian government to allow its starving population to eat imported GMO corn during a severe famine in 2002.

Thousands died because the President of Zambia believed the lies of western environmental groups that genetically modified corn provided by the World Food Programme was somehow poisonous. I have yet to hear an apology from any of the responsible Western groups for their role in this humanitarian atrocity.

Friends of the Earth was one of those responsible, and I note that not only has no apology been forthcoming, but Friends of the Earth Europe is still actively promoting GMO denialism in the EU in a new campaign called Stop the Crop.

Indeed, such groups are now behind the campaign to oust Ann Glover, a British biology professor and the European Union’s science advisor. Glover has tried to inject scientific rigor into Europe’s GMO policy debate, an evidence-based approach that Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other vocal biotech foes do not welcome. (Again, this contrasts starkly with their acceptance of science on climate change.)

It is a mistake to view the anti-GMO movement–which is really a globalized ideology–through a U.S. centric lens. Yes, I realize that leading Democrats reject the anti-GMO bias of their base. But as with climate change, the scientifically distorted GMO discourse is global, playing out on social media and carried forth by anti-GMO activists (who are sponsored by Western NGOs) across rural landscapes in Asia and Africa. The policies and politics of GMOs in developing countries (especially in Africa) flow from that polluted discourse.

As Klein writes in his Vox piece:

Political scientists will tell you that parties, and the ideological movements that power them, are composed of much more than officeholders and electoral strategists. They’re driven by interest groups and intellectuals and pundits and other “validators” that partisans and politicians look to for cues when forming their beliefs.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is obviously a huge breath of fresh air in the noxious GMO debate. He is a major “validator” for those with unformed beliefs on GMOs. So he is a potential game changer. Who or what might be another example of a science “validator” for liberals?

Klein cites the recent work of  Nathanael Johnson and his conclusion that GMOs are, as Tyson says, not only safe, but nothing to be afraid of. Klein writes:

Grist could have spun the issue, or ignored the issue, and profited off the resulting traffic. But they didn’t. They pushed against the biases of their base.

Indeed, Grist could have kept playing up GMO fears and misinforming its readers, which is what it did with its GMO coverage right up until it commissioned Johnson to undertake his deep dive into the complex research findings on crop biotechnology. So good on Grist for willing to suddenly pay attention to the actual science and not just what ideologically-driven advocates said at NGOs. (I still wonder what prompted their turnabout.) But I’ll be more impressed with Grist when it treats influential purveyors of GMO myths and misinformation as disdainfully (or at least critically) as it treats those who promote climate change denial.

It’s not as if Grist (or Mother Jones, Alternet, Daily Kos et al) are lacking in material to poke fun at or debunk. They just have to look at what progressive thought leaders, food advocacy NGOs, and outspoken consumer interest and environmental groups say on the subject. On that front, not much has changed since 2012, when I wrote at Slate:

I’ve found that fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to what this guy has to say.

Even better, read his more expansive take and pay special attention to the last point:

If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-prerennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival. That’s what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn’t, have gone extinct extinct.

  • mem_somerville

    I have certainly welcomed Neil’s take on this. I know some folks would have preferred another approach. But the main message: “Chill out” certainly was effectively transmitted. I even saw the Daily Mail use that.

    But I disagree with the “our side isn’t quite as crazy as them” perspective on this. I’m as liberal as they come. I was a delegate for Elizabeth Warren to our state convention. But I have been butting heads for years on this with progressives, and they are trying very hard to be as crazy as the right on climate.

    And it has affected the discourse at the federal level. Sanders and Boxer nearly broke the farm bill with GMO labeling. Before that, a major food security bill sponsored by Lugar came under fire because of the word “biotechnology”. Liberals activated to kill this.

    But increasingly they are using the same game as the creationists by going to the states. The VT label bill is a perfect example. The state of Vermont legislators admitted being in bed with Jeffrey Smith and that his book was the “bible” for this. How sick is that? And that’s not on the right.

    I’m not buying that “our side” isn’t as crazy. I just think they aren’t as good at it yet.

    • http://chrisoestereich.com/ Chris Oestereich

      Not all progressives.

  • setb

    1. I’ve literally never understood the strategy against labeling & believe its done a ton of harm to GMO’s.

    2. I think anti-GMO people are much closer to the anti-vaccine crowd than the climate denier crowd.

    • Keith Kloor

      On point two, I agree: I have come around to thinking this analogy fits better.

      • JH

        Particularly since almost no one who’s supposedly a climate change denier actually denies climate change, man-made climate change, or CO2-driven man-made climate change! :)

        So would you classify “pause deniers” as more closely akin to “climate deniers,” anit-GMOers, anti-vaxxers or creationists? :)

    • Jim

      There should not be labeling. Labeling is too important to play feel good games with. That said the industry did a horrible job until the last couple of years in dealing with the public. They should have done outreach to the public in the late 90s on why they are doing these types of GMO products. They probably should have done something like Golden Rice first or made a big public push on making a golden rice.

      • setb

        Really? Every prepared food item has a long list of ingredients on it. Dr. Tyson is right–almost everything we eat has or contains some GMOs. Educating people about GMO’s needs to happen on the shelves of supermarkets and not just though the media.

        I think the efforts trying to avoid full transparency has seriously hurt & if they would’ve accepted labels and, instead, fought against non-scientific “scare” labels they would have won this battle long ago–and put the anti-science crowd on their heels.

        Look, I have to assume that they’ve spent all kinds of money & have mountains of market research that backs up this strategy–just seems nuts to me.

    • Benjamin Edge

      I believe part of the reasoning for not labeling initially was the reaction in Europe to mad cow disease. The companies and FDA didn’t want to bring any more attention to food than was necessary, especially considering the reaction to GMOs by Greenpeace (e.g. Frankenfood), which was very strong in Europe, resulting in their restrictive treatment of GMOs. It could also be easily interpreted as just another excuse for European trade restrictions against US food products. Whether it was advisable or not, I believe all those factors played a role in the decision not to label in the US.

  • Loren Eaton

    I find it delightfully odd that the anti’s believe everything a ‘pop’ physicist (Shiva) says about agriculture and biology, but immediately look to discredit a really good physicist when he speaks out on the same subject.

    • Keith Kloor

      Loren,

      I agree with the first part of your comment, but would be curious to see a few links regarding the second part–as in who is trying to discredit Tyson? Just commenters at other threads, or any leading anti-GMO voices?

      • Loren Eaton

        Commenters are for sure criticizing him (it hurts being spanked by someone you thought was ‘on your side’). The guy over at Mother Jones took a pretty good swipe at him.

      • August Pamplona

        Funny. A few days ago there was a thread on Facebook in which a few posters said something along the lines of “An astrophysicist has no place commenting on genetically modified organisms” (and this is a direct from one particular poster).

        The punch line is that these were things were written as a reply to Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) responding to Neil deGrasse Tyson by commenting on genetically modified organisms.

  • Michael O’Leary

    Isn’t the over-arching point, though, that we DON’T KNOW what unintended consequences could result from tinkering with the genetic makeup of any orgasm? We’re just now finding out that corn wouldn’t need root worm pesticides if we had left its genome alone and had not bred a “distress call” chemical out of it, that attracted certain insect defenders. There are myriad examples of this “Frankenstein syndrome” where what seems beneficial today is suddenly catastrophic later. Humans thought they knew better with antibiotics and now we have superbugs. Humans thought they knew better with a multitude of pharmaceuticals and now drug lawsuits abound. How on Earth does DeGrasse or anyone else think we can know the infinite number of outcomes that could occur with each tweak of an orgasm’s genetic makeup? I think it’s reasonable to be highly skeptical of for-profit chemical companies and the biotech industry.

    • Keith Kloor

      The sum of your argument is this: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

      I’m always struck by how many people of high intelligence cite this and how it’s been used in many different contexts, notoriously here:

      http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/28/the-certainty-of-donald-rumsfeld-part-4/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

      But to cite one of your listed examples of “frankenstein syndrome:”

      “Humans thought they knew better with antibiotics and now we have superbugs.”

      So should humans have not invented antibiotics?

      • Michael O’Leary

        The sum of your argument is to presume I was making an argument. I merely observed that being cautious is not unreasonable. I did not say “stop scientific inquiry,” which is the conclusion you seemed to immediately draw in your rush to pounce on anyone with a “slow down” sign. Did I say we should NOT have developed antibiotics? No. I said that “humans thought they knew better” (at the time) and only later did they realize there were unintended consequences. It is this smug and over-confident state of mind that the myopic Dr. Frankensteins out there need to think long and hard about. I did not say to stop science. So consider having the over-reaction part of your brain analyzed for excess methyl groups. http://bit.ly/1gRkkxl

        • Keith Kloor

          Okay, let’s try this again. After invoking numerous examples of “frankenstein syndrome,” you conclude: “How on Earth does DeGrasse or anyone else think we can know the infinite number of outcomes that could occur with each tweak of an orgasm’s genetic makeup?”

          You’re right. It’s impossible to know this. So how would you proceed with agricultural biotechnology?

          • Michael O’Leary

            As a graduate student from the University of Chicago, in sustainability, my first suggestion would be to start pulling back from large scale industrial agriculture, as our model of production. The only reason a need for agricultural biotechnology came about in the first place is because industrial farming has homogenized plant genomes and made them more susceptible to parasites and other plagues. A reason agri-biotech continues (aside from its own profit-motivated need to self-perpetuate) is to increase yields for higher profit margins. This too is unsustainable as seen by the widespread depletion of soil nutrients across the country. There is no permutation of genetic modifications that can be made to back fill the damage caused by this horrendous production model. A proliferation of small, diversified local agricultural units of production would reduce the need for GMOs, fertilizers, pesticides and other artificial remedies to a problem that was self-induced in the first place.

          • Derek Wolf

            Well said!

            GM, patented crops are a convenient, profit-rich model
            to temporarily fix a problem caused by their unsustainable highly
            industrialized agricultural system.

            Sort of like how Monsanto
            teamed up with Novozymes to create a patented product which restores
            microbial health to the soil, increasing its integrity. You know… the
            same microbe colonies that are destroyed by RoundUp & other
            chemicals, alongside other methods of industrial farming. So the
            profiteer can sell this product to “remedy” the damage caused by their
            GM crop/Chemical solution, which is needed to “enhance yields” do it
            poor soil health as the result of their industrial farming…

            Where does it end?

            It
            is not a hate for technology… it is simply that, given observations
            of history as it unfolds, GM crops alongside the highly industrialized
            agricultural system is increasingly unsustainable.

            Ironically,
            those proponents of GM are rapidly becoming the most unscientific,
            unethical group around who maintain that science is on their side. Sort
            of like how the Church of England conveniently mandated that God was on
            their side therefore their actions were justified.

            Thankfully,
            free thinkers who maintain eye sight and a natural curiosity for how
            things work, has enough information available via the internet to see
            all the ways that GM & the biotech cartels do not in fact offer
            anything sustainable or beneficial to our long term well being.

          • RobertWager

            Are you ready to go back to farming and have everyone you know go back to farming? No? then please explain how we will generate enough safe food ?

          • Derek Wolf

            I already have my hands in the dirt and consider farming one of the most respectable positions. But that is a bit besides the point.

            I’d actually recommend more people give it a go, at least on a small scale for their family, just to glean a better understanding of our relationship with nature and how farming fits within.

            Considering that GM crops have already proven to be matched or outpaced in yields by sustainable methods, your statement is baseless. GM crops have been promised to offer higher yields; but observation of real world results show otherwise.

            Back to why more people should actually try maintaining their own farm or vegetable garden, to enhance their understanding on the dangers and shortcomings of GM foods:

            Have you ever looked inside a tomato, counted the seeds and realized how many new crops that could create? A tomato can easily net 30+ new crops, bearing 30+ tomatoes each, and each one contains 30+ more seeds…

            You can potentially propagate thousands of new crops within several harvests. Thousands of tomatoes can be ultimately spawned from what began as a single seed. This all can happen freely, without paying undue ownership/royalty fees to big biotech, without inducing self-experimentation via their untested technology.

            If YOU are the person in the field, whose family is depending on you for food, these principles become extremely important.

            It is not about being anti-technology or any other baseless rhetoric and slander. This is about what true sustainability really is. Giving over the food supply to corporations is the anti-thesis of sustainability, for countless reasons.

            GM has not delivered higher yields or enhanced nutrition in any way that could not be achieved indirectly by combining various sustainable farming methods. EG Golden Rice has been long debunked as leafy greens/other veggies + livestock are more practical and economical for the communities in those deprived nations. and GR does not solve the real issue, which is access to land and water.

            So, the onus remains on its supporters to deliver valid reason why we should hand over the food supply to corporations. Perhaps in the mean time they can also get around to delivering peer reviewed, long term feeding trials to establish safety for humans?

            If we are going to be logical and reasoned about this, let it be so. Combining all of the above points, the most scientifically-backed, ethical and reasoned stance available thus far is that GM foods are untested, potentially dangerous to humans and the environment, and offer corporations a great way to control something that is not intended to be owned by corporations: the actual SEEDS of life!

          • Michael O’Leary

            Thanks! I think I’ve been arguing this whole time with Monsanto scientists and executives on here.

          • RobertWager

            Nope neither applies to the people here. Care to demonstrate that accusation.

          • Paul Shipley

            Paranoia. Do much of that organic (wink wink) stuff.

          • RobertWager

            So please tell this forum how many germplasms (regardless of GE contructs) you think exist in “agri-business’ today?

          • Michael O’Leary

            Actually, organic production has been increasing rapidly over the last ten years. Do I know exactly when it will reach parity with industrial farming – no. Why are you asking ME how many “germplasms” are in existence? I have only been commenting that it’s reasonable for people to be skeptical of GMOs and that there are alternatives to using them. 65% of organic farmers in Europe are under the age of 55. So your assertion that no one will “take up the farming style” I endorse is unsubstantiated.

          • RobertWager

            Decades of research shows a ~30% yield drag for organic agriculture vs conventional agriculture. That number is higher for some crops and lower for some crops but it is a good average. Now with the coming of 9-10 billion mouths to feed by 2050 a yield drag of any amount will mean starvation for millions. Further we must grow more food on less land in a more sustainable manner. GE crops are only part of the answer. the future will need the best of every type of agriculture including both organic and GE.

            My understanding of the present market for organic food in Europe is it is over saturated and many are returning to conventional agriculture. With the inevitable reduction in farm subsidies in Europe and the legal right of EU farmers to grow GE crops it will be interesting to see what type of farming the farmers choose in the future

          • Michael O’Leary

            OK Robert, let’s just do everything your way and not even try. GMOs are the only scientific means to save civilization from starvation. Thank you for the education.

          • RobertWager

            Did you not read my post? I said we need the best of every farming method.

          • Michael O’Leary

            Sorry Robert, but according to August, et al., no other way is feasible. Only the accelerated scalibilty of industrial farms, run by monopolies, using GMOs will work. If you think otherwise, then you’re an irrational, Republican-hating liberal who failed to enumerate all germplasms currently in use today.

          • RobertWager

            At least 15 million resource poor farmers in the developing world grow GE crops, clearly demonstrating GE crop technology is scale neutral. There are thousands of GE cultivars waiting for field trials and most are publicly funded varieties.

          • Paul Shipley

            Talk about hate speech. You sound silly. No I can think of an even worse word but I won’t use it.

          • Loren Eaton

            ‘GMOs are the only scientific means to save civilization from starvation.’ Strawman!! Robert didn’t say that. Organic FARMING has some good things to offer, I think, especially in the area of soil health. This, however, needs to be de-coupled from the activities of the Organic Food INDUSTRY. Michael, no one that supports GMO will ever be caught vandalizing a field of organic crops. It’s the Organic Food Industry that’s trying to eliminate the competition with bad science, vandalism and misuse of the ballot box. I believe we might call that eliminating diversity!

          • Paul Shipley

            Oh pleeeease. So we should not be producing food on a massive scale and be only producing organic. World famine here we come. Maybe if the worlds population was 3 billion but it is 7 billion. This may have worked in the 1800′s but in todays world it is a utopian dream. Maybe after an apocalypse of seismic proportions this theory may work. Who wants to push the button and try that solution.

          • Jeff Leonard

            Michael, I disagree with a couple of your points. While the majority implementation of current GMOs is used by industrial agriculture, there are many uses that are size neutral; papaya growers in Hawaii or small Cotton farmers in India for example.

            Agriculture often needs a certain size to develop the infrastructure required for shipping and marketing. For example, a grower may want to do a rotation with an oilseed crop, but if there is no press (for recovering oil) within 1000 miles, it is wasted effort. Same for many other crops. Are there silos, barges, railcars, processors?

            While your point about monoculture and plagues has merit, it is often more complicated. For example, there is a virulent strain of stem rust, UG99, threatening world wheat production. Wheat varieties from all over the world are susceptible (literally hundreds of thousands of varieties have been tested). Doesn’t matter if a farmer in Kansas is growing 1000 acres of a modern wheat variety or a grower in Iraq has a hectare of a landrace wheat, they are going to lose their crop. Sometimes the necessary genes just don’t exist in the populations.

          • Michael O’Leary

            Exactly. And how did “stem rust, Ug99″ spread – through industrial agriculture’s transport mechanisms – that’s how. Incidentally, that is how food borne illnesses spread as well – one crop of industrially grown spinach can spread salmonella or e. coli (or whatever the food contaminant of the week is) across multiple grocery store chains in several states. Doesn’t happen with a local, organic agricultural model. Rather than putting money into a GMO arms race against ever-evolving pests, why not develop more highly controlled crops and start moving away from wheat and corn-based food systems, which aren’t even nutritious considering the massive resources poured into them (petroleum-based resources, that is). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140717-japan-largest-indoor-plant-factory-food/

          • RobertWager

            You are to be unaware of one organic bean sprout farm in Europe where 50 people died, 4000+ people were infected and nearly 1000 have permanent kidney damage. That is just case, there are many more.

          • RobertWager

            “why not develop more highly controlled crops” Can you please explain this statement.

            What crop do you think can surplant wheat and corn for calories? Remember there are 7 going on 9 billion mouths to feed. I am honestly curious as to what crop(s) you think can replace these crops.

          • August Pamplona

            We can develop new crops but it’s certainly not going to happen overnight (it too us thousands of years with wheat and maize). However, the problem with pathogen risk is one of scale so simply switching to a different crop is not necessarily going to help obviate that risk. And large scale agriculture is a feature we are going to need to keep as long as we are feeding a large scale population.

            I found this article interesting.
            http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2014/08/features/the-wild-bunch/viewall

          • RobertWager

            I recommend Genetic Glass Ceiling by J. Gressel for a good analysis of potential new crops for domestication.

          • August Pamplona

            I’ll put it on my wish list but we’ll see if I ever get to it.

          • Jeff Leonard

            Actually stem rust spreads primarily by the wind. That’s why its course was predictable. But I believe your mind is already set. What crops can you possibly propose to replace the 60% of human caloric consumption provided by wheat, rice and corn?

          • Benjamin Edge

            So wind has become a tool of industrial agriculture? That is how Ug99 spreads. How much industrial agriculture is there in Kenya and Ethiopia, because those are the first places hit hard by Ug99? The arms race against plant disease and other pests has existed since the time humans first started growing their own crops; it did not start with GM crops. You have been reading too much Dr Wheat Belly if you honestly believe wheat is not nutritious.

          • FosterBoondoggle

            Michael O’Leary is the classic armchair farmer — sitting by his computer and thinking that reading some websites on sustainability gives him profound insights not available to those actually growing food. Never mind the reali-world challenges of getting enough bio-available nitrogen into the soil or minimizing fossil fuel and chemical inputs. Everything is solved by “agroecology” and changing everyone’s diet. In one fell swoop. Also, 50% of the population must return to field labor. (Of course not the 50% that includes O’Leary.) Easy!

          • Derek Wolf

            Most people who spend time working within nature and farming, realize that chemical inputs are part of an unnecessary profit model which extended from the implementation of highly industrialized monocrop farms and CAFO.

            IE return cattle to grasslands, you’ll find desertification reversed and chemical inputs increasingly eliminated – mostly regarding fertilizer – as well as the need to till and so on.

            The problem is highly industrialized farming, which requires increasingly potent inputs (now GM crops to go along with related, proprietary inputs) to make up for the destruction caused by the faulty model.

            Eventually responsibility kicks in and one must ask:

            At which point do you say enough is enough, and remove the faulty model?

          • FosterBoondoggle

            Another armchair farmer heard from. Thanks for those insights. Once I figure out why “proprietary inputs” are causing all these problems, and non-proprietary inputs wouldn’t, I suppose I’ll come around. I didn’t realize that Faber-Bosch process fixed nitrogen was still on-patent. Or that runoff from high-phosphorus cow manure into local waterways was actually nectar of the gods. (The folks in Toledo might have a different view on that this week.)

            As it happens, George Monbiot, longtime environmental columnist for the Guardian, has some evidence-based skepticism about the notion that having cattle trample the grass is in any way “green” — http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/aug/04/eat-more-meat-and-save-the-world-the-latest-implausible-farming-miracle. But maybe real-world evidence is not as important as ideology.

      • David Roberts

        But you haven’t properly costed your negative externalities, Keith. Antibiotics may result in human extinction by breeding superbugs, termed the Antibiocalypse! This is a tail risk and therefore cannot be ignored! What we need to do is increase the price of antibiotics to properly account for these negative externalities. Somewhere between an awful lot and infinitely high should be enough. Disease deniers point out that this might cause a few deaths because they question the efficacy of natural medicine to take up the slack. What do they know? They’re all Republicans*spit*! Besides this is nothing compared to the catastrophe that will happen in the future!

        The extra money acquired from the foolish rich people who still want antibiotics can be ploughed back into research of natural cures, which work in harmony with nature and are therefore “good”, promote the use of existing natural medicine and fund further research and better models of the coming Antibiocalypse so we can communicate this science to the plebs.

        BTW, although I am on the board of directors of a number of natural medicine companies, you have to understand that I only do it for the children and will not benefit in any way. On second thoughts, evil cynical people (Republicans*spit*) might get the wrong idea. Just pretend I’m a concerned member of the public.

        • August Pamplona
        • Benjamin Edge

          I think we have a little case of Nirvana fallacy going on here. We should avoid the use of antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and plant breeding because they aren’t perfect. I’m just glad I lived in a time after polio and smallpox vaccines, and penicillin were developed myself.

          • Derek Wolf

            Be more thankful of advances in nutrition and sanitation amongst the public; historical figures demonstrate they played a far greater role in eliminating polio etc than vaccines. Truth is in the numbers.

    • Loren Eaton

      ‘We’re just now finding out that corn wouldn’t need root worm pesticides if we had left its genome alone…’ Says who?

      ‘How on Earth does DeGrasse or anyone else think we can know the infinite number of outcomes that could occur with each tweak of an orgasm’s genetic makeup?’ First, neither he nor anyone else is claiming that. Second, can you tell me when INACTION might result in a catastrophe?

      ‘Humans thought they knew better with antibiotics and now we have superbugs.’ And how many more humans would currently be dead if we hadn’t deployed antibiotics and, yes, vaccines?

      • Michael O’Leary
        • August Pamplona

          That Mother Jones article does not support your claim that maize would not be susceptible to corn root worm if we had left its genome alone.

          In any case, if we had left its genome alone we’d be trying to grow teosinte.

          • Michael O’Leary

            August, a study was published recently that went into great detail about the ability of corn to send out chemical distress signals through the soil to attract enemies of the root room and that over time, that ability had been reduced through genetic modification. If it wasn’t referenced in that particular article, then I apologize, but scientists have known this for a number of years. Furthermore, when you talk about leaving “its genome alone” – there is a MASSIVE difference between selecting for ideal traits over time and instantly altering the genetics of a plant, with no opportunity for that plant to be graduated into the surrounding ecology over time.

          • RobertWager

            “plants to be graduated into the surrounding ecology”

            Please explain how agriculture in all its forms is anything but against the natural ecology. If we were to follow that idea to its conclusion we become hunter-gatherers again.

            Please explain how changing hundreds or thousands of genes with every selective breeding causes less genomic disruption than adding one or a few genes with known function.

          • August Pamplona

            So you are saying that this ability exists and that it has been lost as a direct result of genetic engineering (rather than, as I was positing, normal, run of the mill artificial selection)? That is, the mere use of genetic engineering has turned this off?

            This claim needs to be backed up by references in the scientific literature.

            Also, I apologize, in advance, if I happen to be misrepresenting your claim. It has not been made sufficiently clear and I am guessing, a little bit, at what you are trying to convey. I am forced to guess that your use of “genetic modification” is referring to genetic engineering since you took the time correct me. This would make your claim an extraordinary one (but I will believe it if you back it up well enough).

          • Lumen

            I’m pretty sure this article is referring to what he is talking about. Beware: There is Great Irony in this link.

            http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-08/genetically-engineering-corn-sends-out-chemical-sos-when-attacked

          • August Pamplona

            So it’s saying that this trait has been lost over the centuries by means of artificial selection (just as I suspected) and that there are some researchers considering re-introducing it by means of genetic engineering?

            Yes, there’s great irony in that.

          • Benjamin Edge

            Every time a mutation occurs naturally, it instantly alters the genetics of the plant, and is instantly inserted into the surrounding ecology.

            Every time you introduce a new heirloom variety into a new environment, you are instantly inserting it into the surrounding ecology.

            I don’t see how this is a legitimate argument against GM crops.

          • Derek Wolf

            Because in nature, fish and tomato genes cross naturally…?

            Can that be any more of an apples to zebra comparison?

          • Michael Phillips

            Please cite the article you refer to. I work in this research field and am curious how non-experts perceive this work.

        • RobertWager

          The Precautionary Principle is a favorite of those who oppose GE crops in Europe. The PP only ever looks at one side of the risk. It never looks at what happens if something is not done.

          Here is the European Academies Science Advisory Council statement about the PP.

          The misuse of the precautionary
          principle has led to restrictive legislation and both a political and market mistrust of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

          This has had a profound chilling effect on both public and private investment for European agricultural research. EASAC 2013

        • Loren Eaton

          Tom Philpott and Motherjones do not now, nor will they ever speak for the scientific community.

    • Jim

      The article you cite does not say we would be better off without bt Corn. And Monsanto and everyone else knew that corn borrowers could and would develop resistance to Bt seeing as there was Bt resistant corn borrowers at least a decade before Bt gmos hit the market. That the label has always required refuge to be planted with Bt to slow this down. But, in the mean time we have had over a decade of less insecticides sprayed over most of the corn belt.
      We have always known that antibiotics would not last. The problem is no one cared. Patients demanded it for colds and other problems that antibiotics would have no effect on. The government did nothing as the pharmaceutical companies gave up on the research both because there was no money and it has become nearly impossible to find a new class. Any pharmaceutical companies antibiotic program for the last 2 decades has been pure charity.

  • Daniel Hunsicker

    I understand what NDT’s saying about the prevalence of artificial selection, and how our ancestors have been hand-picking the bigger, tastier offspring of cultivated plants and animals since the beginning of cultivation. I understand what he’s saying, about the majority of the products on supermarket shelves being genetically-modified, and that it’s mostly not poisoning us. But what I don’t understand is how that exonerates GMO’s, as we’ve come to understand them.

    I mean, I’ve got no authority on the subject–I’ve only been spoon-fed information at March Against Monsanto protest rallies, and haven’t done any personal investigation–but when I see the pictures of the cancerous growths in lab animals, I can’t help but feel concerned about the repercussions eating these modified foods will have. Are the results of the tests finding these cancer growths somehow fabricated, or somehow being taken out of context? Is there something in the research that explains that the results are not the fault of GMO’s, or what?

    Artificial selection for the purpose of producing more satisfying food seems to make sense–but are these GMO’s being made to satisfy our tastes, or are they being made to increase yields and better survive the shipping process? I want the answers to these questions before I can be convinced that GMO’s are a sensible alternative. If the answers already exist, can anyone point me in their direction?

    • RobertWager

      When the original Seralini 2012 was published so were 16 letters to the editor complaining about is publication. The original paper has been retracted but the letters of complaint are still available to read.

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637

      If after reading those you still have questions , please come back and there will be people with real expertise in this area available to answer you questions. cheers

      • Daniel Hunsicker

        Thanks for the link, sagely one. You could have stopped typing at that point, though.

    • RobertWager

      May I suggest you look up “Planting the Future” by the European Academies Science Advisory Council 2013. They explore the entire area of GE crops and derived food very well. Or if you want a NA option the 2010 National Academy of Sciences -”Impact of GE crops on Farm Sustainability in the US” is a good read for the good and bad aspects of GE crops. They are both free on-line.

      cheers

    • Jim

      The picture of the rats is misleading because of the line of rats they used. This line of rats will produce tumors on their own 80 percent of the time after about a year of life. Using them in a study that has a two year time frame is going to tell you nothing about what you are testing and its ability to produce tumors in this line of rats. This line though is good for shorter term studies because its ability to produce tumors means if what you are testing for does produce tumors it should show up in a few weeks.

      GMO are made for all different reasons. The major ones on the market right now are more on the yield side because when you are spending 10s of millions of dollars in just testing you need to sell it to the largest markets which is the commodity crops like maize (mostly field corn), soy, cotton, rapeseed etc. Most of these crops will never be eaten directly by humans so addressing taste is meaningless.

      Also, because of the backlash in the consumer space most of the GMO products are going to be yield base. The citrus industry for example is being killed by Citrus Greening Disease. There is no “natural” citrus tree in the world that is immune from this which makes spraying or GMO the only choice to save the industry. And spraying is not exactly working. Similar to this you have companies and academia working on making x require less water to grow. An existing one I saw is to turn rice into a C4 plant which will allow a huge increase in yield and protect it as temperatures rise.

      That said there is a company working on Tomatoes that will allow supermarket tomatoes taste much better. The traits that make tomatoes ship well have the unintended side effect of making it not taste as well so they are attempting to add back the genes that produce the taste.

      You also have companies and NGO that are working on adding nutrients to the plant such as Golden Rice.

      • Daniel Hunsicker

        Jim, thanks for the information. I had no idea about the rats. I’ll take that with me. The rest of it is interesting to, as I had read about the tomatoes in the book Tomatoland, for a college class. It’s nice to think that they’re acting in the interest of the consumer.

    • JH

      “I want the answers to these questions before I can be
      convinced that GMO’s are a sensible alternative.”

      There is an alternative if you don’t like GMOs: organics.

      “If the answers already exist, can anyone point me in their direction?”

      Didn’t NDT just do that?

      “or are they being made to increase yields and better survive the
      shipping process?”

      All foods – even organics – are bred and managed to be stored and shipped, and bred for increased yield and pesticide resistance.

      • Daniel Hunsicker

        I know about organics, JH. I was simply suggesting that I was worried about the effect of GMO’s on people (or animals in general), due to the rat tumor pictures. Jim explained the nature of the rats and their highly-likely tumor development, in a reply to my comment, which makes a lot of sense–it’s just new information for me, in the search to understand the arguments people make.

        I’m not talking about NDT’s response, specifically, I’m talking about the answers like Jim gave–help from regular folks like yourselves, who are both kind and unfamous enough to spend minutes of their day writing out a response to a stranger on the Internet (with answers to various valid questions I had, but didn’t necessarily ask), or compiling a small list of links that answer the question for them, if they don’t want to spend the time. I find that sort of thing helpful, and it’s practically free, if you’ve got you’re own computer.

    • Loren Eaton

      In response to your second paragraph, you might read this:
      Arjo G, Portero M, Pinol C, Vinas J, Matias-Guiu X, Capell T, Bartholomaeus A,
      Parrott W, Christou P (2013) Plurality of opinion, scientific discourse and
      pseudoscience: an in depth analysis of the Seralini et al. study claiming that
      Roundup Ready corn or the herbicide Roundup cause cancer in rats. Transgenic Res
      22:255-267.
      It is a rather dry, point by point response to the Seralini paper that pretty much summarizes why most scientists in the field consider the paper to be garbage. Probably why the March Against Monsanto people ‘spoon fed’ you the information.
      Particularly disturbing is the way Seralini released the paper.

      • Daniel Hunsicker

        Hey, thanks, Loren! I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my question. This was useful information, and I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear it.

        • Loren Eaton

          In the interest of full disclosure (and others around these boards know this), I do work in the industry and have for almost 30 years. I have a lot of experience in producing the primary transgenic plants (20-25K events, I’ve lost count) in 9 different crops. Whether you think that leads to fatal bias or god-like expertise, or something in between is up to you. However, none of the folks authoring the above paper work for industry…they’re all university.

  • Nikolay Tanev

    Yes, “Chill out” is the message, but still, there are some genetic changes which are harmfull to us and extremely beneficial to their manyfacturers and sellers… and they do it because they suffer from uncontrolled greed. That’s completely different issue and it is time to distinct this greed going wild disease from GMO, or fossil fuel problems or global economic crysis, unemployment… just to name a few.

    • RobertWager

      Have you read the 2010 National Academy of science report-Impact of GE crops on Farm Sustainability in the US? Free on-line and well worth a read to those who want to learn about the real science of GMO’s

      Here’s their general conclusion:

      In general,the committee finds that genetic-engineering
      technology has produced substantial net environmental and economic benefits to U.S. farmers compared with non-GE crops in conventional agriculture.

      -Generally, GE crops have had fewer adverse effects on the environment than non-GE crops produced conventionally.

      -The adoption of HT crops complements conservation tillage practices, which reduce the adverse effects of tillage on soil
      and water quality.

      -Insecticide use has decreased with the adoption of
      insect-resistant (Bt)crops.

  • Joshua

    ==> “Yes, I realize that leading Democrats reject the anti-GMO bias of their base. ”

    Still with the evidence-free characterizations in the name of evidence-based science, eh Keith?

    What ever happened to that promised article that discusses Kahan’s evidence about the extent to which views on GMOs correlates with a taxonomy of the American political spectrum? Did I miss it?

    In the meantime…here’s something to chew on…

    http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/1/21/mapkia-episode-31-answer-culturally-programmed-risk-predispo.html

    • kkloor

      Joshua,

      It’s good to see you remain a loyal reader. As usual, I’m puzzled by your comment. The quote you spotlight from my post echoes a point Ezra Klein was making in his article. So before we go any further, I just want to be clear on something: Klein is engaging in “evidence-free characterization” as well?

      Now, as I recall, Dan Kahan has correctly shown that GMOs have not yet become a politically polarized topic in the general population, which I agree with. I would also agree that Democrats–on the whole, and the public at large–have not yet latched on to anti-GMO position in a culturally defining manner. So far, so good?

      [[In case you disagree, here are the last two GMO-related graphs of the post you linked to from Dan:

      "That suggests positions on GM foods aren't particularly important to anyone's identity. If they were, then we'd expect the most science-comprehending members of competing groups to be picking up the scent of incipient conflict & assuming their usual vanguard role.

      So on balance, I'm a little more open to the idea that GM foods could be a source of meaningful societal conflict--but only a tiny bit more. More importantly, I'm less sure of what I believed than before & anticipate that someone or something might well surprise me here -- that would be great."]]

      (Incidentally, in another related post, Dan has said he can imagine a time when GMOs do become a cultural signifier for Democrats, if the science debate becomes politically polarized in a way that climate change has become)

      Now, note that I (and Klein) are referring to a political “base”–which I take to mean a subset of voters who strongly identify with a political party based on one issue of particular importance to that subset of voters.

      To concretize this, let’s say Daily Kos readers form a solid Democratic base. I imagine you would agree with this. Now let’s go to a post from there last year, titled, “Which Democrats Just Voted Against GMO Labelings?”

      http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/23/1211190/-Which-Democrats-Just-Voted-Against-GMO-Labeling#

      Now let’s move to a recent magazine piece in Politico titled, “Democrats have a problem with science, too.”

      http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/democrats-have-a-problem-with-science-too-107270.html#.U-ESoCgwL19

      You should read it, because along with the examples and the nuanced characterizations, the writer concludes:

      “But from anti-GMO and chemophobic legislation to exaggeration of nuclear power risk, the left does have its share of problems with science. Instead of debating who is worse, the focus should be on cleaning out the grime from the whole house.”

      That is precisely the point I’ve been making in this space (and elsewhere) for quite some time. That grime includes the many examples of GMO misinformation, denialism and myth-mongering that emanate chiefly from liberal NGOs, consumer interest groups and leading environmental organizations.

      The point in this post–which you conveniently ignore (what a surprise)–is that this unrelenting stream of misinformation on GMOs frames the global discourse and politics of GMOs. I gave numerous examples of this.

      But you don’t want to talk about any of this–how liberal groups and liberal outlets (excepting Grist in the last year) give all this nonsense a free pass. You never see, to cite one example I’ve repeatedly highlighted, the egregious demagoguery of Vandana Shiva–challenged. Why is that?

      Why do liberal outlets such as Mother Jones, Alternet, the Nation, et al ignore science denialism on GMOs?

      These are the questions at the heart of my post. But you ignore them to focus on one line. And you wonder why I’ve concluded you’re a troll.

      • Joshua

        Keith -

        Are you assuming that because Ezra made an evidence-free characterization I should be more accepting of it than when you do? Of course Klein is engaging in evidence-free characterization if he makes the same evidence-free characterizations that you make.

        ==> “So far, so good?”

        Yup (except the whole thing about how I should feel differently about Klein making an evidence-free characterization than you making one).

        ==> “Now, note that I (and Klein) are referring to a political “base”–which I
        take to mean a subset of voters who strongly identify with a political
        party based on one issue of particular importance to that subset of
        voters.”

        Hmmm. Nice switch-over to the indefinite article there. Here you say “a” base, yet earlier the reference was to “their base,” with an implication of “the” base. One base. Not a base. I think the distinction is important. I think that typically we see references to “the base” as in “the Republican base,” or “The Democratic base.”

        So that was the connotation I was objecting to. If I am mistaken, and you were referring to one segment of the constituency, a segment which is no more prevalent among Demz than among Repubz, then I have no problem with what you’re saying, and I apologize for misreading what you wrote.

        For example, you say this:

        ==> “Sure, the liberal base of the Democratic party is anti-GMO, Klein acknowledges.”

        Hmmm. So is there a conservative base of the Democratic Party? Are their other bases to the Democratic Party than the liberal base? I don’t think so. I think that there are other constituencies or segments of the Democratic Party, but that the base is liberal just like the base of the Republican Party is conservative.

        Look (in my best Obama voice), my point (as a loyal reader) has been all along that I think that you should be careful with your language on these matters because if you’re not, you’re likely to contribute to the polarizing nature of the argument about GMOs by hardening ideological identifications. My understanding of Kahan is that he has something to say about the impact of journalist who paint a picture that’s more polarized than the reality – and that such journalism is likely to contribute to polarization.

  • Tom C

    NG Tyson is apparently a decent physicist, but he is on TV! So, he becomes a “Liberal Validator” (sounds like a Superhero).
    F Dyson is one of the great physicists of the 20-21st centuries, who has also done some work on climate nodeling. But if he pronounces on AGW alarmism he is what…? A Dener? A tool of Big Oil?
    I don’t get it.

  • JH

    Interesting ruling in Mexico yesterday with regard to the use of GMOs in traditional native (was it Mayan?) regions. Anti-GMO groups have whipped up the fear among natives that GMOs will ruin their traditional method of cultivating honey. There’s no scientific evidence that there’s any relationship whatsoever between the two (GMO crops and native honey production), but green groups have found another legal way to get to Monsanto, using the honey issue to generate enough fear to get the natives to pursue that legal avenue and – of course – providing the funding for them to do so.

    It suggests an interesting topic for you, Keith, and I figure a fertile one: how anti-GMO and other “environmental” groups prey on indigenous people to achieve their own ends. Seems to me that, in general, and perhaps with the exception of fisheries (the tribes here in the PNW have excellent fisheries scientists), native groups generally lack the technical expertise to manage environmental issues, and so rely heavily on outside environmental groups to provide “technical” information – which is heavily biased to achieve the best outcome for the green groups, not for the native groups. And I think in this Mexican case it’s kind of interesting how it’s
    portrayed: their traditional practices are a thousand years old. That’s
    supposedly beautiful. What no one mentions is: “and they’re still dirt
    poor.” Are the traditional practices really all that good? :) Are the green groups really helping them, or are they hurting them by preventing the introduction of a lucrative crop?

    I also think the liberal media picks and chooses how to portray native groups in order to create their favored impression on a particular issue. For example, here in Seattle (very liberal), we’re always hearing on NPR about how “native” groups oppose coal export terminals. Coal mining and shipping is a major employer for native groups in the intermontane region (Montana through New Mexico), and those native groups support coal export terminals. But that’s not what you hear on NPR. Among liberals there is the perception of native groups as
    caring stewards of the land, so the idea that the tribes oppose coal terminals lends even stronger support to the anti-coal shipping crowd. So the local NPR station selects how it portrays the issue either to: a) bias to its preferred solution or b) please the ears of its listeners; or c) both.

    • Loren Eaton

      Nice catch. One descriptor that you didn’t use was ‘subsistence’. One definition of that is “barely sufficient to maintain life.” Well-fed people like Vandana Shiva strut around and talk as though starvation was the result of the Green Revolution and that subsistence farmers had the situation well in hand. They naively believe that genetic diversity BY ITSELF will solve all their problems from disease to low yield. Teetering on the edge of crop failure because you can’t or won’t improve your methods might seem romantic and groovy to Portlandia types…I doubt that it is quite so pleasant for the native groups.

      • JH

        “subsistence farmers had the situation well in hand”

        Oh jeez. Hilarious. Yeah, the word “subsistence” definitely brings the reality of their situation to the fore. I’m sure that’s why green groups prefer the word “traditional” instead. :)

  • JaydeeHanson

    I think that the situation in Zambia is not as described in the article. Father Peter Henriot, SJ is a missionary who was in Zambia in 2002 during the discussions over whether or not Zambia should accept GMO relief grains. The missionaries and local church leaders in Zambia were also arguing for no gmos. (Full disclosure: Father Henriot is the priest who baptized my son.) Here is what he wrote challenging a similar argument on a 2010 TV show in Britain (i.e. that not allowing GMOs into Zambia caused starvation) This is available at: http://www.scouserquinn.com/?p=3242

    What the environmentalists got right – view from Zambia By: Peter Henriot SJ

    In a documentary screened in Britain last night on Channel 4, ‘What the Green Movement Got Wrong’, environmentalists were accused of ‘clinging’ to an outdate ideological opposition to genetically modified food crops. Environmentalists were accused of opposing US food aid for Zambia in 2002 because it was genetically modified, even though people were starving.

    Fr Peter Henriot of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Zambia says it is a pity to see this distortion. He writes:

    “It surely wasn’t “western-led opposition” that caused Zambia ban (which is still in place today, though under increasing attack from many outside Zambia forces!). The “indaba” called by President Mwanawasa featured mainly Zambian scientists, agriculturalists, etc. And a major concern – offered, for instance by Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection and the Jesuit-run Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in a paper prepared by a Zambian woman agricultural scientist – was not primarily health reasons but the impact on small scale farmers who produce 75% to 80% of Zambia’s food. The move to genetically-modified organisms would introduce a model of farming that would in effect dismantle a good system that currently can – with proper management – feed us all! This year we’ve had a bumper crop, never before experienced, and without any genetically modified crops.
    The Channel 4 programme should have done some local research here in Zambia!” For the 2002 Jesuit report – ‘What is the impact of GMOs on sustainable agriculture in Zambia’. See:http://www.jctr.org.zm/downloads/GMOreport.pdf

    • August Pamplona

      JaydeeHanson wrote:

      I think that the situation in Zambia is not as described in the article.

      Really? I have trouble believing that.

      This was not seed corn, it was crop corn. As such, it’s not really suitable for planting. The genetics would be bad since most of it is going to be hybrid and thus the seeds would be producing an F2 crop.

      But if there was still concern over the maize in the food aid being used as seed, the solution is trivial: mill the maize. Problem solved!

      In fact, some of the aid was already milled and the rest could have been milled. It looks like this was even proposed:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/30/world/between-famine-and-politics-zambians-starve.html

      Quoting:

      But even if the incoming corn were milled into cornmeal, eliminating the risk to the Zambian agriculture industry, the government remained concerned about the suitability of the food for human consumption.

      ”I have been told it is not safe,” the minister of agriculture, Mundia Sikatana, said in an interview.

      Asked if he believes such foods are poisonous, Mr. Sikatana said the studies he had read had led him to that conclusion. ”What else would you call an allergy caused by a substance? That substance that the person reacts to is poisonous.”

    • JaydeeHanson

      August, You seem to assume that poor people who are used to replanting seeds would not replant the hybrid seeds. The resulting crops might not have all of the traits of the hybrid, but they will still contain the GMO constructs. The real question is why the US would not give non-GMO seeds as aid. In 2002, there was more non-GMO corn available in the US than there is now. The US also could have milled all of the corn outside of Africa. The Zambians still have the right to be concerned about whether people who eat corn as their staple food would have different risks from consuming GMO corn than US people who eat most of their corn as high fructose corn syrup or tortilla chips. Indeed, even the US does not permit all GMO corn varieties for human food consumption.

  • Chris Ar

    Global warming skepticism and anti-GMO insanity are not comparable.

  • JH

    Keith, ever look at fisheries issues here in the PNW? After years of decline, this year the Okanogan River sockeye salmon run is the largest ever recorded (records began in 1938). Is this an environmentalism success story? If so, why did environmentalism work in this situation while it’s failing miserably on climate and gmo issues? If the ocean is going to hell in a handbasket (ocean acidification and all), what are the implications for ocean ecology of record fish runs in 2014?

    If the Okanogan sockeye can make it through the – count ‘em – NINE major dams below the Okanogan, is there any merit to the dam removal argument on the Snake?

    OMG, there’s so much in the fisheries issue it’s hard to even know where to start. You could make a career on that alone.

  • AmIJustAPessimistOrWhat?

    Anybody who supports the obviously beneficial side of GMO research such as golden rice would be doing the world a favor to directly face what is unappealing about the predominant usage of GMO: pesticide resistance. We finally arrived at the logical end of non-GMO pestcide usage: diminishing returns through adaptive tolerance and increased human expose to pesticides/herbicides. That the bulk of GMO is only adding on a sequel to this already expended plot is hardly great innovation – specifically it is not sustainable. Even a bozo can understand this.

    About Zambia – were the peasants offered a sustainable solution by GMO? Were they even ever offered free license to use GMO seeds? Didn’t think so.

  • Viva La Evolucion

    By the way. Neil Degrasse Tyson drinks organic grass fed milk
    https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/270191112109568000

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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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