Is Environmentalism Anti-Science?

By Keith Kloor | May 24, 2012 12:10 pm

By Keith Kloor, a freelance journalist whose stories have appeared in a range of publications, from Science to Smithsonian. Since 2004, he’s been an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. You can find him on Twitter here.

 

Greens are often mocked as self-righteous, hybrid-driving, politically correct foodies these days (see this episode of South Park and this scene from Portlandia.) But it wasn’t that long ago—when Earth First and Earth Liberation were in the headlines—that greens were perceived as militant activists. They camped out in trees to stop clear-cutting and intercepted whaling ships and oil and gas rigs on the high seas.

spacing is important

In recent years, a new forceful brand of green activism has come back into vogue. One action (carried out with Monkey Wrenching flair) became a touchstone for the nascent climate movement.  In 2011, climate activists engaged in a multi-day civil disobedience event that has since turned a proposed oil pipeline into a rallying cause for American environmental groups.

This, combined with grassroots opposition to gas fracking, has energized the sagging global green movement. But though activist greens have frequently claimed to stand behind science, their recent actions, especially in regard to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, say otherwise.

For instance, whether all the claims of fracking’s environmental contamination are true remains to be decided. (There are legitimate ecological and health issues—but also overstated ones. See this excellent Popular Mechanics deconstruction of all the “bold claims made about hydraulic fracturing.”) Meanwhile, an ancillary debate over natural gas and climate change has broken out, further inflaming an already combustible issue. Whatever the outcome, it’s likely that science will matter less than the politics, as often is the case in such debates.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to GMOs, which have been increasingly targeted by green-minded activists in Europe. The big story on this front of late has been the planned act of vandalism on the government-funded Rothamsted research station in the UK. Scientists there are testing an insect-resistant strain of genetically modified wheat that is objectionable to an anti-GMO group called Take the Flour Back. The attack on the experimental wheat plot is slated for May 27. The group explains that it intends to destroy the plot because “this open air trial poses a real, serious and imminent contamination threat to the local environment and the UK wheat industry.”

http://youtu.be/JYEN_tvqQaw

Last month, Rothamsted scientists, in an open letter, asked to meet with the group to address its concerns. In the letter, they also pleaded with the activists not to carry out their avowed destructive act. Here is an excerpt:

We appeal to you as environmentalists. We agree that agriculture should seek to work “with nature rather than against it” (to quote from our website), and that motivation underlies our work. We have developed a variety of wheat which does not need to be sprayed with insecticides. Instead, we have intensified a way of getting the plant to repel aphids, using a natural process that has evolved in mint and many other plants–and simply adding this into the wheat genome to enable it to do the same thing.

So our GM wheat could, for future generations, substantially reduce the use of agricultural chemicals. Are you really against this? Or are you simply against it because it is “GMO” and you therefore think it is unnatural in some way?

This outreach effort soon led to a televised debate between the two sides and an online petition in support of the scientists, organized by the Sense About Science website. All the publicity has since generated much Twitter action, including a #dontdestroyresearch hashtag. But the attention may have also prompted an attempted break-in to the Rothamsted research station by a GMO opponent several days ago. Perhaps this person wanted to get an early start on the “decontamination,” though Take the Flour Back has denied any connection with the incident.

twitterThe plans to destroy a GMO wheatfield at Rothamsted
sparked Twitter discussion.

The planned May 27 attack on the UK’s government supported GMO research is not happening in a vacuum. As I recently wrote elsewhere, “Vandalism [of GMO fields] has become a preferred tactic of mainsream NGO greens and grassroots groups” in recent years. But they call it “field liberation.”

Oddly enough, just like people who dismiss climate change as some sort of global scam by scientists, many anti-GMO greens have constructed a universe that suits their worldview. Many climate skeptics, for example, believe that the threat of global warming is cooked up by a UN-led cabal of scientists, whose real agenda is to impose one world fascistic or socialist government. A similar feverish perspective is held by many GMO opponents, who believe that genetic engineering is being shoved down the world’s throat by a few big corporate agricultural companies (Monsanto being the number one bogeyman). Greenpeace is especially active in developing countries, such as India and China, setting itself up as the defender of small farmers and declaring that there “is enough scientific evidence now to show that GM crops are a risk to human health.”

The concerns raised by these activists have in fact been examined at length by scientists. In a recent post at the Council on Foreign Relations, Isobel Coleman addressed a big one:

Fearing adverse health consequences, critics refer to GM crops as “Frankenfood,” but years of studies have not demonstrated any harmful effects. A 2010 report from the European Commission—a body not known to be friendly to GM agriculture—summarizes a decade of large-scale government-funded studies, concluding that “biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.” Of course, no studies have proven that GM agriculture is NOT harmful, which is the measure of proof that some opponents of GM require.

You might be surprised to learn that some esteemed figures in the environmentalist pantheon–not just groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth–embrace this criteria for GMOs. Consider, for example, the highly respected David Suzuki, who, according to one survey, is the most trusted man in Canada. He has said:

Because we aren’t certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.

We also aren’t 100 percent certain when global warming is going to arrive with a vengeance, much less do we know the particulars of numerous climate impacts. Should we wait for 100 percent certainty before proceeding with efforts to reduce greenhouse gases? Somehow, I’m guessing Suzuki would say no. As would many other scientists.

But when it comes to GMOs, there’s an impossible-to-meet standard. Why?

I’ve been particularly interested in this question lately. In doing some catch-up reading, I came across a fascinating roundtable of views in a 2009 Seed magazine article, set up by this introduction:

Most Europeans don’t consider themselves to be anti-science or particularly technophobic. In fact, Europe’s full embrace of the scientific consensus on another environmental issue, global warming, has enabled the continent to take the clear lead on climate change, with the most ambitious emissions targets, the first carbon trading market, and the greenest urban infrastructure plans on the planet.

Europe’s scientific disconnect is more broadly true of eco-minded citizens worldwide: They laud the likes of James Hansen and Rajendra Pachauri but shrink in horror at the scientist who offers up a Bt corn plant (even though numerous studies indicate that Bt crops—by dramatically curbing pesticide use—conserve biodiversity on farms and reduce chemical-related sickness among farmers).

So why the disconnect? Why do many environmentalists trust science when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to genetic engineering?

Before you click on the link to learn some of the proffered reasons, think about it first.

And ask yourself this: Are environmentalists anti-science?

Image courtesy of Tim & Selena Middleton / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts
  • jaime dinamarca

    It is a mistake by comparing anti-GM environmentalists to scientists who claim global warming fraud

  • Ellen K.

    You forgot to define GMO the first time you used it. I had to look it up.

  • http://metadesigners.org/ Prof. John Wood

    Environmentalism is a heterogeneous movement, so this question cannot have an unequivocal answer. Science is a young and incomplete branch of wisdom that is designed to fabricate truth-claims using observation and scepticism, rather than devising prudent policies for action. This has enabled GM industry (like the smoking lobby) to prevaricate in the name of self-righteous scepticism. So – to be ‘anti-science’ is not the issue…the issue is how to incorporate scientific methodology into design thinking, and vice versa.

  • Emilio

    I have another question for you: Can science be anti-environment?

  • J.W.

    This is not journalism. It’s opinionated conjecture meant to invalidate ALL environmentalists based on the actions of a few. What is the point of this article and why is Discover’s name on it? Who is “I?” Am I to assume that Keith Kloor speaks for everyone on the Discover Magazine team? What ever happened to reporting facts? Does everything have to propaganda all the time? Who cares about personal blogs?! Report FACTS, please!!!!!

  • Jay Fox

    Tom Philpott, in the link, pretty well describes the main objection that many have. The studies appear to be rigged. Important, long term consequences appear to be minimized. A few studies appear to point to major concerns about fecundity.

    Since that article was written, recent human studies have shown the Bt component in human blood, as well as surprising amounts of glyphosate. These were never observed in large populations before, and are still not where GM products are not available.

    Meanwhile, autism rates skyrocket. I am not claiming a direct link between GM and autism, as no study has been conducted to explore that to my knowledge. I just point it out to show that while something environmental is probably responsible for a lot of what seems like increasing rates of various maladies, regulators are pretty darn quick to say that (insert lobbied product name here) is “safe and offers no long term consequence.”

    Environmentalists have tried to get these GM products to do some studies, and have been saddled with so many requirements that it is impossible to do them. Any requirement that the supplier can nix publication if the results are not favorable is a slap at the real science they claim to favor. Do the studies, offer them up, and scrutinize the method as well as the result. If the method is correct, and you don’t like the result, well, what does that say about the product?

    The current system reminds me of that great childhood movie, “The Wizzard of Oz.” “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

  • DCollis

    Kloor’s ‘logic’ is as persuasive as “environmentalists object to nuclear bombs, nuclear bombs are a result of science, there environmentalists are anti-science!”

    The repeated attempts to tie GMO agriculture with climate change science is similarly ridiculous. It conflates two very different issues:

    1. ‘Is the planet heating up due to human activity?’ is a matter of science. The science is unequivocal: yes.

    2. ‘Should GMO crops be allowed wherever any corporation or research group wants to plant them?’ is a matter of science, economics, politics, societal impacts, morality, etc. The *public* overwhelmingly reject GMO agriculture. It seems the GMO supporters don’t like democracy, much the same as the pro-nuke team.

    The lazy smear that objection to GMO crops is “anti-science” demonstrates a failure of thinking on the part of those who use it.

  • http://www.collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Jaime (1)

    I believe you’re reading into that comparison. There is a major contingent of the anti-GMO movement that is prone to the same sort of conspiracy-minded worldview that we often see exhibited by many climate skeptics.

    Taken to an extreme, that conspiracy mindset has been responsible for propagating one of the biggest GMO urban myths of all time, which I recently deconstructed here:

    http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2012/05/09/how-seeds-of-a-false-story-took-root-and-spread/

  • Mary

    It’s funny, some people claim you can’t study them. And the same people also use studies to claim that it causes damage. Which is it?

    Well, I know–you can study them, and here is a place you can find many papers about the studies. http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/

    And the folks at Biofortified would be happy to discuss any one of them with you–start a forum topic.

    It’s not easy being someone on the left who thinks that reducing pesticide use with biological strategies such as the mint type of compound in the Rothamsted trial is just what Rachel Carson would have wanted.

    “A truly extraordinary variety of alternatives to the chemical control of insects is available. Some are already in use and have achieved brilliant success. Others are in the stage of laboratory testing. Still others are little more than ideas in the minds of imaginative scientists, waiting for the opportunity to put them to the test. All have this in common: they are biological solutions, based on the understanding of the living organisms they seek to control and of the whole fabric of life to which these organisms belong. Specialists representing various areas of the vast field of biology are contributing—entomologists, pathologists, geneticists, physiologists, biochemists, ecologists—all pouring their knowledge and their creative inspirations into the formation of a new science of biotic controls.”

    http://bit.ly/IHmG0n

    But that sounds pretty much like the Rothamsted team to me. But nobody believes me that I’m with Rachel Carson on this.

  • Daniel Ortiz

    Both of these efforts are to mitigate human disruptions to complex natural systems. So there is no discrepancy.

  • Mr. M.

    The main concern (as I see it) about GMOs, as with Nuclear Power, isn’t about scientific evidence regarding health or the environment benefits or risks, it’s about control. Contrary to popular assumption technologies are not neutral. Whilst users can often reappropriate some technologies for their own ends in some ways (e.g. unlock your cell phone to allow a different provider), some technologies have features which limit their use to particular people/groups and/or particular ways of use.

    GM seeds are so complex to make they will only ever be designable, understandable and controllable by (or with the aid of) small groups of human (and thus corruptible) scientists, and so expensive to make (for the foreseeable future) that they’ll only be fundable by states and corporations. Yes, Indian and Brazillian farmers managed to circumvent Monsanto and pirate early GM seeds and breed their own versions but there is no reason to assume this will always be the case for future generations of seeds or that Monsanto will keep to its agreement to not use Terminator Technology.

    Faced with the task of ensuring scientists and biotech companies don’t abuse their positions of power to engineer plants to require their own brand of pesticides (as Monsanto did), to not reproduce, or do something else beneficial to themselves but harmful to others, most ordinary people prefer to stick to conventional crops they think farmers (and to a lesser extent they themselves) can understand, predict and control. It’s the same reason people prefer fantasies of everyone living off-grid with solar panels to Nuclear power plants being built.

    I don’t support the destruction of the Rothamstead crop, or oppose their research. But I’m getting tired of pro-GM people talking as though expressing (sometimes well-founded) concern about the social implications of this technology’s features and potential uses is akin to denying that the earth goes round the sun, and arguing that the fact that it MAY lead to advances in technology which COULD help feed the world is a justification in itself. It MAY lead to far worse social-political outcomes (which will in turn effect how many people get fed).

  • Janet Luna

    A cotton crop is not the same as a food/feed crop. In the US it is well known, not just speculated, that food crops such as corn with the bt gene, affect many pollinators, as well as predators. The fear now is that gm alfalfa will cause the elimination of many more pollinators, or alternatively, the rise of many herbicide resistant super-weeds. I don’t know what pollinates cotton crops, or how much a threat weeds may be….

  • http://eclecticbreakfast.blogspot.com/ Michael Brady

    IIRC The literature suggests that liberals are just as prone to cultural cognition of risk, so we can expect reflexive responses on several issues. The good news is that communitarian egalitarians (liberals) are able to change their minds more easily when presented with new evidence.

    http://tigger.uic.edu/~lskitka//Ideo.pdf

  • Matt B

    Gotta love the quote from Dr. Suzuki:

    “Because we aren’t certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.”

    One of the “guiding principles in science”? Which branch of “science” does this belong to: physics? chemistry? It never made it into any textbooks I’ve seen. And Suzuki’s foundation is a big fan of solar panels, so what does he think of silicon tetrachloride as a byproduct of their manufacturing? Has it been “proven” to him that solar panel manufacturing will not “harm human health or the environment” so that he knows “for sure what the impact will be”?

    Many organizations (business for sure but don’t forget governments, just recall what a swell job the Soviet Union did safeguarding their “closed cities”), if left to themselves, will trash their ecosystems for the sake of convenience. I applaud the overall environmental movement for holding these organizations accountable. But, the issues are complex and ever-changing, and simplistic viewpoints like Suzuki’s do not help resolve matters.

  • Beth Cullison

    We have insufficient witness to the safety of the pesticides used specifically on GMOs, the impact of the runoff into streams, rivers, air and soil. We have sufficient reason to be concerned when food, soil, water and air could be rendered toxic/carcinogenic/or whatever else the hubris of prejudiced (i.e., eager to judge OK, release on the world, and profit from) parties.

    WHERE IS THE PROOF OF SAFETY?? WHY CAN WE NOT LABEL GMO FOODS SO THAT WE CAN INGEST LESS OF THE MSTERY FOOD? WHAT ABOUT THE POTENTIAL FOR HARM TO CHILDREN?

  • Jody

    I don’t really see why this is surprising. The groups of people you’re describing are ultimately anti-technology (or anti-man’s interference with the “natural order”). So they’re not pro-science on climate change and then suddenly anti-science on GMO. They dislike industry, so they’re pro-science on climate change, because industry is impacting the “natural order”, and science proves this. But again they dislike industry, so they’re anti-science on GMOs, because this time science is working WITH industry to disrupt that perceived ” natural order”. So it’s not really about a group of supposedly science minded folks acting outside their own beliefs. It’s about people who want to maintain this anti-technology “natural order”, who use science when it suits them, and not when it doesn’t.

    I also don’t see Suzuki’s position as contradictory in this context. He’s saying we should take action to prevent global warming, because it’s industry potentially harming the environment, and we should also curtail GMOs, because it’s potentially industry harming the environment. He’s not coming at it from a “science says this” point of view, he’s coming at it from an anti-big-industry, pro-natural-order point of view.

    Me? I’m a transhumanist. I’ll take their help if it convinces politicians to support Green initiatives and protect the environment, but ignore them on GMOs and other issues.

  • Gaythia Weis

    In my opinion, the statements above that are on the right track are those of Prof. John Wood @3 “Environmentalism is a heterogeneous movement, so this question cannot have an unequivocal answer.” and J.W. @5 “It’s opinionated conjecture meant to invalidate ALL environmentalists based on the actions of a few.”

    The link that Keith Kloor gives @8 is a broadly based deconstruction, which is the kind of work that I know he is capable of and ought to have been more apparent in an analysis of GMO’s.

    The problem with the reporting here, and many places elsewhere, is this yes/no battle with the forces of anti-science mindset. Very little information is being provided to the public in ways that would help build greater understanding.

    Commercialization of GMO technologies got off to a very bad start with some of the actions of Monsanto. Monsanto did assure people that their “Round-Up Ready” modifications would not spread into the native plant (weed) population, and of course it has. And now, given that failure, Dow wants to follow that with a 2,4, D version. There is no wonder that the public is skeptical and a few extremists are trying to capitalize on that skepticism.

    Rothamsted has an excellent website and is making good faith efforts to reach out to reasonable protesters. http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/Content.php?Section=AphidWheat&Page=Protest It is perhaps unfortunate that their trial was not first, but it wasn’t. I can’t speak to whether or not their criteria are adequate (a 20 meter setback apparently: http://www.gm-inspectorate.gov.uk/deliberateRelease/documents/Wheat_RD_11-R8-01-01_INSP-01_2012.pdf)

    I do know however, the extent to which lettuce and spinach growers in the Salinas Valley of California went to to obliterate any growth anywhere near their fields after they had samonella problems. If Rothamsted went to similar over the top efforts, IMHO the extreme isolation would, as a side effect, aid in controlling a few isolated vandals.

    Then, science educators and journalists need to work on the difficult task of educating the public as to various agricultural and environmental tradeoffs, including those in existing systems about which we generally give little thought.

  • JMW

    I don’t comment as often as I used to, but any chance to exercise my newest favourite phrase will spur me into action.

    This article is stupid with three Os.

    Are environmentalists anti-science? Are you writing for Fox, or Discover Magazine? In the past I’ve chided conservatives for painting a complex picture either in black or white, with no shades in between.

    You, sir, have done the same.

    That being said, I myself have many reservations when it comes to Monsanto. It has less to do with the GMO crops they produce than the legal contortions and bullying they inflict on farmers who buy their products.

    And, in defence of Dr. Suzuki, my interpretation of his comments on GMO crops is to be cautious; he doesn’t reject them out of hand, he merely wants more data.

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  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    Global warming is about reducing oil, gas and coal usage, something that is at least once removed from personal. Genetically modified food is about ingestion, suddenly it’s about me.

    So get some psychologists involved. My goodness, if I can figure it out, so should you.

  • DCollis

    Keith Kloor:

    > “There is a major contingent of the anti-GMO movement that is prone to the same sort of conspiracy-minded worldview that we often see exhibited by many climate skeptics.”

    Another lazy, evidence-free smear. You don’t even attempt to rebut the core arguments against GMO ag, you simply rely on innuendo and baseless smearing. That’s almost all I’ve ever seen from the pro-GMO fan club.

    You’ve convinced yourself that opposition to GMO ag is synonymous with opposition of science. But it’s not. No more than opposing nuclear bombs is opposition of science.

    GMO crops have resulted in super weeds (gene contamination), super insects (resistance evolved due to Bt cotton, Bt corn), increased pesticide use, decreasing crop variety, small farmers being sued and bankrupted, and corruption of democracy as e.g. Monsanto has bribed government officials. And they have largely failed to deliver on promises of increased yield, and not delivered on disease or drought resistance.

    The only *need* for GMO crops is to control the food chain for massive profit and political control.

  • Gaythia Weis

    Matt Nisbett has a post up at Big Think http://bigthink.com/age-of-engagement/new-scientist-researchers-should-join-with-activists-in-examining-food-biotech-regulation
    which I believe to be a more balanced and thoughtful approach.

  • http://www.technofix.org Doktor Lionel

    I believe that environmentalists are not against science, but against undemocratic science. The problem is that many decisions regarding science and technology are made by corporations and the average person has very little say in the matter (see extensive discussion in the recent book, Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, http://www.technofix.org). These corporations, like Monsanto, spend billions of dollars in research and development on GMOs and must then sell their stuff against the wishes of the people to recover their development costs and make a profit for shareholders. So, it is no surprise that people object – they were never asked whether they really wanted GMOs. The question is not “are environmentalists against science” but “how can science and technology development be made more democratic?” Scandinavian countries have experimented with “participatory design” where citizen representatives have a vote on new science and technology developments in corporations. If Monsanto would have opened up to such democratization, either GMOs would never have been developed in the first place (because citizen representatives would have voted against it) or Monsanto would have seriously followed the precautionary principle, which would have greatly reduced opposition by the public and environmentalists.

  • Mary

    Nisbett calling for capitulation to extortion was about the most horrifying way to end my day I could imagine. Sigh.

  • intrepid_wanders

    Emilio,

    Science primary goal is to be “anti-environment” or against nature. Science protects one from the elements (heat/cold/wet/dry). Science protects one from the biological pathogens. Humans have pursued science since the last ice age more than 10,000ya. Agriculture is science and anti-environmental. End result, humans are by nature, anti-environment.

    Prof. John Wood may nod approvingly, but this line of reason pales to the delima of calling out your neighbor’s yard when yours is full of weeds.

  • Mephane

    Personally, I have no problems whatsoever with genetic engineering or even genetically modified food. But I have a deep loathing for the business practices of certain companies like Monsanto. I am all for genetically modified crops etc. for the betterment of ourselves, our food quality and production efficiency, but not for sole purpose to guarantee obscene profits for some giant corporations that actually give a s*** about both farmers and the environment (they might claim otherwise as part of the usualy marketing ploys, but in the end they do not care at all about it).

  • AD

    Ignoring all the other crazy comments, I just want to say the author is spot-on and the anti-GMO bent is often not based in sound reasoning, but is more reminiscent of ‘slippery-slope’ arguments and knee-jerk reaction more typical of right-wingers on their hobbyhorse issues.

  • Gaythia Weis

    Mary, Nisbett’s call asking to work with others in “critically examining the system that governs this technology and its greater use” is not anything like your description of “capitulating to extortion”.
    I believe that it is very counterproductive to act as if there is a straight yes/no divide on this issue, and to respond as if those questioning GMO’s are inherently antiscientific. As the comment of DCollis above points out, public opinion on GMO’s has been very much shaped by the actions of companies like Monsanto. The points raised by DCollis are valid objections, worthy of further debate and not being rejected out of hand. I actually think acting as if people like DCollis represent forces of “antiscience” serves to drive public support towards an overall”no” towards GMO’s as the more cautious and thus reasonable seeming of the two extreme alternatives. And it closes off reasonable discussion on such things as regulation and overall best agricultural practices.
    (my more lengthy comment is apparently still in moderation).

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  • Steve

    It needs to be recognized that science can never prove “the negative.” By this I mean, it is impossible to prove (in a scientific sense) that some activity has zero effect. We can only show that there are no observed effects under the conditions tested so far. Requiring a zero effect proof simply leads to stagnation. It is easy to ask that policy makers require proof of no effect…it even sounds logical. It just happens to be impossible.

  • Nearsited

    Nothing to see here… The author is simply peering through the wrong end of the microscope.

    Viewed through the OTHER end, global warmers and anti-GMers are similarly constructed. Same mass… motility… brain size.

    Interestingly, disparate cells always clump together, then emit noxious fumes.

  • Jodyg

    I don’t really see why this is surprising. The groups of people you’re describing are ultimately anti-industry (or anti-man’s interference with the “natural order”). So they’re not pro-science on climate change and then suddenly anti-science on GMO. They dislike industry, so they’re only pro-science on climate change BECAUSE industry is impacting the “natural order”, and science proves this. But again they dislike industry, so they’re anti-science on GMOs, because this time science is working WITH industry to disrupt that perceived ” natural order”. So it’s not really about a group of supposedly science minded folks suddenly acting outside their own beliefs. It’s about people who want to maintain this anti-industry “natural order”, who use science when it suits them, and not when it doesn’t.

    I also don’t see Suzuki’s position as contradictory in this context. He’s saying we should take action to prevent global warming, because it’s industry potentially harming the environment, and we should also curtail GMOs, because it’s potentially industry harming the environment. He’s not coming at it from a “science says this” point of view, he’s coming at it from an anti-big-industry, pro-natural-order point of view.

    Me? I’m a transhumanist. I’ll take their help if it convinces politicians to support Green initiatives and protect the environment, but ignore them on GMOs and other issues.

  • Carl Swanson

    First, the biggest concerns over GM crops are not the health impacts, but the long term environmental impact. The genes that are tossed into another species genetic code can and are passed on through reproduction. Which is why it is illegal to save seed from a monsanto gm crop and why monsanto has sued hundreds of small farmers. It is also the reason that there should be no gm crops at all. The modification of the plants genome is to give it a competitive advantage over other versions of the same plant. If it hybridizes with a wild or non-gmo variety, the resultant offspring will likely carry the GM as well. This leads to a loss of biodiversity in the species as the most successful individuals will be the ones with the modification. Natural varieties will die out, unable to compete with the GM variety. And in a legal sense, every single individual plant that has that bit of extra code in it is the property of whatever company developed it. That is the danger of Monsanto. (which recently took over Iraq. Check out “Order 81″)
    Second, following the whole “genes are passed on through reproduction” thing that you seem to have forgotten about, Monsanto didn’t. They know that genes are passed on through reproduction and have decided to do something about it. Terminator plants. GM plants that cannot produce viable seed. Shouldn’t this fix the concerns over “genetic bleed”? No, it makes it worse. It doesnt stop the mixing of GM and non-GM, it just means that any and all seed from the non-GM plant is also going to be unviable and so the wild and heirloom varieties of these crops will die out. A traditional farmer is going to watch the seed he has saved season after season after season to alleviate cost and improve his crop turn to dust in his hands.
    You are acting as a shill for the GM/chemical giants when you miss portray concerns over GM crops as anti-science. Especially when 90% of the research done on GM crops has been done by the companies themselves or enabled by massive donations to researchers/schools. Please do more research and revisit this topic. Educate yourself more on how the wealth of diversity is being destroyed in the name of corporate profits.

  • Mary

    I love that people who have suddenly wandered into this discussion think that nothing happened before they got here. Nisbet is a perfect example of this. From a similar discussion suggesting that scientists were not working enough to reach out (http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/blog/?p=368 ), someone involved in the process asks this:

    How long was the ACRE public consultation on this last summer? Who contributed?

    What did researchers do in response to that?

    What previous discussions have been held at Rothamsted with the local community? With local and national media? Local and national environmental campaign groups? Farmers groups?

    What is the relationship between Rothamsted choosing to do work in this area and the public’s priorities set out in previous discussions, viz that they prefer such research to be of environmental benefit, not for private profit and to make more use of natural processes?

    What consideration did Rothamsted researchers give to others’ engagement experiences, eg at John Innes Centre, on other outdoor work?

    What was Sense About Science’s reaction to the security based approach to the announced vandalism, as preferred by the Home Office?

    In what ways did Sense About Science advocate engagement with this and with a wider public?

    How much time was spent on that ‘rushed’ petition? How many environmentalists and non scientists have put thoughtful comments on it? What are their questions? How have we and others been engaging with those?

    Researchers and agencies have been working on this, with the public. But like the TTFB team who demanded a debate and then backed out if it, they don’t participate when they can–they choose obstruction and drama later. You can’t have a discussion with people who don’t show up for it. It is not legal to force them into the seats or the open houses at Rothamsted.

    And Nisbet also says “Activists also correctly allege that the biotech industry and scientists have a record of hyping the potential benefits of such crops.”

    Without a single bit of apparent awareness that activists and anti-science contributors hype the fears and flat out lie about things like the terminator seeds which have never been in the hands of farmers.

    It seems that the underlying issue that is coming up in a couple of places in this discussion is “what is anti-science?” really. Here’s what I wrote at Keith’s blog on that:

    Do I rely on quality and consensus scientific evidence to draw conclusions about ____ topic? If the answer is “yes” on climate, “no” on plant science, then you have a problem with science some of the time.

    Other examples of anti-science behavior to me are creationists and anti-stem cell activists. If you are trying to interfere with public science teaching or prevent research because of ideological reasons, you qualify as anti-science in my book. And the Rothamsted attack is exactly the same. As was the Greenpeace action last summer.

  • Ben

    This article is complete BULL SH*T at best.
    Environmentalists are some of the very few people in this country that actually act on science.

  • Kaviani

    “But when it comes to GMOs, there’s an impossible-to-meet standard. Why?”

    Because of the actions of Monsanto, et al, in areas outside of the laboratory. You cannot confine the debate to pure analytics – the culture, record, and public image of the corporations in question are paramount. You cannot tell me that they are pristine – the news from India alone is enough to compel me to never support Monsanto in ANY capacity.

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    1. I think there is, to some extent, science denial in anti-GMO activism.

    2. Kloor fails to discuss the real problem of GMO genes spreading into the wild (see comment #17, and much evidence elsewhere).

    3. Kloor fails to discuss the problem of GMO-herbicide-resistant crops causing the heavy use of herbicides.

    4. Kloor fails to discuss how the heavy use of herbicides has reduced the ecological value of farmland edges, like milkweed growing on farm margins that are food for monarch butterflies.

    5. Kloor inverts the precautionary principle into its exact opposite when considering whether to move forward with GMOs.

    6. I assume that none of the above mistakes were deliberate.

    7. I would highly encourage Kloor to research the field and look into scientific concerns about GMOs, and to consider how the precautionary principle is typically applied. Both of those actions might generally be considered good preparations for articles like this.

  • Mary

    @Brian Schmidt: There are conventionally bred herbicide resistant plants. They have all the same issues you raise. So the issue is not specific to GMOs.

    I don’t care if you hate herbicides. But it’s not the same thing as GMOs.

    The problem is that if you blame everything on GMOs, you are aiming at the wrong target. Or are you actually opposed to conventional breeding too?

  • Gaythia Weis

    I agree with Mary that the extreme activists attacking Rothamsted are unlikely to be persuaded by science. That puts them into the same category as the extreme anti-vaxxers or the extreme climate deniers and so forth.

    What gives these people power? That has to do with who holds sway with the pubic. The more that scientists battle this as as having to do with “anti-science” the less space they give the public to claim middle ground. There is no space left for “some GMO’s but not others”. And given that, the extremists win because the sensible solution would seem to be no GMO’s at all.

    Monsanto and related companies have created an environment in which there has been a huge loss of confidence in what GMO proponents have to say. It could have been true that even Monsanto’s Round-up ready seed continued to enable farmers to use less herbicides overall. But no, at least partially due to poor regulation, and too general application, weeds have adapted. Now Dow wants to introduce a seed that requires a second herbicide, 2, 4, D. There is talk of having crops with resistances to a spectrum of herbicides. So, just as the anti-GMO forces predicted, resistances appear to be leading towards more herbicide use, not less. Which is of course, why most of us do not see this as a project Rachel Carson would have endorsed.

    As I tried to explain in my comment that is finally posted above @17, Rothamsted’s problem is that they arrive after other companies have affected the public mindset. The few extremist are able to get into the limelight both because the public is leery, based on what they’ve learned by past experiences of GMO assurances that did not work out as advertised, and because the scientist journalists are lined up ready to cover this as a fight and not a risk management problem. Rothamsted itself seems to be doing what might have been an excellent public outreach project, but is being drowned out by the noise coming from the extremes.

    How do those advocating GMO technologies regain the public trust? Making it clear that this industry will be regulated in ways that won’t repeat the mistakes of the past is an excellent first start. Above, I cited California lettuce and spinach growers as examples of those who have made efforts to isolate their fields that would seem to go well beyond the measures described by Rothamsted. As I point out above, efforts to further isolate these crop would also be likely to have the side benefit of also making them more difficult to vandalize.

    The problem for the science of genetically modifying organisms is that it has been hijacked by corporations that have pushed implementations that benefit their current products such as Round-up, 2,4, D. As Prof. John Wood @3 above points out, this is a design and policy problem, not a science problem. Those of us who support GMO applications that have real possibilities of benefiting mankind have much to be angry about regarding the impact of these poorly designed uses as the anti-science extremists do.

    In fact, the way to regain popular support for further exploration of the potentials of GMO science, is for scientists to make it perfectly clear that we are capable of distinguishing good policy decisions from bad ones and that there are, in fact, nuanced positions between supporting GMO’s unilaterally and banning them.

  • mango

    Global warmers and anti-gm types go to the same church. This is nothing more than an internecine dust-up.

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    #38 MarySays: I’m not aware of conventional breeding producing Roundup resistance in plants. It’s that GMO technique that’s so drastically changed American farmlands and our herbicide practice. Your counterexample is purely theoretical when you’re talking about the extent of change. This is a real issue, and Kloor should’ve known about it.

    And I’m not opposed to herbicides as part of integrated pest management, thanks so much for your kind question.

  • http://thisearthnatureblog.wordpress.com/ czfinke

    a title guaranteed to get you hits and links, but with little to justify the contentiousness behind the claim.

    you are talking not about “environmentalists”. you are just talking about anti-gmo folks, many of whom are environmentalists, and many of whom are not. it’s a careless causality, and a stupid one. your final statement should simply be “anti-gmo activists oppose gmo products.”

  • Mary

    @Brian: No, it’s not theoretical. Clearfield sunflowers. Sorghum by Pioneer. Linking would put me in moderation hell, so I won’t. But these exist. And they could be developed for any plant with enough conventional mutagenesis probably. It is not the GMOness that is your issue. You don’t like monocultures and industrial ag. I get it.

    But to take that out on a single technology is unwise. If GMOs vanished tomorrow at your behest, the same things you hate would persist.

  • Gaythia Weis

    Mary, with minimal work, I’m sure that we can get Brian Schmidt to object to some methods of conventional agriculture also.

    For example, a quick Google of Clearfield Sunflowers comes up with USDA references that point out, that while the herbicide resistant genes originated from a seemingly resistant wild sunflower plant, the breeding was apparently done by a process of “embryonic rescue” that allowed the production of new seedlings just 30 days after pollination.

    Or, take for example corn, which took humans thousands of years to get from a wild grass to monocultures in the American Midwest. Granted, this did give the rest of the ecosystem time to adapt, or go extinct. Still, it was not an environmentally benign process.

    Where to draw the line between GMO and “conventional” breeding processes seems kind of quibble-ish to me.

    The speed of the GMO process does reduce the time available to consider side effects and unintended consequences. Since much of the research is being driven by corporate interests we have gotten more work done on efforts that yield these corporate interests short term benefits by extending current product lines (Round-up, 2,4,D) and much less work done on efforts that might benefit man long term (golden rice, perennial seed crops).

    So, GMO offers opportunity as well as risks. We have a means that may work to replace plants developed by a lengthy and haphazard process with one that could be planned. To gain public support for such programs, it would need to be demonstrated that there are mechanisms that could be developed to conduct investigations while containing risk to acceptable levels. Scientists conduct research on hazardous materials and hazardous technologies are implemented all the time. The public accepts much of that work.

    I personally am very interested in the implementation of perennial seed crops. Prehistorically, humans hunter gatherers tended to select annual seeds simply because they were, in general, larger than perennial seeds. Corn arose without all that much deliberate thought as to its nutritional or agricultural properties. Selection along these lines did occur, but usually within the confines of random mutations of an existing crop. With great care, I believe that we have an opportunity to develop plants that could be more nutritious and cultivated with much less water and energy use, soil depletion and other environmental consequences. However, we are familiar with many of the effects of our current agricultural system. Making the first switch, from native prairie to monoculture happened without much organized thought. But, making this sort of big switch to a new form of agriculture should be accompanied by careful planning. Implementing it would take building public trust.

    That is why a open public process to develop a strong regulatory mechanism is very important.

    IMHO, the correct position to take with regards to Rothamsted is not to attack the supposedly anti-scince attitudes of environmentalists as given here by Keith Kloor. Rather, we should realize that the sometimes egregious misbehavior of previous GMO developers, has broken the public sense of trust in those implementing this technology. Rothamsted is the victim of this sense of betrayal, and although not guilty of these actions themselves, they, and the rest of those supporting GMO technologies are going to have to jump through a number of extra hoops in order to establish credibility.

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    I don’t oppose all GMO and never said I did – thanks again for asking. What I oppose is Kloor’s failing to discuss real environmental issues like the “extent of change” with herbicide use. I tried to use MarySays suggestion to find current acreage figures for the type of sunflowers and wasn’t sure I had a current one, but I doubt it approaches the “extent of change” for soy and corn.

    As for sorghum, Pioneer’s website says:

    “In some crops, biotechnology has allowed innovations such as herbicide tolerance and insect tolerance to be incorporated into plants. The methods used to do this in other crops can be applied to sorghum, but herbicide resistance traits are not being actively pursued. This is due to the genetic similarities of sorghum to noxious weeds such as Johnsongrass and shattercane and the ease with which the trait could move to the weed population. ”

    Glad to see honest discussion of this in the field. Again, something that Kloor should’ve picked up with active research.

  • Pingback: Keith Kloor: Is Environmentalism Anti-Science? | JunkScience.com | The Environmentalism

  • woodNfish

    “Is environmentalism anti-science?”

    Yes, of course it is, and many of its proponents are terrorists such as Greenpeace, Earth First, and the WWF. They should be treated as such too.

  • Mary

    The point is that opposition to GMO science is misguided. If they vanished tomorrow, we would not be in the Organic Garden of Eden.

    Here’s your herbicide resistant sorghum: http://southeastfarmpress.com/grains/herbicide-resistant-sorghum-hybrids-horizon

    I think that one of the major problems in this area is that activists have been lying to people. They have them convinced that GM science is the issue. It is not. People have been misled by those who either do not understand the issues or have their own agendas for dispersing the falsehoods. I have yet to see on article from the environment side that suggests groups like TTFB should have gone to the Rothamsted meetings and held the debate that they themselves demanded. Nobody is calling out that behavior (behaviour in the UK). I just hear bemoaning about what the scientists supposedly didn’t do.

    Rothamsted’s scientists have been doing all the things people say that they want: having conversations for a long time, following regulations, and developing plants with environmental benefits that are unattached to corporate issues. Demanding that they stop–and threatening their work–continues to be anti-science behavior no matter how much everyone tries to weasel out of that fact.

  • Gaythia Weis

    I agree with Mary that Rothamsted’s scientists have been doing a good job of trying to involve the public. IMHO, if Rothamsted’s work had preceded that of the corporate based GMO products that have raised concerns then their task would have been much easier.

    Extreme activists would not have so much traction with the public if the public were not leery already. They are listened to because the public has unfortunately learned that previous assurances regarding GMO products were not to be trusted.

    This is the fault, not of scientists, but the corporate entities that pushed their own products, all the while, much like the tobacco industry, offering reassurances, and seeking to discredit those who raised genuine, science based objections. Frequently, it was these corporatists who co-opted the use of the anti-science label and applied it against their opponents.

    Rebuilding trust takes a lot of time and effort. One of the major problems in this area is not so much that activists have been lying to people (although they have) the problem is that so many of those supporting GMOs have also been misleading people. If we want to enable the public to see that it is not GMO that is the issue then we need to spend more time clearly pointing out where GMO technologies, (as well as non-GMO technologies) have been misapplied. The public can see that those supporting GMO technology are willing to to call out those who are behaving wrongly. They need to understand that those supporting GMO technology support and are willing to push for regulations that ensure that the problems that did occur will not reoccur. They need to see that scientists and technologists are dedicated to being vigilant about identifying new issues that may occur. They need to see and participate in discussions as to when GMO technology may be appropriate and when it is not. They need to see that scientists and technologists themselves are carefully weighing those decisions. They need to see GMO in context with other related problems and issues. Only then can GMO regain credibility as a appropriate technological application of science.

    The blame for Rothamsted’s current problems should be applied where it is deserved, to the missteps of the corporations who preceded them.

    Jumping up and down and screaming Anti-Science! is counter productive.

  • http://backseatdriving.blogspot.com/ Brian Schmidt

    I nominate Gaythia to replace Kloor for posting here at Discover – her take is much more scientific.

  • Jiminy

    What concerns me is the long term ecological impacts, because simply put: we don’t know.

    The first BT corn trial: we were told it was perfectly safe. 50m was a good safe buffer. Nothing could go wrong.

    Then we hear that the corn pollen was drifting far further then 50m. Duh. Anyone with a brain could have told them it would. Then we find that the bt gene is showing up in weeds all around the site. The people in charge said it couldn’t happen. Then they found the bt gene showing up in bacteria around the site. The people in charge said it couldn’t.

    Do you see a common denominator? We don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t understand how much of the environment interconnects. We don’t know how the vast majority of the DNA in plants and animals work singly, never mind in concert in a complex biological organism.

    But we are going to pluck dna from a frog, or fish, or pig, stick it in a vegetable or grass, then grow them in an outdoor plot and not not worry about possible consequences of escaped biological entities that have never been seen before on the face of the planet.

    We already do this with chemicals. We keep finding out that we know next to nothing about many of the man made chemicals we constantly dump into the environment. Then we find out that at least some of them have negative consequences for humans in very small quantities.

    Now we are doing the same with with objects that can replicate themselves. We are inventing new CHEMICAL FACTORIES that REPLICATE themselves and we don’t have any idea what the outcome may be. Everyday we find out that some creature or vegetable has an effect on another.

    Almost all of it is based not on high hopes but on the quest for an IPO and massive stock buyouts. In other words, to get rich.

    I also worry about long term health problems with GM organisms. Because we keep finding more and more viruses that do things we didn’t know about. We have no idea how many viruses have multiple vectors. Will plant viruses attack an animal with plant genes inserted? Are we going to check every single virus in the world? Obviously not, because we can’t. There are too many.

    What about animal viruses attacking plants that have had animal genes inserted? Or bacteria? I’m sure someone somewhere is saying “impossible!” But so was that corn pollen drifting past 50 meters. So was the bt gene getting inserted into bacteria or weeds.

    With so many viruses, and so many being able to be made in a single organism, we have no idea what can happen.

    And that is why we should be going very slowly with GMOs.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Brian you are mistaken when you say

    6. I assume that none of the above mistakes were deliberate.

    Exactly the same was pointed out to him when he posted this contentious issue advocacy (his issue is to delegitimize enviromentalism) on his own blog. Malice and aforethought

  • Mary

    Gaythia: Those things are going on, and have been going on. If people haven’t seen them it’s because they weren’t there. And you can’t force undecided people to go to these kinds of things. The people who go are already fired up on the issue.

    I go to a lot of public meetings, on a wide range of topics. I’ve been to vaccine meetings with the CDC, environment meetings with Jim Hansen, health care meetings with my senator and rep, walkable communities meetings, public transit meetings, neighborhood meetings, and on and on.

    But my experience has been very much like these results: Opinion: Misguided Science Policy?
    http://the-scientist.com/2012/04/10/opinion-misguided-science-policy/

    But they can also have disastrous consequences when used as a policy-making tool designed to tap public opinion more broadly….These data showed that assessments of “community acceptance” by the DHS underestimated actual public approval, likely dominated by vocal opposition groups.

    These kinds of meetings have been dominated by the most vocal anti-whatever-topic the meeting is about. As they also note in that study, the local news media then amplifies that and makes it seem like there’s significantly more opposition than is actually reflected in the community. I think that’s the case on this topic as well–the more polarizing the topic, the worse that is.

    Decisions like this with tremendous societal and political impacts should not be left only to those with strong views who are willing to make the most noise at a public meeting.

    Do you have any evidence that the type of approach you are suggesting has worked? Any good examples of that? I’ve sought those out over and over on stuff like intelligent design, vaccines, etc, looking for good examples and I have yet to see one. But the ones I’ve attended and that this study shows don’t bode well for that strategy.

  • john werneken

    The anti-Science actors are those that use science, or rather use particular research findings AND a sort of Science-is-the-only-truth sort of idolatry, to claim that if the research were accepted, all their economic political ethical and social claims must be accepted as well, when none of those nor the link between the research and any of them has been established by science. They might as well quote the Bible – what is quoted let’s assume is true, whether the research or the Bible, but the quoter is misusing it as a blatant appeal to authority respecting claims neither authority actual makes (climate research does NOT scientifically study how the world economy ought to be run, nor does the Bible address that either).

  • john werneken

    I read the link which (I think correctly) identifies power and safety as the two value ranges that actually determine which way one views scientific findings – as pro corporate technology or as pro personal security. Myself I am 100% in favor of concentrated power and technological advance for I feel I myself am more able to prosper in such an environment, and I am sorry for those of you who differ.

  • Pingback: Environmentalism and anti-science, how GMOs prove any ideological extremity leads to anti-science « Random Information

  • http://www.reneestephen.com Renee

    “We also aren’t 100 percent certain when global warming is going to arrive with a vengeance, much less do we know the particulars of numerous climate impacts. Should we wait for 100 percent certainty before proceeding with efforts to reduce greenhouse gases? ”

    Woah. That’s the exact opposite of the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle would specifically dicate in that case that we should not wait to proceed with efforts to reduce greehouse gasses.

  • Mick

    I don’t think it’s the science that is scaring people, it’s the fear of having agriculture dominated by large agribusiness companies who might claim that you are infringing on their intellectual property if their seed accidently grows on your land-as has happened in the US and Canada.

  • Don

    This unstated premise causing this conflict is the presumption of collective imperative; that all must do the same thing, guided by some unique revealed knowledge (science, Gaia, Baal, take your choice).
    You are free to eat or not eat GM foods; use or not use hydorcarbons; follow and worship any God you choose. The issue is compelling another entity to do ( or not do) what you want them to do (or not do) against their will.
    Do as you choose and leave the rest of us alone, but be warned; interference with individual freedom, regardless of its short term attractiveness, is a long term catatrophe. History is befouled by the bloated bodies of the proponents, and the victims, of collective imperatives.

  • Dr. Science

    Kloor cited South Park in his article. His research is solid.

  • m

    I liked this article – but your flippant classification of global warming skeptics smacks of political/journalistic snobbery.

    I am a skeptic because not a single solitary GW model can reconcile its *cough cough* “conclusions” with the most fundamental equation in physics.

    E=mc2.

    It has nothing to do with my politics or closing my mind to “a one world view”. GW does not exist as a function of man made efforts. It can’t…unless we embrace the concept of magic.

    Sadly – physics communities are often shouted down or have their funding “re-allocated” because GW brings in funding. Lots and lots of funding.

    We, as a society, have reverted to the dark ages in physics. Pun intended – too many people taking up physics as a science branch out to dark energy/dark matter studies.

    That being said – pollution and contamination – which are FAR different subjects worthy of debate and action – are totally ignorred by the “green nazis”.

    As far as Suzuki being trusted – that was a good one. You looked at the wrong survey – the survey by Ipsos has Suzuki just ahead of Jean Chretien as the least admirable Canadian.

    Cheers

  • Pingback: Nature News Blog: Green groups and scientists in anti-GM battle amid sun, cheese and folk music : Nature News Blog

  • http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org BillF

    The real question raised by Keith Kloor’s article is “Why don’t journalists do any independent research anymore?” His article is the usual collection of biotech industry-sponsored myths, as regurgitated by various know-nothing “experts” like Isobel Coleman. Kloor ignores both the legitimate scientific objections to genetically engineering food crops, and like most journalists understands nothing about their unsustainability in agricultural terms.

    First off, the agricultural side of things. The past, present and future of ag biotech is pesticide-promoting, herbicide-resistant GM crops. 85% of GM crops worldwide (by acreage) are herbicide-resistant, mostly Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR) crops, and herbicides represent 2/3 of pesticide use in the US. These crops do not increase yield, they do not “feed the world” any better than conventional crops do. The chief “advantage” of Roundup Ready crops is to help already large farmers get still bigger by reducing labor needs for weed control. That’s why RR crops are so predominant in industrialized megafarm agricultural systems (North and South America). Poor farmers cannot afford expensive GM seeds and herbicides that go with them. For more, see http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/GeneWatch/GeneWatchPage.aspx?pageId=46.

    These RR crop systems have dramatically increased Roundup (i.e. glyphosate) use, and thereby fostered an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds. On the same principle by which overused antibiotics breed resistant bugs. These resistant weeds are driving development of a host of new GM crops each resistant to one, two, three or more herbicides – as the “solution” to Roundup-resistant weeds. Weeds are rapidly evolving multiple herbicide resistance, in a futile and toxic chemical arms race. Entirely unsustainable, but quite profitable for the seed+pesticide=biotech companies. For how this has increased pesticide use, see http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.php?action=view&report_id=159.

    Dow is poised to introduce crops resistant to 2,4-D, the nasty dioxin-laced weedkiller that formed one component of Agent Orange used in Vietnam to defoliate rainforests. While 2,4-D was the less toxic of the two components (2,4,5-T was banned in 1978), it still contains appreciable levels of dioxins, which is likely why many epidemiology studies link 2,4-D exposure to higher rates of the deadly immune system cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (and perhaps other cancers) in farmers. 2,4-D has also shown endocrine disruption effects. 2,4-D corn and soy would dramatically increase use of this toxic weedkiller. See link to letter from 48 health professionals objecting to 2,4-D crops due to health concerns with vastly increased 2,4-D use: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/2012/04/26/usda-receives-over-365000-public-comments-opposing-approval-of-24-d-resistant-genetically-engineered-corn/.

    13 of 20 GM crops awaiting USDA approval are herbicide-resistant, by far the most active area of biotech-pesticide-seed industry R&D. See http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/not_reg.html.

    Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that pesticide companies have bought up about half the proprietary seed supply, patented the seeds, and in the case of Monsanto sued thousands of farmers for committing the “crime” of saving seeds, as farmers have done for millenia? See Monsanto vs. US Farmers at http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/campaign/genetically-engineered-food/crops/other-resources/monsanto-vs-u-s-farmers-report/.

    For some resources on how genetic engineering generates higher risks of harmful changes to food, and how inadequate our regulatory system is, see http://www.biotech-info.net/different_perspective.html and http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/BGER-PAPER.pdf.

    Too bad Keith decided not to do any meaningful research for his article, one would have expected better from a professor of journalism.

  • Mary

    @BillF: Every post on this topic goes round-and-round on stats, and that’s not worth it here. Just answer me two-ish questions:

    1. Are you opposed to conventionally-generated herbicide resistance (like Clearfield)? Why is that different?

    2. Is there any case of a GMO you would ever entertain? What would its criteria be?

  • http://www.biofortified.org Karl Haro von Mogel

    To attract the attention and ire of Bill Freese from the CFS means that you are getting your message out. While he is correct that herbicide-tolerant crops have not increased yield (nor decreased it), he is overlooking the fact that Bt crops have in fact increased yield on the farm. He knows this.
    He also bring up Agent Orange, which bring up imagery of a tragedy that not only misrepresents 2,4-D but is also emotionally manipulative. For a post on this, see this:
    http://www.biofortified.org/2012/03/misuse-of-a-vietnam-era-tragedy/
    You will notice Bill stopping by to dispute, but avoiding several direct questions.
    It is really quite unfortunate that people on the extremes on this issue cannot be more level-headed and come together to figure out places where they agree and disagree and move the discussion forward. Bill Freese has made some good comments about overuse of glyphosate-based weed control, but the constant adversarial tone is a turn-off. Certainly it would save more time and sweat to approach disagreements in a more constructive manner?
    With regard to the “higher risks of harmful changes to food”, I can simply cite these resources:
    http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/
    http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309092094
    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12804#toc
    and don’t forget the long-term and multi-generational feeding trial review:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691511006399

  • http://www.maureenogle.com Maureen Ogle

    Fascinating that so many of the “sources” cited here as places to find more information are sources with a specific political agenda (one side or the other). Meaning: it’s a bit useless to point people toward such sources and expect them to get better information when t hose sources are hellbent on repeating debunked BS as if it’s “fact.”

  • Still Green

    Did Discover Magazine get bought by the likes of Monsanto or something?

  • Bob Lewis

    There are only two drivers of human interest in the world today – Truth or Money – obviously two entirely incompatible factors.

    The result is a sod’s opera of opinion supported either by emotion or doctored science.

  • theoldman

    So a big complaint against GMO technology is that it can only be made and understood by a small number of people and, to date, a small number of companies, thus causing some sort of economical stranglehold on the rest of us.

    In that vein, given the ubiquity of computers, just how many people and how many companies can make and understand the intel processor family and their machine instruction sets? Maybe we should destroy their silicon foundries too and replace them with electronic tube (valves) makers?

    And, let’s not forget about steels and other metals and alloys. After all, only a few companies worldwide actually make the stuff ! Shut them down too and let’s all go back to wood and stone.

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The Crux

A collection of bright and big ideas about timely and important science from a community of experts.

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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