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« Pretty clever | Main | Sen. Paul has been scraping the bottom of the money barrel »

May 29, 2015

Comments

Peter G

Just about got through the first panelist when it stalled. But that was depressing. Funny too in a dark humor kind of way. If only chemtrails were real. And that were dispensing anti-psychotics and anti-paranoia drugs.

EcoLogicLee

Hi Phil

Will sit down and watch this tonight - unfortunately I have some *real* work I have to get today. But as it is somewhat on topic, I would like to point you and your readers to a post I wrote just yesterday on my blog http://ecologiclee.com/2015/05/28/anti-science-i-dont-think-so/
about how people (such as myself) who promote organic, sustainable, agriculture, and who are skeptical of the business models promoted by the use of GMOs and monocrop agriculture as "anti science" and lumping us together with anti-vaxers, global warming denialists, etc.

Peter G

The problem is that they are right. There is no evidence to support any of the allegations made about GMO crops. Nary a scintilla. Nada. Zip. And the fact is that GMO crops created for resistance to pests or drought or to provide higher yields will be essential in keeping people fed. It is also a fact that virtually no one using these techniques has any reason to include salmon DNA in dogs. That's a big red herring. Almost all such crops involve the genetic incorporation of characteristics found in one variety of a given plant into another. It's just faster to do it than using conventional techniques in most cases.

A brilliant example would be the success of Indian scientists of incorporating a particularly useful characteristic of a low yield rice strain into high yield varieties. The low yield strain had a remarkable property, it takes very little heat or cooking time to become edible. In a country where open fires are used to cook and deforestation is a big problem this crop could significantly reduce air pollution and the burning of hydrocarbons. Guess who is against this? Any scientific reason for opposition to this innovation? None at all.

I would go so far as to say that many of the technologies promoted as being the path to sustainability such as bio-diesel will be absolutely impossible to achieve without the use of recombinant DNA techniques to improve the yield of the organism that will produce that sustainable fuel.

Bob

This can't be answered simply. It would take a book. Phys.org is a reputable science site that provides some answers.

1. GMO foods are safe for human consumption.
2. GMO crops are safe for other animals.

Not proven: http://phys.org/news/2014-11-gmos.html

3. GMO crops increase crop yields and reduce pesticide use.

True in at least one case: http://phys.org/news/2014-11-rice-yield-percent-enabled-photosynthesis.html

4. And GMO crops are safe for the environment.

Not proven: http://phys.org/news/2014-01-superweeds-epidemic-spotlight-gmos.html

No scientist worth the title would ever issue an unqualified blanket statement, especially concerning an emerging field.

Peter G

Indeed. It is never possible to prove something might not happen.Very interesting links Bob. I know when I have question about a particular aspect of a given science I like to see what experts in that field have to say. So no, I don't value the opinion of someone whose background is completely unrelated like Social Sciences and Humanities when the question is biology. There are lots of example of successful GMO crops as per your second link. The last is the best. We don't know how to stop evolution. Superweeds are not produced by GMO crops. They are produced by the use of chemicals such as herbicides (ditto for pests and pesticides) that NEVER kill one hundred percent of either sort of pests and leave survivors whose offspring have some sort of genetic protection and pass those traits along to their heirs. Exactly the same as bacteria strains that become anti-biotic resistant. No one argues we shouldn't try to save lives with anti-biotics. Even though none has ever been produced that hasn't resulted in resistant bacterial strains emeerging within a decade of introduction. None. Ever.

Monoculture does leave crops exposed to widespread assault but no one knows how to stop that either and maintain acceptable yields. The bigger threat by far is aircraft and world travel that relocates foreign invaders of either plant or insect or viruses or bacteria at the drop of the landing gear. What could make that worse? Organically grown crops traded around the world that contain pests. A quick check for those who have doubts about whether or not they are paying for falsely labeled "organics", if it looks exactly like the regular stuff and contains no pests it is probably intentionally mislabeled.

Bob

Right you are. Everything is more complicated than we can pretend to know. If only more people understood science. Maybe in a future where there are no Republicans or conservatives ...

Bob

The discussion is definitely worth watching, P.M. I can remember when The History Channel was quite good. It might have even been too good because there were programs that were blunt in the way they presented history without regard for politics. I remember one series that included the famous skeptic Michael Shermer as a narrator and imagined how the phones and emails must be pounding THC and its sponsors even as I watched. That's probably why it's so milquetoast entertainment oriented now. Fundamentalists, whatever their other faults, almost always seem to be highly motivated.

EcoLogicLee

Peter,

You are correct that no one has said that we shouldn't try to save lives with anti-biotics.

But, many people in the field of medicine and microbiology have concluded that the indiscriminate over use of anti-biotics is harmful.

Similarly, I accept that there have absolutely been biotechnology and genetic engineering success stories. But, the current food system in the U.S. with the heavy emphasis on mono crop agriculture, industrial confined area feed lots, and heavy use of genetically engineered crops is not a sustainable model.

There has been evidence that integrated pest management techniques can provide similar yields in a more sustainable regime

EcoLogicLee

Peter G

2 things

1. One of the most widely used classes of GE crops are the "BT" variety of corn, soy, cotton, and rice. To produce these strains, Monsanto spliced genes from bacteria into the plant's DNA. These genes would have no natural vector into the plant DNA - this is NOT a case of speeding up a process that a classic breeding program could accomplish, and is far more like grafting a gene from a salmon into a dog.

2. I want to give you a hypothetical. Let's say that Monsanto is developing a promising new strain of soy. Their new strain increases yields per acre by 20% without the use of additional fertilizer or water. The ability to market this new strain is already priced into Monsanto stock. Now, assume one of the studies that Monsanto sponsored showed that this strain of soy is toxic to certain migratory birds, or say a class of pollinators such as a hummingbirds. What do you think Monsanto would do with the study?

I don't think the people at Monsanto are bad people. I have known (and worked with) scientists from Monsanto, Dow Agro, and Bayer (among others) I think that our current economic system gives tremendous incentives to those at the top to bury negative news till after their watch. (or at least to a later quarter)

I am not anti-science, but I trust Monsanto the same amount as I trust Exxon, GM, or Haliburton

Bob

EcoLogicLee, you addressed your reply to Peter, but I'd like to chip in an anecdote. I'm currently living in an exurb of Indianapolis and am about 2 miles from a large organic farm. It used to sell eggs from the house. One day two of them were at the door when I stopped and got nearly an hour lecture on organic farming techniques. They claimed it's possible to raise crops and animals without the use of any chemicals for pest control. Their farm seems to be thriving and they now have products in local stores that seem clearly superior in taste. According to them the art of farming was lost during the "green revolution" and rise of corporate farms in the 1970's but there's a major revival happening. Possibly organic farming would be another way to put people back to work, but the economics of scale would be difficult.

EcoLogicLee

Bob

Thanks for the reply. I happen to live in Northern California, surrounded by the organic revolution. I buy as much of my produce as I can from the organic vendors at our local farmers market on Sundays. For example, there is one organic apple farm http://www.prevedelli.com/ that sells from August to March - (I can't wait for them to come back) and you can unquestionably taste the difference. Can organic agriculture be scaled to industrial levels? Some are already doing it. I can tell you that our current food system is unsustainable, and that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is unhealthy

Bob

Thank you EcoLogicLee. One thing I noticed about the organic farm is how relatively clean it seemed. There were no strong smells and no swarms of flies. The farmers claimed their pigs, chickens and cattle only eat their natural diet. Supposedly they can't digest a lot of what's in commercial feed and that's what causes the nastiness. The SAD has given us an epidemic of pubescent kids with type II diabetes among other things, so I have to agree with you there.

Peter G

Which begs the question, what is a sustainable model? I agree that that over reliance on chemical solutions to pests or bacteria or anything can result in unintended consequences. Which is why the use of genetic modification of plants by any means makes sense since it reduces the recourse to such chemicals. Claims have been made that yields can be maintained and pest damage can be reduced by integrated pest management. Those claims are poorly supported. I would be more sympathetic to the aims of whole earth, small farm organic movement if they didn't spend most of their time trying to get exemptions from various food safety laws because these produce a disproportionately heavier burden on such small producers. There is no reason whatsoever to believe the food they produce is any safer, or more nutritious or less likely to become contaminated then food produced by industrial sized producers.

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