Agri-business News sprouts

Published on January 10th, 2012 | by Becky Striepe

5

Non GMO Doesn’t Mean Anti-Science





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Whenever we publish a piece around here talking about our issues with genetically engineered food, we get at least one comment (often from biotech lobbyists) bashing that author as being anti-science. I understand that there’s lots of money in biotechnology and these people are trying to protect their livelihood, but I kind of resent the implication that supporting the non GMO movement means I hate science.

I love science!

What I don’t love is being part of the GMO experiment against my will, especially when GMOs don’t seem to be delivering on many of their promises. One of the major talking points in the pro-GMO crowd is that genetically modified foods need fewer pesticides. While this might be true at first, over time farmers end up having to spray more and more as pesticide-resistant weeds (or super weeds) pop up.

Many of these big biotech firms have abysmal human rights records, too. Just ask an Indian cotton farmer.

I think science absolutely has a place in agriculture. Whether we’re talking about using technology to detect plant diseases or suss out plants that are better suited to grow in a world struggling with the effects of climate change, science and technology can definitely improve crop yeilds when used responsibly.

Over at Blue Living Ideas, Heather Carr wrote about scientists in New Mexico who are using gene sequencing to breed drought-resistant alfalfa. This isn’t genetically modified alfalfa. What’s they’re doing is looking at alfalfa plants’ genes, seeing which ones have the genes that make them more drought-tolerant, and planting those or cross-breeding them with other alfalfa plants. No tinkering with these plants on a genetic level. No inserting spider DNA or creating plants with built in pesticides that make their way into our bodies. Just science.

What are some other examples of science improving our food system without genetically modifying our food supply?

Image Credit: Sprout photo via Shutterstock

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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .



  • http://www.healthyplants.org Richard

    A couple of things Becky: Pesticide-resistant weeds can largely be prevented with the proper cycle of crop rotation and Best Management Practices; there have been no recorded cases of epidemic illness related to the consumption of GMOs; and, indeed, GMOs have put Nature into fast-forward by splicing valuable proteins into plants that prevent them from being devoured to insect infestation and drought. Remember, the pesticides that replaced organoposphates are pyrethins, molecules cultivated from the popular chrysanthemum plant. And, by the way, score another victory for GMOs in court with this recent ruling: http://bit.ly/zkVJtc Like it or not, GMOs are gaining traction and are a valuable tool to feed the masses because they have a scientific foundation and judges across the country are responding to this. BTW, do you know Jay Bookman, the editorial page editor at the Atlantica Journal-Constitution? Jay’s an old friend of mine. We worked many years ago in Las Vegas together as news reporters. You should check out his blog at the paper: very interesting if you like the current debates in the presidential election contest.

  • http://Lolailo.etsy.com Gloria

    I like what the University of Ohio is doing with cassava: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/cassgrnt.htm

  • Richard Wyman

    “Richard”, just because a judge made a decision doesn’t mean it was impartial. All three branches of our government are in the pockets of big ag. You will need to find a new argument to convince us.

  • http://www.healthyplants.org Richard

    “Wyman.” It’s really not my job to convince you of anything, since you see black helicopters connected to Big Ag around every corner. My suggestion: If you find Big Ag so suspicious and devious, stop buying its products. Grow your own food in your back yard. I would call that “standing by your convictions.”

  • GH

    Does anti-GMO mean anti-science? Well, does denying the existence of climate change make you anti-science? Does denying the reality of evolution make you anti-science? Does denying the safety and effectiveness of vaccines make you anti-science? Why or why not? Anti-GW people go on about the vast left wing conspiracy trying to make themselves powerful, creationists talk about how all the scientists are ideologues, and anti-vaxxers believe in a large corporate conspiracy to pollute their precious bodily fluids. Here’s the thing: if you’re going to argue against something without ground in science seemingly simply because something is scientific, then that is anti-science.

    I don’t see anyone complaining about the vast genetic alterations that occur with conventional breeding, or any of there other plant improvement methods, just genetic engineering. That is inconsistent. And I don’t see anyone who describes themselves as anti-GMO making a distinction between any individual GE crops. Very rarely do you see, for example, someone against herbicide tolerant soy and Bt cotton, yet supportive of virus resistant summer squash, drought resistant corn, or Golden Rice. There are so many GE crops in development and potential applications of the science. To treat them all the same, to oppose them all not on their merit but on their origin, that is dogmatic, and quite unscientific. I’ll also add that the dogma aspect is my issue with the concept of organic food. You should care what works, not what some asinine code deems in line with its natural fallacy’

    And the conspiracies, yeah, that’s kind of a giveaway as to if something is anti-science. GE crops are just Monsanto’s way of taking over the world, the proof that they cause all sorts of problems is being hidden, insert reference to the tobacco industry here, and everyone who disagrees is bought and paid for by Monsanto (unless they come to the conclusion that GE crops are bad, in which case any conflicts of interest are irrelevant, as is criticism if they did a poor study, like if they used the wrong test to determine if there were cry proteins in fetal blood and upon getting a number lower than the tests limit of detection published anyway), and even independent scientists at universities are in on it. Riiiight. Remind you of anything? When others do that (*cough* CLIMATEGATE), it is anti-intellectualism. Guess what, this is no different. Fact is, scientists around the world support genetic engineering. There are projects in Argentina, Canada, Japan, China, Malaysia, India, Israel, Nigeria, UK, France, Australia. And they’re all in on the conspiracy? Yep, that’s anti-science.

    Then there’s the confusion, probably purposeful, of legal/economic issues with scientific ones? GE crops are bad because they make Monsanto money? So? AS Adam Smith said, ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest’ Monsanto makes money. They probably wouldn’t if they weren’t selling something farmers wanted. Then GE crops are bad because they’re patented? So’s my all time favorite apple, SnowSweet. It isn’t GE, and patents may be the only reason it exists. But regardless of where you stand on this, it isn’t science. You can’t infer from this that the crops themselves are to blame in any way. Ironically, for some reason anti-GMO people oppose even the Rainbow papaya, developed by the University of Hawaii, and then turn around and say its all about the corporations. Sound pro-science to you? It doesn’t to me. Of course it would be nice if we funneled a lot more money into publicly funded research instead of cutting the ag budgets of universities (that’s what happened at mine anyway), but that’s another issue (and of course publicly funded research often can’t make ti to market anyway, but hey, keep demanding that the regulatory barriers for biotech crops be stricter, I’m sure Monsanto thanks you for snuffing out the competition).

    And anoterh thing, correlation does not equal causation. Anti-vaxxers say that as vaccine use as risen so has autism rates. They of course are anti-science. Anti-GMO people say the same thing. That is no better. Just throwing this one out there since heaven knows I’ve seen that line enough times.

    There’s also the issue of falsifiability. If an idea cannot be proven wrong, it is very unscientific. This is much more important that many realize (also the reason why creationism is not science). I believe GE crops are safe. To change my mind, please tell me what in GE crops makes them dangerous (is it a protein, secondary metabolite, and what is its structure and mode of action), why it is there (describe its genetic basis and/or the biochemical pathway that produces it), clear confirmed examples of them affecting people, and why it only appears in GE crops and not crops genetically modified through selective breeding, hybridization, wide crosses, mutageneisis, somaclonal variation, sport selection, induced polyploidy, transposons, etc and why we should fear all GE crops, regardless of the gene inserted (because even if you could prove that one GE crops is safe, that does not mean they all are any more than the Lenape potato means conventional breeding is unsafe). I can even point to examples of GE crops that were harmful, though they never made it even close to the market and their problems were scientifically discovered and described by the teams working on them (for example soy beans with a protein from Brazil nuts or fodder peas with a misfolded protein in Australia that potentially could have caused an immune response) So, that is how you can prove my position wrong, but the million dollar question is, how can you prove the anti-GE position wrong? What type and amount of evidence will cause the anti-GE crowd to accept that GE crops (either individual crops or the technique in general), are safe and promote their use? They never say, they just continuously reject findings that disagree with their view. .Like people perpetually demanding one more transition fossil, if you don’t have a clear way to be proven wrong, and if you use the shifting goalpost fallacy, then you’re anti-science. Of course safety is a bit of a strange animal, since it is defined as lack of harm, and while you can find a danger, you cannot find a safety, so as with anything there is always that small chance that any given thing will be dangerous, which is all them ore reason why clear criteria for what constitutes safety must be established (though given that it is highly unlikely that anyone will describe a harmful agent in GE crops, I highly doubt two virtually identical things will have exceptionally different properties).

    Let’s not say there’s no nuance here though. Are you anti-science if you question the wisdom of allowing a handful of corporations to have so much control over the food supply? Absolutely not. Are you anti-science if you point out real problems in agriculture, like resistant weeds and insects? Nope, provided you know that they are resistant not ‘super’, that they have occurred before in non-GE applications (like the Hessian flies being found to have overcome the resistance genes in wheat), that their existence means there was selection pressure to create them (in other words, that genetic engineering works and it works well), and that such problems have more to do with the management practices (for example, over-relying on single genes or herbicides, not having a good enough rotation, not planting the proper amount of refuge areas, ect). If you want to take the biodiversity angle, great, that is a very important issue, and one that does not receive enough attention…it just has nothing to do with genetic engineering.

    Just like if how if someone wants to make a rational criticism of a particular environmental policy to combat climate change or dispute a the connections of a proposed evolutionary phylogeny between two species, that does not make them anti-GW/evolution/science, but if they then go off about how there is no proof of either, it does. When Paul Offit voted against administering the smallpox vaccine, that didn’t put him in the same category as Jenny McCarthy, because Offit made a reasonable science based criticism of a particular issue, whereas McCarthy is simply unscientific. If you have rational criticisms to make about a particular aspect of genetic engineering, by all means, that is a good thing, and neither makes one anti-GE nor anti-science. If on the other hand you want to throw out the overwhelming amount of evidence showing that GE is safe (or rather at least as safe as any other plant improvement method) and instead cite some discredited nonsense that has little to no scientific explanation, and lump an entire aspect of plant improvement together as some exclusively corporate secret technique, then yes, you are anti-science. Personally, I don’t like the idea of biologically active compounds (of the so -called pharma crops) being engineered in wind pollinated food crops. That is a very bad idea. Stating this does not make me anti-GE, it means I have a criticism of a particular facet of GE. There’s a big difference, as supporting all GE crops is on the basis of their creation (as opposed to their properties) as nonsensical as opposing them all for that reason.

    You don’t want to be thought of as anti-science? Well, it will take more than just professing a love of science. Every other anti-science group out there says much the same. First, stop using bad science to back your stance. GE crops are not causing suicides, they have done what they are supposed to do, and they are not dangerous to human health. Those are facts. If you want to oppose GE crops, you must do so while acknowledging this, otherwise you might be anti-science. Second, have some nuance. Can you name a single GE crop you’re not against? Virus resistant grape rootstocks? Biofortified cassava? Low GI wheat? ‘No tears’ onions? Ripening delayed tomatoes? Enviropig? If you can’t, you’re focusing on the process not the product, and you might be anti-science. Third, drop the conspiracies. When Iran was the first country to implement genetically engineered rice. I somehow doubt they came to that decision based on Monsanto. When the University of Ghent in the Netherlands developed pathogen resistant potatoes, they weren’t doing it to make Monsanto look good (though in a true display of ignorance besting reason, when the trial was destroyed by vandals [who were unwilling to talk to the scientists] striking a blow to Monsanto was given as the reason), . When the National University of Singapore made GloFish, it wasn’t to sneakily get people used to GE organisms. When ANBIO in Brazil approved golden mosaic virus resistant beans, it wasn’t so people could point to non-corporate examples of GE crops to demonstrate that the technology is not corporately owned. Fact is, scientific consensus supports the use and safety of genetically engineered crops, just like is supports the fact that climate is changing and that organisms evolve. To call conspiracy might be anti-science. If you avoid those sorts of things, then no, you’re not anti-science. If you routinely incorporate discredited claims, dogma, and conspiracies into you’re arguments, well, that quite simple is exactly what it mean to be anti-science.

    So, is anti-GMO anti science? Yup., pretty much. Conspiracies, fallacies, non-falsifiability, discredited talking points, lack of nuance, inconsistencies, misunderstandings, vague references to unidentified toxins, passing social issues off as scientific ones, ect, and all directed at a particular field of science…there’s so many pages from the anti-science book that there’s not much else you can call it.

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