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Biotech and the Environment 296

Posted by michael
from the sharks-with-lasers-on-their-heads dept.
John Holkeboer writes: "Is biotech all that bad? The scourge celebre of environmentalists is gaining supporters right and left for nothing less than its environmental soundness. Genetically engineered corn requires less pesticide spray and is a renewable resource that could replace petroleum. For example, Dupont is developing "Sonora"- a stretch resistant fiber that can compete with polyester but isn't 100% petroleum-based. As one industry chemist points out, "Clearly, for the chemical industry, sustainable development is the future."" The Village Voice also has a good biotech article this week, talking about the genetically engineered bollworms that we mentioned a few months ago.
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Biotech and the Environment

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  • The big concern with geneticly modified plants shouldn't be the environmental worries, which are mostly red herrings. The concern should be business ethics, or lack therof, on the part of those using these plants. Monsanto makes plants that are sterile so that farmers must buy seed from Monsanto each year instead of using seed from their previous year's crop. This seems perfectly reasonable at first, and it would be if it stopped there. But it doesn't. Just because these plants don't breed doesn't mean they don't "try". When one farmer plants these crops, his neighbor's crops start getting cross-pollenated with the sterile Monsanto crops. So if your neighbor plants Monsanto, and you don't, some of your crops don't produce viable seeds either. The solution? Just buy Monsanto seed for your own farm next year instead of trying to grow from your own seed...
  • No natural enemies?

    BS.

    Every plant on Earth has at least one thing that will munch on it. Even something as noxious as the Tabacco plant has a insect foe. And I'm sure there will be fungi that attack it (hemp).

    I'm all for legalizing hemp for farm and industral use, but let's not blow smoke here.

    I know it's common on the marijuana pages to talk about how perfect hemp is, but you take hemp out into the wild and start planting fields of it, you will get insect and weed problems. If you take a wheat field in say...the Dakotas, where alot of people want to legalize commercial hemp, if you are in a grasshopper year, you will instantly get a grasshopper problem, and then there will be weeds like Canada Thistle, Blue Mustard or Kochia. And without proper weed control it will get ugly fast, even for hardy plants like hemp.
  • I'm not blowing smoke.

    I'm from a long line of farmers in north-central South Dakota, and in my 15 years on the farm, I have seen all kinds of claims about this crop or that crop that have few predators.

    And no matter what (sunflower, safflower, canola, 8 kinds of spring wheat, 5 kinds of winter wheat, seed corn, flax) when the grasshoppers came around...they were eaten. No matter what was planted...the weeds grew in. Hell a few times aphids even got so bad we had to buy ladybugs to take care of them.

    In southern South Dakota...down by Pine Ridge and Yankton Reservations...there is alot of wild hemp growing, and those areas with the hemp get the worst grasshopper infestations.

    My research is based on review of USDA weed and pest information and 15 years of farming in an area that wants hemp as a commercial crop.
  • From this article [purefood.org] in the BioDemocracy News:

    "On April 6, the government of Thailand issued a ban on all GE crops. On May 1, a similar ban came into effect in Sri Lanka. On March 19, a million farmers marched in New Delhi, calling for, among other things, an end to the World Trade Organization and a ban on genetic engineering and life form patents. In Japan and South Korea government inspectors have continued to test for StarLink and other unapproved varieties of GE foods, while importers are steadily turning away from the US and Canada to other suppliers such as Brazil, China, and Australia for GE-free corn, soybeans, and canola. On April 20 consumer groups in Japan called for a halt in all corn imports from the US. In the Philippines, a bitter debate has erupted over field-testing GE rice and corn varieties. Protests against GE cotton have erupted in Indonesia. Mandatory GE labeling laws begin coming into effect in New Zealand and Australia in July, while labeling laws are already being enforced in Japan and Korea. Labeling laws are under discussion in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, as well as in the Philippines and Taiwan. Perhaps most significant of all was the announcement on April 18 that the government of China was banning the cultivation of GE rice, corn, soy, and wheat-out of fear of losing its major export markets. Monsanto and the biotechnology industry had previously held out hope that China would be the "promised land" for biotech expansion. Despite all the hoopla about how great biotech is doing, the same three countries most heavily promoting the technology, the US, Canada, and Argentina, are still producing almost 99% of all GE crops."

    You can read more about it on the site.

    Fialar

  • The plant expends its energies on making pesticides, and not corn. So the yeild drops. So you need to plant more corn, clear more land, use more water, more agrichemicals ...

    If that's true, compare costs. Is it better to have more yield but having to dump synthetic pesticides or have a lesser yield of engineered plants?
    In the comparison, mind not only dollars but also the cost of energy and not renewable resources that go in pesticide making.
    __
  • Same goes for ignorant eco-extremism. If you don't count the dead malaria victims in adding up what DDT costs the environment, it isn't an honest assesment.
  • Of course you have no idea that "natural" plants are "bug-free" either -- which is where the analogy breaks down. There is a rather absurd meme floating around that says natural == good, and something that is "100% All-Natural" is wholesome. Makes me want to package up anthrax toxin and sell it to health food stores as "100% All Natural, Non-Genetically Modified Anthrax Extract"
  • No -- Mad Cow is caused by a prion, an infectious protein, similar to the agent of kuru (a disease that many human cannibals get). The Mad Cow prion probably has existed for thousands of years, but in general cows aren't cannibalistic, so it didn't spread much.
  • most of the people who are against these foods are the same idiots that advocate all these 100% natural herbs that are untested, unproven and may have dangerous side effects. For example St John's wort is a joke and ephedra has been linked to several deaths. So what if it's 100% natural? Poison ivy and toadstools are also natural. Plus they don't tell you that organic vegetables are grown in feces. Can someone say E coli (100% natural too)? Hope everything was sterilized properly
  • .. is the obvious one. Intellectual property law can turn biotech into a disaster for farmers, consumers, small time researchers, and universities. Of the other fears, I do think we should all relax. Yes, there's a risk of anaphilactic shock from GM food. But then again, we're starting to figure out what makes people hyperallergic in the first place, so the risk won't be around much longer. Frankenkudzus might spring up, but they are unlikely to be more trouble than run of the mill kudzus. The IP issues, however, are a headache and a half.

  • It may not surprise you that I am not a farmer, but I will assert that an agricultural boom in Cuba has more to do with economic incentives that with organic farming. I could be wrong.

    In 1994, they allowed farms to sell above-quota agricultural production. (CIA world factbook).

    I can't think of any subjects where it's a good idea to cite a communist country as positive example. Cuba is often cited as having excellent healthcare, which may be true, but doctors there are driving cabs and catering to tourists. Intrusive government leads to all sorts of absurdities, including here in the US.

    Even if the world could use only organic farming to feed everyone, it would be a bad idea, for the same reason Linux is a good idea. Resources allocated to agriculture are not available to other other endeavors, just as the money paid to microsoft in licensing and auting expenses is not available to develop your business, pay your workers, or god forbit, pay your shareholders.

    The cost may be marginal, but Microsoft has amassed tens of billions of dollars by sucking at the margins. Organic farmers are sucking at the margins to try to revive obsolete and inefficient ideologies about what farming should be. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with using fear as a marketing tool.

    I've enjoyed this discussion. It's hard to find someone who will disagree with me (without getting mad or name calling, etc) long enough to have an interesting discussion.

    When the gov't fixes education (by getting out of it, I propose), I will stand beside you in calling for full disclosure by Monsanto, et al. As I always say, what you don't know can't hurt you, unless it contradicts what you do know.


    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • Yes, I believe that GM foods have something to do with feeding the poor.

    Do you actually believe that the biotech companies have posters on the wall saying 'What natural system can we fuck up today?'



    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • I can't say I disagree with you on either issue. I'm oppossed to patents, and I'm opposed to public research. So we come to the same place with different paths.

    Perhaps you meant to say no representation without taxation? That I can agree with. I would personally stop taxing corporations, though.



    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • I hearby license my motto under the General Evil License and donate the copyright to the Free Evil Foundation.

    With apologies to RMS,

    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • I read that already.

    I trust the scientists hired by biotech companies at least as much (and generally more) as I trust those hired by the biotech scaremongers. Everyone has an agenda, everyone has bias, everyone is trying to sell something. The difference is that the Biotech companies actually have an interest in limiting their liability, whereas the scaremongers, when shown to be wrong, will move on to the next scare, with no repercussions amongst the fanatics that support them.


    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • Mr. Pusztai should release his data if he wants to be taken seriously.

    ---

    http://www.nationalpost.com/search/story.html?f= /s tories/20010220/479847.html

    Arpad Pusztai's 150-second interview on British television two years ago left the biotechnology industry reeling.

    The research scientist, now visting Canada, likened consumers to guinea pigs and said genetically modified (GM) food on supermarket shelves was not properly tested.

    A media frenzy followed. Pusztai's work was widely condemned, and he was fired from the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland.

    Last week, Pusztai, with his wife and colleague, Susan Bardocz, spoke about their research in Toronto, Guelph and Ottawa. They were hosted by Canada's anti-biotech triangle of power: Greenpeace, the Council of Canadians and Ann Clark, a Guelph professor and GM opponent.

    "We would like to give an account of our actual research," said Pusztai, "not all that has been said about it."

    But details of his experiments are hidden in a Catch-22. Pusztai won't use the Internet to show his work. "If something goes on a Web site, it will be difficult to publish [in a scientific journal]," he said.

    When asked if he will ever publish his complete work, he said "that would be a very uphill job," partly because the Rowett institute's Web site briefly displayed it, "against our wishes."

    "It is in the public domain," added Bardocz, "but no one has access to it."

    Meanwhile, Pusztai and Bardocz are on a speaking tour, accusing biotech companies of keeping safety test results under lock and key.

    "Where is the transparency?" he asked.

    "We are feeling very concerned about GM foods on the market today," said Bardocz. Their concern grew out of research with GM potatoes that contain a lectin gene. Lectins are proteins naturally produced in plants that have insecticidal properties.

    The effects of feeding these potatoes to rats were being studied, and a small part of the research was published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

    Pusztai is most criticized for blaming the "construct" -- the extra bits of DNA put into the plant along with the lectin gene -- for causing cell proliferation in the rat intestine. That is not damage or disease in itself, but such proliferation is bad in toxicological terms.

    The construct includes a "promoter": a switch to make the lectin gene work and a marker gene for antibiotic resistance.

    The idea that this construct DNA could be toxic has been seized upon by anti-GM activists, because most GM crops now eaten were made with a similar construct. Many of Pusztai's colleagues found the idea laughable.

    He admits his experiment lacked an important control. Potatoes containing only the construct DNA -- minus the lectin gene -- should have been fed to the rats. He said he planned such a test, but was fired before he could do it.

    Where is the science to clarify Pusztai's findings?

    The co-author of the Lancet article, Stanley Ewen, said last week there is no continuing research on the potatoes in question.

    "That would have been the logical way to silence us," said Bardocz.

    Other studies have emerged that mimic Pusztai's. A vice-president of Peking University, Zhang-Liang Chen, fed GM peppers and tomatoes to rats. Researchers at the Japanese Institute of Health Sciences fed GM soybeans to rats and mice. No adverse effects were found in either study.

    Bardocz said two groups in Norway have funding to repeat Pusztai's experiments with GM corn and GM soya, but have been delayed. "The problem is getting the parent lines [for the potatoes into which the lectin gene had been put] from the biotech companies," she said. "The Norwegian government had to request the material."

    Karen Dodds, director general of the Office of Biotechnology and Science at Health Canada, does not seem worried. On Feb. 4, the Royal Society of Canada issued a 263-page report after almost a year of work. It provides advice for making sure new food products being developed through biotechnology are safe.

    The report offers many suggestions to improve Canada's regulatory system, but importantly, "they were clear they had no concerns about the GM foods that have been approved to date," said Dodds.

    Interpretation of the Royal Society's report will continue as new research comes to light.

    Pusztai is doubtless right on one count. "In the end this question should be decided by scientific methods," he said. "People can come up with other explanations than ours, but there has to be a debate."


    Surfing the net and other cliches...

  • I'm no friend of the USPTO, but I think a lot of people here need to stop and think. These 'giant monoliths' are trying to make money by solving real problems. Millions of blind kids in undeveloped countries would love to be able to choose to buy "natural" foods, but they can't afford it, and they wouldn't be able to read the label anyway because they're blind from Vitamin A deff. Who's going to solve this problem so the next generation doesn't go blind? It's not going to be John Q. Organic Farmer. It's going to be a 'giant monolith' who wants to make money by solving real problems experienced by real people whose lives are just as valuable as yours.



    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • Nothing is safe, therefore nothing can be proven to be safe.

    The dose makes the poison. Biotech foods have, much like natural foods, poisons in them. For every substance, there is an amount of that substance that, ingested, will kill you. Likewise there is an amount that will kill you if injected, there is an amount that will kill you if it falls on your head, and there is an amount that will kill you if inhaled.

    Forget the idea that we can live without biotech. We can't. There's not enough land. Agricultural advances in the past century have been truely amazing, but they will be dwarfed by the advances of the next century.

    Then think about what happens when even the tiniest risk is associated with a product. Suddenly, in the eyes of the courts, every instance of that problem is worth millions of dollars. In the first successful Phen-fen case, the plaintiffs cardiologist testified that her heart valve problems predated her use of Phen-fen. But she was awarded millions of dollars. Every day I see commercials with lawyers trolling for PPA cases, based on a miniscule theoretical risk.

    Many people don't have the perspective or the skills necessary to make judgements on risk, especially small ones. This can be seen quite directly by observing the fact that there are cars in the parking lot at Fresh Fields.

    Perhaps someday we'll reintroduce math as a subject in schools, and people will be able to intellegently analyze risk. When they get old enough to serve on juries, companies might make more information available. Until then, it would just be stupid.



    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • There are valid questions to ask about any new product, and they should be answered.

    But there are huge disincintives toward admitting to risk. Someone will bring up the 'Precautionary Principle' and sink you no matter how theoretical the risk. You'll be sued by every nut with condition X that your product can theoretically cause. Your best bet is to get the product out and get people used to it, before it becomes known that it might cause an extra cancer per million people per year. That's not evil.

    If you want to see honest scientific debate, start with tort reform so juries can't award absurd damages, education reform so people understand how to think about science, and political reform so that corporations don't have to buy off congress to stay in business.



    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • And the great irony of our times is that the prospect of the developing world approaching the standard of living of the developed world horrifies some people and delights others.

    I would propose that international agribusiness, driven by making money, knows they have much to gain from a richer third world. Golden rice will not solve all the problems, but it will help solve some.



    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • I read that one bright team had put the venom producing genes from scorpions into a plant...

    Where? And why? (Antivenom production? Or perhaps the venom has some possible useful medical value?)

    no accountability to anyone here, no labelling of food

    We've had that since old-school biotech (i.e. artificial selection and crossbreeding). They don't label what they've sprayed on the plants. They don't label which farm grew the plants. They don't even label which varieties of plants they use most of the time. All of which I'd kind of like to know. A label showing "GMO" would tell me nothing, as the material so far seems to be nutritionally identical to "Naturally Inbred" plants. A label showing something like "MegaAgro SuperCorn Hybrid", on the other hand, would allow people to avoid buying food produced by companies they disapprove of, or to avoid varieties (GMO or not) that they don't want.

    I understand that actually more pesticide is used, rather than less

    Nope. You're mixing up two different popular modifications. LESS pesticide ("Pest"-killer chemicals, i.e. for insects, mites, etc.) is indiscriminately sprayed on plants engineered to produce the natural BT toxin (which is an extremely "specific" toxin, each variety of which only affects a narrow range of insects. To us mammals, it's just another nutritive protein to digest).

    You're thinking of the Herbicide-resistant plants ("Roudup[tm] Ready" crops). I suspect the herbicides used are relatively harmless to animals [the herbicide acts against the "plant version" of a particular amino-acid-producing gene - "Roundup Ready" plants have a bacterial version of the gene added that isn't crippled by the herbicide. I imagine any animal with a similar gene would be similarly immune.)

    This might breed "Roundup Resistant" weeds in the long run, though.

    Biotech is being forced upon us...

    So was potty training...

    "Big Agribusiness" and monoculture farming ARE both legitimate concerns. "Biotech", in and of itself, is just another tool, and really no more of a concern than "tractors". Focussing on "Biotech" as if it were the supreme boogieman of Things Of Concern In Modern Agriculture is just taking attention AWAY from the broader concerns that, in my opinion, need to be dealt with.


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  • I still think that you (and many, many others) are focussing on the Biotech Boogieman to such an extent that the actual problems you have brought up, none of which originate in Biotechnology, are being addressed!

    Agree re labelling - I just want to be able to choose.

    Obviously a "policy" issue rather than a biotech issue. Also, as I mentioned above, the big, panicked push is to get "GMO" lables on food...which is not informative at all. Unfortunately, if screaming activists got their "GMO" lable, I suspect they'd be content with it, and we'd never get INFORMATIVE labelling (even if they WEREN'T content with it, after rushing the "GMO" label requirement through I'd bet it'd be difficult to get our overpaid legislators to do the work to put through a more informative labelling bill any time soon...). I hear "label genetically modified foods!" all the time. I never hear "Label the food as to it's origin and chemicals used on it!"

    Roundup (glyphosate) has been linked to cancer already, so anything that increases its use is probably not good

    While I wouldn't rule out the possibility (after all, to paraphrase the scientist who studied saccharin, "EVERYTHING causes cancer in sufficient quantities"), I'd want to see some followup studies before panicking. From the article you mention:
    The findings are based on a population-based case-control study conducted in Sweden between 1987 - 1990. The necessary data was ascertained by a series of comprehensive questionnaires and follow-up telephone interviews. Dr. Hardell and Dr. Eriksson found that 'exposure to herbicides and fungicides resulted in significantly increased risks for NHL'.[emphasis added]
    Without digging up the paper itself it's hard to tell, but questionnaires and phone interviews don't strike me as a real accurate way to measure exposure to a specific agricultural chemical. ("Question 1:Have you been exposed to at least 1 microgram of glyphosphate per kilogram of body weight from your food? Question 2: Did it give you Non-Hodgkins Lymphona?...".). I find it difficult to imagine such data even addressing exposure from FOOD accurately (though it might reveal problems from direct exposure, i.e. the guys actually SPRAYING the stuff.) Does the paper break down the risks they found in their sample in sweden 10 years ago by specific chemicals? The implication of the summary is that the conclusions apply to agricultural chemicals in general.

    Finally, of course, the problem here isn't Biotech, it's the use (and possibly abuse) of agricultural chemicals. I hear "ban biotech!", but I don't hear "Reduce Glyphosphate Use!". The "Biotech Boogieman" is a distraction from the problem that actually needs to be addressed. (Studies have shown that violent video games and/or television may promote violent behavior. Should we ban them? Or should viewers/players be required to "label" themselves with a clearly displayed indication of their "Violent Media Exposure Index" or something, so that we can avoid these potentially dangerous individuals?)

    (p.s. any pointers to other, more recent glyphosphate studies? You've got me curious now...)

    but likelihood of problems/non-self-erasing mutation seems much greater with point gene alteration, especially when introduced into a monoculture.

    How so? Honestly, I feel a lot more comfortable with the controlled addition of a single gene which produces a well known and well characterized product, especially in a monoculture which is easily identified (PCR is our friend). Plus, since monocultures are generally more susceptible to problems, it's more likely to get itself wiped out or have the gene mutate into dormancy than to somehow produce something worrisome...


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  • Hey, I *like* Olestra.

    You're not the only one. I'd just about KILL for Olestra Crunchy Cheetohs...

    There are two, or possibly three ways to get digestive, uh, problems from Olestra. One is psychosomatics, as you say. The other is to eat an entire bag of the stuff all in one sitting and not eat anything else (Olestra IS, in effect, an "unabsorbed" oil-like substance ["sucrose polyester" - yum!], so if it's a major proportion of your food you might very well have a problem...but then, eating an entire bag of REGULAR chips in one sitting and nothing else might have a similar effect anyway...). There may or may not be the third case of just being susceptible to it, but I don't imagine that's a majority of the population by any means...

    Unfortunately, the "Olestra causes explosive diarrhea" meme has been floating around so long people think it's an Absolute Truth...


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  • It's the same as the analogy of the ol' butterfly flapping its wings in SoCal and causing tsunamis in Japan.

    I've heard this many times, but it's as ludicrous today as it was the first day I heard it. In general, a change in a system like the weather system will dissipate. If you run a computer simulation of the weather, and insert an extra butterfly, I guarantee you won't find a typhoon as a result. If you insert 200 butterflies, you still won't find a typhoon. It takes a good degree of coordinated energy to build up a sizeable structure, such as a typhoon. The second law of thermodynamics should tell you this. Entropy increases. If you put a butterfly in a closed box for a few minutes, have it flap its wings, and then take it out, the air in the box will settle to an equilibrium, it will not develop a whirlpool.

    As for the ecosystem, it has survived for a hell of a long time. It won't be destroyed by a butterfly, or by a crop with a pesticide in it. The wonderful thing about life is its ability to adapt, so while we should take steps to make sure genetically modified food is precisely and only what we intend for it to be, there is no need to be fearful that a small change will blow itself out of proportion.
  • So, there are no adverse affects to humans from herbicides and pesticides at all? Is that your claim? If I look at a package of pesticide it won't have any warnings on it because it isn't toxic right? You should perhaps read up a little bit on the history of the industry. The current chemical-oriented focus in farming is actually a biproduct of the military buildup of WWII and after. Factories which had produced explosives for bombs during WWII converted to producing nitrogen-based fertilizer after the war. The compounds are remarkably similar. A lot of pesticides are related to chemical warfare compounds. Don't believe me? Here's a link documenting which pesticides the FBI belives to be most likely to be used by a terrorist in a chemical warfare attack: FBI contacts for suspicious pesticide/OP nerve gas incidents [state.co.us] Or perhaps this article in which the Pentagon claims the level of sarin gas troops were exposed to in the Persian Gulf is safe because it's below the limit established for pesticide workers? Pentagon notifying 100,000 soldiers of possible nerve gas exposure [cnn.com]? Or perhaps when CNN simply says Pesticide similar to nerve gas [cnn.com] you will be convinced?

    So, you can claim I am overreacting by calling herbicide and pesticdes poisons. But, in fact, it is you who is underreacting.

    Giving the example of penicillin isn't the best either. After all, it is a controlled substance which you can only obtain upon the recommendation of an expert. And he can only give you permission to use it because it has been thru years of extensive testing to determine safe ways to use it. As soon as biotech firms sign up to have their GMO's tested as extensively as penicillin has been, I'll stop worrying so much about it.
  • Actually, one of the main uses of genetic engineering so far is to make plants produce poison. Or were you under the impression that herbicides and pesticides were not poisonous?

    The current spin the biotech industry is just that: spin. They are trying as hard as they can to put a happy smiley face on bioengineered food. At the same time, they are fighting against all efforts at regulation, testing, and labeling. That's where the problem is. Not that the technology is used at all, but that they want to be able to produce these organisms, release them into the wild, and sell them as food without any regulatory oversight at all.

    That's what really gets people upset. These companies will tell you how wonderful and necessary GMOs are, and then in the next breath tell you how it's just like selective breeding and hence should not be regulated. Then take a look at their patent portfolios, and how they require farmers to license the seeds instead of buying them. Go read the Rambus article just above this one, because the biotech industry is full of the same greed and duplicity. These people are a bunch of greedy liars and cannot be trusted with our food supply.
  • Worse, the pests typically evolve defenses and move right along, creating a need for more, newer and better pesticides.

    This will happen with GM plants as well. One of the more worrying aspects of this is that it has effects that extend beyond the farms planting GM crops. One of the few pesticides that is (sparingly) used by many organic farmers is called BT. Well, a gene to produce this chemical is one of the common genes that is commonly inserted into GM plants. The biotech companies doing this estimate that there will be insects that have become tolerant of this chemical within 20 years. This is not seen as a big deal to the biotech companies because they plan on introducing new varieties that will kill the new tolerant insects. But in the mean time they will have eliminated one of the only pesticides available to organic farmers.

  • Hey, my first thought was "Those anti-geneticists and environmentalists each need their own planets to run the way that they want. Play well with others or get off this planet."

    "All these worlds are yours..."

  • That would be called something like a toxic reflex. It still doesn't harm your DNA, just poisons you. :P

    Personally, given the choice, I'm sticking with "natural" foods. I can wash any pesticide off the plant, it's generally cheap, and I know I'm not contributing to some giant monolith's goals of global domination (in evil voice).

  • Nononono. Genetically engineered != selective breeding. It's cut and paste of genetic material from one organism into another.

    As for affecting humans, AFAIK your stomach attempts to digest anything you throw at it, GE or not. We do not mutate from GE foods, nor do I see a way to (unless, of course, some viral properties are inadvertantly introduced into the specimen, etc etc).

    The biggest concerns are replacement of native/natural foilage/plants/veggies/fruits/animals (you get the idea). If a plant is *too* successful, it can overtake and outgrow anything else. This is bad. Come on, apply the Evil Monopoly of Microsoft mentality. One Crop Bad. Mutliple Crops/breeds/variety Good.

    The problem for the Greens seems to be that the companies are like Microsoft in another way: Profit. Most GE crops are also rendered sterile, you can't get viable seed from them. If you clone, distribute, or take rootstock, they sue you to kingdom come (hmm.. does an organism's genetic sequence fall under the DMCA?). You are to buy, plant, harvest, then buy again. Captive market. With normal crops, you plan right, you have seed for next year. What happens if GE plant 4, upon which your entire country has converted into production under dubious sponsership by some multinational corporation (think Nike and the like), ends up being replaced by super GE plant 4 PLUS, at a premium cost, that the country/people are not willing to pay? "Tough shit, guy, we're not selling GE plant 4 anymore." You've locked yourself into a perpetual upgrade->buy path. And because you've not been growing "natural" foods, you don't have stock to rebuild with and are at the mercy of said Multinational corporation. Not a pleasant thought.

    If you're unwilling to allow one corporation to tell you what you can and can't run on your computer, why are many of you willing to allow one company to limit your choices at the supermarket? Why are you wiling to allow one company to dictate policy in another country?

    Do you even know what's going on in other countries in the name of "commercialism" (not capitalism, although some may mistake it as such)? Those "loons" protesting the WTO and World Bank just might not be "loons" after all. Educate yourself, get your facts straight, then ask yourself if you feel comfortable the way things are.

    As for myself, I say go for it. GE all you fucking want. But, from the consumer end, caveat emptor: sometimes you get what you pay for. At least be informed of the options.

  • Your correction: They actually splice genes that cause the plant to create chemical x, found to repel insects. Think cut and paste.

    Most people seem to be unaware of the distinction between selective breeding and *real* genetic modification.

    I don't see anything really wrong with it.

  • Think Open Source vs. Proprietary.

    Open Source: the natural stuff. You can selectively breed it for certain traits, nurture it, store it, give it to your friends, etc.

    Proprietary: "We modified the source code of the corn, you're forbidden to see the changes we made and god help you if you reverse engineer it. We own it, you buy it, shut the hell up and get back in line."

    As long as Open Source is still a viable option, I don't mind Proprietary stuff.

  • Nobody creating genetically modified crops is doing it to make the world a better place, they are doing it for $$$. This is _very_ important.

    What does this mean :

    Well, there might be less pesticide, but the field next door has a bunch of plants that allow the use of more herbicide.

    As usual, the customer is scum, so the plants will be sterile so that you ALWAYS have to buy the seed from me (and patents let's me be a monopoly for 17+ years).

    I'm going to do as little testing as I possibly can, because it's expensive. So you can rest assured if there is going to be a problem, you're not going to see it until I've released my GMO in large quantities.

    I'm also going to come up with really neat products to end world hunger and they are going to go to the highest bidder. Naturally the people who need these products are the ones that can least afford them - tought sh*t.

    If I do f$ck things up royally you're going to be left holding the bag because it's going to be loose and their is no way we're getting it back under control.

    If you think about how badly we're f*cking up the planet with _simple_ things like coal and fertilizer, just wait until something goes wrong on the genetic side.

  • Right on. I love science and progress as much of the next guy, but you've outlined the precise reasons why GM should be kept in the lab for another 50 years at least. We are likely to screw it up, we can't fix it if we do, and the folks who are likely to screw it up have only their profit margins in mind. Bad scenario.

    Boss of nothin. Big deal.
    Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.
  • There was a recent PBS show on GMOs (I forget if it was Nova, or Viewpoint, whatever).

    In general GMOs is a big can of worms that has potentially unknowable disastrous side effects if we don't keep it under the strictest of control. For instance, the new corn is great, but now it kills of a rare type of butterfly. Or how about that case where a farmer's GMO corn somehow crossbreed with a neighboring farmer's corn, and now the biotech company wants the second farmer to pay for the corn he is using. Also, farmers are off pesticides, but guess what? The same people who were selling them pesticides are now selling them corn which cannot reproduce, so they are again still beholding to that company, and will have to rebuy ("relicense"?) the right to grow that type of corn every year. How do we keep GMOs from interacting with other pure organisms? How can we know every possible outcome, for something nature has never encountered? We can't. Once the cat's out of the bag you can't put it back in.

    On the other side though, and a side I can sympathize with, are poorer nations who *need* food. They *need* GMOs so they don't starve and die. Now that I understand (set aside a separate whole rant on globalization). So, as usual we have to strike a balance here. So those who really need GMOs can get them, and those who just think they're the latest greatest thing aren't using them recklessly (um, is anybody as annoyed as me about the whole "antibacterial" this and "antibacterial" that (can anybody say "resistence")? I can't even come up with a funny quip, because I'm sure the product already exists!).
  • Actually as I understand it, the effect of BT bacteria (besides the vegitative growth; GM plants including BT toxin genes don't actually make the bacteria) is caused by the crystals of delta-endotoxin they produce, which when dissolved act by paralyzing the the digestive system and making the digestive membranes more porous. One of Bt toxins' most desirable characteristic is its selectivity; only certain insects are susceptible to the delta-endotoxin. Scientists have identified at least 29 different crystals and delta-endotoxins. Each is effective against specific insects. The bacteria, spores, and their products have been used for approximately 50 years. Little or no resistance has been reported to date.
  • For example, there is a GE form of sea grass that was made more robust for use in fish tanks. People change their tanks and flush the water. The sea grass flows out to sea.

    This grass is now taking over huge areas of underwater shorescapes and pushing out all natural life in certian areas. They are trying to contain it, but don't have much of a chance.

    Sorry. That wasn't a genetically modified grass at all. Just one that wasn't native to the area, actually, it could have been one of several types of aquarium plants this has happened with, but no one has bothered to genetically modify aquarium plants. Your example doesn't wash, no matter how many times you swear it is "true".

  • BT has been used for about 50 years with little or no apparent resistance developing.
  • 1) Bt-Corn affects in particular all species in the order Lepidoptera (moths,butterflys), not just ones that attack corn, hense the effect on the Monarch butterfly whose chief food source, milkweed, is found mostly in and around corn fields. And as alluded to earlier, when pollenating, the poison is released 24x7 making it both very effective but at the same time more likely to give rise to super-tolerant strains.

    As shown in actual testing, however, the monarch butterflies do better alongside those fields, because other pesticides aren't used, and not enough pollen ends up on the milkweed to be a toxic dose. The BT toxins that actually have effects are the ones in the leaves and stalks that the targeted destructive insects eat. FUD, pure and simple.

    4) It appears that people are not concerned enough about the consequences if they mess up. In particular, there is this one company this wants to make a super-salmon. Their projections indicate that in the coming years, aquaculture will need to be 7 times more productive. They have modified salmon to not stop growing in the winter as normal salmon do. The result is salmon that are ready 4 times faster. But normal salmon don't grow in the winter because if they did, they would die from lack of food in the wild. Now take into account observation shows that salmon 25% larger are 400% more likely to mate. One mathematical model predicts that if enough of these super-salmon escape into the wild (many 1000's do every year), the potential is that all salmon could be wiped out. Sobering
    Think, if you can. How are the modified salmon going to pass on their modified genes when they instinctually return to the same penning area they were spawned and grown in, after having died in the wild from winter starvation, and being unable to spawn at all, because they're sterilized?
  • I want a Hypo-Allergenic Cat!

    Gasp! You terribly selfish, unthinking person! What if its pollen somehow got into the food supply? We could end up with - shudder - hypo-allergenic peanuts!

  • "Might promote cancer" isn't even a valid test, really. Doses of beta-carotine, a vitamin-A source, have been shown to cause cancer to grow faster. Well, so might many nutrients, right? So should we all stop growing/eating yellow veggies? Go back to the white carrots that were all that existed up until the last few hundred years, until the mutation/natural gene transfer from other plant took place, ban other carotene producing food plants, and accept the blindness from vitamin deficencies that would result? Simple fact is that most plants contain cancer-causing chemicals with much greater activity than the miniscule probabilities some people have conniptions over, probably in combination with other substances that balance the effect out.
  • A little while back, the environmental activist industry was really up in arms about "BT" corn, on the grounds that it would harm Monarch butterflies that might encounter stray pollen from nearby corn that landed on their food plant, milkweed.

    Anyone else notice the resounding silence from those activists now that the actual effect has been found to be beneficial to the butterflies because fewer chemical insecticides are used on those fields?

  • I suspect THC-free hemp would be either less resistant to hot weather or insect damage than the resinous kind. The gunk is probably there for a reason.

    Nevertheless, it would be a great promotional feature for hemp advocates that the large amount of pollen generated into the environment would make it difficult or impossible to grow cannabis which could be used for illegal drug purposes, at least outside. In fact, this could be true of hemp developed by ordinary plant breeding techniques without using genetic engineering.

    I would expect that sincere advocates of hemp for industrial purposes instead of drug use will be highly positive about this advantage...

  • I don't know how precise salmon are when finding a place to spawn, nor when that location is imprinted, I would imagine they are not always 100% accurate. How else would salmon tend to spread?

    From the evidence provided by the genetic diversity of salmon from different spawning streams, and west coast salmon spawning streams where they've been wiped out and in which they haven't been known to return except by the release of salmon hatched and raised in the same waters, the anwser would seem to be "extremely slowly".

    If a super-salmon escapes into the wild and if that salmon is fertile and if that salmon manages to spawn and if the model predicts correctly, then Atlantic salmon become extinct.

    Unfortunately, that (Purdue University) model's hypothesis, as far as I can find using web resources, seems to be have been backed up only by an experiment using livebearing Japanese fish confined to aquaria,. The purported reason the fish would die out is based on a general unfitness that seems totally unrelated to seasonal starvation - that starvation, which would tend to eliminate the GM salmon, doesn't seem to have been included in the Purdue study, merely a hypothesized overall increase in adult size that hasn't been actually observed in the GM salmon - if they merely grow faster to return to fresh water to spawn somewhat earlier, but at the same size, they aren't going to receive the greatly preferential attention of the females needed to support the hypothesis. And I can't find any mention of the genetic barrier caused by Salmon homing instincts, porous or otherwise, in the accounts of the Purdue study at all!

    So, what we are talking about is the possibility that over the century or so that many salmon generations would take, plus the extended peoriod that it would take for them to migrate into different breeding populations, that no one would bother to continue raising the hatchery born salmon that already make up a good portion of the population (much of the rest being already extinct), or that they would blindly use fish with the GM modification for the breeding stock. Given that premise there might be a real, though very long-term, risk, but not including it is like ignoring inconvenient-to-include realities to build a model that says that anyone on a railroad train might suffocate if it went over forty miles an hour. But that doesn't mean it it is necessarily going to happen, or even that there is a real "risk" of it.

  • I find it hard to understand how THC-free hemp would damage other plants by the transfer of DNA that would presumably simply be missing the gene for THC production.

    With the obvious exception that it would dilute or eliminate the THC content of cannabis grown for illegal use. Is that what you are worried about?

  • Ah. I suspect that sterility genes would tend to be bred out of the populations of other plants. The pesticide resistance could be more of a problem, but you can grow crops with mechanical plowing-under or other removal techniques. I still think the mere deletion of a gene or two that non-THC hemp would require would be so likely to occur naturally that it isn't worth worrying about.

    Well, usually - I would personally be more worried about a crop disease that preyed on a particular GM or natural plant mutation wiping out a whole season of an important crop, should the advantage of that mutation to farmers make it nearly all of what is grown (a "monoculture"). Something like this happened to the corn crop in the USA back in 1970-1971 when the popular "Texas Male Sterile" (natural mutation) corn and its hybrids turned out to be very susceptable to a new strain of corn leaf blight, and 80-100% of some fields were lost - there was about a billion 1970 dollars of damage involved. There would be a similar danger that disease could hit a lot of the industrial hemp if it became a monoculture as well.

  • Usually the resulting plants are steril. That forces Farmers to always buy their seed from the company. This means if something were to happen to the company or the secret method of creating them was lost, then we'd be out of luck. If they produced crops that were not steril so people could keep some of the better producting one for next years seed, then I wouldn't mind. As always, it comes down to $$$$.
  • by rkent (73434)
    but another part of me thinks - and this is kinda harsh - that famine is just our planet's way of saying "we've got too many people here."

    Hey! Good point! Guess that explains why famines happen mostly in sparsely populated areas! Cuz I guess the earth just "knows" that there are too many people in China and so decides to take out a few million in a less important area like East Africa.

    ---

  • It's a great thing, until something goes wrong. The problem is, when something goes wrong how do you handle it? Genetically Engineer a spider to catch the GE fly we swallowed?

    For example, there is a GE form of sea grass that was made more robust for use in fish tanks. People change their tanks and flush the water. The sea grass flows out to sea.

    This grass is now taking over huge areas of underwater shorescapes and pushing out all natural life in certian areas. They are trying to contain it, but don't have much of a chance.

    (Sorry about the lack of details on that one, by the way, but it is true).

    The only issue is really how do large US corporations get yet more of the worlds money. That's really "America's" only motivation to do anything any more...

  • I still don't understand why there's so much cash spent on bio-engineering new strains of plants when hemp is a perfectly good as-is solution!

    1: because not everyone wants to wear hemp. If i want to wear something that feels like a burlap sack, i will, but most people dont like that.

    2:hemp doesnt have the same properties as other materials. You dont get the same dyeability, look, feel etc as you might get with something else. No matter how hard you try, hemp is not going to have the same properties as silk. (unless it were bioengineered, ironically)

    3: in most states, wearing something made of hemp is probable cause for an officer to search your person. Think about that the next time youre hiding your stash in your hemp pants.

  • Please read my comment BEFORE replying. This pesticides has been in use for 2000 years, that *IS* a pretty damn long term solution to me.
  • There's often a sense that we really don't understand what might happen if we genetically modify crops--and that really, anything might happen.

    Realistically, though, it's not that hard to figure out where the problems are likely to be. We are modifying organisms by modifying their DNA; it's not like this has never happened before. There are millions of different species (all with different DNA) containing quadrillions of individuals (all with different DNA) full of mutations, chromosomal rearrangements, gene transfer, and so on. Just by looking around at the world as it is now, we can get a pretty good idea of the parameters we're dealing with.

    So, basically, most of the "Who knows what will happen!!" arguments are about as cogent as the "Linux is evil"-type FUD. Most people may not know what will happen, but experts in molecular biology, ecology, evolution, and so on, probably have a very good idea.

    The real problem with GM crops isn't that we might accidentally create some world-conquering monster bug/plant/etc.. Evolution's tried that already. It generally doesn't work. So what are the problems?

    One set of problems involves making resistant plants so you can blast everything else to death. It's the GM technology that makes this possible, but the GMness isn't the problem: it's the strategy of destroying everything but your-favorite-monoculture-crop. Related is releasing an organism in an inappropriate place to try to control a problem. This isn't at all a new problem to GM crops.

    Another set of problems involves being really, really shortsighted, like with BT corn. BT is nice because it degrades rapidly and is only toxic to certain classes of insects. So we'll produce BT in all our crop plants and (through natural mechanisms) select for resistant insects. In five or ten years, BT will be utterly useless. Now doesn't that sound like a good idea!

    I think allergies are really overblown as a problem. Yes, maybe a fish gene inserted into wheat might affect someone who, fantastically unluckily, happened to be allergic to just that gene product. But those people would quickly learn that they are allergic to fish and wheat and eat accordingly. No big deal. And perhaps some really common antigens (e.g. in peanuts) can be GMed out of the crops. That could be really helpful.

    Also, fears of rampant spreading of unusual genes really confuses me. The reason we've got all these big fancy labs is that genes don't spread well outside of the organisms they are in. That's why we have to modify them in the first place! So how, exactly, would they escape?

    Anyway, we should of course be careful, but between good background knowledge and some common sense, GM isn't that scary.

  • As mentioned earlier, NOVA and Frontline did a great program back in April on GM Foods. The page is here [pbs.org]. As I remember, the main points were:

    1) Bt-Corn affects in particular all species in the order Lepidoptera (moths,butterflys), not just ones that attack corn, hense the effect on the Monarch butterfly whose chief food source, milkweed, is found mostly in and around corn fields. And as alluded to earlier, when pollenating, the poison is released 24x7 making it both very effective but at the same time more likely to give rise to super-tolerant strains.

    2) Other new crops in-test, planned, or already here include vitamin-A-containing (Golden) rice, aluminum-fixating corn, virus resistant sweet potatos, and hepititus-vaccine-carrying bannanas.

    3) Although the US could opt not to use GM-foods, though at this point it would be problematic, and pay for food at an increased price, this is not viable for the 3rd world.

    4) It appears that people are not concerned enough about the consequences if they mess up. In particular, there is this one company this wants to make a super-salmon. Their projections indicate that in the coming years, aquaculture will need to be 7 times more productive. They have modified salmon to not stop growing in the winter as normal salmon do. The result is salmon that are ready 4 times faster. But normal salmon don't grow in the winter because if they did, they would die from lack of food in the wild. Now take into account observation shows that salmon 25% larger are 400% more likely to mate. One mathematical model predicts that if enough of these super-salmon escape into the wild (many 1000's do every year), the potential is that all salmon could be wiped out. Sobering

  • I've been following all debates regarding biotechnologies and, whether for or against, I haven't seen any argument that isn't at best a sophism -- or at worst that is proving mankind is making progress at becoming more stupid everyday. Most of times only statistics are invoked, of course contradicting each other. All studies turn out having been financed by either part and are laughable. And, an argument for the pro side that somewhat discredits the cons, no real inconvenient being caused by biotechnologies' products were found, either on human health or on the environment (I've seen many of them, all bogus, and whatever the one you have in mind I know it and I checked it out). An example of misconception from the con side (they're the easiest to demolish) is about gene manipulations, being "unnatural" because of crossings between plants and animals, or between species. These idiots shall definitively follow a genetics course ; they would learn, for instance, that "finding a fish's gene in a cat" isn't at all uncommon and besides, the statement itself doesn't make any sense because there is nothing such as a "fish's gene" (that would be like calling each structure in a program a gene and matches between executables unnatural crossing, for instance ;). As for the pro side, there is just too much money at sake even to listen to their absolute absence of arguments. The only thing that is worth paying attention on their side is, after all, the technological stuff (but don't tell me their first worry is to feed little hungry africans).
  • One issue I haven't seen mentioned that biologists worry about is something called "genetic diversity." If every major planting of, say, corn in the entire world was one of only a handful of genetically enhanced varieties, some individual strain of bacteria could wipe out massive portions of our food supply. That we have hundreds of different varieties of the world's major food crops gives us some measure of protection against disease and pests. Though this argument by no means says "genetic engineering is bad," it cautions us to worry about planting millions of acres of the latest higher-yield disease-resistant beautiful-flower-producing anything. The continued advances in agriculture over the centuries have already decreased the genetic diversity of our food supply (and have obviously proved a reasonable tradeoff), but genetic engineering has the potential to make the problem much worse.

  • On the other hand, there are a zillion "head" websites touting the stuff. The question is why? The answer must be that they think getting drugless hemp legalized will somehow get them better access to Thai Stick or something.

    I did a little research, and it seems only 5 white, rich men care about the civil rights that everyone deserves. On the other hand, there are all of those whiney minority "people" blathering on about civil rights. I suppose they think that if they had the same rights as the rest of us, they'd just have an easier time abusing the welfare system!

    It has nothing to do with legalizing drugs. Hemp has been a valuable plant of many uses for hundreds of years. Skim The Emperor Wears No Clothes [jackherer.com]. It lists all of the accepted uses of Hemp prior to criminalization. It is still used extensively worldwide. Can you think of an argument against industrial hemp other than some company's profit margin?

    The point is, hemp is a solution we have now, and have had for thousands of years. It's cheap, it's incredibly useful, it's been proven safe over and over again, and is available now. Can you think of one thing that is wrong with that? Or would you rather be eating more pesticidal residues, drinking water with more impurities, and breathing dirtier air?

    If you're going to bring drugs into this, that would be a whole different bucket of fish. America is wasting it's money on fighting the "War on Drugs," achieving no real progress, and doing nothing but harming a lot of people who didn't commit any serious crime. 90% of all marijuana related arrests are for possession, not intent to sell or anything above that.

    So it's stronger than cotton. Is it stronger than flax or jute or nylon and as soft as cotton? Because maybe that's why it's not in demand as a fiber. As-scrungy alternatives may exist.

    It's stronger than flax and jute (I have no data re: nylon), and softer than cotton.

  • Do some more research before you blow smoke yourself. While there is always something to munch on something else, hemp has very few predators (be them insect, fungus or animal) compared to most of the commercial crops we grow now, including corn (be it GM or not!).
  • That's exactly what I was going to say!

    Hemp has no natural enemies, other than the DEA and the US government. It has no insect pests, and thus needs no pesticides. Not only that, hemp probably requires less resources (fertilizer and space) than corn, be it a biotech or non-biotech strain.

    Let me remind/educate those that do not know: industrial hemp does not contain enough cannaboids to produce a high. So, no, people could not smoke their t-shirt.

    Yet, the DEA itself as admitted that 94-97% of all Cannabis plants it has siezed since the 1960s were of wild or industrial strains that had no value as a recreational drug!

    It's actually quite curious that it's DuPont coming forth with these "innovative" life forms, when they had something to do with the illegalization of industrial hemp, promoting it, to expand and support their own business.

    I suggest those of you interested in truly sustainable food, fuel, building products, paper, and medicine have a look at Jack Herer's Book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. [jackherer.com] The most relevant chapter in this context is Chapter 2 [jackherer.com].

    So, biotech may not be "all that bad," as far as we know now. But why bother pouring so much money into problems where we already have a completely natural, safe, agriculturally, economically, and environmentally wise solution in Hemp? So companies like DuPont can make money. At the expense of both consumers and non-consumers. It's disgusting.

    Hemp already can replace petroleum. Hemp is renewable. But as long as our minds see naught but the vision of totalitarian agriculture and capitalism, we will not utilize any truly renewable resources. Think of it like open source- with biotech crop crops, they own the rights to the plants, which often produce sterile seeds. It is against the license to distribute seeds. Whereas, with Hemp, it's basically open source- you grow a plant, reuse it's seed. It renews itself, and makes sure that we don't rely on one patent holding company who decides what and when to sell us.

  • Industrial hemp as we know it now is almost THC free (useless for it's drug value, you'd have to smoke a tollbooth sized joint, but then the smoke would most likely suffocate you), is high yield, grows fast, and is 2 to 3 times stronger than cotton.
  • Um, well, the real issue is... you know those plants you've been eating? we DO NOT (sorry, had to repeat the capitalization for fun ; ) have any long term data on what you've been eating does to humans. Why? Because genes change almost every generation. Its through the magic of these things called "mutations". Genetic engineering is no different than the random mutations we're seing here, except for one thing - *its controlled!*. We actually have a clue about what's going to happen, instead of just a random fluctuation. Please, think about these things before you have a knee-jerk reaction.

    Uhh... Why does having an organism changed by a design employing incomplete knowledge seem so safe to you? Genetic engineering is a lot different than natural mutations. If only because it is controlled. The way we implement and practice genetic engineering is in a way that encourages and enforces monoculture. Meaning, that if there is something dangerous it effects all the more people, animals, and ecosystems. And... I know you love hemp... don't we all, you can build bridges out of it, cure cancer, establish lasting peace in the middle east... but, sorry, it doesn't work for everything ;) It is a plant. Plain and simple. Yes, it has some uses that have been neglected because of paranoia. But, sorry, it doesn't do everything. There are millions of species out there with admirable traits, and hemp is just one.

    Do you think it's justified to spend billions of dollars to engineer an organism to solve problems that Hemp already does? Is it worth it? Add into the mix the fact that we don't know that these GMOs aren't safe? But we think they're probably safe, so that must be good enough, right?

    No. At best, it's a waste of time. At worst, it could be a dangerous waste of time.

  • Uhh...

    First of all, trying something once isn't definitive. Anyone who has any semblence of rational or scientific thought in their head knows that. All FUD.

    Aside that, Hempseed is one of the most complete foodstuffs known to humanity. From The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Chapter 2: [jackherer.com]

    "Hempseed can be pressed for its highly nutritious vegetable oil, which contains the highest amount of essential fatty acids in trhe plant kingdom. These essential oils are responsible for our immune responses and clear the arteries of cholesterol and plaque. "

  • You just repeated what the parent post said. Congratulations, you added *nothing new* to the conversation []!

    In fact, you win the *grand prize* for completely skipping over the issues raised when adding *nothing new*. Tell him what he missed, Bob!

    (announcer's voice):
    He completely missed the fact that he's arguing against controlled fluctuations in genetics in favor of random fluctuation of genetics!

    He completely missed the fact that seeds produced by different companies have competed with each other since commercialism in agriculture became common!

    He completely missed the fact that there is almost no genetic variation between seeds produced commercially from an individual manufacturer already!

    And, as a *Grand Prize*, he completely missed the fact that hemp *does not do everything* in the world!!!!

    Congratulations, we are completely unenlightened by your post!!!!! :)

    (oh, and in case you couldn't tell, I was being sarcastic ;) )

    - Rei
  • Actually, as a general rule, genetic modifications to an edible plant are from something else edible, such as the soybeans which contain a gene from brazil nuts. If the corn in question here is the corn I'm familiar with, it produces its own pesticide - but one found in a common soil bacteria - Bacillus thuringiensis. We've been eating that pesticide for quite a while already in "natural" foods - organic farmers apply the bacterium to the undersides of leaves to combat insects "naturally". Here's a page on it:

    http://www.ag.usask.ca/cofa/departments/hort/horti nfo/pests/bt.html [usask.ca]

    - Rei
  • According to this [unc.edu], the ideal average number of non-neutral mutations per "breeding" is just under one. This is due to the fact that perhaps 99.9% of mutations are harmful, so the population will degenerate if there is more than this; but, having too much less than that, and the population will fall behind in adapting to change. So, every time you breed a plant (typically once or more per growing season), you tend to change one gene in that plant - probably for the worse.

    With genetic engineering, however, you average one or two genes per change - about two breedings of a normal plant. But, these "breedings" have much, much higher odds of being beneficial. The plant is then treated as a normal "selective breeding" plant, in that it has to meet the standards of "outperforming all other similar plants". The same criterea are applied to it as are applied to non-GE plants to see if its better - health risks, disease-resistance, yield, taste (if applicable), etc. It has to exceed them, notably, or noone will buy it. It falls under the same "desirability" criteria that most plants do - however, it didn't require the massive numbers of iterative breedings to get the specific desired major beneficial mutation.

    Regardless, all we're dealing with here, at the core, is "change". The genetics are changing. Not incredibly rapidly. As a general rule, a genetic modification does one thing: adds a new protien to a plant. Sure, the new protien will interact with other protiens, etc, and there will be some unpredictability - but it will be *far*, *far* more predictable than a random new protien.

    - Rei

    P.S. - that was a much better argued post than the last person who replied - I actually had to look up mutation rates for this one ;)
  • Your first paragraph was flawed by the basic tenet I've been trying to convey: The plants we've been eating for thousands of years - they're *not* the same plants we've been eating for thousands of years.

    Have you ever seen the difference between our commercial crops and wild crops? Oh my god, have we ever distorted nature hideously! We produce 1-lb onions regularly - have you ever seen a wild onion? Everything, even berries (my grandfather has both domestic and wild blackberries in his yard, the domestics grew about 5 times larger with the same care - and that's nothing compared to most species we've bred), have become so changed from their original forms, considering them to be the same species oftentimes isn't even realistic (they're generally not considered the same subspecies). We get different "varieties" of seeds for sale each year, developed the previous year from the crops of two years ago. Those were developed from the crops 3 years ago, etc. So, no. The genes in commercial food crops have gone on a radically divergent tangent from wild genes, in one of the fastest, most artificially-imposed evolutionary systems, and are radically different, on the scale of thousands of genes difference - far more than the typical gene-or-two difference for most genetically engineered crops. And, in this case, we *know what protien the new gene produces*.

    - Rei
  • As I don't know you well enough to yet determine if you're a satyrist, I'll assume that you're not, so I have a reason to post ;)

    Um, well, the real issue is... you know those plants you've been eating? we DO NOT (sorry, had to repeat the capitalization for fun ; ) have any long term data on what you've been eating does to humans. Why? Because genes change almost every generation. Its through the magic of these things called "mutations". Genetic engineering is no different than the random mutations we're seing here, except for one thing - *its controlled!*. We actually have a clue about what's going to happen, instead of just a random fluctuation. Please, think about these things before you have a knee-jerk reaction.

    And... I know you love hemp... don't we all, you can build bridges out of it, cure cancer, establish lasting peace in the middle east... but, sorry, it doesn't work for everything ;) It is a plant. Plain and simple. Yes, it has some uses that have been neglected because of paranoia. But, sorry, it doesn't do everything. There are millions of species out there with admirable traits, and hemp is just one.

    - Rei
  • by Rei (128717)
    so that's what killed them...

    - Rei
  • No, no, no... the wars that will begin are the ones started by the DARK APPLEPOLISHER, and they will be full of brightly colored bouncy balls. Haven't you ever played Koules [paru.cas.cz]?

    - Rei

  • Hey, I *like* Olestra.

    I don't react badly to it, I'm not the sort of person who gets psychosomatics (the majority of Olestra sickness), and, hey, I like to be thin ;) Besides, it makes those Wow!(tm) chips taste just like normal chips (now, if only they had more selections...

    - Rei
  • Mad Cow Disease has nothing to do with DNA. It is a prion [sciam.com] which induces the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy [mad-cow.org]. Basicly, it is a self-replicating protien - very well the same sort of thing which may have started life in the first place. In evolutionary terms, it is a transient - it cannot adapt or even defend itself from other things that adapt to it - but, meanwhile, it can run rampage. It causes damage by burrowing into nervous tissue, actually leaving visible holes in the brain. "Feeding beef to beef for a few generations" doesn't create the prion - but, it enabled it to spread, as the cows that ate infected cow remains contracted it themselves. It has nothing to do with genetic engineering - however, the cure possibly could.

    - Rei
  • For every one that we've created, there are hundreds of biological plagues that have spread beyond their habitat through actions of people (the worst of them being the filling and emptying of ballast tanks by cargo ships). A "hearty plant" hardly compares, say, to the shapeshifting protist that's currently attacking some estuaries on our east coast (I really wish I had a link, it made the cover of Popular Science... I believe it was last year). That was a scary critter...

    - Rei
  • It's simple realy:

    Just label all products which are or derive from (in any way) GM plants with a big clear label and let the consumer decide it.

    Given the choice between GM-including and GM-free products i will choose the later. Believers that GM stuff is safer can choose the GM-including products.

    Then again, since this is not in the best interest of the Genetics companies, and i long ago stoped believing that legislation was done in the best interest of the majority of people (the consumers), i doubt this will ever happen ...

  • It's not me...you really are that drunk, right? I don't want to be gratuitously insulting, but not a lot of what you say makes sense. If I'm missing something, please explain it to me.
  • Heh! By GE plant, I take it you mean a Genetically Engineered Plant (of the fruit, vegetable, etc. variety) and not a General Electric Plant (of the Nuclear Power variety)...
  • Well, now I get confused.

    How many times have you seen a little sunburst on the upper right corner with the words NEW! IMPROVED!! in it? These sorts of label mods seem to happen all the time. Hell, on a box of cereal the labels seem to change weekly.

    So all of a sudden it's too expensive to put a label on the package that says "NOW WITH FISH GENES!" on the side of your box of Wheaties? I don't get it...
  • I would contend that it is not for you to decide what is and is not reasonable for another to base his decision on.
  • I am soundly against for-profit genetic bioengineering. Here is the reason:
    http://cbc.ca/cgi-bin/templates/view.cgi?/news/200 1/06/21/gm_canola010621 [cbc.ca]

    This is the inquiry I sent and replies I received in return from the two principles in the article, CFIA and monsanto.

    To the CBC, Monsanto and CFIA I sent:

    Please see the article filed by the CBC located at http://cbc.ca/cgi-bin/templates/view.cgi?/news/200 1/06/21/gm_canola010621.

    A quote by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which is unaccredited in the article, says "advised farmers to "use another chemical." The CFIA is suggesting a protocol be followed, may I please have a copy? Can I have the name/number and/or email address of the agent of the CFIA that the quote should be accredited to, and/or someone who is familiar with the protocol.

    In addition, the article says "Monsanto, which created one of the GM canola strains, says that if farmers' call the company, they'll send out a team to manually pull up the weeds. " Exactly which variety (brand name/part number) of Canola is being described in the article? What policy statement, press release or otherwise did the agent (who?) of Monsanto makes this statement. Who is the contact person for the program? What is the procedure to request Monsanto to have 'a team to manually pull up the weeds'?

    If you are unable to provide this information, any constructive direction is appreciated. The staff member from CBC Online who filed the report would probably be very helpfull.

    Thank you all for your help.

    Best Regards, MEMEMEMEME xxx.xxx.xxxx Day xxx.xxx.xxxx Eve

    CC: rfiset-Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Nepean, Ontario. bbilmer-Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Doug Kirkaldy-CBC, Senior Editor, CBC Online. Ken Wolff-CBC, Executive Producer, CBC Online, Toronto, Ontario. Lee Anne Murphy-PR, monsanto, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Trish Jordan-PR, monsanto, Winnipeg, Manitoba.



    To which I received this reply from a Monsanto rep, after I had requested that the other (TJordan), whom I had spoke with on the phone, send me the details of the procedure to remove these rogue plants - she agreed, but did not fullfill her commitment:

    Mr xxxx:

    In reference to your questions concerning Monsanto, I would offer the following:

    If you are a farm customer of Monsanto, I would encourage you to contact your local farm business representative for assistance.

    For general information on the agronomy of canola, I would refer you to information available from provincial government extension personnel, or the Canola Council of Canada.

    Dr LA Murphy
    Director, Public and Industry Affairs
    Monsanto Canada
    Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada
    R3T 4H8
    Phone: 204-985-1011
    Fax: 204-488-9599



    Later I received this fairly disarming message from the CFIA:

    Your e-mail to Bart Bilmer was passed onto me. I was interviewed by Kelly Crowe, CBC National TV News, last week, over the telephone, about reports of RoundUp-Ready canola volunteers cropping up in farmers fields. I explained that volunteers are a widespread phenomenon in farming, they are a nuisance and that there is not much new in this story. The only difference is that farmers cannot use RoundUp herbicide to get rid of these particular volunteers, but can deal with them through other agronomic practises, including using other herbicides. I discussed that the CFIA has more or less warned developers and growers of these sort of new crops that careful agronomic methods should be employed when cultivating them, to minimize the occurrance of multiple herbicide tolerant volunteers, that of course, would be trickier, to get rid of. I do not have any particular protocols at my fingertips - these issues are agronomic in nature and do not pose any significant increase in environmental risks.

    I hope this is of some help in clarifying the background to this story. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further information/elaboration.

    Stephen Yarrow, Ph.D.
    National Manager
    Plant Biosafety Office
    CFIA

    I am not wholly satisfied. Although this specific and distinct event does not pose any immediate and dire circumstance, the opportunity for this to get out of control (our reliance on few GMO-herbicide/pesticide varieties - forgoing all else) is obvious. Basically, the attitude from monsanto is "piss off" and the CFIA is "nothing to see here, move along".

    If you notice above, you'll see I said "for profit" bio-engineering. When we see people motivated by selfishness and greed beholden to shareholders and *not* to citizens we have irresponsible decisions made. Monsanto does not ultimately care about farmers, food, environment, or people, really, in the end, their decisions are always tainted by myopic greed. We cannot entrust such a potentially explosive technology to capitalists - they *will* compromise safety (and whatever else) for profit. And the "whatever else" things are the only ones that are important! I would be willing to accept bioengineering from non-profits because I believe they can be trusted to be transparent, follow the scientific method and allow peer-review. Furthermore, I sincerely believe a non-profit would not be motivated to steer their work towards anything except food-supply and food-safety. Simple.

    What I would like to do is get my hands on some of this canola and help it become a greater nuisance - and Invite Monsanto to come and pick it up.. bastards. How are ORGANIC farmers going to deal with these rogue-invasive canola plants? I hope monsanto has lots of people to do pulling...

    I invite anyone concerned with this to contact Monsanto directly:

    monsanto CANADA, WINNIPEG Manitoba (204)985-1000

    lee anne murphy
    lee.anne.murphy@monsanto.com

    trish jordan, monsanto
    trish.jordan@monsanto.com
  • Most of the discussion I've seen so far has centered on what the harnfull health effects bio-engineered crops will have on people. No one has mentioned some of the other possibilities that GM crops introduce. For exmaple, imagine a great new strain of GM corn that grows in conditions normal corn can't. The corn is introduced into poor nation and helps the plight of the poor and hungry people. But wait, there's one condition. This new corn doesn't produce seeds. In fact, you can't plant the corn unless you by it from one of the huge agri-business corporations (and some of you think Microsoft in a monopoly... you should check out the agriculture business) and pay them royalties for the patented genes. Pretty soon these parts of the world beoome dependent on the huge multinational for the only crop the can withstand the draught/blight/pests/etc of the region...
  • by Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @04:05PM (#124421) Homepage
    But, most genetically engineered crops are not sufficiently tested for their effects on animal and plant life.

    Okay, I can no longer hold back...

    What, exactly, counts as "sufficient" testing?

    After all, for all we know, perhaps certain varieties of the funky mutant grasses we call "corn" which were produced with old-school biotech (rather than controlled gene-splicing) might cause cancer in susceptible people. Has anybody tested this? How much testing would be "sufficient" to prove that it's "safe"?

    Testing these effects is left up to the public. So they can sell them, cause everyone to get cancer, and then have the public pay for this.

    There are two really popular changes that are done to food plants now. One is to produce plants that make an insecticidal protein. The other is to produce plants that carry a version of an amino-acid producing gene that isn't affected by herbicides like "Roundup" that target it.

    There is only one, narrow difference between either of these and the plants they were made from.

    In the first case, the plant produces a protein that paralyzes the digestive system of a particular type of insect [presumably one that likes to eat the plant in question]. This is the same natural protein that organic farmers often simply spray on the plants. Either way, the protein HAS been tested, and is harmless to all but the group of insects that it affects.
    Summary - It's been tested. It's safe.

    In the other case, the "herbicide resistant" gene produces the same thing that the herbicide-vulnerable version of the gene does. The only way these genes could be harmful is if the original gene was also harmful.
    Summary - What is there to test here, besides whether or not plants in general might give us cancer?

    I can understand the concerns and fear of the fast pace of technology, but most of the real problems, to me, seem to be a matter of people (the way businesses operate, the way some activists and journalists spread fear, lack of education, etc.) and not the technologies involved...


    ---
  • by vik (17857) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @02:33PM (#124422) Homepage Journal
    The downside of having GE plants make their own pesitices is that they don't do it very well. The plant expends its energies on making pesticides, and not corn. So the yeild drops. So you need to plant more corn, clear more land, use more water, more agrichemicals ...

    Oh, and the "natural" pesticide is still in the corn when you harvest it. Bummer.

    Vik :v)

  • by mrgoat (143500) <mdafds@y a h o o .com> on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @02:59PM (#124423) Homepage
    The problems I have with GM (genetically modified) crops and other goodies is that it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle once it is out. Market and managerial pressures to get a product to consumers do not take into account that nobody really knows what kind of long term effect these modications will have.

    My girlfriend has been working as a biotechnician since she graduated last year. She follows this kind of stuff with a great deal of interest, because it is a new field, and changes in regulation can play havoc with the job market. Both at her own job, and in the field of biotech in general, she has been stunned at times by the lack of foresight and sense that have gone into some projects. GM corn that was supposed to be in controlled outdoor testing has already found its way into other farmers' fields and into the general grain crop for consumption. On a more serious note, there is also a doctor in NY who has altered the DNA of human eggs to "correct a fertility problem inherited from the mothers". Yeah, and he did this in a way that those 12 children will pass those "corrected markers" onto any children they have as well - too bad we don't understand what else those markers may do, or if they were engineered correctly. (both of these from New Scientist).

    For those IT geeks out there who need some perspective on this, think of all those shops you have been in where people have come up with spaghetti code, kludged barely working packages together, built and implemented poorly conceived of network designs, all at the behest of management who wants their damned bonus at all costs, that big push Push PUSH to get something (anything) into production. Think of the folks you have worked with who graduated from 4, 6 or 8 years of training, only to do the minimum to get by at their desk. Most of the folks doing GM work are absolutely no different in this regard. Difference is, there will be no "version 2.1b" in the wilds out there. You let it out, the chance for any kind of revision is small.

    So, great, GM corn and babies...think of them as first generation products that you can NEVER upgrade. Even better, realize that some of those "easter eggs" that people innocently put into code today might end up very deadly later on.

    mrgoat
  • by ErikTheRed (162431) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @02:47PM (#124424) Homepage
    Flame away, mod down, see if I give a rat's ass!

    I live out in San Diego where the Bio2001 conference is being held. Anti-BioTech protesters were promising a scene on the scale of the Seattle WTO mess. Instead, all they got were a few hundred people dressed up as carrots and such spouting quotes along the lines of "Ummm... genetimicully engineered corn is bad, m'kay?" Now they're bitching that they authorities were so intimidating that no one showed up. Right.

    Hey, I'm all for being concerned about the environment, but the people we've seen here in San Diego are pretty much a bunch of luddites that are opposed to anything more modern than living in teepees and hunting with spears, and people who enjoy being concerned about something trendy. If there is a group out there with legitimate, researched, specific scientic concerns, they don't seem to be represented (but please reply if you know of any; I'd like to hear what they have to say). And don't even start with Greenpeace - their big super-surprise media event was to go into a grocery store and slap a few demeaning stickers on genetically altered foodstuffs while having their pictures taken.
  • by Bluesee (173416) <michaelpatrickkenny@ya h o o.com> on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @04:14PM (#124425)
    Sorry to post fast without reading a lot, but if it hasn't been mentioned yet, Greenpeace was apparently going around grocery stores in San Diego putting labels on foods that were using genetically altered soy and corn. A representative was grilled on a stupid talk show [kfi640.com] (okay, I was listening, but it was hard), and her points included the fact that genetically-engineered plants may mean MORE pesticides in some instances if you consider that some farmers are palavering over so-called 'RoundUp-Ready' crops that are engineered to survive severe applications of herbicide so that farmers can hose the land with green death and only the soy plants will remain. So there is that issue.

    The thing that chafes my hide is that our government claims to be a free-market advocate, but tilts the playing field by not allowing consumers the choice between GE and non-GE food through proper labeling. For that matter, think if you were faced with a decision to buy meat from cannibal cows or meat from grain-only cows. NOW how much would you pay? I'd pay $10/lb for grain-only beef. My point is that proper labeling IS in the interests of a free market. Especially when you consider that 93% of all consumers (quoth the Greenpeacer on the show) prefer labelling of GE products, and 57% would not buy GE food if they could avoid it. In as much as the jury is still out on whether or not there are allergens associated with GE products, I think it would be prudent of our government to submit to the will of the people in this instance and require labelling.

    I still prefer to get my milk at Trader Joe's where they proudly proclaim it to be rBST-free! That is the free market folks! Create an industry that is centered around providing healthier food by requiring the manipulators of food to 'fess up!

    Gotta fly...
  • by Bluesee (173416) <michaelpatrickkenny@ya h o o.com> on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @08:49PM (#124426)
    You really don't get the point of the argument, do you?

    It's an analogy about how, in chaos theory, small perturbations to a system can lead to great changes due to basic instabilities inherent within the system. No one is stupid enough to say that butterflies can ship up a whirlwind, that is just ludicrous.

    I think you're taking it too literally. You must think about this. Introduction of rabbits into Australia started as a small thing; maybe a dozen rabbits... but in the absence of predators there was no balance to counteract their rapid reproduction rate. Now there's billions of rabbits in Australia. There are many many examples: kudzu, Africanized honeybees... I'm sure this isn't lost on you, now is it?

    Now go back in the corner and color.
  • by wozzeck_berg (175286) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @04:16PM (#124427) Homepage
    While I'm a strong advocate of biotech in fields like cancer research and ecologically sound fibers or other materials, I find the subject of biologically engineered foodstffs quite frightening. Not only because of the possible health problems which we cannot predict, but also because of the potential for big companies (Dupont, Monsanto) to use thir patents ON the food too ill ends. Already the engineered corn on the market needs MORE care, not less, than regular corn. Unfortunately for farmers, the chemicals needed to help the plants cannot be found...oh, wait, they can. The producing companies are more than happy to sell the farmers specialized fertilizer. My family is full of farmers. They used to be able to farm fresh cow pies and horse droppings (among other waste) an use it to help fertilize thier fields...and save money. That is no longer an option. Could they switch to old style corn? Sure. But then they would have a lower yield making it hard to compete because of the neccessary increase in price. Farmers become caught in a terrible trap, they either shell out loads of cash to biotech companies, or face losing their wherewithall to live comfortably. Then of course, there is the problem of engineered crops that do not produce viable seeds. Also, the fast growing crops take more nutrients from the top soil, adding to the catastrophic trend becomming apparent in places like California an the plains, in which soil that used to be rich and good for farming is rapidly becomming barren, forcing the farmers to use more chemical fertilizer that is absorbed into food. These problems persist in developed countries...they can only have more disastrous effects in the 3rd world where farmers are uneducated as to the dangers or engineered crops. I saw an ad the other day promoting biotech, saying that engineered rice ("golden rice") can help erase childhood blindness in under-developed countries. The children are going blind because of malnutrition caused by the corrupt global food supply chain...not because of an deficiencies in crops. Growing "golden rice" won't help the kids if they don't have access to it. Or will this magic rice also magically shirk the reigns or corporate agribusiness and become cheaply available to poor children? These kids can also be helped by feeding them...oh, what are those things called? Oh yeah, carrots. Let's not even mention the problem of biodiversity. "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a homicidal maniac." --Einstein
  • by srichman (231122) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @04:36PM (#124428)
    Can someone please enlighten me as to what "scourge celebre" is?
  • IW(as)AB(iologist) before I made the jump into BioInformatics - but still, I spent a lot of time working with plant genetics. You drink beer? There is a very good chance it is one of a few barley variants out there breed specifically for brewing. Granted, most of it was old school statistical / cross-breeding work, but the same ideas apply. Way to many hours on my knees counting individual stalks before pounding the data on a Fortran boxen. Never go back...

    Anyhow, one of the real risks here is the modified plant cross-pollinates with something out in the wild. Same idea as some of the bugs you can pick up in a hospital - resistant to things that should smack them normally.

    I am less worried about changing the ecosystem. Nature abhors a vacuum - a species gets wiped out, something else ALWAYS takes its place. It may not be pretty, but that is the way things work in the real world. You cover an area with toxic sludge (like wood treatment use to do), and I'll be damned if you don't find some bacteria feeding off the stuff. Its not like we have a fixed set of genetic resources - {hum along} lose an owl and xxxx number of unique genetic structures on the wall. Something will adapt to fill the empty space - always.

    That is not to say we should blacktop the forests, wipe yippy poodles, or otherwise horking with things just for the sake of screwing with them. There is a balance. Guess I am just trying to say the truth is somewhere between the two extremes. The long view is we need to be careful not to add us to the extinct list.

    Where did I put that beer again...

  • by freek_daddy (250162) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @04:16PM (#124430)
    Not particularly logical.

    You say that testing of genetically engineered producs is unwarranted because we "don't eat genes" then you go on to point out the obvious flaw in that argument : we do eat what those genes express.

    This is not an exact science we're talking about. No one can tell you that they know precisely 1. how an exogenous gene will express itself in a host and 2. the long-term effects of genetic changes on a wild population. They can't even tell you that they pretty much know. If someone says different, look at who's writing their checks.

    The point is that the particular effects of genetic modifications on an organism cannot be accurately predicted, they must be discovered. I'd vastly prefer that they be discovered in some controlled test rather than on a supermarket shelf.

    What I don't understand is the resistance to testing and labelling. Why would anyone (who wasn't making money off releasing untested foodstuffs) think that testing them, and knowing when you're eating them, are bad ideas?
  • by TGK (262438) <Killfile&Nephandus,Com> on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @08:45PM (#124431) Homepage Journal
    See, you guys need to think more broadly. There are ways of geneticly engineering crops that don't involve turing them into biological toxin factories. Who ever decided that pestiside production was a beneficial trait for plants to have needs to have his head examined. At least as far as plants I'm planing on eating goes.

    Now then, on to genetic engineering. First off let me point out that human beings have been geneticly engineering plants for something like 100,000 years. Of course, we didn't always do it with viruses and protein introduction. Example. Almonds. Ever eaten a handfull of wild almonds? I doubt it. Three wild almonds have enought cyanide to drop a 200lb man in less than an hour. Of course, almonds are available in little baggies in damn near ever supermarket. Why? Because humans have selected the almond trees that don't kill us, and planted and nurtured those trees. We've created a new strain of almond that dosn't produce deadly nerve toxins.

    It's true of almost everything you eat. Oranges have thicker peals to keep them from bruising in shipping. Corn is a notable one. Did you know that corn, in it's natural state has an ear no longer than 2 inches? That it's almost inedible and typicaly has only one ear per stalk?

    Genetic engineering is going to happen. We can't avoid it. Even our preferences as to what constitutes a "good" crop will result in genetic drift. The problem is that now that we're engineering these things more directly we're trying to build in more direct defences against the things that damage the crops. This is a mistake. The answer is passive defences. Don't have the corn produce pesticides, but make the husk harder for bugs to tunnel through. Make the stalk tougher.

    Not that it really matters. We'll be living on blue green algae in a few more centuries anyway.

    This has been another useless post from....
  • On the one hand, I am one of those people who has to read food labels carefully because there's a lot of stuff that upsets my stomach. (Nothing I'm puff-up-and-die allergic to, thank goodness, but it's bad enough.) When someone talks about introducing funny genes for odd proteins into foods, I wonder: will it turn it into something I can't eat?

    On the other hand, pesticides are a real problem. Whether they are hormone mimics or neurotoxins or what, they are always worrisome. Worse, the pests typically evolve defenses and move right along, creating a need for more, newer and better pesticides.

    Having the plant grow its own pesticide is another dilemma. You can be sure that the stuff isn't going into the water and poisoning the fish, but you can't wash something off if it's part of the plant. Whatcha gonna do?

    I suppose there are things with little or no downside. Golden rice engineered to add carotene is one of them. Unless it makes the crop more nutritionally complete for pests too (another nightmare!) I can't see how it could possibly hurt.
    --

  • by Invisible Agent (412805) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @02:26PM (#124433)
    Intelligent fruit have already had their own presidential candidates. If I recall correctly, their names were "Bush" and "Gore".

    Invisible Agent
  • by sllort (442574) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @06:13PM (#124434) Homepage Journal
    • Monsanto invents DDT.
    • DDT kills insects.
    • DDT kills people.
    • Insects become resistant.
    • People ban DDT
    • Monsanto invents Agent Orange.
    • Agent Orange kills plants
    • Agent Orange kills people
    • People ban Agent Orange
    • Monsanto invents Genetically Modified (GM) food.
    • (you are here).

    If you want to know the truth about GM food, read Trust Us, We're Experts [amazon.com]. Monsanto spends 100's of millions of dollars on PR getting "scientists" to place articles in scholarly publications advocating the safety of their food. That said, GM food does NOT have a perfect safety record. A genetically modified bacteria used to manufacture a dietary supplement in large quantities introduced a new impurity when spliced incorrectly, introducing partial paralysis and death in close to 1000 people. If you want more details, read the book. Read about the mice who grew up eating pesticide-producing potatoes and developed abnormal organ growth.

    GM foods are untested, experimental, and have killed before.

    But the biggest argument against them is that causing them to produce organic pesticides causes the insect communities to develop a resistance to organic pesticides, making it impossible to organically farm, making all farmers dependent on pesticide manufacturers.

    But don't listen to me. In fact, don't listen to any pontificating slashdot idiot. READ THE BOOK.

    you'll end up buying organic. i do.
  • by Pope (17780) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @02:20PM (#124435)
    I still don't understand why there's so much cash spent on bio-engineering new strains of plants when hemp is a perfectly good as-is solution!

    (well other than anti-drug hysteria, that is :)

    The main worry I and many others have is the effect of bio-engineered foodstuffs: we DO NOT have any long-term data as to their effects on humans. For industrial usage? Hey, go for it, if you can ABSOLUTLEY MAKE SURE that the products will not make it into the foodstream, of either animals or humans. Until then proceed with extreme caution.

  • by OmegaDan (101255) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @06:12PM (#124436) Homepage
    this is exactly right! I saw a show about this corn, it requires less pesticides because it has genes that generate a pesticide thats been in use for over 2000 years ... Problem is, used sparingly the pesticide is fairly effective, but now that ALL the corn has it, theres no choice about how "much" pesticide to use or where to use it -- so the bugs are becoming resistant (because only the resistant ones are survivng).

    Essentially, the company who made the corn took a pesticide thats been in use for two centuries (It was discovered by the ancient chinese), and have robbed the "value" from it, because all these bugs the pesticide was effective against will develope a resistance, and the pesticide used for 2000 years will be worthless ...

  • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @03:10PM (#124437) Homepage

    The problem with this argument is that the farm on which the plants are growing is nothing like a natural ecosystem anymore. We've already trashed the ecosystem by cutting down all of the plants and driving away most of the animals that would naturally live there and replacing them with a synthetic monoculture. Switching from a conventional strain of a plant to a GMO strain is a minor change compared to switching to a whole new species of plant. But people switch from growing, say, corn to sunflowers all the time without anyone bleating about how it's going to disrupt the fragile ecosystem.

  • by SeraphtheSilver (226793) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @02:31PM (#124438)
    Yes, but we don't need much more than cursory testing of most genetically engineered products for the simple reason that you don't eat genes.

    What happens in your stomach is that the organic material of what you eat is broken down by the acids into chunks of protein and other organic molecules, where it is then sorted and used as necessary. The actual genetic structure of what you eat doesn't matter, since you aren't absorbing genes.

    Now, what _can_ make you sick are certain chemicals that those genetically engineered foods produce. For example, if we have a plant that makes petroleum distillates, then eating that will make you sick - just like drinking gasoline would. On the other hand, whether or not a particular strain of wheat lasts longer, or is more resistant to disease doesn't affect you genetically at all. And since most GMOs _don't_ do things like produce petroleum distillates or deadly poison, there's no serious risk of getting sick from them.

    -Seraph
  • If it turns into something you can't eat, you'll find out the first time you eat it. Duh. Jesus, my cousin was thirty two before he discovered he was allergic to cashew nuts. You see, cashew nuts are pretty expensive and their taste isn't good enough in many people's books (not mine, mind you, i love a good handful of cashews) to include them in common foods. We go to an expensive chinese place, my cousin says "hey, let me chow on this badass 'cashew chicken'" and nearly chokes fifteen minutes later when his throat swells up.

    That wasn't a genetically engineered cashew, mind you...it wasn't even a salted one! So your argument is, you might have to be wary of new foods...my reply is, you need to be wary now!

    My cousin's story isn't all that uncommon...I was 21 before I discovered I was violently allergic to loperamide, an ingredient in many medicines that cure diarrhea. You see, I ate an entire box of Lucky Charms in a college dare, took an Immodium the next morning and got so dizzy and halucinigenic I had to be carried to the hospital. It'd make a cheap high if it wasn't for the chills and three days of fever afterwards.
  • by jbuhler (489) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @05:07PM (#124440) Homepage
    > Oh, and the "natural" pesticide is still in the
    > corn when you harvest it. Bummer.

    The kinds of pesticides we engineer into plants are unlikely to be harmful to humans, unless they happen to cause allergies. Example: StarLink corn (which recently caused a scandal when it was accidentally used to make taco shells) contains the protein Cry9p, which is only active in the alkaline environment of an insect's stomach (vs the acid environment of ours).

    The reason StarLink isn't approved for human consumption is that Cry9p is not broken down by stomach acid. Proteins with that property include many known allergens, though I'm not sure if Cry9p itself has ever been observed to cause an allergic reaction.

    This isn't to say that engineering food organisms doesn't entail various risks, but do give the poor biologists *some* credit for thinking of obvious potentials for toxicity.

    Another good example of caution in this regard is the Flavr-Savr tomato, which was not approved until its developers showed (among other things) that the modified fruit does not contain more naturally occuring toxins than regular tomatoes. Heck, even non-GMO food can be problematic in this respect -- new potato varieties are now tested for levels of toxic, naturally occurring solanin (the reason you shouldn't eat the green bits!).
  • by mshomphe (106567) on Wednesday June 27, 2001 @02:37PM (#124441) Homepage Journal

    Okay, IANAB(iologist), but neither side of the biotech debate seems to be getting things quite right. Reactionaries against GMOs use ignorant slogans like "Get your DNA out of my food". Biotech pushers use questionable logic like "Well, you've eaten it for this long, it can't be bad for you!" Here's the thing: Mutated DNA is not going to screw you up if you eat it. Short-term effects are negligable, unless you start introducting pesticide-producing capabilities, which we'll leave aside for the moment.

    The problem with bio-engineering is this: The action of changing an organism in an ecosystem affects the entire ecosystem. It's the same as the analogy of the ol' butterfly flapping its wings in SoCal and causing tsunamis in Japan. Genetically modifying a plant that has natural predators will induce the predators to adapt or die. If they die, then their predators are forced to adapt or die, and so on.

    In short (too late!), we must take the long view on this issue, not be afraid of the progress of science, nor over-confident in her abilities to predict the future.

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre

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