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EU Science

Europe Needs Genetically Engineered Crops, Scientists Say 586

First time accepted submitter Dorianny writes in with a story about the ongoing battle over genetically engineered crops in Europe. "The European Union cannot meet its goals in agricultural policy without embracing genetically engineered crops (GMOs). That's the conclusion of scientists who write in Trends in Plant Science, a Cell Press publication, based on case studies showing that the EU is undermining its own competitiveness in the agricultural sector to its own detriment and that of its humanitarian activities in the developing world. 'Failing such a change, ultimately the EU will become almost entirely dependent on the outside world for food and feed and scientific progress, ironically because the outside world has embraced the technology which is so unpopular in Europe, realizing this is the only way to achieve sustainable agriculture,' said Paul Christou of the University of Lleida-Agrotecnio Center and Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats in Spain."
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Europe Needs Genetically Engineered Crops, Scientists Say

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  • "Needs"? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ignacio ( 1465 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:15AM (#43553309)

    No one *needs* genetically-engineered crops, they simply result in a higher profit (and possibly various unknown health risks).

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:24AM (#43553351)

    They may also result in cheaper food.

  • by nebosuke ( 1012041 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:25AM (#43553361)

    It is the wholesale rejection of an entire body of science and technology on non-scientific bases that will affect both Europe's ability to contribute to scientific progress in those areas and its ability to produce its own food.

    In other words you have confused the direction of the cause and effect relationship between scientific progress and food production in this case.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:30AM (#43553373)

    Yes, moving most of your agricultural sector over to commercially proprietary seed and crop varieties will certainly result in cheaper food.

  • Re:now we wait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:30AM (#43553377) Journal

    "Scientists claim Europe must surrender to Monsanto or starve."

    To surrender to a corporate tyrant is just as bad as to surrender to any other sort of tyrant.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:30AM (#43553379)

    No one *needs* genetically-engineered crops, they simply result in a higher profit (and possibly various unknown health risks).

    Similarly, no one *needs* stem cell research, nor nuclear power plants, nor galileo navigation satellites... But not having it in your back pocket may result in dependency on other countries for certain things and some of those things may or may not be more or less important to you. It like many things is simply a choice and not everyone makes the same choices...

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlackPignouf ( 1017012 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:39AM (#43553425)

    First, this guy developed the first transgenic soybean, which has then been sold by Monsanto ( [] ). What else is he gonna say?
    Then, there's enough food everywhere for everybody provided : it's seasonal, regional and mostly vegetarian.
    Sure, if you want huge steaks for every meal, with tomato salads, mango and strawberries for dessert all year round, you'll need a lot of antibiotics, pesticides, GMO's, oil and water.

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo&world3,net> on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:40AM (#43553437) Homepage Journal

    It is the wholesale rejection of an entire body of science and technology on non-scientific bases that will affect both Europe's ability to contribute to scientific progress in those areas and its ability to produce its own food.

    Actually that describes the report pretty well. It is blatant scare-mongering by an industry body and the university professor they sponsor.

  • by Pecisk ( 688001 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:40AM (#43553439)

    Problem is complex. There's general fear of anything related with "genetic modification", because of this theme exploited so heavily in tabloids, junk and paperback sci-fi, and by conservative politicans betting heavily on science fearing crowd. And then there's huge greedy corporations like Monsanto, which are blinded by gold rush in this field. Then there's politicians, desperate to have at least some kind of investment in countries, relaxing some rules so far that it's really irresponsible.

    In overall, GMO debate has almost same semantics as nuclear one. Done right, this field would really do right for humanity. However, there's that very strong question - can we really do right for humanity? It seems that we as society don't trust ourselves - or current capitalistic system we embrace.

    So, this is actually discussion "we don't trust multinational corporations to do theoretically dangerous stuff", not "is GMO good or bad", isn't it? However no one discuss corporations, because it's well...just not worth it. Because when money talks, everyone asks how high to jump (including media).

  • by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <.moc.edargorter- ... . .xetroCxetroV.> on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:41AM (#43553447)

    Yeah, I don't have a problem with genetically modified food sciences, but you give 'em an inch and they take a mile. If we could trust them to simply improve the size and frequency of fruiting bodies' production then that would be great, but they don't stop there -- Some of these GMO food producers decide that we need to make poisonous plants to prevent bugs from eating them without actual long-term studies to validate their claims of harmlessness -- Scientists don't make conclusions based on lack of evidence. We need proof they're not harmful to us and the environment. We don't have that proof.

    It's the unwillingness of people to think clearly that is harming us. We can use SOME types of genetic modifications without using others; However, corporations maximize profits and pundits aren't typically adequately educated, so we end up with people polarized on the issue and no real way forward -- no compromises, no middle ground.

    The wholesale rejection is the only option for some if the ones making the modified food say they'll put the poison gene in or you get no GMO at all... The gene splicers are just as much at fault for this, and that's without even delving into BS patent issues and neutered seeds that could lead to even MORE dependence on foreign entities for food.

    Be careful when you paint with a wide brush, you may end up with paint in your eyes.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by giorgist ( 1208992 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:41AM (#43553449)
    Soooo if I can grow less crops with less pesticides in the same block of land leaving the rest for nature is a bad thing ? How about we all go organic and have the population settle at the 2 billion and solve another problem as well.
  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:41AM (#43553451)

    That may be true. But what we (I live in Europe) really don't want to deal with is all the consequences, side-effects and bad mojo that comes from genetically-modified, well, anything. We really don't need any of that sh!t, hence no *need* for GMOs

    No, no, no, no. DO NOT WANT. Take it away.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:48AM (#43553495)

    When was last time price food was of any concern in western europe???

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:51AM (#43553517) Homepage

    No one wants to admit they're a malthusian, but people who are against GE crops generally are.

  • by Pecisk ( 688001 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:54AM (#43553539)

    "We need proof they're not harmful to us and the environment. We don't have that proof."

    That's why you lobby for solid government agencies who actually do very good job on checking food safety (at least in my country).

    You can't ignore food problems with clause "we don't trust corporations". Well, I don't, but what choice we have. It's not like we gonna change capitalism for something workable and better (I believe we can, but that's for another day). We need to lobby and support actually working government institutions to check on corporations. EU has better success in this regard, despite some members being in bed and naked with corps for years (hey UK).

    Let's work within system. GMO food can be good, just let's keep pushing stuff we see as necessary for it to work. Just inflicting fear in general public won't work in long term I'm afraid.

  • by allcoolnameswheretak ( 1102727 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:55AM (#43553545)

    It's a huge subsidy, but it also has a crucial strategic value. Without the subsidies, farming in the EU would steadily decline into irrelevance and you become ever more dependent on imports. But food is even more critical than oil. What if there is a drought in the future? Import restrictions? Huge price increases? Shit, suddenly the EU can't feed its own citizens anymore. Other countries can use the EU's dependence on its food imports to exert diplomatic influence, essentially up to the point of blackmail. Take Russia for example. The only reason why it gets away with its subjugation of democracy and freedom of speech is because Europe is hugely dependent on energy imports from Russia. If Europe is not self-sufficient in its food requirements, it opens up another attack vector.

  • by Pecisk ( 688001 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:58AM (#43553555)

    Ohh boy. Please guys, don't fall to their level. GMO is valid technology if applied right, as was genetic selection in the past (your poor man's GMO).

    If you don't trust corporations, fine. But if you want to be taken serious in counterargument, please don't use "that's what they said". If you think their assumptions are wrong, please at least explain why.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:00AM (#43553567)

    We'll keep that in mind once some disease wipes out the entire Monsanto Wheat (tm) monoculture is wiped out by some plant disease or pathogen and causes widespread shortages. Our crops might be less efficient, but we have diversity, and our farmers are free to farm instead of bothering with patents and lawsuits.

  • by orzetto ( 545509 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:01AM (#43553579)

    There is already today an excess of food production. People do not starve because there is not enough food, they starve because they are not given the food, usually because they are too poor to afford it, or because their supply lines have been cut by wars or embargoes. There is no need to increase world food production, only to get the food to those needing it.

  • by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:04AM (#43553605)
    But hen again I have noticed some deficits and unemployment in Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and some of those other places that are...well mostly in Europe...they have a lot of people needing jobs, why not get them into farming? Sure, it's more efficient to use giant machines and GM crops to make certain key corporations filthy rich but on the flip side if they are obligated to employ a reasonable amount of people we might make a dent in those countries negative figures & turn that big Euro zone frown upside down...
  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wowsers ( 1151731 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:04AM (#43553607) Journal

    Cheaper food for how long, until the company that has the GM patent has 50% of food production, 80%, 100%? It's a one way ticket to economic disaster, let alone the long term health and ecological impact that nobody knows.

    Nature wants bio-diversity, not the junk that GM is.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:09AM (#43553641)

    GMO food can be good, no doubt about it. The problem is that the goal of producer and user are widely different. For the user, increased production is the goal whereas it is only the necessary evil to sell it for the producer.

  • by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:11AM (#43553647)

    One problem "Monsanto"

    They produce most of the GMO that people are aware of, are notorious for suppressing any study that they do not like, for not publishing results, for patenting entire plants, for suing poor farmers who never bought their seed, for poisoning the environment .... etc ....

    They may not be typical of GMO companies, but they are the poster child and best known, and are the worst possible advert for GMO ....

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:13AM (#43553659)

    When, in the history of commerce, has cheaper means of production ever meant cheaper end product if there wasn't a pressing need due to competition? It is highly unlikely that the cheaper production will eventually reach the consumer. Even if the original producers have to slave away at dumping prices, the margin will easily be gobbled up by the people in between to ensure nothing remains when you can finally buy something in a store.

  • Re:Eh, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:13AM (#43553663) Homepage
    Then we can drive the African farmers out of business, because nobody can compete with free.
  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by citizenr ( 871508 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:14AM (#43553671) Homepage

    Soooo if I can grow less crops with less pesticides in the same block of land leaving the rest for nature is a bad thing ?

    You are definitely not a farmer. Less pesticides AHAHAHAHA. GMO is all about planting seeds that are super resistant to special proprietary pesticides. After that you spray the fuck out of your fields without worrying about the yield.
    You dont have to worry about weeds nor your plants dying from too much crop dusting. You have to worry about re buying seeds every single year and getting addicted to Roundup.

    Basically its the same scam as juicing healthy cows with antibiotics.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:21AM (#43553715)

    Problem is, we have humans applying it and that's where it gets screwed up.

    Same with GMOs.

    Or Nuclear power.

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:37AM (#43553781) Journal

    It's focus is not producing more or better food.

    It's focus is precisely on growing more food.

    Herbicide resistant->dump herbicides on it->kill competing plants->grow more crops

    Insectiside producing -> kill insects which kill plant -> grow more crops

  • Re:now we wait (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MtHuurne ( 602934 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:38AM (#43553791) Homepage

    The numbers I found in a quick search suggest that EU-wide there is still a small population growth [], but pretty close to zero. The import/export balance (PDF, see graphs on page 2) [] for raw and processed products combined seems to be roughly zero as well, but in terms of raw materials the EU is still net importing agricultural products. To say Europe is going to "become almost entirely dependent on the outside world" doesn't match these figures though.

  • by symes ( 835608 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:41AM (#43553797) Journal

    I sincerely hope for his sake these conflicts of interest are on every one of his published papers and research applications.

  • by nebosuke ( 1012041 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:43AM (#43553805)

    Scientists don't make conclusions based on lack of evidence. We need proof they're not harmful to us and the environment. We don't have that proof.

    You cannot prove a negative. What you can prove (and what already has been proven) is that all of the GMO crops are safer than peanuts, penicillin, and organic bean sprouts and spinach, and cell phones (GMOs 0 deaths with 100s of millions of exposures over nearly 20 years, the others many thousands of deaths between them due to anaphylactic shock, e. coli, driving-while-texting, etc) .

    I am not arguing that there is no risk with GMO technology. What I am saying, however, that the rational approach is to formulate scientific hypotheses regarding risks such that those hypotheses can be tested via either examining existing data or conducting experiements that quantify the risk such that it is possible to determine whether those risks are acceptable based on our best current knowledge.

    The "poison" genes you're referencing (e.g., Bt11) are currently based on proteins that are produced by soil bacteria, bacteria naturally found in milk, and other things that humans have been consuming for centuries and that are in many cases applied to organic crops as well. They have also been tested according to both USDA and EPA regulatory standards (in the US, pest control GM traits are regulated by both agencies whereas herbicide tolerance traits are only regulated by the USDA). At this point it is not a question of whether or not they have been tested, but whether they have been tested to a sufficient degree. My personal opinion is that given that they have been tested (both scientifically in controlled experiments and by default through market exposure) far more thoroughly than anything else I consume short of pharmaceuticals, I am OK with them. Beyond my personal comfort level I would challenge anyone to come up with a scientifically defendable justification to require greater testing that would not logically require much greater testing of non-GM foods as well.

    The problem is not that there is a lack of "clear thinking" regarding GMOs. The problem is that the ratio of rational thought to irrational thought is unfortunately very small, and the ratio of rational communication vs. irrational communication regarding the issue is even worse. These difficulties are also compounded by the unfortunate fact that many people conflate GMOs with IP laws, religious beliefs, personal philosophy, etc.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:46AM (#43553811)

    Considering that farmers in Europe is destroying food to keep the price up it seems like cheaper food is a problem, not a solution.

  • by apol ( 94049 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @05:28AM (#43553979)

    The bad argument here is to argue that GMO is just like genetic selection, just pushed a bit further.

    Of course it is not. Nobody is against genetic selection, neither in Europe not anywhere else.

  • by oKtosiTe ( 793555 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @05:43AM (#43554029)

    or do proper crop rotation with crops that help replenish.

    And what exactly is wrong with using fertilizer? Even the iron age farmers knew about spreading fertilizer although they mostly referred to it as manure or just shit. But continue down the luddite path if it makes you feel better about yourselves.

    Over-fertilization pollutes the groundwater. This has already been problematic and a reason for agricultural reform in the Netherlands.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @05:46AM (#43554041)

    Well, food, for example. The developed world spends less per capita on food than it ever has, in spite of a sharp rise in demand due to the 20th century population explosion.

    Most of the decrease in prices occurred during the 20th century, concurrent with the rise of seed companies, fertilizers and pesticides.

    I'm not really sure why any of this would be surprising, since most people seem to find it intuitive that a shoe mass produced in a factory is cheaper than one you pay a guy down the street to make by hand.

  • by Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @05:52AM (#43554065)

    Well, the guy is certainly 'pro' GM foods, as you would expect from his background, but 'OMG Europe won't be able to feed itself'?
    Hardly. We've been paying farmers a fortune for years to let good farmland stand idle... The problem is not with the crops, it's the crazy CAP which distorts everything, including world trade. For example:

    "In the autumn of 2007 the European Commission was reported to be considering a proposal to limit subsidies to individual landowners and factory farms to around £300,000. Some factory farms and large estates would be affected in the UK, as there are over 20 farms/estates which receive £500,000 or more from the EU." []

    Anyway, back on topic, it seems to me that the GM debate is like the nuclear one. On one side, the promise of a bright, science-led future, (limitless clean energy, cheap disease-free crops) with real or potential problems often glossed over or ignored, on the other the NIMBYs and hand-wavers with a "we're all gonna die" reflex. Where's the reasoned debate?

    People don't trust the nuclear industry for a good reason, (and I say this as a firm believer in the promise of nuclear power over alternatives). It's not just about Three Mile Island etc, it's about how too many people have systematically covered-up shoddy work over the years, often to save or make more money.
    These people should have been severly punished; none were. Seen any TEPCO Execs hanging from a tree recently? Nope.

    It's the same with GM food. I'm sure the Scientists are sincere and have done great work, including field tests. But can we trust the agribusiness? Well, recent history (especially in Europe) says no. But it's too late anyway - even food advertsied as 'GM free' is not. []

    Remember, this is also the same industry that brought you horsemeat labelled as beef. Oh yeah, and even when it really is beef, remember BSE ('mad cow' disease?) []

    So, do I trust the technology? Yes. Do I trust the agribusiness? Hell no.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @06:00AM (#43554099)

    No need to look very far for the funding, just go to the journal site: []

    The ad on the page has consistently Life Technologies GeneArt Strings DNA fragments "Synthetic Genes Ready to Clone—Affordable for Every Lab".

    There is a bit of vested interest for that particular Journal to publish papers promoting genetic engineering:

    It doesn't hurt that there is going to be a genetic engineering conference this June, so you would also want to prime the pump to fill up the conference hall. Nothing like a good controversy to sell tickets.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @06:44AM (#43554243)

    Considering that farmers in Europe is destroying food to keep the price up it seems like cheaper food is a problem, not a solution.

    Considering a similar practice is done in the US, it goes to show what the real purpose of GMO crops are for. To make certain patent holders obscenely rich, along with controlling the global population with a questionable food supply.

    Seems like a win-win for certain organizations in control. Not sure when the hell the rest of the world is going to wake up to that shit, but clearly with this kind of propaganda already being spread about how we "need" GMOs, obviously common sense is losing and greed is winning, at the cost of our health (which of course is the most profitable of all). What else is new.

  • by flyneye ( 84093 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @07:38AM (#43554455) Homepage

    Scientists owned by Monsanto claim Europe must surrender to Monsanto or starve.
    What we need to hear instead.
    Monsanto was banned from business in Europe and their patents stripped.
    It's just time to go back to more natural high yield seed with no patents. For everyones good.
    Put it in the ground, feed it ,water it, it comes up, flowers, fruits, just like Monsanto.
    We need Monsanto and Cargill for what now?
    Regulate the shit out of them. Uncover the bribery and make an example of the scientists backing Monsanto while we're at it.

  • Re:"Needs"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @07:48AM (#43554507)

    Crops don't have to be Gm to be proprietary.

    plant breeders rights have been a thing for almost a hundred years now and farmers already buy such hybrids routinely across most of Europe.

  • by instagib ( 879544 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @07:57AM (#43554549)

    You cannot prove a negative.

    GMOs 0 deaths

    Apart from that detail, I personally have no problems with GM crops on the health side (*). I do have serious objections though concerning the misuse of legal ways to enforce mono culture and the elimination of small farmer's biodiversity. That is something GM crop companies should not have a right to do.

    (*) Since the invention of antibiotics and vaccination, and widespread adoption of hygiene, the general life expectancy has grown very slowly.
    Our bodies are currently part of a long time experience, which involves exposure to pollution from fossil fuels, radioactive particles from accidents and open-air atom bomb test (yes, until this day), processed fats and sugars, artificial electromagnetic waves of many wavelengths, GM food, and more.
    Noone knows if one or many of these factors play a role in the ever growing effect of cancer, diabetes, and other deadly desases on our theoretical life expectancy.

  • Re:now we wait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ideonexus ( 1257332 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @09:18AM (#43555179) Homepage Journal

    Both of you are off-topic and not insightful. Nowhere in this article does anyone mention Monsanto. Monsanto sucks, but:

    Monsanto != GMOs

    GMOs hold incredible promise to feed the world [], but all anyone can ever talk about is Monsanto and "Frankenfoods." There is not one single shred of scientific evidence of any GMOs causing serious health problems (Note: I said "GMOs" not the pesticides farmers are using on those crops), and there are plenty of publicly funded GMO projects that have produced real-life benefits like saving Papaya crops, bringing crops to parts of Africa where they wouldn't normally survive, and bringing nutrient-rich rice to impoverished parts of China.

    But you know what? All of this scientific progress is being stymied because of anti-science people screaming "frankenfoods!" In Africa, some countries refused American food aid because of GMO fears--until their people began to starve to death. The Blood Rice GMO could nourish millions, but China can't get anywhere with it because of GMO fears. GMO farm salmon has spent 15 years trying to get approved in the United States, but politicians have blocked it for fear of GMOs; meanwhile, our natural fish stocks collapse from over-fishing.

    If you are anti-GMO, then I put you in the same class of people who don't believe in Evolution, who are anti-vaccine, or don't accept the very basic science of Global Warming. You believe things without evidence or are simply denying the scientific evidence that exists, and your ignorance is making life harder for the rest of us.

  • Re:now we wait (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @09:33AM (#43555309) Homepage
    I agree 100% with you that GMO holds promise and != Monsanto. But we live in a corporate-dominated world and it's a legitimate fear that GMO will become a tool for control and profit rather than improvement of the human condition. Second point, mono-culture and gene-spliced is a lot less sustainable/more risky than natural high-yield. We could concentrate on eating less protein too, that's what takes the majority of the space/water etc.
  • Re:Eh, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Vaphell ( 1489021 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @09:38AM (#43555355)

    if they are starving they have a very strong incentive to BUY food from local farmers. That gives farmers the incentive and means to improve their tech level and yield. If people are fed the farmers are shit-outta-luck because nobody needs them, everybody gets food for free. That's a problem in the making, because by making sure people survive and multiply, mismatch between the needs and what the environment and local economy can provide is even bigger, which means even greater dependence on external help. It does nothing to solve the problems, everything to perpetuate them.

    Tell me how is it possible that population Ethiopia, country in a pretty much perpetual state of famine, *doubled* in last 30 years. []

    I've read article than in Senegal and neighboring countries there are dirt cheap snacks made from chicken legs on every street and everybody buys them. Problem? These chicken legs are dumped on these markets by european companies who get rid of stuff nobody in Europe wants for pennies. Unfortunately local farmers can't compete with dirt cheap throwaway parts of animals that were raised on subsidized grain in rich Europe, so they go out of business.

  • Re:now we wait (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @09:46AM (#43555429)
    Good post. The anti-GMO crowd is as foolish and dangerous as the anti-vaccine crowd. And, like the anti-vaccine crowd, they are self-deluded, and convinced that they are right, despite the absolute lack of any evidence.

    The only point they have in their favor is the questionable behaviors of certain companies, which are a consequence of some bad laws we have, not anything to do with the technology.
  • by MmmmAqua ( 613624 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @12:14PM (#43557441)

    Hi, I'm a former computer nerd, now a biologist.

    Don't overestimate the role of mutation in short-term evolution. The rate of mutation per site per generation in almost all extant species is very low, and almost all mutations are deleterious. For any de novo allele to persist in a population, it must confer a significant benefit to survival or reproduction. If its selective benefit is only slight, its chance of persistence or fixation in a population is equal to its initial frequency, which is extremely low (except in very small populations, but then you have other problems). Mutation is certainly necessary for evolution, but it works on extremely long time scales.

    From a biological standpoint, what Monsanto does is pretty irrelevant. They create populations that, barring mutation, don't reproduce. What they do does not affect the genetic variation of natural populations, except insofar as it restricts the total acreage occupied by non-GMO crops. But it's important to realize that those non-GMO crops are _not_ natural populations, nor are they "natural" plants. Such crops have been as thoroughly modified by man as has any Roundup-Ready plant. That's exactly what selective breeding for greater yield, better taste, etc. are - genetically modifying organisms. Corn, wheat, cabbage, mustard, and a whole host of other plants that are grown "organically" and eaten every day do not occur in nature in the forms we consume. The only difference is that companies like Monsanto target single genes, because they can. There is an argument to be made that, by selectively adding or modifying only beneficial alleles, biochemical engineering is a safer way to shape crop plants to our needs; selective breeding is sloppy, messy, and can't eliminate negative genes that, for example, are in linkage disequilibrium with selectively positive genes. And, if you don't want to grow GM seeds... don't. Agribusiness isn't preventing anyone from growing old crops the old way.

    From what I have observed, most people's objections to Monsanto boil down to what one of my non-major humanities professors said: "It just doesn't seem natural." People don't seem to realize that when engineering these plants, what is happening is simply a refinement of a process that's been going on in agriculture since we first figured out planting seeds makes plants grow. It's just a more precise version, and able to avoid a whole host of problems presented by the old way of doing things. But it's happening in a lab, so it's automatically unnatural, and interfering with either God's plan or evolution. Evolution is a tricky subject, and far more complicated than most people realize.

    I guess what I'm saying is, don't get a gut feeling about something and just call it good. There is a huge amount of propaganda on both sides of this issue, and the reality of the situation is more nuanced than 99% of people realize. I'm probably going to get attacked for this as a Monsanto shill, but please note that I didn't take a firm position either way. There's a reason for that: despite all the screaming from both sides, there is not enough reliable data available to do real, objective science on the broader effects of widespread GMO agriculture. Unfortunately, this dearth of data just feeds the gut feelings on both sides.

    Lecture over. Feel free to flame.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant