What's the Feeling on GMO's?

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Travis Paskiewicz's picture
What's the Feeling on GMO's?

So a few days ago, me and an aquaintance of mine got into a relatively heated discussion about Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO's, and the potential health risks of GMO's as a food substance. Now this friend of mind is a very outspoken theist, and throughout the conversation some reoccuring themes in her position were that GMO's are "un-natural", "un-healthy", "un-ethical", and "driven by evil intentions". Any time ethics or morality come into and arguement with a theist, I will admit I become a little convinced that a religious belief may be behind the position. After several minutes of discussion, I had to admit I had never fully researched the subject.

Now trying to get information was a dissapointing endeavor. Very Little of what I was able to find on the subject was verifiable. The subject seems... to be highly opinionated with little verified evidence supporting either side or the other. So here are some mainline facts that I was able to discern with 100% accuracy actually occured. Only becasue both sides seem to admit to them.

The Monsanto corporation, who manufactures "Round-Up", a herbicide (chemicals to kill primarily weeds, but in a broad group it kills plants) produced a series of genetically modified plants including corn, soy, wheat, and potatoes (some say sweet potatoes, other reports regular) sometime in the early 1990's. The company used fragments of a bacterium's (Bacillus Thuringiensis or Bt for short) DNA inserted by a virus into the plants DNA, causing the plants to naturally manufacture a pesticide protein. Other reports claim a process of firing DNA strand particles at high velocity into the cell was used, this process is known as "Gene Gun Bombardment". The protein manufactered by the bacteria and the new plants is known as Bt-toxins as there are quite a few varieties, but in general they work by paralyzing an insects gastro-intestinal tract (stomache) which causes it to starve to death. There is popular consencus that, Bt-toxins were specially evolved for, and in most cases, only effect certain insects. However, in much higher doses, in excess of over 700 times the concentration needed for pest control, it was shown to cause adverse effects in lab rats.

As a secondary modification the plants were also injected with dna strands from weeds that had grown a resilience to the companies primary product, "Round-Up". This allowed the plants to grow in higher concentrations of herbicides. The main selling point of the plants was to use less pesticide while allowing the use of stronger (or more) herbicides. They patented their product in 1994, and by 1996 it entered into the US food sources unanounced.

Some No-GMO groups constantly accuse Monsanto of shady business practices. Their patent stops growers from utilizing their product without royalties. I'm somewhat split on this view, as I'm a firm believer in free trade. Companies do deserve opportunity to profit from developing products. But activists say they try to control the world food market, because the use of their herbicide and pesticide agents has produced an evolving complexity of wildlife that is now resilient to their products. In essence, they claim that the GMOs were the answer to a problem they produced. Specifically, it is claimed and proven, that the increase in herbicide use makes it difficult or impossible to grow non-GMOs in the vicinity of farm using stronger pesticides that GMOs can tolerate.

Also entering into the picture is theories that the plants are dangerous. I have a hard time trying to confirm or deny this one. Short term studies on the Bt toxins are, as I stated earlier, are in almost unanimous in the fact that small doses of Bt are not an immediate danger, but this really doesn't help that now there is a lot of claims that over long term it can be a carcinogenic. Also a arguing point is that the human body breaks down the plants DNA and that this can cause human cells to misfunction by absorbing the DNA strands into our own. Further complicating the matter is a lack of long term studies. The American Food and Drug Administration doesnt force GMO foods to go through long term testing. In fact, testing and verification is at the option of the companies producing them. Activists claim the reason that GMOs dont have to go through testing is that former Monsanto employees now corrupt the government. I think the lack of long term studies may be more of a money issue than anything else, as such an expansive study would be extremely costly (just think of all the animal population to be maintained, the amount of food to keep them alive, the testing on the animals and environment, controls studies...etc). For every GMO produced. They produced 8 varying plants before the turn of the century, but now there is in excess of 30 available by varying companies.

The Monsanto corporation also falsly claimed their products were engineered to produce higher yield higher quantities of food, but this was proven innacurate. There is no evidence that in similiar growing conditions GMO's produced a significant yield increase as oposed to non-GMOs.

So what do you guys think? Is GMO production something that mankind could possibly utilize? Or should we go the route of our European neighbors and ban them all together?

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Ellie Harris's picture
We've been genetically

We've been genetically modifying crops for eons. Why should we cease now. More regulation of some practices of how it's done may be needed but I see no need to stop figuring out a better way to feed ourselves.

DesolateProphet's picture
Nice post. I must admit I don

Nice post. I must admit I don't fully understand the issue. In some ways this is just an improved process over what we have being doing for centuries with just a little more science. I don't trust companies beyond making the decision that will improve the bottom line. If people get hurt, its just the cost of doing business. At the same time, the growing population needs a cheap and reliable food supply.

Travis Paskiewicz's picture
My thoughts exactley. But,

My thoughts exactley. But, you know, I get the felling that like most sciences, it'll require fine tuning over time to learn all the genes and get a reliable process for genetically modyfying plants. It seems like the first batches might have been marred by slap-dash butchering of genes. And If they do turn out to be bad, it'll give the science of genetic engineering a black eye for years to come.

Ellie Harris's picture
Or will it remind us that

Or will it remind us that oversight and proper funding of our sciences are crucial.

SammyShazaam's picture
Well, there are two ways to

Well, there are two ways to consider this - GMOs in theory, and GMOs in practice. I'm not a geneticist, but it's a field of extreme interest in labs that my friends are at. Fascinating stuff - they mostly go into it in agriculture schools because the rules for experimentation are much more lax there than in medicine.

GMOs in theory - I have nothing truly against the use our our knowledge of genetics to improve food supplies. However, at this time our genetic knowledge is limited, and we do run the high risk of doing some damage in experimentation. For brief example, I myself have a nut allergy. Tree nuts are a completely different type of plant than peanuts, and so I do occasionally like to enjoy peanut butter. However, a few years ago there was a peanut blight which interfered with the growth of peanuts in the American south. To produce a peanut plant that could withstand the blight that had already infected much of the soil, it was decided that splicing peanuts with cashew genes would produce a peanut that could still thrive on the same over farmed and infected land. The day was saved for many peanut farmers, and many consumers looking forward to enjoying cheap mass produced peanuts. However, I can now no longer eat most peanut products, unless I go through the trouble of hunting down non-gmo peanuts. Several people I know have developed peanut allergies recently, and I'm going to go out on a limb to say that the genetic modifications may have something to do with it. Commercial tomatoes have also had the same change since the beginning of the new millennia, and are spliced with salmon genes. I have no fish allergy, but some people who do have been having issues. While these unfortunate and unforeseen accidents are pretty much par for the course when it comes to experimentation, labeling of products should be necessary both for the safety of the individual, and for the benefit of research firms who are looking to (and should be required to) track the results of the engineered products which are their achievement and responsibility.

In theory this is fine, though products should be labeled in my opinion. In practice, however, it should be known that corporations are not always thinking with the best interest of the consumer in mind. Genetic modifications that increase crop yield, fruit size, and disease resistance are often made at the *expense* of nutritional value. In short, these companies are usually looking to make a food source you will buy more of rather than one that will feed you better. Of course, business is business and I can't really blame them. However, labeling products and providing adequate information about the enhancements made (for those of us who care to do the research - I have to) will allow consumers to make informed choices, and buy appropriately, which will in turn motivate businesses to give us what we *really* want, which is better food. That is a real free market system. One in which information is considered irrelevant or proprietary and thus hidden, is not.

Furthermore, most plants live their lives outdoors. They flower, and release their genetic material in the form of pollen to the wind, and it is absorbed by nearby plants to create new offspring. It's a pretty efficient system. However, when a genetically modified plant throws it's pollen into the mix, those offspring are now carrying the modified genes. It's not like the birds and bees understand property lines though, and that creates *huge* problems. Cross contamination between GMO and non GMO plants mean that I'll eventually have to omit peanuts from my diet altogether, as in many cases even the farmer doesn't know if his plants have come in contact with the modified genes.

In science we do know that accidents happen. However, when you're experimenting on live, free roaming life forms, it's sometimes hard to keep a handle on things. Killer bees come to mind. In theory, que seras seras. In practice, Monsanto has accidentally sterilized entire growing communities in Mexico due to an oversight in genetic modification, which in the lab would have been no big deal, but in the field was able to interbreed with other farms who were not aware of the modifications going on in neighboring experimental farms, and were not consenting to experimentation. Awareness and control are key, as is responsibility. If Monsanto can claim ownership of a gene, they should be responsible for controlling it, and liable for failures to do so.

Monsanto does, however, claim ownership of these genes aggressively, when it benefits them to do so. In Canada, where many oil seed crops are grown, Monsanto has been working hard to make rapeseed plants that will produce more oil than most commonly farmed plants. That's awesome, and will allow farmers to produce more oil on the same amount of land. Unfortunately, the cost of these enhanced seeds is more expensive and so many farmers can't justify it. That's just the way the cookie crumbles... until you consider the cross breeding situation. Monsanto "owns" the genetic pattern it created (I still can't get my head around owning a living object - I don't believe in god and I don't believe in playing god either), and so when it found farmers who's plants had been cross pollinated with Monsanto genes, it declared that the farmers had "stolen" their product and receiving the benefit of their engineering without paying for it. The resulting lawsuits have bankrupted many farmers who have done nothing wrong but simply be downwind of a genetically engineered plant! and, based on the position of Monsanto research fields, I don't think this is simple misfortune.

Again, while there is nothing wrong using our knowledge to get what we want out of the world, it becomes clear that corporations may not want the same things we as individuals do. Farmers who are used to growing seed crops may find their germination rates to be much lower than they were historically, as many plants (potatoes in particular, but I know there are others) have received genetic modifications that, in favor of other benefits, sacrifice their reproductive viability. Of course, it's not a big deal if you just plan on buying another batch of seeds from Monsanto for the next growing season, instead of trying to save money by saving your own. Unfortunately, farmers aren't really known for being the richest of people, and that can often be the breaking point which drives them out of business. I don't think Monsanto minds all that much.

Travis, you have given the nicest rendition of Monsanto that I have *ever* heard. Did you grab that off the company website?

matthjar's picture
VERY Informative Sammy and

VERY Informative Sammy and thank you , I was aware of many of the seed issues where Monsanto was concerned and it could have some devastating effect in the case of any SHTF (Shit hits the Fan) scenarios as there is very little seed left than can produce seed that is viable. If for whatever reason Monsanto was no longer around to provide us with our yearly seed then we would be hard pressed to plant much after one season, not to mention at some point with enough market share the world would be hostage to what ever price they wanted to attach to your desire to eat. Also the Role of Mono cultures in agriculture could be potentially devastating with very little Bio diversity would take much less stresses, new insect, or plant disease to wipe out the vast majority of the worlds food supply. From the documentary that i watched it seems that Monsanto is very much more interested in its economical viability rather than a long term sustainability.

Travis Paskiewicz's picture
No, i just generally try to

No, i just generally try to give the benefit of the doubt in situations I don't know much about. I think i did a good job hitting on the few facts I could verify, such as thier ownership of genes and plants, the fact that the plants do little to produce more food and only real benefit is a resistance to the companies own products. Outside of that, I wasn't able to find much research that seemed un-bias... alot of the websites that post on the topic have names like "No-GMOS" obviously an anti-gmo website, and "Bio-Fortified" clearly a pro-gmo website.

Zaphod's picture
I will say from what I

I will say from what I understand, Sammy is right about all she has said here, but I will go further and say a few things more about Monsanto. What is going on in Canada with rapeseed/canola is also happening in the US.

Both Travis and Sammy are being nice to Monsanto so i'll go ahead and just say a bit that may sound biased but is simply fact. Monsanto lobbies like no other and definitely does not have the greater good in mind. They lobby for laws that enable them to own genetic material and then they strategically contaminate the crops of farmers not using their products and force them through expensive lawsuits that result in the destruction of their crops and heavy fines they raise the price of farming in a way that thus makes them profit immensely forcing all farmers to use their seeds and license then on top of all that they actually lobby for more food subsidies because they know nobody could afford their seeds otherwise. This all boils down to inflated food cost destruction of farms and the taxpayers footing the bill for not only the food but also the cost of growing the food while farmers barely scrape by. All this said its an amazingly profitable strategy.

I personally think companies that mess with genetics should be held liable for their crops getting out of control as it should be their responsibility to keep their patented genetic material under control. I think once the genetic material has been found outside their control it should be considered now a part of nature and thus voiding all patent rights.

Lets us take a moment not to forget killer corn and other mishaps we can thank Monsanto for.

SammyShazaam's picture
It is true that Monsanto

It is true that Monsanto lobbies aggressively, to the point where I seriously doubt if their tactics would be legal if they didn't have such influence in making the law, and would most likely cause alarm among the public if known.

It's quite enlightening to see the long list of senators and congressmen that have formerly been on Monsanto's payroll, as well as the almost equally long list of Monsanto employees are are previous legislators.

What's most appalling about these corporations is the way that they handle media! If they do not like a scientific finding or a proper political complaint, they sue. Yes, they will outright say that *facts* and *reasonable political concerns* are responsible for defaming their character, and now that corporations can act with the same privileges as individuals, they can sue!

Whether they win or lose, it doesn't matter, as they have more money for appeals than any of their opponents, even if the suit is against the fed itself (and the fed knows this quite well, hence their bending to Monsanto's whim). Just look at what's going on with poor Vermont right now.

Let's take several moments for Killer Corn, and Killer Tomatoes.

mattyn's picture
Without GMO's we would all

Without GMO's we would all starve! GMO's have been around for decades in the corn and wheat crops of the world. It's what enables us to afford most of our food items in the store today. There is no science backing the fact that GMO's are bad for us because even though they have been around for a while, they haven't been around long enough for conclusive tests.

matthjar's picture
I am not so sure if that is

I am not so sure if that is true or not.... many recent studies are showing that although in the past GMO's made food cheaper it now appears that it is making it more expensive. It may be due to Monsanto's latest strategy with GMO's does not center around around making a better plant as was done in the past. The current strategy seems to be make plants that are more resistant to the pesticides that they will sell you to improve yield, rather than better inherent yields from increased natural resistance to natural stresses. Then end result is that cost of the seeds has skyrocketed and the cost of the pesticides has skyrocketed because more and stronger pesticides are required to combat the weeds that are becoming resistant to the old pesticides. That translates to a higher cost at the supermarket and a higher cost on the soil and environment. Naturally its not much different that bacteria that are becoming equally resistant to antibiotics. Living organisms have a funny habit of adapting to survive. ;-). The main reason why there is no science backing the fact that GMO's are bad for us is that the FDA does no studies of its own but instead relies on the studies done by Guess WHO.... Monsanto. Originally GMO's were done the old fashioned way ..... from Universties... in which any strains produced would become public property..... but after 1980 it was ruled that corporation's could Patent a living organism, now GMO's moved from free intellectual property at our Universities to the Corporation. It was no longer about making better crops that could feed more people but about making better crops that could make you more money, and we thought food was for eating. Not to help the fact that many advisors at the FDA used to work for ...guess who.... Monsanto. So the Government Agency initially meant to regulate Industry to protect the public safety is now run by the industry to stifle any competitors and expedite approval. Don't take my word for it do your own research and draw you own conclusions.

Also trying to combine these 2 assertions you made "GMO's have been around for decades in the corn and wheat crops of the world." and "they haven't been around long enough for conclusive tests." Not trying to be obtuse but just honest. I may be Old-fashioned but it seems that things should have conclusive tests before they are approved for consumption by the general public.

Just some food for thought... Matthjar.

Zaphod's picture
Actually, its subsidies that

Actually, its subsidies that enable us to afford most food items in stores today.

SammyShazaam's picture
Saying that something is good

Saying that something is good because it hasn't been proved to be bad... um, I think we run religious nuts out of here for remarkably similar holy logic.

Besides, who do you think pays for testing? And do you honestly think any of those companies would pay for tests that put them out of business? What do you think they would do, if they found out that a test didn't come back in their favor? Nicely rescind their killer crops and give everyone back their money?

But, thinking we would starve is false. We're grossly underusing the land available at our disposal, as commercial growing procedures are massively inefficient. There are better ways.

Greg Lawton isn't really my favorite alt farmer, but he's still worth a watch here and there.

firebolt's picture
I think science has come a

I think science has come a long way with the gmo's and as long as we keep the greedy bastards that take over the farmlands out of the equation, science will always have our welfare in mind when coming up with new ways to make crops grow faster, stronger and healthier.

matthjar's picture
It may be too late for that I

It may be too late for that I am afraid

2009, Taylor once again returned to government as Senior Advisor to the FDA Commissioner.[21] And on January 13, 2010, he was appointed to another newly created post at the FDA, this time as Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

This particular individual started out as a staff attorney for the FDA, where he was executive assistant to the Commissioner. From there he went to King & Spalding, a law firm, one client of which was the biotechnology company Monsanto, where he established and led the firm's food and drug law practice. He then left King & Spalding, returning to the FDA to fill the newly created post of Deputy Commissioner for Policy. At this time the FDA decided that milk from cows treated with BGH did not have to be labeled as such, and that GM crops should be subject to existing food additive regulation, which basically states that if the producer considers it safe then it is not required to submit data proving is not injurious to health. Four large pharmaceutical companies, Monsanto, American Cyanamid, Eli Lilly, and Upjohn, developed commercial rBST products and submitted them to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval. Monsanto was the first firm to receive approval.From there he moved to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), where he was Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service. At this time Anti-biotechnology activist made charges that this individual had a conflict of interest with respect to the approval of rBST. The FDA replied with a memo indicating that it was okay because this individual only participated the final stages of the review. After 2 years at the USDA he returned to work at the law firm representing Monsanto for a short period he then went to work for Monsanto as a Vice President for Public Policy. After 24 year career working as an attorney for Monsanto, Monsanto directly, or for a governmental agency meant to regulate Monsanto he does some university and non profit work.

During this time he is reportedly making strong arguments for a more rigorous and unified approach to food safety, in which he argued for:

- A single agency accountable for providing consistent and coordinated oversight of food safety, from farm to table.

One might think that his time in Government is over but after 9 years away in 2009, he once again returned to government as Senior Advisor to the FDA Commissioner. And on January 13, 2010, he was appointed to another newly created post at the FDA, this time as Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

Click on this site at the FDA to find out the identity of our mystery man.


At the FDA site you will see he is quoted as saying "I am fully committed to working with my FDA colleagues to make the changes necessary to ensure the safety of America’s food supply from farm to table."

So i guess he got his wish.

SammyShazaam's picture
I don't think you're going to

I don't think you're going to have a hard fight convincing people that politicians are corrupt. The worst scientists, and the best liars, are usually the ones that end up as advisers on these boards.

Atheist School Girl's picture
Personally, as someone who

Personally, as someone who has protested against GMOs in the past, I believe that at the very least we need to be doing more testing. Because of copyright, it's nearly impossible for outside scientists to test GM crops for potential health risks. Almost all of the testing that is done on these foods is by the companies which profit from them, and the testing that ISN'T done by them shows correlations to autism, cancer, obesity and various genetic issues.

Consider this- pharmaceutical companies fall under the realm of the FDA, just like Monsanto and its affiliates. However, before releasing a drug onto the market, tests upon tests must occur in the short term and the long term. After all of that, all potential side effects are on packaging and in all commercials for the drugs and these medicines are reaching only the portion of the population in need of them. These foods are subject to none of it and are distributed on a much larger scale.

The lack of knowledge and clarity on the subject of correlations and causations is in itself an argument for labeling. If we can't take this food out of the stores until more is known about it, the least we can do is make sure people know it's there and let them decide for themselves. This isn't selective breeding, this isn't the same as it has been. These are toxins to the environment and the people eating it which are not just sprayed onto the crops now, but growing inside them, creating superweeds and superbugs as well.

Zaphod's picture
"Consider this-

"Consider this- pharmaceutical companies fall under the realm of the FDA, just like Monsanto and its affiliates. However, before releasing a drug onto the market, tests upon tests must occur in the short term and the long term. After all of that, all potential side effects are on packaging and in all commercials for the drugs and these medicines are reaching only the portion of the population in need of them. These foods are subject to none of it and are distributed on a much larger scale."

That is an awesome point!

Travis Paskiewicz's picture
I guess this is one of those

I guess this is one of those good questions that doesn't many satisfactory answers. On one side, there are people doing "research" on these foods, but the opposite side claims that there is a conspiracy going on where all evidence that proves these foods are potentially dangerous is being censored. By a corporation who owns the very government agency that is supposed to put them in check. I'm with Gregpek, I 90% doubt Monsanto honestly controls the FDA enough to censore negative claims. Plus, the majority of this food has been in the food supply for atleast a decade now, and there is still no concise evidence linking genetically modified food to any diseases.

Does this mean that it isn't? Hardly, i'm now of the mind that, like too much sunlight and smoking, any real dangers may several decades to show itself. However in the meantime, this... monopoly, coprighted organisms, needs to end. I dont think owning something that naturally reproduces itself and spreads copyrighted material of it's own accord can even leagally be controlled by any known law. Genetic engineering opens a whole new page in the world of inventing, when the invention is an living being with a will (kinda sorta-ish) of it's own.

freethinker's picture
My only fear of GMO's is the

My only fear of GMO's is the tampering of natural selection by messing with the DNA of plants....I am referring to the potential for cancer being caused by this alteration...Science is amazing so maybe in time it will all work out..We do need to be cautious in the meantime...

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