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    Should The World Keep Feeding Europe?
    By Steve Savage | May 30th 2013 03:59 PM | 59 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Trained as a plant pathologist (Ph.D. UC Davis 1982), I've worked now for >30 years in many aspects of agricultural technology (Colorado State...

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    Western Europe is a major net importer of food averaging 59 million metric tons during the years 2001 to 2010. That amount is similar to the net imports of all of Africa - a region with 2.5 times as many people. On a per capita basis that represents 139 kg or 290 pounds per person per year.

    Global food demand is expected to require a 60% increase by 2050, and it will be a major challenge to meet that demand.  Europeans will be increasingly competing with poorer, import-dependent nations. Of course my question about feeding Europe is merely academic. As long as their money is good (at least in some form), they will be able to buy in free markets. As prices for commodities continue to rise, the richest regions will have the greatest capacity to pay.

    The reason that I raise this question is that Europe's role in the global food supply is more complex than simply being a big, relatively rich customer. Through a range of actions, policies, threats, societal preferences, activism and post-colonial influence, Europe has profoundly affected the supplies of food around the world.

    In many instances, that extramural influence will continue to make it even more difficult to meet rising demand for food.  This is not just a question of economics. It is an ethical question with ramifications for global political stability. This is a discussion which needs to happen before significant food shortages occur.

    Europe Could Be Producing More of Its Own Food

    Europe is actually a very productive agricultural region. It is home to many highly sophisticated farmers. However, there are a number of regulatory constraints that prevent some of those farmers from being as productive as they might be. Only a few European countries have allowed their farmers to benefit from advances in crop biotechnology.

    Their animal producers are not allowed to use hormone supplements that improve feed-use-efficiency. Low yielding organic production has been encouraged in several of the countries. Europe may ban the use of neonicitioid insecticides as seed treatments without clear evidence of their primary role in honey bee colony collapse disorder. The ban could diminish yields in the large rapeseed, oil crop. With some policy changes, European farmers could be more productive.

    Europe Could Moderate The Intensity of Its Food Demand

    Europeans eat a lot of meat and dairy foods, probably more than is ideal for their health. The largest share of net food imports to Europe is of crops for animal feed like maize and soybeans (net 215 kg/person, a total of 40 million metric tons - twice the net feed imports to all of Africa).  Ironically these are primarily GMO crops from the Americas.

    The wheat supply has grown, but much of that has gone to animals

    Europe also uses a substantial proportion of its wheat supply as animal feed (31% on average from 2000-2009, 47 million metric tons, 1.3 times as much as the total wheat imports to Africa in 2010.) Western Europe was once a significant exporter of cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye, but in recent years net exports have contracted and more and more of the crop is now fed to animals.

    The title of this post could have been, "Should the World Keep Feeding Europe's Animals?"

    Europe's exports of grain have been declining since ~1990

    Europe Has Projected Its Hyper-Precautionary Approach

    Economist and Political scientist Robert Paarlberg of the Harvard Kennedy Center wrote a book titled "Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is being kept out of Africa."  In it he documents how post-colonial influence from Europe has driven regulatory decisions in many African countries so that they have a European-like hesitancy about GM crops.  Many don't even allow any field testing.  Since Africa will be the center of most global population increase over the next several decades, this projection of what Paarlberg terms "rich world preferences" is certainly at odds with Africa's need to produce as much of its own food as possible.

    This is particularly unfortunate because biotech crop improvements are "scale neutral." They work just as easily for a 2,000 acre farm in Iowa as a 1 hectare farm in Africa, and in many cases they would be offered for free.  African farmers would very much like to have that opportunity.  Europe has also reduced its investment in international agricultural research which further compounds the problem.  

    Europe is also very slow to approve of new biotech events for the GMO crops that it does import,  causing logistical problems in the grain trade and often interfering with the hybrids and varieties New World farmers can utilize.

    Europe Has Used Its Market Leverage to Limit Crop Innovation Outside of Its Borders

    Technically, food in Europe has to be labeled if it contains GMO ingredients. In practice, food companies use ingredients from non-GMO crops at higher cost to avoid having to bear a label which would be unpopular with their consumers. In 2002 there were GMO wheat varieties approaching the market in the US and Canada, one from Monsanto and one from Switzerland-based Syngenta. The later was particularly interesting because it would have reduced the risk of a mycotoxin in the wheat supply.  

    Even though Europe is a major producer of wheat (~100 million tons/year), it imports substantial quantities of durum and hard red spring wheat from North America because of the high quality of the grains (about 3 million metric tons in 2010). The major wheat importers of Europe (and also Japan) threatened to stop all purchases of North American wheat as soon as there was any commercial planting of GMO varieties. Unwilling to risk losing this lucrative market, the Canadian and US wheat grower associations asked Monsanto and Syngenta not to go ahead with their commercialization plans.

    The termination of those programs reduced the overall private investment in this crucial crop and global production trends have slowed while production of GMO crops has increased more rapidly.

    Gains for wheat and barley are not keeping up with corn and soy

    The wheat industry now regrets having given in to these big customers, and wants to see biotech wheat as a future option. Since then, the Australian, Canadian and US wheat grower associations have all pledged to do a simultaneous launch of biotech wheat, when and if it becomes available so that they cannot be blackmailed in this fashion. In the mean time, Europeans have used their market leverage to effectively slow the improvement of one of the world's most important food crops by decades.

    Europe Has Been a Major Driver of GMO-Phobia Around The World

    Although the anti-GMO movement is globally distributed, it began earliest and with greatest intensity in Europe. This is not because European scientists have a different opinion about the risks of improving crops with biotechnology - they agree with the broad consensus that they represent no unusual risk.  But as previous activist Mark Lynas admitted, the movement didn't even know much about the science.    Their sort of fear-mongering has influenced other nations around the world as with the case of Bt Brindal (eggplant) in India, and the long delays in the deployment of Golden Rice. The European anti-biotech movement is particularly prone to destructive vandalism and severe irrationality.

    Perhaps the most dramatic example was when activists destroyed a government sponsored field experiment with a Fanleaf Virus resistant grape rootstock trial in Alsace. The activist's concern about "genetic contamination" was absurd for a crop that isn't grown from seed anyway and for a rootstock which is only under the ground. Reason has no role in this phenomenon. Europe is also a source of much "junk science" attempting to design experiments that will "prove" that GM crops are dangerous. Real scientists in Europe are forced to discredit such efforts as they did with particular force in the case of the notorious Seralini study, but it has become a "Whac-a-mole" exercise, and the disinformation spreads.

    Conclusions

    Western Europeans have an influence on the global food supply that goes well beyond simply being a major customer.  They have interfered in a variety of ways with how farmers around the world can farm. The influence has important ramifications for all consumers around the world. To be fair, the substantial investments by European-based agricultural technology companies like Bayer, BASF and Syngenta are making extremely valuable contributions to global food productivity, but all of those companies have moved their biotechnology efforts to more science-friendly countries.

    I'm sure that the world will keep feeding Europe and its animals.  I'm less sure that will be fair to the poorer, import-dependent people of the world.

    All figures based on FAOSTATS data.  I have posted a complete slide set on this topic on SCRIBD and would be happy to email it to anyone interested.  You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me at savage.sd@gmail.com.

    Comments

    Europe should absolutely NOT adopt North American practices, just because some heavily invested individuals and companies would like it to be so. GMO seeds and industrialized farming have NOT solved the world's food supply problems, nor will they. Quite the contrary, as overuse of herbicides are now causing greater problems than the weeds they were meant to remove. The patents Monsanto et. al. hold on almost 70% of the seeds used in food production grants almost complete control of the food supply for the world. There may not yet be proof that GMOs are not 'safe', but there is ample correlating evidence of increases in chronic disease to at least be cautious. There is no absolute proof that they are not harmful, either. I prefer not to be a subject in this enormous experiment, and will avoid these foods as best I can. Call me 'phobic' if you like. I can live with that.

    Hank
    This comment represents a lot of the anti-science mentality of Europeans too. You're not phobic, you are just the victim of marketing claims by activist groups, and there's no surprise in that. The EU's first Science Adviser, Anne Glover, looks to curing the anti-science mentality of Europeans (not just about food, but about energy, medicine - even cell phones - also) as her top priority.

    She has a difficult job. Monsanto PR sucks and Greenpeace PR is terrific. Ironically, Europeans benefited the most from scientific advances in agriculture. They just now believe science was invented only 15 years ago.
    Lisalotta
    Unfortunately Anne Glover has lost the respect of the independent scientific community in Europe by consistently refusing to engage with the science, notably on GMOs. She simply pretends that no evidence casting doubt on the safety or efficacy of GMOs exists. She also seemed at a recent meeting with scientific NGOs not to know about the decades' worth of independent science pointing to risks of various substances that is routinely ignored by regulators and industry. Since Hank Campbell appears to like labelling people "anti-science" and "activist groups", I would like to ask him: just who, in this picture, is anti-science?
    Hank
    'Independent' unfortunately often means conspiratorial oppressed underdogs,  not actual scientists. Europe would do well to embrace more Anne Glovers and fewer Gilles-Eric Seralini. Glover is a welcome relief to biologists whose only agenda is science.
    Lisalotta
    You are relying on labelling and insulting people instead of science and facts. You appear to be labelling Seralini one of the "conspiratorial oppressed underdogs, not actual scientist" even though he is a well credentialed scientist with hundreds of peer reviewed publications to his name. How do his credentials and expertise compare with your own, that you feel able to dismiss his expertise so lightly? Finally, please offer some evidence to show that Anne Glover is actually looking at any scientific evidence rather than grandstanding and stating 'aspirational' views about the future of GM.

    Unfortunately the decades-worth of independent research on toxics and GMOs is not all written by conspiracy theorists and underdogs, unless there has been a remarkable coup on the part of these poor marginalised creatures to take over scientific publishing.
    sdsavage
    Elisa,Since multiple European scientific associations, the German and the European food safety authorities quickly came out with statements rejecting the validity of his study, I feel pretty safe saying it is junk science.  It is pretty much the biggest smack-down I've ever seen from the science community. Also the way he came out for press attention and the data he didn't include were notable.  If he was a credible scientist before he has lost that now
    Steve Savage
    Hank
    Astrologers can claim to be peer reviewed - all they have to do is start an open access journal online and get other astrologers to peer review their claims. Does that peer review mean I have one predictable personality if I was born on my birthday in India but a completely different one since I was born in the US? Maybe to you. And astrologers. And Seralini.

    Maybe he once did do decent work - but GMOs are pesticide sponges? He's a crackpot.

    That you shrilly defend a crackpot and disparage a quality scientist tells us which camp you are in.
    sdsavage
    No Thanks,I wonder where you get your 70% of seeds number.  I'm quite familiar with the seed trade and that number is way off.  If Monsanto had "complete control of the food supply" then why were some European (and Japanese) import countries able to shut down their GM wheat program?  Why was MacDonalds able to shut down their potato program?  If you ask most of the farmers all around the world who feed us if the want to be able to use this technology you get an overwhelmingly positive response.  Like it or not, you are part of an "enormous experiment" for any non-GMO crop for which breeders have been making changes.  None of the new apple varieties developed over the last 20 years was ever tested in any way for safety except for the Arctic apples developed with biotech tools.  Lots of people have added something like acai berries to their diet - these were never tested.  There have been documented instances where new potato or strawberry varieties have turned out to have toxicity or allergenicity issues- ones developed through conventional breeding.  There have been no such instances for biotech crops.   Scores of people have died from eating organic foods contaminated with fecal bacteria via compost.  No one has ever died from eating GM crops.  All new foods are an "experiment."  Its just that the GM ones are the most carefully developed.  

    You are not phobic.  You are probably mostly unaware of how risk works in the real world.
    Steve Savage
    JohnK.
    It is customary to link to data supporting critical claims.  I simply cannot find any evidence to support your claims.  

    Oddly enough evolution will always win out.  The current news about an odd wheat strain is a perfect example.  While it is certainly possible that the wheat came from GMO work, it is possible that plants will simply adapt to Roundup anyway.  That is how super-bugs develop.  Keep spraying Roundup on everything and eventually all plants will be Roundup immune.
     
    Would that much slowed process of improving crops satisfy your panic.  All it takes is one 'natural' mutation that then produces seeds to evolve a new strain.
    sdsavage
    John,I did link to the FAOStats site where I got all the data and to a more complete slide set on SCRIBD.

    Yes, one can select for resistance, but that has happened with plenty of other herbicides and even with tillage (native bindweed and Canada thistle love being chopped up and spread around a field).  Evolution is a very real part of both the difficulty and the opportunities involved with agriculture.  Modern sweet corn is based on two mutations - one which prevented the sugar from being converted to starch after picking.  The other was for more tender kernels.  Those combined revolutionized that crop in the 1980s.  

    As for the wheat in the news, the only reason that it wasn't an approved event is because of the European/Japanese blackmail I describe in the post.  I wish farmer here could just say, "ok, feed yourself!"
    Steve Savage
    JohnK.
    I was replying to the anonymous person and not to you.  Sorry it didn't look that way.  

    My point was that widespread application of Roundup will eventually produce a natural resistance by plants.  Nature is awful good at surviving things.  Since my comment was directed to the unknown person, I was wondering if a naturally evolved crop would be acceptable to them.
     
    Sorry for the misunderstanding.
    sdsavage
    John, Sorry, I wasn't paying attention.
    Steve Savage
    Gerhard Adam
    I wish farmer here could just say, "ok, feed yourself!"
    They can.  They can stop whenever they'd like.  After all you certainly aren't suggesting that the only reasons farmers grow food is out of moral obligation.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
     While it is certainly possible that the wheat came from GMO work, it is possible that plants will simply adapt to Roundup anyway.  That is how super-bugs develop.  Keep spraying Roundup on everything and eventually all plants will be Roundup immune.
    It isn't merely possible, it is already occurring.  I find it ironic that you find one of the primary criticisms of Roundup Ready to be a "feature".

    This is exactly the same problem as antibiotic resistance, where we used them everywhere until they may not work anywhere.

    Mundus vult decipi
    sdsavage
    Gerhard,It is interesting, a friend just made the argument the other day that the antibiotic resistance issue is really a business model problem.  It costs a great deal of money to do the discovery research and the regulatory work to develop a new antibiotic.  Thus the developer has a rational economic incentive to see the product used as much as possible and in as many applications as possible (e.g. also for animal feed efficiency use).  As the patent expires there is actually an incentive to allow that antibiotic to become resistant because then the next one won't be competing with a generic.  If we really want to have antibiotics for safe, long-term, human-only use, we should incentivize differently - e.g. pay the successful developer for their investment and then only have them toll manufacture enough for careful medical use.  Weeds on the other hand are something that is going to be there needing to be managed every year.  For this we need to use good product rotation strategies to prevent resistance development as much as possible.  
    Steve Savage
    Gerhard Adam
    Steve, I have to strongly disagree.  That's about the most cynical economic model imaginable.

    This is precisely what the conspiracy theorists already believe is happening, because to follow that line of reasoning, then clearly we can't trust the American Cancer Society to be seriously undermining their existence by trying to cure cancer.  Then clearly it is in Big Pharma's interest to sell useless drugs or even drugs that do harm, so that they can correspondingly keep us paying for more prescriptions.

    The problem is that this isn't about business.  This is about society.  Any business that seeks to profit by capitalizing on the misery, pain and suffering of others deserves to be destroyed.

    It isn't that the problem can't be solved, but instead we prefer to indulge in the fantasy that one can simply allow a "free market" to determine what works in a society.  It wasn't the "free market" that produced rural electrification, nor was it the "free market" that produced a national highway system.  We need to get real and stop pretending.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bornerdogge
    I think you are mistaken about the reasons why most Europeans don't want GMO's in their food...

    It is not only a pure scientific problem (is eating GMOs safe? are they going to mix with non-GMOs crops, producing uncontrolled hybrids?), but also and mostly a sociological one: farmers want to keep control of their seeds, people want to keep some level of control about what they put in their mouth.

    You can't blame us for not wanting to open the door to companies like Monsanto. The conflict of interest is just too strong: they do not care a single bit about the people's health or the environment, what they want is pure profit. Deregulation in the American way assumes the market will guide businesses towards the greater good, it always assumes companies can be in some way trusted about what they do. Well guess what, it's not the case! If you want to authorize GMOs or hormon-grown meat because business-funded research told you not to worry about it, it's your problem.

    When GMOs were introduced in India, suicide rates in farmers skyrocketed... GMOs might help solving the problem of food production (though that has not been proven), but they bring about so many other problems that it might be worthwile to sit down and think more about it: are there other ways? Is it right do rush down the road, and e.g. flood the African market with GMOs when their food problems could be solved in some other way (for instance, reforming the EU's Common Agricultural Policy)?

    I agree organic farming will not be able to feed everyone and brings about problems of its own ("natural" fertilizers that are more harmful than synthetic ones, etc.), but how about promoting vegetarianism, or at least trying to reduce meath consumption, which could help a great deal in re-organizing global food production? Promoting alternative techniques like no-till farming? etc....

    Europeans are not anti-science, they are simply more cautious about the way science is used by businesses to produce technology, which is an entirely different thing. And if you want to focus on the few wackos who destroy GMO testing experiments, I'd like to point out that the U.S. has a very nice collection of anti-science minorities as well...
    sdsavage
    Sebastien,The suicide thing is a well-debunked myth.  Rattan Lal, an Indian borne Nobel laureate was asked about this in a meeting I attended in New York in June.  He categorically rejected that story and said that to the contrary, Indian cotton farmers are extremely pleased with Bt cotton.  As for undue influence by Monsanto. As I pointed out in the post, the real "control of the food supply" is in the hands of big retailers and importers.  Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont/Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences and BASF all compete in the seed and trait space and they are only successful if they provide something that is valuable to growers.  Growers for their part very much like the technology and would bristle at the idea that anyone "controls them."    Clearly the GMO side of things is only part of the puzzle.  

    A friend sent me a very thoughtful article on this same general topic by some European authors.  I can't find a link to that, but here is a shorter summary http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/35578/title/Opinion--Don-t-Fear-GM-Crops--Europe-/

    I completely agree that we in the US have plenty of anti-science groups - both on the political Left and Right.  Also, I know and work with all sorts of European scientists and they are perfectly reasonable, and sort of frustrated.  I also agree that some moderation in meat/dairy consumption could do a lot.  Animal agriculture does give humans access to food energy and protein that would not otherwise be available to us - particularly via ruminants, so they need to be a part of the diet - just a smaller one for some people.
    Steve Savage
    Bornerdogge
    Thank you for your answer and this intersting article.

    As you seem to agree with its content, there are a few points/questions I'd like to make here:
    - "The evidence from around the world where GM agriculture is accepted is that these crops increase agricultural productivity, reduce environmental damage and the carbon footprint of agriculture, make farmers competitive, and increase the wealth and wellbeing of the poor."
    This is a strong claim (from the tone of it, it could come straight from a Monsanto commercial) but I can't see any evidence backing it up. Most situations I've heard about were not so optimistic... I'd be interested to see some info on where it worked well.

    - "Others object to GM technology on the basis that it is controlled by “big business,” but this ignores the fact that agriculture itself is dominated by big businesses that produce and distribute seeds. The business model adopted for GM technology is no different than that in use for conventional agricultural products."
    ... Which doesn't mean one cannot try to avoid both big businesses, by breeding ancient varieties which were much better adapted to their environment. Yields might be somewhat lower but it would be cheaper for the farmers if they could cross-breed and reuse seeds themselves instead of having to buy "standardized" varieties every year.

    To this point I'd like to add: if biotech was not patented I and many people would be much better inclined to it.... A free-to-use GMOs variety which actually solves a real problem (disease, ...) (meaning: not a GMO which only allows you to use roundup and which gets you sued if you reuse the seeds) would, I think, find easier its way into Europe...

    You say "Animal agriculture does give humans access to food energy and protein that would not otherwise be available to us". To that I do not agree. If people ate more different kinds of vegetables than just carrots and onions (to be caricatural) this would not be the case. And even if one had to eat only 2 eggs a week the situation would be wholly different from what it is now. But this is a different debate...

    There is something I haven't mentioned yet: if (along with reduced meat consumption) we agressively fought food wasting, the necessary production would naturally be much lower than what it has to be now.
    This way it might be possible to switch from a high-yield industrial agriculture (based on synthetic chemicals and/or GMOs) to a more sustainable model (for instance, isn't it right that deep tilling, monocultures, along with extensive use of pesticides, actually destroyed the soil's structure (microbiote, texture, ...), rendering it impossible to grow anything without heavily using fertilizer?)...
    Sebastien;
    Get a quick read in American Sci mag last month or so to see suicide rates of farmers in India for a more factual assess of any links
    India has 1 billion plus people, I'm sure there are 10,000 accountants who suicide over something or other every year too
    India's culture in general differs greatly in value of individual life; Western culture is more linear in values (one lfe to live) India is cyclical with manifold livetimes available. Perhaps a suicide in india isn't looked upon as such a mistaken waste of a life that we do in West

    I think there's 5 to 6 billion people regularly eating GMO sourced food; never before has such wide use of new tech been dispersed w/ no ill effects
    There's ill effects found in isolated trials yet those results haven't been duplicated (as in above mentioned Seralini who wouldn't diclose type of lab rats used nor methodology)
    It seems to me Sebastien, the people who made movie "Bitter Seeds" used more English majors rather than Sci majors

    Hank
    It seems to me Sebastien, the people who made movie "Bitter Seeds" used more English majors rather than Sci majors
    Great point. I haven't done a formal review but I have noticed that environmental activist groups in America are heavy on political science majors (and, weirdly, former aides to Democrats in Congress) and have almost no scientists. 
    Bornerdogge
    I haven't seen "Bitter Seeds".

    But apart from this example, which I may well have gotten wrong, you're partly missing my point: I agree that no conclusive proof has been made against the case of GMOs being hazardous to health (*), but I'm talking about wider implications.
    Maybe the suicide rate hasn't increased because of this but that doesn't mean there haven't been problems regarding the introduction of BT crops... And this is just an example amongst others.

    (*) Seralini was a one-time fail which gained wide media attention. What about the studies the FDA and others use to determine regulations? I was given to understand most of these studies are conducted by the very industrials who invest in GMOs. Of course these studies are never published... What might well be the reason for that???
    Other point: GMOs have been around for 20 years, 30 tops... Some effects take a lot of time to come to light (how much time before we recognized the danger of asbestos, aspartame, BPA, etc. although they were scientifically proven to be harmless?)! I'm very curious about what might come to light in 20 years...
    Hank
    Two points: First, the FDA requires industry to conduct tests in all cases. It's no different in drug companies. If people want to sell it, they have to show substantial equivalence. Second, you can't disprove a negative.  No product on this planet can be scientifically proven harmless, just like you cannot conclusively prove I am not an alien.
    Bornerdogge
    That's my point: the tests are conducted by the industry and are mostly not peer-reviewed (reviewed by the FDA of course, but with revolving doors that's not convincing). Do you not agree there is a conflict of interests?

    I think you mean one cannot prove a negative?
    I know that. But I'm not saying they're not dangerous, you are.
    Beside that, what about "substantial equivalence"? How could this be assumed from scratch? How is this good science?

    Regarding english/politics majors in activism/documentaries. I agree the little I know about all this I have taken from investigation documentaries and a few books... But at least in those I've seen the people interviewed were mostly scientists working in independent research centers, or for governmental agencies. Unfortunately I cannot give them to you because they are in French or German...

    In the end what I'm saying is that Europe is not generally "anti-science": people are not critical of science in general, they are critical of studies conducted by scientists having conflicts of interest.
    Hank
    In order to disprove a negative, you have to get into philosophical mumbo-jumbo that induction can't exist at all and that's pointless sophistry. Likewise, what does not have a conflict of interest?  Government employees who have tenure for life?  Who don't know anyone in any industry?  Who are outside the field and therefore non experts?  No scientific or medical discovery is valid using any of those criteria.

    If a food is not any more harmful than any other food, it has substantial equivalence. Some people contend wheat in use for the last 100 years is harmful too but there is no proof of that.  So, sure, they can choose to believe it, but you shouldn't ban 20th century wheat or the 21st century kind.  If GMOs are shown to be harmful, I'll turn on them in a second. What I won't do is hold them to an impossible standard no food in world history can meet.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat

    According to this article 'Criticism surrounding Monsanto continues to grow as a new scandal broke out against the biotech giant on Wednesday. After strains of wheat were found growing “like a weed” on a farm in Oregon, tests conducted by the Department of Agriculture determined it to be genetically engineered, tracing it back to a Monsanto experiment that took place between 1998 and 2005.'

    '...the wheat was “developed by Monsanto to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup”—containing glyphosate, which can be toxic to the environment and a health risk to people—and “field-tested in 16 states, including Oregon,” never went to production. The “Roundup Ready” crop recently found on an unnamed farm is currently under investigation to figure out how the mysterious genetically modified wheat re-appeared eight years after Monsanto dropped it.'

    'The farmer, who said he found the wheat unexpectedly growing on his farm, sprayed it with Roundup, and when the “impossible” happened, he sent the surviving samples of wheat to a laboratory for testing. As the U.S. is concerned about how the wheat strain “escaped protocols,” according to Reuters, officials said the crop poses no health-threats since reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004.'

    'While the Department of Agriculture is unsure if any of the genetically modified wheat was part of the recent food supply or crop shipments, Monsanto said that if the tests prove to be true, they could assure that it is “very limited.” But many wheat exporters suspended American wheat imports; Japan being one of them.'

    'Since about 90 percent of wheat grown in Oregon is exported worldwide and generates “half a billion dollars in revenue each year,” this poses an exceptional threat to American agriculture, according to the Department of Agriculture.'



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    Gerhard Adam
    I just saw this, so thanks for bringing it to the fore-front.

    Unfortunately it seems the the focus is on food safety, which is unlikely to be an issue.  This misses the larger question.  As stated in one of the articles, how did this modified wheat make it into the "wild" [so to speak].  It could have occurred through an unusual series of coincidences, or there is a concern that it may have become mixed in with standard seeds due to human error.

    The real concern is that it demonstrates that there is absolutely no means of controlling any such modifications regarding unintended distributions.  While this incident isn't really a health risk, there are numerous other genetic modifications occurring to plants [for non-food purposes] that might be quite a problem if they "got out".

    So, the first level of assurance in that GMO crops are tightly controlled and cannot possibly mix with other crops is demonstrably false [again - consider Starlink corn] and to be more persistent than the people set to monitor it.

    Let's also be clear that this isn't about science.  This is just another example of actual practices as they occur in the world.
    Mundus vult decipi
    sdsavage
    Gerhard,Its not like you to be so imprecise.  You say "So the first level of assurance in that GMO crops are tightly controlled and cannot possibly mix with other crops is demonstrably false."  


    This is not an example of mixing with other crops.  This is just wheat.  I'm planning a post about how wheat is genetically contaminated in 127 countries.  It is because since wheat is mostly a "saved seed crop" there is always some level of genetic drift in any farmer's saved seed.  Wind moves around the pollen from the neighbors or from the other varieties that every logical grower should grow to diversify their risk of Fusarium head blight which is a function of timing of inflorescence.  


    All crop genetics have been mixing and that being managed by farmers and seed producers for decades.  This is nothing new in terms of biology or agronomics.  It is only new for the level of attention from people who know nothing about agriculture.
    Steve Savage
    Gerhard Adam
    All crop genetics have been mixing and that being managed by farmers and seed producers for decades.  This is nothing new in terms of biology or agronomics.
    Which is exactly the point.  The problem here is that this wheat wasn't supposed to be anywhere.  More importantly, it plays exactly into the hands of those claiming that GMO crops will destroy their organic businesses.

    Now, one doesn't have to accept the hype about organics to recognize that compromising one farmer's livelihood is no better ethically than compromising another's.  This has the potential to have done just that.

    For a plant that has not been approved for use, this spurious incident risks millions of dollars in lost revenue to Oregon wheat farmers.  As I said before, this isn't about safety.  This is about claiming that a level of control is possible that has just been demonstrated to be untrue.
    A worse case scenario is that seeds have been carried intermittently over the years and wheat fields have been contaminated with small amounts of GM wheat undetected for up to a decade. Then there’s the worst case scenario, for Monsanto, certainly; GM seeds routinely mixed up with conventional seeds through human error.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/nadiaarumugam/2013/05/31/illegal-genetically-modified-wheat-found-in-oregon-farm-should-we-be-worried/
    When this is coupled with the other uses of GMO foods, especially those that have not been part of the controversies yet.
    If a food crop is used for biopharming, there must be several redundant levels of confinement, even for field trials. Strategies for reducing the risk of inadvertent gene flow include ensuring “isolation distances” between GM and non-GM crops, imposing geographical restrictions (such as not growing pharma corn in parts of the country where commodity corn is grown), physical barriers to cross-fertilization (such as fences or greenhouses), and biological confinement (such as rendering male plants sterile).
    http://www.fas.org/biosecurity/education/dualuse-agriculture/2.-agricultural-biotechnology/prodigene-incident.html
    So, what happens when someone is hospitalized because they ate corn that was inadvertently mixed with a variety that has been modified to produce some pharmaceutical?  Again, this isn't speculation.  This is something that has already occurred, just like the Starlink incident was a precursor incident.

    The problem that seems to escape the advocates is that this doesn't involve sinister scientists, nor corporate conspiracies, or underhanded government tricks.  It only requires one worker that decides that they're tired and don't quite follow the protocols or requirements one day.   Of course if we consider the potential damage done by a disgruntled worker someplace then one might actually get paranoid.
    Mundus vult decipi
    sdsavage
    Helen,This "escaped" wheat is one of the two traits I described in the post which was getting very close to commercialization when the European/Japanese blackmail halted it.  It had already been approved for field release by the USDA, that is why there was the potential for this sort of movement.  That would have all been a non-issue if things had progressed as they were.  In a way it is remarkable that there have not been more of these incidents.  Again, as USDA said there is no health or environmental risk associated with this, just an unfortunate response on the part of some of the very companies who stalled the process in mid-stream in 2002.  I may write a post titled "Rogue wheat now found in 127 countries" because the very nature of wheat is to have some genetic drift.  That is why even thought it is a predominantly "saved seed crops" farmers have to buy some pure "certified seed" every few years in order to achieve the sort of consistency that will deliver the quality the buyers are looking for.  That seed has to be grown with enough buffer from other wheat to generate the pure seed.  So, the management of "rogue wheat" is a long-term, mainstream exercise for wheat growers
    Steve Savage
    Gerhard Adam
    Again, as USDA said there is no health or environmental risk associated with this, just an unfortunate response on the part of some of the very companies who stalled the process in mid-stream in 2002.
    Steve, I'm concerned that you are seemingly not understanding the issue.  Ignoring the wilder activist claims, the problem is that this seed shouldn't be there.  This incident puts Oregon wheat farmers at risk for hundreds of millions of dollars in losses and you seem to be arguing that they should just "get over it"?


    Mundus vult decipi
    sdsavage
    Gerhard,No, I understand the very real financial ramifications for the growers.  The export customers are the ones who are being unreasonable.  They were unreasonable in 2002 and they look like they will be now.  The old saying "the customer is always right" is a practical reality, not an ethical truism
    Steve Savage
    Gerhard Adam
    The old saying "the customer is always right" is a practical reality, not an ethical truism.
    What does ethics have to do with it?  The individual spending money always has the right to determine how they choose to spend it or not.  It isn't as if the customer is putting an onerous cost on the producer.  The customer is simply declining the purchase, which is and always will be their prerogative.  I can't even imagine arguing an alternative view when it comes to economics. 

    Farmers, as any other business, do not have a "right" to make money.  They are businesses and make money by satisfying their customer's demands.  A customer might not buy from a producer for no better reason than that they don't like them.  They may even pay more money just to avoid a producer they dislike.

    I find it absurd to argue that the customer is wrong, but I'm beginning to see why GMOs are having so much difficulty.  With such economic and public relations naivete, GMOs haven't got a chance.  I suspect this is why they want government support to "fly under the radar".  It's their only chance of getting their product out there, since their marketing has been so poorly conducted.

    I'm not sympathetic.  There are plenty of companies and players in this area that know better and simply elect [for whatever reason] to do nothing. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    sdsavage
    Gerhard,The ethics of global food supply may not matter to you, but they do to me. It is not about farmer's right to earn money and it isn't about what rich costumers think they want.  This is about whether we will be able to feed humanity over the next several decades.  Are you against that?  I doubt it.
    There was never an agenda to "fly under the radar" by the biotech industry.  It was all out there decades before commercialization with public meetings, scientific conventions, regulatory agency input...  What your are promoting is the idea that ignorance of all of that is a legitimate critique of the technology?

    Steve Savage
    Gerhard Adam
    No.  I'm arguing that this isn't about someone just being frustrated because they don't like how the world works.  It isn't going to change just because of this technology nor about your feelings regarding ethical responsibilities.

    If you want to discuss ethics, then that's fine.  That's been going on for decades.

    If you want to argue about the science, then that's fine.

    But don't conflate the two and think that things will work out simply because you think you're right.  One of the first things one learns in business is that being right doesn't count for much.  You may think that's unfair, but it's the way it is.

    If we have an ethical responsibility to feed the world, then there's plenty that needs to be done now, but it won't be.  You and I both know that.  This has been an issue as long as there have been societies and biotechnology isn't going to solve it.  If it were simply a technology problem it would've been solved long ago.  It's a political problem and will remain so.

    As for my "under the radar" comment, it's true.  Ask anyone about GMO's and they'll give you the hype.  Ask anyone about erectile dysfunction and they'll be able to name three or four drugs to deal with it.  That's marketing. 

    Patrick just published an article about a making a better mouse trap, but he also left out one important element.  It doesn't matter how good the mouse trap is if no one knows about it.  That's marketing and sales.  That's the problem with biotechnology.  Everyone has been so "heads down" to get it done, no one bothered to educate and bring the public along with them.  Now that the activists have their attention, the industry is fighting a rear-guard action and they still don't get it.

    As far as feeding humanity?  I'm sorry, but I've listened to far too much ridicule when that subject came up in discussions about over-population.  No one wants to admit that our human population is out of control, so now bio-tech is supposed to save us?  Again, it won't happen.

    What you're arguing are exactly the predictions about food shortages that no one wants to discuss.  They are a direct result of human abuse of the environment and over-population.  We don't want to address those problems, because we actually know how to solve them, but we won't.

    I get it.  These are problems that shouldn't exist.  We can solve them.  There's no doubt that biotech can be a big factor in that solution.  It's aggravating when people interfere ... but that's what people do.  How do you think we destroyed smallpox?  ... and why do you think such an effort will never happen again?

    It occurred because we had the technical means and the political will to ram it down people's throats and become totalitarian about it.  That's how it worked.  Such an opportunity won't happen a second time.

    You're frustrated with the world's hunger.  I also see this every day.  Simple every day problems that politicians refuse to address because they're more concerned about sticking it to the other party, or making money, or helping their friends, or simply being pricks.  Everyone excuses government incompetence, and yet we trust these guys with nuclear and biological weapons.  They can be competent when they choose to be, but the public has become complacent and let the inmates run the asylum.

    So, while I understand your point, I also recognize that that approach leads nowhere.  Do you think Las Vegas exists because of people's understanding of probability theory?  We're a society that still can't bring itself to having a 13th floor in most hotels.  Do believe we had a financial meltdown because no one on Wall Street understands finance?  How do you think this is going to play out?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    To help highlight my point about marketing ... [bear in mind, I'm no marketing expert].  This is what I would suggest for companies like Monsanto.

    (1)  Fund several programs on Discovery, PBS, etc. that deal with nothing but genes, and gene manipulation [in the abstract].  How it's done, essentially presenting more of the "whiz-bang" technological aspects of it.

    (2)  More programs on the problems farmers face with pest controls.  The role/use of pesticides/herbicides, etc.

    (3)  Programs that begin to bring these topics together.  After all this is an educational process.  The idea must be sold.

    (4)  Once a dialogue is started that is absent the hype [or at least a force against it] then perhaps some in-roads can be made.  It won't be easy.  Monsanto has it's own history to account for to the public and that doesn't help.  However, it's more beneficial when all the information comes out, rather than letting it stew in the public's mind. 

    Every politician knows that the worst thing you can do when accused in a scandal is to not respond and let it go, because that starts the rumor mill churning.  Yet, despite these continuous comments regarding Agent Orange [and yes, I do realize that that was a government contract and the original company was sold to Pfizer, etc.] Monsanto has elected to be unresponsive, thereby allowing the rumor mill to churn out all manner of nonsense.  Now, the battle is that much more difficult.

    As I said ... for companies that have access to highly qualified PR and marketing firms, I can't imagine any greater incompetence than they have displayed in dealing with the public.

    Now, you may not like what I'm suggesting, but the choices are simple.  Scientists and advocates for GMO foods can try to cajole the government into passing laws [which they won't do], and they can hang out on web-sites bitching about how stupid the rest of the world is.  Or, they can begin to take steps to educate and get their message out, so that the public can become informed about the issues. 

    NOTE:  Publication in a journal is not "getting the message out",  neither are scientific conferences or government/corporate meetings.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    To help highlight my point about marketing ... [bear in mind, I'm no marketing expert].  This is what I would suggest for companies like Monsanto.
    (1)  Fund several programs on Discovery, PBS, etc. that deal with nothing but genes, and gene manipulation [in the abstract].  How it's done, essentially presenting more of the "whiz-bang" technological aspects of it.
    (2)  More programs on the problems farmers face with pest controls.  The role/use of pesticides/herbicides, etc.
    (3)  Programs that begin to bring these topics together.  After all this is an educational process.  The idea must be sold.
    (4)  Once a dialogue is started that is absent the hype [or at least a force against it] then perhaps some in-roads can be made.  It won't be easy.  Monsanto has it's own history to account for to the public and that doesn't help.  However, it's more beneficial when all the information comes out, rather than letting it stew in the public's mind.  

    I can't see how it can ever be beneficial for Monsanto if all the information about Monsanto' history was to come out? Especially as even Wikipedia's opening paragraph describes Monsanto as :- 

    ...a publicly traded American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri. It is a leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seed and of the herbicide glyphosate, which it markets under the Roundup brand....The company also formerly manufactured controversial products such as the insecticide  DDTPCBsAgent Orange & recombinant bovine somatotropin. 

    Follow the links and read the terrible human and environmental toxic health and environmental effects of many of these Monsanto products, that were still sold and supplied by Monsanto for years after they were known to be highly toxic to humans, animals and the environment. 

    DDT Effects on human health
    Potential mechanisms of action on humans are genotoxicity and endocrine disruption. DDT can be directly genotoxic, but may also induce enzymes to produce other genotoxic intermediates and DNA adducts. It is an endocrine disruptor....DDT and DDE have been linked to diabetes. A number of studies from the US, Canada, and Sweden have found that the prevalence of the disease in a population increases with serum DDT or DDE levels.[56][57][58][59][60][61]
    Agent Orange is the combination of the code names for Herbicide Orange (HO) and Agent LNX, one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its chemical warfareprogram, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of its use.[1] The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange.[2]
    Why would anyone trust a company like Monsanto, with such an appalling human and environmental historical track record? I also find it difficult to understand why scientists like Steve are advocating this repeated, massive spraying of Monsanto's Roundup glysophate upon genetically engineered glysophate resistant crops, when Wiki also describes the following :-
    Glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine) is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses known to compete with commercial crops grown around the globe. It was discovered to be a herbicide by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970. Monsanto brought it to market in the 1970s under the trade name Roundup, and Monsanto's last commercially relevant United States patent  expired in 2000.
    The  active ingredient of Roundup is the isopropylamine salt of glyphosate. Another important ingredient in some formulations of Roundup is the surfactant POEA (polyethoxylated tallow amine), which has been found to be highly toxic to animals and to humans.[41][42][43][44]

    It seems to me that the world is going mad by thinking that planting genetically engineered, glysophate resistant plants and then repeatedly spraying them with massive amounts of toxic glysophate is the sensible way to feed the world's populations and expect them to be able to live healthily in a healthy environment. Especially when there is so much evidence already of a surge in glysophate resistant weeds, human health problems and environmental damage, wherever these strategies and Monsanto products have already been implemented.

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    That's the point Helen.  Monsanto [at that time] was a chemical company, and was involved in fulfilling a government military contract to product Agent Orange according to the military's specifications.  The military was responsible for it's use.

    So, to whatever degree one wants to blame Monsanto, the second part is the most important.  The chemical portion of the business was sold off and became part of Pfizer.  Through a few other changes, Monsanto is no longer a chemical company but is strictly involved in agriculture/seeds.

    I've obviously glossed over a great deal, but the point is that the name is the same, but technically the company is a different company from the one every equates with Agent Orange.  Now, whether one wants to regard them as ethical or unethical, the point is that one needs to do that to the company it is now, not the company it was then.

    Again, people may not like it, but companies are NOT people, and it is entirely possible for a company to have done something in its past and those responsible as well as that entire line of business can go elsewhere.  So while we might not be inclined to forgive an individual's past transgressions, it is harder to justify holding a grudge in a case like this.

    So whatever one may think of today's Monsanto, it is not the same company of Agent Orange repute.
    It was never really much of a marriage: Pharmacia took what it wanted from Monsanto, and now it's getting rid of the crop company. As expected, Pharmacia will spin off its 85% stake in Monsanto to shareholders, after floating 15% of the crop company in a fourth-quarter 2000 IPO. The divorce will finalize in the second half of 2002.

    Pharmacia (nyse: PHA - news - people ) never had any interest in crops. When Pharmacia&Upjohn bought the old Monsanto in April of 2000 for $23 billion, it was largely for the company's G.D. Searle drug division and its promising pipeline. In particular, it was for Celebrex, an arthritis treatment that is Pharmacia's biggest drug with annual sales nearing $3 billion.
    http://www.forbes.com/2001/11/28/1128pha.html
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    That's the point Helen.  Monsanto [at that time] was a chemical company, and was involved in fulfilling a government military contract to product Agent Orange according to the military's specifications.  The military was responsible for it's use.
    I don't get what you are saying Gerhard? The military did not specify the deadly contaminant that Monsanto accidentally produced in Agent Orange, that injured and killed so many people and caused so much environmental destruction did they? I thought that Monsanto was responsible for that accident and that they and the military sat on this information for way too long?
    Agent Orange contained a 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, it was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defenseprimarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. The 2,4,5-T used to produce Agent Orange was later discovered to be contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), an extremely toxic dioxin compound. It was given its name from the color of the orange-striped 550 US gallon (208 l) barrels in which it was shipped, and was by far the most widely used of the so-called "Rainbow Herbicides".[3]
    Prior to the controversy surrounding Agent Orange, there was already a large body of scientific evidence linking 2,4,5-T to serious negative health effects and ecological damage.[15] But in 1969, it was revealed to the public that the 2,4,5-T was contaminated with a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), and that the TCDD was causing many of the previously unexplained adverse health effects which were correlated with Agent Orange exposure.[16] TCDD has been described as "perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man".[17] Internal memoranda revealed that Monsanto (a manufacturer of 2,4,5-T) had informed the U.S. government in 1952 that its 2,4,5-T was contaminated.[18] In the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, accidental overheating of the reaction mixture easily causes the product to condense into the toxic self-condensation product TCDD.
    What contaminants is Monsanto accidentally producing now in its Roundup I wonder? I recently read that there is evidence that there are other additives, detergents and surfactants in Roundup and similar products that could already be causing unforeseen environmental and health problems both now and in the future. I can't be bothered to find them now but I will probably tomorrow. After all, according to this Businessweek report only recently similar costly GM contaminant mistakes were made, the unexplained, indestructible GM wheat in Oregon was not the first of its kind :-


    'In 2000, a strain of corn called StarLink, engineered by Aventis (SNY) to kill caterpillars, was found in taco shells. In 2006, Bayer’s (BAYN) LibertyLink experimental rice made its way into the food supply, leading to lost exports. In 2012, the German company agreed to pay $750 million to settle claims from 11,000 U.S. farmers in five states.'
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, I think if you're going to allege contaminants, then it must be quite specific and demonstrable.  I don't think that's an issue with RR seeds.

    Regarding Agent Orange, I think we also have to be clear ... is this about Agent Orange?  Is it about holding a grudge?  What's that about?
    Mundus vult decipi
    sdsavage
    Helen,Wikipedia is great, but it isn't always an adequate source.  POEA is highly irritating to the eyes or skin in a concentrated form, but it is actually quite low in toxicity via ingestion.  It would be very short-lived after spraying on a crop.  The EPA would never approve all the uses of glyphosate if this was dangerous.

    As for Agent Orange - there was no evil wizard behind the curtain wanting to cause massive human health problems.  It was a long time ago and people were not that aware of this sort of possibility.  Don't assume nothing was learned from that tragedy.  

    I wish you could meet some of the folks that work for Monsanto.  You seem to be imaging some sinister cauldron stirring coven, not a bunch of really smart scientists who have made huge contributions to farming.  An no, I'm not a shill.  I just happen to prefer knowing people before I judge them and their motives
    Steve Savage
    logicman
    It seems to me that every time somebody mentions Monsanto there is an immediate polarization of viewpoints: Monsanto nice / Monsanto nasty.

    Glysophate has been in use for long enough since its discovery for its potential dangers as a toxin to be widely researched.  There is a wealth of credible evidence showing that it poses no significant danger as a toxin to humans.  (I will explain the emphasis below)  A paper by Samsel and Seneff has been cited hither and yon recently in support of a distrust of glysophate in particular and Monsanto in general.

    I searched for an analysis of that paper by an actual medicinal chemist, and found one. 
    Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 ...
    Derek Lowe points out that:
    all the evidence adduced in the paper is indirect - this species does that, so humans might do this, and this might be that, because this other thing over here has been shown that it could be something else. But the direct evidence is available, and is not cited - in fact, it's explicitly ignored.
    Is glysophate toxic to humans?  In my opinion that is the wrong question.

    Helen says:
    It seems to me that the world is going mad by thinking that planting genetically engineered, glysophate resistant plants and then repeatedly spraying them with massive amounts of toxic glysophate is the sensible way to feed the world's populations

    I agree, for the reasons which follow.

    We know that the excessive use of antibiotics has led to the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

    The resistance of bacteria to antibiotics and similar drugs—called antimicrobials—is considered a major public health threat by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its counterparts around the world.

    Antibiotics have transformed health care since they were introduced in the 1940s and have been widely used to fight bacterial infections. These and similar drugs kill or inhibit the growth of disease-causing microorganisms.

    However, some infectious organisms have developed resistance to the antibiotics used to treat patients with infections. When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic, that medicine becomes less effective. Medical treatment of people infected with these drug-resistant organisms can become more complicated, leading to longer hospital stays, increased health care costs, and in extreme cases, to untreatable infections.
    FDA, April 30, 2013

    Now consider glysophate as a broad-spectrum plant killer.  (The term 'weed' is entirely subjective.)  It is entirely to be expected that plants will evolve which are resistant to glysophate, so the scientific reporting of such natural evolution of resistance should come as no surprise.

    This is my concern: even while GM crops are being made tolerant to glysophate, other plants are evolving a similar tolerance.  If we reach a point where glysophate is ineffective in controlling unwanted plants - and do not have fully tested alternatives - then global agriculture will be in trouble.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Patrick, this article by Dr Mercola describes many aspects of glysophate and Roundup that he claims have been shown to be unsafe to the environment and to people's health :-

    Research in the German journal Ithaca revealed significant concentrations of glyphosate in the urine samples of city dwellers.

    The chemical is used not only for food production, but also is often sprayed onto railway lines, urban pavements and roadsides.

    The article revealed that study participants had concentrations of glyphosate that were 5 to 20 times the limit for drinking water!

    This is an alarming finding because glyphosate is easily one of the world's most overlooked poisons. Research published in 2010 showed that the chemical, which works by inhibiting an enzyme called EPSP synthase that is necessary for plants to grow, causes birth defects in frogs and chicken embryos at far lower levels than used in agricultural and garden applications.i

    The malformations primarily affected the:

    • Skull
    • Face
    • Midline and developing brain
    • Spinal cord

    Quite shockingly, the amount of glyphosate residue you can be exposed to through food is remarkably high, in terms of being close to the maximum residue limit (MRL) allowed. According to a report in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, the highest MRL for glyphosate in food and feed products in the EU is 20 mg/kg. GM soybeans have been found to contain residue levels as high as 17 mg/kg, and malformations in frog and chicken embryos occurred at 2.03 mg/kg!ii

    That's 10 times lower than the MRL.

    Other independent scientific research has also found that glyphosate has the potential to cause grave health damage, including a 2009 study that tested formulations of Roundup that were highly diluted (up to 100,000 times or more) on human cells, and even then the cells died within 24 hours!iii

    The researchers hailed a warning cry that still has not been heard by regulators around the world, who continue to allow massive amounts of Roundup to be sprayed into the environment:

    " … the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death around residual levels to be expected, especially in food and feed derived from [Roundup] formulation-treated crops."

    Not to mention, when applied to crops glyphosate becomes systemic throughout the plant, so it cannot be washed off. And once you eat this crop, the glyphosate ends up in your gut where it can decimate your beneficial bacteria. This can wreak havoc with your health as 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut (GALT – Gut Associated Lymph Tissue) and is dependent on a healthy ratio of good and bad bacteria! Separate research has also uncovered the following effects from glyphosate:

    Endocrine disruptionDNA damage
    Developmental toxicityNeurotoxicity
    Reproductive toxicityCancer

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    Is anyone surprised you take at face value a statement by a known anti-vaccine, anti-science homeopathic quack who doesn't even spell the name of the journal he is citing correctly?

    Nope, no one is surprised. 





    logicman
    Helen, Mercola is a quack who has made a great deal of money by selling garbage products and garbage ideas.

    Unless he can cite peer-reviewed papers which - without cherry-picking - clearly support his assertions then I am not inclined to accept what he has to say.

    See his entry on quackwatch.com

    That said, no poison is ever completely safe to use, no matter what its purpose.  Bleach may kill household germs if properly used, but I'd be the first to complain if I tasted it in my coffee.  Similarly I have complained about the indiscriminate use of weedkillers by my local authorities.  It seems to me that they are more concerned about being sued by someone tripping over a clump of weed than they are about chemicals leaching into the water table.  I'm not 'anti-glysophate' but that doesn't mean I would tolerate it in my mains water supply.

    My beef with Monsanto - yes, I have one - is that monopoly can stifle innovation.  It seems to me that Monsanto acts as if it wants a monopoly on feeding the world.  I don't see that as a good idea.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Sorry Patrick, if you and Hank both say that Dr Mercola is a quack and he is on quackwatch.com then I definitely respect your opinions and expect you are right. That's the problem with quick Google searches and rushing before I go to work in the morning, I was trying to find something I read recently that was making similar claims. not that article. I also had a lot of technical problems which were distracting me. I saw his references at the bottom and they looked legit but I didn't have time to check them :-


    So please forgive me guys, I will be more careful in future :)


    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    logicman
    Helen, I do not dispute that there are legitimate concerns about glyphosate toxicity, but if Mercola endorsed one of my articles I would go back and check to see what I had got wrong.

    If I had a team of typists to help me I would dig very deeply into every interesting topic here at science20.com, but I need to stay focused on my articles in hand and on science news in my areas of interest - such as this article.  You may find this SourceWatch entry useful.  There is another entry on glyphosate resistant weeds which may be of interest.

    I'll try to continue to follow this extremely interesting comment thread.
    Hank
    It's a classic technique among people who are against biology - and likely happens in climate science too. Any positive statement about science is exhaustively disputed and undermined but anything negative is copied and pasted with zero suspicion about the source: In genetic modification, biologists = evil and stupid while homeopaths against biology = oppressed underdogs fighting for the truth.
    John Hasenkam
    Helen, Mercola is a quack who has made a great deal of money by selling garbage products and garbage ideas.
    I receive his emails and have noted his somewhat curious predilections towards promoting certain ideas that have as much truth  value as a shit in the park. He does however provide some very useful information but typically when he is not pushing a barrow, which is not very often. Last week he posted something stupid about the rise in neurologic disorders being related to GMOs. Twit. Note that some staff authors, esp. David Liu, right very good articles and he doesn't own barrows. 



    I am cautiously in favour of GMOs but only on the weekend a friend of mine who is involved in agriculture stated how they are now finding very high levels of some glyphosate in the soils. That does concern me, we again see this trend towards - it's perfectly safe don't worry about it. 
     Their sort of fear-mongering has influenced other nations around the world as with the case of Bt Brindal (eggplant) in India, and the long delays in the deployment of Golden Rice.
    The irony there is that Golden Rice is golden because it contains beta carotene, added because rice has zilch vitamin A and BC is a pro-vitamin A carotenoid. However recent studies have indicated that high BC loading may impede Vitamin A and there is that famous study on how high BC loading increased lung cancer rates in smokers(as if that were  possible!). 

    sdsavage
    Patrick,Monsanto does not have a monopoly.  There have several formidable competitors in DuPont/Pioneer, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, Dow Agrosciences and also several small players like 2Blades and Simplot.  Actually Pioneer had a greater market share in corn and soy back in the pre-biotech days.  Monsanto did broadly license their Roundup Ready and Bt technologies, but it was incorporated in the high quality germplasm of the other companies which is just as important for why a farmer would buy the variety than the one trait.  Over time all of these players have been generating new traits and the Monsanto share has been steadily diluted.  There are lots of industries that are far more consolidated than this one, but not many with the intensity of innovation that goes on here.  I often do projects tracking the patent literature and publications about new technology - this is a thriving sector, not just in terms of transgenes but also marker assisted breeding, new chemistries,  equipment...
    Steve Savage
    Gerhard Adam
    This is my concern: even while GM crops are being made tolerant to glysophate, other plants are evolving a similar tolerance.  If we reach a point where glysophate is ineffective in controlling unwanted plants - and do not have fully tested alternatives - then global agriculture will be in trouble.
    We should also highlight another aspect of this problem that invariably goes unmentioned.  One of the arguments advanced recently is that the problem of antibiotic resistance is essentially an economic problem because it isn't profitable enough for these companies to invest in developing new antibiotics.  [Note, we can also substitution herbicide in that previous sentence].

    This is what I find annoying because the same companies that profited for decades from these developments suddenly find that there is insufficient profit motive to solve a problem that they are partially responsible for creating and so we're supposed to create even greater incentives for them to make the problem even worse.

    In the end, this comes down to the point that humans keep thinking that they are going to be granted an exemption from biology and evolution.  There are no free lunches.  Humans have been demonstrating that for every "victory" there are numerous, even more expensive costs associated with it in the long-term.  So while our short term thinking senses "progress" our long-term record indicates that we are consuming ever more resources to simply try to avoid slipping backwards.

    In essence we are simply engaged in a Red Queen strategy.
    Mundus vult decipi
    sdsavage
    Patrick,All pesticidal or anti-microbial products have the potential for resistance development.  Old Mother Nature had the same issue.  Potatoes, tomatoes, coffee and a host of other plants make their own chemical pesticides, but their major pests have evolved around that.  Its just biology.  If you put a selection pressure on a population that has mechanisms of genetic variation, then eventually you will select for a resistant form.  There is absolutely nothing unique about glyphosate in that manner.  The strategy in the crop sector is to alternate and/or combine products with different modes of action to greatly reduce the probability of selecting for resistance.  Over the history of plant protection products, there are many, many examples of cases where resistant lines developed, including the spray-on Bts heavily used in organic.  The only solution (other than dramatically cutting productivity by feeding pests) is to use good resistance management, good IPM practices, and for scientists to continually be looking for newer, better, lower risk options.  That is what the industry I work in has been doing for several decades - rather successfully.

    This is not unique to plants or microbes.  All the societies that developed in the "Old World" co-existed with cattle for millenia and effectively selected for humans that could survive the diseases that can move between the two species.  When they brought that previously unknown animal to the "New World," there were devastating epidemics among the peoples who had never been under that selection pressure (This is nicely explained in Jarrod Diamond's fantastic book, "Guns Germs and Steel."

    This is all just biology.  I think that is why biologists are so much less susceptible to the conspiracy theory and/or sky is falling stuff of the anti-GMO folks.  Its biology.  Understand it.  Innovate around it.

    Steve Savage
    logicman
    Steve, I'm totally with you.  Perhaps I didn't make my point clear enough. 

    Some farmers will always ignore best practice as will some doctors.  Just as over-prescription of antibiotics is sure to make the little devils evolve faster, so it is with all forms of bio-warfare.  Take warfarin as a prime example.  In 1953 the British government encouraged the profligate use of warfarin.  By 1954 the UK rat population had been greatly reduced.  The proven effectiveness of warfarin led to even wider and more profligate use.  By 1966 warfarin resistant rats were already a problem.

    There are some people who just don't understand that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
    Lisalotta
    You seem not be aware that POEA is known to be more toxic than glyphosate and that far from being "very short-lived" after spraying, the German federal office for consumer protection and food safety BVL says POEA can be transferred to consumers from glyphosate herbicide-treated feed and animal-derived products. For this reason, German farmers have been advised by the government not to use it on plants used in feed production.

    Regarding Monsanto, the sinister cauldrons seem only to exist in your imagination. Monsanto's motivation is profit -- if it isn't, they have to answer some serious questions from their shareholders.
    Apologies for any cross posting. I originally posted this at the "Applied Mythology" site, but I see this is where the action is.

    This group of 30 countries Steve calls ‘western europe’ has an average annual income he calculates to be close to that of North America ($34,828 vs. $39,391). I can’t find these numbers, but I would guess that the US and Canada are well above this and Mexico is well below. Even if the average for North America was representative of the US and Canada they would still be well above many of the countries called 'western europe'; e.g., Albania at $4020, Montenegro at $11,256, Bosnia and Hertzegovina at $10,440, Croatia at $16,620, Estonia at $12,828, Serbia at $8,976, Slovenia at $24,132 and Portugal at $17,544. (These numbers come from the same wiki source as Steve's.) It is the extreme high earners such as Norway at $77,148, Denmark at $79,536 and Switzerland at $81,936 that make the group in any way comparable to North America. I am wondering if we learn much by comparing mainly the US and Canadian incomes (2/3rds of the average for North America) to mainly ‘eastern european’ incomes, especially since I would expect such poor countries to have much more limited access to education and other resources that could make the difference between a food secure and exporting country and a food insecure importing country.
    Focusing on like for like comparisons, France (2010) for example is the second largest single country exporter of cereals and wheat behind the US, and the fourth largest exporter of maize, but has only 11% of the arable land available to the US. (FAOSTAT)
    Although many times smaller than the US, the wealthier European countries are comparable exporters of things like wheat and corn. The Netherlands exports 38% of its wheat crop, France 52% and the US 46%. The Netherlands exports 70% if its corn crop, France 47% and the US only 16%. (FAOSTAT)
    By my calculations, countries of comparable wealth in Europe are doing as much (e.g. wheat) or way more (corn) per production area to feed other countries (or their animals) than is the US.

    sdsavage
    Rightbiotech,
    The numbers I used are the "PPP GDP" listed for each country on Wikipedia.  My understanding that this is a value adjusted to reflect actual cost of living to make them more comparable.  Also my calculations are about net imports.  Yes, European countries do a great deal of food exporting, a tremendous amount of it between themselves.  I took import values by crop and years and subtracted the comparable export values to get the net.  That is the basis on which Europe is a net importer on a tonnage basis.  Of course they may be net exporters on a currency basis because they tend to import relatively low value things like animal feed crops and export things like meat, dairy and alcohol products.
    Steve Savage
    Thanks for the clarification on the source of incomes. I used http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_in_Europe_by_monthly_aver...
    To avoid misunderstanding, my export figures are based on quantity, not ‘currency’. I’m comparing like with like.

    The PPP figures (GDP/population) are higher for all countries. The inclusion of many very poor European countries in a comparison to Canada and the US (at >$40k) and Mexico (at ~$15K) provides a skewed picture for the central thesis that these three North American countries are comparable to the arbitrary group of 30 “Western European” countries based on the metric of ‘income’. On this thesis, Mexico may be comparable to Serbia but still makes twice what Albania makes. I think that this is a significant challenge to your central thesis which you then base the title of this piece on.
    You could just as easily have said that with the unique combination of land mass and historical deposition of soil that the US has, it is under-delivering to the rest of the world (either because of excess domestic consumption per capita or inefficiency of production as a result of it biotechnology and innovation choices). To only provide 16% of its corn to the rest of the world, when small equally wealthy and sophisticated European countries contribute over 50%, could be seen as a pretty low contribution from the US.
    As I understand it, you make two arguments attempting to cast the “Europeans” as selfish food consumers and the “North Americans” as standards of generosity and productivity. As I said above, I think your data fails to make this point.
    The cause of the contrived characterization that Europe is dependent on staple crops to European feed its animals is that 1) Europeans eat a lot of meat and 2) “regulatory constraints that prevent some of those farmers from being as productive as they might be.” That is adopting some forms of crop biotechnology (I take this as code for GMOs).
    The first point is a wash. North Americans not only eat a lot of meat but they make lots of fuel out of grain rather than export the grain.
    The second point is just wrong when you make actual like-for-like comparisons (see my original post). To extend the analysis a bit further, Canada exports only 7% of its corn production (again by weight, not value).
    Let’s look at Mexico, which on income is much more like the majority of countries you have called “Western Europe” in income. It exports 2.4% of its corn and 12% of its wheat. Serbians make 2/3rds of what Mexican’s make but export 26% of their wheat and 23% of their corn. Remember too that the US exports only 16% of its corn.
    The US is a major crop subsidizer too with most subsidies going into corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans and selling each of these commodities, as well as dairy, well under production cost (http://bit.ly/11Nn8Pg). Since the US is a bulk producer, it would make sense for other countries to import these under-valued goods and concentrate their own resources elsewhere.
    In summary, it looks to me like a very long bow has been drawn to support a very thin strawman argument that North America props up selfish Europeans because they don’t use GMOs.

    sdsavage
    Rightbiotech,I'm not claiming the North Americans are generous or always logical in what they do nor am I a supporter either of subsidies or biofuel from food crops (both regions to both of those things).  Still, you have to factor out the inter-European trade volumes to compare to the US or Canada where exports from state to state or province to province are not being counted.  I still maintain that through entirely extra-legal and science-free pressures, European and Japanese companies have greatly delayed or potential prevented what could have been a very helpful increase in the level of private investment in wheat breeding.  The fact that many African countries will not have embraced biotech crops in time to help meet their rising food demand will have important ramifications for their food and/or political security over the next few decades.  Again, this is clearly connected to influence on regulatory thinking from Europe.  You are welcome to disagree with this.  I just think it is important to have this discussion.
    Steve Savage
    Notwithstanding the possible invalidity of the characterization of Europe as an "importer", wouldn't this rather explain the power of Europe, to whom the relatively wealthy exporting countries must be consequently subservient? Australian farmers are doing much better growing non-GM canola and exporting it to Europe than they would growing GM with no useful market. The GM yields aren't there to support higher costs and lower prices.

    I thought the rejection of GMO in Europe was driven by the blessing of a few minutes of information on national television from a very highly esteemed and credible scientist Pusztai reporting his findings in a GM potato feeding study, rather than ignorance.