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    GMO Foods And The Precautionary Principle
    By Gerhard Adam | February 21st 2012 06:52 PM | 38 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    There have been several articles talking about opposition to GMO foods as being "anti-science" and raising the issue of the precautionary principle, but in fairness, we have to consider what the role of the precautionary principle is, before we just blow it off as an alarmist parlor trick.

    Let's be clear.  ALL questions have scientific legitimacy and some may be well-thought out, while others may be totally off the mark.  This doesn't make them unscientific, it just makes them uninformed.  If a particular view persists after the proper information has been provided, then the individual could be accused of being unscientific, or at least obstinate.

    However, when answers are not clearly provided, then one can't simply argue that these are fears raised in an anti-science appeal because one would then have to answer the question of what possible difference such a position would make.  After all, what difference if someone is anti-Newton or anti-Einstein.  Even those that oppose Darwin are largely irrelevant except for one thing.... it isn't about the science.

    The only time anti-science is raised as a position is when the issue isn't about science in the first place.  It's about public policy and economics. It doesn't particularly matter if I think GMO foods are safe or unsafe, unless someone is trying to use the power of the government to force me to consume them [especially if it's without my express knowledge].  Just as AGW opinions aren't relevant unless someone is attempting to establish an economic policy or legislate actions.

    This brings us to the crux of the problem.  We all have our political views, and clearly there will be some items we agree with and other we don't based solely on our political orientation in some cases.  So, when our political views are challenged, it doesn't automatically mean the opposing side is "anti-science", or "anti-capitalism", or anti-whatever.  What it does mean is that, in the absence of accepted evidence, we have a disagreement about something that is being pushed for public policy decisions.

    Here's some of the existing problems with GMO foods that have NOT been adequately addressed.  

    1.  If the objective is to feed the world's hungry, then how do GMO foods solve the political/economic/distribution problems that have prevented existing food supplies from reaching those in need?

    2.  If GMO foods are targeted for this environment, then why are they being marketed in areas that have no need of them?

    3.  What is the economic model that is supposed to resolve feeding the world's hungry [who, by definition, have no money]?

    4.  Why are the corporations so opposed to letting the free market decide by proper labeling of GMO foods?

    It's this last one that is particularly troubling.  In the first place, we already know that it is a blatant lie to claim that nothing ever has a negative effect.  So, scientific honesty would argue that while GMO foods are as safe as anything currently produced, we already know that people die just as readily from common foods.  So in truth, we would expect that some people, for whatever reason, may react adversely to GMO foods.

    This doesn't make GMO foods unsafe or unhealthy, it's simply recognizing there out of 7 billion people, there will be some percentage that will suffer some unexpected consequence or reaction.

    We do know that many people are unusually sensitive to allergies* as they pertain to foods, so without specific evidence to the contrary (which is impossible to obtain), we would again have to argue that prudence dictates we accept that some percentage of individuals may be affected.

    Once again, this isn't an argument against GMO foods, since such sensitive individuals will always be at risk for some foods.

    Certainly we can improve things by having better information, but this is where the labeling issue becomes really troublesome.

    If we are serious about introducing a significant change in our food supply, then what's the rush?  We can readily introduce it.  People are free to purchase it or not.  We can use it in parts of the world that would benefit the most.  What's the problem?

    The problem is that if we don't label the food, then we can't ever determine whether there are negative effects.  In short, we would be running a massive scientific experiment on the world's food supply with absolutely no data to correlate any possibly negative [or positive] results.  

    So, if we're going to talk about being anti-scientific.  Then let's acknowledge that the most un-scientific aspect of this whole thing is to restrict the data being collected so that some corporations that want to reap the benefits of this technology can escape liability in the event that they're wrong.

    I'm not being anti-corporation in this.  Instead I smell a rat when corporations are looking for legal protections to sell me a product that I don't need.  I don't need GMO foods... and I don't need a scientific community that would be willing to give up its ability to collect data so that someone's economic forecast looks rosier.  However, for those that think I'm being unduly critical of corporations and their ability to bring products to market, consider this.  Perhaps someone can explain why corporations would be willing to spend millions of dollars lobbying legislators precisely to ensure that no one knows they have a product on the market?

    As I've said before.  It's a simple solution.  Label the foods and let the free market decide how acceptable they are.  This would also ensure that we can readily track the data on how well these GMO foods perform.  Without that, its simply another form of marketing.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    *  In truth, most allergic susceptibilities are part of the normal protocols for testing and will likely not yield any significant differences.  [Edited 2/21/2012]

    Comments

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Well I just looked up the precautionary principle in Wikipedia which says :-
    The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.This principle allows policy makers to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from taking a particular course or making a certain decision when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.In some legal systems, as in the law of the European Union, the application of the precautionary principle has been made a statutory requirement.
    So, I have to agree with everything you have said in this article Gerhard and more. As you know I have additional concerns about the possibility of genetically modified organisms disrupting the environment by out competing with existing native plants and animals, in the same way that the introduced cane toads, feral rabbits, pigs, camels and foxes, camphor laurel trees and lantana bushes (just to mention a few introduced pests) have out competed with the native flora and fauna and wreaked havoc in Australia and are still doing.

    To me there's not much difference in potential risk between introducing an accidental foreign weed or pest and introducing an accidental GMO weed or pest. A drought and pest resistant GMO wheat, plant or tree for example can quite easily pollinate and cross-fertilise with native grasses, plants and trees and can potentially cause havoc in the huge Australian Outback. Flowering, wild, insect resistant grasses, plants and trees could then theoretically kill our bees too! Not the insect that the original GMO was designed to kill. Before releasing these GMOs extensive scientific testing and controls must be put in place and the precautionary principle most definitely should be followed.
    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
    While I share some portion of your concerns, there's also a fundamental problem in some of what you're expressing.
    ...the possibility of genetically modified organisms disrupting the environment by out competing with existing native plants and animals, in the same way that...
    While I understand what you're trying to say, this is not a legitimate argument.  The reason being, is that the cause of all these problems is human expansion, agriculture, and raising animals.  All of which are disruptive of the environment and "out-compete" existing native plants and animals.

    There's no question that there will likely be unintended consequences.  However, the solution is not to arbitrarily ban GMO foods, but rather to recognize a more prudent or cautionary approach to introducing such crops.  Better controls, and primarily data/record keeping are absolutely essential before embarking on such a path. 

    Just as your  example of the cane toad illustrates.  The problem wasn't that people didn't recognize that it could be a disaster.  The problem simply escalated to where politics took over from scientific prudence.  After that, all bets were off. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    ".the possibility of genetically modified organisms disrupting the environment by out competing with existing native plants and animals, in the same way that..." While I understand what you're trying to say, this is not a legitimate argument.  The reason being, is that the cause of all these problems is human expansion, agriculture, and raising animals.  All of which are disruptive of the environment and "out-compete" existing native plants and animals.There's no question that there will likely be unintended consequences.
    Why is this not a legitimate argument? Gerhard, I am talking about huge unintended consequences of introduced genetically modified organisms affecting a massive country almost as big as America and Brazil in which the majority of the land is still desert and outback. A land that can rain overnight and turn desert and scrublands into thousands of hectares of beautiful flowers and grasslands or that drought can then turn into massive bushfires that can rage for weeks. A country that still amazingly contains the largest variety and diversity of native flora and fauna species in the world, many of which depend upon these extreme circumstances for their survival and reproduction.

    Most of this huge continent is hot, wild and untamed, there are more birds, bats and marsupials than people and their domesticated animals combined. We humans and farms tend to be primarily around the edge of the continent, in the more fertile land (much of which was once the most incredible, hardwood, timber rainforests, 90% of which we have now cut down) and closer to the beautiful beaches of course!

    Let me spell it out to you. If a genetically modified plant which has been altered to contain a toxin that kills the insects like a beetle for example that eats that crop and/or is altered to be drought resistant then manages to cross fertilize by accidental cross-pollination with a native plant that already populates the vast interior, the new hybrid plant could wreak havoc by either preventing the extreme conditions from occurring that the vast majority of native flora and fauna depend upon, ie no flowers appearing because it didn't die out in the drought and/or no bushfires because it stayed green or simply by poisoning the native insects that depend upon that native plant, like our bees for example or even an insect that the birds depend upon for food or that trees or plants depend upon for their fertilisation.

    Never mind mankind and
    "human expansion, agriculture, and raising animals", we are only a small percentage of the living organisms here in Australia, even though we have done a marvelous job so far of wrecking much of the human domesticated environment with our introduced pests. A genetically modified plant or animal could be our next biggest and worst environmental disaster if we don't employ the precautionary principle and very carefully and imaginatively test out all possible permutations and unforeseen consequences of the effects of releasing these GMOs into Australian agriculture and then accidentally into the surrounding native environments.
    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
    I'm not sympathetic to arguments for banning the development of GMO commodities. Humans have always manipulated their environment, the breeding of their domestic animals, and developed better strains of the wild food plants they used when they switched from being hunter gatherers to farmers and herdsmen. I don't understand why we should not be permitted to used scientific techniques for doing what we have always done. Will there be unintended consequenses? When haven't there been? The best we can do is to try to keep them to a minimum through testing and record keeping. There is not a country on earth which has not had it's environment significantly impacted in negative ways during the past 150 years either by the deliberate or accidental introduction of foreign species into the environment. Here in the Mississippi watershed we have the Asian carp threatening to enter the Great Lakes which I have no doubt that it will, and it will destroy the native fishery. The Burmese python has almost completely wiped out the medium-sized mammal population of the Everglades National Park. Wind farms kill thousands of birds and a rare bat species. Solar energy power developments severely threaten the desert tortoise. The AGW crowd has no shame. So if the pollen of a GMO crop should combine with a wild species I feel no sympathy.

    Hi Helen
    your concerns re: GM crops' potential to cause environmental problems are real. One of the reasons that Bt cotton was not allowed to be grown in QLD for a few years was its potential to cross with a native plant closely related to cotton. The research done since showed this ability to cross was highly improbable and now cotton is allowed to be grown in this area. Your argument falls down, however, by assuming it is only GM crops that are capable of doing this. We can equally use (and have used) conventional breeding technologies to generate crops with drought, salt, frost, metal tolerances by conventional breeding technologies (eg mutagenesis, hybridisation, embryo rescue or marker-assisted selection) and these have the same likelihood of passing on these traits to native species with the same environmental consequences. Two of the obvious examples are the two conventionally-bred herbicide- tolerant canola we grow, one of which is capable of passing on that herbicide-tolerant trait to other weedy species - the same as the Round-up ready version can, though the difference here of course is that the only advantage a weed will have with this trait is in the presence of the herbicide which will mean it will become a tougher agricultural weed but have no greater advantage outside the paddock.
    Jason Major
    Manager, TechNyou, University of Melbourne

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Thanks for replying Jason and for giving me even more to worry about! Its difficult to imagine ever being able to stop scientists from developing and releasing both GMO and non GMO crops that are more drought resistant, round-up resistant, salt-resistant, frost resistant and metal tolerant but developing and releasing GMO crops specifically designed to poison the insects that feed on them surely should be preventable? 

    The very fact that these GMOs contain a genetically modified gene that produces a toxin not present in the non genetically modified equivalent organism or crop means that if there is any potential to cross-pollinate with native plants then we could poison not just the targeted insect but other insects such as bees or other important pollinators as well as the fish, frogs and birds that feed on them. 

    Bees are so important to the world's ecosystem that Einstein is reported to have said that he would give humanity 3 years if bees were ever to be wiped out and they are already under threat and noone really knows why. Also, how can we be sure that ingesting new toxins in our food designed to kill these insects and pests is not going to trigger allergies and/or even poison humans too? Our bodies have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to cope with the toxins in our environment but how well will we cope with sudden new ones? 

    There is a definite link between dementia and impaired toxin removal from the brain, could these new GMO toxins that we are probably already ingesting in our food, be responsible for the marked increase in the numbers of cases of Alzeimers, dementia and other neurological disorders like Parkinson's, Motor Neurone Disease and even autism, I doubt it but who knows? We don't even really know what causes these illnesses that are already affecting millions of people worldwide. Does anyone know how many GMO crops are already in our food supply, labelled and/or unlabelled?


    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
    Hi again Helen
    First I should have emphasized that we can achieve drought, frost, etc tolerance from normal cross breeding as well and the same risks apply. There is no such thing as zero risk. Second, you need a very closely related species to cross with for any of these traits to jump species. Wheat is not going to cross with rice or the mustard weed. In the middle east, where wheat originates from it might be more of a problem as there will be grass species that are ancestors of the wheat plant, but there are also loads of other barriers that may prevent any cross occurring. Finally, the Bt gene(s) are extremely target specific in that they only affect certain species - in the case of Bt cotton they affect only those of the lepidopteran family (Moths and butterflies) - they being the main pests that feed on the cotton plant. The protein targets a receptor found only in the gut of this family. Mammals, other insect species such as bees, frogs, snakes, etc do not have this receptor and the protein(s) are harmless to us and other species. THe exception may be the caddis fly which is closely related to lepidopterans, though the evidence so far is light on and caddis fly are pests of cotton or corn so generally aren't exposed to the toxin. That is one of the reasons organic farmers use Bt as an insecticide on their crops. And as Bt is a common soil bacterium we are exposed to it on a regular basis Scientists have spent decades studying these Bt genes and protein products, They have characterised them, and understand as thoroughly as possible. The alternative before this was broad spectrum insecticides that killed all insects and with other known environmental affects. Of course there are biodynamic and other farming systems that will not use pesticides, which is another issue: how much are you prepared to pay for your food, cotton clothing, etc. Agriculture has one of the biggest environmental footprints of any human activity (permaculture, organic conventional - any ag). The question is by what means are you prepared to achieve a sustainable food supply. How much risk are we prepared to accept - which is where the precautionary principle comes into play?
    As for trying to link dementia to GMOs that is such a long and speculative bow for which there is zero evidence as far as I can see. Remember, humans are living longer and now reaching the age where these diseases kick in. We are also more accurately diagnosing and putting a name to these various forms of dementia which might have been simply called called getting old before. These won't be the only reasons for the apparent increase, but my point is that trying to make a link where none exists is unhelpful and distorts the argument.

    Finally, yes we do know how many GM crops are in our food. Any GM crop must first assessed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand before it is allowed on the market for human consumption. It is all on their website, but it is essentially the main commodity crops of corn, canola, cotton, sugarbeet, soy and potatoes (used for starch in manufacturing and processed foods). In Australia such foods must be labelled. The exceptions are the oils and things such as food processing agents which are not supposed to end up in the final food product.

    Jason, TechNyou, Uni of Melbourne

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Hi Jason, thanks for explaining more about the risks of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) GMO crops and the more resistant non GMO crops and the Bt insecticides and why you feel confident that these risks are far better than using the broad spectrum insecticides that killed all the insects they came into contact with in the past and which also had serious environmental consequences.

    I have to be honest that after reading your educational comments, I then looked up Bacillus thuringiensis in Wikipedia and then began a slightly scary ride through Wikipedia. So I find it very reassuring that you sound so confident that scientists have thoroughly tested Bt GMO crops and applied the precautionary principle, as I found some of the following information about Bt a bit disconcerting. It doesn't take much imagination to see a possible link here between bees and colony collapse disorder or even just people ingesting Bt GMO crops and developing say ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or antibiotic resistance :-
    1. Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt) is a Gram-positive, soil-dwelling bacterium, commonly used as a biological pesticide; alternatively, the Cry toxin may be extracted and used as a pesticide.

    2. B. thuringiensis also occurs naturally in the gut of caterpillars of various types of moths and butterflies, as well as on the dark surfaces of plants. Also in the guts of moths and butterflies, flies and mosquitoes, beetles, wasps, bees, ants and sawflies and nematodes (see below).

    3. During sporulation, many Bt strains produce crystal proteins (proteinaceous inclusions), called δ-endotoxins, that have insecticidal action. This has led to their use as insecticides, and more recently to genetically modified crops using Bt genes.

    4. B. thuringiensis was rediscovered in Germany by Ernst Berliner, who isolated it as the cause of a disease called Schlaffsucht in flour moth caterpillars.

    5. In 1976, Robert A. Zakharyan reported the presence of a plasmid in a strain of B. thuringiensis and suggested the plasmid's involvement in endospore and crystal formation.

    6. B. thuringiensis is closely related to B.cereus, a soil bacterium, and B.anthracis, the cause of anthrax: the three organisms differ mainly in their plasmids. Like other members of the genus, all three are aerobes capable of producing endospores.

    7. Upon sporulation, B. thuringiensis forms crystals of proteinaceous insecticidal δ-endotoxins (called crystal proteins or Cry proteins), which are encoded by cry genes. In most strains of B. thuringiensis, the cry genes are located on the plasmid.

    8. Cry toxins have specific activities against insect species of the orders Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Diptera (flies and mosquitoes), Coleoptera (beetles), Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants and sawflies) and nematodes.

    9. When insects ingest toxin crystals, the alkaline pH of their digestive tract activates the toxin. Cry toxin gets inserted into the insect gut cell membrane, forming a pore. The pore results in cell lysis and eventual death of the insect.

    10. In 1995, potato plants producing Bt toxin were approved safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, making it the first pesticide-producing crop to be approved in the USA. By 1996, Bt maize, Bt potato and Bt cotton were being grown by farmers in the USA.

    11. There are several advantages in expressing Bt toxins in transgenic Bt crops, the level of toxin expression can be very high, thus delivering sufficient dosage to the pest. The toxin expression is contained within the plant system, hence only those insects that feed on the crop perish.

    12.The toxicity of each Bt type is limited to one or two insect orders; it is nontoxic to vertebrates and many beneficial arthropods, because Bt works by binding to the appropriate receptor on the surface of midgut epithelial cells. Any organism that lacks the appropriate receptors in its gut cannot be affected by Bt.

    13. There is evidence from laboratory settings that Bt toxins can affect non target organisms, usually organisms closely related to the intended targets. Typically, exposure occurs through the consumption of plant parts, such as pollen or plant debris, or through Bt ingestion by their predatory food choices.

    14. A 2007 study funded by the European arm of Greenpeace, suggested the possibility of a slight but statistically meaningful risk of liver damage in rats. The observed changes have been found to be of no biological significance by the European Food Safety Authority.

    15. Plasmids were historically used to genetically engineer the embryonic stem cells of rats in order to create rat genetic disease models.

    16.In microbiology and genetics, a plasmid is a DNA molecule that is separate from, and can replicate independently of, the chromosomal DNA.

    17. Plasmids usually occur naturally in bacteria, but are sometimes found in eukaryotic organisms (e.g., the 2-micrometre ring in Saccharomyces cerevisiae).

    18. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a species of yeast. It is perhaps the most useful yeast, having been instrumental to baking and brewing since ancient times.

    19. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is currently the only yeast cell that is known to have Berkeley bodies present, which are involved in particular secretory pathways.

    20. A Berkeley Body is an organelle unique to the yeast cell Saccharomyces cerevisiae, with a secretory mutation in the genes sec7 and sec14. The Berkeley Body acts as the transport medium from the cytoplasm to the vacuole within this pathway. Studies have shown that Berkeley Bodies share structural similarites with autophagosomes, which are involved in autophagy.

    21. In cell biology, autophagy, or autophagocytosis, is a catabolic process involving the degradation of a cell's own components through the lysosomal machinery. It is a tightly regulated process that plays a normal part in cell growth, development, and homeostasis, helping to maintain a balance between the synthesis, degradation, and subsequent recycling of cellular products.

    22. Antibodies against S. cerevisiae are found in 60–70% of patients with Crohn's disease and 10–15% of patients with ulcerative colitis.

    23. Plasmid sizes vary from 1 to over 1,000 kbp. The number of identical plasmids in a single cell can range anywhere from one to even thousands under some circumstances. Plasmids can be considered part of the mobilome because they are often associated with conjugation, a mechanism of horizontal gene transfer.

    24. Plasmids may carry genes that provide resistance to naturally occurring antibiotics in a competitive environmental niche, or the proteins produced may act as toxins under similar circumstances.
    I realise that there is no evidence here of any direct link between Bt and Bt GMO crops and any of these disorders but it can't be denied that we are genetically engineering and playing with plasmids which have the ability to replicate independently, to be used to perform horizontal gene transfer and genetically engineer the embryonic stem cells of rats in order to create rat genetic disease models and which are part of a genus that includes Anthrax. One of the links i found wasn't even sure about how exactly the Bt caused the insects to die but I'm too tired to find it now.
    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
    Hmmm...not sure how this list of info on Bt is scary. Pretty much states the facts and I can't see how it could make you more fearful of its use in GM crops. And as for the link between Bt and crohns, disease ulcerative colitis, from my reading that link was made with yeast, not Bt. And the evidence between Bt crops and colony collapse disorder is non-existent, especially considering they have CCD in countries and areas where where there are no GM crops grown, and it is not a problem in Australia where we do grow GM crops. Try and they might researchers can't find any link between CCD and GM crops - so far at least. In contrast they are finding lots of other likely suspects such as parasitoid flies.

    Now don't get me wrong about Bt, this is one GM crop that should be treated with caution. It is not like some of the other GM crops in the pipeline where we are tinkering with existing genes. Although humans have obviously always been exposed to Bt proteins it won't have been in this concentration and there should be considerable research and oversight to ensure each Bt crop's safety. Whether that research and regulatory oversight is adequate is not for me to say.

    Jason
    TechNyou

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Actually Jason, its only this item that really scares me :-
    23. Plasmid sizes vary from 1 to over 1,000 kbp. The number of identical plasmids in a single cell can range anywhere from one to even thousands under some circumstances. Plasmids can be considered part of the mobilome because they are often associated with conjugation, a mechanism of horizontal gene transfer.
    How about you? Also at this very point in time everyone I know who is over the age of 70 (about 30 people) is suffering from either gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis stomach ulcers or irritable bowel and quite a few have already had bowel cancer. No one seems to know why?
    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
    I would be somewhat skeptical about the possibility of horizontal gene transfer to humans, since I've never read about anyone successfully inserting DNA into mammalian cells without the use of a virus or nanoparticle vector. Have you read anything talking specifically about this? It would be interesting to read.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I meant possible horizontal gene transfer from the Bt bacteria to any of the trillions of other beneficial bacteria that exist in our guts, potentially making them much less beneficial to us if they then cause damaging pores and holes to develop in our gut membranes, in the same way that they do in the targeted pest insect's gut membrane, eventually killing them mainly because they stop eating and eventually starve to death.
    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
    The Italian honey bee which was long ago imported into the US by farmers is being killed off by a virus. Native bees have stepped into the breach to a certain extent, but they don't produce honey or live in large colonies which can be moved around by beekeepers to service the agricultural industry. There are treatments beekeepers can use to protect their colonies from disease, but the wild populations of this non-native bee have been wiped out. The African honey been which was imported into South America sometime during the 20th century has finally migrated into the southern US where it has mated with the Italian honey bee and produced a hybrid which is called the Africanized bee. It was hoped that the hybrid bee would have the peaceful characteristics of the Italian bee but that is not what happened. It has the agressive characteristics of its African ancestor, which is to say it very agressively defends its home. This makes it very difficult and even dangerous to work with. It doesn''t hesitate to attack and pursue anyone whom it perceives is threatening its hive.The Africanized bee has been confined to the south by the freezing northern winters, where I hope it stays.

    I listened to a panel of medical scientists who were all experts on Alzheimers and temporal lobe dementia being interviewed by Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV. A great deal is known about these diseases now and has only been the case since the development of the MRI. There is significant evidence that they are genetically caused They are more common now because people live longer now. There are biomarkers for Alzheimers in the brain and in the spinal fluid as long as 15 years before there is any simptoms of disease. These doctors were very optimistic about the development of a drug that could possibly interrupt the progress of the disease before it became symptomatic rather than a drug that would cure it. However, it will cost billions of dollars and take 10 years minimum to develop. There is also some evidence that head injury causing loss of conciousness can make one vulnerable to the development of Alzheimers in later life. Alzheimers is not caused by any known food.

    vongehr
    especially when allergies may be involved.  So in truth, we would expect that some people, for whatever reason, may react adversely to GMO foods.
    Now allergies are certainly one of the most unlikely problems with GMO foods, so you might like to edit this somewhat. I agree however with most of the rest. The precautionary principle is certainly applicable also to GMO due to the potentially more global unintended consequences, as I pointed out once for GMO but think holds far more so for nanotechnology in general.
    How are allergies not a consequence of GMO's when there have been no studies? When we were kids, did we see "gluten free" stuff? Suddenly, have the people in the world are allergic to wheat. While wheat hasn't been GMO'ed yet, it HAS been highly hybridized to contain super glutens and many more proteins than wheat did 50 years ago. As a result, we have massive amounts of people who can't tolerate it. There are also lots of corn allergies now, especially among children; and corn is a major GMO food. I honestly don't know how you can say allergies are not linked to GMO's when the very point this article makes is that there have been NO STUDIES done in this area.

    Gerhard Adam
    How are allergies not a consequence of GMO's when there have been no studies?
    The fact is that allergies are common enough from normal foods.  So while it is certainly important to establish if new allergies occur when new foods are introduced, this is part of the standard protocol and would be required whether these were GMO foods or not.  Being GMO is not guarantee that it will cause allergies, just as being non-GMO is no guarantee that it is safe from causing allergic problems.

    This is why my point is that we need labeling and the opportunity for more comprehensive data collection, so that as various aspects of these foods are discovered (including positive ones), then we will be in a better position to assess the overall effects.  The non-labling of GMO foods is simply a non-starter for anyone trying to obtain scientific accuracy regarding GMO foods.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Actually there has been research:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arpad_Pusztai

    Hmm...no studies. There have been loads. A quick literature search of the peer-reviewed science will reveal an abundance. Start with the database on the Biofortified site - www.biofortified.org But yes, allergies are a concern for GM foods, which is why as part of the assessment process it must be shown that the novel protein is not an allergen, toxin or anti-nutrient (nor even closely related to one) and that there are no other proteins present that could be allergens, toxins or anti-nutrients that have unintentionally appeared or increased by the transgenic process. BUT toxins, allergens, anti-nutrients can equally be unknowingly introduced through conventional breeding, especially via mutagenesis or embryo rescue. And there have been cases where foods (celery and potatoes are 2 recent examples) have had to be removed from market because of elevated levels of allergens that occurred via the conventional breeding process. The issue here is that nobody tests conventional food for the presence of these things so the problem is not detected until too late, if it is detected at all.

    Jason Major
    TechNyou, University of Melbourne (www.technyou.edu.au)

    Gerhard Adam
    That's the whole problem with the "substantial equivalence" standard, since it is difficult to make the case against GMO foods if the same things can occur through other breeding situations. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Probably a fair point, which raises the question should any novel food/cultivar be tested for human health and environmental safety, regardless of the technology behinds its breeding? But then this would doubtless add to the cost of breeding, regulation, etc. I don't have a good answer for this, I'm afraid. Again, this is where the precautionary principle plays a role, that is, how much risk are we prepared to accept, given reasonable management protocols. This is where the interpretation of the precautionary principle can be different for each person.
    Jason
    TechNyou

    Gerhard Adam
    I don't think there's any question that different people will assess risk differently.  This is one reason why I chose not to focus on specific issues with the science as much as on the fundamental principle that consumers should be informed so that they can make their own choices.  Anything less is no longer scientific and is purely political.
    Mundus vult decipi
    would really love to email monsanto this article. hmmm... just might;) I would be interested in seeing their answers...

    I truly believe that someone needs to investigate Congress and the Administration for insider trading on biotech and industrial ag. stocks. Labeling these foods would, like you said, create an opportunity for the free market to act accordingly. If that happened, what do your think would happen to biotech stock prices?

    I am still attending college and I have a microeconomics class this semester. So I keep trying to think about this issue in the Rules > Incentives > Actions > Outcomes format.

    While I want to believe folks making these policy decisions are altruistic public servants, with the very best of intentions, I find it highly unlikely since current actions reveal protectionist policy forged to keep the public hoodwinked. I wonder, what is the intended outcome here? If there were nothing to fear, nothing to hide, and the science is sound then why would the corporations spend so much money working to influence our policy makers to act in such a way?

    Dear Gerhard,
    I hardly ever reply to your posts because finally I don't pass the captcha, which is especially irritating if you have just typed in 40 lines of your most valuable thoughts.
    I never saw any problem with GMO, I only had problems with Monsanto, who introduced roundup resistant corn variants and sold the plants with the argumument that "you can now use less of glyphosphate". That was a pure lie and I don't like to be lied to. The real reason was that if you use their corn you can use MORE of glyphosphate, because the corn is resistant anyway.
    So long live GMO but blow up Monsanto. Now I'll try the captcha.

    MikeCrow
    It seems I just read in one of these GMO threads, that monsanto and ADM both recommend planting GMO crops and non-GMO (hybridized varieties) next to each other. To provide traceability (ie this is GMO and this isn't), would require basically separate processing of all fields, which would be a huge and costly effort.
    And if there is no difference in chemical analysis between GMO and non-GMO, there's no reason to keep them separate nor label them as such, because there isn't any difference.

    So in truth, we would expect that some people, for whatever reason, may react adversely to GMO foods.

    Great, I'm going to do my best imitation of Gerhard here, and say "Where's your scientific evidence".
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    And if there is no difference in chemical analysis between GMO and non-GMO, there's no reason to keep them separate nor label them as such, because there isn't any difference.
    Such a statement is a scientific lie.  Of course, there's a difference, that's why one is genetically modified and the other isn't.  To claim that there is no difference is simply dishonest.  That's like arguing that because they look the same externally they must be the same internally.  They are genetically different which is precisely why they need to be separated.  It isn't about whether they are nutritionally equivalent.  They are not biologically equivalent.
    To provide traceability (ie this is GMO and this isn't), would require basically separate processing of all fields, which would be a huge and costly effort.
    That had better be the effort, otherwise we're willing to let GMO foods compete with native species.  That would be sheer insanity.  Mixing GMO species with non-GMO species and then letting the "chips fall where they will" is not part of the deal.  If that's the intent, then I would say GMO's should be banned outright. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Such a statement is a scientific lie.  Of course, there's a difference, that's why one is genetically modified and the other isn't.

    First, I did say if there is no difference. Second what I mean by this is that if the seeds that are eaten are chemically the same, it doesn't matter if the genetics are different or not. Since you are convinced they are different, maybe you have something that will answer that "if" question.

    That had better be the effort, otherwise we're willing to let GMO foods compete with native species.  That would be sheer insanity.  Mixing GMO species with non-GMO species and then letting the "chips fall where they will" is not part of the deal.  If that's the intent, then I would say GMO's should be banned outright.

    Again, I'm not a farmer, but from what I read here, GMO crop seeds don't produce pollen(?), no cross breeding to worry about.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Here's a specific statement that begins to highlight some of the underlying issues that still plague the science:
    Broccoli and cabbage have been transformed to express Bt ICPs for control of the diamondback moth (DBM), Plutella xylostella, but these crops have been used primarily to evaluate resistance management strategies (125), although companies are evaluating the potential for commercialization.  Great care must be taken to develop such plants because DBMs have already developed high levels of resistance in some areas to foliar applications of Bt products containing Cry1A and Cry1C toxins
    http://www.cof.orst.edu/cof/teach/agbio2010/Other%20Readings/Shelton_BtCropMgt_AnnRevEnt2002.pdf
    So even at this stage, there are already some concerns about how quickly external organisms may adapt to such genetic modifications. 

    Let's remember how antibiotics were going to purge the world of diseases, at least before it occurred to anyone that bacteria would continue to evolve even if we didn't.
    The EPA (146) noted that through extensive research and modeling studies, the overall conclusion was that “ECBs cause significant yield loss but infestation levels and resulting loss are inconsistent from year to year, and therefore, it is difficult to predict whether control is needed. The premium paid for Bt-corn seed will likely only be returned in years when corn borer infestations are moderate to heavy (and) declining corn prices to sub-$2.00/bushel levels since 1998 along with low pest pressure have reduced the (economic) benefits of Bt-corn.”
    http://www.cof.orst.edu/cof/teach/agbio2010/Other%20Readings/Shelton_BtCropMgt_AnnRevEnt2002.pdf
    In this case, no demonstrable benefit even accrued given the price of the GMO seeds.
    The only exception is cotton in Florida and Hawaii, where feral populations exist of related Gossypium species, and EPA has prohibited or restricted the use of cotton in these areas. The situation in areas in the centers of origin is far more complex. For example, in Mexico there are several subspecies of teosinte, the wild relative of maize. Gene flow from teosinte to maize is well established (105), and it is also possible for genes to flow from maize to teosinte (38). In fact, the generally higher amount of pollen in commercial crops indicates a higher likelihood of pollen moving from a commercial maize crop into teosinte. Similar concerns about growing transgenic plants within an area containing wild relatives need to be addressed for other crops, and efforts are being made to engineer plants to reduce the likelihood of outcrossing. Because transgenic seeds may be moved by man and other organisms much more readily than in the past, regulations should be enforced to insure that seeds from transgenic plants are not grown in areas where they may develop into plants that can outcross with wild or weedy relatives.
    http://www.cof.orst.edu/cof/teach/agbio2010/Other%20Readings/Shelton_BtCropMgt_AnnRevEnt2002.pdf
    This indicates that the notion of no cross breeding simply isn't true.

    As I said before.  I'm not even attacking the science, although there's certainly plenty to talk about there.  My point is simply that corporations need to let the market decide and not the legislatures.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    Resistance will have to be managed, but there are some good benefits to the reduction in
    insecticides use.
    Reductions in the use of broad-spectrum insecticides would likely result in conservation
    of natural enemies and nontarget organisms, decreased potential of soil and
    water contamination, and benefits to farmworkers and others likely to come into
    contact with these insecticides (94). In a survey of 283 cotton farmers in China, Pray et al. (114) reported that farmers “using Bt cotton reported less pesticide
    poisonings than those using conventional cotton.”
    As for the value to farmers:
    Overall Conclusions
    EPA’s analysis of economic return and insecticide reductions for registered Bt
    crops in the United States in 1999 (146) are estimates derived from the percent of
    the total area of a specific crop that is planted with a Bt variety. Results indicate
    an overall economic benefit to growers of $65.4 million (field corn), $45.9 million
    (cotton), $0.2 million (sweet corn), and $0.5 million (potatoes), for a total economic
    benefit of $111.9 million. EPA’s analysis also indicates a reduction of 7.5 million
    fewer acre treatments (cotton), 0.127 million (sweet corn), and 0.089 million (potatoes),
    but it did not calculate a figure for field corn because of variable insect
    pressure. Other studies have documented declines in insecticide use in field corn
    (25, 65a).

    To me, it seems that the choice to use Bt crops should be up to the farmer, letting the market decide.
    In this case, no demonstrable benefit even accrued given the price of the GMO seeds.
    Do you always frame your debates like this? Because it seems the EPA (which is not the bastion of letting corporations do what they want) disagrees on the value.

    As for crossbreeding, you forgot the prior paragraph of the paper you cherry picked from.
    Outcrossing
    In the case of those plants registered in the United States (corn, cotton, and potatoes),
    EPA reviewed the potential for gene capture and expression of Bt endotoxins
    by wild or weedy relatives of these three crops and concluded that there is “not a
    reasonable possibility” of passing their traits to wild relatives because of differences
    in chromosome number, phenology, and habitat (146).
    Where the only concern was for cotton in Florida and Hawaii.
    Bt Plants Becoming Weeds
    Crawley and coworkers (37) reported results of a 10-year study carried out in three
    locations in Britain that investigated whether GE crops, including Bt plants, could
    become weeds of agriculture or invasive to natural habitats. They evaluated rape,
    corn, and sugar beet resistant to herbicides and potato expressing Bt. These GE
    plants were planted in plots mixed with versions of the same species but bred
    through traditional breeding methods. They concluded that, “In no case were the
    GM plants found to be more invasive or more persistent than their conventional counterparts.” Although these results do not demonstrate that all GE plants are safe
    in all circumstances, they do indicate that, at least for the crops tested, including
    Bt potatoes, the ability of a GE crop to become dominant-invasive plants in the
    wild is limited. However, larger-scale studies are needed to expand the database.

    Other Nontarget Organisms
    Prior to the registration of the first Bt crop in 1995 (Event 176 corn), EPAevaluated
    studies of potential effects of Bt endotoxins on a series of nontarget organisms
    including birds, fish, honey bees, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, lacewings, springtails,
    aquatic invertebrates, and earthworms (142). Organisms were chosen as indicators
    of potential adverse effects when these crops are used in the field. These studies
    consisted of published reports as well as company reports. An extensive collection
    of reports can be seen electronically (6). The focus of these studies was primarily
    on toxicity to the species tested because, unlike some synthetic insecticides that
    bioaccumulate, there are no data to suggest that Bt proteins do so. From their review
    of existing data, EPA concluded there were “no unreasonable adverse effects to
    humans, nontarget organisms, or to the environment: : : .” (142).

    Since registration, at least two reports of effects on nontarget organisms have
    received considerable attention. Reports indicating that consumption of corn pollen
    affects the development and mortality of lacewing larvae has created discussion
    focusing on the compatibility of Bt plants and biological control (66–68). Hilbeck
    et al. (66) reported increased mortality and prolonged development when lacewing
    larvae were reared on either ECB or Spodoptera littoralis that had ingested corn
    leaves expressing Cry1Ab. As noted by EPA (146), the “experimental design did
    not permit a distinction between a direct effect due to the Bt protein on the predator
    versus an indirect effect of consuming a sub-optimal diet consisting of sick or dying
    prey that had succumbed to the Bt protein.” Hilbeck et al. (66) noted that ECB
    will be unlikely hosts for lacewing larvae in Bt fields because ECB “will almost
    completely be eradicated” by the Bt plants. Although Hilbeck et al. (66) state that
    “no conclusions can be drawn at this point as to how results from our laboratory
    trials might translate in the field,” they recommend that such tritrophic effects be
    studied but concluded that Bt transgenic plants “are still more environmentally
    friendly than most if not all chemical insecticides.”


    THE FUTURE
    No technology, new or old, is without risks and controversy. For biotechnology,
    touted as the third-greatest revolution in technology (3), it is appropriate that not
    only the technical but also the social issues surrounding the dialogue be discussed.
    Scientists need to be heard in this present dialogue. The reporting of biotech issues
    has changed markedly since 1997 and “moved from being a scientific issue to being
    a social issue” (1). Biotechnology is now a major topic in the public media. In late
    1999, the New York Timeswas running “almost one article per day on this (biotech)
    topic” (1). On the other hand, university scientists are being used less and less as
    sources for stories, and by September 2000 only 12% of the news stories quoted
    university scientists, whereas environmental activist groups such as Greenpeace,
    the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Union of Concerned Scientists were
    used increasingly as sources of news (2). Additionally, Abbott (2) notes that even
    major newspapers such as the New York Times and the The Times (London) are
    more than twice as likely to use a quote from one of these sources than from
    university scientists. Scientists have the obligation to conduct their work carefully
    and present their findings in a nonsensational fashion (126). In addition to the
    responsibility of the scientific community, there is also a responsibility for society
    to help educate itself on biotechnology. This is an increasingly difficult challenge
    because of the public’s level of scientific illiteracy, which has led to a growing
    distrust of science and technology (55).
    Stewart&Wheaton (133) state that “there is no evidence that current products
    of GM crops produced in the US are harmful to the environment or human health
    but suggest that we need more solidly designed ecological experiments to not
    only satisfy regulatory requirements but to also show “what parameters need to
    be followed in post-commercialization monitoring.” The authors state that “if
    combined agronomic and ecological studies had occurred more frequently in the
    past, current public perception of GM might be quite different, and the paranoia arising from a sense of being uninformed might be diminished.” These thoughts
    should be kept in mind as we discover the possibilities and liabilities of insect
    control through plants expressing Bt proteins.
    There's a lot of good stuff in that paper, I suggest everyone interested in this discussion to read it and not rely on pieces selected to bolster someones (including mine) argument.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Why would I need evidence for what is clearly a speculative statement?  I clearly used phrases like "would expect" and was vague enough with "for whatever reason".

    In short, my point was simply that no matter how good anything is, it likely that someone would have a negative effect.  To argue otherwise, would truly require a miracle.  As I've said before, if someone is willing to provide a 100% guarantee that no one would ever suffer a negative side-effect and assume liability for any error ... then by all means ... go for it.  So, if there is no 100% guarantee, then that means that "some people" will suffer negative consequences.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    1.  If the objective is to feed the world's hungry, then how do GMO foods solve the political/economic/distribution problems that have prevented existing food supplies from reaching those in need?

    Because we could supply them with the ability to grow their own food, bypassing distribution.

    2.  If GMO foods are targeted for this environment, then why are they being marketed in areas that have no need of them?

    I'm not a farmer, but I would suspect that GMO crops offer an economic advantage to the farmers, other wise why would the farmers bother?

    3.  What is the economic model that is supposed to resolve feeding the world's hungry [who, by definition, have no money]?

    There's lots of money being spent to help feed these people, probably more than enough to pay for it, plus, if the crops can be grow close to those who need the food, they've created new customers.

    4.  Why are the corporations so opposed to letting the free market decide by proper labeling of GMO foods?

    Managing separate supply chains for something that's indistinguishable is hugely expensive.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Because we could supply them with the ability to grow their own food, bypassing distribution.
    How can you use the word "supply" in the same sentence as "distribution" and not see the obvious contradiction.  If we can't distribute food, why would you think we can distribute seeds?
    I'm not a farmer, but I would suspect that GMO crops offer an economic advantage to the farmers, other wise why would the farmers bother?
    I don't particularly care.  Label it and let the market decide.  I'm not saying don't grow it.  I'm saying don't try to peddle it to me under the radar with government protections.  I deserve to know what I'm being sold.
    There's lots of money being spent to help feed these people, probably more than enough to pay for it, plus, if the crops can be grow close to those who need the food, they've created new customers.
    So, corporate profits will be had at taxpayer expense.  It's a good socialist plan.  I'm still not clear on how one creates "new customers" from people that have no money.
    Managing separate supply chains for something that's indistinguishable is hugely expensive.
    They're not indistinguishable which is the whole point.  It's not my problem to let corporations subvert the law to avoid having to label their products.  Are you truly suggesting that it is the government's role to promote means by which corporations can reduce their costs?  The majority of the costs associated with food production exist primarily because too many food producers couldn't be trusted.  That's why we have meat inspectors, and all manner of controls, because those that produce it have no compulsion of selling garbage if they think they can get away with it.  All one has to do is look at what happened with the dog food a few years ago, to see what happens when no one bothers to regulate or control how such food is produced.

    No one has a problem when it comes to alternate energy sources to say that corporations have to figure out their own way to bring such products to market in a economically feasible way.  Yet, suddenly when it comes to GMO foods, economically feasible becomes the government's problem.  I expect my food to be labeled, and if they can't do it, then they shouldn't sell it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard

    I will pick you up on one point - this one: If the objective is to feed the world's hungry, then how do GMO foods solve the political/economic/distribution problems that have prevented existing food supplies from reaching those in need?

    Who is saying the objective of GMOs is to feed the world's hungry? I know of not a single plant scientist working in this area, nor any of the local proponents of the technology saying this. To them it is just another plant breeding tool they have at their disposal to solve various plant breeding problems. When they have a problem they will choose the best tool for the job, which isn't always transgenics. Also, all of the above mentioned people I have spoken to acknowledge and recognise that war, politics, corruption, poverty, distribution problems, wastage...and so on are some of the bigger issues that need to be sorted in addition to finding ways of growing more food on less land.

    Jason Major
    TechNyou, University of Melbourne

    Gerhard Adam
    Good, then there's absolutely no argument about the need for GMO foods to follow proper labeling guidelines for normal market distribution.  My only point in raising the starvation issue, is that is invariably what is touted as the "objective" whenever people talk about being anti-GMO.  If it is NOT part of the objective, then people that have no need for GMO foods shouldn't be compelled to have to purchase them nor consume them.

    Seems pretty straightforward to me.
    Mundus vult decipi
    John Hasenkam
    GMOs are here to stay and spare the me the pseudo altruism of it being about feeding the world. It is about making money and that's all. Not a bad thing. There are risks with GMOs and there are probably bigger risks from various forms of transport we undertake on a daily basis. The big problem with GMOs is that we could be placing ourselves on a perpetual treadmill. For example, Australia fought long and hard to create two viruses to go after those darn tootin rabbits. Now the rabbits are becoming resistant to both. If we keep doing that do we run the risk of breeding a rabbit resistant to a wide variety of viral attacks? 
    The problem I have with existing GMO technology is that it appears ignorant of evolution. Wouldn't it better if we could create multiple forms of attack used sparingly so as to preclude\delay adaptation? 

    The above only applies to pathogen issues - obviously. The benefits of GMO in relation to plant adaptation to various climates is a wonderful thing. Yes, it will create problems, everything we do creates problems. You got a problem with that?
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually, regardless of how I may feel about varying aspects of GMO technology, it is this compulsion to secrecy that I can't tolerate.  Labeling foods is only reasonable, and no one should be told that they don't have a right to know what's being done to their food supply.  I don't care what the basis for people's choices is, nor do I care if someone thinks it is healthy or unhealthy, as long as it's their own choice.  Failure to label removes that choice and compromises our ability to collect data on GMO foods [good or bad].
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Here's an interesting set of legal considerations.
    Farmers thus risk having their crops contaminated by GM gene wandering, and none are completely free of this risk. Organic farmers have the most to lose, as they risk not only their markets but also their certified organic status if their crops become contaminated with GM genes. The level of contamination of canola on the Canadian prairies is such that this crop is now lost to them, and they are concerned that other crops, notably wheat, may equally be lost. But conventional farmers are also at risk, as consumer fears about genetically modified crops mean that some manufacturers and retailers are no longer processing or selling GM foods, and Canada’s principal markets (Europe and Japan) are closed to genetically modified grain, at least without proper labelling. Conventional farmers could end up producing GM grain without choosing to do so, through no fault of their own. They also have to contend with the problem of volunteer GM crops on their land or run the risk of being accused of breaching the biotechnology company’s patent. Even GM farmers are not risk-free.
    http://www.washburnlaw.edu/wlj/43-3/articles/glenn-jane.pdf
    Mundus vult decipi
    Monsanto and their growing array of Frankenfoods are a serious threat to the public health. Take the case of the zombie, mutant banana http://www.zombielogicblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/zombie-mutant-banana.html