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    Would You Prevent The 1850 Irish Potato Famine If It Meant GMOs?
    By News Staff | June 11th 2014 09:36 PM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    How effective has the war on science by Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists and their progressive donor base been?

    Very effective. Effective enough that even when reading about the Irish Potato Famine of 1850, which caused millions to suffer and die, an alarming number would let many perish if it meant using science to prevent it. 

    If you thought genetically modified potatoes could avert late blight disease, spare a million countrymen from starvation and keep another million from emigrating off the Emerald Isle, would you plant these newfangled spuds? If not, not only do modern demographers know how you vote, they also can made an educated guess about how you feel on vaccines and other life-saving measures. Anti-science beliefs have become so polarized that if someone puts the prefix "Franken-" in front of something, you know a lot about them. Including that they do not know Frankenstein was a hybrid and not a GMO.

    Among 859 U.S. grocery shoppers, half the subjects in an online survey read the story of the 1850s Irish Potato Famine, learning the potential impact of fungal Phytophthora infestans on potato and tomato crops today. The other 400-plus pondered a generic plant disease, with no mention of specific crops or historic famines.

    People who cared more about the environment were less concerned about threats to crops and insuring a secure food supply. People who cared more about keeping people from starving were pro-GMO. Self-assessed familiarity with genetic modification had a positive relationship on the likelihood that genetic modification was viewed favorably. What really stuck out? People against genetic modification were concerned about the 'fairness' of decision-making rather than whether or not people ate.

    "Stories of the Irish Potato Famine were no more likely to boost support for disease-resistant genetically modified crops than were our generic crop-disease descriptions," said Katherine A. McComas, professor and chair of Cornell's Department of Communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "Preconceived views about risks and benefits of agricultural genetic engineering – and perceptions about the fairness and legitimacy of the decision-making process – these things matter most.

    "If you think genetically modified crops are dangerous 'frankenfoods' and/or that crop disease is best controlled with chemicals – if you suspect federal regulators care more about Big Ag's interests than your family's, thus the whole game is rigged – plaintive tales of historical famines won't change your mind about genetic modification for disease resistance."


    So keep that in mind the next time an environmentalist complains about science - they aren't concerned about feeding people, they are concerned about forcing policy makers to accept their personal beliefs.

    Citation: Katherine A. McComas, John C. Besley, Joseph Steinhardt, 'Factors influencing U.S. consumer support for genetic modification to prevent crop disease', Appetite, Volume 78, 1 July 2014, Pages 8-14 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.02.006 

    Comments

    This OP/ED is leaning like Pisa. You might want to look more than just down your narrow nose to quip mis-contextualized crap like this to a public that cares about BOTH.

    Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)

    "Although the potato crop failed, the country was still producing and exporting more than enough grain crops to feed the population. Records show during the period Ireland was exporting approximately thirty to fifty shiploads per day of food produce. As a consequence of these exports and a number of other factors such as land acquisition, absentee landlords and the effect of the 1690 penal laws, the Great Famine today is viewed by a number of historical academics as a form of either direct or indirect genocide.[7]" [7] References: A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland by Christine Kinealy 1997; Famine Ghost: Genocide of the Irish By Jack O'Keefe; Confronting Genocide edited by René Provost, Payam Akhavan; Baltimore Iconoclast By William C. Hughes, William Hughes

    You really should just pull this tripe and do real research.

    Hank
    Historians exist to revise history - it's the only way to get published. That their remnant feudal system fed the problem is nothing new. But answer the question; if it would fix the problem, would you use a GMO potato or not? Everything about grain is irrelevant since we know that cultural landscape is fixed. The potato, however, is variable.
    Eschew Obfuscation.

    I'm saying the question AND argument is moot. There has been and could still be a large enough volume of food without GMOs to feed the world. It wouldn't take GMO foods to do it. Do you think the world's starving poor, prior to GMO, weren't starving? This becomes an economic question, which is "Will we feed the starving population on the planet?", and has been answered time and again: Maybe. If we are seeing enough of it and we deem it an economic risk worth taking. Nobility is easy when you can afford it.

    My answer is: I would use existing, long proven technology called Hybridization (plant breeding- prior to the lab science being done now) to feed the starving poor. I would not espouse an extremely poor nation to a high cost crop monopolized by corporations while the product is still unproven over more than 5 years to remain safe and sustainable.

    To your points:
    "Historians exist to revise history - it's the only way to get published." is plainly ignorant and an attempt to skew opinion by vaguely disarming the references i made. Read them first, show me where there are discrepancies.

    "That their remnant feudal system fed the problem is nothing new." is perhaps the point, isn't it? Do you want to be marginalized by a company that holds all the cards for you and your children, over your entire life's work and efforts, without they having to prove the safety of the product rather than our having to prove the damages? Do you buy cars and houses like that? Then why your food?

    "Everything about grain is irrelevant since we know that cultural landscape is fixed. The potato, however, is variable." is nonsensical. I really cannot address this as it has no meaning, context, or supporting argument.

    I encourage you to review your poorly thought out argument and come back with more informed postulations.

    Hank
    I would use existing, long proven technology called Hybridization
    Been around for 12,000 years and you know what it never did? It never actually created enough food to feed poor people, nor did it prevent the potato famine. Science could have.

    You are lucky enough to have been born into Argicultural Nobility - you live in a place where food is easy to grow and cheap. You then use your First World privilege to believe that applies everywhere. It certainly does not. Hybridization and mutagenesis were fine waypoints on the road to actual food science but crops are not going to grow in difficult climates, and without giant amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, without genetic modification. There is a reason Norm Borlaug and all of the original Green Revolution people embraced GMOs. They knew science. 

    I can't for the life of me fathom what you are talking about with this monopoly conspiracy. Who owns a monopoly on Golden Rice? No one.  It's still protested for no reason anyone can figure out, other than that environmental corporations make money drumming up new controversies.
    Ya know, just today I saw someone argue against GMO mosquitoes because that might mean more poor people would breed.

    These are people currently alive they are talking about--impacted by terrible diseases--and they are pro-mosquito.

    I don't have any idea how to overcome that kind of misanthropy.

    Hank
    It was the same cynicism behind the abortion movement in the US. More abortions, fewer poor people, less crime, etc. So it is no surprise. 

    In the US, it is primarily wealthy elites who are against genetic modification - including stopping dengue. So that a few of them would want to use it to have fewer poor people is no real shock, their food science beliefs would cause mass starvation also.
    This article assumes that using GMO potato is a solution. That seemed to never be questioned, that the options are "use GMO potatoes" or "widespread starvation." Typical of pro-corporate arguments, this whole article misrepresents the issue.

    The loss of potato crops was primarily due to a lack of diversity of potatoes. There was one dominant type of potato, so the disease spread easily. Since then, Ireland has used a greater variety of potatoes and has not relied so heavily on one type of food. I don't see how there could ever be a repeat of this same crisis. Is the solution to replace all potato crops with the same GMO plant? The GMO potato might be resistant to one type of disease, but others not yet known may affect it later. That GMO crops provide more yield is a convenient myth, by now disproven. As pests (weeds and insects primarily) become resistant to the engineered crop/pesticide combinations, more pesticide must be applied until no amount is effective. This isn't theoretical: GMO crop yields on average have been going down, and many farmers are already abandoning GMO crops because they haven't been more effective than "conventional" except in the first few years.

    Another false dichotomy in the article: that opposing GMO is anti-science. Is it good science that studies no longer than 3 months supposedly prove safety of GMO crops? Why do the pro-GMO articles typically present the anti-GMO position as opposition to scientific advancements, when it has been proven many times that the pesticides that common GMO crops are engineered to work with (the whole reason they are engineered in many cases is to be resistant to glyphosate or some other pesticide) eventually cause health problems for mammals eating the food?

    "So keep that in mind the next time an environmentalist complains about science..." Actually, every environmentalist I know would be very pleaseed if everybody would actually look at the science, and not the junk science sponsored by the seed/pesticide companies. Where is the long-term study that supports safety of glyphosate, etc?

    I see that you threw in the vaccination issue. Nice job. A reasonable person would just see this article as a bunch of profit-supporting rhetoric. I came to this site hoping that it would be a good place to find scientific info (science journals/paywalls are expensive), but instead I see mostly a lot of the usual talking points supporting the status quo.

    Hank
    Typical of pro-corporate arguments, this whole article misrepresents the issue.
    and 
    I see that you threw in the vaccination issue. Nice job. A reasonable person would just see this article as a bunch of profit-supporting rhetoric.
    As you showed, the comparison is valid. Anyone who deviates from your 'I am some guy on a couch who knows no science but you are wrong' speculation must be getting paid. Do you get paid to write nonsense comments? No? Then why assume everyone else is some unethical shill?

    I would challenge you to do some research and show evidence before you allege someone is a paid toadie, but if you knew how to do research you wouldn't have written 80% of your comment.

    "I would challenge you to do some research and show evidence before you allege someone is a paid toadie"

    What is there to research? This entire website screams "corporate apologist." The arguments are often thin, heavy use of logical fallacies, the outcomes always favor the profit-friendly perspective, etc. What person in their right mind would spend their free time making these arguments? Nearly every article is saying "don't worry, despite all the latest research showing harm GMOs are still safe" and "whatever you're buying, keep buying it 'cause everything is A-OK." I've only discovered the site today, and already I've found many instances of misrepresentation of facts or contradictions of the latest science.

    "...if you knew how to do research you wouldn't have written 80% of your comment."

    This is typical of your writing here. This is a claim with no specifics. What did I write that is verifiably and objectively not correct? Be specific? Am I wrong about lack of diversity having been a major factor in the potato famine? Am I wrong about the uniformity of GMO potato crops? What?