In, Unhealthy Fixation, William Saletan defends GMOs :
I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.
And then he talks up Papayas with viruses, staple crops with Bt and Golden Rice with Vitamin A. Somewhat late in the article, Saletan does admit that the extent to which pesticide-resistant GMOs lead to increased pesticide use is a problem:
Two factors seem to account for the herbicide increase. One is direct: If your crops are engineered to withstand Roundup, you can spray it profusely without killing them. The other factor is indirect: When every farmer sprays Roundup, weeds adapt to a Roundup-saturated world. They evolve to survive. To kill these herbicide-resistant strains, farmers spray more weedkillers. It’s an arms race. …
As weeds evolve to withstand Roundup, farmers are deploying other, more worrisome herbicides. And companies are engineering crops to withstand these herbicides so that farmers can spray them freely.
He also admits that monoculture is a problem, but claims that monoculture is thousands of years old, therefore not GMO’s problem.
Saletan hammers home the point that GMOs are not really a group of like things, therefore shouldn’t be labeled as such. As all pro-GMO astroturfers point out eventually, homo sapiens have been altering the genetics of its plants and animals through selective breeding for centuries. Saletan uses, ‘Genetically-Engineered’ (GE), and that or ‘transgenic’ organisms would be more accurate terminology, but most people use GMO for organisms modified using biotechnology rather than breeding.
In the comments is the interesting theory that anti-GMO activism is a false flag operation intended to discredit those who are actually opponents of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), The TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and Big Ag’s tendency to slap a patent or copyright on anything with DNA.
As a recap, ACTA is law in the US, but was rejected in Europe. The proposed TTIP and TPP include much of the same corporation-friendly intellectual property legislation as does ACTA. Seeds have been patented for quite some time, and now GMO seeds are being copyrighted. Patents expire after about twenty years; copyrights are supposedly the life of the author plus fifty or seventy years, but as my former coblogger Jim Marino has noted, valuable copyrights seem to be extended routinely.
Suddenly Republican representatives prefer federal oversight to state’s rights.
In, Food fight! Congress, consumers battle over GMOs, McClatchyDC covers Kansas’ Representative Mike Pompeo’s efforts to protect conventional agriculture from state laws that would require them to label GMO products.
So far, three states – Vermont, Connecticut and Maine – have passed mandatory labeling laws for genetically modified food. At least fifteen other states are considering similar regulations.
Pompeo’s “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” would nix those laws and instead set up a voluntary nationwide labeling system overseen by the federal government.
A lot has been written back and forth about GMOs being safe or not. Less has been written about the safety of the workers handling GMO crops that are doused in pesticides. Even less has been written about the possibility that some pests will eventually become resistant to glyphosate.
For my money, the produce I get from organic producers seems to taste better. It also seems to be better for my teeth, weight and sleep. It costs more, but I consider it a worthwhile investment in my family’s well-being.
We’ve recently seen some firearms pundits punished for trying to take a reasoned position between the two rigid extremes of the gun debate. In a similar vein, writing, What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters, Nathanael Johnson feels that discussion of GMOs is far less important than – but a proxy for – a debate about the industrial model of agriculture.
If the stakes are so low, why do people care so much? I think it has something to do with the role GMOs play in the stories we tell ourselves about agriculture in the modern world. When Dan Charles was researching his (terrific) book, Lords of the Harvest, he bumped up against some of the same quandaries I encountered, and concluded that the importance of these narratives was tantamount.
“The dispute over genetic engineering involves facts, to be sure,” he wrote. “But its parties disagree far more passionately over the story. They quarrel over the nature of the characters, the plot, and over the editing. They also feud over the unknowable: the ending.”
The debate isn’t about actual genetically modified organisms — if it was we’d be debating the individual plants, not GMOs as a whole — it’s about the stories we’ve attached to them. Both sides have agreed that this thing, this rhetorical construct we call GMOs, will be used to talk about something bigger. … people care about GMOs because they symbolize corporate control of the food system, or unsustainable agriculture, or the basic unhealthiness of our modern diet. On the other side, people care about GMOs because they symbolize the victory of human ingenuity over hunger and suffering, or the triumph of market forces, or the wonder of science. These larger stories are so compelling that they often obscure the ground truth.
Beneath all this is a fundamental disagreement about technology.
In, How Many Cheers for Cheerios?, Mark Bittman opines that General Mills’ decision to claim that one of their lead products is GMO-free is a big deal, even though most of us don’t know what GMO or organic actually entails:
Well, a major and venerable American brand has gone and announced that it contains no genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.’s). Cheerios is G.M.O.-free! And will soon be labeled “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients.” …
… Taking the G.M.O.’s out of Cheerios is only a little bit harder than taking them out of oatmeal: there are no G.M.O. oats, and Cheerios are, essentially, oats. (Well, hyper-processed oats.) They also contain small amounts of cornstarch and sugar, so its parent company, General Mills, has done little more than source non-G.M.O. cornstarch and cane rather than beet sugar to use in production. (There are G.M.O. beets, and almost all corn and soybeans grown in the United States use G.M.O. seeds, whose products find their way into most processed foods.) This is what they’ve done for years in most of Europe, where products with G.M.O.’s are almost universally labeled as such. …
Should we care? Yes. Much of the controversy over G.M.O.’s is being fought between those with a vested interest in their success and those who are willing to overstate the problems with the technology.
(Yes, he uses apostrophe-s as a plural.)
Bittman’s OpEd article appeared a few days after Amy Harmon’s, A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops. The hero of her article is a council member who must vote yea or nay on a GMO ban in the big island of Hawaii, but who is portrayed as the only one who cares about science rather than politics or emotion.
Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and the teaching of evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue. Some compare the hostility to G.M.O.s to the rejection of climate-change science, except with liberal opponents instead of conservative ones. … the groundswell against genetically modified food has rankled many scientists, who argue that opponents of G.M.O.s have distorted the risks associated with them and underplayed the risks of failing to try to use the technology to improve how food is grown. … And other scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, wrote an opinion article for the journal Science last fall titled “Standing Up for G.M.O.s.”
That, “Some compare … ,” (italics mine) could be right out the Fox News playbook and the suggestion that all GMO doubters are antiscience has resulted in a groundswell of commenters enthusiastically bashing the, “college students, eco-conscious shoppers and talk show celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz and Bill Maher,” mentioned in the article. Because, of course, studies commissioned by huge conglomerates are never wrong.
The first line of defense for GMO supporters is to say that genetic engineering is no different than the breeding of domestic crops and animals that farmers have been doing for thousands of years. The goal may be the same, but splicing in genes seems very different than picking which bull to use for stud.
The second line of defense is often to cite Norman Borlaug and the need to feed a growing planet, but as Bittman’s article notes, GMO seeds may fail a cost benefit analysis. They certainly benefit the seed companies, but without transparency, we just don’t know if they benefit the farmers or the consumers.
At Forbes, Henry I Miller, the Robert Wesson fellow at Stanford, presses the ad hominem button in, Bittman of the ‘New York Times’: Always Out To Lunch:
More than 40 years ago, Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull conceived the “Peter Principle,” which holds that in an organization in which promotion is based on achievement and merit, the organization’s members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. It is commonly articulated as, “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.”
Enter New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. After 13 years writing columns describing how to hard-boil eggs and prepare such delicacies as spaghetti with fried eggs (I am not making this up), in January 2011 the paper saw fit to elevate him to writing regularly about a “political issue” – namely “the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States.”
There’s way too much money at stake for GMOs to go away quietly.
Under, G.M.O. Foods and the Trust Issue, the NY Times published several letters responding to Harmon’s article. A professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies wrote:
Your article about genetically modified crops says that there is a “global scientific consensus” that they are safe, and suggests that opponents are driven by emotion, not fact.
As a medical research scientist, I disagree that there is any such consensus, and there is no evidence that any genetically modified product is safe. There is no required safety testing, no epidemiological study relating consumption to health.
Although the industry aggressively tries to discredit all studies showing potential harm, there are many showing toxicity in animals that predict serious medical consequences in humans from long-term exposure. Finally, contrary to industry claims, genetically modified crops have produced no increase in yield, have elevated the use of herbicides tenfold, and have resulted in no social or economic benefit except for the reduction of factory farm labor costs.
The public has every right to distrust what it is told about genetically modified food safety.