Third Party & Independents Archives

Genetically Modified Food (GMO)

Recently, I saw a documentary about genetically modified foods called “The Future of Food” . Before this, I never thought about how they “just reposition this gene” (bacteria and viruses) and I also didn’t know that they were suing farmers for violating their patent - even when the farmers had no desire to have these seeds in their fields.

I can't find recent articles about suing farmers. I don't know if this means it's not happening or if it's just not considered news...
However, there is a new development concerning the legal attack against international labeling laws and scientific approval processes that differ from ours...

First, to defend the farmers: Seeds don’t know property lines. To me, this is obvious “birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees...” - to others, it’s somehow a shock when they find it in a study.

Second: This technology is too new to be a fully tested change. Although patents have been obtained (which allows them to sue the farmers), the companies have maintained that their products are “substantially equivalent” to the real food product and they oppose additional regulation and testing. As the recombinant DNA process introduces soil bacteria, E-Coli bacteria, a virus and antibiotic markers to the food (1), I do not accept the “substantially equivalent” argument.

I trust that they have done additional tests despite this argument. However, it takes time for some consequences to show up and this technology hasn’t been around long enough for a true look at the overall impact. Impacts on the natural world, unintentional consequences of the reduction of the amount of diversity in our flora and fauna, future cancer-like diseases we don’t understand... I don’t really know what to be worried about. The point is that we don’t understand. There’s a lot about our bodies and our world that humans don’t understand. I accept that. I don't understand the arrogance that doesn't even want to test any further.

Now I find that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has published an update to their May ruling that “a European Union ban on new gene-altered seeds was illegal”. The ruling was considered a technical victory, because the EU already had an approval process in place and had already approved several new genetically-modified products.

If I’m not misunderstanding this article, the US was able to push through two new corollaries to get rid of the labeling requirements and to challenge the approval process:

The WTO decision may discourage nations ranging from India to Japan to Russia from writing stricter regulations stipulating the labeling of foods with gene-altered ingredients.

Today's 1,087-page report, the longest ever WTO ruling and available on the WTO's Web site, said the EU should now comply with global trade rules because the bloc's moratorium ``resulted in a failure to complete individual approval procedures without undue delay.'' Arbitrators don't question the right of the EU to carry out risk assessments before approving seeds.
Since May, when the WTO decision was completed, the EU has vowed to maintain its current system for approving genetically engineered seeds.

I don’t know how the WTO works. Maybe this is just another back and forth, but the Farm Bureau states the U.S. position pretty well:

We oppose the imposition by foreign countries of any import restrictions, labeling or segregation requirements of any genetically-modified organism once it has been approved according to internationally-accepted, scientific principles to be as safe for humans, animals and the environment as conventional crops.

I agree with opposition to import restrictions, but what’s wrong with labeling? Testing was not too prohibitive to use while suing farmers and almost 50 M hectares of our crops will be able to be labeled without any undue burden.

The 25-nation EU grows less than 1 percent of the world's genetically modified crops, has 98 million hectares (242 million acres) of global arable land, second only to the U.S. More than 90 million hectares are sown with biotech crops, in 21 countries, with 55 percent of that total grown in the U.S.

Legislation seeks to deny states and local governments the right to regulate this and federal laws that would allow me to decide with my pocketbook don’t seem to get any traction.
This corporate dominance is unacceptable. I want labeling so I can make my own choice.


(1) - From the "The Future of Food" movie

Posted by Christine at October 8, 2006 3:40 PM
Comment #187012


I absolutely agree!! Labeling at the very least should be required for all genetically modified foods, and seeds, and whatever else they decide to mess with.

This is scary stuff indeed, your concerns are well founded.

Posted by: womanmarine at October 8, 2006 4:21 PM
Comment #187020

CHristine, as a European, I demand that I know what food i’m eating. I don’t want to eat gm foods. I don’t know of any benefit to me as a consumer from eating such foods. I just don’t want it, so it is essential that I know what is and is not gm food at the point of sale.

It seems to me that companies such as Monsanto want to take ownership of our foods for the sole purpose of effectively taxing us for as many mouthfuls of our diet as possible. We know virtually nothing of the adverse effects of such manipulated food on our dna, We are after all, what we eat. This is another example of giant TNC’s trying to bludgeon international politics to serve their purposes. I know that in Europe there is great consumer resistance to GM foods, tho’ I believe that it is hardly controversial in the US among consumers. I will be lobbying my politicians both in Ireland and in Europe to require massively prominent labelling to indicate GM ingredients in foods sold in Europe, and I believe if such requirements are enabled, GM foods will have no future, at least in Europe.

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at October 8, 2006 5:06 PM
Comment #187023

All of us have eaten GMO foods. And most of the foods we eat are genetically modified. Have you ever seen the ancestors of corn or tomatoes? The difference with the never versions is that they are created more precisely.

I do not have a particular problem with labeling, except it is arbitrary. The ruling does not stop people from knowing what is in their foods should they wish. A firm can label its own foods organic (if that is so) or non GMO. Some people will pay more for those things. Let them decide.

Biotech will be good for the environment because we can use less pesticide and fertilizers. I wrote a post about that last year. The EU is unenthusiastic about biotech for prosaic and ideological reasons. Some people there (as here) really fear biotech. The prosaic reason is that the EU already is paying out so much to agriculture subsidies that they certainly do not want it to become more efficient. But their opposition is short sighted.

The EU ban opposition to GMO is much like our opposition to stem cell research. Both are silly.

Posted by: Jack at October 8, 2006 5:24 PM
Comment #187028


You may think them silly, but they are well within thieir rights.

And I firmly believe the people have the right to know whether or not what they buy is genetically modified.

Sorry, but this is not the same as hybridization or any of the other changes that are not manipulated in a laboratory.

Posted by: womanmarine at October 8, 2006 6:38 PM
Comment #187031

Jack, I suggest you read the above articles on GM plants and foods, not least maize. There is a sigificant difference between traditional hybridisation and lab modification, and that difference is not that the lab version is more precise. I hope you are not one of those people who try to dismiss Greenpeace as a bunch of lefty loonies, as they are well respected around the world.

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at October 8, 2006 7:04 PM
Comment #187033


I have had close dealings with Greenpeace. Many are good people. Others are just fundraisers looking for sensationalism. The links you provide are the latter.

I guess Greenpeace prefers using pesticides and herbicides. It is easy to be against things. It is fun to fly helicopters and ride in fast boats buring lots of fossil fuel for the environment, but alternatives are harder.

Posted by: Jack at October 8, 2006 7:15 PM
Comment #187036

Unfortunately, these developments are not reducing pesticide use.
I’m worried about the huge deadzone at the end of the Mississippi river. I grew up in Illinois, farm country. I understand this possible benefit and I wish it were so.

According to this link:

Four years of official U.S. Department of Agriculture data are now available to test the claim that GM crops grown in the U.S. have significantly reduced pesticide use. Most independent analysts working with the USDA data have reached similar conclusions; with the possible exception of Bt-cotton, they have not.

If you think about the fact that the companies making the seed also make the pesticide, this may not be incredibly surprising…


Posted by: Christine at October 8, 2006 8:16 PM
Comment #187037

Jack, your response to those links suggests to me that you have not read them. I note that you do not challenge any of the claims made in them.

This link Jack explains things in a way that even I can understand, even tho’ I am no geneticist or biotechnologist.

George Wald, Nobel Laureate in Medicine, has said for genetic engineeering - “The results will be essentially new organisms, self-perpetuating and hence permanent. Once created, they cannot be recalled” and “Up to now, living organisms have evolved very slowly and new forms have had plenty of time to settle in. Now whole proteins will be transposed overnight into wholly new associations, with consequences no one can foretell, either for the host organism, or their neighbors.”

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at October 8, 2006 8:39 PM
Comment #187039

You do not have to eat the whole egg to know it is rotten.

The graphics and initial language tell you that this is not going to be fair and balanced.

Yes, GMOs will be different, as are any types of hybrids. No one can foretell lots of things. This is the precautionary principle. It has very strong emotional appeal but if applied over all would stop all change. I imagine that the precautionary principle would have prevented the use of electricity, very dangerous and untested right?

If you want to read, you could always go to The Promise of Biotechnology or The International Food Information Council.

Posted by: Jack at October 8, 2006 8:55 PM
Comment #187043

This is slightly off the topic of conversation, but definitely related to the original post. A group in Britain is trying to patent the idea of salted fries (sorry, “chips”). The article says

it’s a stunt to show that patent rules currently allow companies to get exclusive rights over basic foods if they modify it in some way.

The article also mentions Percy Schmeiser, though I haven’t seen any recent developments in similar cases.

Posted by: Wulf at October 8, 2006 9:16 PM
Comment #187044

Jack, a very quick perusal of your first link (a US Govt Dept of State) reads like a cheerleaders script for the GM industry, not exactly what one would expect from a Govt Dept. The second link is for the international food information council. I’ve never heard of this organisation, however, given it’s address in Washington, I would guess, subject to correction, that it is a lobby group for the food or gm industries. If so, it would hardly be an unbiased source for info. In fact, just having done a quick google check on it, sourcewatch says:- “n reality, IFIC is a public relations arm of the food and beverage industries, which provide the bulk of its funding. Its staff members hail from industry groups such as the Sugar Association and the National Soft Drink Association, and it has repeatedly led the defense for controversial food additives including monosodium glutamate, aspartame (Nutrasweet), food dyes, and olestra. IFIC has been working on food biotechnology issues since 1992 and has a lot of pro-biotech and food industry propaganda on its website” It goes on to recount - “In 1992, IFIC hired Dr. G. Clotaire Rapaille, a Jungian psychoanalyst, to advise them on ways to win public support for GM foods. Rapaille provided a list of “words to use” and “words to lose” when talking about the topic. The “words to use” included terms such as beauty, bounty, children, choices, cross-breeding, diversity, earth, farmer, flowers, fruits, future generations, hard work, heritage, improved, organic, purity, quality, soil, tradition and wholesome. “Words to lose” included: biotechnology, chemical, DNA, economic, experiments, industry, laboratory, machines, manipulate, money, pesticides, profit, radiation, safety and scientists.”

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at October 8, 2006 9:17 PM
Comment #187045

For the purposes of open debate Jack, I can declare that I have no links to any participants in this debate, neither the food or gmo lobbies, or the anti GMO lobby. My only interest is in ensuring that both myself and my family and indeed my fellows get to make an informed choice on what we are presented with for consumption. That means knowing that foods on offer are genetically modified or contain GM ingredients. I believe and I think the GM industry believes, that if this info is prominently displayed on such foods, then the game is over. Knowingly eating GM foods would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. Ain’t gonna happen my friend.

Posted by: Paul in Euroland at October 8, 2006 9:29 PM
Comment #187055

We should be careful about Genetically Modified food, but not phobic. GM foods are the future of agriculture, and simply rejecting them out of fear of the unknown is hardly any better than accepting them blindly.

A truly scientific attitude, which is the one that will really give us good knowledge of what we’re dealing with, requires that we be skeptical in our approach to claims of health and environmental effects, and claims of safety and biological effects.

GM crops, animals, and foods must be regulated strictly, and not merely foisted on people. Those regulations, though, must be based on what is known about the foods, the substances detected in them, and the metabolism of the body that acts upon them. Otherwise, they stand to do little good.

There will be mistakes, as there have been with every other technology. If we simply panic at them, the technology will likely become dominated by those countries willing to more carelessly take risks. The best way to advance this technology is with a cool head and an even keel.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 8, 2006 10:23 PM
Comment #187056


and it has repeatedly led the defense for controversial food additives including monosodium glutamate, aspartame (Nutrasweet)…

Do you even know what monosodium glutamate or aspartame are or are you parroting something you heard from one of your little groups?

Posted by: pete at October 8, 2006 10:28 PM
Comment #187060

Well, I’m not Jack, but I’ll comment on your information.
I read all of your links, and there is nothing convincing in any of them (I am a molcular biologist, but have no ties at all to the food or genetic engineering industries).
Your first link is full of sound and fury, but doesn’t show any damage to anyone caused by GM crops. To be specific:
First link: The first two “sins” talk about monsanto-specific business practices, but do not adress GM food at all.

BTW, monosodium glutamate is a naturlly-ocurring amino acid and aspartame is the most thoroughly tested substance on the planet, so if your sources think that those things are “controversial” it just shows how biased your sources are.

For the third “Sin”: I don’t find a statement about GM foods without any supporting data from an organization called the African Center for Biosafety and Friends of the Earth International to be convincing. It’s an opinion, but not a well-supported one. Also, just because one crop (sweet potatoes) failed under African environmental conditions doesn’t mean that GM food itself is a total washout.

For the fourth “sin”:Again, the failure of one non-food crop does not indict all GM food. Additionlly, although the report claims that the total cost of cultivation was increased using Bt cotton, they do not even mention what the profit from selling it was. I would bet that although the cost of cultivation was higher, the yield was similarly increased. Bt cotton is widely used in the US, and if it was such a failure, it would not be.

The fifth sin, terminator technology:
This is the biggest skewing of the entire article. Terminator seeds are just seeds that produce sterile seeds from the resulting plants. If the farmers don’t like having to buy their seeds every year, they don’t have to buy GM seeds. The only way terminator seeds make sense is if the GM properties of the plants are beneficial enough to outweigh the cost of buying the seeds every year. No one is going to come and confiscate the seeds that farmers have used for thousands of years. FYI, Monsanto has done this type of thing for years with non GM seeds, by selling hybrid corn seeds that won’t produce similar corn if the resulting seeds are planted. The farmers buy them because the hybrid corn is superior.

The sixth sin: So monsanto sues farmers who violate their contracts. How does that indict GM food? Terminator seeds would take care of this problem. Innocent farmers will be vindicated in court.

The seventh sin: they have disgruntled employees? How in the world is that an indictment of biotechnology? Wierd.

The funniest part of the whole link was where they said that it was a sin for monsanto to say they want to feed the poor using GM foods, but they haven’t emphasized food crops. The reason for that is because people like greenpeace fight like crazy against them. It’s a sin if they use GM food, it’s a sin if they don’t.

Again, that whole piece was a hit job with no facts or any evidence of damage to anyone or any environment by GM crops. As a twisted emotional appeal against a company, though, it was effective.

Your second link only had one piece of data in it about the harm of GM crops, that GM rapeseed crops provided less food for insects. You know, that sounds like the point of GM cropts to me-less insect damage. The other points were either about spread, which is a problem but which terminator technology would stop, or stuff talked about in link 1.

The third link about genetic engineers not living in the modern biotechnology world is also very flawed. For example, all of the parts that talk about splicing are moot because most genetic engineering uses cDNA, which is made from already spliced RNA. Gene regulation is controlled by promoters, which are included with the gene. All of the issues that are brought up are actually well understood by people in genetic engineering. Yes, unexpected consequences occur. However, that’s why they test their products. I would bet that for every case shown in that link about unexpected results of genetic engineering, it was the company that revealed the unexpected results. The slide about the Bt gene was total conjecture.
Yes, unexpected results can occur. They always do, but they are tested for and unexpected negative events are selected against.

GM food is like irradiated food. It sounds scary, so even if there is no chemical change (or radiation) in the final product, people are scared by the idea. These links do a good job of spreading around unsubstantiated fear.

Posted by: Brian Poole at October 8, 2006 11:02 PM
Comment #187063


All the sources are biased. Certainly a industry organization may be biased in favor just as Greenpeace is biased against.


Thanks. It is nice to have someone who knows how to handle that sort of data.

Posted by: Jack at October 8, 2006 11:17 PM
Comment #187073

Lawsuits began in the 90’s when trucks carrying monsanto patented seeds and kernels began spilling onto established family farmlands. Monsanto won those suits. It was ruled that no matter where the seed or kernel came from, the farmer had no right to maintain a sewn seed which is patented. The farmer had to ditch his stock (which took generations to manifest) of his own seeds right out of his silo.

This is not “new” news, rather it is dismally under-reported news. Thanks for this posting.

Posted by: Bill C. at October 9, 2006 6:09 AM
Comment #187294

This link has a pretty good analysis of the concerns.

I surprised to find out the corporate control was already in the “master plan” regardless of biotechnology…

A particularly controversial aspect of the battle for control of biotechnology is the attempt to limit farmer seed saving. The issue is not confined to GMOs, however. For instance, hybrid crop varieties have been available for more than 50 years. Seed companies have long favoured hybrids because the loss of hybrid vigour in the second generation motivates farmers to purchase fresh seed each year. A recent development affecting seed saving is the agreement on trade related intellectual property rights (TRIPs) as part of the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Member countries must establish plant variety protection legislation. This will limit farmers’ capacities to save or trade seed of protected varieties. The legislation’s major current application is for conventional varieties, but the advent of GMOs has provided additional impetus.

On that note, the USDA site for the “terminator” seed asserts that U.S. farmers are not saving their seeds anyway because of yield. I don’t know enough about small farms to say for sure, but I think some are probably trying to maintain their generations of seed breeding. As has been stated, we don’t need agribusiness to combine the genes of two stalks of corn…

And, to follow on Wulf’s point, I understand the need to patent, but I think a little more discretion is needed. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to insist on limiting ability to reuse your own seeds - as they like to point out, the yield will be reduced anyway. If they can’t sell that, they shouldn’t force it.
In another related example - we need to leave gene lines open until someone actually figures out how to use them.

Brian Poole - thank you for sharing that information. It’s always helpful when a scientist jumps into the fray on an issue like this!


Posted by: Christine at October 9, 2006 6:48 PM
Comment #187336


The “roundup ready” crops that monsanto sells do not lead to less pesticide usage. They allow a chemical which is lethal to all plant life (but not their gmo crops) to be sprayed over large areas, whereas farmers would previously spot spray for weeds. This leads to far more pesticide usage.

Other developments may or may not serve this function, but the majority of the gmo food in this country is monsanto’s.

Posted by: iandanger at October 9, 2006 11:12 PM
Comment #187342

Roundup ready may not reduce herbicide usage (or pesticide, although why would it?), but plants genetically engineered with the Bt gene do reduce pesticide usage. Bt is a natural pesticide.

Posted by: Brian Poole at October 10, 2006 12:15 AM
Comment #187380

Are you sure?

I like this link that I used in my first comment, but there is more detail from the USDA again.

The only crop with a reduction in overall herbicide/pesticide use is cotton. In the other crops, the USDA explains that there is more pesticide application but a less toxic pesticide is used, so it’s ok…

I don’t know if that’s better or not - but the link in my previous comment discusses the worry that the use of Bt in the food itself will result in “promoting the evolution of resistant strains of pests or pathogens”.

It is a related problem to our excessive use of antibiotics. So far they still work most of the time, but resistant strains are a very valid fear. Doesn’t it fit with the science that overuse of the substances are destined to lead to more use and/or stronger poison?


Posted by: Christine at October 10, 2006 10:51 AM
Comment #187530

Are you sure?

I like the link that I used in my first comment, but in case the source is in question, there is more detail from the USDA again.

The only crop with a reduction in overall herbicide/pesticide use is cotton. In the other crops, the USDA explains that there is more pesticide application but a less toxic pesticide is used, so it’s ok…

I don’t know if that’s better or not - but my latest link discusses the worry that the use of Bt in the food itself will result in “promoting the evolution of resistant strains of pests or pathogens”.

It is a related problem to our excessive use of antibiotics. So far they still work most of the time, but resistant strains are a very valid fear.
Doesn’t it fit with the science that overuse of the substances are destined to lead to more use and/or stronger poison?


Posted by: Christine at October 10, 2006 8:55 PM
Comment #187605

Yes, pest resistance is a very valid concern. One thing that I think is cool is that insects have developed behavior-related strategies for coping with pesticides. Bt only becomes toxic when exposed to light after being chewed on by an insect, so some insects have started rolling up leaves before they eat them to avoid light exposure(not really relevant, but I think it’s interesting). However, if you don’t use a pesticide or antibiotic because you’re afraid that pests will become resistant to it you might as well not have it. You just try to use it judiciously and work on the next one. Poisons don’t have to be stronger to overcome resistances, just different.

Like I said, I’m not in the biotech industry, so I don’t know if GM crops really reduce pesticide use. Apparently it works for cotton, and if you can use a less toxic form of pesticide, I think that’s still a considerable benefit. The same thing might be said of herbicides—Roundup may break down more easily than others or something, so it causes less damage (Pure conjecture, based on how fast my lawn grows back after I’ve sprayed weeds, but it could be considered). I really think that if there was no benefit to GM crops, farmers wouldn’t go along with all the hassle and expense to have them.

Posted by: Brian Poole at October 11, 2006 10:21 AM
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