In Which I Feed the Trolls

About a week and a half ago, I posted a letter from Simon Singh, which urged interested parties to sign a petition for British libel reform.

A commenter by the name of “betty” had something to add:

Genetically modified food is our future. Actually, we already eat a lot of it. Is it safe?

“- Media are invited to join Monsanto and other industry stakeholders for the official Grand Opening of the new, state-of-the-art Monsanto Canada Breeding Centre, located adjacent to Monsanto’s existing Canadian Head Office at the University of Manitoba’s Smartpark.Tues, November 23, 201010:30 am to 1:00 pm (lunch provided)”
http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Monsanto-Canada-Breeding-Centre-Grand-Opening-1354370.htm

Um… I’d skip the lunch.

GMO crops are the main contributing factor in Colony Collapse Disorder which is decimating bee populations worldwide. We’re in for a future of eating gruel if we don’t do something fast. The mainstream media, big business and governments must stop whitewashing GMO science. http://www.energygrid.com/ecology/2010/03po-colonycollapse.html

Somebody from the media needs to crash this party and ask the tough questions!

Need motivation? Check these out:

American Academy of Environmental Medicine calls for immediate moratorium: http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

The World According to Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8hFuuDAZjk

David vs. Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E42ndfjnP1g&feature=fvst

The Future of Food: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9Y_QH_c70s

Food, Inc.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0&feature=fvw

Vanishing of the Bees: http://www.vanishingbees.com/

RoundUp causes cancer: http://www.organicconsumers.org/Monsanto/glyphocancer.cfm

Join the protest outside the event.

Please tell a friend.

This comment was flagged for moderation, and I duly marked it as spam because it didn’t actually address anything in the post to which it was appended. Either WordPress made an error or one of my fellow Winnipeg Skeptics bloggers disagreed, approving it for publication. Although the comment wouldn’t pass muster on my blog (it is in violation of several sections of the comment policy), far be it from me to start a fight over something so trivial.

So if you were hoping for a post on the subject of the Winnipeg Skeptics’ recent trip to Winnipeg’s Creation Museum, then I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. You have “betty” to blame for derailing me, because I’m going to briefly address a few of the points that she makes in her comment.

Genetically modified food is our future. Actually, we already eat a lot of it. Is it safe?

It certainly seems to be. Are you asserting that it is not? Oh, goody!

“- Media are invited to join Monsanto and other industry stakeholders for the official Grand Opening of the new, state-of-the-art Monsanto Canada Breeding Centre, located adjacent to Monsanto’s existing Canadian Head Office at the University of Manitoba’s Smartpark.Tues, November 23, 201010:30 am to 1:00 pm (lunch provided)”
http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Monsanto-Canada-Breeding-Centre-Grand-Opening-1354370.htm

Um… I’d skip the lunch.

That is, of course, your prerogative. I work just across the street: if I had a media pass, I’d stop by for a bite.

To be clear, I’m no huge fan of Monsanto. Based on some of the actions that they’ve taken in the past, I’m of the very tentative view that they’re a bunch of bastards. But that is irrelevant to the question of whether or not genetically engineered foodstuffs are safe.

GMO crops are the main contributing factor in Colony Collapse Disorder which is decimating bee populations worldwide. We’re in for a future of eating gruel if we don’t do something fast. The mainstream media, big business and governments must stop whitewashing GMO science. http://www.energygrid.com/ecology/2010/03po-colonycollapse.html

FAIL.

This was at one time thought to be a potential cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, however no credible research has demonstrated such a link.

From The Status of Pollinators in North America, pages 80–81, published by The National Academies Press:

For honey bees, the concerns involved the potential lethality of insecticidal transgenic proteins, the sublethal effects of these proteins on insect behavior, physiology, and reproduction and the economic effects of transgenic pollen as a contaminant of honey. Malone and Pham-Delègue (2001) reviewed the small literature on this topic and concluded that, in some cases, there are negative but sublethal effects attributable to consumption of transgenic pollens. These effects varied with the identity of the transgene and the amount of its expression but in no case have any effects of transgenic crops on honey bee populations been documented. [Emphasis added.]

Honey bees are not a target species for Bt toxin, however it is not implausible that they may be affected in some way. The alternative to Bt strains would be to revert to using traditional pesticides in larger doses, which could pose similar problems—especially if those pesticides were organic, in which case they could pose additional risks.

Professor Galen Dively, Pest Management Specialist in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland summarised the current state of the research very well:

First, the endotoxins currently expressed in Bt corn (Cry 1 types against caterpillars; Cry 3 types against beetles) are not active against hymenopteran insects such as the honey bee, nor do the CCD symptoms resemble those expected in Bt intoxicated organisms. Yes, the increase in bee loss has somewhat paralleled the increase in Bt crops in the U.S., but severe bee losses have occurred in Europe and in areas of Canada where Bt crops were not grown.

It seems very likely that this is a case of correlation (and weak correlation, at that) rather than causation. Wikipedia has a fairly excellent and well-referenced entry on Colony Collapse Disorder, including suggested causes.

But back to “betty”:

Somebody from the media needs to crash this party and ask the tough questions!

Sure. By all means. The press release indicates that several key spokespeople will be available to take questions from the media. That’s why they have these events.

Now that you have the science, let’s take at look at the link that “betty” provided. And I quote:

Forword [sic] by Dan Winter from FractalField

We know that fractality is medically defined as the quality in your heart (HRV) which statistically predicts how long you will survive.

We now know this principle of measuring HARMONIC INCLUSIVENESS — is the way fractality can be measured in EVERY LIVING THING — TO PREDICT ITS SURVIVAL:

  • applies to forests ( Bioacoustic Habitat Theory)
  • voice analysis (Signature Sound Works, Biosonica, Biowaves.com etc)
  • AND BY EXTENSION — it follows that harmonic inclusiveness — measuring FRACTALITY — can be used accurately, scientifically — to predict the viability / survival of EVERY LIVING THING ( atoms, babies, galaxies, .. the Dodeca — Universe etc etc..)

SO — now lets apply that to DNA.

Do you know what would be the DEATHLY OPPOSITE of harmonic inclusiveness or FRACTALITY in DNA?

THAT… would be… MONOCULTURE — A PHILOSOPHY OF DEATH FOR SELF-ORGANIZATION in all of DNA.

Winter then goes on to prove that Monsanto is evil by searching Google for “monsanto+evil” and reporting the hit count. He uses the same technique to prove that aspartame is poison (I think that there should be a Godwin-style internet law about this one). I appreciate that among the four or five items that fit into the category of “EVERY LIVING THING”, only one is actually alive. Also, what the hell is a dodeca-universe? A universe with twelve sides? The crazy is strong with this one.

To be fair, that’s just the foreword. The actual article is written by someone who could actually rub two words together to make a fire. (What? What does that even mean?)

Unfortunately, the actual arguments that he uses to state his case are tenuous hypotheticals (which are, in my opinion, adequately addressed by the papers that I quoted above), bolstered by claims that some scientists have incorrectly characterised the uses or efficacy of genetically engineered foods (which is not relevant).

Need motivation? Check these out:

American Academy of Environmental Medicine calls for immediate moratorium: http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

The World According to Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8hFuuDAZjk

David vs. Monsanto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E42ndfjnP1g&feature=fvst

The Future of Food: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9Y_QH_c70s

Food, Inc.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0&feature=fvw

No.

I have a long-standing policy of not wasting my time on YouTube videos: although the rhetoric can be persuasive, video presentations are notorious for not citing their sources, making them incredibily difficult and time-consuming to fact-check. They’re also a lot harder to quote! I’ll take a scientific paper over a video any day.

RoundUp causes cancer: http://www.organicconsumers.org/Monsanto/glyphocancer.cfm

The article in question quotes a 1999 study which purportedly “revealed clear links” between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I managed to track down what appears to be that very study on PubMed. Although I have access only to the abstract, the conclusion stresses that among herbicides MCPA was most strongly associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma—RoundUp (glyphosate), a completely different chemical compound, was not listed at all.

However, when pooled with a second Swedish study, exposure to glyphosate was associated with a significant increase in risk of NHL.

The picture is muddied further by a more recent and significantly larger study:

Although there has been little consistent evidence of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity from in vitro and animal studies, a few epidemiologic reports have indicated potential health effects of glyphosate.

Glyphosate exposure was not associated with cancer incidence overall or with most of the cancer subtypes we studied. There was a suggested association with multiple myeloma incidence that should be followed up as more cases occur in the AHS.

This prospective cohort study had 57,311 participants (roughly 30 times as many as the Swedish studies). So it looks like there may be an effect here. Then again, there may not. But it’s important to remember that the (potential) increase in cancer risk is only seen in people who handle the raw herbicides directly, and not in consumers of the foodstuffs.

Also, this is a gigantic tangent with little to do with genetically engineered agricultural products. Sigh.

Join the protest outside the event.

Please tell a friend.

No.

Go away now.

For more “organic” skepticism, see the posts at Startled Disbelief on organic versus genetically engineered foodstuffs.

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11 thoughts on “In Which I Feed the Trolls

  1. Thanks for getting the word out, Gem. Mission accomplished!

    I laughed when I read that you refuse to watch the videos. You’re not one for making informed decisions. You find on the web something that backs up your view and tout it as THE answer instead of hearing all sides on the matter. Way to stick your head in the sand.

    So you choose to eat GMOs. Fine. But don’t people have the right to know what they’re eating, where it comes from and how it was made? Don’t people have the right to choose whether or not to eat GMOs instead of having it shoved down their throats?

    If you won’t watch videos, how do you feel about listening to podcasts?

    The Genetically Modified Food Gamble with Dr. Lorrin Pang:

    Born and raised in Honolulu, Dr. Pang graduated with Honors from Princeton University with a degree in Chemistry. He received an MD and Masters in Public Health Degree from Tulane.

    Board Certification in Preventive Medicine, Dr. Pang worked for 20 years with the Walter Reed Overseas Research Laboratories, assigned to Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro and Geneva, developing drugs and diagnostics for tropical diseases. He is a consultant to the World Health Organization since 1985 on tropical diseases. Dr. Pang retired and moved to Maui as the District Health Officer position in 2000, and has about 5 dozen publications in peer reviewed medical journals covering rabies, HIV, malaria, hepatitis E, and most recently dengue, and was selected in years 2006-8 to America’s Best Doctors list (3% of US physicians).

    Dr. Pang on the Dangers of Genetic Engineering:
    http://www.kitchensyncpodcast.com/the-genetically-modified-food-gamble-with-dr-lorrin-pang/

    As we speak farmers, beekeepers, doctors, scientists, environmental activists and other food eaters of all kinds are descending on Winnipeg for tomorrow’s protest. If you have a view of the scene, would you mind posting video? Oh wait…. You don’t do video.

    – Betty Beekeeper –

    1. I’m sticking my head in the sand, Betty? Let’s review precisely what I said:

      I have a long-standing policy of not wasting my time on YouTube videos: although the rhetoric can be persuasive, video presentations are notorious for not citing their sources, making them incredibily difficult and time-consuming to fact-check. They’re also a lot harder to quote! I’ll take a scientific paper over a video any day. [Emphasis added.]

      I think that I explained my reasoning fairly well.

      If you would like to cite some actual evidence for your claims, rather than simply appealing to authority, I would be happy to examine the subject further.

      I believe that I have adequately demonstrated in this post that I am willing to examine the academic literature on the subject, but the fact that some respected medical doctor has shared his opinion on the matter is irrelevant. If you would like to cite some of his research, please feel free.

      You say that I “find on the web something that backs up [my] view and tout it as THE answer instead of hearing all sides on the matter”, which is patently absurd. I was skeptical of your claim that RoundUp caused cancer. So would you like to know what I did? I checked into it. The evidence was ambiguous, but suggests that you may well be right—and as a result I have softened my position on that particular herbicide.

      So present some actual evidence, or stop trolling.

  2. In a way I tend to side with Betty on this one I’m afraid. Her reasoning is flawed and she gives no real evidence. However, I think GMO food is one area where the precautionary principle ought to be applied to the extreme. We’re dealing with more than just peoples’ health here (and it seems doubtful that GMOs actually affect peoples’ health directly, regardless, they should be labelled to allow people to make up their own minds). The real issue surrounding GMOs is the patenting of life forms. Throw in a couple of genes here, splice another one there, and voila, I’ve made a patentable life form! I don’t think so… the notion of patenting genes is ludicrous. And the people that suffer will be… all of us, except for Monsanto and DuPont and Symplot share holders. What we are essentially allowing to happen is the concentration of our food supply in the hands of a handful of large multi-nationals. That seems dangerous. We’re bankrupting small farmers the world over. We’re reducing biodiversity. And, most importantly, we’re NOT reducing hunger… and it’s not because we’re not growing enough food. It’s because our current economic model doesn’t encourage us to distribute food equitably. People are starving in Africa, Asia, Latin America… Detroit… and meanwhile we get to eat Big Macs at MacDonalds? Or Double Downs at KFC? If that’s not a broken distribution system I don’t know what is. On top of all that, those who don’t want to grow GMOs are hardly even able to anymore. The moment your neighbour plants GMO wheat, your wheat is screwed. If you collect the seed and a couple of those pesky GMO genes from your neighbour’s place gets in, you can’t replant. Suddenly you are a slave who MUST buy new seed every year if you want to keep farming, well if you want to farm wheat anyway. There are perceived benefits of GMO foods, unfortunately, like the green revolution they don’t last. Increased yields give way to stagnating yields give way to a reduction in yield. It’s the same story over and over. (http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/failure-to-yield.html). Anyway enough of my rant. I saw the story on your group in the Free Press, I like what I see!

    1. Hey, Josh.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I certainly appreciate the input. I’d like to point out that, like all of the posts at the Winnipeg Skeptics blog, the opinions expressed are the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Winnipeg Skeptics.

      In a way I tend to side with Betty on this one I’m afraid. Her reasoning is flawed and she gives no real evidence.

      Sure. It’s not my intention to attack her position, but simply her arguments. I try to be an equal-opportunity critic. When I hear a creationist say, “You’re saying humans are just apes!” only to hear a person who supports the theory of evolution state that humans aren’t apes (which is incorrect), I want to pull my hair out.

      The real issue surrounding GMOs is the patenting of life forms. Throw in a couple of genes here, splice another one there, and voila, I’ve made a patentable life form! I don’t think so… the notion of patenting genes is ludicrous.

      I agree. That said, I think that most intellectual property laws are fairly outmoded.

      And, most importantly, we’re NOT reducing hunger… and it’s not because we’re not growing enough food. It’s because our current economic model doesn’t encourage us to distribute food equitably. People are starving in Africa, Asia, Latin America… Detroit… and meanwhile we get to eat Big Macs at MacDonalds? Or Double Downs at KFC? If that’s not a broken distribution system I don’t know what is.

      Again, I agree. Probably without reservation. But I’m not sure what this has to do with “organic” food or genetic engineering.

      On top of all that, those who don’t want to grow GMOs are hardly even able to anymore. The moment your neighbour plants GMO wheat, your wheat is screwed. If you collect the seed and a couple of those pesky GMO genes from your neighbour’s place gets in, you can’t replant. Suddenly you are a slave who MUST buy new seed every year if you want to keep farming, well if you want to farm wheat anyway.

      I can see your point, but I don’t think that this problem is as serious as it is often presented. What do you mean when you say “you can’t replant”? If you’re talking about minor contamination during harvest or some such thing, it’s my understanding that when you replant, and a small subset of the seeds turn out to be the from the yield of a genetically modified terminator crop, that small portion will simply not grow, so you might see slightly reduced yield. But terminator seeds are specifically designed to not propagate, so I’m not sure how the problem goes further than that. (Please keep in mind that I have not studied agriculture, and I may have made errors here. Feel free to correct any that you spot!)

      If you mean that you can’t replant legally, due to some ridiculously applied intellectual property rights, well, screw ’em! I’m all for fighting that good fight. If you meant something else, please let me know.

      My main problem with the “organic” movement is that the very word (like the word “spiritual”) is very confused. It’s got its fingers in so many pies. To this person it means “sustainable agriculture” (which is great!); to this person it means “locally grown produce” (I could go either way on that one, actually); to this person it means “free range” (I’d rather not kill the animals in the first place, honestly); to this person it means “not infected by evil science” (okay, admittedly that’s me having fun poisoning the well). There are a lot of good ideas there, but we have a tendency to bundle them all together into one blanket term, when I think that they would be better off being addressed separately.

      And I’m not simply a “big agriculture” shill. I also have concerns. I’ll quote Dr. Ben Goldacre, as I am prone to do, from his book Bad Science:

      I remain extremely wary of GM for reasons that have nothing to do with science, simply because it has created a dangerous power shift in agriculture, and ‘terminator seeds’, which die at the end of the season, are a way to increase farmers’ dependency, both nationally and in the developing world, while placing the global food supply in the hands of multinational corporations.

      I would tend to concur.

      1. Thanks for the reply!

        I see your point that you’re “not sure what this has to do with “organic” food or genetic engineering.”

        My point, though, is that, in this instance, GMO science and the inequality of the system are inextricably linked. Aside from the extraordinary rare “open source” seed (which isn’t even really GMO, just hybridized), a couple of huge multinationals own all of the rights to grow food. So my point is not that the science is bad because of the method used, for example, but that it is bad because it is owned by someone bad! Which makes it bad science. And it is especially bad because it is not helping us tackle hunger, while promising to due so, and is helping to destroy biodiversity, both in agricultural products and in nature. Which brings us to the next point: terminator seeds.

        It is a common misconception that all GMOs are grown with terminator seeds. This simply is not true. If they where, then we would have a major problem on our hands: we would run out of seed. We’ll use Canola as a good example. Farmers who grow Canola must purchase the seed, or a license to grow the seed, new every year. But some farmers are licensed by Monsanto, DuPont, Pioneer, Syngenta, or whomever owns the rights to the specific strain or breed, to grow and harvest the canola seed for resale. The farmer who has the license is not, in fact, re-selling the seed. They are paid by the Ag company to grow the seed, and then the Ag company sells the seed to other farmers (including the licensed seed grower) who then grow the crop. (The licensed farmer makes a good living, since they are buying less seed from the Ag company than they are selling back). The problem here, of course, occurs when GMO Canola pollen blows into a neighbouring field that grows non-GMO Canola (a hybrid canola variety, since canola is not a real plant, but one that was hybridized from Rape Seed) or a truck driving by with Canola seed aboard spills some seed, contaminating a crop. If the farmer that owns that crop then collects his seed and replants (with or without the knowledge that it is contaminated and despite the fact that it has ruined his/her ability to make a living in the way he/she has chosen to in the past), the Ag company can come in and sue him for patent infringement. Sounds ludicrous right? I’ll direct you to the case of Percy Schmeiser in Saskatchewan, who lost (kind of) to Monsanto in a case identical to this.

        Finally, this brings us to the word “organic”. On this one I’m afraid you’re way off. You’re right that it is confusing, especially when you think about organic chemistry (yes indeed, my crude oil is organic!). But when it comes to food, unlike the words “free range” or “local” or “natural”, to call your food organic you must follow a strict set of rules. And you must be certified by the government or a third party government-authorized agency. The federal government has, since 2009, required certification to represent your food as organic: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/orgbio/orgbioe.shtml and http://canadagazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2009/2009-06-24/html/sor-dors176-eng.html. This pertains to food produced in Canada, exported from Canada, or imported to Canada.

        Anyway, I would tend to concur with your final statement as well. And I think that that statement is enough to convince me that Betty was right to protest at the U of M (considering the amount of cash Monsanto pours into the Ag program there). Maybe she is protesting for a potentially incorrect reason, but there are a plethora of other reasons that makes her position correct. (Major aside: who really knows if she’s wrong though? There is very little independent research performed on GMO seed since researchers must buy a licence from an Ag company to do the research and the Ag company has the right to revoke the license – which occurs all the time if the researchers appear to be finding results contrary to those that the Ag companies would like to see: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research. Until third parties are allowed to verify the claims made by Big Ag about safety and productivity, it seems prudent to avoid GMOs).

        Anyway, this has been fun! Finally an outlet for my rants…

      2. Hey, Josh.

        This has been fun!

        So my point is not that the science is bad because of the method used, for example, but that it is bad because it is owned by someone bad! Which makes it bad science.

        In that case, I’ll have to heartily disagree with you! You seem to be implying some sort of Midas-effect, in which everything touched by “Big Agriculture” is thus tainted. I’d rather assess the actual science on its own merits.

        It is a common misconception that all GMOs are grown with terminator seeds.

        It may well be a common misconception; I was not under that impression, however, and I apologise if I was unclear. I was confused by your statement that “you can’t replant” the seeds: did you mean “can’t” or “are not allowed to”? I assumed that you meant the former, but evidently you meant the latter.

        In any event, I appreciate the explanation that you provided with regard to the production and cultivation of terminator crops. Although my wife grew up in a more agrarian environment, I had a thoroughly urban upbringing, and consequently know little more than the broad strokes of agriculture.

        If the farmer that owns that crop then collects his seed and replants (with or without the knowledge that it is contaminated and despite the fact that it has ruined his/her ability to make a living in the way he/she has chosen to in the past), the Ag company can come in and sue him for patent infringement. Sounds ludicrous right? I’ll direct you to the case of Percy Schmeiser in Saskatchewan, who lost (kind of) to Monsanto in a case identical to this.

        This is absurd and unfortunate. I believe that I cheerfully ceded this point earlier, when I said:

        If you mean that you can’t replant legally, due to some ridiculously applied intellectual property rights, well, screw ’em! I’m all for fighting that good fight.

        So. The word “organic”.

        On this one I’m afraid you’re way off. You’re right that it is confusing, especially when you think about organic chemistry (yes indeed, my crude oil is organic!). But when it comes to food, unlike the words “free range” or “local” or “natural”, to call your food organic you must follow a strict set of rules.

        Sure. I recognise that strict regulation is enforced when one decides to label one’s agricultural products “organic”. (You can find Canada’s Permitted Substances List for organic agriculture in this PDF.)

        That said, I disagree that I’m “way off”. My point was that these guidelines are based on a confused and meandering definition of organic. From the Wikipedia entry:

        Organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and control pests on a farm. Organic farming excludes or strictly limits the use of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators such as hormones, livestock antibiotics, food additives, and genetically modified organisms.

        That’s definitely a mixed bag, with some things that I agree are laudable goals, and some things that seem to me to be a waste of time.

        That definition is based on European standards. Why would I cite European standards, rather than Canadian? Because the Canadian General Standards Board’s definition of “organic” is even less useful:

        [T]he production of high quality food using sustainable management practices, which avoid damage to the environment, and ensure the ethical treatment of livestock.

        Despite this definition, the National Academies of Science recently reported that “many farmers who grow genetically engineered (GE) crops are realizing substantial economic and environmental benefits” (further discussion here), and another study published this year in PLoS ONE had this to say:

        Policy guiding the selection of pesticides often emphasizes natural products and organic-certified pesticides to increase sustainability, because of the prevailing public opinion that natural products are uniformly safer, and thus more environmentally friendly, than synthetic chemicals.

        We found that in addition to reduced efficacy against aphids compared to novel synthetic insecticides, organic approved insecticides had a similar or even greater negative impact on several natural enemy species in lab studies, were more detrimental to biological control organisms in field experiments, and had higher Environmental Impact Quotients at field use rates.

        In other words, the organic pesticides were worse for the environment and were less effective against the target pests (previously mentioned here).

        Arguing over whether “organic” is good or bad is a waste of time unless we deal with all of these issues individually. And the public is generally ignorant of what “organic” actually means: they often think that it means “produced naturally” or that it is “pesticide free”, neither of which are true.

        My point is that sustainable agriculture is a separate issue from the ethical treatment of livestock. The ethical treatment of livestock is distinct from the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides. Concerns over the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides are different from those raised about genetically engineered organisms.

        Major aside: who really knows if she’s wrong though?

        Sure. But to suggest that since we can’t prove that she’s wrong, she’s probably right would be an argument from ignorance. (To be clear: I’m not suggesting that this is what you’re doing.)

        There is very little independent research performed on GMO seed since researchers must buy a licence from an Ag company to do the research and the Ag company has the right to revoke the license – which occurs all the time if the researchers appear to be finding results contrary to those that the Ag companies would like to see

        I agree.

        This is a common problem in science, and a ghastly one. This sort of agressively-applied file-drawer effect should not be allowed. I believe that more oversight is necessary to prevent these sorts of abuses. (This is why I’m not a libertarian.) But I don’t believe that the fact that large companies are behaving unethically is reason enough to abandon this particular scientific endeavour.

        I’d just like to reiterate that it’s important to identify faulty reasoning wherever it lies. The fact that you agree with some of Betty’s conclusions is no excuse to allow fallacious logic to go unchallenged.

  3. Oi! An idealogue! You’re a rare breed… I must say it is hard to fight illogic with logic all of the time, sometimes it’s certainly easier to draw conclusions from emotion and perception. You’re fighting an uphill battle there, good on you. Anyway, I make this point in regards to your final point there, leaving Betty’s poor logic unchallenged. I suppose it’s hard for me to see someone who holds the same beliefs (or similar) as I getting shelacked just because her logic was faulty (even though her conclusions might be somewhat accurate… maybe). Not a reasonable argument for siding with her, but it tugs on my emotions, ya know?

    Anyway, I think this fact, that I mention and you agree with…
    (“There is very little independent research performed on GMO seed since researchers must buy a licence from an Ag company to do the research and the Ag company has the right to revoke the license – which occurs all the time if the researchers appear to be finding results contrary to those that the Ag companies would like to see.”)
    … seems to defeat the assertion you make here:
    “You seem to be implying some sort of Midas-effect, in which everything touched by “Big Agriculture” is thus tainted. I’d rather assess the actual science on its own merits.”
    Unfortunately, the science hasn’t been assessed on its own merits. It has only been assessed by its proponents. And that makes it Bad Science. Big Ag Science = Bad Science (or BAS=BS for short).

    I’m not sure that the National Academy of Science report really argues positively in favour of GMOs. They raise dozens of questions regarding environmental, economic, and agricultural unknowns. And a lot of these unknowns are pretty big unknowns. Already Roundup resistent weeds are showing up. The more Roundup we spray, the more resistent the weeds become. It doesn’t take long before the gains we saw from GMOs early on are outweighed by the increased inputs of Roundup required to do the job that in the past required so little. It’s an issue that has not been resolved.

    We’re wading into a whole other topic here as we begin discussing Organic food (which you allude to in the quote I pasted at the bottom of this paragraph – Organic and GMO are not mutually exclusive). Of coure Bahlai et al. found that in one instance (certain pesticides on Soybeans) the environmental benefits sided in favour of the synthetics. But every instance is not this instance. And there are hundreds of crops and hundreds of pesticides. And each ought to be judged on its own merits. Discounting the word Organic because it is confusing is kind of absurd when GMOs are equally as confusing. Ask a consumer what GMO means and they’ll give you a bunch of different answers: hybrids, clones, transgenics. It’s as confusing as Organic. Bahlai offers a good technique for clearing the view somewhat. Maybe food should be labelled with its Environmental Impact Quotient. Says Hallett (who was one of the authors): “We need to look at things and pick the ones that have the least environmental impact. It may sometimes be an organic product, and sometimes be a synthetic product.” There you have it. It’s a muddy business. This could go on a lot further… and you’re absolutely right when you say:

    “My point is that sustainable agriculture is a separate issue from the ethical treatment of livestock. The ethical treatment of livestock is distinct from the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides. Concerns over the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides are different from those raised about genetically engineered organisms.”

    There are a lot of different issues surrounding agriculture that tend to get lumped in with each other. And that dissuades a lot of people from learning about it, I think.

    Anyway, the other major issue with conventional farming versus organic farming is that it requires so many fossil fuel based inputs. We’re at or beyond peak oil. We’re nearing peak phosphorous. Nitrogen requires extreme amounts of energy to produce (derived from fossil fuels, natural gas in the West, but Coal in China, where they’ve already surpassed peak coal). Basically, we’re going to be forced to go “organic” by the world at large and it seems to me that it is a waste of time to continue to pump resources into energy intensive agriculture when, in the long wrong, it is not sustainable. We need to move on and GMOs are only proving to be a bandaid (reducing, not eliminating, the need for pesticide and fertilizer inputs, and not necessarily even doing that, in the long run). At some point, we’ll need to figure out how to farm without destroying the environment, and without requiring huge amounts of fossil fuel inputs, whiles still providing enough food. It seems that the Organic farming movement, broadly, (and more distinctly the permaculture movement, the locavore movement, the CSA movement, and the Foodie movement) is/are the only movement(s) to be focussed on this issue.

    I think we broadly agree on most things here Gem, we’re just seeing it from slightly different angles. And, I’m glad you’re not a Libertarian. Peace.

    1. Hey, Josh.

      I hope that when you say “ideologue” you mean “idealist”. Thanks for the dialogue: I hope that I learned as much as I think that I did!

      All the best!
      Gem

  4. Ideologue: “An adherent of an ideology, esp. one who is uncompromising and dogmatic.” You are an uncompromising logician. I hope I learned as much as you think you did too!
    J

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