Science scream

Published on June 8th, 2011 | by Steve Savage

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Way Too Much Angst About GMO Crops

From what I read on various blogs and comment streams, there is WAY TOO MUCH ANGST OUT THERE about GMO crops. Too much angst because every significant panel of scientists that has reviewed this technology has concluded that it is as safe as any other domesticated food crop.  Too much angst because the reality is that only a small number of crop species will ever be genetically engineered for commercial use.  There are four main reasons why this is the case:

1.  Brand protectionism

2.  Unfavorable economics

3.  Other ways to achieve the same goals, and

4.  Anti-GMO activism

1.  Brand Protectionism

For most crops, somewhere along the chain of commerce from the farmer to the consumer, there is a step where there is considerable “concentration.” This means that much of the market is in the hands of one or a few players.  A classic case is potatoes.  In the US, McDonalds corporation is such a dominant buyer of frozen fries;  it was able to stop the commercial deployment of biotech potatoes with three phone calls.  Unlike standard potatoes, the GMO potatoes in question are not planted into a supply of insecticide sufficient to be picked up by the roots for 60 days because they make their own, super-safe and specific “pesticide” in their leaves (Bt).  The GMO potatoes also don’t need to be sprayed for aphids close to harvest because they are resistant to the virus those aphids spread.  The potato growers were extremely excited about the technology, but purely for the sake of brand protection, McDonalds was able to deprive the entire industry of this advance.  Potatoes are still a perfectly safe food.  It could just be easier on the growers.

There are other cases of this sort of brand-protection power.  The major frozen food companies and grocery retailers have been able to block most use of “Bt Sweet Corn” which could save farmers 8-10 insecticide sprays/season.  Frito-Lay blocked the use of GMO, Bt white corn for corn chips even though that technology greatly reduces the risk of contamination with the mycotoxin, Fumonisin, which has been linked to neural tube defects in humans.

Brands are very valuable things and are protected fiercely.  Activists like GreenPeace know this well, and they are able to use the threat of protest to turn that business instinct into decisions that are counter-productive for farmers and consumers alike.

2.  Unfavorable Economics

Genetically engineering a crop is not that costly, but doing all the work necessary for the regulators is very expensive.  Unless the crop in question is very large, very valuable or both, it will just never “pencil” to make the R&D investment, particularly if there is any marketing risk.  I was once on a team that helped a major banana company and a biotech company think through whether they should spend the money to develop a disease resistant banana.  In Central America, it is necessary to spray this crop from the air almost every week to control a disease called Black Sigatoka.  Bananas are a large, global crop so I was certain that the “business case” would be attractive.  To everyone’s surprise, when we did the math, it came out as a poor investment!  The problem is that banana plantations only get re-planted about every 20 years, so even if the new technology was available, only a small area would be planted each year. Saving >50 aerial sprays wasn’t enough to cover registration costs once the time-value-of-money is factored in.

So no minor crop and almost no perennial crop is ever going to become GMO unless the growers band together to make the investment.  A coffee expert explained this to the global Specialty Coffee Association last year and suggested that they contemplate what it means that coffee will never be GMO.  With the issues of climate change and declining labor availability, that entire industry is at risk.

3.  Other Ways to Achieve the Same Goals

There has been a tremendous, public/private, global investment in biotechnology, far beyond that for the few crops that have been modified.  That has led to the development of many new methods to alter the genes of plants etc. that don’t involve the introduction of any “foreign DNA.”  Most of the crops that fit category 2 above will likely be improved using these alternatives (Marker Assisted Selection, Directed Mutagenesis, Induced Polyploidy…).  These improvements will not involve expensive regulatory barriers, and so far, don’t draw the ire of activists.

4.  Anti-GMO Activism

Plant genetic engineering has been the most carefully thought-through new technology introduction in history.  I remember attending major scientific conferences on the safety and environmental questions at least 10 years before the first commercial seeds were planted.  We talked through everything with ecologists, botanists, sociologists, economists, molecular geneticists, food industry experts. But none of this influences the “environmental” groups who have seized on this issue to raise funds and draw attention.  The activist’s task is made easier because molecular genetics is a fast-moving science that few consumers understand.  The press has also been unwilling to take the time to understand this to the extent that journalistic standards would require and so many have not helped to counteract the fear-mongering.  This is the only way I can explain some activist-driven rejections.

My all-time-most-read blog post was titled, “A Sad Day For Wine. A Sad Day For Science.”  There is a virus called Grapevine Fanleaf Virus that is spread by a nematode (Xiphenema index). If the two ever infest a given vineyard site, good quality wine can never be produced there again because the vines will soon decline and die.  That means that there are many wonderful vineyards around the world that have the an excellent “terrior” (something the French appreciate so much), but that site can no longer produce good wine.  Grapes are grown on “rootstocks” and Cornell University had modified a rootstock to be resistant to the virus.  This was an elegant solution to the Grape Fanleaf Virus problem because the top part of the vine is unchanged and only one kind of rootstock has to be developed.  Last fall an experimental block of this new technology was ripped out of the ground by activists who believed they were saving the French wine industry from “genetic contamination.”  That fear is 100% irrational - it is a rootstock under the ground that never flowers.  Besides, grapes are not grown from seeds anyway.  Different varieties of wine grapes are planted side-by-side all the time with NO ILL EFFECTS!

Is This Good Or Bad? Consider the Case of Wheat

So for a variety of reasons (some economic, some logical, some irrational, some selfish), very few additional crops will ever be GMO. That is not to say GMO is a small contribution to the food supply.  Corn, Soy, Cotton, Canola, Sugarbeets and Alfalfa are GMO and cover hundreds of millions of acres and find their way into many processed foods, meat and milk.  Still,  I will continue to argue that GMO crops can be beneficial.  The world will survive without a bit more excellent wine (very few vineyards in California, Chile, Argentina or Australia are contaminated!), but the other crop where activist-generated-fear has “won” by eliciting Brand Protectionism is - wheat, the second largest food crop on earth.  By 2004, Greenpeace was able to generate enough fear in Europe to get major millers and bakers to threaten not to purchase North American wheat if any became GMO.  The Canadian Wheat Board blinked, and two, nearly commercial wheat traits, were stopped in their tracks.  One kind of GMO wheat would have been easier to farm with no-till methods and easier to keep pure for specialty uses.  The other GMO wheat would have reduced disease-related yield losses as well as mycotoxin contamination.

It is far easier to stir up fear than it is to educate the public.   There was an excellent article by Justin Gillis in the New York Times on 6/4/11 titled, “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself.”  Much of the article is about how wheat production is failing to increase sufficiently to meet rising global demand.  GM technology is not the full answer to this challenge by any means, but the fact that we are not including GM in the wheat improvement toolbox is a clear-cut “bad thing” in my book.

You are welcome to comment here or to email me at applied.mythology@gmail.com.  My website is Applied Mythology.  Image of Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting,  ”The Scream” from oddsock. French Fry image by Sun Dazed. Alsatian vineyard image near Colmar, France from Andreea.



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About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)



40 Responses to Way Too Much Angst About GMO Crops

  1. Vanessa says:

    Thank you. I appreciate this post for so many reasons.

  2. Kate says:

    This is such a tough one! I don’t know how I feel about GMOs. The rise in food allergies is worrisome. My dad was a part of this project at Monsanto. He is an avid conservationist and wanted to eliminate all of the runoff of pesticides into the streams etc.

    How many tons of pestisides (bug poisons) are not being used because of BT (organic farmers bug control method) gene inserted into corn and cotton plants?

    How much less is our water supply contaminated from Atrazine since the introduction of RoundUp tolerant crops. RoundUp has a minimum half-life, Atrazine has a long half-life, run off into ground water?

    I think I would be more open to the idea if it wasn’t Monsanto and Big Ag Business holding the reins.

    • Steve Savage says:

      Kate,
      Most food allergies are to crops that are not GMO (peanuts, wheat…) so the connection does not make sense. Yes, GMO corn and cotton have reduced pesticide use and Roundup is a lot softer chemical. Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Dow etc are all made up of people like your dad who care about the environment and who seek to give farmers tools that will make their job easier. There is nothing sinister about that. Big Ag is far less concentrated than something like computer chip manufacturing

  3. Hi again Steve, and thanks for this. There is still a lot of discussion to be had about pros & cons of GMO, for many reasons including those you mention.

    One thing that concerns me with (most at least) GMOs is the problem of focusing too much on one, or a small number, of desired traits. The result is to introduce some *genetic level* change for that purpose, which can have many unintended consequences on both the organism and the ecosystem. This is understandably scary because once you introduce this into the genes, it will be perpetuated. And this is done on a time scale that is nothing like natural, slow evolution/adaptation.

    I think a quote from Temple Grandin on the practice of single-trait breeding of animals is relevant here: “The problem with single-trait breeding is that when you breed for one trait you end up changing other traits, too: there are always unintended consequences” (Animals in Translation 71).

    This sort of mentality and practice has led to monstrous broiler chickens, killer roosters, physically compromised purebred dogs, and any other number of sad results in the animal world. GMO crops bear witness to the same habit of humans–to manipulate things for our own benefit, with immediate return. Yes, sometimes we have to make hard decisions like this (e.g., addressing poverty)…but that does not mean we have license to do whatever we want. So I still feel much caution is warranted for GMOs.

    • Steve Savage says:

      Justin,

      I don’t think you can get any more careful than spending 10-15 years thinking things through before commercialization. Just because many people didn’t participate in that effort does not give them veto power. If we followed the rule, “I don’t understand it so we shouldn’t do it, we would do nothing.”

      • But 10-15 years is not even a blip on the geological/evolutionary scale. Worse, we in America do not even have the option of knowing, when we buy products in the store, which of our foods are GM and which not. We do not need a veto; we just need more care and less focus on bottom line of big ag. Michael Pollan wrote an interesting post on this: http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/playing-god-in-the-garden/. I like his closing paragraph a lot: “So there they sit, a bag of biotech spuds on my porch. I’m sure they’re absolutely fine. I pass the bag every day, thinking I really should try one, but I’m beginning to think that what I like best about these particular biotech potatoes — what makes them different — is that I have this choice. And until I know more, I choose not.”

  4. Joe says:

    You leave much unsaid in your article “I love GMO’s! Here’s Why.”. I’ve found many pro-GMO people to be quite articulate and informed, to a point. Here are some questions you may consider answering: 1. what are the cons of GMO’s? 2. How sufficient has the testing been of GMO’s (each variety) and RoundUp’s effects on humans? 3. Has increased crop production lived up to its promises? 4. Thoughts on RoundUp resistant weeds and the solution to killing them? 5. Why does Monsanto fight proper labeling of GM ingredients? Why are there so many former Monsanto execs in well-placed federal positions where Monsanto stands to benefit from their loyalty? 6. With the many problems facing society and the environment why would concerned citizens waste their time fighting something that you say is not a problem?
    I would love to be wrong about the GMO industry, I would love all of their promises to be true. I would also love more visibility into their work and most importantly, I would love them to put their collective brilliant minds to work for some positive changes–they have the money and brainpower.
    If you can control energy, water, or food you are immensely powerful. Companies have proven that in regards to energy. Companies (Nestle, etc) are trying with water. And companies like Monsanto are certainly working to control our food. Don’t waste your time arguing that point…

    Joe

    • Steve Savage says:

      Joe: Cons – GM crops are so much more attractive to farmers that the non-GMO crops like wheat are disadvantaged. 2) Each new “event” is tested which is why it is too expensive to modify crops like fruits that are vegetatively propagated. 3) The increase in production continues for almost all crops and faster with certain GMO crops like corn. Equally important the reliability of the yield is increased to the extent that farmers who plant hybrids with biotech traits qualify for lower rates on their crop insurance. 4) herbicide resistant weeds are a big challenge that is not unique to the Roundup Ready system. They require careful management and the continued discovery of new active ingredients. It actually took a very long time for Roundup resistant weeds to arise because most such mutants were less fit. 5) The folks that really fought labeling on commodity crops were all the food companies, grain companies etc because to keep track of everything like that would have added enormous costs. Its far easier to segregate the small amount that is intentionally Not GMO and label that. 6) It makes sense for industry experts to serve in government and this happens in almost every industry.

      If you are concerned about someone “controlling food,” you need to look at players like Wal-Mart and McDonalds, not Monsanto.

      • Joe says:

        Steve, from your reply, there is nothing wrong with GMO’s and i feel arguing the point further with you is a waste of my time. However, I’d like to take the conversation another way and see if I can’t get some info out of you. Do you think GMO farming is better than organic farming? Better for us/the earth/the beneficial bugs organisms and bacteria that conventional farming destroys? Please do not say it is easier. Easier rarely means better (look at what our “easy” society has gotten us (obesity, pollution, apathy, laziness…). Also, do not say it is more cost effective–it may be now but if agribiz supported organics and refocused crop subsidies–and the great minds at places like monsanto (and their great money) were working to fully promote organic farming, we’d be well on the way to a less chemical-laden future. Plus, the cost of cheap food and conventional farming practices never take into account the cost effect on the health of the individual. You can’t point out (because I know you want to) how much bigger conventional farming practices are than organic. If what’s right is the minority should we concede to what’s wrong? No. You’re well aware that there is a huge shift in perspective and many many small orgs (and individuals) are taking things into their own hands and doing things the right way. it is a matter of time before the conventional practices become unconventional.

        I would love a Steve Savage vs Wendell Berry discussion. I think you might learn a bit…

        Jeff, can you get that organized? :)

        • Actually, Steve and I have discussed a debate series… Wendall Berry may be tough… ;-) … but my plan is to reach out to a couple of organizations doing research in, and other supporting, organic farming to get one of their scientists to represent organics as the preferred method for agriculture.

        • Steve Savage says:

          Joe,
          There are many reasons that Organic does not live up to it’s mythical status of being better for us and for the environment beyond the fact that it is still 0.5% of US cropland and much less productive/acre for most crops. I’ll list the reasons briefly
          1. Toxic, persistent copper-based fungicides
          2. High risk of bacterial contamination from compost
          3. Long release curves from compost mean nitrogen and even more phosphorus released into water
          4. Huge “carbon footprint” of the methane emitted during composting
          5. Much harder to farm no-till so more erosion, fuel use…
          6. Can’t use the most efficient fertilization methods of variable rate and/or “spoon feeding” in the irrigation water
          7. Increasingly sourced from China and other areas where the paper-only certification system is highly suspect

          • Marc Ballat says:

            1. In Europe, farmers and scientists are working actively to reduce the amount of copper used. As an example, inocuous bicarbonate potassium has been recently added to the list of fungicides allowed in apple and pear farming. There is a yearly limit of 6 kg of copper per year, per hectare (2.4 per acre) : in four years time, I have never used more than 3 kg (this year I am even below 2 kg). A scientist at the French National Research Institute claims that 3 kg is compatible with healthy soils.

            2. Is it proven ? I recently read a German scientist who says that new strains might appear in compost during the production of gas from waste (something you are in favor of). Who knows better ?

            5. Please stop writing as if all conventional farmers were farming without tilling. As far as I can judge from my neighbours, it is still a widely used practice in conventional farming for potatoes, carrots, corn and wheat. I agree about fuel consumption : mechanical weed removal (as opposed to manual or chemical) consumes more energy.

            6. Correct. Again, scientists and farmers are working to increase yields through more appropriate fertilization. Question : where should we end the race for higher yields ? Imagine a world with 9 billion people and a certain level of technique used in agriculture. Should we try and increase yields to feed 12 billion ? What then ?

            Marc

          • Jane says:

            Lies. You have no basis for #’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 6. 7 is a marketing rather than production issue. No-till methods for organic farmers are currently being developed. Because of lack of investment in organic research, organic farmers have had to do much of this work on their own. More support is now coming from the universities and Ag Research Service. Again, Steve, you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to organic farming.

            Jane, sorry but I do know a lot about Organic farming. My grandfather was a serious Organic gardener by the early 1960s and I grew up helping him. When we first moved to Davis, CA, our best friends were Organic farmers who grew for the farmer’s market and local food coop. I worked for 7 years for a company, Mycogen, that developed biocontrols and natural-product-based pesticides that were sold in the Organic market. I’ve done dozens of projects on biocontrol for consulting clients. I can give you peer reviewed journal article backing up all 7 things. But actually, this post is about GMO, not about Organic. Eat Organic to avoid GMO if you want, you just can’t be smug about it.

          • Mark says:

            Steve: Your lack of knowledge about the clear advatages of organic farming methods over conventional methods is only exceeded by your arrogance. You really don’t study organic methods because you are trained in a very narrow chemically intensive approach to agriculture. Your assertions about the potential problems with organic agriculture are a complete “red herring” and standard “Big Ag Speak” talking points. For someone who is as intelligent as you are I am surprized that you actually buy into that…but then again if you have been taught a certain system and the system writes your pay check…then it can become very hard to break out of the line of thinking and evaluate the facts…I feel sorry for you…maybe one day you will be able to open your eyes and do the research…until then feeding up the “Big Ag” talking points is not impressing anybody or changing any minds…good luck in your endevors…may the blinders that cover your eyes be lifted….

            Back@ Mark from Steve Savage,

            You had better hope that you are right that I don’t understand Organic or that I will turn people off via arrogance. Jeff, the great guy that runs this site, has just arranged a debate in September between the scientists at the Rodale Institute (Organic Promotion and Research Central) and myself. I have proposed that we interact to identify what should be maintained and what should be modified in the USDA Organic “final rule set” to make Organic scientifically sound, economically viable, and capable of serving 90% of the market without a price premium and without just cheating and sourcing from China. If you have any suggestions for that list I’m collecting them. Subscribe to the RSS feed and you will see if you were right. I yield you the right to “say so” if you turn out to be right

    • I’ll leave the science stuff to Steve, but I would like to weigh in on your #6:”With the many problems facing society and the environment why would concerned citizens waste their time fighting something that you say is not a problem?”

      I think it’s because of confirmation bias. The idea of genetically manipulating anything seems to strike fear in people. And I don’t think it’s an unwarranted fear. It can possibly be used for bad purposes. But,they grab on to anything that supports their fear. Usually it’s activists who have a political agenda or whackos who have no background in this area promoting discredited studies. People latch onto this and even a crowbar won’t budge them if contradictory evidence is presented.

      The confirmation bias on this issue is strong. If you try and provide scientific facts that conflict with what people believe, they will immediately accuse you of being a shill for Monsanto. If a peer-reviewed study conflicts with their views they dismiss it by saying it was paid for by big agra. It’s a no win situation.

      I have friends who won’t discuss this issue with me because they believe in all the hogwash that is being peddled by people like Jeffrey Smith. I’ve actually been in a discussion where I explained what science had to say about some GM myth (forget which one, I just remember the response)and the person actually responded by saying it was just my “opinion.”

      • Joe says:

        Bi Ag and bio-tech is in a “no win” situation?
        I fear not. I also do not fear science–i fear chemicals that I do not want in my food, being in my food. Everyone should have the right to know exactly what they are eating and its long term (key) effect on their health.

  5. Chef Felisha says:

    I don’t agree with you. Aside from the health considerations of GMO crops the economic trend to patent genetically modified seed monopolizes the market. This harms not only farmers but everyone that is paying for produce and products made from this produce.

    This is also a problem because unlike many European countries, the United States will not implement a truth in labeling act so that consumers can make informed choices.

    And there are environmental problems, because once the genetically modified crop is planted outside of quarantine there is no way to stop the spread of genetically modified material.

    Roundup ready crops are already experiencing weed resistances so that farmers have to start using more chemicals than ever before. This in turn has raised the cost of doing business for the farmers.

    Until this can be sorted out GMO crops are not ready for prime time in my opinion and should be banned permanently.

    • Steve Savage says:

      Chef Felisha,
      There are no health issues with GMO crops. All crops, GMO and not, produce pollen, so we have had to learn to manage that long ago. Resistance has developed to many different herbicides, not just roundup. Again, we have resistance management practices to minimize that issue. Farmers are doing just fine, thank you. They love growing GMO crops because they are better for their business.

      • “Farmers are doing just fine, thank you. They love growing GMO crops because they are better for their business.”

        Really? So I guess the *steadily growing* number of organic farmers, who often adopt these practices explicitly to avoid Big Ag and GMOs, do not count? Your tendency to make sweeping pronouncements about what “farmers” want and do, and the corporations driving much of conventional farming, ignore a lot of people who are working hard to buck the trend–by using traditional methods of farming. Yes, they may be a small fraction by numbers, but they are not trivial or worthy of being dismissed…nor are their results.

        • Steve Savage says:

          Justin,
          There are a lot of new Organic farmers but the area they cultivate is tiny and there are also hundreds who voluntarily drop their certification each year. They are being forced to compete with “supposedly Organic” products from places like China. I don’t “dismiss” any grower, but I studiously avoid Organic products that come from outside the US.

          It wouldn’t be appropriate for you to dismiss the thousands of conventional growers who have embraced biotech. These are smart business-people or they wouldn’t still be able to get their bank loans each year

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  7. Steve Savage says:

    I’m beginning to question my writing since no one seems to have noticed that this blog was about what crops WON’T ever be GMO. There are only a few crops that I can imagine someone making that investment.

    • I think the thing that distracts people is neatly summed up by your own caveat: “So for a variety of reasons (some economic, some logical, some irrational, some selfish), very few additional crops will ever be GMO. That is not to say GMO is a small contribution to the food supply.”

      Most people don’t care if it’s only a few TYPES of crops, if they are all staples, know what I mean? :

      Thanks for attempting to have a fact-based conversation. :)

  8. Chris4GKids says:

    Good post – real science & politics considered. Especially like recognition that some “Public Interest” groups are actually “personal financial interest” groups i.e. professional protestors. It is so easy to scare people into being against something, and convincing them to “send money so I can continue to protect you.”

  9. John B. says:

    I don’t have a problem with GM per se, but I have a big problem with Monsanto’s using Gestapo-style tactics to enforce its Roundup-Ready seed patents.

    • John — While I still struggle with some of the potential health & environmental aspects of GMOs (and Steve knows this… we’ve discussed it), I’m probably more concerned at this point about the intellectual property enforcement issues. Granted, I’m taking my information from recent documentaries on the topic, but I do worry about the thorny legal issues raised by patenting genetic material, undermining practices like seed saving, and potential monopolies on seed stock. I know Steve’s said the biotech industry isn’t as concentrated as many of us believe… perhaps a topic for another post (Steve, if you’re reading)?

    • Steve Savage says:

      John,
      I wouldn’t call defending a patent and a signed license agreement a Gestapo tactic. It never was a very good idea to save your own soybean seed because they decline in germination unless specially stored. This issue is not of any real concern in the farm community 15 years later. A patent is a temporary monopoly and Monsanto’s patents of both Roundup and GMO soy have run out.

  10. Marc Ballat says:

    One general commment : I don’t feel comfortable talking about GMO’s in general. It is like talking about pesticides without making the difference between malathion (synthetic) and Bt (natural).

    Talking about Bt, there is a major difference between spraying Bt on corn to kill the caterpillars that eat it and planting GMO corn that produces it inside the plant (from what I have read). In the first case, Bt is sprayed a few times per year (in the case of apples, 2 to 4 times) and is destroyed quite fast by UV rays. In the second case, Bt is present in the plant during its whole growth and remains in the soil after harvest. In terms of energy consumption, I mix Bt with foliar fertilizers or with fungicides (sulfur and copper – argh !) so that its application does not increase my energy consumption. I can also choose between two strains of Bt in order to minimize the risk of resistance.

    I think every single GMO needs a different discussion.

    Also, in a democratic society, citizens and consumers are (ideally) free to choose what they think is best for them. It is of course better if they can be educated, informed prior to making their choice. Ignoring the desire of a majority of consumers pretending that they are uneducated (what big agrobusiness companies try to achieve by pretending they can’t label GMO products) is not very democratic. Seen from Europe, it appears as a huge contradiction in the American mentality : on the one hand people should be free to eat food that is bad for their health (see Pallin’s reaction to Michelle Obama’s position) and on the other they should accept something they do not really want because it is alledgedly better for them.

    Your expression ‘easier to farm’ makes me smile : although it is safe to consider that the work of a modern farmer is less hard than that of a farmer of 100 years ago, it is not easy by any mean (talking from experience). And from a financial point-of-view, increases in yield sonner or later translate into decreases in price.

    • Mindi says:

      I just wanted to add that a recent study has shown toxins from Bt crops in our bloodstream as well as in cord blood of pregnant women, meaning it is being passed onto developing babies.

      “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada” – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623811000566

      I’ve heard someone say that the CryAb1 toxin targets a molecule in insects that isn’t present in humans, so we shouldn’t be worried about it. I’m still find the thought of consuming it unsettling, though, unless this is something we’ve actually been eating for ages. If not, I think some research to ensure we’re not adversely affected by it should be completed before we brush it aside — in particular since the toxin was supposed to break down via the digestive system and not be absorbed into our bodies.

      If the experts were wrong about that, it’s hard to take on faith that this toxin is harmless as well. It appears to not behave the way the experts would have us believe.

      • Steve Savage says:

        Mindi, we have been eating it since the 1950s. It is what is sprayed on most crops, conventional and Organic. That is why it was such an obvious thing to do with genetic engineering. Rather than spray every few days up to harvest, why not let the plant make tiny doses in its own leaves.

        • Mindi says:

          That’s good to know. I guess my question is more about how it’s different engineered into a crop versus sprayed on. I would guess the stuff sprayed on crops would mostly be washed off before consumption, but I could be wrong.

          Or perhaps for some reason when the toxin is sprayed on, it doesn’t get absorbed into the body but when it is engineered into the crop it does? If we’ve been eating it for years, I guess it’s a little confusing how the study can distinguish that the toxin found in the participants’ blood is from GE food versus crops that have been sprayed.

          Back to one of my other points, though, the fact that the toxin was supposed to break down via the digestive system, but didn’t, seems to undermine the credibility of those making claims about the expected behavior of GE crops.

          I’m not trying to make a statement one way or the other about the safety of GE crops. I just have a lot of questions I’m trying to sort through.

          Thanks for the feedback.

          • Marc Ballat says:

            Mindi,

            in my humble opinion, the problem with Bt corn is not so much the substance produced by the crop itself but the difference introduced in how and where it is used.
            As an organic apple grower, I spray Bt on foliage twice a year in April-May to prevent caterpillars from eating leaves and thereby reducing the potential harvest of the year after. Bt is degraded in less than 24 hours by UV rays. Formulations help increase the life of Bt to several days.
            A GMO crop produces Bt all the time and everywhere in the plant (inside the leaves, the grain and the roots). As a result insects are exposed all the time to the bacteria, which makes it easier and more efficient than the foliar application. The drawbacks are :
            1. risk of selecting resistant strains of insects due to constant exposure (this is one of the top 10 risks identified by Steve in a more recent post)
            2. risk of exposing organisms to Bt, that were not in contact with it or at a lower dosis prior to the introduction of Bt crops

            Marc

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  12. Richard says:

    I took the time and visited Monsanto’s greenhouses in St. Louis and left with these observations: The scientists truly are concerned with producing “safe” biotech products; it takes about 8 to 10 years to get a bio product on the market at an average cost of $185 million; one product is registered out of several hundred tested and rejected; biotechnology is beneficial to mankind. Putting the debate on an average farmer’s footing, please view a video that I have made featuring a farmer in the delta river section south of Sacramento, Calif.,talking about the benefits of using biotech seeds in growing his corn crops: http://www.healthyplants.org.

  13. Pingback: Greenpeace Australia's GM Wheat Action: a Scientist Responds | Sustainablog

  14. Ken Richiger says:

    I couldn’t agree more :-)

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