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The Truth About GMOs

Friday, September 6, 2013

 

Mama Moses has been growing bananas on her farm in southwestern Uganda for twenty years. She farms only bananas, which is typical of subsistence farmers in Sanga, the impoverished village where she lives. Last year, when she saw the flowers on her banana plants begin to shrivel and yellow bacteria ooze from the cut stems, she knew her crop was doomed. Within months the bacterial infection turned her healthy crop into a black, wilted mess.

Banana Xanthomonas wilt disease (BXW) is one of the greatest threats to banana production in Eastern Africa. Cultural practices provide some control, but they are ineffective during epidemics. More than a thousand kinds of banana can be found worldwide, but none has robust resistance to BXW. Even if resistance were identified, most scientists believe that breeding a new variety using conventional methods would take decades, assuming it is even possible.

BXW creates precisely the sort of food insecurity that affects the world’s poorest people. Bananas and plantains are the fourth most valuable food crop after rice, wheat, and maize. Approximately one-third of the bananas produced globally are grown in sub-Saharan Africa, where bananas provide more than 25 percent of the food energy requirements for more than 100 million people.

For anyone worried about the future of global agriculture, Mama Moses’s story is instructive. The world faces an enormous challenge: with changing diets and population growth of 2–3 billion over the next 40 years, UNESCO predicts that food production will need to rise by 70 percent by 2050. Many pests and diseases cannot, however, be controlled using conventional breeding methods. Moreover, subsistence farmers cannot afford most pesticides, which are often ineffective or harmful to the environment.

Yet many emerging agricultural catastrophes can almost certainly be avoided thanks to a modern form of plant breeding that uses genetic engineering (GE), a process that has led to reduced insecticide use and enhanced productivity of farms large and small.

In spite of these benefits, genetic engineering is anathema to many people. In the United States, we’ve seen attempts to force labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In much of Europe, farmers are prohibited from growing genetically engineered crops and so must import grain from the United States. And “GMO-free” zones are expanding in Japan. 

The strong distrust of GE foods is curious. Opponents typically profess a high degree of concern for human welfare and the environment. They want the same things that scientists, farmers, food security experts, and environmentalists want: ecologically sound food production accessible to a growing global population. But their opposition threatens the great strides that have been made toward these goals through deployment of new technologies.

• • •

For 10,000 years, we have altered the genetic makeup of our crops. Conventional approaches are often crude, resulting in new varieties through a combination of trial and error, without knowledge of the precise function of the genes being moved around. Such methods include grafting or mixing genes of distantly related species through forced pollinations, as well as radiation treatments to induce random mutations in seeds. Today virtually everything we eat is produced from seeds that we have genetically altered in one way or another.

Over the last twenty years, scientists and breeders have used GE to create crop varieties that thrive in extreme environments or can withstand attacks by pests and disease. Like the older conventional varieties, GE crops are genetically altered, but in a manner that introduces fewer genetic changes. Genetic engineering can also be used to insert genes from distantly related species, such as bacteria, directly into a plant.

Given that modern genetic engineering is similar to techniques that have served humanity well for thousands of years and that the risks of unintended consequences are similar whether the variety is derived from the processes of GE or conventional gene alteration, it should come as no surprise that the GE crops currently on the market are as safe to eat and safe for the environment as organic or conventional foods. That is the conclusion reached by diverse agricultural and food experts. There is broad consensus on this point among highly regarded science-based organizations in the United States and abroad, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and European Commission Joint Research Centre. In the seventeen years since GE crops were first grown commercially, not a single instance of adverse health or environmental effects has been documented.

Genetically engineered crops currently on the market are as safe to eat and safe for the environment as organic or conventional foods.

To understand why farmers have embraced GE crops and how they benefit the environment, consider genetically engineered cotton. These varieties contain a bacterial protein called Bt that kills pests such as the cotton bollworm without harming beneficial insects and spiders. Bt is benign to humans, which is why organic farmers have used Bt as their primary method of pest control for 50 years. Today 70–90 percent of American, Indian, and Chinese farmers grow Bt cotton.

Recently, a team of Chinese and French scientists reported in the journal Nature that widespread planting of Bt cotton in China drastically reduced the spraying of synthetic chemicals, increased the abundance of beneficial organisms on farms, and decreased populations of crop-damaging insects. Planting of Bt cotton also reduced pesticide poisonings of farmers and their families. In Arizona farmers who plant Bt cotton spray half as much insecticide as do neighbors growing conventional cotton. The Bt farms also have greater biodiversity. In India, farmers growing Bt cotton increased their yields by 24 percent, their profits by 50 percent, and raised their living standards by 18 percent, according to one common standard that measures household expenditures. 

GE papaya, engineered to withstand a devastating viral infection, has been similarly successful. First developed in 1998, it is now grown by 99 percent of Chinese and about 70 percent of Hawaiian papaya farmers. The GE papaya carries a snippet of the viral genome that immunizes it against infection. Conventional and organic papayas, which lack resistance, are infected with thousands-fold higher levels of the virus. There is currently no other method—organic or conventional—that can adequately control the disease. 

Genetic engineering can be used not only to combat pests and diseases, but also to enable farmers to use less harmful chemicals to control crop-choking weeds. That is why 80–90 percent of the cotton, corn, soybeans, and sugar beets grown by U.S. farmers is genetically engineered for resistance to an herbicide called glyphosate. Farmers and home gardeners prefer glyphosate because it is much less toxic than earlier herbicides; indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency’s “worst case risk assessment of glyphosate’s many registered food uses concludes that human dietary exposure and risk are minimal.” Glyphosate kills the weeds but not the herbicide-tolerant crop. This approach greatly reduces the need for ploughing or digging, the conventional and organic method for controlling weeds. In Argentina and the United States, the use of herbicide-tolerant soybeans is associated with a 25–58 percent decrease in the number of tillage operations. Such reduced tillage practices correlate with reduced soil erosion and a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions. In 2005 the decreased tillage that accompanied planting of herbicide-tolerant soybeans was equivalent to removing 4 million cars from the roads.

There are dozens of other useful traits in the GE pipeline: nitrogen-efficient crops that reduce fertilizer run off; golden rice, a provitamin A–enriched rice; cassava that is resistant to viral infection; and drought-tolerant corn. My laboratory at the University of California, Davis has genetically engineered rice for tolerance to flooding and resistance to disease.

Some of these crops, such as cassava and golden rice, are important to poor farmers and their families in developing countries who lack nutrients and cannot pay the price of improved seed. Consumption of golden rice, within the normal diet of rice-dependent poor populations, could provide sufficient vitamin A to reduce substantially the estimated 2,2000–6,850 deaths caused every day by vitamin A deficiency and save the sight of several hundred thousand people per year. This “biofortification” approach complements conventional supplementation, such as the World Health Organization’s distribution of Vitamin A pills, which costs many times more and often does not reach the rural poor who have little access to roads.

These well-documented benefits of GE crops, which have been repeated around the world, appear to be precisely the kind of triumph of biology over chemicals envisioned by Rachel Carson, food security experts, and organic farmers who have long dreamed of reducing the use of synthetic chemicals and enhancing biological diversity on farms.

• • •

Considering our long history of plant genetic manipulation and the success of modern GE seeds in enhancing the sustainability of our farms and food supplies, why do some consumers still express grave unease over the planting of GE crops?

Much of the concern relates to a general distrust of large corporations, in particular, Monsanto, which produces a large proportion of the world’s seeds. GE opponents fear that such corporations are taking advantage of farmers. Yet one need only observe the overwhelming farmer adoption of GE crops in the United States and elsewhere to conclude that the GE crop varieties on the market are useful to farmers. It is unlikely that experienced and skilled farmers would buy GE seeds if their farm operations did not benefit economically. Many U.S. farmers prefer Bt seed because it reduces reliance on sprayed insecticides that can harm farm workers and the environment. A recent Supreme Court case, Bowman v. Monsanto, highlighted the lengths farmers will go to obtain the seed, even when non-GE conventional alternatives are available.

Unless you forage for wild berries, hunt game, or catch wild salmon, you are consuming a food that has been genetically altered.

The practice of buying seeds from seed companies has been criticized by opponents of GE seed. But seed purchasing is the norm in any non-subsistence farming system, whether or not the seed is genetically engineered, a fact that points to the abundant misinformation that plagues the debate over genetic engineering of crops. 

Farmers often prefer to buy hybrid seed, a type of seed that inherits its useful traits, such as high yield, from two genetically distinct parents. These beneficial traits are lost in the second generation, so it makes no sense to save the seed from a crop and replant. The production of hybrid seed benefits the farmers, who are able to reap the advantages of the high-yielding seed, and the seed companies, which are able to reap a tidy profit each year the farmer buys the seed. Seed companies do produce seeds that can be replanted, but they are often lower yielding or susceptible to disease, which is why many crops grown by conventional and organic farmers are hybrids. Hybrid seed is not generated through genetic engineering and has been available since the 1920s. Genetic engineering does not, in and of itself, affect the ability of farmers to save their seed.

The priority for Monsanto and other for-profit seed companies is to produce high-quality seed for farmers in the developed world who can pay for them. But most farmers live in less developed countries and grow crops such as cassava or rice, which are not a priority for crop improvement in the developed world. For this reason, we need strong investment in public-sector research to develop improved seed for farmers who otherwise cannot afford it. We also need regulation of the seed industry to ensure fair dealing and to avoid the rise of a single company monopolizing the world’s seed supply.

Today, more and more countries are exploring the use of genetic engineering for a greater variety of crops. Currently there are 30 commercialized GE crops cultivated worldwide. By 2015 there will be more than 120. Half will come from national technology providers in Asia and Latin America and are designed for domestic markets. The reduced dominance of U.S. seed companies may alleviate concerns of consumers who oppose genetic engineering because they see it only as a tool of large U.S. corporations.

Another common fear of anti-GE activists is the emergence of “super weeds” in the fields of herbicide-tolerant crops. Indeed, one drawback to using a single herbicide is that overuse can lead to the evolution of weeds that are resistant to that herbicide. For example, the liberal use of glyphosate has spurred the evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds. Twenty-four glyphosate-resistant weed species have been identified since herbicide-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. But herbicide resistance is a problem for farmers who rely on a single herbicide regardless of whether they plant GE crops. For example, 64 weed species are resistant to the much more toxic herbicide atrazine, and no crops have been genetically engineered to withstand it. So even if herbicide-tolerant plants were nowhere to be found, conventional farmers would still have to develop strategies to manage weeds that are resistant to herbicides. 

Farmers face similarly complex issues when controlling pests. One limitation of using any insecticide, whether it is organic, synthetic, or genetically engineered, is that insects can evolve resistance to it. For example, one crop pest, the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella), has evolved resistance to Bt toxins under open-field conditions. This resistance occurred in response to repeated sprays of Bt toxins to control this pest on conventional (non-GE) vegetable crops.

Partly on the basis of the experience with the diamondback moth, scientists predicted that pests would evolve resistance to Bt crops if they were deployed widely in monocultures. For this reason, U.S. farmers who plant Bt crops are required to deploy a “refuge strategy”: creating refuges of crop plants that do not make Bt toxins. This promotes survival of susceptible insects and has helped to delay evolution of pest resistance to Bt crops.

Global pest-monitoring data suggest that Bt crops have remained effective against most pests for more than a decade. Failure to provide adequate refuges appears to have hastened resistance of pink bollworm in India. In contrast, Arizona cotton growers who planted adequate refuges saw no increase in pink bollworm resistance. This example emphasizes the need to deploy a crop diversity strategy and crop rotation to reduce the evolution of insect resistance. This is the case for organic and conventional farmers too. Farmers cannot rely on seed alone to eliminate pests.

Perhaps the greatest concern surrounding GE foods is their effect on human health. Opponents regularly point out that GMOs have never been proven safe, which creates a great deal of anxiety. This is a difficult claim to rebut because GMOs don’t define a testable class—in the same way that the Federal Aviation Administration can’t test “planes” but can test individual aircraft—and because there is no evidence of harm for scientists to explore.

 

Yet individual GE crops have been studied extensively. A vast scientific literature considers the potential risk associated with GE crops. To help bridge the gap between consumers and scientists, one of my former students, Karl Haro von Mogel, and his colleague Anastasia Bodnar have created the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas, a database that currently lists 600 studies examining safety, environmental impact, food composition, and other aspects of GE crops. One-third of these studies are not funded by companies that stand to profit from the results, and these studies support the scientific consensus that genetic engineering of crops is not inherently riskier than conventional methods of crop improvement.

There are a few intensely promoted and controversial studies that claim to refute the broad scientific consensus. For example, a study published last year purported to show that corn engineered for tolerance to glyphosate caused tumors and early death in rats. However, this finding was widely dismissed by scientists not involved with the study, including the European Food Safety Authority and six French science academies. They reported, “The authors’ conclusions cannot be regarded as scientifically sound because of inadequacies in the design, reporting and analysis of the study as outlined in the paper.”

Although the GE crops currently on the market are safe, every new variety must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Each new plant variety, whether it is developed through genetic engineering or conventional approaches of genetic modification, carries a risk of unintended consequences. Whereas each new genetically engineered crop variety is assessed by three governmental agencies, conventional crops are not regulated. To date, compounds with harmful effects on humans or animals have been documented only in foods developed through conventional breeding approaches. For example, conventional breeders selected a celery variety with relatively high amounts of psoralens in order to deter insects that damage the plant. Some farm workers who harvested such celery developed a severe skin rash—an unintended consequence of this non-GE breeding strategy.

• • •

With all of the scientific evidence arrayed in support of the safety and environmental benefits of the GE crops currently on the market, we must look to other sources to understand opposition.

To some extent, it is a product of our political culture. There is often little critical scrutiny of the issues within a particular “tribe.” For example, just as many on the political right discount the broad scientific consensus that human activities contribute to global warning, many on the left disregard the decades of scientific studies demonstrating the safety and wide-reaching benefits of GE crops. 

Both the left and the right (and the center) discard reason when it doesn’t suit their politics. Some activist groups manufacture uncertainty to stoke fear in consumers. They demand more testing despite the fact that GE crops are the most highly regulated crops on the market. As Daniel Engber aptly remarks in Slate, the success of the manufactured-uncertainty strategy “shows how the public’s understanding of science has devolved into a perverse worship of uncertainty, a fanatical devotion to the god of the gaps.”

Anti-science campaigns can have devastating consequences. Consider the anti-vaccination movement led by actress Jenny McCarthy and discredited physician Andrew Wakefield, which claims a link between the administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the appearance of autism and bowel disease. Many newspapers have promoted their views and many parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children, invoking a personal-belief exemption to skirt public school requirements. 

The result has been a worldwide outbreak of measles and whooping cough. Marin County, California, home to a wealthy, educated populace, recently experienced the largest outbreak of whooping cough in the nation. Health care workers descended on Marin as if it were a third-world country to reeducate parents about the importance of vaccinating their children. Even today, despite the revocation of Wakefield’s medical license because of his fraudulent claims and undisclosed conflicts of interest, the notion that vaccines can cause autism or other problems remains prevalent in some places, especially certain liberal, affluent ones.

Consumers tend to group all 'GMOs' together without regard to the the needs of the farmer or to the social, environmental, or nutritional benefits.

In the case of the vaccine fraud, skepticism isn’t a product of political culture so much as scientific illiteracy. The respected science journalist Michael Specter points out that consumers have a tendency to trust anecdotes over peer-reviewed results, which may explain why today “the United States is one of the only countries in the world where the vaccine rate for measles is going down.”

A similar lack of comprehension likely afflicts opponents of modern crop varieties. Consumers have a tendency to group all “GMOs” together without regard to the purpose of the engineering, the needs of the farmer, or the social, environmental, economic, or nutritional benefits. They may be unaware that research organizations and scientists they otherwise trust agree that all GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat and safe for the environment, that each new crop variety is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and that because each GE crop is different, testing them as a group is simply not possible and contesting their safety, in general, makes no sense.

This misunderstanding of the nature of GE crops underlies the labeling campaigns we have seen in recent years. These are not only public campaigns. Grocery giant Whole Foods has declared that within five years it will require labeling of all GMO foods sold in its stores. The implication of this labeling is that there is something worrisome about GMOs that consumers need to be warned about.

But to those of us who farm, carry out scientific research, or regulate food safety, it is clear that a GMO label provides scant information to the consumer and hinders the advancement of sustainable agriculture. The Food and Drug Administration does not support a GMO label because there are no known health effects. Almost all food would require such a label because virtually every crop grown for human consumption has been genetically modified in some way: bananas are sterile plants with artificially induced triple chromosomes, some varieties of California-certified organic rice were developed through radiation mutagenesis, and most cheeses use genetically engineered rennet as a key ingredient.

In other words, unless you forage for wild berries, hunt game, or catch wild salmon, you are consuming a food that has been genetically altered. For this reason, the FDA has concluded there is no universal or logical definition of GMO food. The FDA already requires stringent testing of food products and labeling of those that carry an ingredient found to be potentially harmful (such as peanuts), so there is no nutritional need for more labeling. The claim that consumers have a right to know what is in their food, prevalent during a 2012 referendum campaign to require GMO labeling in California, is also specious. Consumers have a right to know about potentially harmful ingredients, but a right to know about the presence of harmless GE ingredients is tantamount to a right to know that fruits contain sugars.

Whole Foods either believes that it can safeguard the food supply better than the FDA can, or it simply wants to sell more of its high-priced products. A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, recently told the New York Times, “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

To reap greater profits is a perfectly legitimate goal for a corporation such as Whole Foods. But what about the health of families, farmers, and the environment? For those of us who want to advance sustainable agriculture, the fears promoted by Whole Foods and popular media figures such as Dr. Oz do a major disservice. These anti-GE forces have much to gain financially, but at great cost to farmers and their families in less developed countries, who benefit from what plant genetics can offer.

• • •

Once upon a time, if we needed more food, we could simply plough more land or cut down more rainforests for cultivation. No longer. This approach causes environmental damage and ignores the need of poor farmers in developing nations to enhance the productivity of their farms to ensure local food security.

It is time to change the debate about food production. Let’s frame discussions about agriculture in the context of environmental, economic, and social impacts—the three pillars of sustainability. Rather than focusing on how a seed variety was developed, we must ask what most enhances local food security and can provide safe, abundant, and nutritious food to consumers. We must ask if rural communities can thrive and if farmers can make a profit. We must be sure that consumers can afford food. And finally we must minimize environmental degradation. This includes conserving land and water, enhancing farm biodiversity and soil fertility, reducing erosion, and minimizing harmful inputs. We must work together to identify the most appropriate technology to address a particular agricultural problem.

In the last twenty years we have seen dramatic advancements in plant genetics. In 2000 the first plant genome was sequenced after seven years at a cost of $70 million. This year the same project is expected to take two or three minutes and cost $99. Through genomic sequencing of diverse plant species and varieties, we have already learned an astonishing amount about the genetic diversity of our food crops. Seed is just one of many components needed for sustainable food production, but it is an important one. We would be foolish not to take advantage of the advances in plant genetics. 

In the case of bananas and BXW, we may be able to control the disease by introducing genes from other plant species, such as rice, that confer resistance. Such resistance genes are widespread in plants and animals and are highly effective at controlling bacterial infection. These genes have already been incorporated in virtually all crops that we eat today, through conventional genetic approaches. 

If millions of small-scale farmers see their banana crops wiped out for want of new disease-resistant varieties, it will be due both to the failure of world’s agricultural scientists to make their voices heard and to the resistance of ideological opponents of modern genetic techniques. This is suffering that we can prevent.

Editor's note: The author is an employee of the University of California, Davis, a public institution. Her research is funded by the NSF, NIH, USDA, DOE, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She is not funded by Monsanto.

Plant pathologists have documented how the Bt trait in corn can provide for a reduction in naturally occurring mycotoxins in the grain.  See http://graincrops.blogspot.com/2013/08/gmos-and-corn-mycotoxins.html.  Relevant peer-reviewed literature is cited at the end of the article.

Here is the URL on "GMOs and Corn Mycotoxins, without the period at the end.  This should work.
http://graincrops.blogspot.com/2013/08/gmos-and-corn-mycotoxins.html
 

I'm surprised that her argument essentially boils down to: lots of people are doing it, so it must be ok, and if you disagree you're scientifically illiterate. I'm skeptical about GMOs, as I am about a lot of things that I am not an expert in. Skeptical in this case means I'm looking for facts, studies, evidence to be presented. And I just didn't see any evidence other than the anecdotal that we have an understanding of how GMOs affect not only human health and saftey but (far more imortantly, I think) the environment. Obviously this is a debate because a lot of growers are using GMOs, so providing those numbers isn't exactly persuasive. The questions of sustainability she presents in the last section are exactly the kind of questions I wish had been substantively addressed in the article. Instead, she defends Monsanto. Perhaps they fund her lab?

I think it would be fair to say that a major thrust of this article is the impossibility of responding to that health concern. GMOs aren't just one thing. When a food is modified, it's not like there is a GMO gene inserted into it, a gene that always does one thing. You can't test GMOs. You can test individual modified foods, and, in fact, this is precisely what happens.
 
As for environmental effects, those are explored throughout the article and in the many linked studies. It's not anecdote. There are hard data, which you'll find in the article and the links.

I wonder how many people like myself started suffering grom crohn`s disease and colitis after consuming these gm foods. Everyone in my family got stomache issues after eating mission tortillas with gm corn around 2001 and no wonder our colitis and crohns remains a health issue this gm is never going to go away.

You should take more science classes. Correlation does not imply causation.

There are more than 600 published peer reviewed academic studies, more than 100 additional studies with ZERO industry influence or ties, that address safety concerns about foods from GMO crops. You can view them here:  http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/
All the global food safety and health regulatory bodies which have reviewed commercialized GMO crops have found them to be safe - including US, Canada, Japan, Brazil, EU, Australia/New Zealand, Israel, the FAO/WHO and more...  Similarly independent food, nutrition and health organizations like the American Medical Association, Brittish Royal Society, American Pediatrics Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, etc....
At some point skepticism is is not longer reasonable; however, if you remain as such you always have the choice to purchase organic or certified GMO-free foods.  Skepticism in the face of such extensive science, however, should not be cause to force the rest of society to bear the cost burdens of the choices of those who want to avoid GMOs based on beliefs not supported by any accepted science or health standard.  Just like society need not bear the cost burdens of forcing all food produced to meet Kosher or Halal production standards or animal rights dictated humane treatment standards.  Such beliefs and choices can be met via niche marketing offerings and the costs borne solely by the purchasers.

"Skepticism in the face of such extensive science, however, should not be cause to force the rest of society to bear the cost burdens of the choices of those who want to avoid GMOs based on beliefs not supported by any accepted science or health standard."
"Extensive science" = extensive exaggeration. 
"force the rest of the society to bear the cost burdens of those who want to avoid GMOs" = force the other rest of the society to bear the cost burden of the health care of those who do not want to avoid GMOs,  equivalent to ~17% of the GDP of US.
"based on beliefs not supported by any accepted science or health standard" = based on lack of any evidence for long-term safety supported by any accepted science and health standard.
I'm not against GMO research & science per se, I'm against the whole bullshit the GMO proponents offer to the uneducated public. Very well chosen sentences using words like "similar", "not evidence for safety issues" (what about evidence for long-term health instead?), etc. Backed up by organizations which are the main and sole beneficiaries of GMO consumption (American Medical Association - hello, you cost the nation ~1/6 of its GDP per year, of course you would be happy to have more sick people come to your doctor offices and hospitals, etc). 
But whatever makes you happy. Such articles do nothing but review the real personality behind the authors, their ethics and moral. Conclusions made in the past, just reiterated here. Progress of science should not be at the expense of human health. Period.
 
 

Well Said, Jim.  Although, I appreciate the possiblites; meanings behind words can  cause both unintential or intentinal bias. The toughest thing to ever do is to communicate an idea precisely.  I look forward to supporting the values that come from working the land, while keeping things more traditional. I'm sure that GMO's will keep millions of people alive.  However, I am not jumping at the chance to offer my self as an experiment.  17 years is impressive, but the FDA has okay'ed many scenarios that have later been proven deadly. Give us the choice, I say.  Save the millions that are wiling or desperate, but leave room for the saftey that is ensured behind non-GMO foods. The other real concern is the fact that the world is now different, permanently, because of these modifications. And, we may have set ourselves up for yet another string of devistating unknowns. Progress yeilds these kinds of scenarios. Lets just get some more honesty on the table here.  Thats the whole jig.      

If GMO's are so damn healthy then why is there such a large pushback against labeling GMO foods as being such?!? Explain that one mister "Skeptiscism is no longer reasonable"! If GMO's are perfectly safe, then there should be ZERO efforts to stop regulations requiring GMO's be labeled. End of Story!

Because if you look at the proposed label laws in the past, they weren't really designed to give consumers the information about what is in their food.  But rather would have gave the potentially false message to the consumer that GM crops are dangerous (e.g. requiring labeling in big bold letters THIS PRODUCT MAY CONTAIN A GMO) whether it is potantially dangerous or isn't.  It's a blanket statement about the technology and not about the end product.  You can understand why the big companies were opposed to it.  It was an attempt to hurt the GM farming industry more so than it was an attempt to inform consumers. The FDA has sinse come up with far superior labeling standards. 
 

There is no harm knowing the earth circled the sun yet powerful religious leaders arrested Galileo for supporting that finding.Gmo's represent technologicl progress, the very antithesis of the back to mother earth philosophies of permaculture, deep greens, etc. 
 
As proof of this, Greenpeace has gone on record that they oppose GMO's on principle, even if every possible negative effect that could possibly be thought of and even if it's proven that it would be physically impossible to cause any harm at all with GMO's.  They are against it for no other reason than it goes against their philosophy of how things should be.
 
Note, no one claims that GMO's are mathematically 100% safe, just that they are as least as safe and even safer than all that went before.

"Note, no one claims that GMO's are mathematically 100% safe, just that they are as least as safe and even safer than all that went before."
 
There is absolutely no evidence to support such a sweeping claim! 
 

You only have to label if its unsafe,since its safe you do not.It has to be the same for everybody.

Some of the studies on the list do test questions related to GM food safety. It should not be concluded that the studies reported substantial equivalence between the GM crop line and the non-GM comparator.  Many of these studies provided tested evidence that contradicted assumptions made by the regulators mentioned by Clear Food above.   FSANZ, Australia and New Zealand's food standards regulator, has conflicting legislative responsibilities, having requirements related to the promotion of trade, viz Section 18 (2)    
                     (b)  the promotion of consistency between domestic and international food standards;
                     (c)  the desirability of an efficient and internationally competitive food industry;
As such, we are victims of Trade and Trade Agreements in Australia.  I think the dealers have been cowards but I'm not sure what to do about that at this time.  It shouldn't be inferred that an approval by a national food regulator implies that GM food is safe. 

I think these crops have been on the market long enough to show that the general principles underlying their production are safe.  it's about time the antis put up or shut up.  Show us a case where a transgenic crop that went to market was show to be harmful, or stop the bleat that these foodstuffs should be treated as a special case and that the precautionary pricinple should always prevail regardless of context.

There have been no epidemiological studies that have looked to see if GM food (of any single or combined exposures to GM lines, approved or rogue) has been safe to eat.  Not one.  Indeed our food regulator here in Australia, FSANZ, has actually given the responsibility of post-marketing studies to the patent holders of the GM crops, Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta et al.  Given that such a study would prove their own liability, I'm not expecting one soon. But with a work history in actuarial science I am accustomed to reviewing databases of experience.  I see the dramatic escalation in our hospital databases of life threateneing allergy, immune and gastrointestinal disorders beginning in the mid 1990's commensurate with an assumed contamination of the global trade lines with increasing GM production, and unlabelled in food products.  I'm not sure what goes under your definition of "general principles underlying their production" but I do know that findings in studies in that list are antithetical to assumptions made by food regulators in determination of food safety.

"crops have been on the market long enough to show that the general principles underlying their production are safe." Really is acceptable to introduce a product of any kind in a global supply chain and wait to see what happens in order to characterize it as safe or "not safe"?
I hope there is not such approach in the car manufacturing industry, or pharmaceutical, or aviononics, ... if people dies it might not be safe but, for as long as the statistics do not say any different it might be safe...
Do not know if they are safe or not, but just seeing the methodology applied to claim their safety is scary.

Cross pollination of plants undermines the ability to keep strains of genuinely organic strains. Monsanto's lawsuits against organic farmers who have had their fields contaminated by GMO drift are being sued. Our rights to eat organic are being eroded in this way. Anyone can take information out of context to support their opinion. The longer term studies show lower crop yields, though GMO Food is being touted as a way to feed the world. The higher, not lower use of pesticides and herbicides in the long run, are a genuine environmental concern. We do not need excuses for choosing food that has evolved for thousands of years over food designed by chemists. By the way, natural hybridization is NOT the same as inserting a herbicide into the DNA of a plant!
The arrogant title of this article claiming to have the corner on the Truth is enough to make me pull my advertising from your journal, and that's what I'll do.

The Deevolution of GMO Apologetics:
"At some point skepticism is is not longer reasonable..." 
This is one of the most absurd and anti-scientific pronouncements I have ever heard. 
 
 

I disagree with your current stand.  There is science that is available to read and study and educate yourself.  Within the article itself, Ronald leads to a database of studies (with full disclosures of the funding sources) showing the ways in which specific GE foods and products affect human health, so you don't need to take her word for it.

The evidence you seek is available to you, and I take a completely different read from the post than you do, that if you refuse to accept that GMO's are safe you are scientifically illiterate.  I read it that you haven't availed yourself of the available information.
There is nothing wrong with being "scientifically illiterate," by the way.  Studying and working and learning now to study and research and understand the results of science takes a great deal of training and experience.  The problem with denialism is that with one's lack of training one refuse to accept what the trained scientists have done in order to reach the conclusions that they have published.  And in the case of GE and GMO, there is a great opportunity to learn why they have come to the conclusions that Dr. Ronald here presents - it's not just a matter of numbers of people who have an ill-informed opinion that leads her to jump on the bandwagon.  It is consensus among researchers, some of whom are, yes, funded by Evil, Inc (read Monsanto, but also by those who have completely independent funding sources including the NSF.
It's good to be skeptical, but remember, skeptics need to look at the evidence presented rather than just sit back and say "I don't see any, so there is none."
 
 

"There is broad consensus on this point among highly regarded science-based organizations in the United States and abroad, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and European Commission Joint Research Centre. In the seventeen years since GE crops were first grown commercially, not a single instance of adverse health or environmental effects has been documented."
Where to begin to tear this apart! I was refered to this article as a balanced view on the subject of GE and GMO crops. It is anything but that. AMA, NAS, WHO and the ECJRC. Only the NAS is 'independent" and that is to say that it is composed of people from the science field that is dominated by GMO money. Universities and research labs included. 17 years is not a life time nor is it possible to tease out any possible effects of GMO foods on human health within that time. Biotech companies do not let out their patented seeds to be tested for ill-health effects (link to NY Times article):
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/business/20crop.html?_r=0
The only work on the effect of GMOs on any kind of health was made on rats (link to actual paper):
http://research.sustainablefoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Fina...
Link to summary:
http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/09/gmo-corn-rat-tumor
The researchers say their results show "severe adverse health effects including mammary tumors and kidney and liver damage, leading to premature death," in both from both Roundup Ready corn and Roundup itself, "whether they were used separately or together." Interestingly, almost all of the ill effects manifested after 90 days—the industry's preferred length for its own feeding studies. By the end of the study, the researchers report, "50 percent-80 percent of the females had developed large tumors compared to 30 percent in the control group." As for males, "Liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5 to 5.5 times higher than in the control group … [and] there were also 1. –2.3 times more instances of 'marked and severe' kidney disease." Overall, among the rats receiving GMO and/or Roundup, "Up to 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, before deaths could be put down to normal ageing, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group."
 
I love the arguement put forth that if you're against GMO, you are scientifically illiterate. While the literate do not want to see, fund or share the expansive body of peer reviewed literature that points to how 'healthy' GMO is... it does not exist = must not be happening! Very scientific!
 
GMO = GE. Not true. Inserting specific genetic material directly into a plant is NOT the same a selectively breeding a crop to carry more of a certain trait (such as resistance to a bacteria or virus). Including the WHOLE genome in the slelctive breeding process changes the whole plant. It can take a long time and potentially brings about many other changes to the plant that were not intially planned for. Welcome to species robustness and diversity. Short circuiting that process as in GMO is something that needs to be carefully considered. It may have a place to provide industrial scale biofuels or cotton or perhaps a solution to food security in the short term. That does not replace the need for biodiversity, it highlights it. As the author points out (however misplaced). The monoculture of GMO cropping in monocropped soils can reduce the need for pesticides. It needs to be noted that the reason that those soils erode, that desertification is on the rise is precisely because of monocropping and commercial agriculture. And remember that the honey bees and natural polinators are not exempted from the 'pest' population. Again, GMO is short term, while the longer term requires the re-establishment of the soil health and biodiversity that naturally limit the extent of impact of any given virus or bactrial infection.
 
The reason that many countries in the EU do not allow GMO crops lays in the policy they have of placing the health of their populations ahead of the desire to produce as much food as possible. The science points to inconclusive evidence about the impact of GMO food on human health. The governements are in the healthcare business, they are not rushing to conclusions that they as elected officials and a government structure will have to bare the burden of. The global corporations involved represent their own best interests rather than that of the people consuming their product...
 
I would appreciate a more nuanced and fact based article that really addresses the role that GMO can have. Using the world poor as evidence that GMO is great is misleading in the least, racist at the worst because the power to provide food security is in a corporate hand, not the farmer's. GMO saving papaya in China and Hawaii is hardly a reason to endorse and thrust patented monocropping on the same populations.
Thanks

Brilliant Analysis.Much more scientific and logical than the original Author. The fact that the Original piece quotes one or two Reports which criticize untested GMOs being floated by companies and a disproportionately large number of Reports support GM products or sposored by GM industry's God father. While all Reports that support GM crops have URL links, the one or two scientific papers which  are against have no URL links ! A coincidence? hahaha.. No sense of proportion or fairness to the otherside; While the Author is entitled to an opinion(and well within her rights to take Monsanto's side), her straining to appear neutral makes one wonder . Even an illiterate will understand... Lopsided is too mild a word. 

They specifically say at the end of the article that she isn't funded by Monsanto.

Gates owns Monsanto share and actively promulgates Third World farmers use of their seed varieties.
I call BS.
It is difficult to avoid entanglements with a fortune as vast as Gates represents. If you go through the further entanglements caused by interlocking directorships, financing and joint ventures, possibly impossible.
Another aspect of corpserate (sic) logic is that the only important thing is profit and that this be a continuous process. Judgements are made by the quarter year, not a human life span or sustainability concepts.
 

Excellent overview Pam. And it's certainly is an aggravating problem that we have folks on this topic that are behaving just like Andrew Wakefield and spreading myths. These things have real public health consequences if they make people fearful without foundation.

I have heard Dr. Ronald speak a few times before, and although I think she is a wonderful spokesperson for the GE movement, I find that she contradicts herself repeatedly in this article.
1) She claims that the use of GM crops enhances biodiversity on farms. This is obviously not true, as GE crops are typically grown on large-scale monocultural farms which have been shown to correlated with decreases in arthropod, bird, and small mammal diversity. Furthermore GE seeds are produced by hybrid technologies which select parents from a relatively shallow gene pool. Allowing farmers to save seeds and cross GM progenies with other strains or varieties may help to increase genetic diversity on the farms, but this is not permitted through the patent laws.
2) She poses Bt cotton in India as a success story for GMO. I would say its been just the opposite. The high rates of farmer suicides in India make GM cotton wildly unsustainable, socially, politically and environmentally. Indian cotton farmers who have gone into debt buying Bt cotton season after season have chosen to bury their debt with their corpses by drinking pesticides - which are still required to control non-Lepidoptern insect pests. 
3) She suggests that deforestation is no longer an issue because now farmers simply increase yields rather than clear more land for farms. Come on Pamela... the Amazon is quickly being converted to large-scale GM soybean plots. 
4) She says labeling food containing GMOs is equivalent to labeling the ingredients of any fruit. Well, you can find the nutrition facts of fruit in grocery stores and online. If someone wants to know how much sugar is in an apple, they can ~19grams. While it might seem obvious that fruits have sugar, maybe its not so obvious that they also contain protein or sodium. A consumer should have the right to know what's in the food, even if it seems trivial. Adding one more informative line to nutrition facts is not going to break the bank for any food company. What might break the bank is when consumers CHOOSE to not purchase GM foods once they become informed.This was the case with GE tomatoes in the 90s, which originally were labeled as GMO, but saw a decrease in sales before being taken of the market.
I've often found it strange that GE scientists do not support the labeling of GMOs. If these technologies are so wonderful and address so many environmental and social problems why not shout it from the rooftops to these plants are the solution. Be proud of your work GE scientists! Instead this resistance to label almost suggests a shamefulness or guilt, if that's the case then I want to know why.
Generally it all boils down to this: I study the evolution of fungi. I work in a building filled with plant geneticists who work on GMO food crops and biofuels. I think the technology is awesome. The science in itself is great. I have no qualms with the idea of GM seeds being used as one of the many tools to address hunger. But GMOs alone are NOT a solution to the global food crisis, as this article might sway you to believe. GMO continue to perpetuate a food system that is highly mechanized and industrial, servicing primarily large agri-business and relying heavily on fossil fuels for synthetic fertilizer, contributing substantially to global warming, and undercutting agrobiodiversity. GMO does little to empower small farmers or food sovereignty movements. And without labels GMO prevent consumers from voting with their dollars - intentionally.  

Once again the spectre of false argument raises its head. The arguments of Iman are non-arguments and here is why:
1. "She claims that the use of GM crops enhances biodiversity on farms. This is obviously not true, as GE crops are typically grown on large-scale monocultural farms which have been shown to correlated with decreases in [...] diversity."
Apples and oranges. Here the poster is stating that some GE crops are grown as monocultures, monocultures are bad for biodiversity (I agree) ergo GE is bad for biodiversity. Wrong. Monoculture is bad for biodiversity. If the poster had taken the time to read the article (or wasn't obviously biased) they would see that the author said that a recent study (to which she added the link so that people could read it for themselves rather than take her word for it) fields of Bt cotton reduced the need for pesticide spraying compared to normal cotton, which increased biodiversity. Therefore if you were to compare a monoculture of Bt cotton to a monoculture of non-Bt cotton, the Bt cotton has more biodiversity.
2. "high rates of farmer suicides in India make GM cotton wildly unsustainable"
Yes, Indian farmers have high suicide rates ... but not as high as the rest of the Indian population. Actually it is roughly half the rate of suicides amongst non-farmers. [For a detailed look at the figures this BBC article explains it quite succinctly.]
3. "She suggests that deforestation is no longer an issue because now farmers simply increase yields rather than clear more land for farms"
No. That's just a plain lie (or misreading of the text if you want to give the benefit of the doubt). Here is what the author writes: "Once upon a time, if we needed more food, we could simply [...] cut down more rainforests for cultivation. No longer. This approach causes environmental damage and ignores the need of poor farmers" And "we must minimize environmental degradation. This includes conserving land". The author is all for sustainability. The fact that virgin rainforest is being cut down to make way for agriculture is something the author decries and has little to do with GMOs, and more to do with the greed of large-scale farmers, poor management of rainforests by the countries where they are found, and population pressures that force poor farmers to find new land. In fact this is an argument for GMOs, as raising yields is what we should be looking to do so that as little pristine wilderness is lost as possible.
4. As for food labelling, the author point out that all (or so close to all that it makes little difference) commercial food products have been genetically altered by humans that adding a GMO label is pointless.
5. "But GMOs alone are NOT a solution to the global food crisis, as this article might sway you to believe"
Nowhere in the article, and in fact nowhere in pretty much any pro-GM article I've seen, have the technology's proponents suggested that GMOs alone are the answer to everything. They are but one of many weapons we have to fight the food battle.

The US grows the most GM crops and yet 1 in 4 US kids do not know where their next meal is coming from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/19/childhood-hunger-rates-us_n_271...
It is clear that GM does not feed people and that what needs to be addresses is poverty.
The largest investigation into how to feed the world (IAASTD) found that agroecology is the way to feed us all. This is not based on patented seed and pesticides like GM is. Instead it develops farmer knowlege and works scientifically and intelligently with the local environment to increase yields. It can double yields in 10 years while cooling the climate (more carbon in the soil) and reducing rural poverty.
http://www.srfood.org/en/report-agroecology-and-the-right-to-food
People in South America are calling the massive increase in GM soy monocultures that have driven out small farmers and use enormous amounts of pesticide that cause enormous increases in cancers and birth defects 'a near genocide'.
http://www.madge.org.au/Docs/GE-Free-Latin-Amer.pdf
The science around GM is disputed. Mainly because the biotechs control access to their patented seed and have almost entirely strangled independent research. After 17 years of growing GM we can now look at the effects GM has had in the field: superpests (see pest plagues in US, Brazil and China linked to GM crops), superweeds that now cover 49% of US farms (google Superweeds that can't be killed for an old news report showing the devastation causes) finally the new GM crops are resistant to 2,4-D and dicamba. They have been produced because GM crops are a treadmill for farmers but a huge profit maker for the chemical companies that own seed. 
https://www.msu.edu/~howardp//seedindustry.html
It is disgraceful that GM is still being pushed by vested interests. GM has led to the widescale poisoning of people, land, water and seeds. It is criminal to promote this and call is 'scientific'. It is plain greed. 
Billions of dollars and decades of time have been wasted. If we really want to feed the world we can adopt agroecology on a wide scale. If we do not we show we are an irrational, anti-scientific, easily led species that will wipe itself out.

A nuanced discussion of the science behind genetically modified crops is refreshing. However, several statements in this article are misleading, such as the premise that, “genetically modified foods are safe for humans.” Genetic modifications can pose serious health risks, because many proteins and metabolites are toxic to humans.  Blanket statements about GMO safety can never be made, and publically funded scientists should always advocate strongly for strict independent oversight of GM development and public safety.
For this same reason, the blanket statement that GMOs pose no “special environmental risks” is also misleading.  All non-native species should be considered an environmental risk.  Although GMOs are not “special,” they have the potential to be invasive, and the changes made to GMOs are exactly the type expected to convey selective advantage over native or conventionally grown species: disease resistance, growth advantages, drought tolerance, and so on. Even in the face of unfavorable reproductive barriers, if there is selective advantage, gene flow will happen.  GMO advocates consistently ignore the inevitably of gene flow, and GMO detractors consistently ignore the value of terminator seed and other technologies that help ensure that GM plants are infertile.  Unless GMOs are completely infertile and do not compete with native species, we can expect their genes and their offspring to spread outside their fields.
The idea that traditional breeding is “crude” is also outdated and misleading. In the era of genomics, precision breeding that incorporates population level diversity is possible through traditional breeding.  Incorporating natural diversity into breeding germplasm through traditional breeding and genome-wide selection is the future of rapid crop improvement.  Publically available genomic data is available for every major crop for use by any breeding program with Internet access and a modest genotyping budget. GM crops are notoriously limited by genetic diversity, and although genome-wide approaches are being used to improve GM varieties. Only when natural diversity is lacking for a desired trait, or there is extreme profit potential, is a GM approach advantageous from time or money perspective. 
Food security is a good argument to justify potential unintended consequences of GMOs, but the paternalistic stance of many GMO proponents that ignores the rights of the public is concerning.  Sure most people’s suspicion about GMOs is not based in a good scientific understanding, but do a small number of “smart” people in the developed world have the right to decide for everyone else the acceptable risks about something as personal and culturally important as food?  Can scientists say with certainly that these genes and organisms are contained in their fields? Are GM approaches the most efficient way to improve crops? The answer to all these questions under most circumstances is clearly, “No.”

@Shawn - the biggest takeaway for me from this is that it seems like entrepreneurial scientists could bring conventionally-bred 'biofortified' or otherwise modified crops to market faster using genomic data and proteomic assays, rather than all of the cost and regulatory hassle of GMOs.

Naylor brings up the case of Zambia and their rejection of GE foods in 2002. This is a story that is frequently brought up in pro-GMO articles. Was Zambia given the option to accept either GMO foods or non-GMO foods, or did the US only offer GMOs? From my understanding, the choice was GMO or nothing. And this illustrates my basic distaste for a lot of this discussion. The people of Zambia or Oaxaca or Uganda or Indonesia should have the same choice about whether to grow (or buy and eat) GMOs as the people of the US or Canada or France. This sort of 'we know what's best for you' attitude reaks of neo-colonialism, which is at the heart of my distrust of the pro-GMO movement.
My husband is an anthropologist and works in an indigenous village in Mexico where many of the people farm just as their ancestors did a thousand years ago. They are subsistence farmers and day laborers. And guess what? They are expert farmers, well-educated on ecological issues, and they have opinions. They should be respected and not be forced to adopt technology that they don't want to adopt. From what I've read of the 2002 Zambian incident, their president had respect for his people and their long history of growing their own food. GMOs shouldn't be forced on anyone.

No one is forcing anyone to adopt any technology.  However, your right not to adopt a new technology ends with trying to force your neighbor or anyone else not to adopt that technology so that you don't have to compete with him.

Doug Gurian-Sherman at the Union of Concerned scientists wrote me a polite email yesterday. He protested that one of the sentences in my response toMargaret Mellon’s response to my recent Boston Review piece on “GMOs”, was “not professional and far from worthy of my typical efforts”.  I appreciate his candor and civility and have concluded that he is right - the sentence was overly harsh and not specific enough to be meaningful. How can UCS respond to such a broad attack?  For these reasons, please consider this sentence deleted:
“The three UCS pieces that Mellon cites have been widely discredited, but UCS keeps churning them out without critical review.”
and replaced with this:
“The UCS reports cited by Mellon were published and distributed without critical review. Since publication, several scientists have noted selective use of datasets and calculation errors in the initial report. Specifically, because the benefits of GE crops to neighboring farms, were not included in the UCS analysis, the conclusions of the report are not useful. Furthermore, the report focused only on corn and soybean in the US,omitting the extensive data available from cotton and canola in the US and abroad.   Finally, the UCS claim that GE crops on the market have “failed to yield”. This is highly misleading. One of the first GE traits developed, BT crops, was designed to guard the plants against insect damage and reduce the use of sprayed insecticides. A decade of peer-reviewed reports attests to the success of this approach in achieving these objectives. In addition, BT crops have reduced pesticide poisonings of farmers and their families and dramatically enhanced yields in developing countries.   Collectively, these omissions in the UCS report serve to distort the actual situation and confuse the public.”

 

I appreciate Pam’s willingness to edit her original statement (pelase see her linked update at the bottom). However, there remain several inaccuracies or points of contention in her correction.
First, she continues to refer to “the UCS reports cited by Mellon,” but her new critique focuses on only one of those reports, “Failure to Yield,” published in 2009. That report was followed by “No Sure Fix” in 2009, addressing the important environmental issue of whether GE was addressing nitrogen use and pollution, and “High and Dry,” published in 2012, about GE and drought tolerance (all linked in the “learn more” section here: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genet... ).
Together, these reports show that for these important traits GE has accomplished relatively little—and has produced no commercial traits for nitrogen efficiency in the US—where GE must compete with other advanced agricultural technologies and methods. GE has no commercial traits for drought tolerance or nitrogen use efficiency globally.
Importantly, the reports also show that breeding has, and continues to accomplish, much more in aggregate than GE for all of these traits (and others), and why this is not likely to change much in the in the next several years. The yield contribution of breeding and improved agronomy, for example, is higher than for GE in corn (or soybeans). And breeding and agronomy have steadily improved drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency.
It is important to understand that breeding has barely scratched the surface of its potential, as a recent review in the prestigious journal Nature pointed out (http://www.cenargen.embrapa.br/_comunicacao/2013/falaramdenos/0713_04_nature_Agriculture_Feedingthefuture%20_artigoGratapaglia.pdf and in this blog post: http://blog.ucsusa.org/genetic-technologys-answer-to-a-major-insect-pest... ). This is why it is critically important for public sector breeding, producing public crop varieties, to be better funded.
Similarly, ecological farming methods can accomplish a huge amount of improvement in sustainability and crop resilience, as the reports also discuss.
Second, Ronald incorrectly claims that the reports did not receive critical review. All UCS reports must be reviewed by outside expert reviewers, usually academic scientists, in relevant fields. There have been at least three for each of the above reports (see the acknowledgments sections), and all made critical suggestions for change that were largely incorporated. The reports did not go through the anonymous peer review used by science journals. But neither do reports from US government science agencies, and so on. Neither did Ronald’s own book, I assume (it would be virtually unheard of), which she actively promotes in the hope, I have to believe, of trying to influence the public debate on GE based on its ideas and science analysis. Most of the literature analyzed in my reports consists of peer-reviewed science journal articles.
Journal peer review is an important process, but not the only one that produces important and legitimate science analysis. UCS reports or Ronald’s own book can be evaluated by scientists and anyone else for the quality and accuracy of their content, which is what should ultimately matter.
More substantively, we could not really have omitted the area-wide (beyond those who use Bt) suppression of European corn borer data in our 2009 report, because the suppression data were not published at the time our report was released, so not readily avaiable. However, it is an important piece of the yield puzzle. Because I used a conservative approach in my calculations, area-wide suppressions should not make much difference. I assumed that virtually all acres that experienced heavy infestations of borer, based on historical data, would use Bt and would achieve 100 percent control. Only acres with lower borer infestations were likely omitted from my calculations. Data discussed in my report suggest that low to moderate infestation suffer no to small (a few percent) yield loss. So it is likely that the area-wide suppression of borer would only add a small amount to the yield above my calculations. In addition, the other Bt, for rootworm, achieves no area-wide suppression.  Nonetheless, additional analysis of yield benefit since the report is needed to clarify and quantify this issue, and review other newer literature.
In addition, Carpenter’s peer-reviewed surveys include many that did not control for important variables (by using isogenic controls, widely agreed upon by scientists) or use econometric methods that may sometimes compensate for the lack of such controls. Therefore, her data overall are questionable.
In addition, her values for yield in Bt corn in the US in another peer-reviewed paper are close to mine. Yield benefit from herbicide tolerance has been shown to be very small (about 2 percent) in a recent paper that uses better methods and a more extensive dataset, though somewhat higher for Bt.
The report did not claim that Bt failed to yield, as Ronald suggests. The content of the report showed modest yield benefit from Bt on corn. And the report was not misleading in not including data on things like chemical pesticide reduction in corn or other crops. All reports and papers (including those by Ronald) have limits on their extent and coverage. Our report was about one important parameter—crop productivity (and in fact we did acknowledge in the report that chemical pesticide reduction has been achieved in Bt corn and cotton, and is a good thing). Likewise we did not include cotton because we focused on food and feed crops. And both canola and cotton are minor crops in the US compared to soybeans and corn which we covered. Likewise yield in other parts of the world were simply beyond the scope of what we could cover with our resources. This is a complex question that is beyond what can be addressed here.
Therefore the reports are neither distortions nor misleading. If read carefully (a reasonable expectation by an author) they add useful data and analysis to the debate about these crops. And if put into the context of the additional literature about other issues regarding GE crops, can be evaluated for their proper contribution along with other analyses about the other issues that Ronald raises.
 
 

Good news on nitrogen use Doug--trials have just been completed that show much reduced application of nitrogen: http://www.agprofessional.com/news/Trials-of-new-NUE-rice-show-increased...
 
I'm eager to see the publications on this. I'm glad to hear this is one you have been waiting for. I'm sure if the data holds it will engender your full support. Right?

Doug says that he excluded cotton from the report because it was not a food or a feed crop. This is false, as not only do we produce cottonseed oil from cotton (I have some in a spray bottle next to my barbecue), but cottonseed is also fed to animals as a source of protein. Also, other crops that are most certainly used as food, such as papayas, were excluded from the report. This explanation does not add up.

Since all farmer's IRM's require a 20% refuge, how can 100% control as you "assumed" above, be a realistic outcome? "i assumed that virtually all acres that experienced heavy infestation of borers, based on historical data would use Bt and would achieve 100% control." That would defeat the purpose of the mandatory refuge as outlined in our Insect Resistance Management requirements.

This is a very disturbing article.  It assumes that the science proves that GMO is safe.  This is a huge assumption.  
To say that most California rice has been genetically altered doesn't mean anything to me because I am unable to digest rice.  Just because rice is "safe" for most people (gmo or not) doesn't mean I don't deserve to know that rice exists in a product I am buying.
 If there is bacteria genes in a product, how do we know that this new bacteria will not alter my own bacterial world in my gut?  Who has actually tested this rigorously?  
As a person with major digestive issues, why would I unthinkingly put anything in my body that I don't already know will agree with me.  To say that I am eating GMO if I eat anythig other than wild foods (game, salmon and berries, don't forget greens are wild too in many places) then I am already eating GMO, does not even begin to understand how hard I search through label after label to discover what I can actually eat.  And wild salmon is one of the few items I can have.  So are wild greens.  I am completely starch free and gluten free and grain free.  I am also sugar free and soy free and many other things free.  And I am not an uncommon unusual person.  
I am not saying that scientists should stop trying to help people in Third World Countries.  I am not saying that scientists should stop advances that will help millions.  
All I want is labeling, only so that I can know before I buy that I am buying something that is innately what it seems to be.  So I don't poison myself or my family.  We will pay extra for this.  We do already.  Because it is important to us.  That is what America is all about -- a system of government that allows for this kind of material comfort in true Capitalist style with the freedom to speak up and demand a label.  

"Editor's note: The author is an employee of the University of California, Davis, a public institution. Her research is funded by the NSF, NIH, USDA, DOE, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She is not funded by Monsanto."
Is this meant to be a disclaimer of some kind?  According to journalist Tom Knudsen’s piece “Seeds of Doubt” Monsanto and Pioneer had signed options to license a gene identified by Ronald, with Knudsen writing
“Ronald, for example, has received about $825,000 from Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred International for work on the rice gene in her laboratory.
UC Davis, in turn, was to sow benefits globally.”  Seeds of doubt; Tom Knudson; (2004) http://www.sacbee.com/static/live/news/projects/biotech/c1_2.html
I’m not sure what ‘in turn, was to sow benefits globally’ means. I inferred it meant Ronald and her lab were meant to promote the 'benefits' of GM crops globally.
Regardless, let's not pretend that the US State and funding bodies are remotely independent in the funding of GM crop research.  Check out your wikileaks cables for more information on Food and Water Watch's "Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda"  http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/biotech-ambassadors/
But yet another insight is offered by her husband from his “Silent Killer” posting referred to earlier, where he seems to describe her as ‘consumed’:
“One of the things I have learned by being married to Pam and seeing what she does at work [..], is that discovering what is actually happening in plants at the molecular level is so important and interesting to people that they are consumed by it.”  Raoul Adamchak; Silent Killer: The Unifinished Campaign Against Hunger;  http://www.silentkillerfilm.org/interview_adamchak.html
Perhaps for someone who is consumed any valid or invalid support of their desire appears justified. 

This phrasing does not represent the situation at all:  "Given that modern genetic engineering is similar to techniques that have served humanity well for thousands of years.. "   In fact these new techniques of genetic manipulation were so different that scientists and other interests brought themselves together at the Asilomar Conference in 1975 on recombinant DNA to work out principles in relation to their use.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asilomar_conference_on_recombinant_DNA  The techniques are so different that we have regulations and standards at the highest world levels to cope with the risks they pose, involving many major world bodies.  We have the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety, signed by 166 nations, to deal with the cross-boundary movements of Living Modified Organisms.  National Acts are in place and regulatory authorities established to deal with the risks.  It may be in the interests of Ronald (and those of the US State which is not a signatory to the Cartegena Protocol)  to minimise the appearance of difference and risk, but Ronald's framing on the situation is deeply misrepresentative.

Regarding this statement: "One-third of these studies are not funded by companies that stand to profit from the results, and these studies support the scientific consensus that genetic engineering of crops is not inherently riskier than conventional methods of crop improvement."  Is this a claim, because I have not seen a reference that assesses the findings of these ~200 studies, finally drawing such a conclusion?  I have read a number of these studies, and know with certain knowledge that relevant studies make findings that contradict assumptions behind the substantial equivalence of these crops, pointing to the further tests that should have been conducted but were not.  For example, many novel proteins are often indicated, though only the intended novel protein is sought and a surrogate of the intended (or assumed) novel protein is tested.  Furthermore, many of these studies do not relate to commercial GM crops but experimental GM crops, reporting adverse findings.  Some of the studies that do relate to commercial GM crops report worrying findings that should be further investigated.  This seems to be a false representation of studies on the list, unless Ronald can produce a genuine review. 

Her research is funded by the NSF, NIH, USDA, DOE, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She is not funded by Monsanto.
However, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that funded her research bought  Monsanto shares worth tens of millions -US dollars!
Does any one with a clear mind think that there is no indirect vested interest to promote GM crops when a foundation funding your work has financial investments with a GMO Corporation?

In the last few days, Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman have the position of UCS on various blogs and emails. Their responses are often quite lengthy so I will summarize my understanding here of the UCS position based on their responses:

 

UCS concurs with the broad scientific consensus (see main article for citations) that:

 

1. Each GE crop must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

2. In the case of GE cotton, the technology has enhanced yields in many parts of the world.

3. The planting of GE cotton has reduced the use of sprayed insecticides

4. GE papaya has enhanced yields

5. GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat.

6. The GE crops themselves that currently on the market are safe for the environment. However overuse of herbicides on farms (GE or nonGE) leads to herbicide resistant weeds

7. GE crops are just one of the many tools that can be used to enhance the sustainability of farms.

8.  Enhanced public funding for breeding is needed

9. The planting of GE corn in the US has benefited growers of non-GE corn

10.  The technology of GE has not solved all agricultural problems. But we should not throw out the technology for that reason. (Just as we do not consider vaccination as a technological failure because there are still diseases for which we don’t yet have vaccines)

 

I am glad to see that UCS has come forward to support these 10 points. If there is any disagreement on these points, I request that UCS will respond concisely (e.g. Simply indicate which scientific conclusion they disagree with).

 

The other points that Gurian-Sherman raises (e.g. the relevance of peer review, the relative merits of breeding and GE to address diverse agricultural problems etc.) will be taken up in a discussion on the blog biofortifed.org in the near future.

 

Update: Quite puzzling, even though they have said essentially these same things in their discussion with Karl Haro Von Mogel at Biofori
tified.org, Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman now say that the only point they agree with is that public support of plant breeding is needed.

Pam Ronald’s statements above do not represent positions of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
If anyone wants to know our views about agriculture, we urge them to read our blogs, our website and our reports.
Margaret Mellon and Doug Gurian-Sherman
We do support increased funding for public breeding programs. But on other points, as noted above, please see our web pages and reports.
 

 
 
Join us at biofortified.org as we update you with the latest positions of the Union of Concerned Scientists regarding the safety and benefits of  the genetically engineered crops that are currently on the market.  
 
http://www.biofortified.org/2013/09/the-union-of-concerned-scientists-an...

To resolve this issue we will update the post with links to their statements supporting the summary above, with the hope of moving the discussion forward to what aspects of scientific consensus on GE crops the UCS agrees with and what they dispute, and why.
 
 

Despite the fact that it may be puzzling to you, the response does imply that you have misrepresented the UCS on 9 out of 10 points.  I wonder if you will be thus led to the conclusion, as others have learnt in their humiliation, that it is best to allow such an organisation to speak for itself, rather than attempt to pen its views for it.

Pam Ronald's piece is GMO porn. As Sam noted, the disclaimer about her funding is disingenuous, rather like saying the FDA is not biased at the political level for Monsanto's products. Benbrook provides data closer to the truth: http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24.

We should be cautious regarding indiscriminate deployment of many GMOs.  However, let's separate the politics from the science.  Every time someone wants to invoke starving people, it's sure to cause an emotional rush, but if we were concerned about starvation, we'd actually be sending food [since there isn't a shortage].  However, we also know that food distribution is a political problem and not a scientific one.
Regarding golden rice, let's look at the reality, which indicates that initial plants produced insufficient amounts of beta-carotene although that appears to have been resolved.  However, it is questioanble whether this is adequate in diets that aren't adequately supplemented with additional fats.  In addition, it is also questionable as to whether these traits can be maintained.   None of these are "show-stoppers" but let's not pretend that these aren't issues that need to be addressed to actually solve this problem.  In addition, new research has suggested that too much beta-carotene may actually aggravate the problem, so that also has to be considered.
http://genetics.thetech.org/ask/ask334
http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/betacarotene.htm
In other areas there are concerns that the genetic modifications of Roundup Ready plants are causing other non-targeted species to become resistant as well.  This was predicted NOT to happen and it has, although how widespread the potential affect has not been studied.
http://www.nature.com/news/genetically-modified-crops-pass-benefits-to-w...
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nph.12428/full
Then, of course, there's our favorite regarding how far to trust corporations.  To answer that question, one has to examine the potential regarding "traitor" and "terminator" genes.
http://www.etcgroup.org/content/traitor-technology-damaged-goods-gene-gi...
http://passel.unl.edu/pages/informationmodule.php?idinformationmodule=10...
 

I am surprised that nobody has touched on the blatant lie repeated in this article - that genetic engineering has taken place with plants and animals for thousands of years.  
The author is confusing selective breeding with genetic modification.  Selective breeding has been used for thousands of years and involves the mating of strains with desirable qualities.  Genetic modification differs in that the transgenetic barrier is invaded and the actual structure of the DNA is changed.  
It is important to consider that someone claiming to write an article on "The Truth About GMO's" and claiming all kinds of scientific studdies to bolster their argument should not really be taken too seriously if they have to resort to lying or are simply not really educated as to what they are talking about.  
Tread lightly, these GMO foods can be dangerous in  some cases.  

I think she (Pam Ronald) has been pretty clear with her description of genetically altered, engineered or GMO (including non-GM technologies like mutagenesis).  I think that Jason needs to read more on the entire subject, as recommended by other commenters.  The statement "Tread lightly, these GMO foods can be dangerous in some cases" portrays the fear mongering, unsubstantiated "Bleat" that many in the anti-GM camps use to raise money for their own aims.

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