Schooled!

A couple of days ago I posted about GMO foods and how dangerous they are. Thanks to several comments by readers, I did more thorough research and completely changed my mind.

I encourage you to read some or all of the articles I included at the end of this post and see if you come to the same conclusion. Here’s what I learned in a nutshell:

1. The process by which plants are genetically modified in labs is not substantially different than the way foods have been genetically modified by nature, selective breeding, or hybridization for millenniums.  But in a laboratory, far fewer genes are altered and the outcome is far more predictable. Virtually all the foods we eat (including “organic” ones) have been genetically modified for centuries, but in a much more random fashion than we are able to do intentionally in a laboratory. If those did not produce toxic food that led to the destruction of the human race, it is even less likely that intentionally modified plants will.

2. Many of these lab efforts have been to specifically make a food grow better in harsh soil or weather conditions, include more vitamins, and/or be more resistant to insects. That means less pesticide use by farmers and that’s a good thing. That results in a plant that is 99.999999% the same as what you’ve been eating, it just no longer includes genes that make it wilt in the hot sun or taste good to aphids. Does that sound like it will give you a crab claw like Moe?

3. Hundreds of studies have been done to search for potential dangers to “new” genetically modified food (as opposed to the genetically modified food we’ve been eating for centuries.) Nothing substantial has been found.

4. I mentioned that once these GMO plants are out there, they blow around and spread all  over the world without any way to control them. That’s true, but so have all of the other plants that were genetically modified by nature or farmers who’ve been randomly cross-breeding plants throughout the ages to get the ones we’ve been eating for the bulk of modern history. This lack of control has proved to be a non-issue unless a newly modified plant somehow begins to cause huge mutations in its consumer, like poor Moe Howard above. In truth, that was more likely to happen to randomly modified plants of the past than in scientifically modified plants of today. But it didn’t.

5. If you believe, however, that large corporations are genetically modifying plants to create a weak, mindless public that will buy more of their pharmaceuticals or vote the way they want you to, then you’re right to be afraid. You should stay away from GMO foods, climb into a bunker in the desert and never speak to another human being. Otherwise, they are likely as safe as anything humans have eaten since the dawn of agriculture, 10,000 years ago.

I’m not embarrassed that I was wrong and had to change my story. That’s the best thing about being an open-minded, reason-based person instead of, say, a politician; you don’t stick to erroneous beliefs in the face of new evidence for fear that people will think you are fallible. If everyone lived this way, the world would be much less ignorant, as I am today thanks to information given to me by some of my Jazz Pickles. Thanks!

I am embarrassed, however, by the fact that I happened to include my mythological argument against GMOs in the same post in which I encouraged others to let go of their mythological beliefs about second-hand smoke. What can I say? I’m fallible. Don’t vote for me.

But what the hell, we’re all human and are subject to the same misinformation everyone else is. We all live in a bubble of sorts, one that is influenced by the beliefs of our closest group of friends and favorite broadcasters or authors. We aren’t always right and we too often assume “if so-and-so believes it, it must be true.” So-and-so is likely doing the same thing to you and the result is you lead each other down the wrong road.

I hope you’ll accept my apology and read some of the articles below.

Science20 with Dr. Kevin Folta >> Atomic Gardening – The Ultimate Frankenfoods

Skeptical Vegan >> Frankenfood Fears

Pythagorean Crank >> You Say Tomahto, I Say Flavr Savr

Native Foods Blog >> Vegans Who Support GMO’s (Say What?)

Vegan Chicago Podcasts

P.S. I SHOULD ALSO SAY THAT NONE OF MY COMMENTS ABOVE ARE ABOUT THE LEGAL COMPLICATIONS OR POLITICAL WRANGLING THAT MIGHT OR HAS OCCURRED WITH MONSANTO AND THE LIKE. I’M JUST REFERENCING THE SCIENTIFIC QUESTION OF THE SAFETY OF CONSUMING “GMO” PLANTS.

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85 Responses to Schooled!

  1. Does this mean that you’re not going to watch Jurassic Park again?

  2. John says:

    I always have enormous respect for anyone who can admit they were wrong, and change their minds. My own view: On balance it’s probably okay; although I do think in general there should be a more considered approach to these things. And that’s also quite apart from some of Monsanto’s quesionable business practices. But there’s millions of people who have a right to life, and will likely benfit ultimately from GMOs.

  3. Pingback: Schooled! « Humor

  4. Kathleen says:

    The problem with GMO plants isn’t that they are dangerous, it is that they are copywrited. Their seeds do blow around. And if a small farmer is planting near one of these big GMO places, if they discover that some of the GMO stuff has infiltrated their regular stuff, they can and do get sued.

    Also a lot of GMO products are designed to be used with heavy fertilizers, making small farmers dependant on the large corporations for expensive products, creating an indenture-like lifestyle.

    • Piraro says:

      That’s not good.

      • John says:

        I am not so sure it is that simple…Natural cross-breeding that has been fundamental to agriculture for millennia is extremely different than genetic engineering. Nature has barriers in place that make it impossible to cross a fish and a tomato – the “natural” breeding that takes place combines genetic material from two organisms that are already very similar. Only genetic engineering can combine the genes of two wildly different creatures.

        Read more: http://healthychild.org/blog/comments/animals_dont_want_to_eat_gmos_so_why_are_we/#ixzz268DwYB8a

        • Kieran Madden says:

          Perhaps.

          What IS different is that I understand that, in the relatively recent past, plants were blasted with radiation to create desirable mutations. Obviously most of the time this didn’t have a desirable effect but when it did, the collateral damage to the genome of the plant that was then used was HUGE with the possibility for countless unforeseen circumstances.

          We have been eating these plants for years and it’s my understanding that there is no need to label them as GMO and they don’t come under any of the European controls that GMO foodstuffs currently do.

          That anti-GMO people don’t consider this is bizarre and irrational.

    • Mike says:

      That’s exactly what’s wrong.

    • “The problem with GMO plants isn’t that they are dangerous, it is that they are copywrited.”

      Intellectual property protection isnt limited to just genetically engineered plants. IP protection exists for many non-GE plants under the Plant Variety Protection Act and the Plant Patent Act. Note that this legislation preceded the commercialization of “GMOs” by decades. The purpose of the legislation was to encourage competitive plant breeding for improved traits.

      I would also point out that most of the software you use, music you listen to, things you watch, products you buy, are patented or IP protected in some manner. Even Mr. Piraro’s comic are copywrited.

      As for the issue of farmers getting sued, this does happen, but only to farmers where evidence exists of intentional patent violation or breech of contract.

      For a perspective from a farmer who grown GE crops, see here http://thefarmerslife.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/i-occupy-our-food-supply-everyday/

      “Also a lot of GMO products are designed to be used with heavy fertilizers”

      What GE crop are you speaking of? Herbicide tolerant crops? In their case they are designed to shift the herbicide profile, replacing a smaller amounts of a much more toxic herbicide with some what larger but far less toxic (and quick degrading) herbicide. Its not perfect but it appears preferable to the destructive effects of constant tillage.

      I would also like to point out that in the case of herbicide resistant crops like Round-Up Ready (Glyphosate-resistant) crop that you can buy the herbicide from Monsanto…or you can buy a generic version (Glyphosate is no longer under patent since 2000). The cost of herbicides is generally offset by better yields.

    • Luis says:

      GMO plants are not copyrighted (without w) but can be subject to intellectual property protection. Non-GMO varieties can also be, and often are, protected under plant variety rights.

    • Charlie Rader says:

      This claim that farmers get sued because of accidental cross-pollination is all over the web, but it seems to be untrue. In every case I am able to check out, the person sued for having an unauthorized GMO took purposeful steps to get it.

      The most well known case was a Canadian canola farmer named Percy Schmeiser. It’s not clear how a few canola plants, engineered to withstand a Monsanto weed killer, got into one of his fields. Maybe accidentally. But by his own testimony, which I found on his own website, he describes how he sprayed a corner of his field with herbicide and used the surviving canola plants’ seed for his future crop. That’s a far cry from being sued because your field happened to be in the way of some drifting pollen.

      With some of these cases, you don’t need to believe Monsanto’s minions. Most of the cases involve soybeans, and soybeans are self-pollinated.

      • Moe Howard says:

        That is exactly how farming has happened since the beginning of agriculture. You find a crop with a desirable trait and then you selectively breed it. These traits could have come from neighboring plants or it could have come from a mutation in your own plants.

        The problem is this: There is a patent on something that is inherently unacceptable for Intellectual Property law. These plants reproduce and give themselves away for free. If I sold you a computer program and one of the things the program did was to post a torrent of its own executable, you’d think I was an abhorrent jerk if I sued all of the people who downloaded it. This is exactly what Monsanto is doing.

    • MikeB says:

      I think you mean “patented.”

      And so what? Novel varieties have been receiving patents for a long time.

    • Kathleen,

      You mean patents, not copyright. Genetically modified organisms aren’t the first to patent. Traditional plant breeders patent their creations and shouldn’t they for all the work they put into it? It’s not a conspiracy to take over farmer’s fields, it’s business and it’s not a GMO issue. You can read more about intellectual property in the field of agriculture at Biofortified: http://www.biofortified.org/tag/intellectual-property/

      Much of the anti-GMO sentiment comes from lack or perspective and context. Read this farmer’s view on corporate control. The Farmer’s Life >> I Occupy Our Food Supply Everyday

    • Adam says:

      I’ve never heard of GMOs that are “designed to be used with heavy fertilizers,” at least not more fertilizer than other crops with modern yields. However, there are scientists working on genetically engineering crops, particularly wheat, for decreased nitrogen uptake so that they will require less fertilizer. Unfortunately, though, Greenpeace destroyed trials of reduced-nitrogen wheat in Australia last summer. (COSMOS Magazine had a good article about that episode.)

    • edivimo says:

      “Also a lot of GMO products are designed to be used with heavy fertilizers, making small farmers dependant on the large corporations for expensive products, creating an indenture-like lifestyle.”

      In fact, almost all of the modern domesticated plants and animals are like that, require high input of fertilizers (or high caloric food in the animal case). For example, the history of the first modern rice variety IR-8 is described in this page, that variety was “designed” to be of medium height, and capable of hold a big head of rice, and be capable of high yields with fertilizer. You still can obtain yields without chemical fertilizer with the modern rice varieties, and they’re still better than the traditional varieties. Another nice video

  5. richardkel says:

    Thank you for your blog today. I think it shows great intelligence and personal confidence to admit that you are human and are capable of making an error. If more people were able to do this, there would be less conflict. I teach school, and I know that my students appreciate that I can admit when I am wrong without getting defensive about it.

  6. Tom says:

    …And you could also watch the “Organic Food” episode (season 7, episode 6) of “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” — which is, by the way, one of my all-time favorite TV series.

  7. Anna says:

    …and mouse genes added to vegetables?

  8. Robert Miller says:

    I’m a big fan, but after reading this column …

    I’m a bigger one.

    “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”–John Kenneth Galbraith

  9. Aaron says:

    I’m always very impressed when someone is humble enough to accept new information and honestly re-evaluate their opinion/belief. The world needs more people like you! Keep up the good work!

  10. mooP says:

    Man, it’s so refreshing to see someone respond to new information by reading and re-evaluating their initial thoughts. Thanks!

  11. Kenny says:

    Way to go Dan!

  12. Dan says:

    Wow, nice to see someone who is actualy able to change their mind when faced with reason in this day and age. Seems like that is getting rare. Anyhow, though I am mostly in aggrement with your revised stance, there are a few drawbacks that you may have not thought/known about. First the things being combined, though pretty targeted and small are things that often are unlikly to be combined and may, for example, cause someone who has a known but rare alergy to be affected by something they thought is safe. Second, regarding pesticides , the exposure is sort of forced when the plant is itself is made to create the pesticide. It is in the plant and cannot really be washed off, so well less is used by the farmer, POSSABLY more reaches you and me. What that ultmately means, I don’t know. And third, and this is not really a knock against the food, but some of the things the companies (Monsanto) are reported to be doing is just evil.

    Also, good luck with the anti gmo nutjobs.

    • deejaykaye says:

      Many if not most plants contain natural pesticides, lots of popular foods are poisonous if not prepared properly, we are just used to someone else doing the preparation. Taro, cassava, fruit pits (apricots and apple seeds) are examples. Other foods, which as a species we have only been eating for 6 to 10,000 years (not really that long considering) such as grains are quite difficult to digest, and the incidences of gluten intolerance are quite high. Many recommend the Paleo

      Diet as the natural way for us to eat, nuts, berries and meat. :)

    • In regard to your statement about “the plant is itself is made to create the pesticide”. This is quite common situation, in fact even with all “scary stories” about non-organic farming the vast majority of pesticides, 99.99%, that we consume are produced in the plants themselves. For more on this issue please see http://www.pnas.org/content/87/19/7777.full.pdf

      The current application of this type of modification so far is not worrying, the main use has be for Bt modified crops. Bt has a long and widespread history of use and is safe for humans to ingest, its even used in organic agriculture. Another application was experimental GE wheat that was made to produce a chemical similar to that of mint plants that acts as an aphid repellant. We already know this chemical to be safe and common in the food supply from other plant sources.

  13. Ro says:

    Someone sent me your link today, and although it seems a number of your readers are applauding that you can admit when you’re wrong – (which is fantastic) – I have to ask… were you really wrong the first time? How much research on such a complicated subject can be done in the 24-48 hours since the original post that you referred to?

    I suggest anyone seriously concerned about GMO’s (or just curious) spend the time to review both sides of the fence on their own. Everyone should do their own research, there are countless studies, books and documentaries out their to start with. I have spent the last year researching this, and I still can’t say for certain one way or the other what OTHERS should think or do. I can only at this point decide what I want to ingest and put into my own body.

    For me, everyone has the right to their opinion. My opinion on GMO is that people should have a right to know what they’re eating. It should be labeled as genetically modified. Also I have more issues with Monsanto – they sue farmers for crop contamination – as IF the farmer has any control over the weather blowing GMO seeds into their crops. They make farmers dependent on their seeds, and their pesticides and sue them with every chance they get – and that is not something I want to back blindly. Also they make bug resistant plants , that cause bugs to evolve and become more resistant to these new pesticides (and the same thing happens with weeds) which means stronger pesticides on our food and in our soil. That’s not something I am 100% ok with, especially knowing that this is a cycle that will just continue on.

    • Piraro says:

      I agree completely. I’m only describing my experience and the things I’ve read. If it is a concern to anyone, they should do their own research.

    • Gopiballava says:

      I think that “right to know” is not the best phrasing. You’re not asking for the right to know, you’re asking for disclosure of this specific piece of information to be mandatory. This isn’t the only information that people desire that isn’t disclosed. Vegetarians want to know if animal products were used – should that be mandatory as well? It’s not.

      What about the amount of pesticides used? And the quantity used? And when they were applied? Organic does not actually mean zero pesticide – it just means “natural” pesticides – and there are a lot of nasty natural things out there. Wouldn’t that information be more useful and relevant?

      Why just GMO or non-GMO? There’s a huge variety of GMO crops, that have been modified in many different ways. Are they all equally bad? Are none of them good? Because a “contains GMO” label only helps you avoid *all* GMOs, which assumes that they must all be equally bad.

    • “they sue farmers for crop contamination”

      While this does happen, only farmers where evidence exists of intentional patent violation or breech of contract are sued.

      “Also they make bug resistant plants , that cause bugs to evolve and become more resistant to these new pesticides (and the same thing happens with weeds) which means stronger pesticides on our food and in our soil.”

      This is a problem of agriculture in general, not GE crops in particular. Farmers have been driving pest resistance long before the advent of GE crops, thats just how evolution works. However the future of GE crops does offer some promising way around this mess. One option is “stacked traits” where genes for resistance to multiple different herbicides are used in one crop so that farmers do not end up using the same herbicide (says herbicide A) year after year increasing prevalence of resistance genes to herbicide A in the gene pool. Instead they can switch between herbicides as necessary so that there is no consistent selective pressure to push the gene pool in any one direction.

      While evolution of resistance it is a horrible cycle, organic agriculture in itself doesn’t offer many real solutions. Tilling weeds can eliminate selective pressure to evolve herbicide resistance but is horrible for the environment for example. The best technique of organic ag can however be incorporated into integrative farming, to obtain an acceptable balance of cost versus benefit. For more on that subject you should check out Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food by Pamela C. Ronald & R. W. Adamchak

    • Luis says:

      If you think that people have the right to know what they are eating then GMO labeling is not enough, and I suggest you read Proposition 37 doesn’t go far enough, which shows how misguided is the concept. In addition, while Monsanto is a large player in the GMO field they are far from being the only company there. I respect your concerns about Monsanto’s business practices, but they are not THE GMO industry practices. Furthermore, they could go and push similar practices even when not dealing with GMO varieties.

    • Ro,

      The problem with “do your own research” is that it’s often code for “cherry pick info based upon your bias”. Without expertise in a particular area we must rely on experts. The consensus of these experts point towards GMO being safe if not safer than conventional agriculture. How it’s implemented is another matter and this needs to be evaluated trait by trait.

      Make sure your information is coming from a qualified scientific source when ‘doing your own research’. Watch out for baloney.

      Thanks.

  14. rubber_wonder_boy says:

    I get weary of practices that cross kingdoms, like insect genes into plants.

    The argument that it happens naturally implies that there are limitations that are met (like if a girl mouse causes a little boy bunny to have a twinkle in his eye … yada-yada-yada), however these limitations do not need to be observed in the lab.

    (I wonder how the same girl mouse can cause a jellyfish to twinkle. After all, it’s been known that scientists have spliced bioluminescent genes from sealife into a mouse.)

    Dunno why I feel better if it happens within the same kingdom and the same phylum and the same class, but I just do.

    • Charlie Rader says:

      rubber wonder boy, you are entitled to think whatever you like about gene transfer across kingdoms. But for a start, you could limit your examples to something that actually happens. Here’s a fact – no plant food for sale anywhere in the world contains a gene that was transferred by biotechnology from an animal, and no animal food for sale anywhere in the world contains a gene transferred from any other species. It can be done, and perhaps it eventually will be done, but so far it is not for sale in your nearby food store.

      The second thing you ought to understand is that genes are not “rabbit genes” or “mouse genes”. A gene is a sequence of chemical letters from a four letter alphabet. A gene in a rabbit is a sequence of chemical letters, and a nearly identical sequence could well be found in a mouse, a fungus, or a cabbage.

      The third thing you need to understand is that nature has, without any help from scientists, moved lots of genes between kingdoms. There are some nasty viruses that incorporate themselves into the DNA of a cell, let it reproduce in the normal way, and then break loose to infect another cell. Those viruses carry genes from one species to another. They also sometimes lose their ability to break out of the chromosome and they are everlastingly thereafter part of the species’ gene pool.

      • rubber_wonder_boy says:

        Thank you Charlie Rader for the detailed info.

        However, the focus I had was on laboratory practices done in an ethical manner; not about the commercial viability of chimera is valid _ food stores or otherwise. Besides, I gather you know where purchases of chimera are available.

        And I happen to be a chemist; I have taken biochem and do know how DNA, RNA, tRNA, codons, etc work. But again, my focus is on genes as a whole; not segments of code which would be like taking one entry from one column of one page from one telephone book from one metropolis and placing it in a phone book for another metropolis. Sure it will make one person unhappy, but increase from one entry to a whole column or a whole page that gets put into a completely different phone book and it affects a much larger segment of the populace by many orders of magnitude.

        And as for microbes, viruses, etc., even then there are limitations that nature abides by. Here’s the link to what I was alluding to earlier:

        http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/01/0111_020111genmice.html

        Yeah, microbes, viruses, etc. do pass from one creature to another, but the ability to cause something like this? Highly improbable.

        • Charlie Rader says:

          rubber_wonder_boy, I’m glad that I’m communicating with someone who has scientific training.

          I still have a few comments.

          You express a concern about something “ethical” or “unethical”. This is, of course, outside the realm of science, and yet it is important. But you have not made it very clear just what it is that you consider unethical. Do you consider it OK to give a plant a gene that was found and functions in another plant? But not from a bacterium, or from an animal? Why?

          There are, in fact, some documented examples of horizontal gene transfer between kingdoms. Most, but not all, of these are bacteria picking up the gene for an enzyme from a eucaryotic species, but a few examples go in the other direction. In fact, one of the first techniques for moving genes between species employed the crown gall bacteium, which has been moving genes into plants for millenia.

          Your image of copying pages from one city’s phone book to another city’s phone book is not what you expected. Let me give you an example. I used to live in Concord, MA and the phone book, in the beginning, had some instructions for making international calls. When I moved to my present address, the local phone book didn’t have these instructions. So I cut the useful page out of the Concord phone book and stuck it into the new local phone book.

    • It’s not surprising because what science comes up with often makes fiction seem paltry. Still though, when fellow earthlings are suffering it behooves us to put aside our irrational gut fears and privileged positions to implement well-studied scientific solutions as soon as we can.

      • rubber_wonder_boy says:

        Ehh, … yeah, but I’d advocate using breaks. That is, helping nature to achieve a goal by hastening / improving the process is one thing; pushing it out of bounds is another.

  15. Andre says:

    Hey Dan, I’m a big fan, but I’ve gotta disagree here. I’m not buying the ‘research’. Any Larry, Moe or Curly can site the myriad of studies that are privately funded by Monsanto, Dow, and countless other corporations with a vested interest in making their products look safe. GMO’s are not a matter of science, they are a product of technology, which is science, applied. As such, technology can always be used for health or harm. Just look at the electric motor vs. the electric chair. Conspiracy theories aside, these foods appear to be carcinogenic and should be avoided at all costs. Would you be willing to put your health on the line for some mega-corps contentious products? Moe and I say ‘no’.

    • Science works by consensus so we can better weed out bias and bad studies. The majority of independent science on GMO find it safe. You are correct that GMO is a technology that can be wielded towards good or bad results. So let’s put these tools into the hands of the good guys like small independent labs to innovate smarter solutions instead of whipping up fear to such an extent that only BigAg can hurdle the regulations we erect.

      • Andre says:

        Dave, you are entitled to your judgments of my views just as much as I am entitled to my views on GMO foods. There is no need to explain to me the idea of peer-review. I was studying to be a scientist (physicist), so I am familiar with the process. Be that as it may, I am very cautious with my eating, and because of this, I enjoy a vibrant level of health and clarity of mind. I refuse to put in my body experimental foods, especially ones that are linked to animal tumors and cancerous growths. I already support independent labs. They’re called farmer’s markets. They are hard working men and women, who raise the highest quality foods, that are much cheaper than supermarkets, and do so with pride and compassion. That is the only way of destroying BigAg; let’s dissolve their profits.

  16. YaiAou says:

    Well it’s a bit more complicated :

    1. “far fewer genes are altered and the outcome is far more predictable” That’s not necessarily true, when introducing a gene in an genome, some methods insert this gene at a random place which can break some associations or genes or genes expression regulators, and the outcome isn’t predictable then.

    “the foods we eat have been genetically modified [] in a much more random fashion” Selection is not random, it is applied on associations of genes “tested” together, brought together during plants/animals evolution so that they are locally adapted to their natural or artificial environment. Putting genome-foreign genes right in the midle of this gene-complex is a much more random process.

    “If those did not produce toxic food [] it is even less likely that intentionally modified plants will.” Suppose you insert an anti-freeze gene from a jellyfish in a strawberry for it to be more resistant (which has been done)… I’ve never eaten jellyfish or anti-freeze, let’s hope it’s not toxic !

    2. ‘Many of these lab efforts have been to [] and/or be more resistant to insects.’[...]‘Does that sound like it will give you a crab claw like Moe?” No, but if the plant produces the pesticide (not in the case of taste modification, but some plants are actually modified to produce it) it sounds like I will directly eat the pesticide, which makes me fear neurological and gametogenesis issues.

    ‘ it just no longer includes genes that make it wilt in the hot sun or taste good to aphids. ‘ It’s more often gene addition and not gene inactivation.

    3. “Hundreds of studies have been done to search for potential dangers to “new” genetically modified food (as opposed to the genetically modified food we’ve been eating for centuries.) Nothing substantial has been found.” Heard about the documentary “The World According to Monsanto ” ? Scientists can’t publish studies showing contradictory results. From what I have read of pear reviewed article demonstrating no differences between GM vs non-GM crop, methods where feeding two groups of 20 rats for 160days and checking for health issues…. i’m not convinced.

    4. ‘ This lack of control has proved to be a non-issue unless a newly modified plant somehow begins to cause huge mutations in its consumer, like poor Moe Howard above.’ No one say that ! (or maybe some does but they haven’t the slightest idea of ho genetic works, we don’t incorporate our food genes !) It IS an issue ! We do not dispose of an infinite stock of different pesticides or herbicides… For this last one, round-up resistance genes are incorporated in crops for farmer to freely spread this herbicide in their fields (so far for the “farmers use less pesticides”) so that only weed is destroyed. Hybridization allow this gene to be transmitted to other plants including weeds itself, and more importantly this modification will spread in weed populations as it gives a huge advantage in term of survival in the fields compared to individuals which didn’t incorporated the resistance ! Good luck with getting rid of it then…

    5. ‘If you believe, however, that large corporations are genetically modifying plants to create a weak, mindless public [...] Otherwise, they are likely as safe as anything humans have eaten since the dawn of agriculture, 10,000 years ago.’ What if I believe that their goal is just making imediate profit whatever the long term consequences, because they can ? Regarding the history of poisonous pesticide use, don’t accuse people who don’t trust agronomic industry of being paranoid. GMO probable danger is not about consumers health, it’s about environmental issues and little farmers destruction (as Indians cotton producers suicides because ruined by said pest-resistant GM plants to which pest quickly adapted).

    Hope you will think about it again…

    (And sorry about my English, it’s not my language)

  17. Steve says:

    I highly respect your change of heart, but to base the verdict (safe or not safe) on current scientific evidence is like claiming to be an aerospace expert because you shot off a bottle rocket today; ie: what we currently know abut the cause and effect of GMOs is probably less than 1/10 of 1% of what there is to know.

    That said, the pun was excellent, regardless of which side of the isle one is on. Please do not let pseudo-intelligent politics interfere with humor!

  18. Valerie says:

    Ok. Time to be sensible. I appreciate that. On the other hand…

    There is a difference between open pollinated crops–just as you discussed–and gmo crops. He’s the key difference–the insertion of foreign genes into a plant from a different species. Something to chew on: a bacteria gene that produces a pesticide called, BT has been inserted into corn dna. Now the corn produces its’ own pesticide. Is that a good thing? And another, Monsanto has created ‘Round-Up’ ready crops (Round Up is a trademarked and patented herbicide) that won’t die when Round Up is sprayed on it. So if your crops have weed competitors, they’ll be killed, but the crop won’t. And, after the farmer has harvested his crop, it’s illegal for him to keep a single seed to plant it next season. So the farmer is completely dependent on Monsanto for seed and pesticide. And, Monsanto will throw anyone in jail (J-A-I-L) if they save seeds to plant for future crops. So, now that I’m towering on the soapbox, I offer you a chance to change the world… there’s a gmo rice called “Golden Rice.” It has vitamin A in it and we send it to third world countries to feed kids. As the kids consume calories, they also get a dose of vitamin A. Lots of children have been saved from blindness because of this…

    Maybe you meant that you’re all for open pollination, and natural selection–like good old fashioned birds and bees stuff?

    One more nugget, heirloom seeds can be planted, harvested and replanted. Grandma used to be good at this. But, how would Grandma plant seedless watermelon?

    Food for thought,

    Vee

    • Gopiballava says:

      Valerie: You were aware that the patent for Roundup expired in 2000, right?

      Also, Monsanto doesn’t throw people in prison. Maybe I’m being picky, but they have to convince a prosecutor that a crime has been committed first. Then they have to convince a jury.

      Are a year’s worth of seeds so expensive that a farmer couldn’t easily decide to switch away from Roundup Ready? I understand that continuing to use RR seeds will cost them every year, but wouldn’t it be fairly easy to buy non-RR seeds for the next year and then keep saving them indefinitely? How many commercial farmers do actually save their seeds?

    • MikeB says:

      Your comment is a Gish Gallop of debunked claims. I’ll address only one:

      “Something to chew on: a bacteria gene that produces a pesticide called, BT [sic] has been inserted into corn dna. Now the corn produces its’ own pesticide. Is that a good thing? ”

      Yes it is! It mimics what plants have always done in nature–create their own chemicals that protect against insect attack.

      (BTW: The pesticide isn’t called Bt; that’s the abbreviation for the organism that produces it, Bacillus thuringiensis. The pesticide is a protein called Cry1Ab. Because you get this essential information wrong, you look like you don’t know that you’re talking about. Is that a good thing?)

      The irony:

    • Ewan R says:

      Disclaimer in advance here – I’m a monsanto employee, the views contained herein are entirely my own and not those of the company.

      It appears that MikeB and Gopiballava have actually covered the pieces related to Monsanto GMOs, so I’ll just add that farmers categorically don’t get thrown in jail for seed saving or other contract breaking wossnames – they may incur fines and legal fees, or may be excluded from purchasing Monsanto seed, but the suggestion of jail time is simply a fabrication.

      To (sadly) pull your soapbox out from under you..

      there’s a gmo rice called “Golden Rice.” It has vitamin A in it and we send it to third world countries to feed kids. As the kids consume calories, they also get a dose of vitamin A. Lots of children have been saved from blindness because of this…

      We don’t send golden rice to other countries, that rather isn’t the point of golden rice, it is designed such that areas which suffer from vitamin A deficiency can actually grow golden rice thus removing the need to send supplements, sadly, because of the general level of fear and misinformation around GMOs golden rice has, as yet (possibly this year or next? It always seems to be soon, but never now), not been generally released as it is still in the process of getting through regulatory clearance. This is what wholesale fear and misinformation around GMOs in general brings. The kneejerk reaction of the chronically misinformed is, in this case, literally leaving kids to go blind when there is a solution waiting in the wings.

      On the claim of absolute dependance on Monsanto – not really the case, glyphosate has been off patent for some time, seed with the RR trait is readily available through many channels (Pioneer probably sells about as much RR traited corn seed as Monsanto does) and RR patents will start dropping in the next few years (RR soy first, then corn I believe) so although one is dependant on Monsanto for the trait you can easily purchase seed without – also at least in terms of Corn nobody much really uses saved seed – hybrid is the way to go, seed is purchased year on year anyway, so the switch from one brand to another is as simple as calling up your seed dealer and saying “yo, I don’t want to buy Monsanto seed any more, can you hook me up with some Pioneer?” – with soybean saving is likely more common in untraited seeds, but even here all one has to do is shell out for seed for a single year and assuming it is untraited you likely can find many varieties which you can use commercially year on year (although plant variety protection patents may still impose restrictions on the commercial sale of seed after the first year of production – breeders have to make bank too y’know)

    • Mary says:

      More food for thought: there are “conventionally” bred plants resistant to RoundUp or other herbicides. Are you opposed to them too?

      http://www.capitalpress.com/newest/JO-Canola-070512 (There’s more than those, that’s just the most recent post I have on them.)

  19. Indi says:

    I’m sorry Dan, but I have to call you out on this. Never admit you have made a mistake. It only makes you look weak. Your enemies will seize upon that weakness and bring you too your knees. You will NEVER survive long in The Klingon Empire.

    If, however you happen to be a puny human, admitting to changing your opinion based on new information is a good thing. It shows thoughtfulness and a tendency towards enlightenment. Too bad we’re not on Earth.

  20. Kevin Connelly says:

    ummm…Dan, you really may want to study this further.

  21. MikeB says:

    I linked here through Biofortified.

    Congrats on a great article and a truly mature habit of mind.

  22. Nessie says:

    Thanks for thinking critically! I mean it helps that I agree with you now, but the means do justify the ends. BTW, been a fan for years.

  23. Pavel2nd says:

    Being able to admit one was wrong is the mark of an open, critically thinking mind. However, one should not be too quick to admit error. I’ve looked through the links you list that were sent to you (although I haven’t listened to the podcasts), and all of them take the pro-gmo. position. This makes sense since your cartoon put people with that position on the defensive, and they wanted to set you straight. Anti-gmo people had no need to reinforce their position, since you cartoon agreed with them. Here’s a link to another article that takes a more neutral position: Genetically Modified Food – GM Foods List and Information. And for the record, I am anti-gmo.

  24. So you’re saying that Moe is fine – like Larry.

    I’m not all doom and gloom – but when strawberries are bred to be big, red with a long shelf life and totally without flavour, I have to wonder what else exists in that hybrid that we don’t know? And yes I eat some Frankenfoods but curious if there are any correlations between bioengineered foods and the rampant rise in food allergies and obesity problems. Is it just coincidence?

    • Piraro says:

      I can tell you that bioengineered foods are not responsible for obesity.

    • Mary Ann says:

      The movie “Genetic Roulette” http://youtu.be/wnlTYFKBg18 addresses the negative impact on human and animal health from GMO foods and talks about allergies. My and my friend’s dogs gut and allergy issues have been massively helped/cured after switching to Organic dog food. (see my post below).

      re: obesity –I think you are thinking about the prevalence of processed corn/soy byproducts in foods and this has nothing to do with GMO’s per say other than most corn and soy products are GMO. I think you are just mixing the issues.

      • Piraro says:

        Genetic Roulette and Jeffrey Smith have been pretty thoroughly discredited by the majority of the scientific community. And scientist who have any stake in the sale of GMO crops. It may turn out to be bad for people and animals, but so far, there isn’t any real scientific evidence that it is anything but safe. See other comments and links on my subsequent posts about this topic.

  25. Graham says:

    Fantastic post and comments. Rare indeed to see such honesty and wilingness tochange views with new information. Quite an inspiration to start the day with!

  26. Jeff says:

    Asbestos was once touted as the savior of mankind. Through the 50′s and 60′s they used that stuff on everything. For the past ten years, however, you can’t watch TV without seeing some bus bench lawyer who is willing to get you a chunk of the mesothelioma payout. What about the safety checks? Didn’t the government and science know about the health risks? Were they really surprised?

    They shouldn’t have been. The effects of breathing asbestos dust were first noticed by Pliny the Elder. He was last seen investigating an active volcano in Herculaneum, the neighboring city to Pompei.

    But, damn, there was a lot of money in it…. and sometimes, to stop and clean something up is more costly than to ram on through with it and hope for the best.

    Monsanto is spending an obscene amount of money to avoid regulation and labeling. Seems a silly thing to do if the product is going to save the world.

    http://foodwhistleblower.org/blog/23-2012/425-former-monsanto-employee-talks-ge-crop-concerns-amidst-deregulation-efforts

    http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/newshome/14812749/gm-crop-could-cause-liver-failure-scientist/

    http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-9613-monsantos-point-of-no-return.html

    http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/51-2012/14164-glyphosate-and-gmos-impact-on-crops-soils-animals-and-man-dr-don-huber

    http://www.aljazeera.com/video/americas/2012/07/20127863627904462.htmlhttp://www.aljazeera.com/video/americas/2012/07/20127863627904462.html

  27. Dan, I admire your courage to ‘admit’ you were wrong, but here’s the thing. You’re not. Not in the least. GMOs are bad news, and without writing a book, take a look at at the Institute for Responsible Technology’s 65 health risks of GM foods: http://www.responsibletechnology.org/gmo-dangers/65-health-risks/1notes. Scary FACTS. Not to mention what the fact that Monstanto has driven upwards of a quarter of a million farmers to commit suicide because of patent infringement with their toxic seeds. Read more here and what YOU (and everyone else) can do to avoid them: http://mixwellness.com/general/gmos-the-scary-truth-8-tips-to-avoid-them/. Big fan of your comics – keep doing what you do.

    • Piraro says:

      Without reading your links, I can tell you that a quarter of a million suicides because of Monsanto’s behavior is a myth. Period. Only people with very specific psychological traits are capable of suicide. It takes more than being run out of business by a corporation. I’m not saying Monsanto and their ilk are moral companies, I’m certain they aren’t, and I’m not saying no one has ever committed suicide because of Monsanto’s actions, but the number you are quoting simply cannot be true.

      A few minutes later: I did some quick research on this and the number of suicides varies wildly. Many have occurred, no doubt, but we are talking about Indian farmers who are also battling desperate poverty and rampant alcoholism. Farming is in crisis in India and you’d likely have similar results no matter what. That said, Monsanto’s defective seeds and harsh business practices do seem to be a major contributor. Personally, I find this a good reason to heavily regulate (or boycott) Monsanto and their ilk, but it doesn’t make me believe that genetic modification of plants––in a scientific sense––is inherently dangerous.

      • Ewan R says:

        “Only people with very specific psychological traits are capable of suicide.”

        This rather sidesteps the issue in an odd way – farmer suicides in India are widespread, are at a rate far higher than the national average, and are predominantly due to punitive money lending schemes in lieu of anything better – laying the blame at the feet of GMOs is utterly spurious, but so is attributing the horrible toll on simply psychological issues – these are people living close to poverty for whom the loss of a crop means literal financial ruin and shame – two factors which are quite clearly causative of suicide particularly in certain societies – farming is a year on year gamble, as with any population when you lose this gamble the risk of suicide goes up, particularly when the stakes involve loan sharks and public humiliation.

        Amusingly Kristen gets the spurious reasons behind Monsanto’s involvement wrong – the general arguement is that the seed doesn’t work, or costs too much, and therefore farmers are led to suicide – there is virtually no enforcement of IP laws in India (I’m not even sure to what extent there are IP laws which would extend to farmers – there is certainly a massive black market for Bt cotton seed(both real, and sadly fake – which leads to far more issues (hey, I won’t spray this because it is Bt….. oh, why did my crop just get eaten by bollworm?)))so claims that Monsanto are suing for patent infringement here smacks desperately of straw clutching.

        • Piraro says:

          I just read about this and updated my comment. Thanks.

          • Ewan R says:

            Well yes, but sadly you’ve updated it to reflect bloody nonsense rather than an accurate reflection of what has gone on.

            Methinks rather than doing quick research you’d be better served doing proper research.

            The scientific literature is clear that Bt cotton hybrids have been a boon to Indian farmers (where on earth you get the idea that the seeds are defective is beyond me, I’m assuming some asinine source like Vandana Shiva), they’ve significantly increased yields, income, and reduced insecticide use. Indian government reports document no change in suicide rate spanning the period of time when bt hybrids were introduced (one might expect a slight reduction, but a total crop failure due to drought hits a bt farmer just as hard as a non-Bt farmer and alas there is no protection against total crop loss.

          • Piraro says:

            A great deal of information on both sides of the “Indian suicide” issue is available and, as always, it is hard to say what is true. I found a number of what I consider to be reliable sources reporting the huge upswing of suicides by Indian farmers, Huffington Post was among them. Still, news reporting is often subject to rumor as well, unfortunately, so I can’t say for certain what the truth is here. If you have any sources that report otherwise, I’d be happy to have a look.

          • Ewan R says:

            ” great deal of information on both sides of the “Indian suicide” issue is available”

            Likewise a great deal of information on both sides of the creationsim issue is available, there’s a great deal of information available on the vaccination issue, and a great deal of information on the homeopathy issue.

            Volume of information available on any side of any given debate is irrelevant.

            (for the latter two if you predominantly referenced the HuffPo you would generally be completely and utterly wrong)

            “as always, it is hard to say what is true.”

            Not really.

            You’re looking at a technology which has been adopted by upwards of 90% of Indian cotton farmers, has been retained over the past decade and has been concurrent with Indian cotton production increasing massively. If the technology was a failure it’d show, either nobody would use it, or Indian cotton yields would be down – neither is the case, therefore one cannot logically conclude that the technology fails.

            http://environmentportal.in/files/file/Failure%20of%20Bt%20Cotton.pdf

            http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/ifpridp00808.pdf

            (again there is a vast amount of actual peer-reviewed information on the effects of Bt cotton in India, with like real data and whatnot, rather than simply made up nonsense (the 2nd paper here has graphs from page 55 onwards (figures A.1 through A.5 I believe) which show the trend in suicide amongst indian farmers alongside Bt cotton adoption – note that there is no change generally (a suggestion of a drop in 2 regions) – table A.2 is also rather telling – it details numerous actual studies and their broad findings – a quick skim shows that most of these show enormous profit increases, which hardly jives with failed seed causing suicide.

          • Piraro says:

            Excellent articles, Ewan. Thanks for sending the links. If these articles are correct––and they certainly have the credentials to be assumed so––the claims of catastrophe in India because of Bt cotton are mythology.

  28. Anne Larocca says:

    I’m not afraid of genetically modified foods (intentionally created or not), but I have always supported labeling them so that everyone can decide for themselves.

  29. Fernando says:

    I would suggest you watch a documentary called The Future of Food. I don’t know if you were wrong before or not, I don’t consume GMO’s because no one knows for sure what the consequences are, specially long term, so I am not going to gamble with the only thing I truly own, my body, for the sake of some corporation that wants to make more money than it already does.

  30. pam adkins says:

    I’ve been giving this topic a lot of thought recently. I’m 31 and was recently diagnosed with soy intolerance. Apparently, it’s rare in adults. Soy basically shuts down my digestive system, not allowing my body to absorb any nutrients, which shuts everything else down. Not sure why it’s not called an allergy in that case. I guess, because it takes a few days to kill me, instead of going through a “quick” anaphylactic shock. Anyways.. it got me to thinking about how I have to cut out all kinds of processed food. And don’t they use a lot of GMs in processed foods? Then it came as a shock, when 2 other people I know get handed the same diagnosis. Basically, vegetable oil is poisoning us, but why now? 3 people in 1 year? Sounds small, but imagine how many people I don’t know around here getting that same diagnosis. But I figured I’d share this article with you. It’s scary that we pass GM genes to our kids…

    http://www.rodale.com/genetically-modified-food-0/

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  32. Emma says:

    Actually, there’s quite a big difference between genetic modification and traditional plant breeding. For generations, what we’ve been able to do is cross-breed closely related plants– say a Russet potato and a wild potato plant– to increase desirable traits and decrease undesirable ones. In genetic engineering, the genes from two very dissimilar organisms can be combined– a bacterium with a potato, for instance. And the truth is, the jury is out regarding health concerns, but the potential for harm is great. For instance, if allergens are part of the genetic engineering process, those allergens are now in your food. And although GMOs have been part of our diet for decades now, the actual scientific testing has all been short-term, high-dose testing. Adverse reactions to food can go unnoticed and unreported for much longer, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been saying for a while now that the testing that has been done is not adequately rigorous or independent. If Monstanto funds a test on safety, for instance, the test will show the products are safe, even if the scientists are well-meaning.

    Additionally, the environmental risks are untold and terrifying. If we engineer insecticides into corn, for instance, then not only are we eating toxins, but when those plants’ pollens inevitably “escape” to fertilize both wild and cultivated crops, then we have bred insecticide into those plants as well. And since our planet is a series of ecosystems, harm to one species inevitably equals harm to another.

    Then, of course, there are the enormous ethical concerns. If I can hold a patent on a plant, I can engineer the seeds of that plant to be sterile. So you, my farmer customer, must buy new seed from me every year, rather than saving the seed you have, as has been done for generations. I can also patent an pig, which is a completely horrifying concept. GMO farming also decreases biodiversity and does not actually appear to increase yields significantly, particularly in times of drought– see, for instance http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/high-and-dry.html. And if GMOs are so swell, the producers should label it

    So is genetically modified food bad? Well, nobody really knows, but I’m not willing to take that chance with my health, with my family’s health, with the planet’s health, with the well-being of our food producers. Me, I will stick with certified organic, and continue to fight Big Food.

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  34. Mary Ann says:

    I think the GMO issue is complex and you are minimizing it with a YES or NO. The results of GMO crops have been focused on crop productivity – the almighty dollar. Nobody seems to care about the effects on the health or degradation of humans, non-human animals and the environment. “Genetic Roulette” addresses a lot of these impacts and you can watch it here free: http://youtu.be/wnlTYFKBg18. At the very least we should be labeling GMOs like the European Union. Let the people know and let them decide.

    Now surely GMOs aren’t responsible for all health issues (like sometimes this movie infers), but I, too, have experienced first hand (along with my animals) a hugely positive change in health from going Organic. My dog’s gut issue disappeared when I switched her to organic kibble. It was a small miracle after years of food switching. A friend’s dog constantly itched and was on allergy meds, all while on an extremely high end kibble. She switched to organic kibble (very expensive BTW) after I told her my story and now her dog rarely scratches and no bald spots anymore. The kibble is expensive, but her Vet bills and meds were way more!

    Seems our brains are too big for our own good and playing God has been scary business. Worried about feeding the world?? GMOs are a bandaid at best with an avalanche of side effects that (in my opinion) negate any benefits. Your best solution is to get loud about the Human Population Crisis and eat a whole foods, plant-based diet (or get darn close). Do things you CAN control, like planting an organic garden in your back/front yard. The taste of its harvest is heavenly compared to bland GMO produce.

    WHOEVER CONTROLS THE FOOD CONTROLS THE PEOPLE

  35. Christine Erickson says:

    Hi Dan,

    Have always loved your comics and recently discovered your blog. While I honestly don’t know whether GMOs are safe, I don’t know that the other side has substantially proven that they are safe and it actually isn’t the same as hybridization. If they are so safe, then why are the large corporations so against labeling GMO foods? Let the consumers decide. I have been on the fence for a while about this issue, but this evidence-based report co-authored by a molecular geneticist was very illuminating. http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.3b.pdf

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