So... what's the deal with GM food?

Orsorum

Lifer
Dec 26, 2001
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So diverse that I'm having trouble getting a handle on exact what the main issues are, who the main players are, all that. So I'm appealing to the political center of the intarweb to help me out and solicit you for your thoughts on the issue and any articles you may have come across on the subject.

Cheers!
Nate
 

Hayabusa Rider

Admin Emeritus & Elite Member
Jan 26, 2000
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I'll cut through the crap for ya :D


GM foods aren't going to cause problems when eaten. There is no real magic here. The food is safe

BUT

The real problem IMO is that no one knows precisely how the pollen from GM plants will interact with wild type. You are introducing a whole new unknown element, and once the genie is out of the bottle you can't get it back.

A few other political and business concerns, however they are trivial compared to the above.
 

Perknose

Forum Director & Omnipotent Overlord
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Oct 9, 1999
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Standing on the fearless frankenfood frontier, I can see a time in the near future when you'll get your viagra and methedrine directly in your freedom fries . . . guaranteeing a constant, angry hard on.

We'll all be neocons then.
 

Orsorum

Lifer
Dec 26, 2001
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Originally posted by: Perknose
Standing on the fearless frankenfood frontier, I can see a time in the near future when you'll get your viagra and methedrine directly in your freedom fries . . . guaranteeing a constant, angry hard on.

We'll all be neocons then.

... If I were writing this article in my journal I'd so use your sentence word for word. :p
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
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PRO:
1) GM foods have the potential to dramatically increase crop yields and nutritional value.
2) GM foods are a vital form of intellectual property for US Agribusiness.
3) GM foods provide a cheap, efficient alternative means of producing medications.
4) In some ways, GM is merely Gregor Mendel with better technology.
5) GM foods could pontentially eradicate food allergies.

CON:
1) Humans evolved with their food supply. Now we are evolving our food supply . . . on a human time scale.
2) Eventually GM crop genomes will merge with natural crops. No one knows what the outcome will be . . . but it's reasonable to believe they will NOT be all good.
3) GM foods may usher in a widespread food allergy reactions.

EU populations are broadly against GM, although much of their opposition is not based in fact but fear.

The US population is quite ignorant. Much of our corn and soy products are GM-derived. Basically the FDA/USDA are running an expansive, poorly controlled experiment on US citizens. There's little data to conclusively establish beneficence or malfeasance.

US agribusiness broadly supports GM. Their motive is purely financial although they often cry crocodile tears about the plight of poor farmers and starving populations in the developing world.

Most developing countries don't really care but they cannot grow GM if they want to export to the EU, while the US tries it's damn best to force developing nations to plant GM crops.
 

AnitaPeterson

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Apr 24, 2001
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One more issue... GM plants are patented (mostly in the U.S., the rest of the world is still debating whether you can patent living organisms), and producers like Monsanto are making things like special corn, which is highly productive but sterile - thus forcing GM farmers to buy seeds from Monsanto from year to year.

BUT.... the environemnt is not enclosed, and genetic material escapes in the wild. At least two danger arise: natural crops can also become sterile and neighbourhood farmers on whose land the GM has spilled can be sued for unlicensed using patented products.

See how complicated things can be?
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
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Over the next half century genetic engineering could feed humanity and solve a raft of environmental ills?if only environmentalists would let it

The article is horribly biased towards the pro-GM camp. The author clearly cites the tremendous potential collective benefits of GM, clearly notes that profit motive is likely driving the majority of innovations in this field, and then concludes that GM is the world's greatest hope.

The author is nearly orgasmic in describing GM's positive qualities but gives minimal print to the very real dangers.

This statement is arguably the best takehome from this article . . .
In short, realizing the great?probably unique?environmental potential of biotech will require stewardship. "It's a tool," Sara Scherr, an agricultural economist with the conservation group Forest Trends, told me, "but it's absolutely not going to happen automatically."
 

glenn1

Lifer
Sep 6, 2000
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I'll remind you of this when the author's predictions come true and environmentalists become fanbois of GM but too ashamed to admit it, protesting the capitalist pig "Big Ag" companies in public while begging the same companies behind closed doors for donations to places like Africa.

In the meanwhile, enjoy looking as idiotic in your Chicken Little "the sky is falling" routine as the conservatives do in theirs bitching about gay marriage. In ten years, both will be fait accompli and your kids will shake their heads at you in amazement that these things were even an issue.
 

Hayabusa Rider

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Originally posted by: glenn1
I'll remind you of this when the author's predictions come true and environmentalists become fanbois of GM but too ashamed to admit it, protesting the capitalist pig "Big Ag" companies in public while begging the same companies behind closed doors for donations to places like Africa.

In the meanwhile, enjoy looking as idiotic in your Chicken Little "the sky is falling" routine as the conservatives do in theirs bitching about gay marriage. In ten years, both will be fait accompli and your kids will shake their heads at you in amazement that these things were even an issue.


You know about the biology of this how?
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
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Originally posted by: glenn1
I'll remind you of this when the author's predictions come true and environmentalists become fanbois of GM but too ashamed to admit it, protesting the capitalist pig "Big Ag" companies in public while begging the same companies behind closed doors for donations to places like Africa.

In the meanwhile, enjoy looking as idiotic in your Chicken Little "the sky is falling" routine as the conservatives do in theirs bitching about gay marriage. In ten years, both will be fait accompli and your kids will shake their heads at you in amazement that these things were even an issue.
Let me help you understand . . . Monsanto developed a seed variety called "Terminators". Yeah they were pest resistant but they could not be maintained year to year as seed stock. In essence, the poor farmer in Sudan that used to save part of this years wheat in order to produce next years crop couldn't do that anymore. She would be forced to buy new seed every year. The billions of people on subsistence farming are unlikely to have the cheddar to make such purchases.

Your link was an excellent FOXNews excerpt. GM has GREAT potential. Short of limiting reproduction and killing off the elderly . . . nothing will come close to feeding the world . . . except for broad-based application of crop maximizing GM.

Unfortunately, it will take a UN fund of several billions EVERY year to disseminate the material and information sufficient to safely and effectively execute GM on a global scale. That message is embedded in the article you posted but the authorities cited (and even the author) admit that it's not happening. The author largely blames the environmental movement (which is partially correct) but he glosses over the often malignant effect of profit motive and negligence of countries.

I wish the rosey scenario that Rauch espouses could become a reality but we are not on that path. We are on a far less certain course of "limited" NGO support for exploring the collective benefits of GM . . . plus the very different agenda of the companies holding patents for GM.
 
Aug 14, 2001
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Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
Most developing countries don't really care but they cannot grow GM if they want to export to the EU, while the US tries it's damn best to force developing nations to plant GM crops.

I've actually read that the EU recently lifted the GM food ban on one of the types of corn...probably creating a path for all GM foods now.
 

glenn1

Lifer
Sep 6, 2000
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Your link was an excellent FOXNews excerpt. GM has GREAT potential. Short of limiting reproduction and killing off the elderly . . . nothing will come close to feeding the world . . . except for broad-based application of crop maximizing GM.

Unfortunately, it will take a UN fund of several billions EVERY year to disseminate the material and information sufficient to safely and effectively execute GM on a global scale. That message is embedded in the article you posted but the authorities that cite it (and even the author) admit that it's not happening. The author largely blames the environmental movement (which is partially correct) but he glosses over the often malignant effect of profit motive and negligence of countries.

I wish the rosey scenario that Rauch espouses could become a reality but we are not on that path. We are on a far less certain course of "limited" NGO support for exploring the collective benefits of GM . . . plus the very different agenda of the companies holding patents for GM.

The same thing is going on with AIDS medicines. The third world can't afford those either, and apart from the big pharma companies giving them sizable amounts of them for free or greatly reduced price as a charity, the third world doesn't get them. Lord only knows I don't see many organizations on either the left or right jumping up to reach for their wallets to pay for them. But most normal people wouldn't say that pharma companies should stop researching since not everyone can afford their drugs. Yet that seems to be one of your main beefs when it comes to GM food.
 

BaliBabyDoc

Lifer
Jan 20, 2001
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Originally posted by: RabidMongoose
Originally posted by: BaliBabyDoc
Most developing countries don't really care but they cannot grow GM if they want to export to the EU, while the US tries it's damn best to force developing nations to plant GM crops.

I've actually read that the EU recently lifted the GM food ban on one of the types of corn...probably creating a path for all GM foods now.
As part of the bargain it is likely the EU will require labeling of GM food. With overwelmingly negative publicity for GM it is quite possible the public will reject GM food.

IIRC, you are referring to a regulatory bodies decision to allow GM given it meets certain standards. That's a very different scenario from the US . . . where FDA/USDA spend far more time trying to sell GM than regulate it.

The same thing is going on with AIDS medicines. The third world can't afford those either, and apart from the big pharma companies giving them sizable amounts of them for free or greatly reduced price as a charity, the third world doesn't get them. Lord only knows I don't see many organizations on either the left or right jumping up to reach for their wallets to pay for them. But most normal people wouldn't say that pharma companies should stop researching since not everyone can afford their drugs. Yet that seems to be one of your main beefs when it comes to GM food.
There's a HUGE difference between producing an inferior crop (current situation) and losing the ability to produce a crop at all (possibly scenario with Terminator type seeds). Akin to your analogy I could care less if Pfizer develops a cure for the common cold but it costs $10K. Obviously, I wouldn't buy it b/c only the outrageously wealthy can afford such a luxury. Now if the use of this remedy increases the likelihood that I get a cold . . . then I believe I would be justifiably pissed off.

I'm glad you brought up AIDS medications. The original discounts that Big Pharma offered for HIV meds was typically 50% or so. Eventually they migrated to 90% but considering many Americans would struggle with 10% of the monthly costs of Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy (HAART) offering such a solution to the developing world is basically teasing. Fortunately at least two companies in India flat out ignored intellectual property claims (under the protection of the Indian government). Their rationale . . . human lives are more important than fat profits for Big Pharma.

Abbott raises price of HIV med by 400%

Abbott controls ritonavir and another drug Kaletra (which is a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir). Abbott's excuse for jacking up the price of ritonavir was that ritonavir would still constitute less than 1/4 of the daily cost for HAART. In essence, Abbott is saying it wants more profit. Of course, my theory is that Abbott jacked up the price of ritonavir in order to get more patients (and physicians) to switch to Kaletra. At current prices, a 20day supply of ritonavir (Norvir) costs $1100 while a 20day supply of lopinavir/ritonavir costs $1300.

Before the price hike, ritonavir alone was less than 1/5 the monthly cost of the Kaletra combo. You see . . . combination therapy (HAART) means multiple meds (often from multiple companies). Abbott wanted to discourage patients from using other meds combined with ritonavir so they jacked up the price of ritonavir . . . except for ritonavir combined with lopinavir . . . in the product that Abbott sells.
 

glenn1

Lifer
Sep 6, 2000
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I think we may be on the same page but just looking down different ends of the telescope. I think we both agree that GM could be a huge benefit in particular to the third world, if the costs can be either brought low enough that the third world can afford them directly, or if they are subsidized to where they can be afforded. I think we both agree that the Ag companies will need to and deserve to make a profit to develop said crops, which enables the distribution question above to even be entertained.

What I don't get, however, is your underlying opinion on whether you on balance support or oppose a greater rollout of GM products. You kinda touched on technological advances being a net benefit to humankind even if not all can afford them, so it seems you're in favor of GM, but are simply trying to find a way to disseminate their benefits to the greatest number of people regardless of the economics of it.
 
Aug 14, 2001
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As part of the bargain it is likely the EU will require labeling of GM food. With overwelmingly negative publicity for GM it is quite possible the public will reject GM food.

I believe that it does have to be labelled and the overwhelming majority doesn't support GM food. However, I wouldn't be surprised at all if it becomes far more common in the future.
 

Hayabusa Rider

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Originally posted by: glenn1
I think we may be on the same page but just looking down different ends of the telescope. I think we both agree that GM could be a huge benefit in particular to the third world, if the costs can be either brought low enough that the third world can afford them directly, or if they are subsidized to where they can be afforded. I think we both agree that the Ag companies will need to and deserve to make a profit to develop said crops, which enables the distribution question above to even be entertained.

What I don't get, however, is your underlying opinion on whether you on balance support or oppose a greater rollout of GM products. You kinda touched on technological advances being a net benefit to humankind even if not all can afford them, so it seems you're in favor of GM, but are simply trying to find a way to disseminate their benefits to the greatest number of people regardless of the economics of it.

My concern is in this whole exchange you are hung up entirely on profit and the food, and have ignored the very real threats that were brought up

"One possibility is that transgenic crops would spread from fields into forests or other wild lands and there become environmental nuisances, or worse."

" A further risk is that transgenic plants might cross-pollinate with neighboring wild plants, producing "superweeds" or other invasive or destructive varieties in the wild"


In that entire article, that is pretty much the limit of the writers concerns, and I expect that is more that many who would promote this.

The call is for regulation, but by whom? People who believe that the obligation of a business is to it's shareholders?

Bush has demonstrated that he can't be trusted with his stacking of scientific panels to get a desired answer, and I don't know if Kerry is better.

This is entirely driven by profit. Which fox gets to guard the hen house?

I have been a consultant for companies in bio tech fields. I have seen how profit drives science. Often it's good, but sometimes it's really really ugly. Oh the lab safeguards are in place, but it is the culture of profit to make money. IMO when profit and the public safety are in conflict, profit needs to lose. It has great potential, but that is all for nothing if a gene gets inserted into a plant it it goes like hell into something we can't control.

With GM plants, INDEPENDENT WELL FUNDED STUDIES BY INDEPENDENT SCIENTISTS NEED TO BE DONE.

It is THEY, not you or me or Bush or Monsanto who needs do the studies, and make the recommendations, and they need to be taken and not subverted.

The more I see this reduced to food and dollars, the less I like it, not because of GM but because of the recklessness of the promoters of these foods.

Will that happen? Who knows? I don't. You don't. The writer of the article doesn't. The government doesn't and neither does Monsanto. Many are for ramping up production. Maybe Pandora's box is empty before it's opened, but maybe it's not.

Caveat Emptor
 

chess9

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Apr 15, 2000
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We've had, what, about 5-6 years of experience with GM corn and wheat? Have researchers found any impact on the vigor of non-GM strains?

I see both sides of this argument, but I would hesitate to put control of the world's food supply in the hands of a corporate few, particularly Monsanto. Allowing them to patent that stuff strikes me as ill-advised, or the patents should be specifically limited to short time periods.

On the other hand, the health claims made against GM plants seem absurd to me, excepting the allergy angle. But, shouldn't we have seen an allergy uptick from people eating foods made from GM wheat/corn if that were a problem?

Seems like a lot of questions need to be answered and I'll bet we only know a few of the questions. :)

-Robert
 

lozina

Lifer
Sep 10, 2001
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You guys eat all the GM food you want, I'll stick to organic :)

If in 50 years all you guinnea pigs are still alive and well, perhaps I'll consider eating it
 

onelove

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Dec 1, 2001
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good thread with good executive summaries and points.

The GM debate has a lot to do with balancing risks and benefits & how you balance them depends on who you are and where you come from. What is not wise is delegating the responsibility of this decisionmaking to the producers (Monsanto et al) and their lobbyists. Only one side of this debate is currently represented in America and, as a result, Agribusiness is doing what it wants.

As glenn1 points out, this is in the process of becoming a fait accompli. However, I don't think the results will be known in just 10 years. The genes that are cross-bred/cross-pollinated into our non-GM crops will persist, even if the experiment is halted.

I'm not claiming to know the result, but I think the question is "what precautions are reasonable to take with regard to the world food supply?"
 

cquark

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Apr 4, 2004
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Originally posted by: chess9
I see both sides of this argument, but I would hesitate to put control of the world's food supply in the hands of a corporate few, particularly Monsanto. Allowing them to patent that stuff strikes me as ill-advised, or the patents should be specifically limited to short time periods.

Patents are one of the most troubling aspects of GM foods. Our elected government should not grant control of our food supply to the unelected governments of these corporations.

On the other hand, the health claims made against GM plants seem absurd to me, excepting the allergy angle. But, shouldn't we have seen an allergy uptick from people eating foods made from GM wheat/corn if that were a problem?

While GM opponents have often wildly overstated their objections, there are a few legitimate reasons for concern, which should be addressed with due dilligence:

1. Genetic "engineering" is a wild overstatement of our capabilities. The techniques to transfer genes are not precise and many times copy chunks of DNA that aren't part of the desired gene. A genome is also not as simple as a blueprint and we're still learning how protein synthesis works. Not all proteins are produced by the DNA:RNA:amino acid pathway we were taught in high school, and even for those that do, other genes often affect the expression of the desired gene in complex ways.

In summary, transferring genes is not as simple as cut and paste and its results are not always predictable.

2. One popular type of GM modification is having plants produce their own pesticides inside their cells. These pesticides cannot be washed off, and we don't know what the long term effects of ingesting them.

3. GM organisms crossbreed with other plants, creating problems that range from legal (Monsanto has sued farmers for "stealing" their GM crops through wind pollination) to biological (farmers losing their crops due to being pollinated with Terminator genes.)
 

chess9

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Apr 15, 2000
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cquark:

But, do we have ONE documented case of health problems from GM crops? The radical fringe is raising these draconian concerns about health safety, so I wonder if there is any KNOWN health safety risk this far out.

Monsanto may have sued someone but I doubt they would or will win. That's a big stretch. The Terminator gene could be a big, big problem though if it turns out to be a REAL problem. Can you imagine Monsanto getting to decide who gets to eat corn or wheat? Good grief, scary that....

Helpful post, yours.
-Robert
 

cquark

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Apr 4, 2004
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Originally posted by: chess9
cquark:

But, do we have ONE documented case of health problems from GM crops?

It depends on whose documentation you believe, and frankly, I don't trust either the anti-GM reporters or the GM company scientists. Companies have buried too many studies that have shown negative results for me to trust them, and some of the anti-GM reporters make absurd and unscientific statements.

Actually, I don't trust most university medical researchers these days either after the reading the 1999 JAMA article about the exaggeration of the positive effects of commercial drugs. Researchers who publish negative results tend to not have their grants renewed, so they rarely submit such results for publication. Even for articles submitted for peer reviewed publication, it's so expensive and time-consuming to replicate the experiments, that they're rarely checked.


Monsanto may have sued someone but I doubt they would or will win. That's a big stretch.

Not that big of a stretch, as they ended up appealing all the way to the [Canadian] Supreme Court, but I just googled and found out that Percy Schmeiser won [http://www.percyschmeiser.com and doesn't have to pay Monsanto. As you can imagine, it's not cheap as a single farmer to fight a multibillion dollar company for years. There are some interesting references to other court cases where Monsanto is suing farmers on the site above too.
 

onelove

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Dec 1, 2001
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Originally posted by: chess9Monsanto may have sued someone but I doubt they would or will win. That's a big stretch.
-Robert

If Monsanto sued you today, as a wrongful consumer of unlicenced GM wheat, which you unwittingly ate and, worse, provided to others for FREE at a church picnic, and it cost you many thousands of dollars to defend the case over the course of years and years, would you consider yourself to have won, even if you vindicated yourself of the charges? Corporate citizens will not hesitate to use litigation like this to protect their intellectual property.

Sure, the example is silly, but even a ridiculous lawsuit costs a lot of money and time to defend and a lot more to do so successfully. Just a thought.