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We’re Scientists, Moms, And We Avoid Non-GMO Products (medium.com/biochicagmo)
418 points by ph0rque on Nov 7, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 507 comments



I find it hard reading articles like this. I agree with its main premise, but it fails to mention the valid points of the other side. And there are two:

1. Some GMO has a plant produce extra chemicals, specifically, pesticides

2. There is a unknown side to GMO, perhaps it can lead to super species that we can never get rid of in the future and will destroy bio diversity.

(1) are banned in the EU for human consumption, a reasonable choice I think until we have more data.

(2) is a much lower risk than most would thing. But it is one of those things where the naive/amateur answer is far from reality, and that naive answer is scary. (Like nuclear, or more rules vs more responsibility.)

When done responsibly, GMOs are fine. And even necessary if we want to feed 8 billion people and more in the future.

But an article that fails to mention valid (remember the eu) downsides, and discuss the tradeoff, will have a polarizing effect: Those pro GMO will think score and think anti GMO is stupid. But anti GMO will see their biggest concerns not mentioned, and will declare fail and conclude their position is well grounded.


I am listening to you and your concerns. You are afraid that what we don't know could have disastrous consequences for us all. You want to see it demonstrated that serious people are taking these real, serious concerns seriously. After all, taking people's concerns seriously is the best way to make people feel validated and thus you can calm their fears, right? We all know that taking arbitrary concerns seriously never validates them.

> (1) are banned in the EU for human consumption, a reasonable choice I think until we have more data.

Seems very reasonable. How much data is enough? How will we know when we've got so much data that we can start just ignoring those who call for more study as unreasonable? When they're convinced, perhaps?

> (2) is a much lower risk than most would thing. But it is one of those things where the naive/amateur answer is far from reality, and that naive answer is scary. (Like nuclear, or more rules vs more responsibility.)

Seems reasonable. How do you propose to address these unknowns? And are you aware that non-GMO plants can product dangerous super species we can never get rid of? Purple loosestrife comes to mind.

Having listened to your concerns and seriously pondered them, all I see is fear. Unbounded fear. Nothing in here leads me to think these fears will be calmed by study. The nature of science is that there's always another unknown to point to, and GMOs are seen by many as inherently scary - unlike safe, cuddly natural plants, obviously.

What I see is people who have a fundamentally emotional position and think that study will validate them. They will continue to want more study until their fears are validated, and every result that fails to do so only feeds their fears.


My sister worked as a plant geneticist for a while creating GMO foods and decided to avoid eating them. They are essentially unregulated. Full on FDA style testing seems overkill, but right now it's just wild west with essentially zero oversight.

Honestly, there is a tiny but real risk however the benefit for upper middle class westerners is basically non existent. Eventually, someone is going to make a major mistake that harms millions.

PS: It's really not about existing GMO, it's the next change someone makes. IMO, labeling GMO by most recent year would make me feel better. After 10 years it's far more likely to be safe than eating the first major batch.


This is a great summary.

The entire argument frustrates me, because the two sides appear to be "GMOs are safe!" and "GMOs are inherently harmful!" I can't take either position, I want a way to assert "GMOs represent rapid and potent change with limited oversight, regulation, and trial periods!"

There's no reason at all to oppose GMOs inherently. If you use CRISPR to turn one strain of well-established corn into another strain of established corn, no one is going to get hurt. But that's not what's happening; the point of concern is that these changes are going into national consumption with minimal testing.

GMO-by-year makes more sense to me than any other position going, and yet somehow your comment is the first time I've seen it proposed.


It seems kind of pointless to label entire products with "GMO" or "non-GMO" when it:s the particular strain or vendor that matters. If there is to be a nationwide GMO labeling requirement, I would like to see what modifications were made to each ingredient, or at least a unique cultivar identifier that can be viewed on the USDA website.

I think publicly defined testing protocols could go a long way to assuage anti-GMO fears, but my main concern is monopolization of the food supply and an overuse of monocultures.


The idea behind general labeling is that you can decide to abstain from all GMOs if you so wish. Almost no one is qualified to determine which GMOs are ok based on sepcific changes to the DNA.


The idea behind the objection to that is that "Contains GMOs" actually tells you very, very little. It doesn't tell you what was modified, what the modifications are, or what they do.


No, I was responding to the grandparent saying that labeling GMOs was pointless. It is not pointless to those who wish to avoid them altogether. You don't need to know what was changed if you main concern is the binary question of whether it is a GMO or not.

It is also no true that it tells you very very little. It tells you that there are transgenic modifications to the product's genes. That's not "very very little".


You and I will simply have to agree to differ on this subject. I don't agree that "there are transgenic modifications to the product's genes" is a substantive information gain.


To put it in more concrete terms, unless P(bad|GMO) >> P(bad), the information gained by a generic GMO label is at best minimal. At that point a "contains GMO" label isn't much more useful than a "contains baryonic matter" label.

In anecdotal terms, suppose I'm mildly allergic to a particular cultivar of apples, but some apples are okay. Saying that a product contains apples doesn't help me know whether it's safe for me to eat. This hypothetically allergic me would need to know that it contains red delicious apples, or granny smith apples.

Some GMOs simply add vitamins. Those are likely to be safer than GMOs that increase herbicidal resistance, which are in turn likely to be safer than GMOs that introduce pesticides. If a subset of the population is sensitive to Bt toxin, they need to know what kind of GMO is in a product, not just that something has GMO (as Bt, according to other comments in the thread, can be used even on organic-labeled foods).


> Some GMOs simply add vitamins

Are you saying there are genetic modifications that do _absolutely nothing_ but add vitamins to food? I not an expert, but that's not my understanding of how DNA works.


Golden rice is a GMO that has been modified to induce production of beta-carotene in the endosperm.


I think you misunderstood my question. I understand that there are GMOs that have increased vitamin quantities. What I'm asking is, is it known that the newly introduced genes do absolutely nothing other than increase beta-carotene? Don't most, if not all, genes have a multitude of effects, some obvious and some subtle, and many often unknown or not understood?


Well, increasing the beta-carotene also makes the rice kinda orange-y and obviously it costs some energy from the rest of the plant. Though that's maybe not quite what you mean.

Lots of genes only seem to do one thing. HERC2 seems to only affect eye color. If you're asking if it's possible that maybe we don't have a 100% perfect understanding of genetics, then of course it's possible. It's always possible there's something we don't know. Science does not deal in perfect certainties.

Would I be correct is following your logic to the implication that there's a significant possibility for effects we didn't anticipate and don't understand in genetic engineering? Of course that's possible. That's why GMOs are tested.

Is it possible that there's some obscure, subtle side-effect we won't notice for a long time to come? Yes. Is it likely? As near as we can tell, no. Can this doubt ever be fully assuaged by science? Not reasonably on anything more complex than the simplest of yeasts.

Is this a special threat, uniquely applicable only to GMOs? No. The same potential is present - even greater, due to number of mutations - in selective breeding.


Yes but why? Why not put this effort towards simply reintroducing biodiversity to our crops??

How do you counter the very obvious profit motive here? "Gee Beta Carotene I Understand That's Good For Your Health, I'll Pay A Premium For That". How do you prevent that profit motive from minimizing unprofitable research into long-term health impacts? Face it, there will NEVER be a money motive to really figure this stuff out, that's why we're only finding out about BPAs now: there's just zero money in doing anything but the minimum due-diligence, as forced on you by the FDA, which is already bought out anyway!

It's like the nuke argument. Sure GMOs are potentially fantastic but as a race, or at least this capitalist version of a race, humans seem to be incapable of managing technology this fearsome.


To help support your position, corn has been modified to produce vitamin C. Vitamin A typically comes from genetically modified soy. Riboflavin mostly comes from genetically modified microorganisms.

These additions are a concern to the gmo free vitamin consumers. Both https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2016/05/03/vitamins-n... and http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/oct08/vitamins_gmo_cha... make this claim - both sides. I'll accept it as true.


People are qualified to choose who they trust to say that a particular GMO is ok. Then they can avoid that GMO. You know; exactly like how we handle everything else that we are not expert in.


Fair enough, I missed the "vendor" mention in the parent's comment. But my main point was to address the fact that labels with just "GMO" are pointless, which is certainly not the case.


They are pointless from a rational/scientific perspective, as they add no usable information w.r.t. safety or nutrition. Identifying strains specifically would satisfy both the scientific interest (quantifying safety) and the anti-GMO interest (feeling good about being non-GMO).


> as they add no usable information w.r.t. safety or nutrition.

That is where the disagreement lies. It is not clear to everyone that all current and future GMOs are safe. To patronize and label skeptics as unscientific is intellectually dishonest and a form of orwellian groupthink. There are plenty of people in the industry that claim that GMOs are not very well tested. There is no scientific reason to believe that a dangerous GMO could not be inadvertently created. A degenerate case would be to insert pufferfish toxin genes into a tomato. Obviously no one would do that intentionally, but a much more subtle issue could be carried over in a more seemingly benign gene transfer. To claim that we understand everything that genes do is a utter lie. They are orders of magnitude more complex than software, and yet we introduce bugs into software all the time.

There is also lot of money and political interest behind making GMO critics look bad. There is nothing unscientific about questioning the safety of a complex engineered product that we ingest. Just look at the recent Soylent fiasco, which is a much simpler to understand product than GMOs.

We are not talking about flat earth or reptilian overlords here. This is a totally legitimate thing to question, and decide to opt-out on until there is more time and data available.


There's no reason to believe that a dangerous plant could not be inadvertently created through regular breeding, either. In fact, we know with 100% certainty that this has occurred.

There is excellent reason to be skeptical of everything here. GMOs are not special. Given that we know the worst has occurred with non-GMOs, one would expect intense skepticism of non-GMO breeding.

How much data would satisfy you?


To claim that selective breeding and transgenic modifications are the same is disingenuous.


I'm saying that selective breeding has literally produced a toxic potato: http://boingboing.net/2013/03/25/the-case-of-the-poison-pota...

And of course I won't claim they're the same thing. They're two different ways to the same goal, though.

How much time and data would convince you? You say you want to opt out until there is more. How much more?


Different people have different standards. All I ask for is a simple label on the food. I'm not asking to ban anything or add more rigor to the FDA process or for anyone to change their practices. A simple label. It is utterly bizarre to me that anyone finds this offensive.


This is all I want, a label I'm happy to ignore. Then this silly debate can go away.


Sure, but the label tells us nothing unless it identifies the particular strain(s) that have been modified. Simple "GMO" vs. "non-GMO" labels are anti-informative. They have net negative utility as they don't tell us whether something is safe or dangerous, they just muddy a discussion that could be perfectly clear.

IMO anti-GMO advocates should be pushing for more specific strain/cultivar labels on food, not just a useless label that says "produced with genetic engineering." Then pro-GMO, tentatively accepting, and anti-GMO groups can all be satisfied.


I submit that the "GMO"/"GMO-free" labeling serves precisely the intended purpose. If you believe that all GMOs are unsafe and evil, then what more could people possibly need to know?


But it's rationally unsound and unscientific to argue that all GMOs are unsafe and evil. So if anti-GMO people want to stop people from eating/producing GMOs, they should find less opposition to specific labeling than to generic labeling. Otherwise it's too easy to paint them as uninformed.

I think you're right that the intended purpose of generic GMO labels is to muddy the issue and spread uncertainty, which is exactly what they do. I am arguing that this strategy is counterproductive in the long-term, both to the anti-GMO cause and to society's health and informational well-being.


99.9% of consumers would have no idea what to do with that information and most products would contain several strains of each ingredient anyway.


99.9% of consumers don't know what to do with current ingredient lists except be vaguely confused by the long list of scary-sounding chemicals. We should probably still keep those.


Those ingredient lists are often used by people with allergies. So, they are useful to a wide swath of people.


Potatoes are members of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes and peppers and a few others. Of course selective breeding can produce toxic potatoes if you don't test for the levels of the toxin they're already known to produce. Also, the claim that there's a lot more risk and uncertainty with conventional breeding doesn't stand up, because GMO crops build on top of conventional breeding and inherit its risks too, and because it's nowhere near as clean, simple and interaction-free as you might naively expect.


You're right! GMOs don't start from fresh crops from the wild. They start with existing strains. In that sense, they inherit old risks.

What they don't do is continue adding on the risks from the process of selective breeding itself. I don't expect that direct genetic engineering is clean, simple, and interaction-free. I just expect that it has a somewhat easier time targeting specific changes than barnyard breeding by light of Uranium.


This is the same problem we all run into when trying to express anything complicated. A vast majority of people hew to a polar position, make a lot of noise, and drown out the reasonable middle. Given that the reasonable middle is usually relatively small, and the type who is hard to sell shit to in the first place, they're ignored.


> Given that the reasonable middle is usually relatively small

In your opinion, who are the "reasonable middle" in the questions of (1) is evolution true, (2) are vaccines safe and (3) is climate change true? And are they small?


None of those are particularly controversial from a scientific perspective, only a political one. Meanwhile the long-term future and impact of GMO's and the companies who control them are genuinely uncertain, not merely political charged.


Actually, there is a slightly higher consensus (89% of scientists) in GMO safety than there is for human-influenced climate change (88% of scientists).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-entine/post_8915_b_6572130...


>Meanwhile the long-term future and impact of GMO's and the companies who control them are genuinely uncertain...

That article in no way addresses my point, and I'm not in the camp who believes that GMO's are currently unsafe. If you've been reading the comment chain, you'd be aware that the discussion is about the largely unregulated nature of the beast, not to mention economic implications.

As for a consensus on AGW, IIRC wasn't that more like 97%? I mean, unless you pad out the numbers by looking at people outside of the relevant fields of course.


Seems like the sort of common-sense strain identification regulation we should require for all crops. After all, it was 60s-era breeding that brought us a toxic potato - the golden lenape.


Because there's been untargeted genetic manipulation going on for decades.

And it seems to me that we're more likely to see that black swan event when we're just rolling the dice as we used to, compared to today's much more directed and precise manipulations.


We've seen some of that, actually. Look up the golden lenape - it was a potato bred in the 60s. Beautiful color. Made great chips. Kinda toxic, though.


Much of the food chemistry from, say, the 1930s to 1970s turned out to be dangerous to health. Much of it turned out to be essential for a major population boom.

We all see the potential for human well-being that GMOs offer, but scientists have a long history of misassessing (or lying about) risks early in a field's development. It troubles me that GMO proponents don't address the frequent and life-destroying failures of science when experimenting with new technologies. (For potential GMO trouble, see the honey bee debate.)

I think that much of this will be settled in about 100 years -- the time it takes to run a reasonable 3 generation study on long-term health and epigenetic risks.

Is it really so unreasonable people only want to partially transfer something as critical to the existence and well-being of the species as base food production to a new system until after it's able to sustain a full generational cycle?

Lots of problems are hard to detect in less than 1 or 2 full generations, such as systemic cancer risk.


It's not that people are unwilling to address real, serious concerns. It's that there's little belief that the concerns are raised in good faith and that they can be addressed. The nature of science is that it's always possible to demand more sigmas, and there's skepticism that it's possible to ever provide enough sigmas here.

I think people are being unreasonable because they are trying to assert a degree of control people don't actually have. People want to believe that there are easy, clear controls on this stuff. That we can stay on the safe system we have now if we wish.

There aren't those controls. They aren't possible. CRISPR can be done in a high school biology lab. The genie's out of the bottle, and the bottle is dust. To top it off, the system we have now isn't nearly as safe as we like to pretend. We get famine and agricultural disasters regularly today. without any GMOs involved.

You're absolutely right. There are a lot of problems that are difficult to detect without fifty or seventy years of study. I submit that this is why societies have developed systems for dealing with those problems, instead of avoiding risks entirely.


> I submit that this is why societies have developed systems for dealing with those problems, instead of avoiding risks entirely

And that's why I said before we roll over our entire food production system, not any of it.

What I'm saying is we should leave their risk preference up to individuals, and allow them to pick their exposure to new science -- using things like GMO labels. (Tracking numbers for cultivars in a databse would be good, just like chemical data.)

I just find your insistence that the public isn't allowed to give science as an institution a prior on "going to pose a health risk with new technology" to be unethical.

Science has had many high profile safety failures regarding new technologies being rolled out, particularly in food, and it's entirely fair for the public to respond, even if they don't have specific objections at present.

Why trust people with a history of systematic mistakes to be right at first blush?


Why single out GMO? Why not label food which has been made through mutation breeding / radiation breeding? That ought to be a bigger concern.

Except I guess this has been done for so long that pretty much everything already sold in the grocery store as well as organic food would be labeled.

You have already been eating tons of this stuff which is potentially more risky than GMO, yet you want to single out GMO for labeling?


Two points:

1. I can think there are things wrong with food safety and advocate for new things being done safely at the same time. To some degree, you have to make changes where there's the political will to improve, even if it's not perfect.

2. The rate of mutation and deployment of new cultivars is really the concerning aspect, not the mechanism. I think we should have to label and clone cultivars (while checking for drift) these days, which still isn't perfect but better.

I want to make wider changes, but there's no reason not to start with limited changes at the start, particularly if we can do it for the method that's likely to be the long-term winner.

GMOs have the economic advantage of precision and control, while they also have the political will around them to effect regulation. So you can effect long-term broad legislation by targetting GMOs at this early stage.

So let me ask you this, if I were broadly concerned by food as widely practiced, unregulated pharmacy, why wouldn't I target regulation on a politically hot portion of the market as the wedge for wider reform?


I would think you'd be concerned to get the food industry on your side. This seems likely to be more difficult than necessary if you propose to shift consumers away from some of their products and hand them inconsistent labeling standards across their product ranges.

Besides, free markets don't operate well if buyers have information on only half the products.


Holy smokes, that mutation breeding was news to me!


That's how typical plant selective breeding works. Plant a bunch of the plant, induce all the mutations you can with all the mutagens (radiation, chemicals, etc.) you can, and look for useful traits. Then use recombinant breeding techniques to try to breed just those traits back in.

This has been standard practice since at least the 40s. There's very little "natural" about it.


I think GMOs are not special in the health risks potentially posed, and as a result do not believe that GMOs should get special labeling requirements. I think doing otherwise is base fearmongering.

I do not think it's reasonable that the public is trying to give science-the-institution a prior on "be absolutely, 100% certain that no risks are posed with new technology". I think the public is unreasonably expecting proof of perfection and an impossible level of control via policy. Science doesn't produce infinite sigmas. You can't get that control over CRISPR, the equipment and skill required are too low.

Yes, there is a history that includes a number of failures. That history also includes stunning successes. I think it's unreasonable to demand that science only ever produce successes.

We trust people with a history of systemic mistakes because they're also the only ones with the history of systemic success in this arena.


I just think that GMO cultivars should be required to be identified the way chemicals are, and meet similar safety standards to other food additives. In many ways that's what they are: an added chemical to a standard product. (Though, I support identifying them by bundles, ie, cultivars.) Do you think that's an unfair standard -- that a new technology be labled like other technologies, so people can be aware that it's happening?

I get that you want to manipulate people and not allow them choice "for the right reasons", but do you really not understand why Im not okay with that? I can outline the history of that thought, and the dire consequences, if you'd like.

You also misunderstood the prior. The prior is merely on "this technology will be dangerous to use for the first N years". I think that's a perfectly fine prior to have, and science has a history of underestimating those risks because they're (understandably) confident in their work (and bear almost none of the cost).

No one is saying scientists have to always be right, just we should be cognizant of their systematic optimism about technology maturity and risk. And therefore, we should be about 3-4 decades more cautious than scientists call to be on technology rollovers of key infrastructure.

Which, given when they started to be rolled out, would be a couple decades from now for total adoption of GMOs.

Ed: I suppose my question about GMOs is this -- if there's no improper motive, what's the hurry to make the transition? We're not starved for land for farming in the US, farming is making acceptable profits, etc. We have the resources to easily sustain a culture wide trial period of a few more decades (a generation from the start), where I believe that GMOs will be able to mature and show their safety and benefit.

What I don't get is why most GMO proponents go "Nah, fuck safety, science didn't mess up this time." They won't benefit in any appreciable way, only companies of which they're not owners will, but they're taking on the risk for someone else's reward.

PR, eh?


>...I just think that GMO cultivars should be required to be identified the way chemicals are, and meet similar safety standards to other food additives.

This idea that GMOs are unregulated is a myth. If someone wants to argue for more testing, that is one thing, but in doing a simple google search it is easy to see that there is certainly oversight:

>...The three main agencies involved in regulating GMOs are the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

>...APHIS regulates the planting, importation, or transportation of GM plants pursuant to its authority under the Plant Protection Act (PPA),[23] which authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to “prohibit or restrict the importation, entry, exportation, or movement in interstate commerce of any plant, plant product [etc.] if the Secretary determines [it] is necessary to prevent the introduction . . . of a plant pest or noxious weed within the United States.”[24] By regulation, APHIS classifies most GM plants as plant pests or potential plant pests and as “regulated articles.”[25] Under the PPA, a regulated article must receive prior approval from APHIS before it is introduced.[26]

>APHIS grants authorization to use GM plants in three ways: through a notification process, a permitting process, or a determination of nonregulated status.

>...In a 1992 policy statement, the FDA reaffirmed that in most cases it would treat foods derived from GMOs like those derived from conventionally bred plants, and that most foods derived from GM plants would be presumptively GRAS. However, with respect to a GMO product “that differs significantly in structure, function, or composition from substances found currently in food,” premarket approval of the substance as a food additive would be required.[47]

>...The EPA regulates pesticides and microorganisms developed through genetic engineering.

https://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/usa.php


I'd just like to address an overall sentiment. There is this idea that science screws up now and then and we all get hurt so it is ALWAYS good to be skeptical.

I think that is an equally dangerous thought. More people have died and gotten hurt from being skeptical to science than those who have died due to science.

When science suggested you should clean yourself before doing surgery, delivering babies etc, then Semmelweis got laughed at. People thought they should stick to what they "know".

People of science got burned for suggesting the earth orbited the sun.

A scientific approach determined that we should wear seat-belts in cars. Still a lot of people around the world being skeptical towards these expert suggestions die.

People die from not getting vaccines, because they believe more in their "feelings" then hard science.

The point is there is no alternative to science. If GMO was ever proved unsafe it would be through the scientific method, not by peopling "feeling" their way to an answer.


People like you are what's wrong with science. Get off the strawman soapbox.

The actual analogy of my position: "That washing thing is radical, let's trial it in a quarter of the cases based on early results and compare outcomes."

That's the perfectly rational response to a radical, but promising change. Not to switch all the ORs based on preliminary results.

Pretending that "we should roll out GMOs slowly because we're bad at systemic risk and this is important" is the same as "burn people for talking about heliocentric systems" is just nonsense zealotry from you. Which is why people are concerned about GMOs -- doubting zealots is good practice.


I think GMO cultivars are not different from any other plant cultivar. I think we should label them. All of them, without exception. I don't think this is misleading or manipulative. I do understand why people might disagree. For my own part, I think people should have all the information that can be reasonably made available for decision-making. This included both GMO and non-GMO cultivar information. I dp think giving people GMO data and witholding non-GMO data is an unfair standard.

I actually don't think this would frighten people. I think most people would realize they don't actually care. The ones who do could make their own choices.

The current public rhetoric is basically that scientists do have to always be right. That this technology is too scary unless it's perfect every time. People are terrified of berries that don't bruise when they get cold or apples that don't turn brown when cut open.

Of course we should be cognizant of the risks. We should also be cognizant that they are not fully controllable and act accordingly.


We agree on general labeling; our disagreement is limited largely to if we should implement that on the part of the market where there is political will for it as a start.

The rest of our disagreement is on the role scientists had in public perception of their trade. I think scientists have earned the scepticism they face; you (and another commenter) seem to feel the benefits of rapidly deployed science outweigh the risks; I think you're falling prey to a common human error of underestimating long-tail risk (particularly that others pay), which science has a history of underestimating.

I also think you only address strawman versions of the other side, and much of their blanket rejection of your position stems from openly mocking and strawmanning theirs, which when pressed on technical details, you admit is a valid concern.

To some capacity, GMO proponents arent necessarily wrong, theyre just assholes.


I think your approach, limiting implementation to the portion of the market where there is political will, is highly likely to bias results into producing a meaningless outcome. Scary labels on some things and not others really do scare people. That strikes me as poor experimental design, likely to show that if you put scary packaging on some products then fewer people will buy them.

I'm pretty sure we know that one already.

You're right. I don't believe that engaging with the concerns of anti-GMO activists is a productive course of action. I don't think being sympathetic and a good listener here will be any more helpful than being nice to antivaxxers has been. I think you cannot reason people out of a position rooted in fear.

It's very possible that scientists are as bad at handling systemic risks as you say. You very well may be right. However, in this case those systemic risks must be weighed against the other systemic risks we face without GMOs. We are not in a situation where there is a risk-free option on the table, and we do public policy a grave disservice by pretending otherwise for political expediency.


>People want to believe that there are easy, clear controls on this stuff. That we can stay on the safe system we have now if we wish.

I have been convinced for a while that it should be possible, easy even, to separate GMOs into two categories:

* those which are designed to kill something, be it an insect, fungus, bacterium, or whatever, by producing a chemical or something reasonably similar

* those which are designed for any other reason than killing pests

I think it isn't unfair that the first category should see more suspicion than the second category. A poison, regardless of what species it's directed at, is still a poison. I also think it would be reasonable to have separate labeling for the first category, but not for the second category, since it should be possible to test for foods being in the first category (by e.g. GC/MS).

One thing that we've learned from the history of antibiotics is that quick-fix chemical solutions to pest control are really hard to get right. In particular, an unexpected antimicrobial compound can interfere with existing microbiota of some person or animal; particularly if they are immune-deficient this is a serious concern.


One of the first GMOs that got people really worked up was the "fishberry". It's a fruit engineered to better resist low bruising in low temperatures. Nothing involved pesticides of any sort.

I suspect you will find most anti-GMO activists do not want and will not support separate labeling as you describe.


> Yes, there is a history that includes a number of failures. That history also includes stunning successes. I think it's unreasonable to demand that science only ever produce successes. > We trust people with a history of systemic mistakes because they're also the only ones with the history of systemic success in this arena.

You are factually wrong here. Science as we know it today is, what?, 150 years old? Are you really saying that all the achievements of human civilization up to ~1870 were plain dumb luck???? I don't know you, but, when I try to convince people of something, calling them idiots is generally a bad idea.

More over, your claim comes of as self serving and disengineous: "How dare you point out our mistakes, we have had plenty of successes too".

This attitude is eroding faith of the common people in science, and there's no one but the scientists to blame for that. The antivaxes might be all wrong, but I don't blame them for distrusting people that talks them down like that.


OK. What kind of attitude do you think should be adopted and how should it be different? How should I sound? I'm assuming you mean some kind of humility here.

Have you seen what happens when antivaxxers are treated with respect, heard out, and their fears listened to?

I have.


Personally, I do not really care what Kalium-the-person says or does.

But as long as you are donning the hat of Kalium-the-spokeperson-of-Science, you are displaying ignorance and comptept for human nature. You seem to confuse the fact that Science is able to get the material facts more or less right, with the assertation that people should automatically trust/obey what scientists say.

They did just that, during the 20th century... and then (some of) the scientist sold out to moneyed interests. They made claims that were not 100% supported by the facts, but they did it anyways because their sponsors asked for it very nicely. Then, when (some of) those claims turned out to be false... it was not the sponsors or the guilable individual scientists who received the hit to their reputations, Science-the-institution did.

So, people have reason to distrust. And the fact that you refuse to acknowledge that much and demand compliance because you happen to be donning a white labcoat makes all of us look bad.

You say that it is unfair that others only point to our mistakes and forget our successes. That's Standard-Operations-Procedure in politics, everybody does it. Heck, even you do the same, it is just that you don't notice.

So given that the other people are not going to listen to you... what's to do? Throw a tantrum? Or engage the others with the tools of the politician?


Comparing anti-GMOers to antivaxxers is disingenuous.

Anti-GMOers not eating GMO food doesn't hurt you, antivaxxers doing their thing does.


They may not be hurting me directly, but there are certainly people who are being hurt by lack of access to GMOs because of anti-GMOers. Golden rice could help a great many people, but activists against it have helped make sure it doesn't.

Their fear has not been without a human cost.


So we agree anti-GMOers not eating GMO food does not hurt you or anybody else.

There may be people who would benefit from GMO food, but there aren't any food products that are available only as GMO versions. This makes it a political problem, not a "you can't have it if there is no GMO".

And equating anti-GMOers with anti-vaxxers isn't a solution to any problem nor reasonable.


My position is not, was not, and shall never be that people should be coerced into eating GMO foods against their will. My position is that people who don't want GMO foods on their plate should not obstruct everyone else.

GMO foods are capable of addressing specific problems, like vitamin deficiencies. People should be offered that choice. Anti-GMO activists, like anti-vaxxers, are hurting people by denying them helpful scientific advances.


I've probably missed it, but I haven't seen anyone here arguing that GMO should be banned. I've seen a few people arguing for more testing. I've seen most arguing for labeling.

Who here do you see arguing to ban GMO? Perhaps I just haven't looked closely enough.


I haven't seen anyone make the argument here. I've seen plenty of people make it in real life.

What I have seen is people call for more testing, without defining what's enough for them to be confident in results. I've also seen people call for labels, but only on GMOs. I think the former is a backdoor ban. The latter should be applied to all foods.


When millions are hungry because of precious first-world sensibilities, it becomes more reasonable to equate these things.


There's enough food in the world to feed everybody. GMO is not going to change that. The problem is distributing that food, not producing it.

Still no reason to equate anti-GMOers with anti-vaxxers.


There's been enough food, solely because of the growth of hybrid crops and GMO techniques. We didn't get here by accident. It took lifetimes of effort. Read the biographies of Norman Borlaug and Henry A Wallace. They are credited with feeding billions.


It does hurt less than you'd think.

It's antivaxers' children the ones that suffer the most, but as long as they remain a minority, the risks of an epidemic getting out of control is very small.

And no, we are not going to eliminate infectious disease any time soon. AFAIK, the only disease we have "eliminated" in recorded history is small pox; and what that means is that maybe a dozen governments have their stash of samples that they can turn in biological weapons... all while the rest of us slowly breed resistance out of the gene pool.


Sure, it hurts the anti-vaxxers and their offspring the most, but it becomes a problem if herd immunity is lost.

Plus since we can't just off the anti-vaxxers or let their sprogs die, society bears the cost of dealing with the messes they create.


So... You're explaining that's it's too dangerous and too difficult to control? And so people would be "unreasonnable" in trying to prevent it? Are you serious?

Also, big news. High school kids have knives at schools! Is that also a case of... "The genie's out of the bootle" BS?


Dangerous? No. It's just not practical to control in the same way it's not practical to control who has access to compilers.


Waiting 100 years for technology to prove itself safe through multi-generational studies has a cost. If we had delayed the green revolution a billion people would have died of starvation, hungrily waiting for the technology to be approved.


If you read my other comments, you'll see I advocate for largely regulatory labeling and free-market decision making with that information -- that people should be allowed to pick their own exposure to risk. The long term, multi-generational studies was talking about before a forced, society-wide rollover from old technologies.

I expect many starving people would elect to eat experimental food. But I also think it's unethical to not tell them it's experimental.

Is that position unfair in your mind? I certainly don't believe it's fair to claim tons of people would have starved if we'd added a little label.


Sorry didn't read your other comments, but that makes a lot more sense.


Not too many decades ago it was claimed that famine would be solved forever by spraying everything with DDT. But nobody had ever imagined this thing called the food-chain and the birds started dying. Now we're toying with DNA without even comprehending half of it. I'm not opposed to it. We will probably learn some new, interesting things on the way that nobody had ever imagined.


I can't shake the feeling that the history of modern agriculture is just a history of staying one step ahead of disaster.

We used intensive farming until it ruined our soils. Then we used rotation farming with heavy irrigation until it collided with a drought. We used DDT until it killed the eagles and condors. We used nitrogen fertilizers until they triggered algae blooms and ruined our waterways. I see no particular reason to expect a different pattern; we keep putting things into widespread usage before their harms are known.

I'm not even sure I'm opposed to this; most of these crises have been mitigated and most of the changes have been reactive, to accommodate a population that grew regardless of agriculture. I'm just skeptical of claims that this time, rushing things into national use without long-term evaluation won't cause any harm.


One could make a strong case that the entirety of human history is staying one step ahead of disaster. Political, economic, cultural, agricultural, and so on. One could very reasonably make a further case that it's generally those who embraced risk who did the best, long-term.


Well, the explanation for that looks like it's a job for survivorship bias, isn't it?. I mean, we could not know about the huge amount of people that have died by betting their livehood in the wrong risk. Only that the stakes are higher this time, we are not talking about a few tribes trying their hand with agriculture, but messing with the food chain in a way that could spread continent-wide easily.


It's possible! We do know about a number of societies that perished because their conservatism got them out-competed.

That sort of competition hasn't gone away. The world of people capable of using CRISPR isn't going all agree to a cartel-type pact to never do certain things. There's too many people and the bar is too low.


Hmmm! You're making me want to move to India and set up a GMO shop.


Go for it! The world needs more people willing and able to take those risks.


Very true for the notable successes, but let's not forget the large percentile of risk takers who ultimately fail in obscurity.


I've not forgotten them. I remember them right alongside the even larger percentile of those who failed after deciding to stop taking risks.


Indeed.


See DDT was bad for birds, but in a very short time frame we got rid of malaria in the United States.

https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/elimination_us.htm...

And we put down so much DDT that people around my age never had to deal with bed bugs till now.

I'm not advocating for spraying DDT again, I am suggesting that the history and use of DDT far more interesting than can be covered in a string of HN comments!


Indeed, the issue of DDT is much much more nuanced than people make it out to be. At the time, it was a miracle chemical that was going to let us eradicate (rather than simply control or minimize) all manner of diseases, so the scale at which it was used was pretty incredible. In some cases we were effectively carpet-bombing whole islands with the stuff. No wonder we were killing birds and fish.

There's a book [1] about the history of DDT that does a great job of establishing a historical context for its use. I agree that we can't simply un-ban it, but our approach to disease prevention/control has come such a long way since prohibiting it that I can't help but wonder if we could deploy it safely now.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/DDT-American-Century-Environmental-En...


And people also seem to have forgotten about yellow fever. A nasty mosquito bourne disease that regularly killed tens of thousands in the Southern US. DDT also eliminated it along with malaria.


You're absolutely right! There's a very great deal to be learned. And in the meantime, there's a great many problems that we know we can address with tools like golden rice.

The idea of a food chain dates from the 8th century, though. DDT wasn't used in agriculture until the 1940s.


The fact that we knew, in a scholastic sense, about the concept of the food chain, but could not foresee the extent of downstream effects is even more reason to be far more careful than seems necessary now. Our best guess is probably not good enough.


A laudable attitude! Are we going to extend this caution to all things, or just to scary-sounding new-ish things like GMOs?

Because we have people doing profoundly unnatural things right now like growing rice in Texas, and we cannot know the full extent of the downstream effects of that either.


There genuinely is a GMO-skeptical branch of analysis which applies this to everything.

I'm hesitant about how we're using GMOs, without being opposed to the basic principle of genetic modification. I'm also vehemently opposed to growing rice in Texas and cotton in Arizona; we know those things are stupid with far greater certainty than we know about GMOs.

For me, this isn't about fear of the unknown. This is about a history of prioritizing short-term gains in agriculture over long-term sustainability. It covers everything from nitrogen fertilizers to neonicotinoids to water-rights law. GMOs concern me as they're currently used in the US; the abuse of the Ogallala Aquifewr horrifies me on a much deeper level.


Yeah, and actually we get to know where that rice is coming from. There is a fucking label on it. Also you can't export it everywhere because it's a shitty experiment.


Out of curiosity, what's the issue with growing rice in Texas? Is it that it's not suitable for that climate or something else?


Basically, yeah. Growing rice requires a great deal of water, and the parts of Texas rice is being grown in don't naturally have that much surface water. It's only economically viable because they have artificially cheap water.


So, the downsides are not hypothetical at the future.

A lot of bad things human do are know to be bad. Is just that humans refuse to accept it.


>What I see is people who have a fundamentally emotional position and think that study will validate them.

>They will continue to want more study until their fears are validated, and every result that fails to do so only feeds their fears.

;)

see ::: ''Stop “Gene Spills” Before They Happen'' https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602633/stop-gene-spills-b...

from the link:

"There’s already a precedent for using patents to limit the spread of gene-drive technology. In September, Monsanto purchased a license to CRISPR patents from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in order to genetically engineer new plants. But that license came with an extraordinary proviso: Monsanto was “prohibited” from developing a gene drive. The Broad Institute noted, in a statement explaining the restrictions, that gene drives have “the potential to disrupt ecosystems.”

Esvelt first worked out the idea for a CRISPR gene drive in 2014 and filed his patent. He did his work mostly on paper. But his fears of risky lab work were realized a few months later when a lab in California arrived at the idea independently and used it to turn black fruit flies yellow, implementing less than perfect safety controls.

What if one of the flies had escaped? “My nightmare is a wave of yellow flies spreading across the country,” says Esvelt. He imagines a corresponding wave of negative media coverage and loss of trust in scientists. "


I think you missed the point of my comment. These are not my concerns. In my opinion we should encourage GMOs while making sure we do so responsibly.

My problem is that this article is polarizing the discussion.

By leaving out the core of anti GMO concerns it lets the pro GMO people feel justified in their position. But the other side will not see their concerns addressed, and will discard the article as stupid, and missing the point, feeling equally justified in their position.

To (1) actually the eu merely regulates GMOs, and by default they are not allowed. Today 51 GMO products are allowed, including 1 that has a herbicide (mon810). I would hope that the strictness of checking and data would depend on a case by case basis.

(2) for me is not a concern. In the wild GMOs will not do better than non GMOs, probably even worse, because the traits added by GMO do cost the plant. It is not like we can create zombie maize. But of course, we do need to apply caution. Think about Australia where foreign plants do become pests pushing existing plants out of the ecosystem.


What I've found is that if you seriously listen and engage with people's concerns surrounding GMOs, the result is only more concerns. It validates that the worries are real, that there's real reason to fear. Look at how that expert treated them!

Listening, engaging, and taking these fears seriously does not result in reasoned debate. It results in pushing people ever-further into fear as every attempt to engage becomes further proof of evil.


Not addressing them also pushes people away, because articles like this will be ignored at best, can be called propaganda at worst.

Moreover somewhat thinking/reasonable people, who are cautiously not against GMO, and then hear such arguments from the anti side, will wonder why the pro side ignores them and maybe switch.

"engage with people's concerns surrounding GMOs, the result is only more concerns"

So propaganda it is then?

Life is tradeoffs. Please show us the tradeoffs, weigh in the counters, those are a signs of healthy opinions grounded in reason.

Anything else shows me it is an opinion based on feelings, perhaps I can gain some knowledge from it, but overall it is best to ignore it.


The options I see thus far are thus:

* Engage with people's fears, expending time and money and energy. Validate that there's something to be afraid of, because nobody would investigate it otherwise. People come up with different fig leaves for their fears, the goalposts move, and people stay roughly as afraid as before.

* Don't engage. People stay as afraid as before for the same reasons and scarce resource are invested in gainful efforts and research.

In theory there's a hypothetical third option where engaging respectfully with people's fears and doing appropriate research soothes fears and everyone is happy. I don't think that's actually available. Every time I've seen an attempt to do this, it's actually functioned as the first option above. You get nice articles like this one that convince few: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/201...

You're very right, life is tradeoffs. I think expending effort to try to reason people away from unreasoning fear is not a wise tradeoff. Do you ever wonder why most scientists don't engage with astrologers, creationists, or flat-earthers? Do you think it's maybe because the astrologers, creationists, or flat-earthers are right?


I completely agree. And this is the interesting part of the discussion. (Also your other comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12895406 .)

My first part on trying to answer that is, you acknowledge the human/emotional side of it, and discuss it.

"What you don't get is large masses of people changing their minds." (from your other comment)

No but what does? Propaganda? Silence? Unfortunately both easily used by the "other" side. I think only honesty works and let people figure it out. If ultimately that means we will not proceed on GMO, a shame in my opinion, but so be it.

"I don't think that's actually available"

You might be right, ...

However, I do think there is a second thing we can use. Show people the difference between knowledge and belief. Between opinions based on feelings and opinions based on knowledge. A strong proxy for belief/feelings not knowing or discussing tradeoffs.

"sound just like those people who work for Monsanto - which has happened to me today on HN." (also other comment)

lol, don't we ;) . Luckily the "other" side usually grossly exaggerate their points.

But you are right, ultimately people still have their fears and just grab other fig leaves.


The thing that changes people's minds is that they get accustomed to the new normal. Potatoes and tomatoes were once strange, new plants to Europe. Now they're core parts of the diet in many places.

Relying on the distinction between knowledge and belief is unfortunately much more difficult than it sounds. To a person approaching a subject in total ignorance, there is no good way to determine truth from well-written falsehoods. People tend to use their emotions as a proxy in the absence of any reliable knowledge.

There are small groups like rationalists who attempt otherwise, but they tend to be found taking modafinil and reading the Sequences instead of trying to convince a worried organic-foodie.


I completely agree, but am slightly more optimistic.

We have many areas in this life where this applies: god/politics/health/climate change/vaccinations/gmo and more. And almost everybody is searching.

Instead of rebutting people, ask them where knowledge comes from, explain them the difference between belief/correctness/reasons. And the difference between opinions based on feelings or based on reasons, and how to spot the differences, e.g. do you know tradeoffs. Ask them how they feel about people with different opinions on the subject.

But people do think. And it might surprise you who will ask you for more information. Worst case you lost a few minutes. Even if they don't change their mind, they do become slightly more "liberal".

Anecdotal, but I have been surprised quite a bit lately ;) the whole trump thing has stirred things up, even here in Europe.

We don't have to make people rationalists or skeptics. But just 10% in that direction would be nice. Perhaps most surprising is how little, or how badly, people have thought about knowledge vs belief.


Why do you care if a worried organic foodie eats non-GMO food?


I don't. They can eat whatever the hell they want. I do care that they seek to coerce the whole world to do the same.

I think we should all be free to eat whatever the hell we want. I think we should all have food that is maximally labeled with information about all strains of all plants and animals that go into them.

I don't want to force the worried organic foodies to eat GMOs. I want them to return the favor, but they seem hellbent on forcing me to live like them for reasons of fear. That same fear, plus some personal experience, leads me to think they're not really people who can be reasoned with.


> they seek to coerce the whole world to do the same.

That's pretty much the definition of politics. I don't see any future in trying to stop people from doing that.


I see one in which we all get choices. That'd be nice.

Yes, you're right. This is pure politics, with a veneer of concern for science. Much like AGW or anti-vaxxers.


I think you have been downvoted because your statement is pretty much anathema to the HN ethos (if there is one). If nobody will ever change their mind based off of discourse, what's the point? Why even have comment sections?

Are you saying you've never changed your mind after ruminating over time about information you've received?

When I first heard of GMOs, especially since my information/propaganda channels inexorably linked GMOs with Monsanto's controversial business practices, I was lead to distrust GMOs. A few years later, I read a few articles about GMOs in popular magazines. It turned out that I had some basic misconceptions that are extremely common. The most important being that traditional breeding is far more fraught with uncertainty. The second misconception is that GMO practitioners are just tinkering around; where in reality genetic modification is narrowly targeted and predictable. The outcome is to increase food safety; fewer pesticides are used, causing less damage to waterways and ecosystems. Less food is wasted, meaning more is available for consumption.

What didn't work was overt ridicule of my ignorant position. Several opportunities to digest non-confrontational information were required.


I think this subject is one where most people make deeply emotional decisions. In general, people cannot be reasoned out of positions they did not reason themselves into, and food is definitely not an exception. Food is too intimate and sensitive to most people.

What I've found is that when you use reason and evidence to assuage the particular concerns (certainty, safety, pesticide use), they are generally replaced by others. Distrust of Monsanto, agricultural monoculture, IP law, and so on. What do you think happens when you address them all? Show safety studies, bring up golden rice, and so on?

What you don't get is large masses of people changing their minds. What you do get is people suddenly deeply uncomfortable with the entire conversation, because their fig leaves are gone but their emotions haven't changed. Then someone says that you sound just like those people who work for Monsanto - which has happened to me today on HN.

Yes, I'm a cynical bastard.


You literally do get large masses of people changing their minds, but it takes time to cause this change. Look at the last century in the United States: women's rights, civil rights, LGTB equality. These movements have made tremendous progress. Though there are still many people against these movements, the majority of the country supports them.

Minds change (slowly), yours included.


You're right! Politics do change.

Politics changes when new ideas become old ones. Not when someone politely opines that it's maybe possible that GMOs aren't literally evil. It's possible that my attempts on the subject have all been ill luck and/or poor execution to run into uniformly hostile responses, but I clearly have some doubts.

I've tried listening to people, taking them seriously, addressing their concerns calmly and rationally. I've found it a reliable way of making people very angry.


> How much data is enough?

How much data do we have? In special, how much data not compiled that a party that would have monetary gains attached to an specific result?

Because, for the specific case of Monsanto varieties, I've never seen any that fits the later requirement. If some exist, the onus of making the public aware should be theirs.

Really, GMO crops were legalized in my country by the most undemocratic procedure we could have at the time. If something similar happened today, we'd probably see politicians losing their job outside of the electoral cycle because of that (and probably some journalists too). But nowadays it's done, and nobody cares, because (1) was mostly a failure anyway. But I don't trust anything anymore on that area unless there's some clear and unbiased validation.


>> How much data is enough?

> How much data do we have?

Say we have X. Do we need 2X then? Because that's a request that never ends.


Until it's statistically significant. And if you then ask "well do we wait for 2 sigma or 5 sigma" then you're just playing devil's advocate. Peer-reviewed science isn't perfect but it moves towards better understanding of nature.


Peer-reviewed science isn't perfect. The point I was implying previously is that to many people, this means it can never provide a satisfactory answer, because the unspoken requirement is perfection.


Right but even for life/death science such as in the medical community, drug development, space science, etc., those people who oppose any progress of science will never be satisfied with the current-day process.


Precisely. I've been implying that it's a waste of effort to try to please those people. They cannot be pleased, and there are other uses for those resources.


I'm saying that, as far as I know, X = 0. 2X won't be enough either, and you better work on getting some reasonable evidence that your data is impartial too.


One of the problems with studies is that they are short-term relative to the period of time that the product is in use. We have a tendency to assume safety if heads are not immediately combusting upon consumption. I don't mean that literally and I am not demeaning testing protocols, but once the product is approved and in wide use, it becomes difficult to discern long-term effects. Many conditions are sharply on the rise, and certainly you cannot point to a study that implicates GMOs as the causative agent. But, neither can you exclude them definitively, as the time in-market eventually dramatically outpaces the study duration.

One thing for certain is that something is causing a marked increase in certain conditions, which our best science ostensibly tells us is as safe as GMOs.

Another shortcoming of testing is that GMOs tend to be tested individually. This tells us nothing about how they may interact or how the "total body burden" of new and foreign proteins might affect us as a higher percentage of our food moves towards GMOs.

I get that all we have is our best science. But, I also find nothing unreasonable about being cautious in choosing what to consume. There is too much belittling of people who elect caution, especially given the history of presumed safe products that turned out to be anything but safe, and--at times--disasterously so.


Speaking only for myself, it strikes me as decidedly odd that people elect caution only in the face of scary science-y things. The primitive plant breeding from decades ago was not and is not safe. It can and did produce dangerous and toxic products.

I applaud caution, but selective caution paired with willful blindness looks like madness.


>people elect caution only in the face of scary science-y things

A convenient, though not entirely accurate dismissal.

Perhaps it's the scale of the usage combined with the financial incentive to declare safety, further combined with the fight to ensure that people are uninformed with regard to what they are ingesting. Where else is it acceptable to deny people information they desire to make their own choice? And, what else is more sensitive and personal than what we choose to consume?

Imagine for a moment that your own review led you to believe the science was still out on GMOs. Then, you might imagine the desire to know.

And, all of this is then combined with a decidedly checkered past in declaring safety through science.

It's no coincidence that all of your arguments could have equally been applied to, say, thalidomide.

Painting anyone who holds a different viewpoint as willfully blind and mad doesn't present you as some sort of enlightened pro-science champion. In fact, the scientific process itself is one of continuous discovery. Some people may prefer to choose whether and when to volunteer their bodies for such discovery.

Reasonable people can disagree here. You'd make a more effective advocate with that understanding.


Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on a great many subjects. I don't think the current so-called debate over plant genomes qualifies as reasonable. It's driven by fear of the unknown and poorly understood on the parts of many.

I don't think "Contains GMOs" is a useful information to provide to consumers. I think it tells them too little to allow for proper decision-making and serves only to fuel fears. It means that something, somewhere, in the package was at some point modified. It says nothing about what was modified, what the modification was, or what the consequences of it are.

I think it's willfully blind to apply one safety standard to GMOs and a wildly different one to crude barnyard breeding with all the radioactive and chemical mutagens a scientist can find. That barnyard breeding has quite a history of producing unintended consequences.

Reasonable people can reasonably differ. I have found this is a subject where being reasonable serves primarily to inflame fears. Suddenly people are painting you with moral brushes made of horrifying birth defects.


> Having listened to your concerns and seriously pondered them, all I see is fear. Unbounded fear. Nothing in here leads me to think these fears will be calmed by study. The nature of science is that there's always another unknown to point to, and GMOs are seen by many as inherently scary - unlike safe, cuddly natural plants, obviously.

What you said above exactly sounded like those scientists and studies sponsored by Monsanto.

I am no expert on biology and chemistry. And I am aware that majority of the studies on GMO so far has yet to prove any harm to human races. However, I don't know any study can address the long term effect on humans? When I said long term, I mean the a few generations (so hundreds of years) ahead.

Testing long term effects on animals or insects are easy because their generations lasts only very short amoubt of time, but average human life span is 71 years[1] according to Google, so how can you be so sure that GMO food won't affect my great grandchildrens a few hundred years down the road? (We all know that evolution sometimes take a LONG time to appear[2])

Perhaps someone or some new studies can enlight the few of us who does feel uncertain about GMO products?

[1]: https://www.google.com/search?q=average+life+span&oq=average...

[2]: http://phys.org/news/2011-08-fast-evolutionary-million-years...


How do we do this with non GMO products? I'm eating today organic crops which were either never eaten by my previous generations, or didn't even exist then. Let's take a garden-style non GMO cherry tomatoes. They didn't even exist a few hundred years ago and didn't become popular until 20th century. In eastern europe I don't think I've ever seen one before late 90s.

So what's the difference between a genetic mixture like cherry tomatoes and GMO tomatoes? Why should I be more scared of long-term effect of one over the other?


I understand why you're afraid. It feels like arrogant assholes playing god with our most intimate things so they can cash in with no regard for safety at all. It all seems completely unreasonable.

How can we be sure of the common strains of dwarf wheat we all eat, developed in the last century? Do you feel safe eating bread? How long a term of study do you need before you feel safe? Is it ever possible for you to feel safe eating human-bred plants?


Not afraid. More like "please tell me why?".


Because telling you why tells you that you were right to be afraid and won't make you less afraid. Nothing is gained, time is spent, and you're no less fearful. You know full well that nobody has studied any GMO across centuries.

What level of study would assuage your fears? Three human generations? Six? Ten? Do you think this standard should apply to all foods, or just GMOs?

If you're genuinely curious, you can read this - http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/201...


>Having listened to your concerns and seriously pondered them, all I see is fear. Unbounded fear. Nothing in here leads me to think these fears will be calmed by study.

There is more to the issue than concerns over the direct health effects of GMO food. This is a club that is used to intimidate and marginalize GMO detractors by insinuating that health is the only issue.

Do you consider yourself an informed computer user? Do you prefer to use open source software or hardware for ideological or practical reasons, when it is functionally comparable to closed source software competition, or even when it is inferior but satisfactory?

Would you tolerate an operating system or application that had a hidden back-door to control your computer's activity or spy on you? Would you tolerate a computer that had a remote kill-switch? All else being equal, wouldn't you prefer to use open-source software and hardware that had been audited for your safety and security?

Are you comfortable with regulation, enacted or proposed, that attempts to criminalize reverse-engineering or bypassing protection mechanisms of patented, proprietary software?

Would you tolerate patented, proprietary technology built into the genetics of your food itself? Can you envision food organisms becoming subject to regulation akin to the DMCA? Would you tolerate your food being designed with a kill switch?

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Monsanto_and_Terminator...

What if the economic advantages of GMO food (yield, shelf life, pest resistance) were so great that they effectively destroyed all traditional farming competition, leaving our nation's food production at the mercy of the rights holder with a genetic kill switch, and consumers never had any economic agency in the matter because labeling was not mandated?

These scenarios are not far fetched if you can make the tiny leap from everything we've learned about the war between open and closed source software, and apply it by analogy to the genetics of our food.

If you and "moms" want to buy GMO food, I say "go ahead", it's your right. If you want better labeling so that it is easier to choose the GMO food you want, that's great! There is NO argument that will ever convince me that we need to remove the agency of CHOICE by removing the burden of package labeling.

As for me personally, I believe food needs its own Free Software Foundation, and I will start selecting GMO foods only when they are open source and their genetics are published, audited, and verifiable.


> I will start selecting GMO foods only when they are open source and their genetics are published, audited, and verifiable.

Meanwhile you keep on eating non-GMO food, yet its genetics are not published, audited or verifiable, and it is protected by intellectual property laws [1] and possibly patented [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_breeders%27_rights

[2] https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/08/07/challengin...


Labels that say "Contains GMO" do not hold back the tide you fear.

Also, have you heard of plant breeder's rights? Are you aware of golden rice?


This. I have no concerns about my personal health when eating GMO, but the practices you describe are deeply harmful for humanity. I will avoid GMOs until sterile seeds, patented genes and the like are outlawed.


Sterile seeds are not really made/sold. Patented genes are nothing specific to GMO: varieties developed in "traditional" ways are also patented.

The reasons you cite for avoiding GMOs are really completely non-issues.

("Traditional" ways, non-GMO, mean things like induced mutagenesis: expose seeds to radiation, poisons and other carcinogens; then wait for mutations, pick a few, and cross-breed. You don't know what happened, but somehow that's supposed to be good, better than an engineered change.)


"> (2) is a much lower risk than most would thing. But it is one of those things where the naive/amateur answer is far from reality, and that naive answer is scary. (Like nuclear, or more rules vs more responsibility.)"

Wrong. And Talib spoke about this and warned against it. Nuclear has a predictable and limited effect, both in area and time. The effect of an organism released into the wild (speak CRISPR e.g.) are can be unpredictable and unlimited regarding area and time.


> Seems very reasonable. How much data is enough? How will we know when we've got so much data that we can start just ignoring those who call for more study as unreasonable? When they're convinced, perhaps?

You're perfectly right. We shouldn't ask for evidence for anything, because no amount of evidence will convince everyone.

> Seems reasonable. How do you propose to address these unknowns? And are you aware that non-GMO plants can product dangerous super species we can never get rid of? Purple loosestrife comes to mind.

I see what you mean. If disasters can be caused by things that are not GMOs, then it would be ignorant to try our best to make sure that GMOs do not cause the same sort of disasters. Anyway, the people who make their living from coming up with new GMOs and getting them adopted as widely as possible can be trusted to objectively determine their safety. They're very smart.

> Having listened to your concerns and seriously pondered them, all I see is fear. Unbounded fear.

Having listened to your responses and attempting to detect anything in them that is actually responsive, all I see is sarcasm. Unbounded sarcasm.

What I see is people who have a fundamentally emotional position mixed with people who have a fundamentally venal position insisting that potentially dangerous products (like all products) not be labeled or tested, and rarely giving a reason why other than the strawman that it is ignorant to think that the process of genetic modification itself is dangerous because it is fundamentally similar to human-guided breeding. I'm sure somebody is arguing that somewhere, but the fact that I don't have a problem with GMOs as a class is why I want more labeling. I don't just want to know if something is made from GMOs, I want to know that it's made from GM wheat. I don't just want to know that it's made from GM wheat, I want to know which GM wheat, because I might have entirely different feelings about one than about the other. I don't just want to know for health reasons, I might want to know for environmental reasons that have nothing to do with health.

Most importantly, I do not want to hear that some GMO was allowed into the food system because of a substantial similarity to another GMO that was previously allowed. If the differences are insubstantial enough to avoid testing, then they're insubstantial enough that not allowing them to go to market isn't a significant hardship.

I don't understand how your idea of enlightenment depends on keeping people in ignorance. Not only am I lumped in with people who think that the process of genetic modification is against some nebulous ironically supernatural concept called "nature," but I'm also expected to cheer on limitations on those people's agency to eat as they see fit (and limit my own in the process.)

It's so cynical. I'd rather GMOs be completely disallowed than to be regulated by people who think along these lines.


I am in no way, shape, form, or manner saying that evidence should not be expected. I am saying that goalposts should be made clear, because there's little point in trying to get to goals that can never be reached.

I'm also saying we should apply uniform standards for managing risks. It's not uniform to require GMOs undergo multi-human-generation safety tests (as another user hinted at), but readily approve strains from traditional breeding after a basic "Does it immediately kill people?" test.

I don't just what to know what strains of GMO wheat went into my packaged cookie. I want to know what strains of everything, because I don't think non-GMO is better or safer in any reasonable way. I want a uniform safety standard, not one that only exists for scary science-y new-ish things.

I don't want to keep people in ignorance. I think that people are currently badly misinformed, and I'm in favor of full disclosure all around. I am not in favor of the "Contains GMOs" labels, because those labels do not provide information to make decisions with and only play on fears.


Who says GMOs aren't tested? I'd bet they're tested more than non-GMOs.

> I might want to know for environmental reasons that have nothing to do with health.

Sounds like wanting all the details of provenance, which, apart from letting the consumer decide on environmental factors, lets decide on issues like fair trade. So a good thing. But it sounds like "GMO or not" isn't special among "all the details"?


"How much data is enough?"

Double blind study spanning over 100 years.


Clearly, we should also apply the same safety standard to non-GMO crops as well.


Nature is out there randomly mutating genes without any oversight. We need to test each plant for 100 years to make sure it didn't have any dangerous mutations.


A somewhat specious argument, as many foods have undergone the ultimate trial of sustaining people for millennia.


The species in general have. I think you'll find most modern strains have not been double-blind tested for a century.

Modern dwarf wheat strains, for instance, date from the 70s or so.


An excellent argument for being dubious of modern cultivars.


If people are willing to apply the same standards uniformly, I'm OK with it. I suspect that's not actually the case for most people, though. GMOs are seen by many as a special case deserving of infinite scrutiny.


For those downvoting:

Is it because you think "enough" data would take longer to gather? Or, as I am assuming is the case, you think it would take less time but are unable to articulate it.

Personally I think 100 years is more than enough, and for most crops I would take 25 years of a double blind as great data.


Because it appears that 100 years is proposed because of some sort of vague "we don't know what we don't know." It's as if people assume there is some magical property that we are as-yet unaware of and will only be able to be sure of the not-existence-of after 100 years.

Also, 100 years effectively makes it "untestable" within a human time-frame. You really think any company is going to spend money to continually monitor and administer a large-scale double-blind test of a product before being allowed to sell it? Even 10 years is ridiculous at this point for drug-products, and we already cry-foul about the cost that "big-pharma" is charging as if it costs nothing to prove that they are safe to the levels that we demand through the FDA.

Also, 100 years is just an answer to effectively shut down all GMO products. Permanently, for 100 years. That is not a solution, it's fear-mongering.


> Also, 100 years effectively makes it "untestable" within a human time-frame. You really think any company is going to spend money to continually monitor and administer a large-scale double-blind test of a product before being allowed to sell it?

The world isn't responsible for maintaining your business model. If you can't be profitable without slavery, if you're forced to pay taxes, without pervasive monitoring of all human communication, or without walling off the state of Nevada, you can't be profitable.

> Even 10 years is ridiculous at this point for drug-products, and we already cry-foul about the cost that "big-pharma" is charging as if it costs nothing to prove that they are safe to the levels that we demand through the FDA.

The prices of drugs have little or nothing to do with R&D or testing.


> The prices of drugs have little or nothing to do with R&D or testing.

Now you're just trolling..


The nature of science is to get paid studying science, not doing PR stunts for the gmo industry.


1. That is a non issue when most GMO food specifically allow us to do the opposite, use less pesticide. We can't vilify over something which is a more serious problem to non-GMO foods.

2. The alternative to GMO is mutagenesis which has been used for decades and means massive random mutations through radiation. This is how a lot of non-GMO food is developed. It can even be labeled organic. Obviously this is far more dangerous than doing a controlled changed of specific genes.

This fact alone demonstrates how the anti-GMO crowd is scientific illiterate people engaging in scaremongering. There is no scientific basis for the anti-GMO position.

(1) No it isn't reasonable as it allows uncontrolled mutations to be utilized rather than safe and controlled genetic changes.

The concern and safety steps taking towards GMO is hysterical. Every day plants like potatoes would be illegal to eat today if they were required the same testing regime as GMO food.

The real valid concern I think is the commercial aspect. Especially in the US with its insane patent laws one allows companies to take control over too much of what is important for society and life.


Concerning #1: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/30/business/gmo-promise-falls...

TLDR: "genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides"



I just read the first one. The guy is attacking this:

> At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States,…in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.

by answering this:

> I have to say this comparison seems borderline disingenuous; the figures used to compare pesticide use in France vs the USA are convoluted and misleading. First, the data is presented in different units (thousand metric tons for France, compared to million pounds in the US), making a direct comparison nearly impossible.

Oh boy... How does this address the point of the original article you quote? It does not talk about absolute values, it talks about evolution: increase on one side, decrease on the other one. Who cares about comparing absolutes values? That's a strawman.

And he goes on:

> Second, the pesticide amounts are not standardized per unit area, which is critically important since the USA has over 9 times the amount of farmland that France does; it would be shocking if the U.S. didn’t use far more pesticide when expressed this way.

Same failure to address the point which was e-vo-lu-tion.

> It is true that France has been reducing pesticide use,

Ah.. so?

> but France still uses more pesticides per arable hectare than we do in the USA.

Because it is much more intensive agriculture and that's why there was no comparison of yelds. But a comparison of e-vol-lu-tions. And the yelds evolved the same way with and without GMO. But GMO users did not decrease pesticide use, and increased herbicide use, whereas non-GMO users did decrease both and yet kept their yields growing as fast.

Jesus boy, how can you start your "debunking" article with such mistakes and fallacies...


> Obviously this is far more dangerous than doing a controlled changed of specific genes.

This is not "obvious". Actually, I think it's obviously wrong. That's like saying, "Oh, nuclear research doesn't matter, nature could just randomly create a nuclear bomb." Well, no. (Although nuclear reactors do happen naturally.) If you're trying to create super-organisms/weapons, chances are, you'll succeed.


That jernfrost wrote that it "has been used for decades" implies they're not talking about natural events, but human action.


I am NOT talking about NATURE I was specifically talking about mutagenesis. That is scientists purposefully subjecting seeds to radiation to cause random mutations in the hope of causing beneficial changes to the plant.

If you are going to attack my argument at least take the time to understand it.


I think I understand your argument. You're saying that random development is just as dangerous as directed development. I gave you an example of the opposite (nature's "random" development (e.g. evolution, geological forces, formation of planets, ...) hasn't given us anything as small & deadly as a nuclear bomb).


You analogy isn't really on point. It's more of a difference between a controlled reaction (targeted gene splicing) and randomly smashing pieces of enriched uranium and watching what happens (non-site-specific mutagenesis).


If it is a non issue, why is the EU banning it? I think you should rethink that one. Notice there are similar rules about the minimum time between using pesticide and harvest (afaik).

"insane patent laws one allows companies to take control" Nobody is mandating their use. Farmers would not use them unless it makes commercial sense.

But the point is, of all the issues raised in the article, these they kept quiet on. And it is these that anti-GMO people are the most concerned over. No matter how you feel about GMO, it is best to categorize this article as "propaganda", even if every word of it is true. This article polarizes the debate, not add to it. (And note I am pro GMO.)


> If it is a non issue, why is the EU banning it?

Why do some US schools teach creationism? Sadly, the anti-science lobby in EU is surprisingly strong.

EU even had a chief scientific officer position, but they ended the whole position when the plant scientist in the position was defending the scientific view that GMOs are safe.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/14/sack-s...


Actually, the eu is just by default not allowing GMOs, but as of today allows 51 GMO products. Including 1 that falls squarely into (1) (mon810).


>If it is a non issue, why is the EU banning it?

This question is very much like the justification of lynch mob: "If he didn't do it, why are they hanging him? Of course he did it, and hanging him is the proof!"


Uhhhh, that's not how GMOs work. Sometimes, maybe. But one of the most popular GMOs in the history of agriculture is roundup ready crops. Those are designed to allow you to slather your crops in pesticides that would normally be hazardous to them.


> 1. Some GMO has a plant produce extra chemicals, specifically, pesticides

You are referring to GMO varieties of potato, corn, cotton and soybean. These plants have been engineered to produce Bt Cry proteins.

These proteins become toxic in the alkaline (basic, pH > 7) digestive systems of certain insects [1]. No signs of toxicity has ever been found for these proteins in the acidic (pH < 7) digestive systems of mammals, including humans [2].

Also, these Bt toxins are naturally produced by a species of bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis. And either bacterial spores or extracted Bt toxins have been used as pesticides in agriculture since the 1920s. Also, as the Bt toxin is produced by bacteria, not a chemical factory, it is considered a natural product and is approved and widely used as a pesticide in organic farming [3].

Your fear of GMO based Bt-producing crops as "plants which produce chemicals" is wrong and misguided in two levels. Bt is not toxic to humans, and you cannot avoid digesting some Bt proteins by avoiding just GMO crops, as Bt is also used in non-GMO farming and also in organic farming.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis#Mechani...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis#Safety_...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis#Use_of_...


>widely used as a pesticide in organic farming

Given that external application means it can be largely washed off; yet a possibly lesser amount may be required for GMOs, in which scenario do we consume more?


Depending on the environmental impact of what gets washed off, it might be better if we ate it rather than allowing some critical piece of a food chain to be killed by it, or for it to be concentrated in the flesh of some fish that we eat.

How would you have a chance to find that out without long-term testing?


This article[1] (1999!) has a pro-GM scientist seemingly arguing that Bacillus thuringiensis can be fatal to mammals, criticizing its use in organic farming.

Is this just blatantly incorrect, based on outdated science (given that it was published so long ago), or is it not the whole story?

[1]: http://www.iatp.org/news/poison-risk-is-greater-from-organic...


"You are 30 times more likely to poison yourself with organic produce because it allows Bt [the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis] to spread directly.

[...]

When ingested, the bacterium produces endotoxins which attack the walls of the insects' guts. In mammals, they can cause death from septic shock."

We have to make the difference between Bt bacteria, and Bt toxin. Bt toxin is a protein produced by the Bt bacteria. As far as I understand, the professor here is talking about spraying the crop with live Bt bacteria, and apparently the bacteria can produce other toxins than just Bt proteins.


Whenever I read about claims of "nutritional equivalency" of GMOs to their non-GMO counterparts, I am reminded of scientists in the 50's claiming that baby formula will replace the need for breastfeeding for the same reason. Today we still know very little about human nutrition so claims like nutritional equivalence are not terribly meaningful.

And as far as "feed 8 billion people", I hate to say this because it's unpopular, but when has pouring gasoline on a fire ever extinguished it? The goal of feeding the world will annihilate it.


(1) are banned in the EU for human consumption, a reasonable choice I think until we have more data.

I thought so as well, but after a quick search my understanding is that they are not, they are subject to approval at EU level, and the member states have the final word whether to prohibit them or not (opt-out):

http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/authorisation_en

http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/authorisation/decision_ma...

There is a database of the ones currently approved :

http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm

Handy reference I just found for current legislation in various countries :

https://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/


You are correct, as a matter of fact mon810 is a counter example. Also it is unfortunate I left the word banned in there, I meant to say regulated.


You know, I find it odd that you say, "extra chemicals" specifically pointing out pesticides. From what I can find, there are some that produce a protein that is toxic to some organisms. But so is chocolate, caffeine, and other things in nature. Some things are toxic to humans, but not other organisms. The upside to this is less sprayed pesticides.

2. This side effect is something we have been dealing with for a very long time. A hybrid - manual GMO sort of plant - runs the same risk.

Furthermore, GMOs aren't exactly banned in the EU. In 2014, 49 were approved. Countries can restrict futher, but not all do. Spain is the biggest producer here. [1]

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_genetically_modi...


I did not want to use the word banned, but I see I left it there. You are right, regulated is the word. Also I did not mean all GMOs are "banned" but those that specifically produce some kind of pesticide are more strictly regulated. (Though I cannot find it on google, except from news articles, so it might not actually be the case. Actually mon810, a maize with a herbicide is doing exactly this.)

It was however not the point. The point is there are tradeoffs to GMOs. Very valid ones with arguments to both sides. Not presenting those is polarizing the discussion, not adding to it.


You didn't mention my main objection to GMO products. I'd add:

3: Many of the companies behind GMO products are what I'd call bad actors. Monsanto rightly gets a lot of the focus for the unconscionable stuff they do, but there are others as well. These companies, to my mind, make the world a worse place to live and I don't want to support them. And since there's no way to trace the provenance of the resulting food to determine who is supported by purchasing it, I have to avoid all GMO food.


That's your prerogative and fair enough.

Thankfully, GMO will thrive without your support and produce better food to feed the world.


Do you think GMO foods should be labeled so gp can be allowed to make their choice?


Let's do it the otherway round and mandate label of non-gmo food instead. Same effect in allowing consumer to make their choices, what do you think about it?


You're right. Labeling is labeling and it has the same effect. I've reread your comment a number of times and am having a hard time figuring out why you posted it, as I don't see the restatement as adding much to the discussion. Would you expand on this? I'm feeling I'm missing something.


I wasn't sure which point you were making either, so that's why I rephrase it. Basically one issue that GMO proponent has with labeling is that any labeling has an implicit meaning in it, either as a warning, or boasting ("handmade" is a boasting labeling, "gmo" might be considered a warning).


Your concerns are valid and I agree they should have been discussed in the article. Had they discussed them and explained/refuted them, then you would have the choice whether to believe them or discount them. (Most GMOs target yield, shelf-life, and appearance, or are resistant to a proprietary herbicide, rather than introducing pesticides; the effects are well-studied). I included the uncited explanation as a parenthetical remark because I don't see the actual facts as central to your comment, which more stated that the anti-GMO viewpoint should be respected.

I think the goal of the piece was to address the feelings portion of GMO avoidance. The use of "moms" and the attention to the butterfly logo highlight this emotional appeal. I think this piece was written to address an audience that approaches these decisions from a different level. Many consumers don't approach GMO avoidance with your concerns; they see prominent non-GMO labeling and make an emotional decision from that. The article intends to discuss that aspect.

I'm not using emotional decision making as a pejorative; it is the default when a person doesn't have time to learn about a subject in-depth. Many people simply do not have the bandwidth to look up GMO articles while at work or while taking care of their families.


All new technologies have unintended consequences and we have to solve those problems. They are seldom the problems that people are initially concerned about. If we are too cautious we make it harder to get things done, solve other problems and survive future crises, including environmental crises.

Being too cautious has been the default position throughout history and pre-history. It used to be about not offending the gods or deviating from tribal customs (e.g. a tribe goes extinct from starvation next to a river full of fish, because they can't or won't conceive of eating fish)

The same impulse is nowadays wrapped in scientific clothing.


> There is a unknown side to GMO, perhaps it can lead to super species that we can never get rid of in the future and will destroy bio diversity.

I can see how this kind of fear stems from watching scifi-movies, but it is totally unfounded.

When we breed super-productive or super-muscular beef cattle, for example the Belgian Blue [1], absolutely no one is afraid that these bodybuilder-looking muscular cows could survive alone in the wild, kicking the ass of natural populations of deer, elk, wolf and bear, and take over the ecosystems.

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=Belgian+Blue&tbm=isch

Yet somehow, when breeding high-yield crops, people mistake the high productivity in the controlled, pest-controlled, fertilized, irrigated farming conditions to some kind of general life vigor, ready to spread outside the farm and outcompete the natural vegetation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. No crop plant, GMO or non-GMO, could ever stand a change outside the farmer's care.


Cattle is easy to control. It does not pollinate across a fence. If it happens to escape, it is relatively easy to find it. Neither of these points apply to plants. So I think that part your comparison is entirely invalid.


> It does not pollinate across a fence.

There is no wild corn or wild soybean or wild potatoes in the forest or meadow across the fence which the farmer's crop could pollinate.

Also it has never happened that a potato (or any crop plant) escaped into the wild and survived there.


Some GMO plants don't produce spores or seeds at all for this very reason, and because Monsanto, etc have an incentive to keep their IP on a tight leech.


Is 1 really a valid point of the other side, when it applies just as well to many non-GMO plants we consume?


Yes. The difference is between applying and producing pesticides.

Several GMO crop strains are specifically designed to produce pesticides or fungicides themselves, which offers more powerful effects and saves the effort of applying those chemicals to the growing plants. This is generally valuable for crop yields and profit margins, but it's appreciably different from external application.

The main concern is that producing these pesticides/herbicides inside the plant may include the chemical inside the parts we consume - you can't just stop application prior to harvest or wash off the surface before consumption. There's a lot of conflicting data here: the GMO designers have generally concluded that the chemicals are only produced in leaves/stalks and not the edible parts, but other studies have suggested that the chemicals might be getting passed on at levels which could be relevant to pregnant mothers.


There are 2 major assumptions with your argument:

1) That the pesticides/fungicides are bad for humans. You haven't shown that. Some fungi are bad for humans, so it might be better to eat something with a fungicide but no fungus than to eat it with a fungus

2) You're assuming that applied pesticides/fungicides can just be washed off. But it's also possible that the plants absorb them and that the man-made ones are worse than the genetically engineered ones.


To play devil's avocado: you don't have to assume pesticides/fungicides are bad for humans. You just have to assume they may have unpredicted side-effects.

For example, if those pesticides result in a drastic reduction of the populations of pollinating insects this may lead to ecological changes beyond the intended crops. It's not hard to imagine other things susceptible to fungicides and pesticides that might be beneficial but can get caught in the crossfire and would suffer, especially from spill-over.


Some GMOs result in lower use of applied pesticides. Bt corn comes to mind. Such crops reduce the risk of unpredicted side-effects from spill-over.


seems the bugs are gaining immunity... whats next ?

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/farmers-say-gmo-c...


This appears to be from 2014. Prior to 2014, using GMO seeds "required" farmers to plant an in-field refuge of non-resistant crops. Since farmers could, short term, get better yields if they didn't plant these refuge plants, they often chose not to. In 2014 companies started mixing in non-resistant seeds, known as "refuge in bag". It's seen some mixed results, but for the most part, it looks like it has helped.


And don't forget that some of these pesticides, even if they do wash off, are harmful to other things we care about. Like... say... bees (yes, I know the mite problem is bigger).


Agreed on both counts. I didn't mean to say I'm not making those assumptions, just that they're the relevant questions for opposing GMO crops that produce pesticides/fungicides.

1) Lots of pesticides, including some of those we're addressing, are known to be bad for humans. Without going into biochemistry, the GMO-designer argument here isn't "it's safe" but "it isn't produced in the edible part of the crop". I'm content to say take the word of the people selling a pesticide-producing-crop if they say the pesticide is bad to eat.

2) This is a way bigger and harder question. If 'natural' pesticides are being pitted against indiscriminate use of neonicotinoids, we should probably choose the natural/GMO options and not kill all the bees. And I realize that some pesticide/crop combinations absolutely can't be cleaned up by washing - broccoli comes to mind as particularly hard to clean. I only meant to raise the question of dose/harm in pesticidal GMOs, not assert that they're always worse than external application.


My whole point is that plenty of non-GMO plants produce pesticides.


Are you aware of what the effects of pesticides like Bt are in mammals? They have been tested.


Yes.

My concern was with several cultivars that specifically produce non-mammal-safe pesticides, but are intended to produce them only (or primarily) in non-edible parts of the plant. There are lots of pesticides we absolutely shouldn't eat, and there's been some controversy over whether specific strains (of corn, largely) keep them at safe levels in the edible components of the crop.

I don't mean to imply general opposition to pesticides, just very specific combinations of pesticide/crop/cultivar.


> My concern was with several cultivars that specifically produce non-mammal-safe pesticides

Which crops and cultivars are these? Could you name or link to some examples?

Wikipedia seems to list only crops which produce Bt-toxin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_crops#Pes...


capsaicin (peppers) and allicin (onions) are effective and tasty pesticides.


And coffee.


Yes, caffeine found in coffee and tea is a pesticide

Edit: missed an e


Well some plants are just poisonous and not fit for consumption. Specifically adding poison is a risk. And that makes it a tradeoff. But add to that these plants did not need to survive on their on in nature for millions of years. Instead are cultivated/protected very specifically.

The eu judgement is not the result of a public scare, I don't think.


Few if any of the plants grown in modern agriculture survived on their own in nature for millions of years. Everything we eat is modified, it's just a question of whether the modifications were done slowly with breeding or quickly with advanced tools.


You are absolutely right.

Also, I cannot find anything but sensationalist articles on this pesticide thing I referenced. It allows mon810 which falls under this definition. It just regulates all GMOs and disallows them by default.


The most infuriating argument against GMO's (2) might the "unknown unknowns" argument, because it sounds so reasonable. Hey, the just say the Jury's still out, so its best to be cautious yes?

But the truth be said, by not eating GMO's, you are too making a decision. And we don't know what we're doing eating good old fashioned food either. And the argument from historical data "we've been doing this for thousands of years, so it must be ok" is a pretty weak one. We've been smoking for over 7000 years now. We've filled our guts with carcinogens, practiced sham medicines and doing plenty of stupid things for a long time now. We did it not because it was "healthy", or out of some ancient wisdom, we did it because it was we knew, and we were making the best of a strange situation.


[facetiously] I do wonder if there was ever a scientist mums group promoting the scientific consensus for the safety of cigarettes. I find the label-galore a bit cringe but that aside, unlike church-state-judiciary, science is not independent from politics and Id call deep conflict of interest here on both sides of the argument.

It'd be great to have a full provenance system where it was possible to see how studies were financed in the matter, if bills were lobbied and how it overlaps with independent research. It'd also be good to see an international debate.


Great post. Seeing both sides is skill that many don't have.

On another note, I see GMO as similar to global warming. Avoiding the catastrophic risk doesn't seem to have a huge cost, so why don't we just avoid it.

Regarding nuclear: when the Fukushima Disaster was just starting, a senior engineer/executive at my company was so certain nothing would happen. He gave a presentation on all the technology and safety mechanisms and how the engineers thought of everything... Yes, the naive answer is scary.


I see GMO as similar to climate change in that in both cases scientists are overwhelmingly making recommendations that are being ignored by significant percentages of the population. And I find it particularly interesting that at least anecdotally large numbers of anti-GMO folks believe in climate change; the common theme appears to be a willingness to believe big business greed translates into overt fraud and manipulation of markets.


The trouble is that many of us who think gmo foods are OK if an individual chooses to eat them, we get upset when scientists, possible whose paycheck depends on gmo, write articles critical of honest labeling.


>But an article that fails to mention valid (remember the eu) downsides,

Except that the bans in the EU aren't based on scientific data, and are thus not valid in a scientific discussion.


There is no point in gmo "done responsibly". The question is do we want more or less industrial agriculture?

Given what we've learnt in the past 50 years, we should want less industrial agriculture. And gmos are not the way to go. They're useless, potentially harmful, and industrial-level shit products.


Saying that genetically modified agricultural product are useless is objectively a lie. Saying they are potentially harmful is a weasel accusation. The last bit is just an straight insult. Did you have a point to the rant that you forgot to work in? You served some pretty thin soup here.


"And even necessary if we want to feed 8 billion people and more in the future."

It is necessary to reduce or not grow animal product production and favor vegetable diet. Animals are a terrible inefficient food source.


+1 I would give you +10 if I could because you are correct: cutting way back on beef consumption, favoring chicken or fish, or even better vegan food, saves a huge amount of resources, and helps fix global warming (yes, methane belching cows, I am looking at you!)


How about taste vs yield? Non GMO always seems to taste better to me.


A lot of the EU ban is directly related to lobbying, not actual science.


I'm pretty sure your 'lobbying' is more appropriately called 'democracy' in this case, considering there is without a doubt more money on the pro-GMO side of the argument, and far more than 50% of the population are anti-GMO.


GMO doesn't really do anything that nature can't do.

Any risks in GMO could also arise naturally via evolution.

If evolution could produce super plants, then it would have done so.


Bear in mind, though... "Anything nature can do" covers plenty of toxic, teratogenic, or carcinogenic results. The plants that evolved to kill us are ones we don't eat.

Blanket fear of "GMO crops" is obviously foolish, because the relevant question is "what genes does it have?" rather than "how did the genes get there?" But that doesn't rule out sensible concern about the higher rate of change on GMOs, and the ability to transfer potentially-dangerous genes wholesale.

The basic safety measure of natural selection and human cultivation is the rate of change. If a cultivar makes some people somewhat sick, it won't catch on or become universal, and it won't be intensified to something lethal. The real danger of GMOs is that they suspend that precaution - they can produce abrupt changes in an entire national crop. So the risks aren't different, but they might not be caught until they've done far more harm.


Sure, but on an evolutionary scale, humans and other dependent species have time to catch up to the changes. That's not true for changes wrought from GM.


Plant breeding has brought many adverse emergent properties. It involves selecting for a few alleles while having no way to prevent unintended alleles from being bred in. Introduction of invasive species have permanently degraded many ecosystems. The current method of mass-farming agriculture spreads purpose-bred plants around the world. The current method of agriculture is also high risk.


You can't speak of an "evolutionary scale" when there are literally intelligent designers at work, carefully cross-breeding each generation for optimal results.

It's a slower process than direct genetic manipulation, sure, but "evolutionary" implies thousands or even millions of years when the reality is closer to decades.


This is true enough, but even decades is a far different time frame from the average GMO. 30 years of directed breeding generally means a one-off cultivar being bred into something new and then popularized. The current GMO cycle involves a 1-5 years of test plantings, followed by national distribution.

So agreed, the evolutionary scale isn't applicable here, but it's still worth noting that GMOs represent a substantial acceleration from the directed-breeding scale.


Except "atomic gardening" is considered "organic", so triggering random mutations and seeing what works is much faster than "30 years of directed breeding".

https://mvd.iaea.org


It actually has already; invasive species choke out indigenous plants and permanently alter existing ecosystems.


A couple I know who avoid GMO products have a few things in common with others I've seen saying the same things: Ignorance of what a GMO really is, a deep distrust of corporate interests/government regulators and a strange, unearned trust placed in those selling "organic" products.

It costs them a premium, but they say they're doing it for their children. I can't argue against it to their faces, but quietly I wonder if they wouldn't be more financially free if they weren't so willingly chained to 7 dollar gallons of milk.


The tricky thing is it's very hard to really be on top of all the evidence, so we rely on some signaling. The "granola" crowd tends to place unearned trust in organic or non-GMO products, but the "science" crowd tends to place unearned trust in methodologically suspect corporate studies with a clear conflict of interest.

I'm pretty much right down the middle on this stuff, but I tend to regard the latter as a bigger problem simply because the amount of money and lobbying involved. Think of the amount of money to be made by increasing grain yields by 1%, can we really expect industry to determine objectively that a higher yield grain is nutritionally equivalent?


I think that is unfair to the science crowd. I consider myself part of them, and I am highly suspicious of corporate interests.

Of course with the commercialization of public institutions and the insane pressure to publish, one can not trust scientific publications as well as before. What is it 60% of life science publications can't be reproduced?

There is a real need for change in system, so we can trust research more. I think the capitalistic thinking has ruined science. One looks at science as some production process which needs to increase yield. Thus one ends up focusing on quantity rather than quality.

I'd rather see a lot fewer publications and stuff of actual quality which can be reproduced than what is going on now.


In regards to organic produce, imagine how much money the producer can make by charging a lot extra. Organic does not necessarily mean better for health or environment, in fact in some cases organic may be even be worse

https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html


>Organic does not necessarily mean better for health or environment //

I don't see how you can say that for the later case - most of the requirements mentioned here (for example) http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/index_en for Organic food seem like they would be better for the environment.

In take of less potent and lower quantities of non-food chemicals used as pesticides, herbicides and reduced presence of antibiotics seem like things that would lead to better human health (either directly or indirectly) too.

Can you explain how focus on a local supply chain, say, as one element of Organic farming practice is detrimental to either of those things, [human] health or environment?


Example: some GMO crops are more tolerant of compacted soil and weed competition, reducing the need to till the soil. Tilling the soil requires enormous amounts of diesel fuel, with obvious bad environmental implications. By reducing the use of diesel, the GMO crops help the environment.

Oh, you don't even have to accept global warming to see how using diesel to till the soil can cause harm. Particulate matter in the air is really harmful. (both the diesel exhaust and the soil getting churned up into the air) Disturbed soil runs off into streams, leading to dead zones. Competition for crude oil seems to support war, which has lots of bad effects on the environment.

So... eat GMO to save the environment.


Tilling the soil is not needed if you practice organic permaculture farming.


That way we get reduced productivity, meaning we need to devote more land to crops and less to wilderness or whatever. Also, what you can do in a labor-intensive garden is not going to produce affordable food for billions.


From the source I have given:

> A recent study compared the effectiveness of a rotenone-pyrethrin mixture versus a synthetic pesticide, imidan. Rotenone and pyrethrin are two common organic pesticides; imidan is considered a "soft" synthetic pesticide (i.e., designed to have a brief lifetime after application, and other traits that minimize unwanted effects). It was found that up to 7 applications of the rotenone- pyrethrin mixture were required to obtain the level of protection provided by 2 applications of imidan.

> It seems unlikely that 7 applications of rotenone and pyrethrin are really better for the environment than 2 applications of imidan, especially when rotenone is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

I know it is anecdotal evidence, but organic farmers would not care if the fertilizer/pesticide made from mined minerals are better/worse for the environment or not as long as it passes the "organic" criteria. A rather more useful criteria IMO would be "relatively harmless to the environment"


> Can you explain how focus on a local supply chain, say, as one element of Organic farming practice is detrimental to either of those things, [human] health or environment?

http://freakonomics.com/2011/11/14/the-inefficiency-of-local...

"Forsaking comparative advantage in agriculture by localizing means it will take more inputs to grow a given quantity of food, including more land and more chemicals—all of which come at a cost of carbon emissions."


You talk like the "GMO industry" unilaterally makes decisions. They put out studies, these studies can be (and are) critiqued by public scientists. Further, no "industry" is charged with regulating the quality and safety of our food--that's the job of the FDA. The science camp is at least making evidence-based decisions, whereas the "granola" folks are dismissing everything for fear of hypothetical methodological errors (all the while ignoring that the organic food industry is still an industry complete with its own incentives). As far as I'm concerned, this debate is a mirror of the vaccination debate or the climate debate with (perhaps) lower stakes.


> this debate is a mirror of the vaccination debate

The two seem to be polar opposites to me. In the case of vaccines, you have thousands of years of history that demonstrates the danger of diseases and recent history showing how effective vaccines are. Those arguing against vaccines need to show serious harm caused before it would cancel out the benefits.

In the case of GMO foods, history argues against the technology. We know that non-GMO food is healthy. We have thousands of years of evidence to support that fact. The problems GMO are solving are on the producer's side, not the consumer's.

You can argue that the problem being solved is providing enough food to feed everyone and that history also shows the devastating effects of famine and starvation, but there are other ways to solve that problem that have none of the risks of GMO foods (less reliance on meats, for example, would make much more efficient use of our agricultural resources). Show me an alternative way of dealing with measles, flu, tetanus, hep and all the other illnesses we vaccinate that's even half as effective as vaccines and I'll concede that the two debates are similar.


In the case of GMOs, history absolutely argues for the technology.

If you don't believe in the safety of "unnatural" foods, you'll need to stop eating corn, bananas, beef, pork, and any other domesticated plant or animal. Recent history has shown that GMOs are much more precise and effective at domesticating plants for our purposes.


Why are you quoting "GMO industry" when that's not even a phrase I used?


I put it in quotes because I'm not sure if this is a recognized term or if I just coined it. I didn't intend to misrepresent you, but I can see how it could be read as such. Apologies.


Your comment gave me an interesting thought: how would a labeling system that describes exactly which modifications were made to the organism in question work?


There current argument du jour about GM has to do with things like the Arctic apple, which doesn't turn brown when it's sliced, due to silencing several genes[1] - this sidesteps the usual "but now there are fish genes in my tomato!" as nothing has been added, just removed.

1: http://www.arcticapples.com/how-did-we-make-nonbrowning-appl...


But.. there's no "save the earth" argument for this GMO modification, just a mild convenience.

I achieve the same thing by slicing apples with ceramic instead of metal. Think of how much I saved on R&D!


I think the non-browning modification also helps protect the apples during transportation, which in turn reduces waste (since fewer apples will reach the store in a damaged, non-consumer friendly state). Reducing waste _is_ "saving the earth" :)


Interesting post, thanks. This certainly begs the questions of if/how it would be possible to concisely (or even not so concisely) convey this information to consumers.


This work for me. Why do all the rebuttals here consist of throwing hands in air and exhaspirating, "Where will it end?" We are talking about the future of our food and the huge profits that stand to be made. We should never stop testing these products.


And where does it end? What if the main product isn't GMO, but some small part of the additives in the product were GMO?


To be quite clear, personally I'm 100% pro-GMO. But that's because I believe the benefits that can be realized outweigh the risks. However, in this case I'm simply curious from both a packaging/product design and regulatory point of view: how would this work? I agree it would have to stop somewhere.

Part of my biggest issue is that a company can patent the gene modifications they make and then say, "You're eating our proprietary cucumber now." I understand their business model, but I think if anything should be "open source", it should be our food.


> Part of my biggest issue is that a company can patent the gene modifications they make

Also the results of non-GMO breeding can be, and have been patented.


> but I tend to regard the latter as a bigger problem simply because the amount of money and lobbying involved

As the current US presidential election has shown, when money and lobbying collides with emotions and FUD, the latter wins every time, and thus I consider the latter a bigger problem.


Think of all the lives to be saved by increasing grain yields by 1%.


As a members of a CSA (Community supported agriculture) I trust my supplier of my organic food, because I am part of it. I do not pay a premium compared to traditional supermarket products. But I enjoy a superior quality. But, since I am a prosumer the whole food supply process is quite different.


Similarly, I live in VT and have small food producers and farmers all around me. These products are also available in grocery stores, but when you can qualitatively observe the differences between the land and growing practices of GMO farmers and organic farmers, the choices are not presented in such a flat way as when lined up on a shelf.


I doubt the general public is qualified to decide which practices are better than others. For example, I grew up on a farm, but I couldn't tell you if free-range eggs are safer or healthier than eggs from caged birds. Nor could I tell you if chemical-free produce is safer than organic. Nor could I tell you if antibiotic-free meat is safer or healthier than "regular" meat. I can tell you what I've heard from my pro-GMO family and my anti-GMO friends, but without diving deeply into the studies and counter studies, it would be hard to draw an informed conclusion.


Isn't there a moral aspect of this? Shouldn't you treat the animal you are "consuming" as good as possible?


Probably, but even here I doubt the public is qualified to make this call. The canonical example is a sow pen which has just enough room for a sow to lay down while she nurses her piglets; this is actually better for the animals because it prevents the sow (~800 lbs) from crushing her piglets (~5 lbs); however, laypeople see an animal rights violation.


Sure. But remember the main topic here is plants, and there are no moral considerations there.


What, you don't think plants have feelings?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/12/peter-wo...

I can imagine you have more sympathy for animals than plants since they are more like us, but I suspect bias if you use that as a basis for morality.


> free-range eggs are safer or healthier than eggs from caged birds.

This makes absolutely no sense. "free-range" is a question about chicken health, not egg safety.


Please note that I never made that claim; I simply observed it.


> I do not pay a premium compared to traditional supermarket products

Is this comparing with organic products, or also non-organic? What is a "prosumer" in the food/grocery sense? I'm not familiar with the term in that context.


It is hard to compare, since the distinct food item does not have a price. You pay the farmer collective a slice of their yearly budget in terms of money or work and get a slice of the yearly production. Furthermore the CSA produces food / varieties that are not even available or comparable in terms of quality in the supermarket. But one member weighted the outcome of one years production and compared it to typical supermarket prices of similar products and found out that the CSA was actually cheaper.

The community is sharing their money or work to keep the agriculture running. They are actively engaged in their food production and therefore prosumers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community-supported_agricultur...


So "prosumer" is a portmanteau of "producer" and "consumer"? Just want to clarify because in most/many contexts, it's "professional" and "consumer".

Sounds like price comparison is an open question, unless there are more definitive/rigorous comparisons out there. At the very least, it sounds like there's a tradeoff between quality and selection (when you walk into a supermarket you can choose to buy whatever you want, whereas a CSA is limited to what's currently being harvested at a particular farm).

I'd certainly be open to making this tradeoff for some of my food, though when I've had CSA deliveries redirected to me by neighbors on vacation, I found that much of the food (even oranges, which I think of as moderately durable) went bad within just a few days.


"whereas a CSA is limited to what's currently being harvested at a particular farm"

That turned out to be an big advantage of the CSA for me. It is very satisfactory to be in natures rhythm, be engaged in the growing of things I eat and therefore in the growing of myself. I learned a lot of new products and recipes I even did not know exists.


A CSA isn't necessarily a co-op or farming collective or anything like that, though--it's a way to increase the small farmer's revenue, thereby enabling more expensive means of production / better quality / different goals, by cutting out the middlemen--isn't that so?


I don't see how you could avoid paying a premium since, by definition, the organic growers are less efficient.


You bypass most of the usual supply chain by buying from local farmers directly.

See http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ for an in-depth explanation of the concept.


It isn't necessarly the case : permaculture has very high yields and low costs compared to oil-based agriculture.


I eat GMO food all the time, but organic milk is so damn delicious. It's the one thing I'll splurge on. Even 1% tastes as good as normal whole milk imo. The rest tastes the same to me shrugs


Dairy products are highly variant, depending on what the cows are fed. If it's organic, it's possible that it's also grass-fed or something along those lines.


You can always tell when the cows switch between grass and silage in the spring and fall. Milk tastes like garbage for a week or two until they get sorted out.


This one tastes like it the cow got into an onion patch.


That sort of thing is a major concern for selling goat's milk. Bad things can also happen with hormonal changes when the billy and nanny goats are allowed together.


That's an intentional product in central Europe, believe it or not.


My understanding is that this is partially due to different pasteurization processes. Organic milk is heated at a higher temperature and for less time, than the pasteurization process used for non-organic milk. This carmelizes the sugars in the organic milk, making it sweeter. The process is also the reason why organic milk lasts longer on the store shelf.

See this article: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-organic-m...


It's actually for the same reason that a placebo is good: a but more sugar.


I try to almost exclusively eat organic products. It's not really about the taste or even much about my own health. The real benefit is to the environment where the plants are grown. The overuse of herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics can destroy the natural ecology of an area.


You do realize organic farming uses significantly more pesticides, right? [1].

[1] https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html


Interesting link, I'm admittedly not that educated on this. However, not all organic farms use more pesticides. Some hardly use any pesticides at all.

What is the most sustainable and ecologically friendly way to get food then? Local farms, farmers markets, or growing your own food seems like the best but I don't think that's sustainable for the whole population.


> Some hardly use any pesticides at all.

Citation? I can't imagine they would use little or none unless they were farming something specific, like rice, which can grow under water or if it's grown indoors.

> What is the most sustainable and ecologically friendly way to get food then? Local farms, farmers markets, or growing your own food seems like the best but I don't think that's sustainable for the whole population.

So I'm having trouble finding the study I read a few years back but it essentially found that large, centralized farms are the most efficient because our transportation has gotten so good and many plants grow better in specific climates versus growing everything locally. So if you have enough scale then centralized, huge farms seems to be the way to go.

However that's using today's farming. I've seen many write-ups calling for entire buildings with hundreds of floors for farming. If we can get those energy efficient then we should be able to create the perfect climate for each plant and we'll be taking up vertical space so it'll be better land usage too.

Though that would suck if power died from, say, a solar flare and all of our food was in these towers...heh


I'll cite myself on this one. I've worked on two organic farms, both in very different environments (CA & FL), and neither used more than a trivial (or less) amount of pesticide. Regarding your difficulty imagining using less pesticides unless a monoculture; well, it's been the opposite in my experience - it's daunting just to think of listing everything grown on the farm in FL. And contrary to the many comments here asserting the inefficiency and unreasonable cost of organic farming, I have yet to observe much to corroborate. As for the quality of product, it's excellent, well beyond mere subjectivity.


Here you go about the absence of pesticides : http://www.fermedubec.com/publications.aspx

Basically, french state's scientific body reviewed this organic permaculture farm for 4 years. They do not use pesticides, do not use thermic engines, and are so productive that it allows farmers to earn the median french salary while doing 35h/week on average.

How? No tilling of the soils. Worms do it for you. No weeds, since the soil is always cultivated, leaving no room for them. No need for a lot of fertilisers : the organic soil is actually growing from the constant adjunction of carbon, and beans are fixing the nitrogen in the soil. No need for excessive watering : the soil retains humidity. Etc...

Science, guys.


> Citation? I can't imagine they would use little or none unless they were farming something specific, like rice, which can grow under water or if it's grown indoors.

I don't really have a source for that more than anecdotal evidence. I've been involved with local farms that don't use any pesticides, however they were on the scale of ~5-15 acres. On a commercial scale it's probably not really possible. And organic food you'd buy in a supermarket is definitely not grown in this way.

The link you provided also only mentions two types of organic pesticides when there are thousands of USDA approved organic pesticides. I'm sure there are some USDA Organic pesticides that are just as harmful if not more so than some conventional pesticides but that's really just an argument for better USDA regulations.

>So I'm having trouble finding the study I read a few years back but it essentially found that large, centralized farms are the most efficient because our transportation has gotten so good and many plants grow better in specific climates versus growing everything locally. So if you have enough scale then centralized, huge farms seems to be the way to go.

I'm sure that large, centralized farms are most efficient in the short term. But long term effects on food production and soil could offset that. If in 50 years the soil is nutritionally drained and farms have to continue to pump more nutrients in then the cost and effeciency is going to drop. [1][2]

I think near-term, some combination is required because the level of food production needed is so high. Long-term, incorporating more sustainable practices into commercial scale farms or moving production into greenhouses like you mentioned is a better idea.

I'll add that after doing more research today, the label "Organic" doesn't mean better for the environment. That much is now clear to me. However, sustainable farming practices that can usually be found a small-local farms and backyard gardens are more environmentally friendly. Though scaling that for worldwide production is a difficult problem.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4552827/ [2] https://web.archive.org/web/20160305010056/https://nature.be...


Organic is bad for the environment because it's unsustainable. It's purely a luxury product.


Lol let's just burn the forests! Organic forest is so bad for the environment!


A deep distrust of corporate interests and government regulators is not only healthy, it's the only sane position to take if you look at even recent history. People have already forgotten about the lead scandal in Michigan.


>>It seems like folks buying into the GMO conspiracy are often the same folks who buy into any conspiracy.

I think it's a bit more nuanced than that. Just like the right-wing has their anti-government extremists, the left-wing has their anti-corporate extremists. However, the latter group is interesting in the sense that they actually think science is on their side.


I axed that a few minutes ago, it seemed a little harsh.

sorry to anyone who was confused by my edit.


Non-GMO or pro organic may have most of their stuff sourced from big corporations. I don't know about you, but most of the organic food in my grocery store comes from massive corporations...


You're conflating a few issues. Organic food is more than just GMO-free. With regards to milk and meat, I can easily understand that people would want to avoid the hormones and antibiotics used excessively in conventional farming. I know there is scant evidence for these to be harmful to the consumer of the product. But at the very least you're helping a bit to avoid the coming super-resistant bacterial infections.

From what I've observed, people buying organic may be wrong about organic food specifically, but they pretty obviously have something else figured out. They cook fresh food every day, they eat together as a family (often with friends), none of them are overweight. For them, cooking and eating are a social activity and O can't escape the observation that they're happier than those families eating a 20pc chicken nuggets box in front of the TV.


There are organic and local small tomatoes and white raisin in my house and when I have people coming by and eating them they always are amazed how it tastes much better than anything they ever bought at the super market(?).

I live in Europe though and we don't seem to suffer yet from the hostility of anti-organic people.


I'd wager that the reason for the difference in taste is in the freshness.

It is difficult to farm at scale and sell produce year round across a continent; time to consumption is a luxury beaten out of it at that scale and food often suffers under it. Only the varieties of tomatoes, etc. that can withstand changing temperatures and conditions, make it to market weeks later, and still look good enough to sell will be used, and these are often not as flavorful both initially and after several weeks.


...and a strange, unearned trust placed in those selling "organic" products.

Why is it "strange and unearned"? In many states / countries there are specific regulations that qualify what can be labelled "organic" or not (having to do largely with whether certain classes of pesticides or fertilizer were used in their production or not, for example).

Are you saying that pesticides in the food chain are complete red herring, and that any concern about them is "strange and unearned"? I'm not sure I quite follow you, actually.


Pesticides are used on organic food too. Often they use much larger volumes of less effective pesticides to compensate.


The non-use of pesticides can be a problem too - there was an outbreak of a dangerous E. coli strain in Germany 2011 due to a contaminated organic farm. (Interestingly, the E. coli in question had acquired a few extra genes encoding for the toxin from another E. coli strain, natural GM)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Germany_E._coli_O104:H4_o...


Just because the outbreak occurred on an organic farm... doesn't mean it was "caused by" the lack of pesticide use (or any other cultivation practices, per se). In fact, as to that particular outbreak, the very WP page you cite says:

Using epidemiological methods the outbreaks in 2011 were traced to a shipment of seeds from Egypt that arrived in Germany in December 2009.

Citing as a source:

http://phys.org/news/2012-02-insight-whole-genome-sequencing...


You cite "ignorance of what a GMO really is" - what do you think they're misinformed about?


So my guilty pleasure is Big Brother (US version) and I watched recently as the "houseguests" were reading product labels (they get very bored in that house) and began discussing what GMOs were. They all agreed they were terrible. None of them had a clue what they were ("it's like chemicals or something, I think. Yeah.") Given two products on a shelf, one labeled "non-GMO", they would blindly choose that one.

I imagine this is most of America.


Almost every person I know who is on the organic bandwagon are very insistent, despite the evidence I have provided them, that organic food uses no pesticides and is better for you because it's "natural" whereas GMOs are made by companies who only care about money and are not tested enough and even if they were tested enough they could still do something bad because "you never know".

Ultimately it comes down to an ignorance in how the farming process works and an ignorance in how genetics work when modifying plants either in a laboratory or though breading.

I've also never met a person who supports organic who also knew about the practice of using radioactivity to cause random mutations in organic farming.


All of the above reasons are why I stopped engaging with the aforementioned "natural fallacy" folks long ago. It's painful, and seems to get nowhere regardless of how many facts are throw at them.


"seems to get nowhere regardless of how many facts are throw at them."

If you're engaging someone who doesn't agree with you on an issue, purely throwing facts at them is very unlikely to convince them of your point, and is going to end up frustrating both sides. Human psychology just doesn't work that way. We're not purely rational, evidence-based beings.

How much time have you taken to understand their positions and the reasons they hold them? Are they just irrational? Ignorant? Obstinate? Willfully uneducated? If you think this is the case, how can you convince them anyway? After all, they're irrational, ignorant, obstinate, and willfully uneducated :)

If you can understand (that's not necessarily the same as agree with) where they're coming from, that goes a long way towards understanding how you can reach some kind of shared understanding and agreement where none existed before. That might seem like it's a slower process, and takes too much time. But if it actually works, and the other method (throwing facts) doesn't, it's actually accomplished something.

There's a lot of contentious issues right now that are very important for us to reconcile. Working on skills like this, figuring out how to come to agreements and compromises, working solutions, is vital.


I am absolutely awful at this but you're completely right. I've never had facts change anyone's mind but at the same time I've been told I'm a "robot" regarding emotions so I have changed my mind in the past but I don't think that makes me better. In fact it seems I may be deficient in emotions compared to many that I interact with.

So I _try_ to figure out where they're coming from and relate to it. But I can never do it. I've never figured out a way to argue with someone in a productive way.

In fact if you know of any good reads on the topic I'd love to check them out. I've been told I'm not empathetic enough though I try to be and I'm not entirely sure how to fix it.


Thanks for taking the time to respond. I have a really hard time with this, too. I've seen the problems it's caused me personally and in the US with its crippling polarization. There have been some discussions around HN recently:

- Crocker's Rules: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12881288

- Principle of Charity: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12774600

- Rapaport's Rules: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12774692

I also found Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind"[0] really worthwhile. I mean to read it again in the next week or so. What I find particularly impressive with his work is that he found that his research actually changed his own thinking.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Haidt

And you know, re-reading your response "I've never had facts change anyone's mind", I think even if you don't change someone's mind at the time, finding some common ground, something you agree on is a worthwhile accomplishment. Sometimes it seems the gulf between us is so large. Recognizing that it might not be is reassuring.

I hope you find these useful!


Thanks! I'll definitely look through these.


I mean the reality is right in the name -- I'm sure that you can find enough uninformed people to make a shame-video, but you could do that for any topic. My suspicion is that they distrust the primary sources because they have significant lobbying power and a strong financial incentive to push the product regardless of the long term effects or societal harm it might cause.


Not OP, but I get the impression a lot of anti-GMO folks think that GMO crops are synthetic, irradiated, mutant organisms when in fact they are still just conventionally-grown, chemically-organic plants.

In other words, nutters think GMOs are Spiderman when they're actually just Batman.


Moreover, irradiated mutant plants (and those produced by exposure to chemical mutagens) are not GMOs, and qualify for organic labelling.


Try asking the typical anti-GMOer what a GMO is and you'll get your answer. To start with, many don't know what GMO stands for or the basic concept of recombinant genetics.

While perhaps a bit of a hyperbole, this video lines up pretty well with me real-world experience (unfortunately): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzEr23XJwFY


I suspect most GMO opponents thing GMO is some kind of substance that the food contains.


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