Thursday, 28 April 2005

Celebrating ten years of GE

Commercial genetically-engineered crops are now ten years old, and it's high time this wonderful technology was properly celebrated Michael Fumento is celebrating in the Washington Times:
Globally, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, biotech acres planted have grown almost 50-fold since 1996. They now cover the equivalent of 40 percent of the U.S. land area. An increasing percentage of these crops are in places with hungry populations such as China and South Africa. In the United States, three-fourths of the cotton, almost half the corn and 85 percent of the soybeans planted are biotech. Considering the massive variety of foods we consume containing corn and soy and cottonseed oil, almost all of us eat biotech food daily.
And evidence continues to grow that the food is healthier than 'health foods', a godsend for third-world farmers who can be productive without expensive fertilisers and pesticides, and in the case of crops like the soon-to-be-rolled-out golden rice 2, able to provide highly nutritious food where at the moment there is very little. This stuff feeds the world better than a song by Sting or Bob Geldof ever could.

And, despite the many warnings by activists that GE food 'could,' 'might' or 'may' lead to unspecified disasters, it hasn't. Not one single person has died in that time due to food being genetically engineered. 

On the other hand, food that hasn't been genetically enginered has continued to cause problems, some of which genetic engineering may have helped with. The onset of birth defects from fumonisins caused by mouldy organic corn, mentioned by Fumento, is just one example.

Ironically, as no news of problems with GE foods continues not to flood in, we continue to see reports such as these from The Times about organic foods: There is evidence "that organic farms may act as reservoirs for fungi which generate dangerous food mycotoxins - two such (fumonisin and patulin) are both reported to have a higher incidence in organic food. There have been cases of contamination of organic food worldwide -botulism in tins of organic soup, listeria in organic cheese, salmonella in organic sprouts, E. coli in organic apple juice..." Etc.

So do I expect the opponents of GE to get over themselves any time soon? Well, the Greens are now banging on about Peak Oil instead of GE in a desperate attempt to get themselves an election hook, and their FrogBlog hasn't even mentioned GE since the blog began. See.

So you tell me? Maybe I was wrong back in 1999? Maybe they have got it now. Maybe I was wrong in 2001? Robert Bidinotto doesn't think so.

What do you think?


  1. What about genetically engineered tryptophan that caused 37 deaths and 1500 disabilities in 1989?

    I personally would like the choice to eat or not eat GE food.

  2. In the Showa Denko case you're talking about (see below and description here)the problem was the method of tryptophan production, not that it was GE, which is why I said "Not one single person has died due to food being genetically engineered."

    "I personally would like the choice to eat or not eat GE food." Uh huh, fine. But labelling shouldn't be compulsory, and the market doesn't really give a damn. If it did, people would have been beating a path to the door of places like Grey Lynn's Harvest Whole Foods for the last ten years (an excellent shop BTW), and they ain't been.

    And talk of crops or seeds being 'contaminated' just because GE crops are included is just silly.


    Of the Showa Denko case Consumer Law says: says: "It is believed that the fermentation and later cooking of industrial sizeIn the Showa Denko case you're talking about the problem was the method of tryptophan production, not that it was GE. "It is believed that the fermentation and later cooking of industrial sized lots of L-tryptophan generated the contaminant found throughout so called "hot" lots of the product."

  3. The thing is, there already has been a massive consumer backlash against GE overseas. I remember writing to Sanitarium in Oz a number of years ago asking if they used GE products in their products and they just sent me some sort of marketing crap about how they adhered to current food standards, etc. About a year or so later they proudly announced that they were GE free.

    I personally will never buy GE food willingly. Having two children with food allergies, I'm already an avid ingredient reader. I have to make sure that there's nothing dangerous for them in anything I buy. With GE, there is a potential for dangerous food being sold under the guise of safety ie food spliced with genetics of something some people are allergic to. Like if peanuts were spliced with apples for instance, and there was no warning, my very peanut allergic son, who loves apples, could die from the the reaction.

  4. Lucyna - If what you are concerned about was a risk, it would have happened by now. And in any case, your point applies generally, and not just to GE. Do food manufacturers label the pesticides that they use? If peanut genes spliced into apples did cause a problem, the market would soon respond, labelling or no labelling. As PC noted, no deaths have been caused by GE food. So I have no hesitation buying GE food. In fact, I am tempted not to buy food from manufacturers that abstain from GE. GE is in fact green, only the Greenies are too thick to see it.

  5. If what you are concerned about was a risk, it would have happened by now.

    Failed attempt at logical thinking Brian S - try again. One DOES NOT EQUAL the other. Lookup up logical fallacies on the web.

    No, my point does not apply generally. My children have not to date had allergic reactions out of the blue to foods they normally eat. Maybe they might in the future. That is always a risk. Pesticides to tend to affect wider populations than specific allergies to, so hopefully if that ever became an issue, it would be picked up pretty quickly by the people in the orchards getting affected first. I also know that particular pesticides are no longer in use because they have been shown to be harmful as well.

    If peanut genes spliced into apples did cause a problem, the market would soon respond, labelling or no labelling.

    And where would that leave my son, Brian, if he were to have an allergic reaction? Quite possibly dead. Oh, but that's ok in your book, because the market will respond. Pardon me if I don't agree on that point.

    Food is what we all need to live on. No food, we die. This is not a choice about something trivial, this potentially life or death for some people. Do you get that? By being against labelling, you take away the choice from people to avoid potentially dangerous food.

  6. Brian S, you make a silly comment "If what you are concerned about was a risk, it would have happened by now." I note Lucyna made the same point, but it is worth repeating because it was so silly.

    Are you providing official notice that all GE experiments are over, and no new variations will be tried? Is there official evidence you can point to that absolutely guarantees this with a full "oh we are so sorry it wont happen again" apology if something ever should go wrong??

    There are risks to GE, and there are issues of copyright and patent on the supply of seeds, (terminator gene issues and so forth) that affect our rights.

    I am not against GE foods, but I am against hiding information. I am also against groups of people that tell me it is up to them to decide what I need to know, (or information that I want to know.

    I'll decide if that information is necessary thank you.

    Years ago, there were many studies proving the health benefits of smoking, and that it didn't do damage.

    There are products now that I choose to avoid based on my own research, that may not agree with the mainstream "evidence" but still has the backing of noted experts in the field.

    I agree that GE reaction is often the rantings of rabid left wing greenies that obviously are on the wrong diet, but that too does not make a fact any less right or wrong. All it does is cloud the issue.

    Whose agenda did you subscribe to to justify with-holding data from the unwashed masses that occasionally do wash, can actually think and are entitled to a different opinion than Monsanto, even on the possibility it turns out to be wrong?

    With opinions like these, its obvious I'm not drinking the water. Have you tried the benefits of filtration?

  7. BTW, Bidinotto makes several good points, which is generally easy when positioning a conversation against the looney left.

    However, I still get annoyed at the converse simplistic arguments that we need to use genetically engineered food to feed the masses. Like that's the excuse for not doing it now.

    Nope. We can already feed every-one now , and continue feeding them for quite some time with or without clever crops.

    Yes I agree GE can be good for us, but learning how to distribute food is something that seems to elude us even today.

    Damn, another thing to build a more detailed post about. So many moonbats, so little time.

  8. I am not against GE foods per se, but I do have my concerns. Like Lucyna and Zen, I am strongly of the opinion that they should be clearly labelled to enable consumers who wish to to make informed decisions about what they buy. PC, could you expand on your reasoning as to why labelling should *not* be compulsory? That doesn't make any sense to me.

    This next bit is purely anecdotal, but was interesting to me nonetheless: Recently I was talking to a geneticist who is involved with stem cell research. We were talking about soy milk here in Germany. His immediate and strong response was "Steer clear of soy milk here, it is all made from GE crops." My response was "What? That's your field. You manipulate genes and cells for a living. If anything, I'd have thought you'd be a proponent of GE crops" to which he answered, and I'm paraphrasing not to mention translating, "Well, at this stage even the scientists carrying out the genetic manipulation have no idea whatsoever what, if any side effects their changes may cause. We just don't know. So, in the meantime, steer clear."

    I was pretty surprised by that, and I have to take his word for it because he knows *much* more about it than I ever will. So, in the meantime, while the geneticists jury is still out, I *definitely* want my food labeled so I cand decide for myself.

  9. Lucyna - Your initial point was that "With GE, there is a potential for dangerous food being sold under the guise of safety". You are scared that nasty companies are going to try to put one over you. It is really a dig at capitalism than at GE pe se. My point was that if companies were going to sneak dodgy GE stuff to market, they would have done it by now and we would have seen deaths and sickness. We have not. Is it regulation that has prevented this? Or is it more to do with the fact that food companies have a vested interest in not making their customers sick? I would say the latter. Of course, I am not saying that there will never be any dodgy stuff. But there is nothing special about GE in this regard. As PC pointed out, organics are arguably a greater health hazard (while not having the same benefits for farmers). Anyway, in your case, you have to be particularly careful regardless and for you it is really an issue of information.

    With regard to labelling, I did not say I was against labelling. I just don't think it should be regulated. If a company wants to label its food, fine. If it doesn't, then you may choose not to buy it. But as far as peanuts go, aren't you already in the poo because all kinds of non-peanut related foods now carry an obligatory "may contain traces of nuts", whether they do or not, thereby rendering the information content of the warning nil?

    Zentiger - Aside from everything else, the main benefit of GE is that it is profitable. So isn't that a good argument for it, even if you don't think it is really necessary? Also, I suggest you are trying to activate the "companies are nasty so we have to regulate the shit out of them" meme by comparing GE to smoking.

  10. Brian,
    You wrote: "My point was that if companies were going to sneak dodgy GE stuff to market, they would have done it by now and we would have seen deaths and sickness."
    Actually, at least one company *has* snuck dodgy GE stuff to market here in Europe. No deaths yet, as you say, but certainly potentially harmful stuff. You can read more about it here.

    Also, I never thought I'd live to see the day that Lucyna and Zen were accused of having a problem with capitalism! Most amusing. :-)

  11. BB :) It didn't help that I was doing my tax return when I wrote my comments! I do understand that GE is an unknown for Lucyna and that she cannot take risks with her children. Fair enough. But I don't like arguments implying that GE is too risky to be entrusted to the free market and it seemed to me that both Lucyna and Zen were implying exactly this.

  12. Brian S: I said I was for GE. I was also for information.

    You seem to think the market can decide every-thing. I do think the market can correct itself as it finds imbalances a lot quicker than politicians and the laws they make. I keep that in mind when I form my opinions.

    PC seems to think any type of regulation is bad. I don't think so. I just think most regulation is enacted poorly.

    Just because something is profitable, doesn't mean it is best to provide blanket support and see what happens.

    The market mechanisms are deficient in supporting or guiding socially responsible behaviour, and there are areas that benefit from some regulation.

    It allows time for people to educate themselves and form an opinion that the market can then respond to.

    I compared GE to smoking because people did not have good information in the early days, and opinions formed were very much those that the industry wanted people to have. Boy, did things change there.

    Now we have lots of information about it, and I am for people being able to smoke if they want to, and Pubs letting people smoke if they want to.

    The information and regulation could have happened a lot sooner, and then lightened up once we fully understood what it was we were buying.

    The same goes for many issues: Leaded petrol was a health issue where accurate information was supressed for years, indeed, it took many years to prove what in hindsight seemed obvious.

    You can be blase about GE foods, but talking about GE in itself is wide ranging. There are many areas of GE totally safe, and you can read all of that related research and continue to use the logic that if a major segment of GE work is safe, it must all be safe.

    The cost excuse for not tracking and labelling GE food is ridiculous. We track sugar content and ingrediants, it is just another dimension. Indeed, to accumulate good data over the next 20 or 30 or 40 years we need to ensure we track this. Only then will we have a good pool of information for people to form educated opinions.

    PC has put right for Corporations to do what they want, and their right to interpret data the way they want to make decisions for us, over a basic right to information on an important issue.

    So yes Brian S, I am suggesting the broad GE area is not yet ready to be entrusted to the free market.

    I expect it will one day be ready, and by then we will have enough understanding on how to utilise this technology in a sensible manner.

    Sorry, this is a badly phrased brain dump. An hour late for life outside the sphere. Back later.

  13. "Sorry, this is a badly phrased brain dump. An hour late for life outside the sphere. Back later."

    I beg to differ Zen. I found it very easy to follow and most convincing. Certinaly more convincing than I could have phrased it. I agree with you entirely on this issue.

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  15. I won't double up on Brian S.'s comments, all of which I agree with (with the notable exception of doing his tax return), except to say I can sympathise with Lucyna's plight regarding her (his?) children - just as I can sympathise with Dover Samuels's post-prandial plight. But it doesn't mean that in the first case there should be a law for Lucyna, nor in the second that we can't have a good laugh at Dover's expense. I discuss the labelling issue here today.

    BB says there is potentially harmful stuff about (there goes another buzzword: 'might' cause problems; 'may' be dangerous; 'potentially' harmful), but what his linked story discusses is the non-issue of 'contamination' arising when GE crops are mixed with non-GE. This is not contamination, it is the mixing of one crop wih another. It's like having pistachios 'contaminate' your potato chips - it's a waste of pistachios.

    And I do have to join with BB in being amused that Lucyna and Zen have a problem with capitalism - ironic though that might seem - since the whole argument of consumer protection in capitalism is based around the importance of reputation.

    Funnily enough, Alan Greenspan makes the most cogent written arguments on this score (John Stossel's ABC TV-special "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death" makes the best telly argument). Greenspan disagrees with regulation as a tool to protect consumers - or at least he id in 1963. Greenspan argued then that the self-interest of companies – the desire of corporations to protect their reputation – is what protects consumers more than bureaucratically administered regulations ever can.

    In an article published in 1963 as part of Ayn Rand's book 'Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal', Greenspan declared in 'The Assault on Integrity' that protection of the consumer against "dishonest and unscrupulous business was the cardinal ingredient of welfare statism":

    "Protection of the consumer against 'dishonest and unscrupulous' business practices has become a cardinal ingredient of welfare statism. Left to their own devices, it is alleged, businessmen would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities and shoddy buildings. Thus, it is argued, the Pure Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the numerous building regulatory agencies are indispensable if the consumer is to be protected from the 'greed' of the businessman.

    "What collectivists refuse to recognize is that it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product. Since the market value of a going business is measured by its money-making potential, reputation or 'good-will' is as much an asset as its physical plant and equipment.... Reputation, in an unregulated economy, is thus a major competitive tool. Builders who have acquired a reputation for top quality construction take the market away from their less scrupulous or less conscientious competitors. The most reputable securities dealers get the bulk of the commission business. Drug manufacturers and food processors vie with one another to make their brand names synonymous with fine quality.

    "Government regulation is not an alternative means of protecting the consumer. It does not build quality into goods, nor accuracy into information. Its sole 'contribution' is to substitute force and fear for incentive as the 'protector' of the consumer.

    "Protection of the consumer by regulation is thus illusory. Rather than isolating the consumer from the dis-honest businessman, it is gradually destroying the only reliable protection the consumer has: competition for reputation."

    The collapse of Arthur Anderson gave a practical demonstration of the importance of reputation in making a business either flourish, or collapse. explains: "Prior to the demise of Arthur Andersen, the Big 5 firms seemed to have a 'lock' on reputation. It is possible that these firms may have felt free to trade on their names in search of additional sources of revenue. If that is what happened at Andersen, it was a big mistake. In a free market, nobody has a lock on anything. Every day that you don’t earn your reputation afresh by serving your customers well is a day you risk losing your reputation. And, in a service-oriented economy, losing your reputation is the kiss of death."

    Neither Monsanto nor Pioneer Seeds nor Syngenta nor any of the other companies promoting GE technology are doing it because they want their companies to collapse. They want and expect to make huge profits. It is their reputations as producers of quality that will allow them to do so.

  16. "BB says there is potentially harmful stuff about (there goes another buzzword: 'might' cause problems; 'may' be dangerous; 'potentially' harmful),"

    PC, isn't this rather a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Do you have a monopoly on buzz-words? If you removed your libertarian buzz-words, you'd have to close down your blog. Hell, you even did a whole post from the conference telling us what they are.

    As agreeing with me about Zen and Lucyna being ant-capitalist. You misrepresent what I said. I was *not* saying, as you imply, that it was funny that they were anti-capitalist. I was saying that it was laughable that they could be accused of being anti-capitalist, because they are not.

    As for goodwill regulating the market, my concern is that goodwill is *too slow*. Goodwill works by reputation, and as we know reputations tend to be somewhat behind the times. And without sensible regulation, by the time a company's goodwill has disappeared and their business has slumped, they may well have done untold harm to numerous people, or property, or the environment etc. in the meantime. They may not have either, granted. But to me, when lives and livelihoods and quality are on the line, that risk is too big to take on a systematic basis as you propose.

  17. BB, what is the goodwill worth of the bureaucrats you would have regulating your hypothetical harms?

    How would they know of these harms in advance?
    And what makes you think that if they failed in policing the harms you say may, might or perhaps occur that their failure would be brought to justice any more than they have been in cases such as Cave Creeek, or the Berryman's bridge?

    And if not, what incentive is there for such a bureaucrat to succeed in their endavours anyway? As just one example of bureaucratic meddling and harm, consider the FDA:


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