Class Warfare Blog

March 31, 2020

Even More on GMOs

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:51 pm
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I recently read that “Liberals are skeptical of well-established science when findings clash with their political ideologies, such as GMOs, nuclear power, genetic engineering and evolutionary psychology.”

I am a scientist and I am very cautious about GMOs. The existence of GMOs and some of their behaviors are “well-established science.” That is not what I am arguing about. Human beings have been artificially selecting traits of plants to serve us for thousands of years. We started by selecting which seeds to plant and went through a grafting-hybridizing stage and then into gene manipulation.

My quibble with GMOs is that the modifications skip over many, many viability tests that nature used to use to weed out problems (a snappy metaphor, no?). A plant geneticist might have to make dozens of not hundreds of “crosses” to get the outcome she wanted. Each step of the way, nature chimed in. If a cross-fertilization of two strains of plants was non-viable, there would be no seeds or plants to test in a subsequent generation of that approach. That was a dead end, so we had to back up and try a different route.

So, GMOs skip over some of these tests/road blocks, which could be a good thing or even a very good thing, but . . . and you knew a but was coming, didn’t you . . . when something goes wrong with a GMO it has the possibility of going very, very wrong.

And, yes, I said “when” because it is never “if” something goes wrong, because something always goes wrong. Help me count the ways! A virus could insert some of its DNA into a GMO’s DNA and voila, we have something very, very new on hand. The GMO could propagate with other plants in ways unsuspected. GMO animals, when they come around, might take over ecological niches we were unaware of and create situations we are unprepared to respond to.

There is an old saw that says “short cuts are always longer” which is an admonition of a craftsman to take the tried and true way and not some shortcut to a supposed better or just as good ending. Just as there was no Royal Road to geometry, there were no shortcuts to quality. Well, we have discovered that there are such shortcuts, but they are incredible hard to find and don’t always work as expected.

Since our food supply is under considerable pressure and we have created monocultures for much of “big” crops, a disaster will be a big, very big disaster when it happens (again, when, not if).

So, I am not anti-science, quite the contrary, I am pro-prudence. Especially when the primary efforts are made chasing profits and not meeting urgent needs. And as evidence for which I give you: Monsanto Crop System Damages US Farms.

December 21, 2018

More on GMO’s (Gosh, What Could Go Wrong?)

Filed under: Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 8:46 am
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I have written about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from the position that these genetic modifications, unlike the ones our artificial selection processes have been created, skip over steps that may produce non-viable results and, therefore aren’t “vetted” by nature. In John Hively’s blog is a report on one case of “what could go wrong” by the generic engineer inventor himself. I think this is must reading for anyone concerned about GMOs, bees, our future survival, corporate bad behavior, etc.

GMO Potato Scientific Founder Says GMO Potato’s are a Pandora’s Box of Troubles

PS I am not saying we shouldn’t investigate GMOs; I am saying we should go slow because the safety protocols needed are immediately obvious.

 

May 30, 2018

Great Minds Think Alike!

Filed under: Business,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 7:41 am
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Over at GFBrandenburg’s blog he comments on the Monsanto GMO study I mentioned in my past post and includes a link to an article detailing it. Check it out.

Surprise: GMOs *Reduce* rather than Increase crop yields

 

May 29, 2018

GMO Skepticism

A recent research effort showed than in some areas, anti-science attitudes are strongly correlated with religion (surprise, surprise). In other areas, there were correlations with science knowledge or rather the lack thereof, supporting those who think that science education is an effective way to combat anti-science attitudes.

One such example of the latter involved the safety of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The researchers found that those who possessed more science knowledge favored GMOs and those with less science knowledge did not.

I have a fair amount of science knowledge and I do not favor GMOs … currently. My attitude was bolstered by the release … finally …. of studies that show that, once again, Monsanto Corporation is bilking the public. Monsanto created “Roundup” a weed killer that actually worked. The problem with Roundup is that if you spray it on a weed and accidentally spray a patch of lawn, it dies too. Roundup is a vegetation killer. So, Monsanto created GMO crops (corn, wheat, potatoes, whatever) that would resist the effects of Roundup, boosting the sales of Roundup as a weed-control agent for farmers and by creating a massive market in their new Roundup resistant seeds.

Monsanto promised increased yields using the new seed and Roundup weed control. So, is that what happened. Well, the study is now in and the difference between Monsanto-focussed fields and control fields is zero, zip, nada. Gosh, you spend that much more money and you’d think it just has to be better. well, it is … better for Monsanto’s bottom line.

Now I will not argue that GMOs do not have benefits, that would be silly. I would argue that we need to look carefully at the benefits and the costs, especially the potential costs. In the Roundup study, the costs were high and the benefits almost nonexistant.

When I first became aware of GMOs, the big “product” was a more “machine harvestable” tomato that had better eating properties. The way this was achieved was to splice into the tomato’s genome some DNA contributed by a trout, yes, a fish. My argument to “go slow” on GMOs goes like this:

We have been genetically modifying crops since the beginning of agriculture. We did this first by choosing to use the seed from plants that gave the best harvest or the best quality of produce and eschewing using seed from lesser plants. Further down the road, we learned how plants propagate and learned how to cross breed plants to make sturdier hybrids. (This is how we pulled off the Green Revolution; we made “dwarf” versions of wheat and rice that had shorter, stronger stalks that could support heavier grain heads, then we used chemical fertilizers up the whazoo to boost the seed cluster sizes (and as a side effect, we have polluted our waterways with these chemicals creating dead zones in our seas the size of small planetoids).)

These “traditional” processes allow nature to have veto power over anything we try. Each stage of a hybridization either produces a viable plant or not. If not, it produces no seed and that possibility is vetoed. It is a little like breeding horses. If horses are bred to horses, the offspring are viable and can breed. If horses are bred to donkeys, you get mules which are viable but cannot breed (end of the road). If horses are bred with cats … ? No one has ever tried this you say. Hmm,  I wonder why?

In the modern GMO process, the genetic material itself is changed directly and nature only has a say as to whether the end product is viable. The result has not been vetted by nature other than in this manner.

So, how do you cross breed a tomato and a trout? If you thought a horse-cat hybrid was crazy, what the hell do you think of a tomato-trout hybrid?

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. What happens to the trout genes in the tomato when the tomato’s genome gets out and interacts with the world at large? But, but, but farmers are used to hybrids that can’t reproduce, you argue. You should take it up with the farmers who are in court suing their neighbors who said the GMO crops they planted couldn’t possibly “get out” and start growing in their neighbor’s fields. (They did.)

Plus, hybridized crops do breed, they just don’t “breed true,” meaning you are much more likely to get the parent stock sprouting than the hybrid stock. I remember my father gathering up the tomato plants that sprouted in our compost heap each spring, replanting them, culling the “bad” ones, but then harvesting “heritage tomatoes” before that term was made common. They breed, just not true.

More info here.

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