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What's so bad about genetically modified foods?

RealMenJulienne Jan 8, 2012 10:27 PM

The resurrection of a mammoth canola oil thread has brought this question to my mind. In that thread, people distrust the safety of canola oil because it comes from a genetically modified plant. I don't understand why people have such a negative reaction when the subject of GMOs is brought up. Doesn't everything we eat come from GMOs? In the modern day fruits are sweeter, vegetables larger, animals more docile, and foodstuffs of all kinds are cheaper than they ever have been thanks to increased productivity from selective breeding.

Speaking as a non-scientist and non-farmer, it seems the only difference between doing these manipulations in the barnyard, the greenhouse, the orchard, or the test tube is the level of precision and speed involved. When Europeans first landed in the Americas, an ear of maize was the size of your little finger. It took thousands of years of laborious selective planting for that finger-sized ear to turn into today's high-yield sweet corn. You think if those early farmers had access to modern agricultural GM technology, that they wouldn't have used it without a second thought? Bring on the modern GMOs I say. How else are we going to feed everyone on this overcrowded little dirt ball.

So for those opposed to GMOs, what am I missing? To you, what is the fundamental difference between the traditional and scientific approaches to genetic modification?

  1. r
    racer x Jan 9, 2012 02:39 AM

    I haven't seen the canola thread yet, but I offered some of my reasons for serious concern about how genetically-modified foods are being introduced (forced) into our diets here
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/802649

    1. a
      AsperGirl Jan 9, 2012 03:12 AM

      There's a lot of artificial/engineered food out there now, and who has time to become expert in each one?

      Just the fact that it's on the grocery store shelf isn't a good enough motivation for me to want to switch to an engineered food.

      Anything our grandmothers couldn't have eaten doesn't get moved into the "food" column without there being a reason why I want to eat that specific thing, and I haven't bern lusting for GMO corn tortillas.

      1 Reply
      1. re: AsperGirl
        c
        Chowrin Jul 7, 2012 05:50 PM

        I'm glad to hear you won't eat those ridiculous square apples either... Red delicious!

      2. Peg Jan 9, 2012 09:55 AM

        GMO is not the same as selective breeding.
        GMO introduces artificially modified DNA into the natural environment. Once introduced it cannot be eliminated. Insects will cross pollinate with neighbouring crops, animals will eat the plants, bigger animals will eat the animals... there is no way for us to predict the long term effects of such changes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Peg
          law_doc89 Mar 13, 2013 06:11 AM

          AS opposed to a "natural" mutation?

        2. tcamp Jan 9, 2012 10:06 AM

          I can't speak to the health impacts of GMOs but the handover of power to large agro-chemical companies who develop these products worries me greatly. From the farmaid.org website:

          "Most GE crops hitting the market are developed by multinational companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont and Dow Chemical to increase their sales and push their related pesticides. For example, Roundup Ready crops are all engineered to withstand Monsanto’s toxic herbicide Roundup. With Roundup Ready alfalfa and sugar beets on the market, Monsanto can expect increased profits from its new seeds, as well as increased sales of Roundup herbicide to douse all those new seeds.

          GE crops are also patented, which grants several privileges to corporate seed giants. For example, companies have repeatedly restricted independent research on the risks and benefits of GE products, which is perfectly legal under patent law, but severely limits objective examination of the efficacy and safety of GE crops. If that weren’t bad enough, patents have given companies the power to pursue lawsuits against farmers for illegally “possessing” patented GE plants without a license. Monsanto has famously sued thousands of individual farmers for patent infringement when their fields were contaminated with GE genes.

          With the power to own and patent genetics, seed companies can demand even more control over the market as a whole. The seed industry has suffered enormous concentration of power in the past few decades, with at least 200 independent seed companies exiting the market in the last fifteen years and four companies now controlling over 50% of the market. This consolidation means farmers have far fewer options for seed varieties. Meanwhile, farmers have seen the sharpest rise in seed prices during the period in which GE crops rose in prominence."

          1. m
            mateo21 Jan 9, 2012 10:06 AM

            http://youtu.be/yzTECVk8tVU

            A fine overview. Take it how you will.

            1. Alan Sudo Jan 9, 2012 12:46 PM

              Part of the concern is that GMO mixes genes from widely separated species (and even newly created genes never before seen in nature). In fact, in 2010 the first artificially created life form was introduced - a bacterium that was named "Synthia".

              In RealMenJulienne's corn example, the historic process involved only breeding to enhance corn characteristics and pass them on to future generations. GMO crosses not only corn with corn, but corn with peanuts and even corn with pigs. These 2 mixes in particular raise concerns for children with nut allergies and for people who do not eat pork for religious reasons.

              There are also environmental concerns when crops manufactured to withstand more cold, heat, rain or drought escape into the wild and begin expanding their range and competing with natural species. Organic farmers also have particular concerns about plants genetically modified to create their own pesticides which then release pollen into the air, destroying their attempts at pesticide-free crops.

              New trials of medical drugs such as Human Growth Hormone grown in plants have raised concerns about these traits escaping into the wild and entering our food stream with unforeseen consequences to humans and animals that eat them.

              As an example of the damage that can be done, just remember what happened with Mad Cow Disease. That was the result of a tiny protein (likely from a sheep) that infected cows after meat scrapes where mixed into their feed to enhance the calorie content.

              11 Replies
              1. re: Alan Sudo
                a
                acgold7 Jan 9, 2012 01:06 PM

                "scrapes where" = scraps were.

                This is the most ridiculous analogy imaginable. It has nothing to do with GMO. It's as valid as saying you crashed your car while texting, but the fault lies with the ethanol in your gas.

                If you're going to argue against GMO foods, then at least use a credible analogy. But you can't because there isn't one.

                1. re: acgold7
                  Alan Sudo Jan 9, 2012 02:59 PM

                  Yes, I meant the reference to Mad Cow as an analogy. While Mad Cow Disease was caused by a protein transferred between species, it is similar enough, the results deadly enough and well enough known to suggest caution when discussing moving genetic materials from species to species.

                  I'll ignore tedious spelling and grammar corrections and wave in passing at the assertion that a credible analogy doesn’t exist and instead offer the case of the food supplements produced by the company Showa Denko K.K.

                  This company had been producing the dietary supplement tryptophan for years by natural fermentation in large vats. In order to increase production, the company genetically modified the bacteria used in the fermentation to express certain enzymes at much higher rates, which lead to greatly increased production of tryptophan.

                  US regulatory agencies allowed the company to sell it without safety testing because they had been selling tryptophan for years and the use of super-charged, genetically modified bacteria in production was considered immaterial.

                  37 people died, 1500 were permanently disabled.

                  Turns out that when you genetically modify the bacteria to produce more tryptophan than they normally produce, it becomes so concentrated inside the bacteria that it begins to react with itself, generating a deadly toxin. Being chemically quite similar to tryptophan, this toxin was not easily separated out and contaminated the final commercial product at levels that were highly toxic to consumers.

                  No matter what people claim, when significant percentages of our food are being produced by radically new means, caution and study are prudent. The history of science is full of surprises both good and bad.

                  1. re: Alan Sudo
                    f
                    ferret Jan 11, 2012 10:43 AM

                    You're going to need something better than an isolated incident from 20+ years ago which is inconclusive as to the cause. The only conclusion from that event was that there were impurities in the supplement, not that genetic engineering introduced them.

                    1. re: Alan Sudo
                      j
                      Jerseygirl111 Jan 12, 2012 05:56 PM

                      Solution to that? Don't take weird supplements. Eat a variety of healthy foods and get your vitamins and nutrients the way nature intended.

                      1. re: Jerseygirl111
                        cowboyardee Jan 12, 2012 06:13 PM

                        And if those 'healthy foods' happen to also be genetically modified...?

                        Alan's point (correct me if I'm wrong) was that technological advances in food (and food supplement) production are outpacing our ability to test said foods to see if they're safe.

                        1. re: cowboyardee
                          l
                          lividbeez Jan 13, 2012 05:33 AM

                          In the case above, tryptophan was not genetically modified, the bacteria producing it was...and there is a big difference. First, I have to agree...don't take supplements like this, none of them are really safe and they are monitored very laxly. This is why things like the above incidents happen, with or without genetically modified bacteria.

                          However, as a biochemist, I have no fear in consuming genetically modified foods. I do understand how they could have some long term effects for the environment, in terms of creating altered animal or plant life that may run out the old variety. Other than that, there's very little that a genetically altered plant is going to do to you..and whether you know it or no, most of what you buy at the super market is already genetically altered in some way.

                          My uncle who is a botanist and consistently grows new breeds that are released is hardly able to purchase anything that's not genetically altered anymore. This is why our fruits are become monstrous in size and flavors are changing.

                          1. re: lividbeez
                            cowboyardee Jan 13, 2012 08:05 AM

                            "In the case above, tryptophan was not genetically modified, the bacteria producing it was"
                            _________
                            Well, obviously....

                            "...and there is a big difference"
                            __________
                            In what way is that difference Germane to my point? All I'm saying (or more accurately, defending, since Alan Sudo was the one who said it) is that keeping a quick pace for technological advancements in food production without an independent system of testing in place is to risk public health crises.

                            1. re: cowboyardee
                              l
                              lividbeez May 22, 2012 04:01 AM

                              I guess what I'm saying is that your referencing a chemical compound that, yes, may be contained in food...but is not actually food. Also, your referencing something that falls into a category of "drugs" that no one has to monitor. This is not an issue of genetic alterations running a muck....but instead an entire industry running a muck. There are many, many supplements and chemicals that fall into this grey area, that no one really monitors, that cause injury and death to people nearly everyday...all that are not genetically modified.

                              In terms of actual altered food....there is little risk to consumers....and you will be hard pressed to find any reputable studies that can show that there are any risk to consumers. Yes...I know there are studies...however, if you really dig into most of them...they have not been conducted with proper controls and simply exist to fuel someone's flame against their target of choice. Which unfortunately is common anymore. The biggest risk with food today is the numerous contaminations that we keep experiencing that are causing serious infections in consumers...which has nothing to do with genetically modified food....

                              1. re: lividbeez
                                cowboyardee May 22, 2012 07:36 PM

                                "I guess what I'm saying is that your referencing a chemical compound that, yes, may be contained in food...but is not actually food"
                                ________
                                What's the relevant difference between a genetically modified vegetable and a genetically modified supplement? In the US, they're both regulated and monitored (poorly) by the FDA. The fact that there has not yet been a mass casualty tied to a genetically modified food doesn't exactly mean that there's no risk of such.

                                "This is not an issue of genetic alterations running a muck....but instead an entire industry running a muck."
                                _________
                                Granted. GMOs are not the only industrial product that's not adequately tested. But since they increasingly make up a large portion of our diet, doesn't that warrant a little concern?

                                GMOs aren't the only boogeyman out there; they just happen to be the subject of this particular thread. I'm not opposed at all to scientific advancement, but I do wish that the testing process before an industry could bring said advancements to the general population was more robust (labeling would also be nice, but alas you only get the government that industry pays for).

                                Here is an article about the dangers of rushing newly modified organisms to the market. It is what it sounds like - the true story of a biotech company flirting with killing all plant life on earth.
                                http://www.cracked.com/article_18503_...

                                (yes, I know that some of the article's scientific claims are dubious. Even with that noted, it's still kinda scary. And, if nothing else, the article is pretty funny).

                    2. re: acgold7
                      d
                      Danyell12 May 17, 2012 10:37 PM

                      If anybody is still looking through this topic please review "Pusztai's Potatoes". A study that was shut down because it proved that GE resistant potatoes (mixed with a lectin from the snowdrop plant) were not only compositionally different from conventional potatoes, but the group of rats that had been fed GM potatoes showed damage to their intestines and immune systems, while the other groups did not. Is that a credible study for you????

                      1. re: Danyell12
                        johnb May 22, 2012 08:21 PM

                        Unfortunately for those such as yourself who wish it were otherwise, Pusztai's study was bad as were his results -- here is the conclusion of a detailed evaluation of his study:

                        "The likeliest source of the variation he detected - and of the differences he attributed to the fact that they contained foreign DNA - was the culture procedure itself. In order to be able to attribute the deleterious effects of the transgenic potatoes to the newly introduced gene or to some other part of the introduced DNA, he would have had to make a comparison between potatoes that had the very same history, but either had or lacked the transgenic construct. This can be done, but the study that Pusztai participated in was simply not designed for such a test."

                        In short, his study proved nothing about GM itself, just that he did a really bad job of setting up his study, and got worthless results, at least as far as an assessment of the impact of GM is concerned.

                  2. g
                    GH1618 Jan 9, 2012 01:20 PM

                    Canola is not "genetically engineered." It is the product of conventional selective breeding methods that have been used to develop varieties of practically every crop we eat, as applied to rape, a plant in the mustard family which has been used by humans for a few thousand years.

                    http://www.canola-council.org/chapter...

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: GH1618
                      h
                      hungryjoanne Jan 9, 2012 01:34 PM

                      Please continue to read a bit more from that website...
                      http://www.canolacouncil.org/gmo_sect...
                      Some canola is selectively bred, some is genetically engineered. Over 50% of Canola farmers in Canada are using genetically modified canola. I suspect the percentage is similar in the U.S.

                      1. re: hungryjoanne
                        g
                        GH1618 Jan 9, 2012 01:54 PM

                        OK, some canola is genetically modified. According to this website, the percentage of transgenic canola is comparable to corn, and much less than soybean:

                        http://www.cls.casa.colostate.edu/Tra...

                        I'm not concerned in any case.

                    2. g
                      GH1618 Jan 9, 2012 02:13 PM

                      The principal purpose of genetic modification of canola, corn, and soybean seems to be to make them tolerant of a broad-spectrum herbicide, glyphosate (Roundup). The important question, to me at least, is whether glyphosate is safe, not the canola oil itself. Here is a link to an abstract of a study on this point:

                      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/...

                      The question is, when oil-producing plants are not glyphosate tolerant, what herbicides are used and what are their effects?

                      1. DockPotato Jan 10, 2012 01:25 AM

                        Local, pragmatic comment on GM Canola where it's grown.

                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDY6bW...

                        1. k
                          khuzdul Jan 10, 2012 06:42 AM

                          Gene splicing ≠ selective breeding.

                          While gene splicing can produce similar effects of selective breeding, again, gene splicing ≠ selective breeding. Both selective breeding and gene splicing can produce organisms that can have good and bad health and environmental impacts. Selective breeding has been practiced by humanity since time immemorial, before they knew about genetics, heritability of traits and the like, so humanity is in general comfortable with selective breeding. Gene splicing is very new and humanity has not had a chance to get comfortable with it.

                          Gene splicing also has greater potential of changing traits of organisms, so some people are understandably both more excited about the potential and others more suspicious of it.

                          Personally, I am generally fine with GMO that splices genes from different breeds of the same crop, eg putting a drought resistant gene from a wild variety of rice into a domestic variety of rice. I am actually hopeful about the potential of these crops to make some impoverished areas "food independent". I am hopeful about transgenic GMOs created for bio-remediation of pollutants, such as RDX, heavy metals, radioactive particles, etc.

                          I am not yet comfortable (and may never be comfortable) with some other types of recombinant / transgenic GMOs for several different reasons, from direct health implications to environmental and impact on food production. For example, I am wary of the rise of BT GMO crops effect on organic farming by creating BT resistant pests which would weaken the effectiveness and potentially eliminate one of the only natural pesticides that is accepted in "organic" farming. Since this pesticide has been used for many years (something along the line of deliberately for 100 years and longer without knowing?), I'm less worried about direct health benefits of ingesting this particular pesticide, but other pesticide producing GMOs might be worrisome for direct health effects of ingesting more toxins. I am also wary of "roundup ready" GMOs or other pesticide resistant crops due to their indirect effect on the environment if they encourages overuse of pesticides.

                          1. MGZ Jan 10, 2012 09:20 AM

                            Just came across the folowing article and thought it germane to the instant thread:

                            http://www.theatlantic.com/health/arc...

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: MGZ
                              k
                              khuzdul Jan 10, 2012 10:32 AM

                              The author horrible analogy for "central dogma" and his general lack of understanding of the relationship between protein coding DNA sequences and miRNA generation makes me discount his leap from the reported finding miRNA from food sources modifying regulation of human organs to his assertions that GMOs may be dangerous. Caveat being that while I've taken a bio class or two and perused an orgo textbook or two, I am definitely not anything close to trained scientist (perhaps just a little more knowledgeable about the subject than the author of that article) Central dogma/general equivalence may be based on dated/obsolete science and Monsato's stance on testing may be wrong, GMOs may have dangers that we do not yet know about, but the study cited in The Atlantic based on current science does not indicate any additional health concerns of GMO food products, contrary to the title.

                              1. re: khuzdul
                                Alan Sudo Jan 10, 2012 01:57 PM

                                To summerize, Monsanto is claiming that scientific studies of its GMO products are not needed. It backs up this statement with a paper that has been labeled "a pseudo-scientific concept" and "inherently anti-scientific" by some of the leading minds in the field.

                                Genetic engineering creates new combinations of DNA not previously found in nature.
                                DNA creates RNA, and the RNA in turn creates a protein.
                                Monsanto claims that if the final protein is known to be safe, they should not be required to test the RNA that coded that protein.
                                The Chinese have shown that the RNA from the foods we eat binds to and affects human cells.

                                Sooooo, if Monsanto is creating foodstuffs containing new combinations of DNA which in turn produce new combinations of RNA, they should be required to test that RNA to show that it is safe before selling it publicly and letting the consumer be the unwitting test subject.

                                1. re: Alan Sudo
                                  k
                                  khuzdul Jan 11, 2012 05:46 AM

                                  The problem with the article is that miRNA is produced by certain non-protein coding portions of DNA. Monsanto modifies DNA by replacing protein coding regions, so their GMOs will produce novel miRNA.

                                  That aside, Monsanto's claim is based on outdated science and there should be more testing, and with people (not a full 3 phase clinical trial, perhaps just an enlarged first phase from the FDA drug review process after lab tests for toxicity, allergic reactions, effectiveness, etc.)

                                  1. re: khuzdul
                                    k
                                    khuzdul Jan 12, 2012 05:43 AM

                                    Ouch, I noticed that I had a pretty big typo/brain freeze...

                                    What I had written "so their GMOs will produce novel miRNA." should read "so their GMOs will NOT produce novel miRNA."

                            2. splatgirl Jan 10, 2012 01:03 PM

                              "In the modern day fruits are sweeter, vegetables larger, animals more docile, and foodstuffs of all kinds are cheaper than they ever have been thanks to increased productivity from selective breeding."

                              Other than cheaper, not really an accurate generalization, besides the fact that it misses the point of asking if they're BETTER. Have you tasted an in-season heirloom fruit or vegetable or meat from a non-feed lot, heritage breed animal lately? Sometimes those experiences make me feel like I've never even eaten that thing before. And GMO's aside, science is beginning to discover that we've also unknowingly selected for lesser nutrition.

                              Along with almost every other aspect of the corporatizing of the world and food system, I have a huge problem with the idea of being able to patent seeds, especially when those patented, GMO seeds can and do infect their non-GMO siblings. And then Monsanto will can/will/has sue you, which as absurd as that is, is just background noise to the greater issue. They might be able to control the seed, but beyond that all bets are off. We've got all of human history to show us that we can't control nature. I think superweeds and glyphosphate tolerant bugs, etc. are just one flake in what will be a huge snowball of f***ery.

                              1. d
                                drewpbalzac Jan 10, 2012 02:38 PM

                                Genetically modified foods allow scientist to help produce food that can withstand drought, pests, changing climate conditions and potentially increase yields. That would mean that we can feed more people and keep mass starvation at bay into the future. That would be a catastrophic turn of events for the "Save the Earth" crowd who see limiting poor peoples access to energy and food resources as a passive form of population control. We need to save the planet by starving off the people!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: drewpbalzac
                                  r
                                  racer x Jan 10, 2012 06:12 PM

                                  Unfortunately, drewpbalzac, feeding the hungry is almost never the primary goal of the interests who are developing these genetically-engineered products. Profit is.

                                  How else does one explain the development of so-called "suicide seeds" based on "terminator technology"? These seeds are genetically engineered to be sterile, so that the farmer must purchase new seed for each crop and cannot rely on the age-old practice of keeping seeds from her/his own harvest for planting.

                                  Vandana Shiva has written and spoken passionately about this darker reality that genetic-modification, as currently practiced, is actually producing:

                                  "[W]hy are Indian farmers committing suicide on a mass scale? ...

                                  The global corporations changed the [Indian agricultural] input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds, which need fertilizers and pesticides and cannot be saved.

                                  Corporations prevent seed savings through patents and by engineering seeds with non-renewable traits. As a result, poor peasants have to buy new seeds for every planting season and what was traditionally a free resource, available by putting aside a small portion of the crop, becomes a commodity. This new expense increases poverty and leads to indebtness.

                                  The shift from saved seed to corporate monopoly of the seed supply also represents a shift from biodiversity to monoculture in agriculture. The district of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh used to grow diverse legumes, millets, and oilseeds. Now the imposition of cotton monocultures has led to the loss of the wealth of farmer's breeding and nature's evolution.

                                  Monocultures and uniformity increase the risk of crop failure, as diverse seeds adapted to diverse to eco-systems are replaced by the rushed introduction of uniform and often untested seeds into the market...."
                                  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vandana...

                                  1. re: racer x
                                    d
                                    drewpbalzac Jan 10, 2012 07:17 PM

                                    Sound like a lot a lot of apologizing for keeping food yields down and people hungry.

                                2. s
                                  shezmu Jan 12, 2012 04:47 PM

                                  In like half a century when scientists have ironed out any possible safety or environmental concerns regarding the sometimes bizzare things that are used to make GMO foods, nothing much. Right now, GMO way too new, is doing too many new things with stuff that people *eat*, and the stuff is just kinda creepy.

                                  1. cowboyardee Jan 12, 2012 05:30 PM

                                    I won't speak to health concerns of ingesting GMOs and widespread use of Roundup herbicide. There may be legitimate health consequences, but I couldn't say.

                                    My main objection isn't to the process of genetic modification but to a corporation's ability to place a patent on a biological organism and then aggressively defend that patent when organisms do what organisms do. It's directly at odds with millennia of farming tradition, and leaves farmers without rights to THEIR OWN seeds. It's wildly impractical. It gives large corporations a tool with which to legally persecute independent (and innocent) farmers - and yes, Monsanto has in fact used it as a weapon to deal with competitors and holdouts. And it ensures that technology that could help the world instead is used only for the benefit of corporate profits.

                                    Just keep in mind that though GMOs in concept may be greatly beneficial, the reality of GMOs as largely controlled by a single particularly aggressive and monopolistic multinational corporation is quite different.

                                    23 Replies
                                    1. re: cowboyardee
                                      h
                                      hungryjoanne Jan 12, 2012 07:33 PM

                                      Well said!!

                                      1. re: cowboyardee
                                        tcamp Jan 13, 2012 05:47 AM

                                        Yes, that is precisely my main objection to GMOs. A powerful weapon in the hands of corporate giants that benefits primarily them to the serious detriment of farmers.

                                        1. re: cowboyardee
                                          rockandroller1 Jan 13, 2012 06:32 AM

                                          EXACTLY

                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                            d
                                            debbiel Jan 13, 2012 06:50 AM

                                            +1, or another 1, cowboyardee.

                                            1. re: cowboyardee
                                              johnb Jan 13, 2012 06:56 AM

                                              You can't hang this one on GMO's per se. Patenting of plant varieties long predates the development of GMO's. Specifically, patent protection has been available for new varieties of asexually propagated plants since 1930, and for most sexually propagated plants since 1970. Many large companies have been in the business of hybridizing plants during that time and selling seeds. It's not materially different from what's taking place today.

                                              Where was everyone 80 years ago who is now making these complaints about GMO's ? That time period covers two or three generations of farmers. But farmers are still farming successfully, while of course complaining about profit-lusting seed companies and everything else, as they have since the dawn of civilization. And contrary to your implication that these changes only (economically) benefit the big seed etc. companies, in fact they benefit everybody, including the farmers, because there is no way the companies can grab all the downstream benefits -- at most they grab a tiny fraction.

                                              1. re: johnb
                                                cowboyardee Jan 13, 2012 08:15 AM

                                                "Where was everyone 80 years ago who is now making these complaints about GMO's ? That time period covers two or three generations of farmers."
                                                __________
                                                Not many were complaining about the sub-prime mortgage market until it wrecked our economy a few years ago. Doesn't mean it was ever a good system - it just flew under the radar. Likewise, if Monsanto had been around and aggressively abusing patent law in the 1930s, I'm sure people would have been complaining about it then.

                                                "And contrary to your implication that these changes only (economically) benefit the big seed etc. companies, in fact they benefit everybody, including the farmers, because there is no way the companies can grab all the downstream benefits -- at most they grab a tiny fraction."
                                                __________
                                                Evidence? Generally speaking, there has never been a worse economic time for American small farmers than right now.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee
                                                  johnb May 22, 2012 09:35 AM

                                                  <<Evidence? Generally speaking, there has never been a worse economic time for American small farmers than right now.>>

                                                  Wrong. Completely contradicted by the facts. Farm land has doubled in value in the last four years. Why? Because farmers, large and small, are in fact doing very very well right now, making gobs of money either by producing or by selling out to the next-door farmer. The reasons for this have little to do with GMOs one way or the other (and a lot to do with ethanol use requirements) but that doesn't change the fact that you're wrong, swallowing the "poor farmer" line that farmers' always put out (including BTW my father, may he RIP). Do you have any farm country experience at all? You really need to look at these "poor farmer" claims with a great deal of skepticism.

                                                  1. re: johnb
                                                    b
                                                    bulavinaka May 22, 2012 10:18 AM

                                                    >>Farm land has doubled in value in the last four years. Why? Because farmers, large and small, are in fact doing very very well right now, making gobs of money either by producing or by selling out to the next-door farmer.<<

                                                    Actually farmland has increased in value over recent years because land is the most scarce resource. Residential development encroaching on areas traditionally used for agriculture has been increasing over the past 40 years, but particularly over the past decade - leading up to the financial crisis of '08. Multitudes of housing developers were buying up farmland to build tracts to supply the buying craze from 2000-2007. Farmland became so valuable as a non-farm commodity and farmers could make more money selling it than farming on it. The tide is turning though. Now that most of these risky tract home projects have been stopped mid-stride or even walked away from, farmers are finding it possible to buy back or lease back the land at bargain prices.

                                                    http://www.npr.org/2012/01/23/1456277...

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka
                                                      johnb May 22, 2012 02:57 PM

                                                      The amount of farmland that has been converted to residential use is trivial in the larger picture, moreso in the time period I mentioned. Take a drive through rural Iowa or anyplace similar sometime and see for yourself. Land has increased in value for one reason and one reason only -- the value of crops grown on that land has increased enormously, and that is the reason the land has increased in value. That is a simple fact. PS the "tide" is not in any way turning. Look at what I said above -- farmland has DOUBLED in value since 2008 -- it has nothing to do with residential development.

                                                      1. re: johnb
                                                        b
                                                        bulavinaka May 22, 2012 04:59 PM

                                                        Iowa is but one ag state in the union - maybe your experience or knowledge is of that area. And you are expecting me to take your word on this claim. My exposure is in the west, primarily California. And witnessing the ag land that has been bought or usurped for the sake of converting it into public use, be it residential, commercial or public use, is undeniable. My property and all around it as far as one can see was once farmland as recently as 40 years ago. Areas like Orange and San Diego County, Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento and the Bay area have experienced this. I think to attribute increasing value of ag as the sole reason for increased land prices is very misleading. And you're ps is valid where? So I guess NPR is a false prophet and not reporting on what actually happened/happening? The findings were that real estate values DID increase markedly leading up to the bubble but because their projected use was no more, the value HAD fallen back to prices where farmers COULD be profitable by working the land.

                                                        1. re: bulavinaka
                                                          johnb May 22, 2012 07:02 PM

                                                          I'm going to restate this one more time, as simply as I can. My point is and has from the beginning of our discussion been that, contrary to your statement suggesting that farmers are doing poorly currently, farmers are in fact are doing well now, and this is reflected in the tremendous increase in agricultural land values in the last few years. What happened in California 30 or 40 years ago has no bearing on what has happened in recent years which is what we are discussing. Land values across a wide area, but particularly in corn/soybean growing areas (those being the crops where the GM issue has been widely discussed) such as Iowa (I'm from Indiana) have doubled in the last four years. The reason is that the prices of the crops grown on the land has increased so much, and that is what has driven up the land values -- it has NOTHING to do with conversion of land for development. BTW, to digress, I haven't looked at the data, but I strongly suspect that the proportion of total arable land in California that has been lost to development over the last 100 years has been greatly counterbalanced by the tremendous increase in agricultural efficiency that has occurred everywhere.

                                                          NPR is a fine organization, but that story was about Arizona, a desert -- it is anecdotal and not applicable to the larger issue we are discussing, and never in the story did NPR claim it provided any explanatory power to the question of increases in crop prices and land values on the national level, which is a good thing because it didn't.

                                                          1. re: johnb
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                                                            bulavinaka May 22, 2012 07:28 PM

                                                            >>What happened in California 30 or 40 years ago has no bearing on what has happened in recent years which is what we are discussing.<<

                                                            >>My property and all around it as far as one can see was once farmland as recently as 40 years ago. Areas like Orange and San Diego County, Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento and the Bay area have experienced this.<<

                                                            I guess your knowledge of these areas is very limited. The affected areas I mention above are as recent as pre-2008. I guess I should have specifically pointed this out to you.

                                                            And as far as your criticism of the "desert" story from NPR, you obviously miss the point that this is how far developers have gone (and are now forced) to build and market their tracts. More attractive areas with better weather, access and jobs are already built out and are too expensive for entry-level buyers pre-2008. If these dynamics are not apparent to you, we definitely live in two different worlds.

                                                            1. re: bulavinaka
                                                              johnb May 22, 2012 07:42 PM

                                                              It's not a question of limited knowledge. It's a question of the very limited geographical area you are talking about. It has NO IMPACT on national farm land values. Nor does the conversion of farm land to residential development. The areas are simply too small. This is what you fail to see. You are extending your very limited evidence into a broad area where it no longer is relevant.

                                                              I never criticized the NPR story. I criticized your use of it to add evidence to support your thesis. It doesn't. It's anecdotal and irrelevant. Yes we live in two different world -- I live in a world of evidence and proof, and you apparently live in a world of blind ideology supported by facts chosen through confirmation bias while ignoring relevant facts. Sorry, but that's just how it is.

                                                    2. re: johnb
                                                      cowboyardee May 22, 2012 06:46 PM

                                                      You quoted me talking about small farmers, not the farm business as a whole. Rising price of farmland doesn't exactly prove that small farmers are better off. In fact, this trend has the potential to price smaller farmers out of their own land. The trend of the last century (and the last 40 years especially) has been towards larger farms, with the highest profits coming from those large farms. The largest farms have indeed been increasingly profitable, but that leaves the question of whether owners of small farms can make a living off farming alone or whether they're simply left out in the cold.

                                                      This data is already a few years old, but hopefully you can take a look at the graph I posted below. The striking thing about it - for 85% of American farms in 2003, yearly sales from farming average well below $3000. Of course, the pitiful income from farming is supplemented by other incomes by the farmers, but hopefully you can take home the obvious point.

                                                       
                                                  2. re: johnb
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                                                    bulavinaka May 22, 2012 06:42 AM

                                                    >>Where was everyone 80 years ago who is now making these complaints about GMO's ?<<

                                                    The internet didn't exist 80 years ago. The ability to access, exchange and disperse information is key to awareness.

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka
                                                      johnb May 22, 2012 09:52 AM

                                                      <<The internet didn't exist 80 years ago. The ability to access, exchange and disperse information is key to awareness.>>

                                                      I'm hope this doesn't come as too much of a shock, but people had the ability to access, exchange, and disperse information before, -gasp!-, the internet, and believe it or not were actually aware of things. Not only that, but one might wonder whether the information floating around then may even have been better overall than now -- the "internet" is awfully good at ginning up and perpetuating falsehoods and quackery, exemplified IMHO by much/most that is said about GMOs.

                                                      1. re: johnb
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                                                        bulavinaka May 22, 2012 10:11 AM

                                                        Info access was much more difficult, dispersal much slower and inconsistent, and GMO in the present context didn't exist. I don't know how old you are, but I'm old enough to learned how to use a slide rule and depend on card catalogs in libraries. Yes, once these skills are learned, getting answers and info was much easier, but like slogging through waste-deep mud backwards compared to today.

                                                        >>...and believe it or not were actually aware of things. Not only that, but the information floating around then may even have been better overall than now...<<

                                                        Very rhetorical with no substance. Sure folks were able to communicate, but at what level and what speed and accuracy? Remember the game, "Telephone Line?"

                                                        >>... the "internet" is awfully good at ginning up and perpetuating falsehoods and quackery, exemplified IMHO by much/most that is said about GMOs.<<

                                                        This has always existed through time since humans first learned to communicate beyond simple concepts. The more complex the information, the more open to interpretation and deception. It is the reader's responsibility to use her or his acumen and intelligence to filter out truth from fiction, and of course, that's always been difficult no matter what form of communicative technology existed at a given point in time.

                                                        I get where you are coming from, but I think rhetoric only dilutes the valid points in your arguments and confirms the parts that other feel are invalid or false.

                                                        1. re: bulavinaka
                                                          johnb May 22, 2012 03:10 PM

                                                          I was not being rhetorical. I was being sarcastic, in response to your tumescent and overblown statement, a tendency that continues in your more recent response.

                                                          I'm probably older than you are. But our ages have nothing to do with the essential point. People have always had access to information -- it didn't start with the internet as you tried to suggest. Furthermore, due to the relatively higher expense of disbursing information before personal computers, what was out there tended to be vetted. With the internet there is a huge amount of unvetted, and thus inaccurate and plain false "information" floating around, probably more on a relative basis than ever before. Thus, "the ability to access, exchange and disperse [mis]information" has also become a key to wide misunderstandings, false beliefs, and nonsensical conclusions.

                                                          1. re: johnb
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                                                            bulavinaka May 22, 2012 05:16 PM

                                                            We could go 'round and 'round on this issue and I think age does have at least some relativity to this point. It's one thing to hear about the process of information pre-internet. You've said so yourself that, in essence, folks in general can be easily suckered into swallowing misinformation. So to actually live through practical use of an abacus (I know that one too), a slide rule, etc., places one in that time of here and now - no reading about my grand daddy says he used an abacus or a slide rule; no hearing about one person's POV on Kent State or Viet Nam and taking that as gospel. I know and I assume you know what it was like before, say, 1985. Whether two, 20 or two hundred years ago, or in the present, what one reads, hears or communicated to otherwise should be vetted with one's own common sense and intelligence. There are too many examples of misinformation or withholding the truth in the past that are contrary to your statement or belief that the quality of information was somehow better or more honest.

                                                            I think we both can agree that the amount of information that was readily available was far less than it is now, and one does need to be more prudent in believing what is strewn across the internet - the quantity is overwhelming. As you mentioned, who actually is protecting the truth? But then again, I have a hard time believing the truth was always told in the past. The tried and true mantra of history being written by the victors sums it up. Those who hold power have the ability and the reasons for telling their version of the story.

                                                            1. re: bulavinaka
                                                              johnb May 22, 2012 07:08 PM

                                                              And those who have, frankly, wrong and wrong-headed beliefs also have the power and ability to tell their false versions of the story, and keep it going ad nauseum even though it is demonstrably false. In another sphere, for example, this is how the birther nonsense has remained alive. The internet is a very mixed blessing for getting at the truth.

                                                              1. re: johnb
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                                                                bulavinaka May 22, 2012 07:29 PM

                                                                >>In another sphere, for example, this is how the birther nonsense has remained alive.<<

                                                                Thank goodness that we finally agree on something.

                                                    2. re: johnb
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                                                      MonMauler May 22, 2012 11:16 AM

                                                      I just wanted to point out that patents of all types (utility, design and plant) are crucial to the fostering of innovation in a variety of commercial enterprises, including agriculture and associated industries. The manufacturing exclusivity provided by the patent is a prime motivator for businesses to conduct research and development: during the exclusive manufacturing term (which is generally 17 - 20 years), the patent-holder attempts to recoup it's R&D investment and make profit over the standard costs of manufacturing, distributing and supporting the product.

                                                      The tradeoff is that the patent is immediately made public so that others skilled in the art can be taught that which is described by the patent. After the exclusivity period has lapsed anyone is free to practice that which the patent teaches.

                                                      Industries grow this way. The adoption of technological advancement in the agricultural sectors surely helped propel American economic growth from the post-Civil War era to the present day. Patents have incentivized the development and adoption of these new techniques. In reference to plant patents, like johnb says, they became available in 1930, and plant patents are a very specific type of patent, with the wide majority of agricultural-related patents being utility patents, which have basically existed since the US Patent Act of 1790.

                                                      The United States is a net exporter of food. The United States is also responsible for almost half of worldwide grain exports. Grain production has outpaced market forecasts for several years running. Scientific enhancement of foodstuffs is a big reason for this.

                                                      I have absolutely no problem with the study, development, manufacture and distribution of GMO's for human consumption. Such has surely increased efficiency and decreased cost for the agricultural industry as a whole. Applying scientific methods to the agricultural industry, as history shows, has been a resounding success. There is little reason to think it won't continue to be in the future.

                                                      1. re: johnb
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                                                        Montanamuse Jul 7, 2012 05:29 PM

                                                        [Where was everyone 80 years ago who is now making these complaints about GMO's ?]

                                                        If they were farming or developing better seeds 80 years ago, they are likely dead and long out of the debate.

                                                        It seems to me as I came looking for some answers, that all I found was the same old arguments. Those that stand firm on one side or the other will simply argue whatever their pet argument is, never to move an inch.

                                                        I'm sure I consume GMOs. If I eat anything other than what I grow and cook myself, I'm bound to be getting it. But I try to avoid them as much as possible, and i will until I can't avoid them anymore. Which will likely happen. But because of my age, perhaps not in my life time.

                                                    3. law_doc89 Mar 13, 2013 06:20 AM

                                                      I fear there is a lot of scientific illiteracy out there. There is no difference among "gene splicing," selective breeding, transduction, than there is in writing something by typewritter versus worprocessor. As to political paranoia, I have no comment.

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