Vegan GMO Redux

Gosh, it was nearly a year ago now that I wrote a post on agriculture technology utilizing genetic modification referred to as “GMO”. The post You Say Tomahto, I Say Flavr Savr was written when I was just barely getting my feet wet in the matter. It’s about time for a quick update.

At the end of last year in December of 2010 I sponsored a Meetup featuring Dr. Kevin Folta, a molecular biologist from the University of Florida, to talk on the science of genetically modifying food. It was a talk entitled: Frankenfoods: Cornerstones of the Next Green Revolution. We partnered with the Chicago Skeptics and it turned out to be a great event. We even recorded it and posted it as a podcast which you can find on itunes under Vegan Chicago or here: Vegan Chicago Podcast. At over 2 hours long it’s a bit of a marathon and only a shadow of the experience (with no slideshow visuals) but if you’re unfamiliar it might be a good primer.

There were good message board discussions before and after with Dr. Folta chiming in to help quell the vegans having conniption fits. Some interesting vegan related issues came up during the discussions which sparked in me wonder, excitement and hope for the future. Where most see GMO as a dire doomsday scenario concocted by evil minions of multinational biotech corporations I see people meaning well, trying to do good. Yes, even the anti-GMO proponents I believe, have their heart in the right place. Dr. Folta cleverly co-opted the term “Frankenfoods” to try to connect the luddism-type sentiments with the fear of GM. While anti-GM proponents attempt to poke hole after hole in current use of GM or corporations who wield it they misplace concerns. None of that makes a case against the technology itself. As the saying goes: “it’s a bit more complicated than that”.

So around a month ago a blog of the vegan restaurant chain, Native Foods posted an article about Greenpeace activists destroying GM wheat (wearing scary looking hazmat suits, natch) and I had to respond. I made the vegan case for GMOs outlining some points why this could be a boon for vegans:

1) Animal testing – The more we insist on unfounded safety testing the more animals are harmed to do so.

2) Animal alternatives – GM technology can help create animal alternatives like it did with insulin which used to be obtained from animals. It could also be possible to do the same with animal foods like cheese which has been difficult to mock.

3) Nutrition – Developing this technology can benefit vegans by creating plants that can offer nutrients vegans lack like B12 and DHA. This would make it easier for people to go and stay vegan. Recently CSIRO scientists have been enabling canola plants to produce DHA. People who are vegan need DHA and it can help save the lives of fish who are often used as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. It could help fortified food for essential nutrients for starving populations or even as a vaccine delivery. People are animals too and there are many in dire need of help.

4) Environment – Creating plants that use less pesticides and fertilizers will help strive for sustainable agriculture that’s less detrimental for all life on this planet. Less insects are killed, less runoff that kills fish…you know the drill.

While most of that is currently so out of reach to be nearly science fiction it won’t help us get any closer to unnecessarily for no good reason to monger fear against GM. Apparently the author of the original post thought similarly enough to followup with a very amiable post entitled: Vegans Who Support GMO’s (Say What?). It felt good to finally get through to somebody at least enough where I didn’t get drenched in frothy spittle covered flaming.

Slowly I am finding allies like Skeptical Vegan who have an appreciation of science and rational thinking surrounding issues of veganism. His recent posts on GMO entitled: Frankenfood Fears and Bt Cotton, Farmer Suicides, and Fluffy Thinking do well to shed light on the matter. We intend to work more in concert focusing on this subject alone. I feel this might be a good strategy by which we can foster critical thinking in the minds of vegans.

Vegans live a lifestyle that attempts change though daily actions, here’s an opportunity to do the same. Every time they deride GMO they do the movement harm, and when others do it they should be challenged. It is in vegans’ best interest to embrace this technology and explore the benefits it can have on the future treatment of our animal cousins.

43 comments to Vegan GMO Redux

  • It would be helpful to not refer to objections to GMO as “conniption fits” and to not imply that anyone opposed to GMOs is a luddite. In order to have a conversation based on science and rational thought, inflammatory language and personal attacks should be avoided.

  • Hey, I’m a crank, it’s what I do. I feel inflammatory language has its place. Thanks for the unsolicited critique though, may I return the favor?

    In either case I was referring to a specific event where conniption fits were seen and I was speaking of the luddism-type sentiments in the “frankenfoods” context. Let’s not get semantical eh? That’s so boring.

    Thanks for stopping by. Do you have anything to say about the actual subject?

  • My vegan opinion is that there are better and less risky solutions than GMO – reduce animal farming toward elimination.

    Pretty simple, but maybe that seems Luddite to you?

    Also, none of your arguments are solid:

    1) Unfounded testing – no GMO means no testing. Easy.

    2) Animal alternatives – good and already getting better without GMO. It’s mostly a matter of tastes adjusting. Plus “mocks” of any sort are highly processed choices, thus, not the best. If people ate a whole foods, plant based diet with no cow milk, there would be minimal need for most drugs, including insulin.

    3) Nutrition – supplements are already easy, and probably the smallest effective barrier to going vegan.

    4) Environment – ALL the examples I read about show that “Creating plants that use less pesticides and fertilizers” are at best a myth and at worst a commercial lie. None of them actually do this, and eventually they end up with or creating other unnatural balances with other plants, pests, or diseases. Maybe you know some that are working?

    I’m a strong believer in the precautionary principle. I also think we are in the process of outsmarting ourselves into extinction.

    • Jess,

      1) Throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn’t the solution. This technology will develop, it just depends on how long it will take. It’s best we act as quick adopters especially if it suits our cause.

      2) Don’t kid yourself, vegan cheese is shit. Imagine what kind of mocked animal foods we can create, in WHOLE unprocessed foods no less! Your dismissal of sick people is pretty harsh. People get sick all the time and veganism is not a magic diet that will banish all needs for medication. Shit happens, bodies break, but with technology we can fix it.

      3) Imagine if vegans never have to take supplements! This is happening now with scientists creating better sources of plant-based omega-3. You were just extolling the virtues of whole unprocessed foods yet you now like processed un-whole supplements all of a sudden? Which is it?

      4) Creating more sustainable agriculture for farmers is top priority for many agricultural scientists. Saying we don’t have any now so we shouldn’t try is a catch-22. Agriculture itself is an unnatural balance but we do it to feed us. GM technology can help do it smarter and better.

      Isn’t that all worth exploring for chance it can help animals?

      The precautionary principle sounds fine on face value but what’s better is risk analysis. Science can’t prove anything to be 100% safe, it can only find evidence of harm. There hasn’t been good evidence of that for GM. Dr. Kevin Folta in his talk on the podcast said he would love to find that because he would be set as a scientist. What do you know about GM that he doesn’t?

      I know it may sound so scary but when you put it in context it makes a lot more sense. It’s all about knowing more. I encourage you to do that but please find reputable science-based sources. Skeptical Vegan posted a bunch to start off with in his post Frankenfood Fears.

      Thanks for your comment, I appreciate the dialogue.

  • We have different priorities and different values, so we’re talking at skewed angles and would never resolve a debate.

    For example, I don’t consider any GM food to be unprocessed (like, exactly the opposite), but since you do, you claim to catch me in an inconsistency. We could go around forever like that.

    I state the fact that many sick people would not be sick on a plant-based diet (lots of evidence for this) and you claim I am dismissing sick people? Even the AICR agrees that at least 70% of cancers are lifestyle related – some smoking, some diet. And there’s zero doubt that cardiovascular disease tracks along with diet…as do both types of diabetes. Any GM research promise answers like that?

    “GM technology can help do it smarter and better.” Ooh, a slogan. Organic agriculture on a smaller scale could already feed us – if we didn’t feed most of it to the animals.

    • Jess,

      I suspect our priorities and values aren’t that different, really.

      I was trying to show how terms like “processed, “real”, “fake” or “natural” can be problematic because of their subjectiveness. Anything from blending up chick peas in your kitchen for hummus to extracting a single nutrient from algae can be deemed “processed”. Similarly, anything from growing an organic heirloom tomato in your garden to a million acres of GM corn can be deemed “unnatural”.

      The plant foods you buy from your local organic CSA are GMed. None of the foods are found in nature. It took several thousand years to get what we eat today. All of our diets are completely unnatural. Maybe that is why we have people looking at the paleo diet. A diet that insists on eating animals.

      The evidence for plant-based diets being a health panacea are dubious right now. You can’t try to swap that into the lifestyle choices experts know have a profound effect on health and disease. Vegans do that all the time and it’s intellectually dishonest. The best omnivorous diet can be healthier than the worst vegan diet and vice versa, so what.

      People will still get sick regardless of their diet. My own sister has juvenile onset diabetes (Type 1), the form that there is no conclusive evidence for a cause. She takes insulin called Humilin made from genetically altered Escherichia coli bacteria. Before that, people with diabetes had to use insulin from cows and pigs. Would you eschew this GM treatment over relying on animal derived insulin? Some would. Right there is a good GM solution for you.

      Since you’re a fan of foods-as-medicine line of thinking, GM foods could be made more nutritious and less harmful. A real-world example of that could be the GM Vistive Gold soybean that’s a healthier replacement for trans-fats. That can help solve your concerns about lifestyle diets causing health problems.

      Organic agriculture can work in concert with GM foods. It’s a shame they certified them out of the game early on. Hopefully now after billions of acres of GM crops have been planted with no health consequences they can see the benefits GM plants can provide and allow them in. There’s a terrific book that is written by both an organic farmer and a genetic scientist called Tomorrow’s Table. It puts it all in context. I learned more about organic foods from that than I thought I knew after 10 years of being a vegan organic advocate.

  • The critique was not “unsolicited” since you do accept comments, but yes, feel free to return the favor!

    1. Animal testing: Some GMO critics (not just vegans) want more testing, but others (not just vegans) are arguing that we just shouldn’t create GMOs. Furthermore, GMOs will inevitably lead to more animal testing as pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness interests will try to prove that their GMO products are safe.

    2. Animal alternatives: There is no reason to use GMOs to create mock cheeses. There is no cheese requirement in the human diet. Also, we don’t need to direct resources toward research, development and manufacture of processed foods.

    3. Nutrition: The vegan diet is perfectly healthy, and implying that GMOs could improve the vegan diet will lead people to falsely believe that the vegan diet is nutritionally deficient. We don’t need genetically engineered crops to produce B12 or DHA when those nutrients are already available from vegan sources.

    4. Environment: GMO crops will lead to more monoculture, which is already a serious threat to the food supply. Instead of putting resources toward GMOs, we can redirect those resources toward fighting human overpopulation, spreading veganism, and diversifying food crops.

    Another important reason to oppose GMOs: some GMOs are animals. Blanket support of GMOs supports genetic experiments on sentient beings, which is very un-vegan.

    • Hey Doris,

      There, thanks for some content!

      1) Why do you think there is a need to prove GM products safe? Because of the unfounded fear mongering. That is why there will be more animal testing.

      2) I’m not arguing about requirements here. Some vegans think that by making mocked versions of animal foods it would help people ease out of eating them. Do you think this is wrong-headed? Do you not see the value of food substitutes especially for those in transition? As somebody who has had a vegan diet for the past 12 years, I for one would sure appreciate a good cheddar or gooey mozzarella once again.

      3) The vegan diet (at least in the context of the today’s mainstream diet) is indeed nutritionally deficient. This is a well-known fact and if you don’t know that then I suggest you buy yourself a copy of Vegan for Life or run to the nearest RD pronto. Many vegans supplement with B12 that, you guessed it, was made from GM bacteria. Oh the horror! What would you tell these vegans?

      4) GM is just a technology and doesn’t require monoculture. It can work in conjunction with more sustainable farming practices especially if we allow smaller/other orgs the ability to explore and innovate. Right now we’ve raised the bar so high only the biggest biotech companies can hurdle. Check out the book (Tomorrow’s Table) I recommended for Jess up there.

      As far as GMO animals are concerned this is again, not a technology issue. You can’t ban the technology to get people to stop eating/using animals. This is a job for animal liberation activists. That’s like saying we should ban the use of knives to keep people from killing/eating animals.

      As animal rights activists we should explore as best we can every tool at our disposal on behalf of the animals. GM can provide us with a whole new set of them and to shun that we better be damn sure there is obvious danger. So far, after 10 years and a billion acres of GE crops, none has been shown. THAT is the most un-animalRights thing about this.

  • First, I have now listened to the entire Folta talk, and did not hear a single “conniption fit.” Unless people were silently conniptioning and said fits went unrecognized by Folta, I think it’s safe to say that you have unfairly portrayed the GMO critics who attended Folta’s talk.

    1. You can’t assume that all GMOs are safe. As you yourself point out, transgenic technology is just a technology. It can lead to good, bad or mixed results. Imagine someone asking, “Why do you think there is a need to prove a computer program is safe before downloading it onto your hard drive?” Furthermore, from a legal standpoint, they will test on animals to cover their butts if they are ever faced with a lawsuit.

    2. The vegan cheese argument is just bizarre. There are already great vegan cheeses (Have you tried Dr. Cow?) and if you don’t like them, are you really saying that GMO research should be redirected toward vegan cheese? Do you think that vegans are so shallow and self-centered that the vegan cheese argument is somehow more appealing than feeding basic grains and pulses to the masses?

    3. The vegan diet is not nutritionally deficient unless you believe the vegan diet does not include microbes. Also, in the US, B12 does not come from GMOs.

    4. You wrote, “Creating plants that use less pesticides and fertilizers will help strive for sustainable agriculture that’s less detrimental for all life on this planet.” For those benefits to have an effect, you would have to use those GMO plants in significant quantities. You’re talking about monoculture.

    No obvious danger? “We reviewed 19 studies of mammals fed with commercialized genetically modified soybean and maize which represent, per trait and plant, more than 80% of all environmental genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cultivated on a large scale, after they were modified to tolerate or produce a pesticide . . . Several convergent data appear to indicate liver and kidney problems as end points of GMO diet effects in the above-mentioned experiments. This was confirmed by our meta-analysis of all the in vivo studies published, which revealed that the kidneys were particularly affected, concentrating 43.5% of all disrupted parameters in males, whereas the liver was more specifically disrupted in females (30.8% of all disrupted parameters).” Séralini et al, “Genetically modified crops safety assessments: present limits and possible improvements” Environmental Sciences Europe 2011, 23:10

    Of course I’m not saying that all GMOs are bad or that all GMOs are good. (And I do believe that cisgenic GMOs are less risky.) I’m saying that a lot of testing would have to be done to sort out the good from the bad, and (1) I’m against animal testing and (2) I think there are better ways to feed the world.

    • Hello Doris,

      1. I don’t assume all GMOs are safe. I’m saying that GM/GE technology cannot be lumped into an antiGMO argument. I even said ‘it’s just a technology’, you just wrote that! It has to be judged on a case by case basis yet people want to paint GMO technology with a broad brush like with the GMO labeling campaign.

      2. I used the GM cheese as an example of how this technology has the potential to mock animal foods that most have trouble leaving behind. Vegans often use these tools to advocate their lifestyle. Decent vegan cheese remains the lost holy grail. That Dr. Cow raw crap is a pale comparison. Why would you even ask if I think vegans are that shallow? Oh, that’s right actually…yes, yes I do!

      3. What microbial foods are you eating to get your B12?

      4. Why am I talking about monoculture? It doesn’t had to be. It could be used in conjunction with other farming practices or at least help mitigate the harmful effects of monoculture. Again this is not inherent to the technology.

      If testing is needed in GMOs then more testing should be required for similar agriculture technologies like mutation breeding for example. Heck, even traditional hybridization can produce toxic plants. Where’s the labeling campaign for hybrids?

  • I dig PCrank (keep calling out PETA on their sexism). This is a good article, too. Two quibbles though, the first minor: DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid, not Omega-2 as you write (typo?).

    Secondly, I have no problem with GMO in principle. Plant based insulin seems like a good idea to me. Science is great!
    What I do have a problem with, however, is poison-based monoculture agriculture and using GMO in combination with bug poison in order to sustain that. For example, Roundup and Roundup Ready makes me very uncomfortable.

    So GMO in principle—fine. Most applications of GMO I’ve seen or heard of so far—not so hot.

    • Hey Sandra,

      Right on, thanks! Whoops, thanks for catching that typo. How did nobody tell catch me on that all this time?! I’ll edit to fix that.

      I’m glad you can distinguish between the technology and the implementation. I hope by quelling this ridiculous “GMO” backlash we can get beyond the irrational fears and work to make better choices in leveraging this amazing tool
      of agriculture. Vegans in particular would do well to stop associating their ideas with fringe anti-science ideologies if they ever want to become relevant to a more rational future society.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • I guess that the reason I sometimes ally with anti-GMO woo is because I got swept up in “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” thinking.
        I don’t see a playing field of multitudes of diverse, rational voices before me, all being heard and considered.

        I see two sides:
        the woo-loving, fad-dieting, raw–crack-smoking, anti-“speciesist”, malnutritioned, give-flies-the-vote vegan crowd,
        the climate-clueless big corporations that are wrecking our planet over a steak dinner.

        Faced with those two sides, I chose veganism (and still am vegan, for over twelve years now) but everytime I accidentally read “Djurens Rätt” (big AR rag here in Sweden) I come that much closer to giving up the whole thing.

        The whole PCrank, Carpe Vegan, Raw Food SOS, Let Them Eat Meat is like water in the desert for me. We need a self-critical rational look at what we are doing now that the whole paleo “never heard of a climate footprint” blogosphere is messing up the earth with their just-as-irrational “mirror veganism”.

  • Wait, Dave, so are you against a GMO labeling campaign? Specifically, are you against making it mandatory to label GE/GM products as such?

    If so, I just don’t agree with that. Like you, I don’t have a general problem with GE/GM, but I am in favor of consumers having easy access to information. If GM/GE is really nothing to be scared of, labeling it as such should not be a problem. Yes, some companies will lose business from certain people, but most people really just don’t give a sh*t. Also, mandatory labeling opens up business/marketing opportunities for companies that sell non-GMO, thereby offering people options. Options for consumers is a good thing, right? Access to information about how our food is produced is good, right?

    • C’mon, you know mandatory labeling is just a ploy of antiGMO activists to scare off ill-educated consumers. They’re trying to leverage their fear mongering into a last stand since the science is not behind them. I find it completely disingenuous to spin it as a freedom of choice issue. It’s akin to putting evolution disclaimers on science textbooks or “teaching the controversy”.

      These articles in particular talk about the issues of labeling as compared to vegan foods: Ethics of Labeling & What’s in a label?

      If you want a right-to-know then you will have to distinguish in a meaningful way how to separate that It would open up the floodgates to all sorts of farming practices. Pamela Ronald talks about that in this brief video: Marketing Genetically Modified Crops

      Also we already have voluntary labeling with “GMO free” as we also do for vegan and kosher foods. Where’s the “contains flesh” mandatory labeling vegan campaign or the “contains cooked toxins” mandatory labeling rawfood campaign?

      Ironically, a mandatory “GMO” label may only help normalize the use of GE foods for mainstream consumers.

      • Oh boy, that is a lot of reading that I don’t have time for right now. I’ll try to get through it at some point and get back to you.

        My default position is always for more information for consumers and I need good reasons to override this instinct. I just think that if there is really nothing to be scared of, the truth should win the day. Most consumers don’t give a sh*t. The ones that do give a sh*t already know that if it doesn’t say non-GMO, it’s probably GMO.

        People avoid harmless things (relatively speaking) that they think are bad all the time. It’s kinda dumb, but I think it’s their right. I’m just for easy access to info. That’s where my comment is largely coming from.

        keep it real, Dave D

        • But why should all food producers be legally required to cater to people who avoid “harmless things”. Why is the un-founded fear of GMO a compelling reason enough for mandatory labels but not Kosher, Hala, or Veganism? Mandating labeling simply on a “right to know” basis would undermine US labeling law which is designed to provide the most important information about health to consumers, I dont think we should muddle that up with unnecessary labels. Between the option of buying labeled organic foods, or reading the ingredient label and calling the company about anything questionable people already have the ability to avoid GM food if the so choose. I’m tired of the GMO labeling campaign folks whining about how GM food is “forced on them” that they are “lied to” and that we are “blind” to what we are eating because its being “hidden”. Ive read the ingredients list on almost everything Ive eaten for the past 7 years, I’ve call FSM-knows-how-many companies asking about the source of their mono- and diglycerides, about where the vitamin D, about whether their product was filtered with isinglass and you don’t see me whining about it.

        • People may have an interest in knowing but if it doesn’t impact them negatively do they have a right to impose upon others to provide that? Who doesn’t think more information is better but what kind and how much information should be obligatory? Do I have the right to know the recipe to a restaurant’s dish or just to know if it contains something I may be allergic to? I think many people haven’t thought the GMO labeling campaign through to its logical conclusion. It just sounds like a good idea on the surface but we must tread carefully here.

  • PC

    I just looked up isinglass. I had no idea they put fish in wine. You learn something new and strange every day. Anyway, one thing that should be pointed out about labeling is that no other plant improvement methods are under such demands. Not selection for mutations/conventionally breeding (or modification if you will), not wide crosses nor embryo rescue nor somaclonal variation or the use of mutagenic chemicals & radiation nor the induction of polyploidy. It should be noted that these things cause more genetic change than inserting one or two genes using genetic engineering…I find it funny that the thing that does the least change is the one that is the most controversial.

    Maybe someone doesn’t want to eat food from plants that have been cloned using hormones. Should we have mandatory labels for food from tissue cultured plants? It isn’t unheard of that people oppose even propagation techniques; Johnny Appleseed thought grafting was evil. If someone demanded that fruit be labeled as either from a grafted plant or a plant on it’s own roots, would it be right for them to impose labeling on the fruit industry, forcing them to track every fruit, and for a product that they’re not even going to buy no less. This is something else to consider; Kosher labels are for people who want to buy Kosher, Halal for Halal buyers, organic for organic buyers, but will those demanding mandatory labels for GE food buy it? If not, who bears any extra costs that may result in the labeling?

    And beyond that, what does it say if something is labeled as genetically engineered? If I say that I made a change to my laptop, what does that tell you? Nothing. I could have installed new memory, upgraded the hard drive, put stickers on the keyboard so that I could type in a foreign language. Simply that something is GE is completely uninformative. It doesn’t say what the gene is, how it was inserted, what the promoter is, what effect the protein produced has, if the protein interacts with any other proteins or produces any secondary metabolites, and if so what those interactions are and their effect and what those secondary metabolites are and their effect. Simply labeling something as GE is meaningless, but to include that information without other such information is inconsistent. These matters should be deeply considered when advocating mandatory labeling. It isn’t that I don’t want to know more about the things I eat, why wouldn’t I, its just that for one thing, there really isn’t much of a reason to single out genetic engineering, and for another, there gets to be a point where sufficient information has been provided (ingredients, allergens, ect.) and anything beyond that should be left up to market demand. If something is GE or not is well beyond that point, especially considering that all three types of GE crop currently on the market are for all intents and purposes identical to their non-engineered counterparts. Perhaps there will be some sort of labeling when GE crops like Golden Rice and the Vistive Gold soybean, which are nutritionally different than their non-engineered counterparts, hit the market (although in this case that they were produced by GE would still not be as relevant as what is actually different…it is the product, not the process, that matters). And of course you can already tell what foods have GE ingredients just by looking at the label: if it has corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, it is almost guaranteed to be GE. Hawaiian papayas not marked otherwise is GE, and some summer squash as well. GE sugarbeet and alfalfa were approved not too long ago.

    And a comment regarding biodiversity: I’m something of a biodiversity nut and promoting under-cultivated crops. I think there are many good reasons to take such a position, not the least of which is the whole ‘variety is the spice of life’ thing. Ask what life would be like without apples and potatoes, then wonder if, had history gone differently, you’d be asking what life would be like without jujubes and yacon (or any of the hundreds of other plants I could prattle on about). It may also contribute to food security by acting as a hedge against disease…fonio isn’t going to get Ug99 and a canistel isn’t going to get citrus greening any more than a human can get feline leukemia virus. I don’t know if there is enough research to back this, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume that biodiversity could also slow the spread of disease…your preaches won’t get plumpox if everyone else around you is growing kaki. However, this is not a result of genetic engineering at all. It has been due to historical circumstance, economies of scale resulting from monocultures, and preference. I think of quinoa. It was once a major crop in the Americas until Cortez came along and outlawed it. Think, one jerk may have prevented an entire modern industry. Maybe it would be as much a part of our culture as corn is had history played out different. And now that we are finally seeing it show up in the megamarts, what is it? Some expensive fancy specialty crop in the natural foods section. Most people don’t even know it exists. This is the real threat to biodiversity. People don’t like to try new things. They see the pepino or the jicama or the lychee every now and again and pass it over without a second thought. How can you cultivate widespread agricultural biodiversity when there is so little demand for it? This is a problem that biotechnology was not the cause of. However, I personally think it can be part of the solution. Crops like pears, wheat, tomato, walnut, and lettuce have hundreds of years of breeding behind them. Crops like pawpaws, teff, kutjera, yellowhorn, and salicornia don’t. Winning consumer acceptance for the vast wealth of undercultivated crops will be an uphill (and most likely multigenerational) battle, but at least with biotechnology, including genetic engineering, there is a powerful tool that just might give these plants a fighting chance, perhaps by removing the undesirable compounds present in some crops, like chaya or mashua, or perhaps by extending the shelf life of others, like rose apple. Unfortunately, the regulations on GE crops are currently so strict that no one is going to bother with doing such research. Of course, not many people do that research anyway, which is…unfortunate, to put it mildly. That’s another problem. No company is going to work on such a risky endeavor as developing undercultivated crops, and funding for public research in agriculture has not been doing so well as of late, and even it it was, it’d still be the big species that get the attention.

    Biodiversity is commonly used as an argument against biotechnology, and usually, that’s all its used for, but it is more than a talking point. By setting up a false dichotomy between biotechnology and biodiversity, I think you do each a disservice. Opposing biotechnology does not help biodiversity. If you wish to support biodiversity, do it by supporting biodiversity. Next time you see something new in the produce aisle, buy it, learn to use it, and tell your friends about it. Biodiversity and biotechnology are IMO the two best things we can put into agriculture to make it better all around, but ignorance towards the latter and apathy towards the former prevent them from achieving their true combined potential.

    And a brief comment on the bug poison/Round-Up issue. First, Round-Up. Yep, spraying loads of anything is probably bad and does environmental damage. The thing to consider here is it doesn’t matter. Agriculture is destructive, and that’s not something that can be avoided, only mitigated. In other words, what we are looking for is not something that does no harm, but something that causes the least harm. When you are converting natural land to farmland, environmental damage is a given, the real question is how much. Round-Up’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is actually one of the more benign chemicals used in agriculture (contrary to a lot of the questionable stories you commonly heard about it), and it is certainty better than the herbicides it replaced, but what makes it important is that it (in conjunction with GE crops resistant to it) allows for the use of no-till agriculture. Tilling degrades soil quality &promotes soil erosion, causes fertilizer runoff into lakes & streams causing havoc on aquatic environments, it’s generally nasty business but it helps to control weeds. I can get why people don’t like herbicide tolerant GE crops, I really do, but by reducing tillage they really have had a positive net impact. As for putting bug poison into the plant (and I assume that comment meant the Bt trait), how do you suppose they bred bug resistant strains in the past? Yep, by increasing the amounts of bug poison they produce. Some bug poisons taste pretty good. I love the taste of my favorite toxin, allyl isothiocyanate. Some not so much though. Take the case of the Lenape potato, bred from a wide cross in the 60s, it had impressive insect resistance. This resistance was the result of the poisonous chemical solanine. In fact, it actually produced too much, and was quite dangerous to eat. My point is, making plants more or less toxic is nothing new, and what matters isn’t that we give it insect resistance like this, but what the particular resistance compound is. In the case of current GE crops, the cry proteins uses are very specific (which is why we actually see higher insect biodiversity in GE crops, because where pesticide sprays are no longer used, only the insects that eat the crops are effected) and have no affect on humans or the rest of the environment. Humans do not have the receptor that the cry proteins bind to, nor is the pH of the mammalian gut suitable of the protein’s activation. Kind of like how theobromine is fine for humans but dangerous to dogs, whereas urushiol is fine for dogs but not for humans. Poison to one thing is not necessarily poison to all things, especially when we’re dealing with a protein, and this one simply doesn’t affect other organisms.

    • Thanks for your comments about glyphosate and tilling.
      One detail:

      As for putting bug poison into the plant

      I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant nor wrote. I meant that they create Roundup Ready plants (plants that can withstand the poison) and then spray the plants with the poison. My mistake was mixing up herbicide (poison against plants) with bug poison. Roundup is against weeds. I forgot that and wrote “bug” poison. I never meant to refer to the Lenape situation, I was only thinking of the Roundup thing.
      Been a few years since I thought about the Roundup stuff. Embarrassing.

  • Beau

    Do you like GM soy, Dave D ?

    Revealed: the glyphosate research the GM soy lobby doesn’t want you to read

  • Beau

    Do you like GM soy, Dave D?

    GM soy: The invisible ingredient ‘poisoning’ children

  • Sue this is an interview about the effects of GM Roundup Ready foods on HUMANS.

    GM foods are killing people world wide. They nearly destroyed the farmers in India. When they finished growing their crops of GM cotton which were supposed to have huge increases in yield, but in fact did not have 75% of what they were doing with standard cotton, the farmers turned their goat and sheep herds into the fields for their favorite treat. But within a couple of days nearly the entire country was devastated by the death of entire herds. The story of Monsanto’s GM seeds.

    For GOD’s sake people, educate yourself. Don’t let someone who is either ill informed or deliberately spreading misinformation steal your health or that of someone you love.

  • Sue

    Organic Consumers Association and Seeds of Deception are two credible and thorough websites to educate the generally unknowing consumer about what is happening. These are two of the only sites that are not funded in some way by pharma, chemical or Monsanto $…… check them out.

  • Sue

    There is nothing you can say. I have seen the science. I have heard the scientists from other nations that are allowed to test and research the dramatic and horrible side effects of GMO foods. The human body recognizes them as a foreign and toxic substance. They are not natural or normal. The “frankenfood” created by GMOs is not recognized by the body as food.

    Seeds of Deception, Jeff Smith has done the world wide work of traveling and talking to the most prominent scientists and researchers. Go to his website. I also personally know Percy Schmitzer from Canada. I know what Monsanto (Mon-satan) did to him, his multi-generational research into the natural breeding of canola plants and to his farm. I know how they used fear of losing their own farms to turn his neighbors against him. I know they used powerful government connections to get aspartame into our food supply knowing it was poison; to get a patent on LIFE – who the hell has that kind of right?? They own almost the entire seed supplies of the world. Their CEO made a public statement when asked about the safety of GMOs his response was something like this “it is our job to sell as much and as quickly as possible. It is not our job to prove it is safe for the public, that is the job of the FDA.” We all know that the FDA is owned and funded by the pharmaceutical and chemical companies in it’s entirety. I know that RBGH (the growth hormones being given to our dairy cows) is one of the worst things to happen to our food supply, with the exception of GMOs.

    No, Dear David, there is absolutely NOTHING you can say that would soften me in the slightest about GMOs.

    • Sue,

      I’m familiar with everything you’ve said. I used to spout the same sort of rhetoric back in my vegan activist days so nothing new is there. BTW you must not know Percy so well if you can’t even spell his name! 🙂 Unless there’s a similar case and person. In that case, please illuminate me.

      In any case, the reason I ask if there is something that would change your mind is so we don’t have to waste our time slogging through the same old tired arguments if you won’t even budge. You invoke science, yet by not keeping your mind open to change you are not science-based. You are not using reason to support your arguments so therefore I cannot address them reasonably.

      Until you can do that your concerns will fall on deaf ears. If they are legitimate and you value the scientific method you should find your criteria that can provide something of substance. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of baloney.

  • Sue

    I will post this and nothing more. Research and TRUTH are anyone’s best friends. Do not treat me like a child. Obviously your ability to discern truth is hampered, maybe even by the use the GMOs. I have been talking about this for years. I don’t try to play it down, or dumb it down.

    Go watch the movie THRIVE. Watch the videos on Seeds of Deception. I don’t have to be a scientist to understand the straight language spoken there. I thank those websites for their help with this response.


    Thank you THRIVE, the movie for your help here.

    • The way we get to truth is through the scientific method. I don’t get my science from movies, I get it from a consensus of experts in their field. This is the best way to get as close as we can to the truth because our brains are inherently flawed.

      Your cut and paste content was deleted. If you cannot even approach the table willing to change your mind by reason then there is no point. You are simply propagandizing especially when you aren’t even open to further replies.

      I never saw the movie Thrive but anything that has to do with aliens is pure science fiction. That is not science, Sue.

    • How about this Sue, I will watch Seeds of Deception (already read much of the book) and discuss it point by point with you, if you will read one of the following
      Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food
      Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Food
      and be willing to discuss the enclosed points as well.
      Would you be willing to do that?

  • Sue

    And I said I knew Percy well – he and I met at a conference in Michigan at MSU, at several in Iowa and Illinois. He and I have shared meals and I interviewed him on an international conference call 4 years ago. I may not have spelled his last name correctly, but I didn’t expect to have such an arrogant man look for any reason to belittle my response.

    • Well I thought it was funny that you would play up a relationship with somebody and then misspell their name! (or there was another person I didn’t know about) I didn’t mean to belittle your response. That was just a ribbing. 🙂

  • Sue

    You, sir, are part of the problem in this country!!!!

    You walk around like you are some kind of expert and try to shame people into submission. You enjoy going from site to site stomping on those who have the chutzpah to try to inform others about what is being perpetrated upon them for the sake of greed and profit. A well researched documentary is not simply a movie for entertainment. I gave you all the research documentation with my response – you simply brush it aside as if it were not pertinent. What a scam artist you are. I hope people see you for who/what you are and have the courage to educate themselves and at least look at the reference materials.

    Good day. You need not reply for my benefit as I will not grace you with one more second of my thoughts or time – it is time wasted for sure!

  • Sue

    By the way, Dave – when you look at a research paper written by the fox about how to protect the chickens, one must truly realize that he will show you how to build your coop without a door.

  • Sue

    The sensoring on this website is unbelievable. I posted a good response with all the credible proof of my words – and it was cut and removed from my response.

    If ANYONE here wants the truth, with all the proof and scientific documentation – please go to the websites for either SEEDS OF DECEPTION, or THRIVE, the movie.

  • Anna

    Kind of off-topic but GM technology is being used for cheese, but not vegan cheese (to my knowledge). Vegetarians should be happy to know that most rennet is microbial, and some rennet is even synthesized by GM microbes. So that’s pretty great for our lacto-vegetarian friends.

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  • […] insight from countering perspectives. I feel a sense of urgency and injustice with the GMO issue, obviously. I’m not the only one who feels this, by far. Early in 2015 I teamed up with my buddies Karl […]

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