18 comments on “There are compelling pro-GMO arguments, but do they tell the whole story?

  1. Hi Sleuth. Thanks for a sober and even-handed treatment. I’m glad to answer your questions.

    1. What about the increase in birth defects and cancer in Argentinians who live near Roundup Ready soy farms?

    You are referring to a paper by Benitez et al (2009) where the authors describe birth defects occurring in proximity to agricultural areas in Argentina. The anti-GM folks link this citation to a report from Paganelli et al (2010) where researchers incubated frog (Xenopus laevis) embryos in commercial glyphosate herbicides. The two together frame the link, glyphosate causes birth defects and cancers.

    However, critical and complete analysis of these reports reveals overstepping data and misrepresenting information. The Paganelli et al study shows differences between glyphosate-treated embryos and controls. When the justification, methods, statistical rigor and conclusions are considered, the work is certainly questionable. I can detail if you are interested, but look at inconsistencies in controls and treatments between figures…

    Most of all, the Benitez et al (2009) work that was used to justify the Paganelli et al study was not published in a scholarly journal. In fact, the authors include a typo that makes the Benitez work appear to be a toxicology article when it really is a local pediatric bulletin from Paraguay that looked at pesticide use and the correlation with birth defects at a single hospital. It does not even mention glyphosate or glyphosate-containing chemicals, and associations between proximity to the field and congenital defects were weak at best.

    2. What about the marked increase of deadly food allergies in children?
    There is no evidence to build this link. C’mon, you have a Ph.D in science and must know that causation and correlation are not the same thing.

    3. What about the Indian farmer suicides after their GMO crops fail? This is a complex issue. Failures were mostly drought-spawned and not due to GMO– but farmer debt was. I get that. However, real sources show that most farmers are making more money from use of GM seeds, summarized in this note based on a PNAS article:


    There are many facets to this. Native cotton is not as productive and requires pesticides. Bt cotton is better, farmers want profits, so even though the seeds cost more they buy it. It’s a tricky situation and I’m glad the world is watching.

    4. What about the massive bee and butterfly die off? Again, I know you have a science Ph.D, so you’ll need to look at the data on this. There is no association between transgenic crops and bee effects. Minor effects have been seen in the lab at non-natural levels, but that’s it. Last year’s Science (journal) showed that a huge component of bee die off was the wide use of neonictinoid pesticides. Google that for the link…

    5. What about the general health of Americans, the country that eats the most GM processed food? They don’t exercise enough either, so does GM cause them to not exercise? You see my point. Again, correlation does not equal causation and that’s such a lame argument. I agree, we eat a lot of junk, but it’s calories, sugar, fat and lack of physical activity that underlie most ailments. Plus, we’re living longer and don’t die from things like heart attacks as much.

    6. .. That is my short list, and all of these problems implicate GMOs at some level.

    Not really. Not even close. I’m not being combative, I just thought this would be a better discussion based on your preamble of being a science Ph.D.

    7. If you want to call me an ignorant luddite, that’s fine. I gladly accept that title and am proud to stand by my concerns about GMOs and will not blindly say they are all “good” and have nothing to do with the aforementioned issues.

    I’d never call you a luddite, but I’d be glad to help you understand the real science. We can’t all know everything. I sure don’t. We grow from discussing facts and evidence. That’s where my points come from.

    8, There was a time we blindly accepted tobacco use too because the “science” said it was fine.

    Oh crap. Please. I’m sorry, but you are such a non-scientific thinker to say this. For every case like “cigarettes” you can pull out of your tailpipe I can give you 100,000 where science was dead on. And most science did not say smoking was fine. That’s why we changed our scientific health perspective on it, and to this day see it as dangerous.

    9. I agree there are some anti-GMO wackos out there… but not everyone who questions the technology is a wacko.

    Always question technology. Question everything. However, when you are suspicious that science is lying to you about the sun going to rise in the east in the morning, that gravity holds us to the planet or that water is made up of two hydrogens and an oxygen… it is a little wacky.

    “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” That was from F. Scott Fitzgerald and reminds us that thinking objectively about all evidence is important. When we look at the quality of evidence in the GM discussion, it greatly weighs to the conclusion that this is good technology that can potentially be of great benefit with little risk over conventional agriculture. Thanks. I’m always glad to answer questions.

    • Well of course there are two sides to every coin… and I just want to be informed. But I’m not convinced the plant scientists look at the WHOLE picture. Thanks for your remarks. -Julie

      • Julie, but there are not two sides to the coin. Do you believe that there is a legitimate argument against global warming? Do you believe that there is a legitimate argument against evolution? Do you believe that 9-11 was an inside job or that we’ve never been to the moon? Do you believe that there is evidence for Bigfoot? Do you think that the earth is flat and in the middle of the universe?

        There is science and evidence, and there is belief. There is not two sides to the coin. The utility of transgenics is clear. After many years there is no real evidence of harm. Tell me what you think is compelling… what’s your best argument? Let’s talk science.

        You’re clearly sharp. I can convince you that the science is correct and the activist view is absolutely wrong. email anytime… kf

  2. I never understood the Anti GMO argument from the standpoint of simply ingesting the foods. The GMO proteins are broken down in the gut into the constituent amino acids. If the body adsorbs in tact proteins from another organism, an immune system response ensues. That is how most food allergies are developed.
    Constituent amino acids are the same whether the food is GMO or not, unless they start producing and utilizing unnatural amino acids which they might do in the future.
    I think the obvious and most imminent problem will arise from the spread of GMO proteins outside the population of these organisms, to other organisms through Horizontal Gene Transfer.

    • Robert, right on. The only thing I disagree with is horizontal gene transfer being a problem. It does not happen very often (rarely) and even if it did, the genes transferred wouldn’t do much. What good is roundup resistance when you have no roundup?

      • I think your lack of concern over HGT is naive, the mechanism is bacteria and they routinely exchange genetic information between eukaryotes and prokaryotes and each other. Ever heard of antibiotic resistance, and how it happens? Hardly rare, or improbable!

      • Partner, I said I never understood the simple, obvious argument against ingesting GMO food proteins, but that is a far cry from saying that there may be no serious consequences to this. I don’t trust the financial based opinions of Monsanto, and they are not smart enough to consider this either!

      • Hi Robert. In response to your 3:24 AM comment… I do not worry about horizontal gene transfer. It rarely happens in the wild between euks and proks (with the obvious exception of Agrobacterium, the same one used to create transgenic crops). In the gut, to what you are referring to, it is not a problem from GMO any more than natural sources. How do I know? You literally consume TRILLIONS of genes every day that are not your own. If adding genes was routine you’d see much more evidence of it. HGT leading to a hard change is rare. Sure, some Haemophilus species and others can take up pieces of DNA and incorporate them. However, you need selective pressure. Eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells have different mechanisms of transcription, translation, processing, etc. Even if you get a gene in there the chances that it changes anything that will affect selection are extremely remote. Of course, antibiotics are selection and can lead to resistant bacteria. However, that’s much more likely to come from the beta lactamases or enzymes that modify aminoclycosides that already exist in gut bacteria. The problem of antibiotic resistance is not a transgenic food problem– not at all. You can sequence the beta lactamases of beta-lactam metabolizing bacteria and you don’t find the one used in biotech. Again, the problem lies in proper use of antibiotics, not implicating a technology that has nothing to do with it.

        As always I could be wrong, but I never knew of any hard evidence of a transgene-based antibiotic resistance gene moving horizontally to confer resistance on a new pathogenic strain. Plus, none of the antibiotics used in GE are in the current battery used clinically, with some exceptions.

        Now the discipline has moved away from these genes anyway and are moving to cisgenics and other plant-based selection methods.

  3. Believe what you like. An important move by pharmaceutical companies has been to patent naturally occurring substances which normally cannot be patented because they are natural molecules. N Acetyle Cysteine is one example of an amino acid that is extremely effective in averting catastrophic liver failure as well as being extremely effective at relieving Chronic Obstructive Pulminary Disease. Trivial molecul changes have been mad to this molecule, not to increase efficacy, and cure disease, but instead allow the patent rights that allow health insurance to cover the cost of treatment.

    The GOM companies are not improving the nutritional value of the food. The nutritional quality is a third now of what it was since before the industrialization of agriculture post WWII. Now you have to eat triple the amount of these foods to approach pre WWII levels in your body. And since most of these foods are high in complex carbohydrates, the result is what we have gotten.
    Figure it out for yourself, I am not a preacher!

    • Robert, this is to your 6:11 comment. I don’t think you’re a preacher, as you raise some compelling points with a foot in reality. First, nutrition. Nutrition has not been the main priority for industrial GM science. Most of the GE stuff goes to cattle. However, there are huge gains that could be made for increasing protein and lipid content of the endosperm that have been well demonstrated in the literature and not commercialized. it is the high cost of regulation and the hassle that stands in the way.

      Don’t believe that? Look at Golden Rice. It was to be given away and produces beta carotene that can be converted to vitamin A to cure that deficiency– a huge problem worldwide. Activists have fought this humanitarian gesture at every juncture. Last year clinical tests show that subjects get a substantial boost in vitamin A from consuming it… not complete, but pretty good (I think 60% of vitamin A). Worked better than spinach. It is being grown in the Philippines this year.

      Let’s watch to see what happens. Will Golden Rice kill everyone that eats it with grotesque tumors like activists tell us… or will it solve a problem that needs to be solved, safely and effectively?

      I just hope that someone has the guts to apologize when we learn the answer, and be accountable for the millions of lives they harmed.

      • So mas not to argue ad nauseum about whether HGT is a concern to you or not. I think it concerning that it is possible and in time in fact likely based purely upon statistics. The creation of intentionally malicious genes into crops, and the fact that a natural vehicle exists to transfer these genes to other species exists is concerning. The genes do not have to be transferred to eukaryotes to be a problem(although it is possible), ever heard of Pasteur and the germ theory of disease?

      • Robert, I guess I don’t understand why the Cry1A gene is a threat if eaten as part of a corn kernel vs when it comes in from bacteria. You don’t eat sterile food. You swallow trillions of different bacterial genes every day. The discussion is a red herring. It is something scary that you can use to create fear. Can something bad happen? Sure. Are the odds different than traditional breeding? No.

        If we all decided to make decisions of evidence instead of fear this world would be a remarkably better place. From historical atrocities, to wars that never end to discontent with new technologies, when decisions are made because of “what if… ____ might be bad” the outcome is not favorable. It’s a philosophical point. I’ve never made a decision based on fear and never will. Take care.

  4. Exactly! There is SO much more to the story than how our body reacts to eating a protein. I have issues with cross pollination, the rise of monocultures, and the patenting of life and Monsanto’s seed market domination.

    But I’m still not convinced that eating GMOs are safe… I’ve personally observed too many increases of children’s food allergies, deathly food allergies, and the timeline matches up perfectly with the rise of GMOs.

    Then I saw “Genetic Roulette” and THAT science points the finger at Bt corn. We just don’t really know. Personally, I don’t care to eat crops that were drenched in Roundup because I’ve been present when the crop dusters dumped the Roundup and I almost went into cardiac arrest and could not breathe. Let me tell you, industrial strength Roundup is serious business.

    And let’s not forget, they once thought cigarettes were safe as well.

    • Sleuth, you see a rise in children’s food allergies fits EXACTLY 100% overlay with the value of the organic food sales. Fits like a glove. How do you know it is transgenics and not that?

      Genetic Roulette is a lie. Jeffery Smith is a bookselling non-scientific fear monger that has to keep you scared and paranoid so he can sell books and movies. Me, I’m a public scientist. Underpaid and overworked, I donate my time to help people understand science and technology. Who do you really trust?

      Nobody in science thought cigarettes were safe. Science knew otherwise. However, there were activists inside the tobacco lobby that said they were okay, against science. In this way the anti-GMO movement is just like the tobacco companies. They are fighting science because they need to forward an agenda.

      Always glad to illuminate this topic. Just ask. kf

  5. @Kevin: One of the points I made in my reply to you that got claimed by the cyberspace gods was that I espouse transgenic technologies when used for obvious humanitarian endeavors like Golden Rice and have mentioned that in my blog. This whole argument here and on Fourat’s blog is helping to define and narrow my focus and realize that my real issue is not GMOs in and of themselves, but certain applications of GMOs as they apply to a host of social, economic, environmental and agricultural practices. In other words, GMOs seem to go hand in hand with some very slimy business dealings. If GMOs “for the good of man” (e.g. Golden Rice) are to be widely accepted by the public, they need an image makeover.

    Likewise, I still don’t like Roundup Ready anything. It may be ‘safe’ to eat the proteins in the soy or corn, ok I get that, but I don’t want to eat the plant that has been drenched in the stuff. Don’t like the weed resistance that is happening. Don’t like the imminent pesticide inflation that is bringing us higher doses of Roundup, 2,4-D and dicamba.

    Also, I am not a scientist, but a musician and educator. I am a regular gal who shops at regular stores and reads labels like a fiend.

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