GMO Concerns in Soylent and our food system


#1

Given the heated debate about the issues around GMO in Soylent I thought it might be a good idea to have a dedicated thread.

Please post your thoughts, opinions, sources, on your concerns about GMO and lets try to have a evidence based discussion on the pro/cons of the use of GMO in Soylent and our food system more generally.


[Official] Introducing Soylent 1.1
#2

Here is a statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science giving their position on GMOs:

Here is a list of studies conducted on the question of whether GMOs are safe:

http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/


#3

Please, people, don’t mention Monsanto - we know they’re evil. Simply reading the Wikipedia page makes that abundantly clear. Keep this on the topic of GMOs, not the company that produces them.


#4

And more fear mongering and demonizing a company with zero facts to back it up.


#5

Without going deeply into references, which would inevitably mention Monsanto as they are the most likely to have done something to make a food unsafe (by observation)…

Any GMO food that is modified to resist poisons is suspect for two reasons. First, it may allow the plant to incorporate pesticides or their metabolites without harm to the plant, and they are thus ingested. Second, it may change the way the plant grows its own proteins, fats, etc. so that they no longer have the expected nutrient profile. Looking at the way they have been introduced and marketed, I am not feeling confident that due diligence has been performed in either of these areas.

Any GMO food that has been modified to resist insect infestations is similarly suspicious depending on the nature of the modification.

Note, we have a long history of eating foods that would be poisonous without processing. There isn’t necessarily anything in a GMO plant that would make it different from other foods in this respect, as long as the processing gets done.

My major gripe with GMO foods is that they are being pushed in a way that reduces the genetic diversity of the species and that allows the companies to engage in predatory takeover of farms owned by people who had the misfortune of simply being nearby. They are used to justify the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers that are unsafe and damaging to the environment.

I think that any GMO plant should be identified by default as a pernicious weed with a mandatory license to plant (paid by the seed company) and that if they escape their confines, the company should be required to pay for the removal and cleanup, plus any losses to those whose business was harmed by the presence of their weed invading their crop.

But that’s me daydreaming.

What I would LIKE is to see GMO plants that grow better in saline soil, so Californians can stop stealing water from the rest of the West.

Or plants that can be used for specific things like pulling toxins out of the ground, like oil spills or chemical leaks. But those wouldn’t be crops, as such.


#6

You do realize that the chemicals used on GMO crops are less harmful to the environment, even in the greater quantity that they are being used, than the chemicals before them, right?


#7

That depends entirely on how “harmful” is measured. “Chemicals” is a very sloppy reference, by the way. There are roughly three classes of chemical treatment given to crop plants: Fertilizer (feeds the plants or improves its growing conditions), pesticide vs insects, and pesticide vs unwanted plants, i.e. weed killer or fungicide.

GMO plants are currently created with “resistance to insects” which means that genes are inserted which cause chemical toxins that attack insect systems, to be distributed in the plants in some fashion.

Plants which produce insect poison may need to be treated to make them edible. I already mentioned this, and it’s not necessarily a concern except… well, I’ll get back to that.

GMO plants are also created with “resistance to pesticides” which means that they can more easily endure the use of specific chemical weed-killers; this allows the use of those weed killers on crops which would have been killed, and makes for a higher crop yield or even a crop that would otherwise not be able to grow in the presence of competing plants. Monsanto made their first GMO plant, a soybean that was resistant to their Roundup weedkiller.

Using Roundup as the basis: Roundup is primarily glyphosate. The Extonet data sheet on glyphosate says that it only causes moderate harm to the animals it was tested on, that it has a 175 day half-life in soil, and that it binds strongly to soil, rather than washing away into the environment.

Theory vs. Practice: As with antibiotic-soaked chickens causing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup by a combination of factors. The weeds that resist Roundup are thriving, and the ‘resistance gene’ may even be leaking across plants by retroviral propagation or similar means.

Roundup doses are MUCH higher than in the beginnings and not looking to drop.

Back to insecticide-generating plants. They’ve been successfully used for a while now. The insect pests have adapted, and are now beginning to be immune. Just like the plants, and just like the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Now, they’re being forced to go back to those “more harmful chemicals” you mentioned, but they have the high levels of other toxins as well. Not a net gain.


#8
  1. There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk than conventional food.[1][2][3][4][5][6] There is no evidence to support the idea that the consumption of approved GM food has a detrimental effect on human health.[2][4][7]

^ a b c d e f American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Board of Directors (2012). Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers
2. ^ a b c d e f American Medical Association (2012). Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health: Labeling of Bioengineered Foods
3. ^ a b World Health Organization. Food safety: 20 questions on genetically modified foods. Accessed December 22, 2012.
4. ^ a b c d e f United States Institute of Medicine and National Research Council (2004). Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. National Academies Press. Free full-text. National Academies Press. See pp11ff on need for better standards and tools to evaluate GM food.
5. ^ a b c A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001-2010) (PDF). Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Biotechnologies, Agriculture, Food. European Union. 2010. p. 16. doi:10.2777/97784. ISBN 978-92-79-16344-9.
6. ^ a b c d Key S, Ma JK, Drake PM (June 2008). “Genetically modified plants and human health”. J R Soc Med 101 (6): 290–8. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2008.070372. PMC 2408621.PMID 18515776.
1.

One of the major environmental benefits from using GM crops is the reduction in the use of pesticides. Insect-resistant Bt-expressing crops will reduce the number of pest insects feeding on these plants without the farmers having to apply as much insecticides.[225][226] A study published by the UK consultancy PG Economics, concluded that globally pesticide spraying was reduced by 286,000 tons in 2006, decreasing the environmental impact of herbicides and pesticides by 15%.[227] A survey of small Indian farms between 2002 and 2008 concluded that Bt cotton adoption has led to higher yields and lower pesticide use.[228] One study concluded insecticide use on cotton and corn during the years 1996 to 2005 fell by 35.6 million kg of insecticide active ingredient, which is roughly equal to the amount of pesticide applied to arable crops in the EU in one year.[229] A study on the effects of using Bt cotton in six northern provinces of China from 1990 to 2010 concluded that Bt cotton halved the use of pesticides and doubled the level of ladybirds, lacewings and spiders, with the environmental benefits extended to neighbouring crops of maize, peanuts and soybeans.[230][231]

^ Roh JY, Choi JY, Li MS, Jin BR, Je YH (April 2007). “Bacillus thuringiensis as a specific, safe, and effective tool for insect pest control”. J. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 17 (4): 547–59. PMID 18051264.
2. ^ Marvier M, McCreedy C, Regetz J, Kareiva P (June 2007). “A meta-analysis of effects of Bt cotton and maize on nontarget invertebrates”. Science 316 (5830): 1475–7.doi:10.1126/science.1139208. PMID 17556584
1.
^ Krishna, Vijesh V.; Qaim, Matin (2012). “Bt cotton and sustainability of pesticide reductions in India”. Agricultural Systems 107: 47–55. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2011.11.005.
2. ^ Kovach J, Petzoldt C, Degni J, Tette J. “A Method to Measure the Environmental Impact of Pesticides”. New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Retrieved 23
1.
^ Carrington, Damien (13 June 2012) GM crops good for environment, study finds The Guardian. Retrieved 16 June 2012
2. ^ Lu Y, Wu K, Jiang Y, Guo Y, Desneux N (July 2012). “Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services”. Nature 487 (7407): 362–5.doi:10.1038/nature11153. PMID 22722864.
1.
The development of glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) plants has changed the herbicide use profile away from the use of more environmentally persistant herbicides with higher toxicity, such as atrazine, metribuzin, and alachlor, and has reduced the dangers of herbicide runoff into drinking water.[221][222] However, a study published in Environmental Sciences Europe by Chuck Benbrook[223] concluded that the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has increased herbicides applied.[223][224]

^ Shipitalo MJ, Malone RW, Owens LB (2008). “Impact of Glyphosate-Tolerant Soybean and Glufosinate-Tolerant Corn Production on Herbicide Losses in Surface Runoff”.Journal of Environment Quality 37 (2): 401–8.doi:10.2134/jeq2006.0540. PMID 18268303.
2. ^ Shipitalo MJ, Malone RW, Owens LB (2008). “Impact of glyphosate-tolerant soybean and glufosinate-tolerant corn production on herbicide losses in surface runoff”. J. Environ. Qual. 37 (2): 401–8. doi:10.2134/jeq2006.0540.PMID 18268303.
3. ^ a b Benbrook, CM (2012). “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years.”. Environmental Sciences Europe 24 (24).doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-24.
4. ^ “How GMOs Unleashed a Pesticide Gusher”. October 3, 2012.


#10

We must understand that independent studies are what is needed and they are not funded so are scarce and quickly discredited by those that have a stake in GE products. Studies by organizations/people that work for companies in this field should not be the only source for information on this subject. There is of course a conflict of interest in these studies.
Scientific studies are flawed due to the lack of money for independent studies and by the funding provided by the very companies/corporations whose existence rely on GE crops, food, insecticides etc.


#11

I do believe the Wikipedia article alone discredits Monsanto as well as their checkered history.


#12

Here is a list of independently funded studies on GMOs:


#17

But when i pointed you to a long term independently funded study that involved dozens of research groups from throughout the EU, you claimed it was biased.


#18

Of course. That person has made up their mind. No matter the amount of evidence, they have made up their mind. Its all some sort of conspiracy to her. Don’t expect any kind of response other than some kind of excuse (like we have become used to seeing from her for an answer to all of our responses) to why the articles you posted came to the conclusions that it did.


#20

What about scientists?

I mean, GMOs are one of the things that’s prevented us from having a global food shortage. They lower the cost of food, and so in that sense they are very beneficial to individual who are low on the power spectrum. Electricity also puts more power in the hands of big corporations, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.


#22

Please provide that documentation.


#25

I’m going to think long and hard about this, and get back to you.


#27

You’re absolutely right. I’ve heard about those electricity scandals, and they are disgusting. I agree that putting power in the hands of corporations is always potentially problematic. But it is clear that certain things can only exist if they are controlled by large conglomerates (whether they be corporations or government or whatever – some social construct of centralized power). Such things include microchip manufacturing plants, nationwide rail networks, power grids, and the whole apparatus necessary to make genetically modified organisms. In principle it would be better if such things could be created without invoking the process of centralizing power in the hands of a few people, but I personally see no way to do it. :-/ Let me know if you think of one!

Still working on a response to your post about the suppression of anti-GMO studies.


#28

We have two things potentially “polluting” the scientific study of GMOs. The first thing is a profit motive for scientists funded by corporations who stand to profit from the use of GMOs. The second thing hasn’t been mentioned yet.

We are, to varying degrees, nervous about putting anything artificial into our bodies. We feel that artificial things have a greater potential to harm us than natural things. This is an emotional belief. We possess it prior to looking at any specific evidence about the safety of an artificial thing, and this emotional belief may prevent us from changing our mind about the artificial thing after we do look at evidence.

This emotional belief may not be misguided. Natural systems are complicated enough that the effects of any new thing are quite unpredictable, and it may be very hard or time-consuming, or even impossible, to really verify that a new thing did no harm. In some sense and to some extent, the bias against artificial things is a positive bias. However, taken too far, it can pollute the scientific process. Think, for example, of the people who believe that vaccines cause autism.

So we have these two biases at play. We have the profit motive bias, of which we can accuse the majority (but far from all) of the scientists studying GMOs. And we have the fear of artificial things bias, of which we can accuse the opposers of GMOs.

In a sense, any dismissal of the other side on the grounds of bias simply cancels out. If pro-GMO calls anti-GMO biased, then anti-GMO can turn it right back on pro-GMO and call them biased. “The other side is wrong because they are biased” is a totally symmetric argument which neither side can win, because both sides are potentially biased.

In a situation where both sides are potentially biased, the only fair thing we can do, as I see it, is to look at what the science says and agree to believe it. Individual scientists and individual studies are often wrong; but the scientific process, on a large scale, has a great track record of producing truth. The past few decades have seen a lot of studies on GMOs cranked out by people biased towards GMOs, and by people biased against GMOs, and (I imagine and believe) by people not biased either way. The overarching conclusion of that research has been that GMOs are safe.

I read the story of Irina Ermakova, and others’ attempts to bully her and suppress her ideas. Let’s go ahead and assume the story is true. It doesn’t surprise me, though it is saddening.

This goes back to what I said earlier, that science is not necessarily pure on the level of individual scientists. I think it is pure on the level of broad scientific consensus developed over many years; but on the level of individual scientists it demonstrably is not. This is an unfortunate example of that.

The fact that GMO supporters did something unethical does not mean they are wrong about GMOs. A person can be unethical and still have true beliefs. A person can be ethical and still have false beliefs. In fierce controversies both sides might try to bully the other side and suppress their ideas; the people who are ultimately wrong might do this, and the people who are ultimately right might do it as well.

But the worry you are attempting to convey, I guess, is that information condemning GMOs has been so suppressed that it creates an illusion of clear evidence that they are safe, when if the condeming information had not been suppressed there would be a picture that was ambiguous, or clearly showing GMOs to be unsafe.

This, while possible, would as far as I know be literally unprecedented in the modern history of science. There are plenty of cases of smaller-scale suppression or ignoring of correct ideas. But I believe there is nothing in the history of science on such a grand scale as this. It would be an entirely new and as-yet unseen level of corruption of the scientific process.

Though such a phenomenon would be unprecedented, it is actually quite common for people to think that things like this are happening. There are plenty of people who are dismissed by the scientific community, and subsequently develop the belief that their ideas are being suppressed and there is a conspiracy against them in academia. But in almost every case these people are actually wrong, both about their idea and about the existence of a conspiracy. It’s just a psychologically easy explanation for people to leap to. Mainly because it’s an alternative to changing one’s mind.

It’s generally good life advice that if one thinks there is a conspiracy against one’s belief in the scientific community, then one should seriously stop and double check the train of thought that led to the belief. As soon as one starts thinking that science is conspiring against oneself, one is in a category which contains all of these people and which historically contained only a handful of right people. From the outside vew it’s not a great place to be, most of the time.

Note carefully that I’m not saying that everybody in this position should change their mind to the consensus view. Sometimes these people, with whom all of science disagrees, really are right. It’s just that most of the time they’re not. So a person in this position should double-check their thinking really really carefully.


#29

This can be a contentious topic, so please try keep it civil.

Provide data, evidence, and science to back up your claims.

Short, no-content posts that are argumentative without adding anything substantive to the discussion will be deleted.


#30

If Monsanto is a “heavily documented example” then please provide proof of that.
Is it because they sue farmers for giggles? Nope, come to find out every farmer they have sued except for one was for breach of contract, And they won every single case. Because if you willing sign into a contract with someone and breach that contract then prepare to be sued. And every dime they have won from those farmers they donated to charity. Those MONSTERS. Then there is that one other farmer. The farmer that started the S storm and lies. The lie being that Monsanto sues farmers if a monsanto seed flies onto a farmers field and grows. that ONE farmer they sued, and won, because of them finding monsanto crops in his field. Well, scientists went on his field and did tests and found that it was IMPOSSIBLE in one season for that farmers crop to be a WHOPPING 90% Monsanto by accident. That same farmer didnt take the stand because he didnt want to purger himself. Talking about the farmers suicides in India? IF you would like me to give you citation how that is false I will be happy to. Like the fact that the suicides were already up before Monsanto ever went to India. Or the fact that suicide in India is just a problem all the way around and suicide rate among farmers is among the lowest groups in India committing suicide.
Please provide citation like the rest of us. Would help your argument.