Tag Archives | GMOs

GMOs: It’s Complicated

Here’s a tremendous attempt to make sense of the competing science and analysis surrounding GMOs, by Maya Montenegro, a food systems researcher at UC Berkeley, writing at ensia:

The GMO debate is one from which I’ve kept a purposeful distance.

For one thing, it’s an issue that has already garnered more than its fair share of attention. For another, when you consider that many domesticated crops resulted from seed irradiation, chromosome doubling and plant tissue culture — none of which are genetically engineered — the boundaries of “natural” are more porous than they initially appear.

Raw Group Maize Sharply Focused

But I study seed science and policy, in which genetically engineered organisms — more often referred to as genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs — are pervasive, so it’s an issue I cannot ignore. Most recently, the director of a science communications program asked if I could engage her students on a few topics: Is there a scientific consensus on GMOs?

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Food Industry Enlisted Academics in GMO Lobbying War

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Big Ag is trying to buy the support of academics to persuade people that GMO foods are safe, per the New York Times:

At Monsanto, sales of genetically modified seeds were steadily rising. But executives at the company’s St. Louis headquarters were privately worried about attacks on the safety of their products.

Soy Bean Field

So Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and its industry partners retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates: academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree.

“Professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate and support in their states, from politicians to producers,” Bill Mashek, a vice president at Ketchum, a public relations firm hired by the biotechnology industry, said in an email to a University of Florida professor. “Keep it up!”

And the industry has.

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GMOs Are Becoming A Proxy For Bigger Concerns About The Food System

NPR goes to the Chipotle Cultivate Festival and learns that the anti-GMO movement is about a whole lot more than genetic modification: it’s a rejection of the agri-industrial complex:

The Chipotle Cultivate Festival in Kansas City on July 18 had it all: an indie pop band on stage, long lines at the beer booths. It was like a Grateful Dead concert, only with free burritos.


But this and the three other Chipotle Cultivate events held across the country this summer were more than just a classic summertime music festival. Billed as offering “food, ideas and music,” the festival offers a chance to “learn a free burrito,” by going through four exhibits.

Chipotle, the chain whose slogan is “food with integrity,” was the first national restaurant chain to eliminate genetically modified ingredients from most of its menu. Now, the company is going a step further: using its anti-GMO stance as a marketing opportunity.

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Monsanto’s GMO Seed Patents Are Expiring

323px-Soybean.USDAMonsanto’s GMO seed patents may be expiring, but Wired says it won’t damage the evil empire of agribusiness:

FOR TWENTY YEARS, the agro-tech company Monsanto has been making life difficult for farmers. Well, first the company made it easy: Its genetically modified seeds allowed crops to thrive in the presence of pesticides, dramatically increasing farmers’ yields. But those so-called Roundup Ready seeds came with a caveat: Because their pesticide resistance genes were patented, farmers had to shell out cash to Monsanto every year, instead of potentially reusing the seeds that their crops produced.

Now, Monsanto’s reign is (seemingly) beginning to end. Earlier this year, the patent on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean expired. For the first time ever, farmers can sow generic genetically modified soybeans, and they can save the next generation of these seeds to replant next season—all without paying Monsanto a penny. With Monsanto’s genetic property up for grabs, universities developing their own seed strains are entering the soybean market.

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Neil Young is Starving the Poor!

Neil Young, 1983.

Neil Young, 1983.

Colin Todhunter writes at CounterPunch:

Not since the original Luddites smashed cotton mill machinery in early 19th century England, have we seen such an organised, fanatical antagonism to progress and science. These enemies of the Green Revolution call themselves ‘progressive’, but their agenda could hardly be more backward-looking and regressive… their policies would condemn billions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment.”

Owen Paterson stated the above earlier this year during a speech he gave in South Africa. Paterson is the former Environment Minister for the UK.

Now, a few months on, writing in the New York Post (‘How Neil Young, Greenpeace work to starve the world’s poor‘) he is mouthing similar claims and accusations, this time focusing on Neil Young’s recent anti-GMO/ Monsanto album.

Paterson writes:

“In reality, GMOs can save millions of lives. It’s the environmentalists who are doing real harm.”

He continues:

“The best example of this is Golden Rice, a miracle grain enhanced with Vitamin A-producing beta-carotene.

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Rebranding Genetic Modification of Plants as ‘Rewilding’

Genetically Modified Grain Rice.jpg

Genetically Modified Grain Rice

Do you remember George Lakoff’s book Don’t Think of an Elephant!? He was the guy dubbed “the father of framing,” meaning that he taught us how describing an issue in words of our choosing (rather than an opponent’s) defines the debate around it. Scientists who want to genetically modify plants may have been listening to Lakoff as they plan to rebrand their activities as “rewilding,” per the New York Times:

What’s in a name?

A lot, if the name is genetically modified organism, or G.M.O., which many people are dead set against. But what if scientists used the precise techniques of today’s molecular biology to give back to plants genes that had long ago been bred out of them? And what if that process were called “rewilding?”

That is the idea being floated by a group at the University of Copenhagen, which is proposing the name for the process that would result if scientists took a gene or two from an ancient plant variety and melded it with more modern species to promote greater resistant to drought, for example.

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You Are Totally Wrong About Genetically Altered Food

“You Are Totally Wrong About Genetically Altered Food” screams the cover of Newsweek, below, with a feature story inside entitled “GMO Scientists Could Save the World From Hunger, If We Let Them.”

newsweek gmo

Is the story’s author, Tom Parrett, right? Arguments against in the comments please:

…Biotech crops are already well-established around the world. The U.S. has approved about 100 genetically modified plants for use in agriculture. Virtually all cotton in India, a vital economic staple for the country, is GM, as is 90 percent of cotton grown in China. Four out of every five harvested soybeans on earth are genetically modified. Corn worldwide is 35 percent genetically modified. Bangladesh is considering a GM eggplant that could double its harvest by protecting it from worms. Food writer Mark Bittman recently pointed out that we’ve been happily eating harmless genetically modified, virus-resistant papayas for years, and that’s Mr. Natural talking.

But some countries are balking.

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Forbes Journalist Counters New York Times on GMO Food Claims

Moyan Brenn (CC BY 2.0)

Moyan Brenn (CC BY 2.0)

Christina Sarich via Nation of Change:

Beth Hoffman points out some deliciously pithy points about the scam that ‘science’ has perpetrated on the masses when it comes to GMO foods – just in time for a new round of propaganda being published by the corporate-owned media – the New York Times, Slate and Grist.

To get straight to the main course, Hoffman states:

“Let me be clear – I am not “afraid of science,” a claim that someone invariably writes at the end of an article like this one to try and discredit its argument.  I, like millions of people around the world, am against genetic engineering, but not because of the proven or refuted science behind it.

So the question is why?  Why am I part of a huge, and growing, group not willing to believe the “facts” (according to its proponents) about the benefits of genetic modification? 

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Most Honey, Including Organic, Contains Monsanto Roundup Toxic Glyphosates

Dino Giordano (CC BY 2.0)

Dino Giordano (CC BY 2.0)

Via Kali Sinclair at Global Research:

A recent study by researchers from Boston University and Abraxis LLC found significant amounts of glyphosates in a food that you wouldn’t necessarily expect: honey.

Five categories of food items were tested from Philadelphia grocery stores: honey, corn and pancake syrup, soy milk, tofu, and soy sauce. Sixty-two percent of the conventional honeys and 45% of the organic honeys sampled had levels of glyphosates above the minimum established limits.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of glyphosate in a large portion of our food supply. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s star herbicide, Roundup. It is interesting to note that the level of glyphosates was much higher in honey from countries that permitted GM crops; honey from the U.S. contained the highest levels.

Even the Organic Honey?

So how did so many of the 69 honey samples, including 11 organic samples, tested contain such high levels of glyphosates?

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