Science converts environmental activist to GM

British environmental activist Mark Lynas began his speech to the Oxford Farmers’ Conference with an apology:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist. . .

It’s hard to argue against good science but some people don’t let it get in the way of their emotional stories.

When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it. . . .

He isn’t the first former insider to criticise the anti-science approach by some environmental groups.

For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. . .

I found myself arguing constantly with people who I considered to be incorrigibly anti-science, because they wouldn’t listen to the climatologists and denied the scientific reality of climate change. So I lectured them about the value of peer-review, about the importance of scientific consensus and how the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals. . .

And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow. . .

He then goes on to talk about the population growth, increasing GDP in developing countries, the need to produce more food and the environmental challenges from that.

But as a result of this growth we have very serious environmental challenges to tackle. Land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases, and perhaps the greatest source of biodiversity loss. This is another reason why intensification is essential – we have to grow more on limited land in order to save the rainforests and remaining natural habitats from the plough.

We also have to deal with limited water – not just depleting aquifers but also droughts that are expected to strike with increasing intensity in the agricultural heartlands of continents thanks to climate change. If we take more water from rivers we accelerate biodiversity loss in these fragile habitats.

We also need to better manage nitrogen use: artificial fertiliser is essential to feed humanity, but its inefficient use means dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and many coastal areas around the world, as well as eutrophication in fresh water ecosystems. . .

He says the solution is technological innovation, moving rapidly and in the right direction for those who need it most.

 . . . So what did Norman Borlaug do? He turned to science and technology. Humans are a tool-making species – from clothes to ploughs, technology is primarily what distinguishes us from other apes. And much of this work was focused on the genome of major domesticated crops – if wheat, for example, could be shorter and put more effort into seed-making rather than stalks, then yields would improve and grain loss due to lodging would be minimised.

Before Borlaug died in 2009 he spent many years campaigning against those who for political and ideological reasons oppose modern innovation in agriculture. To quote: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

And, thanks to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries, we are perilously close to this position now. Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I’ve just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialisation, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.

There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about. . . .

He gives examples of how the bureaucratic burden is increasing in around the world then says:

. . . We well-fed consumers are blinded by romantic nostalgia for the traditional farming of the past. Because we have enough to eat, we can afford to indulge our aesthetic illusions.

But at the same time the growth of yields worldwide has stagnated for many major food crops, as research published only last month by Jonathan Foley and others in the journal Nature Communications showed. If we don’t get yield growth back on track we are indeed going to have trouble keeping up with population growth and resulting demand, and prices will rise as well as more land being converted from nature to agriculture.

To quote Norman Borlaug again: “I now say that the world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.”

As Borlaug was saying, perhaps the most pernicious myth of all is that organic production is better, either for people or the environment. The idea that it is healthier has been repeatedly disproved in the scientific literature. We also know from many studies that organic is much less productive, with up to 40-50% lower yields in terms of land area. The Soil Association went to great lengths in a recent report on feeding the world with organic not to mention this productivity gap.

Nor did it mention that overall, if you take into account land displacement effects, organic is also likely worse for biodiversity. Instead they talk about an ideal world where people in the west eat less meat and fewer calories overall so that people in developing countries can have more. This is simplistic nonsense.

If you think about it, the organic movement is at its heart a rejectionist one. It doesn’t accept many modern technologies on principle. Like the Amish in Pennsylvania, who froze their technology with the horse and cart in 1850, the organic movement essentially freezes its technology in somewhere around 1950, and for no better reason.

It doesn’t even apply this idea consistently however. I was reading in a recent Soil Association magazine that it is OK to blast weeds with flamethrowers or fry them with electric currents, but benign herbicides like glyphosate are still a no-no because they are ‘artificial chemicals’.

In reality there is no reason at all why avoiding chemicals should be better for the environment – quite the opposite in fact. Recent research by Jesse Ausubel and colleagues at Rockefeller University looked at how much extra farmland Indian farmers would have had to cultivate today using the technologies of 1961 to get today’s overall yield. The answer is 65 million hectares, an area the size of France.

In China, maize farmers spared 120 million hectares, an area twice the size of France, thanks to modern technologies getting higher yields. On a global scale, between 1961 and 2010 the area farmed grew by only 12%, whilst kilocalories per person rose from 2200 to 2800. So even with three billion more people, everyone still had more to eat thanks to a production increase of 300% in the same period.

So how much land worldwide was spared in the process thanks to these dramatic yield improvements, for which chemical inputs played a crucial role? The answer is 3 billion hectares, or the equivalent of two South Americas. There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yields. Nor would there be any tigers in India or orang utans in Indonesia. That is why I don’t know why so many of those opposing the use of technology in agriculture call themselves environmentalists. . . .

Lynas asks where the opposition comes from and says there seems to be a widespread assumption that modern technology equals more risk.

Actually there are many very natural and organic ways to face illness and early death, as the debacle with Germany’s organic beansprouts proved in 2011. This was a public health catastrophe, with the same number of deaths and injuries as were caused by Chernobyl, because E.-coli probably from animal manure infected organic beansprout seeds imported from Egypt.

In total 53 people died and 3,500 suffered serious kidney failure. And why were these consumers choosing organic? Because they thought it was safer and healthier, and they were more scared of entirely trivial risks from highly-regulated chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

If you look at the situation without prejudice, much of the debate, both in terms of anti-biotech and organic, is simply based on the naturalistic fallacy – the belief that natural is good, and artificial is bad. This is a fallacy because there are plenty of entirely natural poisons and ways to die, as the relatives of those who died from E.-coli poisoning would tell you.

For organic, the naturalistic fallacy is elevated into the central guiding principle for an entire movement. This is irrational and we owe it to the Earth and to our children to do better.

This is not to say that organic farming has nothing to offer – there are many good techniques which have been developed, such as intercropping and companion planting, which can be environmentally very effective, even it they do tend to be highly labour-intensive. Principles of agro-ecology such as recyling nutrients and promoting on-farm diversity should also be taken more seriously everywhere.

But organic is in the way of progress when it refuses to allow innovation. Again using GM as the most obvious example, many third-generation GM crops allow us not to use environmentally-damaging chemicals because the genome of the crop in question has been altered so the plant can protect itself from pests. Why is that not organic?

Organic is also in the way when it is used to take away choice from others. One of the commonest arguments against GM is that organic farmers will be ‘contaminated’ with GM pollen, and therefore no-one should be allowed to use it. So the rights of a well-heeled minority, which come down ultimately to a consumer preference based on aesthetics, trump the rights of everyone else to use improved crops which would benefit the environment.

I am all for a world of diversity, but that means one farming system cannot claim to have a monopoly of virtue and aim at excluding all other options. Why can’t we have peaceful co-existence? This is particularly the case when it shackles us to old technologies which have higher inherent risks than the new.

It seems like almost everyone has to pay homage to ‘organic’ and to question this orthodoxy is unthinkable. Well I am here to question it today.

The biggest risk of all is that we do not take advantage of all sorts of opportunities for innovation because of what is in reality little more than blind prejudice. Let me give you two examples, both regrettably involving Greenpeace.

Last year Greenpeace destroyed a GM wheat crop in Australia, for all the traditional reasons, which I am very familiar with having done it myself. This was publicly funded research carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific Research institute, but no matter. They were against it because it was GM and unnatural.

What few people have since heard is that one of the other trials being undertaken, which Greenpeace activists with their strimmers luckily did not manage to destroy, accidentally found a wheat yield increase of an extraordinary 30%. Just think. This knowledge might never have been produced at all, if Greenpeace had succeeded in destroying this innovation. As the president of the NFU Peter Kendall recently suggested, this is analogous to burning books in a library before anyone has been able to read them.

The second example comes from China, where Greenpeace managed to trigger a national media panic by claiming that two dozen children had been used as human guinea pigs in a trial of GM golden rice. They gave no consideration to the fact that this rice is healthier, and could save thousands of children from vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and death each year.

What happened was that the three Chinese scientists named in the Greenpeace press release were publicly hounded and have since lost their jobs, and in an autocratic country like China they are at serious personal risk. Internationally because of over-regulation golden rice has already been on the shelf for over a decade, and thanks to the activities of groups like Greenpeace it may never become available to vitamin-deficient poor people.

This to my mind is immoral and inhumane, depriving the needy of something that would help them and their children because of the aesthetic preferences of rich people far away who are in no danger from Vitamin A shortage. Greenpeace is a $100-million a year multinational, and as such it has moral responsibilities just like any other large company.

The fact that golden rice was developed in the public sector and for public benefit cuts no ice with the antis. Take Rothamsted Research, whose director Maurice Moloney is speaking tomorrow. Last year Rothamsted began a trial of an aphid-resistant GM wheat which would need no pesticides to combat this serious pest.

Because it is GM the antis were determined to destroy it. They failed because of the courage of Professor John Pickett and his team, who took to YouTube and the media to tell the important story of why their research mattered and why it should not be trashed. They gathered thousands of signatures on a petition when the antis could only manage a couple of hundred, and the attempted destruction was a damp squib.

One intruder did manage to scale the fence, however, who turned out to be the perfect stereotypical anti-GM protestor – an old Etonian aristocrat whose colourful past makes our Oxford local Marquess of Blandford look like the model of responsible citizenry.

This high-born activist scattered organic wheat seeds around the trial site in what was presumably a symbolic statement of naturalness. Professor Pickett’s team tell me they had a very low-tech solution to getting rid of it – they went round with a cordless portable hoover to clear it up.

This year, as well as repeating the wheat trial, Rothamsted is working on an omega 3 oilseed that could replace wild fish in food for farmed salmon. So this could help reduce overfishing by allowing land-based feedstocks to be used in aquaculture. Yes it’s GM, so expect the antis to oppose this one too, despite the obvious potential environmental benefits in terms of marine biodiversity.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. So my conclusion here today is very clear: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.

Just as I did 10 years ago, Greenpeace and the Soil Association claim to be guided by consensus science, as on climate change. Yet on GM there is a rock-solid scientific consensus, backed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, health institutes and national science academies around the world. Yet this inconvenient truth is ignored because it conflicts with their ideology.

One final example is the sad story of the GM blight-resistant potato. This was being developed by both the Sainsbury Lab and Teagasc, a publicly-funded institute in Ireland – but the Irish Green Party, whose leader often attends this very conference, was so opposed that they even took out a court case against it.

This is despite the fact that the blight-resistant potato would save farmers from doing 15 fungicide sprays per season, that pollen transfer is not an issue because potatoes are clonally propagated and that the offending gene came from a wild relative of the potato.

There would have been a nice historical resonance to having a blight-resistant potato developed in Ireland, given the million or more who died due to the potato famine in the mid 19th century. It would have been a wonderful thing for Ireland to be the country that defeated blight. But thanks to the Irish Green Party, this is not to be.

And unfortunately the antis now have the bureaucrats on their side. Wales and Scotland are officially GM free, taking medieval superstition as a strategic imperative for devolved governments supposedly guided by science.

It is unfortunately much the same in much of Africa and Asia. India has rejected Bt brinjal, even though it would reduce insecticide applications in the field, and residues on the fruit. The government in India is increasingly in thrall to backward-looking ideologues like Vandana Shiva, who idealise pre-industrial village agriculture despite the historical fact that it was an age of repeated famines and structural insecurity.

In Africa, ‘no GM’ is still the motto for many governments. Kenya for example has actually banned GM foods because of the supposed “health risks” despite the fact that they could help reduce the malnutrition that is still rampant in the country – and malnutrition is by the way a proven health risk, with no further evidence needed. In Kenya if you develop a GM crop which has better nutrition or a higher yield to help poorer farmers then you will go to jail for 10 years.

Thus desperately-needed agricultural innovation is being strangled by a suffocating avalanche of regulations which are not based on any rational scientific assessment of risk. The risk today is not that anyone will be harmed by GM food, but that millions will be harmed by not having enough food, because a vocal minority of people in rich countries want their meals to be what they consider natural.

I hope now things are changing. The wonderful Bill and Melinda Gates foundation recently gave $10 million to the John Innes Centre to begin efforts to integrate nitrogen fixing capabilities into major food crops, starting with maize. Yes, Greenpeace, this will be GM. Get over it. If we are going to reduce the global-scale problem of nitrogen pollution then having major crop plants fixing their own nitrogen is a worthy goal.

I know it is politically incorrect to say all this, but we need a a major dose of both international myth-busting and de-regulation. The plant scientists I know hold their heads in their hands when I talk about this with them because governments and so many people have got their sense of risk so utterly wrong, and are foreclosing a vitally necessary technology.

Norman Borlaug is dead now, but I think we honour his memory and his vision when we refuse to give in to politically correct orthodoxies when we know they are incorrect. The stakes are high. If we continue to get this wrong, the life prospects of billions of people will be harmed.

So I challenge all of you today to question your beliefs in this area and to see whether they stand up to rational examination. Always ask for evidence, as the campaigning group Sense About Science advises, and make sure you go beyond the self-referential reports of campaigning NGOs.

But most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt. If you think the old ways are the best, that’s fine. You have that right.

What you don’t have the right to do is to stand in the way of others who hope and strive for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better. Farmers who understand the pressures of a growing population and a warming world. Who understand that yields per hectare are the most important environmental metric. And who understand that technology never stops developing, and that even the fridge and the humble potato were new and scary once.

So my message to the anti-GM lobby, from the ranks of the British aristocrats and celebrity chefs to the US foodies to the peasant groups of India is this. You are entitled to your views. But you must know by now that they are not supported by science. We are coming to a crunch point, and for the sake of both people and the planet, now is the time for you to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.

No-one is forcing anyone to consume genetically modified food.

Those who wish to get non-GM and/or organic food are free to do so. But when science finds no danger in GM then they have no right to prevent others benefiting from it.

They might argue, correctly, that the absence of proof of danger is not the same as proof of safety.

But life is a risky business and if we waited for 100% proof of safety before doing anything we’d do nothing.

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65 Responses to Science converts environmental activist to GM

  1. robertguyton says:

    Money converts environmental activist to GM

  2. robertguyton says:

    Alex Pietrowski, Staff Writer
    Waking Times

    The monarch butterfly is yet another animal species that appears to be in rapid decline due to the rise in herbicide-resistant genetically modified (GM) crops. These butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants, and once the eggs hatch, monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the weed. Yet, the overuse of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide across millions of acres of Roundup Ready crops is believed to be destroying the milkweed necessary for monarch butterflies to thrive.

    Cornell University was the first to raise attention to the harm that GM crops may have on these vivacious creatures, claiming that toxic pollen from GM corn would drift onto milkweed, poisoning monarch caterpillars and butterflies. Cornell’s research was criticized, and the United States National Academy of Sciences claimed that GM corn posed no risk to populations of monarch butterflies, as the amount of pollen that travels from GM corn onto milkweed was not sufficient to harm the caterpillars.

    Yet, the species has been declining steadily since 1999. Why?

    Now, researchers at University of Minnesota and Iowa State University once again reveal studies with the same conclusion: monarch butterfly populations are declining due to the proliferation of GM crops. Although the conclusion is the same, the underlying reason is different. The heavy use of herbicides on herbicide-resistant crops is changing the ecological landscape of farm lands. The milkweed plant is beginning to disappear, and with it, so is the monarch butterfly.

    http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/01/17/monarch-butterflies-in-decline-due-to-proliferation-of-gm-crops/

  3. Gravedodger says:

    I guess what all that means Robert, is you haven’t been converted by Money or Logic.

    Bit like the’ green leaner’ who critisised Mr Key for going to Antarctica, I wondered what he said about that nice Mr Gore’s private jet or his many mansions.

    Then there are the vast areas of gorse, broome and blackberry being dealt to with the price plunge caused by metsulphurin out of China or is the ghastley Montsanto based in the US a juicier target.

    Then I could further threadjack to the science trained Parent who very nearly caused the death of his child from tetanus because he used his ‘hippy logic’ to refuse childhood vaccination and has now become a passionate advocate for mass immunisation.

  4. TraceyS says:

    It is a shame to read that “It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I’ve just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialisation, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.”

    Much of this spent money won’t do anything productive or beneficial for people and the environment except for making smart lawyers richer. Excluding small innovators due to prohibitive costs is exactly the wrong way to go – evidence that the regulatory systems are way out of control. If the legitimate pathways are too expensive then it drives development underground. Some activists may think prohibitive regulatory costs are good, but don’t they realise that it just encourages the development of rogue pathways? Wouldn’t it be better if things were out in the open where we can all see what is going on?

    When GM has the opportunity to avoid mass suffering, especially that of children, there should be a plain and easy path made for it to be legitimately available to people. An example of this, where even Robert Guyton was momentarily positive, is the opportunity to prevent tooth decay in children and adults via a one-off, painless, topical application of a GM strain of bacteria (see: http://blogohj.oralhealthjournal.com/clinical/decay-assessment-and-prevention/oragenics-inc-announces-a-second-phase-1-clinical-trial-of-smart-replacement-therapy).

    Imagine no more tooth decay? Any half-caring parent would jump at the opportunity. No need for (proven) endocrine disrupting chemicals in filling materials, no more need for (indisputably poisonous) fluoride in water supplies, massive reduction in painful medical procedures, huge saving in public spending on health. And how many older people with dentures would rather have their own teeth in their mouths than plastic ones? Natural teeth play a role in nutrition and health for all age groups.

    The way we live creates the need, it is true, but humans should also be free to solve their own problems. Maori once had the best teeth on the planet. European settlers brought both caries bacteria and processed food. Now Maori in New Zealand have the worst dental health in the world. We can’t turn back the clock, but embracing technological solutions would be a demonstration of humanity.

  5. TraceyS says:

    This just goes to show that the earlier proposition, ie. “toxic pollen” was a bit of a red-herring as is so often the case. The reduction in milkweed could be addressed in ways other than total avoidance of GM crops. Exactly the point made in the above post. If we put too much focus of erroneous early propositions then we will miss the wood for the trees.

  6. Mr E says:

    I actually clapped after reading this. One of the best opinion pieces I have read in years. May 2013 be the year of sensibility…

  7. robertguyton says:

    David, thanks, yes, I recognised that when I read it and that was the point I was alluding to by posting the extract. It’s similar to the “roundup-resistant'” ryegrass that’s appeared here in NZ. To argue that roundup is safe to use “because it breaks down on contact with the soil” misses the point entirely and is a straw man. The peripheral effects of GM are no less valid because “the pollen is not dangerous”. I take your point about the anti-GM campaigners, but I’m not responsible for them and don’t cite them as examplars.

  8. robertguyton says:

    Sensibility refers to an acute perception of or responsiveness toward something, such as the emotions of another.

    Are you sure this is what you meant, Mr E?
    Acute responiveness to emotions…?
    Still, you said you clapped after reading a blog post, so perhaps that is what you meant :-)

  9. robertguyton says:

    Teeth don’t cover hundreds of thousands of hectares of land. GE in medicine and GE in the field are quite different.

  10. Mr E says:

    You just spoiled it for me Robert…. May 2014 be the year of sensibility.

  11. robertguyton says:

    Ele – Mark Lynas is also very strong on climate change and dismissive of those who don’t accept the science that supports it.
    Are you with him on that also, or are you cherry-picking?

  12. TraceyS says:

    “But let’s just say — for the sake of argument — that Lynas is more or less right on evidentiary grounds, and that there isn’t enough science to dismiss GM technologies out of hand. I would still be skeptical of genetically modified — for reasons that have more to do with political ecology than biology or science.” (From http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/a_rebuttal_to_mark_lynas_gmo_reversal/)

    “Worth a read”….yes it was, although I didn’t find it to be particularly “well rounded”. Especially considering that comment.

    “political ecology”….can someone please elaborate on how that can possibly function without biology or science. That would make it just plain political wouldn’t it?

  13. homepaddock says:

    I’m with science.

  14. robertguyton says:

    Mark Lynas is with science and with global warming.
    Welcome to the fold, Ele.
    You were a long time coming.
    Now, tell John.

  15. TraceyS says:

    You’re clearly not with Science are you Robert? If you were, you’d know that science is not so much about consensus but enquiry. Have you got science and politics confused?

  16. TraceyS says:

    True. But teeth are not the GE organism in this example, bacteria are. Do you know anything about the life of bacteria? They are only the most prolific living organism on the planet! Pleased to hear you have a different view about GE in medicine vs GE in the field. That’s encouraging.

  17. Mr E says:

    Yes and I look forward to the day that Mark studies climate change in such depth.

  18. Viv says:

    Quoting Prof Brian Cox and Robin Ince in the New Statesman Dec 18th “science is a process, a series of structures that allow us, in as unbiased a way as possible, to test our assertions against Nature”. The article title is ” Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science” . Something our Prime Minister did not understand when interviewed on BBC’s Hardtalk last year. Ele and others, I hope you have time to read the article. Near the end they talk about politicians disregarding scientific findings, this seems to be what the National government is doing when they promote fossil fuel use which science tells us is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans. Perhaps it would be more honest for them to say that they understand the science and know oil and coal cause these problems, but they don’t care.

  19. TraceyS says:

    You don’t get it either Viv, do you? Disappointing from someone with a science background. Politicians, et al, MUST “disregard” or reject some of the findings. To accept all of the findings would be impossible. You just want to manipulate what is believed and that is not very scientific is it? (nor is it the least bit democratic for that matter). Science is as much about rejection as it is about acceptance. I’m too much of a free thinker to believe otherwise. I will side with those who don’t tell me what to believe and what not to, and will encourage others to do the same.

  20. TraceyS says:

    OK I have read it. Noticed you missed the bit that came before your selected quote:

    “Science is a framework with only one absolute: all opinions, theories and “laws” are open to revision in the face of evidence. It should not be seen or presented, therefore, as a body of inviolate knowledge against which policy should be judged;…”

    I take issue with a latter statement that “Climate science is one of a series of areas that, for primarily non-scientific reasons, has become controversial; and these controversies risk undermining confidence in the very idea of science”. This is because non-scientists have always been important to science, maybe as test-subjects for research more than anything else, especially in the Social Sciences. However, the desire of the man on the street to become more involved in science – as a ‘thinking’ subject – does not undermine it. If anything, it should improve science by undermining the very idea that there exists an “inviolate body of knowledge…”

  21. robertguyton says:

    Tracey accepts the science of GE because she wants to and rejects the science of AGW because she wants to.
    Have I got that right, Tracey?

  22. robertguyton says:

    From Food First

    “Anyone against GMOs, he claims, is anti-science because “the debate is over” and the “scientific consensus” has won… This is an all to familiar argument from the industry, and leads us to suspect that Lynas may have been recruited by EuropaBio’s “Pro-GM Ambassador Programme.” EuropaBio is.the very rich and vocal lobby association of GM companies in Brussels, that prepared an international outreach programme in 2011 to give a new impulse to GM crops in Europe”

    http://www.foodfirst.org/en/GMO+uproar+in+EU

  23. robertguyton says:

    This was interesting, Tracey:

    These are all things that Mark might learn as he pursues his more advanced study of science. But I really can’t wait until he discovers evolution. When a group of scientists relied upon a particular species of plant (technically, Mark, it’s called Arabidopsis) to explore the possibility of the evolution of resistance, they concluded that the evolution of resistance to their roundup-ready crops would take so long as to not matter. Understanding what went wrong here will be a great lesson for Mark, since we now know (and we pretty much understand why, although it’s complicated) that more than 20 species of plants have already evolved resistance to Roundup. And those Bt crops that supposedly reduce pesticide use, well, they have indeed had an effect on the environment, but not a positive one. Scattered around the world are farmers who are forced to use other insecticides since many of the major corn pests have evolved resistance to the Bt toxin, and that very toxin used in an artisanal way by poor farmers (even organic ones) is now not available.

  24. robertguyton says:

    As was this:

    When he gets into the quantitative aspects of his education some truly amazing numbers will jump out at him. As so many people have noted in the past, when judging a new technology the fundamental question to be asked is “what problem is this technology meant to solve?” Mark seems to have naively accepted the GMO argument that we need to increase production to feed the world . With a bit of “scientific” examination of evidence (by the way, evidence is a concept that all scientists rely on, Mark) he will discover that according to many reports the record on GMOs thus far is not exactly hopeful. According to an extensive review by the Union of Concerned Scientists, there is scant evidence that production increases with the use of GMOs. Obviously profits increase enormously, that is, profits for the companies that supply the seed and other inputs that go along with their technological package (which, if we are to truly honest, that is the whole point), but production or productivity is pretty much the same as for non GMO varieties. It’s actually not surprising since companies like Monsanto never cared about production in the first place, that was just PR to get innocents to accept their argument that the world “needs” GMOs. What Monsanto actually wanted was 1) control of the supply of seed and 2) sales of their major product, Roundup. At that they have been immensely successful, at least in the United States.

  25. David Winter says:

    I think the point they were making about climate science it not that is should be a walled of scientist-only discussion. Rather, the discussion we have public should be somehow related to the science. At the moment, for political reasons, it’s not and that’s a real problem because it prevents the discussions we need to have from happening.

  26. TraceyS says:

    If that’s what you want to believe. Shows how interested you are.

  27. TraceyS says:

    What is the problem with a business obtaining a return for their technological investment? You may dislike the particular problem-solving approach concerned, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

    You may not like the power that huge corporations either. But they are favoured by the big regulatory costs squeezing ouho might have more hope of exjibiting the conscience you seek.

  28. robertguyton says:

    Ho hum…

  29. TraceyS says:

    The last sentence meant to say that the large corporations are favoured by big regulatory costs that are prohibitive to their smaller rivals. This seems folly to me when smaller companies are closer to their customers and their conscience.

  30. Viv K says:

    Couldn’t put the whole article in Tracey, I was using my not very smart phone. Of course “all opinions, theories and “laws” open to revision in the face of evidence.” Key word there “evidence”.
    Science is not a democracy . Chemistry explains how increased CO 2 in the atmosphere increases the acidity of the oceans, no one gets to vote on that and if they have a different opinion then they are just wrong.
    Sorry if you don’t like the idea of an “inviolate body of knowledge…” (maybe that’s the rebel in you) What I took from the article is that current science tells us , for example ,that burning fossil fuels is adding to CO2 in the atmosphere and causing global warming. The general public and politicians can choose what to do with that information, they can ignore it or they can have discussions about what to do to about it. What they can’t do is claim to know better about a subject in which they are not experts.

  31. Richard says:

    There you go again Robert – very little original thought from you – just critical of others But I note the success of your three children in your own blog:

    http://robertguyton.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/western-stars.html

    Lovely achievement by you and your wife: congratulations to all of you. I note in the comment that the success of your children was based in part on Lego.
    Robert, If you think carefully, science and research is based on a model of Lego – putting the bits together.

    Perhaps you would like to put together a Lego model in your replies – Suspect your children try to keep you together but suspect a lost cause ha ha

  32. robertguyton says:

    Yes, Richard, they’ve abandoned the effort, declaring me a hopeless Luddite, quite unable to summons an original thought.
    Science, eh? Where can I get me a slab of that stuff? I’m keen to build me a new chicken-house.

  33. TraceyS says:

    Not the rebel in me, Viv, but in the authors who wrote the “body of inviolate knowledge” statement – a journalist and a scientist I believe! (remember that it was YOUR reference). But there IS a rebel in me and it says that I can place myself anywhere within the spectrum of arguments depending on the evidence that I find most convincing at any given time.

    In this age of information, anyone can educate themselves in the evidence and the arguments. Do their own mini meta-analysis in effect. An analytical thinker in any field (eg. engineering, computer-science, medicine, psychology and so on) is able to do this, especially where they are capable of recognising their own biases. They won’t get it 100% right – BUT NOBODY DOES!! If critical thinking processes are applied to assertion at all levels as a safety-net, then it really doesn’t matter.

    Why do you have such apparently little faith in your fellow man/woman? Is it because they are wrecking the planet in your view? If so, be consistent and listen to no one!

  34. TraceyS says:

    Robert – I never meant to suggest that the regulators have an easy role. Clearly they do not. And just to show that I have read the whole article, the following statement stood out;

    “The result will presumably be production of numerous random proteins within cells. The biosafety implications of this are difficult to assess. These proteins could be allergens, plant or human toxins, or they could be harmless.”

    OK what’s the big issue there? Plants already produce allergens and toxins many of which we haven’t even identified let alone understand the function of. Maybe because most of them have little biological effect. We have identified even fewer species of bacteria – a tiny percentage of those thought to exist, so it hardly seems likely that with GE bacteria there is a threat to diversity.

    A plant under attack from insects is a good example of plants producing toxins. I once watched aphids attack my broad beans with a vengeance. A few days later, to my wonder, the aphids were all dead – masses of them – still attached to the plants which then took off growing. Now unless my hubby had secretly been out there spraying (and he would know better), I figure the broadies had mustered up some pretty nasty toxin of their own…

    Should have frozen some for next time the kids get nits!

  35. robertguyton says:

    Tracey, you’re fantastic and should be on a food safety regulatory board somewhere! The authors of this article warn: The biosafety implications of this are difficult to assess. These proteins could be allergens, plant or human toxins, or they could be harmless.”
    but in a flash you decide that there’s no big issue there! O for oarsome! You could save us all a lot of money, with your faster-than-science brain and super-decision-making powers.
    I stand in oar.

  36. Roger says:

    Is that an example of shallowness?

  37. TraceyS says:

    Why thank you very much Robert. How gracious! You too are fantastic….at leaving out bits that qualify certain statements. In this case the bit that said “presumably”. Even if GE does generate so-called toxic proteins, these are common in foods anyway – such as Lectins (a type of protein) found in beans and grains (an example of which is Phytohaemagglutinin in red kidney beans), and certain plant alkaloids, are already found naturally in foods. Even raw egg-whites contain a toxin called Conalbumin and should be avoided. In sufficient doses these naturally occurring substances are toxic, in smaller doses may act as enzyme inhibitors or interfere with digestion or mineral absorption. My Dad came from a very poor family where they sometimes served Comfrey as a cooked vegetable. Comfrey contains seriously toxic alkaloids. So I’m lucky to be here I guess!

    While on the topic, did you know that the innocent Parsnip should not be eaten too often? The plant contains Furanocoumarin which can cause photosensitivity but also because it contains Polyacetylenes which can be cytotoxic (ie. toxic to cells). Long-term use may stimulate tumour growth. Oh the outrage that this will generate when the news gets out about what Nature has created to our disadvantage! But luckily (some of) these toxins are inactivated (or reduced to safe levels) by simply cooking or soaking. So perhaps toxins in GE foods will be easily inactivated by cooking or other simple means? Wouldn’t it be such a shame if we missed something that obvious? My opinion, which you misconstrued entirely, is that there is only one way to find out and that’s through science.

  38. robertguyton says:

    Tracey! Anti-science alert! National has banned magnets!!!

  39. Richard says:

    Keep it up Tracy. I can see the beginning of the end for Robert and and the Greens- I think RG is moving to science. Do not be distracted his National has banned magnets – its just his way of him saying I have no answers.

  40. robertguyton says:

    Magnets! That’s science right there, banned by National!
    No surprise. they banned 5-yearly State of the Environment Reporting as well.
    Anti-science, AGW deniers – National.

  41. TraceyS says:

    Whatever, ho hum…

  42. robertguyton says:

    Next, they’ll be banning test-tubes!
    And litmus paper (but not the blue sort)
    Nannies!

  43. TraceyS says:

    This sure turned out to be an interesting original post by Ele. But I’m afraid it’s just gone a bit silly, so I’m out.

  44. TraceyS says:

    Typical of Mercola’s interviews where he is looking for particular answers and keeps on questioning until he gets what he wants. And then uses information to scare people and sells products to remedy these fears. I don’t think he can be trusted. He has put across some very bum advice in the past (I’ve cautiously followed him for several years).

    The conclusion of this article seems to be that glyphosate has created some “new entity” that is not novel in nature, but is new to science. Well, if this is true, it will certainly have plenty of company in the natural world! But as far as this new “entity” being the reason for fertility and reproductive problems in stock and humans, this interview is hardly convincing.

    Another red-herring.

  45. TA says:

    You missed the point about what GMO’s are doing to soil health.

    Apart from the toxins that are released into the environment and the food chain of course that includes humans. Anything I have read always points to inadequate testing of GMO’s.

    If GMO is so great why is there so much resistance from the big seed producer companies to have food products labeled with GMO content. If they are so safe it would be no big deal.
    Nothing to hide…..

    Here’s another for you….

    http://www.acresusa.com/toolbox/reprints/Nov04_WanHo.pdf

  46. TraceyS says:

    I did not miss the point about the effect of herbicide sprays on soil health. All farming practices have effects on soil health. Most farmers realise that. Even driving your tractor around a paddock has an effect on soil health via compaction. Farmers are practical people who are used to solving problems. But also people who realise that perfection is unattainable, even in nature.

    Pharmaceutical medicines are a good example of “imperfect”. They are not proven to be totally safe. All have side effects – even the safest-of-the-safe, paracetamol. We do not deny people medicines because of these risks. The risks are accepted and solutions are sought to problems that arise – just like they were accepted long before the advent of modern medicine when people relied on plants with pharmaceutical properties. Traditional Maori nutritional use of the (certainly not safe) plant Tutu is a great example.

    Of course there is resistance to GE labelling. That’s marketing for you. If you don’t want to eat any GE food then just buy those labelled “GE free”. But remember that certain foods like canola oil are GE and are quite common in some processed foods labelled organic. Canola oil is from GE rapeseed, modified to remove erucic acid.

    No one here ever said that GE is “so great”. All I am concerned with is that there are important problems that could be solved if certain technologies were not held up by difficult regulatory pathways. That does not mean open slather on GE, just allowing common sense and compassion to be applied. Judiciousness is not contradictory to that.

  47. TA says:

    We certainly need strict regulatory pathways with GMO’s.
    Until there is thorough independent research done I certainly won’t be convinced otherwise.
    The world population shouldn’t be treated like guinea pigs, along those lines, some Russians did research on hamsters. The third generation was predominately infertile. That fits with the 70% infertile dairy herd which Dr Huber talks about. Just a conspiracy theory perhaps but we are next up the food chain. The number of fertility clinics in USA has grown considerably in the last ten years. Maybe coincidence, maybe not. Might be one way to slow world population growth.
    In the good ol’ US labelling isn’t compulsory, removing the choice of consumers. $60 million was spent by GMO producing companies in California in their recent non label campaign. Which they won. If there was nothing wrong with the stuff it wouldn’t be an issue
    Until the independent research has been done we’re not in a position to be judicious.
    Monsanto did of course tell us agent orange was safe.

  48. JC says:

    “Monsanto did of course tell us agent orange was safe.”

    Did it? Certainly it notified the US Govt in the late 50’s that an imprecise formulation of 245T and 24D produced dioxins.

    However, the combined formulation of Agent Orange manufactured for the US Govt was cheap and designed for an “enemy”.. it was 13 times the US EPA recommended guidelines and apparently caused death and other problems to half a million Vietnamese and Western military.

    Yet when Seveso blew up and exposed 35,000 to 100 times the EPA guidlines for dioxin the most significant effect was a facial rash on 200 people.

    I dont deny the potential effects of chemicals like Agent Orange, but these rather amorphous claims from the 60s and early 70s are seemingly destroyed by the much better studied Seveso incident.

    JC

  49. TA says:

    I apologise for my last statement, I shouldn’t have listened to my mate. Or at least I should have done some checking first. Thank you JC for pointing that out.

  50. TraceyS says:

    I do remember the reading the Russian hamster study somewhere. Care needs to be taken in generalising those results to humans though. A laboratory environment is far from the natural circumstances in which conception and birth normally take place (either for hamsters or humans). This would introduce complex range of factors influencing fertility outcomes. The experiment would need to have controls for all these factors in order to one-by-one, rule them out.

    You raise important concerns regarding fertility, TA. I find it very difficult to understand why people can’t see that (human) fertility is the next big problem of our age. All the talk about the woes of climate change, peak oil, genetic engineering, agricultural intensification, etc etc will pale in insignificance if every couple needs to line up at a fertility clinic to conceive. It would certainly change the demographic of those producing the most children, especially if there was no government funding available to assist. And that raises policy questions in regard to who might receive funding and who might not, if at all.

    I am not saying declining fertility is a good thing. Those who think it will ‘save the planet’ have probably not considered the interim impact on daily lives. The economic impact, the heartbreak of families, as a couple of examples. I shudder to think what life will be like if every single industry serves an indefinitely shrinking market. What we have most to worry about is living in a world that has become depressing because the thing that we value the most (for most of us it is our families) has become hardest to achieve. Genetic engineering didn’t start this process which has been measured for the last 20 years. But it may hold some answers if we are lucky. As a species we can’t afford to label the science as bad based on a hunch, even if that hunch is an educated one.

  51. TA says:

    That is why soil fertility is the key to everything. Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals and humans, common sense. So if Dr Huber is correct, and he has been studying soil for 55 years so should have a pretty good take on it all by now, and glyphosate immobilises calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, manganese, zinc. You have just unbalanced the soil even more, as very few soils in the world are balanced to begin with. GMO’s that are round up ready compound that problem. As he says, the plants grown are now nutritionally deficient. it has to follow up the food chain. When you eat nutritionally deficient food, you become nutritionally deficient, so becoming susceptible to disease, infertility , depression, ADHD, you name it.
    When plants are suffering from biting, chewing insects it usually indicates a lack of Magnesium. Crops with rust an indication of lack of copper. Cows with mastitis an imbalance of calcium and potassium.
    With general farming what you take out with crops has to be replaced, trace elements included, more than just NPK. If humans were eating a completely nutritionally balanced diet we wouldn’t be suffering from the diseases we are. GMO’s aren’t going to balance this one bit with all these major nutrients being ‘ immobilised’.
    Oh and JC, from what I have had time to read, the Italians sure must’ve done an amazing clean up job!

  52. robertguyton says:

    “All the talk about the woes of climate change, peak oil, genetic engineering, agricultural intensification, etc etc will pale in insignificance if every couple needs to line up at a fertility clinic to conceive.”

    What nonsense. The effects of climate change will not “pale into insignificance” because of your far-fetched scenario. They will steam-roll us regardless. Talk to the Australians, Tracey – ask them what they are worrying about right now – human fertility or climate change and please report back your findings.

  53. TraceyS says:

    TA’s comment “…and glyphosate immobilises calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, manganese, zinc” might have some validity but it should be balanced by a recognition that calcium, for example, can bind up magnesium and other minerals. So too can potassium. It’s a farmer’s job to balance minerals in his soil. If he stuffs it up by putting on too much lime, spraying with glyphosate or other chemical, or overstocking, then it is his job to sort it out. Many chemical processes are reversible, so sure, minerals get locked-up in soil through both natural and artificial processes but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are permanently unavailable.

    The healthy soil – healthy food – healthy people ideal is just that. It matters little what kind of soil a food is grown in if latter processing takes away most of the nutrition such as in manufacturing of white flour products so dominant in our society. The real problem is that people prefer these products because they are convenient and cheap. How about we tip the balance even more in favour of these nutritionally void food products at the expense of our nutritionally dense “whole” foods like meat, eggs and milk? How? By increasing regulatory and compliance costs for our farmers. Yeah, what a clever plan! :(

    The impact of food on fertility was recognised and widely studied in the 1920’s by Dr Weston Price. His book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” is well worth reading. In it he presents ample evidence that connected infertility and developmental problems with WHAT people ate. Glyphosate and genetic engineering weren’t around then. The key to healthy reproduction, Price thought, was consuming products that came from animals fed on rapidly growing green grass. Surely an opportunity for our country if we are careful not to kill it.

  54. TraceyS says:

    “Talk to the Australians, Tracey – ask them what they are worrying about right now – human fertility or climate change and please report back your findings.” Short-term thinking, Robert, will relegate us to possums in the headlights. I would understand people who have lost their home (or worse) to a bushfire wanting someone/something to blame. People will feel angry and devastated and certainly climate change is a convenient scapegoat.

    But none of your longer-term worries about climate change will matter one iota if the world population starts to reverse dramatically within the next 40 years. I really didn’t expect you to like the suggestion I have made. But it is based on measurable facts and trends. Not models, not predictions, not spurious anecdotal evidence. Deny it if you like.

    I was interested in climate change long before it became the political issue it never should have become. Once upon a time people would have been considered crazy within the mainstream to have even raised the topic. Back then, the discussion was about practical matters – not about positions, nor about blame. There was hope of knowledge leading the way. Now it’s all about who is right and as far as I’m concerned the only politicians who can be trusted are those who don’t claim to have all the answers. They’re the ones who will be more likely to see the steamroller coming from outer leftfield. You’ll be flat before you know what’s happened.

  55. robertguyton says:

    “But none of your longer-term worries about climate change will matter one iota if the world population starts to reverse dramatically…”

    Do you mean, Tracey, that climate change will go away if the rate world population growth slows?

  56. TraceyS says:

    No Robert, that your worries will go away, eventually.

  57. robertguyton says:

    Why?

  58. TraceyS says:

    “…although population growth means there will be more mouths to feed, it also means there will be “more hands to work and more brains to think” (Julian Simon of the University of Maryland, 1998).” (in New Scientist, Issue 2142).

    So, population reduction will mean less hands to work and less brains to think. You’ll be too busy working, Robert, to have time for any worries. Or you’ll be retired and wondering why you have no great-grand-children.

  59. robertguyton says:

    Too busy working to …
    I think you have let your fevered imagination get away on you, Tracey.

  60. TraceyS says:

    Good to hear that you think. We need all the brains to be thinking (and all the hands working). And I suppose there are worse insults, but I do prefer to think of my imagination as ‘fertile’ rather than ‘fevered’, but near enough (do please excuse the pun).

  61. TA says:

    This makes sooo much more sense than Mark Lynas ever will.
    A much more articulate explanation was needed……

    http://ardenandersen.blogspot.co.nz/2007/05/health-happiness-and-nutrition-with.html

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