Where’s the science?

People who oppose genetic engineering will be protesting in several cities around New Zealand in support of a global March Against Monsanto.

But where’s the science which supports their contentions?

Can they refute the claim by former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas?

I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.

This matters enormously because these technologies – in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential – are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change.

I am a historian, and history surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue, irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples’ lives as a result.

This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.

I believe the time has now come for everyone with a commitment to the primacy of the scientific method and evidence-based policy-making to decisively reject the anti-GMO conspiracy theory and to work together to begin to undo the damage that it has caused over the last decade and a half. . .

It shouldn’t be hard for scientific methods and evidence-based policy making to triumph over a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies.

But emotion beats facts which is why people will be marching.

 

 

 

10 Responses to Where’s the science?

  1. tiffany267 says:

    LOL What a pathetic response on his part.

    Genetic engineering of food is a project begun in the fascist U.S. by the company that pioneered its technology in a horrifying partnership with the federal government to make AGENT ORANGE, which it then claimed was harmless, rather absurd considering it was DESIGNED TO MURDER PEOPLE. Both veterans and Vietnamese citizens suffer health problems to this day.

    What “pro-science” Monsanto advocates don’t talk about is that they are not pro-science but rather pro-cronyism and anti-individual rights. Farmers are shut out of business in secretive proceedings by government agencies if they refuse to sign up with Monsanto to buy their seeds, and once the farmers buy their seeds they can NEVER get out of the agreement. Farmers have been sued by Monsanto for using their own seeds and having Monsanto’s seeds blow into their crops, claiming that the farmers were stealing their IP – it’s the most perverse reversal of every notion of property rights. Not only that, the U.S. Supreme Court has now ruled that NO ONE CAN SUE MONSANTO.

    Genetic engineering of food is not pro-science, it is anti-human.

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  2. Andrei says:

    All our crops are genetically engineered Tiffany – wheat, oats, barley, apples, peaches whatever. The wild precursors to these things just don’t cut it as food stocks in comparison.

    With the modern scientific method we can just do what our ancestors pioneered more quickly and efficiently in a systematic manner.

    Its good – we have a life expectancy that is double that of our forbears and the vast majority of our children attain adulthood, which is a very recent development.

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  3. tiffany267 says:

    LMAO Andrei, I don’t know how the authors of this blog feel about you, but anti-intellectual comments would be deleted on my blog 🙂 Anyway you addressed nothing I brought up – primarily because you have no response, which is because I’m right (which is why I said what I did LOL)

    Have a lovely day though.

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  4. JC says:

    A good rebuttal of the anti science folk here with all the right words that swing the debate in your favour..Lets see..

    pathetic
    fascist
    horrifying
    AGENT ORANGE
    DESIGNED TO MURDER PEOPLE
    pro-cronyism
    anti-individual rights
    shut out
    secretive
    NEVER
    sued
    stealing
    perverse
    NO ONE CAN SUE MONSANTO
    anti-human

    Yep.. that’ll do it.

    JC

    Like

  5. TraceyS says:

    My understanding, and you may correct me because it is some time since I read Silent Spring, that contamination of 2,4,5-T with dioxin was accidental. Carson brings to our attention, in fact, that many chemicals, industrial and natural, interact in the environment under the influence of catalysts such as sunlight, moisture and bacterial decomposition, to become other than what was originally intended.

    Yes it was also accidental that the other chemical in agent orange, 2,4-D, happened to kill weeds. As you stated, it was being developed, secretly, for other purposes during the war.

    But what relevance do wartime discoveries have today and to the issue at hand?

    “…sued by Monsanto for using their own seeds and having Monsanto’s seeds blow into their crops, claiming that the farmers were stealing their IP…” In that case, did the farmer not use the seed from herbicide-resistant plants found growing on his farm opportunistically? ie. he collected the seed and claimed it to be his because it had arrived on the wind?

    If an item was to fall off the back of a truck and land on your property would that make it yours? No. Could you reasonably expect to make copies of that product and start on-selling them and not be prosecuted? No.

    There are two issues here. One is the safety of GE food for human consumption. The other is a legal/regulatory issue. I do have some concerns regarding the latter. It is a new era and NZ needs to make sure that if we go down that path, people’s rights will be adequately protected by the law.

    If we ignore GE and hope it will go away, we may not take the necessary regulatory steps in a considered manner. This needs time and to learn from mistakes made in other countries. It is not something we want to wait for until it becomes absolutely necessary, and then rush through laws that are poorly thought out.

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  6. Armchair Critic says:

    There is a big difference between something falling off the back of a truck and a GM seed.
    Unless the differences between GM and non-GM seeds are obvious to the naked eye then the only way to tell is through genetic testing. If the contamination is accidental, why would the landowner suspect anything and test? Why should the responsibility sit with the landowner to prove the crop is non-GM? And finally, if something falls off the back of a truck, accidentally, it is the owner’s responsibility to collect it and take it away. It goes without saying that they also must make good any damage resulting from the falling off process, probably through their insurance.
    This isn’t what Monsanto do, and their insurance won’t cover the damage they cause because they would prefer to not accept the costs and risks.

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  7. TraceyS says:

    “There is a big difference between something falling off the back of a truck and a GM seed”

    Well that depends on what the “something” is!

    “Unless the differences between GM and non-GM seeds are obvious to the naked eye then the only way to tell is through genetic testing.”

    The farmer found the plants (growing from wind-blown seed) to be glyphosate-resistant when he sprayed them and they didn’t die. Enough evidence to suggest that the seed’s origin might have been a laboratory don’t you think? Then he collected and planted seed from the resistant plants.

    “…if something falls off the back of a truck, accidentally, it is the owner’s responsibility to collect it and take it away.”

    Yes, but it does not give them the right to access the affected property. Surely, you’re not suggesting it does AC?

    NZ must protect people through properly considered and implemented laws. Wouldn’t you agree, AC, that this is not beyond the realms of possibility?

    I’m afraid that the emotion wrapped up in the debate may cloud thinking and result in real issues not being logically and properly worked through.

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  8. Andrei says:

    I’m afraid that the emotion wrapped up in the debate may cloud thinking and result in real issues not being logically and properly worked through.

    Welcome to 21st century politics where wrapping everything up in emotion is how the debate is driven – logic and common sense be damned.

    Like

  9. tiffany267 says:

    I really hesitate to comment further, since I don’t like endless comment threads (they tend to degenerate into nonsense rather than produce thoughtful results) – however I must note in Tracy S.’s comment she mentions spraying. Organic farmers do not spray, and it’s my guess that most farmers who don’t contract with Monsanto do not spray.

    Armchair Critic is precisely correct in noting that the farmer has seeds blown onto her farm ***without her knowledge or control*** because she is surrounded by GE crops. And believe me, this is not theft, because those who don’t contract with Monsanto do NOT want their damned seeds and wish they had never been brought to their area in the first place. In fact many farmers who contract with them find they wish they could get out of it, however there is no practicable way to get out of those contracts in a legal atmosphere in which seeds blowing around naturally in the wind becomes stealing IP.

    Farmers who do not contract with Monsanto are under constant surveillance by Monsanto, which has illegally trespassed on the property of farmers who do not contract with them in order to try to catch them in the act of “stealing” their GE seeds. Meanwhile because Monsanto and the federal government are BFFs, the farmer has no recourse and is typically ruined through absolutely no fault of her own. The whole situation is in fact, as I mentioned, precisely perverse to the notion of property rights, because it is HER property being contaminated by unwanted GE seeds, yet courts consistently find for Monsanto instead of the farmer, or else the farmer runs out of money to further pursue the case.

    If genetic engineering of food is to take place, it should happen in a noncronyist political/legal environment and farmers who are not interested should have recourse against contamination. In addition, companies who contract in any way with the government should not exist, particularly those who contract with the military.

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  10. TraceyS says:

    “The court record shows, however, that it was not just a few seeds from a passing truck, but that Mr Schmeiser was growing a crop of 95–98% pure Roundup Ready plants, a commercial level of purity far higher than one would expect from inadvertent or accidental presence. The judge could not account for how a few wayward seeds or pollen grains could come to dominate hundreds of acres without Mr Schmeiser’s active participation…”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto#Litigation

    Like

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