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Dodging the Negative Reaction To GE Crops 349

Posted by Zonk
from the agile-genetics dept.
BINC writes "Wired has an article up today entitled 'Selective Breeding Gets Modern.'" From the article: "Genetically modified food has gotten a chilly reception from consumers, especially in Europe and Asia. Just last week, Japan suspended imports of American long-grain rice after authorities discovered that a genetically modified variety had accidentally mixed with conventional rice. To skirt such problems altogether, biotech companies are creating superior plants using genetics technology that is advanced but which falls short of grafting genes from one organism into another."
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Dodging the Negative Reaction To GE Crops

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  • Someone remind me... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by goldspider (445116)
    ...what the problem is with technology that can produce vast amounts of nutritious food that can feed people who may otherwise not have access to such a resoruce?
    • by debilo (612116) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @05:59PM (#15986139)
      ...what the problem is with technology that can produce vast amounts of nutritious food that can feed people who may otherwise not have access to such a resoruce?

      Nothing's wrong with that.

      What people fear are unforeseen long-term consequences of messing with genetics and releasing the results of that into the wild. Once it's out, it's extremely difficult to undo any damage.
      • That is probably true in the slashdot population, but I'd say the general public (here in Europe that is) is afraid of GE because it's bad. And gives you cancer. It's like radioactive, man!
      • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @07:31PM (#15986482)
        The real problem is Intellectual Property. The stuff is patented. It's entirely possible to contaminate a crop with patented seeds. You are then guilty of patent infringement unless you buy a license to grow the stuff.

        As for the grandparent post "technology that can produce vast amounts of nutritious food that can feed people who may otherwise not have access to such a resoruce"

        Naive bollocks. The current GM crops which are around are designed to sell extra weed killer. They are designed to marginally reduce the costs of producing the crop.

        There is no problem growing conventional crops, we can grow the stuff easily. The problem is stopping western farmers dumping their products on third world markets at far below cost. Destroying the local market for locally produced food, thereby driving local farmers out of business and off the land. The famines, are caused by US and EU farming subsidies.

         
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Gorimek (61128)
          The problem is stopping western farmers dumping their products on third world markets at far below cost. Destroying the local market for locally produced food, thereby driving local farmers out of business and off the land. The famines, are caused by US and EU farming subsidies.

          This makes no sense.

          Your claim/accusation is that US & EU food is made available to third world consumers at a lower cost than the local farmers can provide.

          That could certainly cause some problems. But famine can not be one of t
          • by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @06:37AM (#15988895)
            "That could certainly cause some problems. But famine can not be one of them. Famines happen when food prices are too high for people to afford feeding themselves. Making food prices lower can only work to lower the risks of famine, not the other way."


            It makes perfect sense, you simply lack a basic understanding of economics.

            Western subsidies produce huge overproduction, the result is cheap food, at far below cost. Excess cheap food is dumped on the third world, the market price drops, it becomes uneconomic to farm the land in the third world, large numbers of the farmers leave the land. Money floods abroad to buy food on international markets. Then, there is a bad year, the remaining local crop fails but there is now no buffer level of production. Aid floods in to the local market devaluing the local food prices further, more money leaves the local market and exits the country which becomes poorer still.

            With a healthy local market, excesses can be sold within the country, the money stays within the country, land remains in production and people stay on the land farming instead of forming militias and massacring people.

            You seem to be under the impression that third world countries have plenty of spare money around which they're happy to export in order to purchase food on the international markets. You simply have no conception of the economic reality. The fact is that the farmers who accept large subsidies to overproduce food in the US and EU are causing the deaths of tens of millions of people in the poorest countries in the world.

             
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Gorimek (61128)
              Your original scenario, with numbers to make it more concrete.

              Before:
              Local farmer produces for for $4. Sells it on local market for $5. People buy food for $5.

              After:
              France sells surplus to importer for $2. He sells it on local market for $3. Farmer has to quit farming. Local people buy food for $3.

              Clearly the local food buying public is better off in the After scenario. The argument that they're too poor to afford it makes no sense. They would be even less able to afford the locally produced, more expensive
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by StikyPad (445176)
          The problem is stopping western farmers dumping their products on third world markets at far below cost. Destroying the local market for locally produced food, thereby driving local farmers out of business and off the land.

          I realize the west isn't helping, but the countries affected could prevent the problem the same way we maintain our markets -- by taxing the bejeezus out of imports. The corrupt governments (a redundant adjective, granted) of these countries are just as much to blame for not using the p
      • What people fear are unforeseen long-term consequences of messing with genetics and releasing the results of that into the wild. Once it's out, it's extremely difficult to undo any damage.

        Not quite. At least outside the US, the main fears I've seen have been the sort of vendor lock in and interoperability issues that most F/OSS advocates raise against Microsoft. The damage that they worry about isn't vague, general, and environmental (which is mostly US and, from what I can tell, misplaced) it's much

    • Please don't feed the trolls.

      Thank you.
    • The world now has more fat people than starving people http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/more-fat-peopl e-in-world-than-there-are-starving-study-finds/200 6/08/14/1155407741532.html [smh.com.au]

      Why do we keep hearing the myth that we need GE for more food?

    • by rolfwind (528248) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @06:08PM (#15986181)
      I think part of this is somewhat like the battle between closed source and open source.

      With normal fruit/vegetables, you have seeds and can grow them freely and as you wish.

      With GE crops, the seeds of the fruit/vegetables either come out sterile and you are dependent on the company to provide you with more or the seeds are okay but you have to license it from them to be allowed to use it, sort of like how you could theoretically put Windows on unlimited PCs with just one CD but the BSA will come knocking.

      I think this is part of the backlash and I don't blame farmers/people not wanting any part of it.
    • by Tanktalus (794810)
      Not that Japan is complaining about it, but one problem is when patented GM food cross-germinates, as nature is wont to do from time to time, with neighbour's non-GM food, and then the neighbour gets sued for not buying a license for said patent. (Note - I'm staunchly right-wing and pro-business. I have my name attached to two patent applications. And this disgusts me.)
      • I'm picking on your comment of being right-wing and pro-business.

        You can still love to produce something of value for sale and respect others and their freedoms.

        It's a myth that you need to DRM [and the like] restrict people into your business model to have a success.

        Tom
    • by ikekrull (59661) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @06:16PM (#15986200) Homepage
      GE crops are patented and trademarked. You can't independently grow these foods, prices are completely insulated from traditional agricultural pricing mechanisms and the danger of these corporations dumping vast amounts of GE crops at a loss only to make it up by raising prices and exploiting the monopoly they just gained later on is obvious, and very real.

      Not to mention the terrible weakness and loss of variety that will result from basing entire food chains only on the single strain that provides the biggest profits for the corporation who holds the patent on the crop.

      Basically, it comes down to an issue of trust. And no, i don't trust Monsanto to act ethically, fairly or honestly, and I have no trust in the governments that supposedly provide the checks and balances on these companies either.

      GE food would probably be fine under the following conditions:

      No patents on genetic sequences.

      No forced sterilisation of seeds.

      If these GE foods really are that good, why can't they compete on their merits with other foodstuffs instead of having all these additional 'GRM' - genetic rights management mechanisms added.

      Thats my big beef with GE foods, its got nothing to do with productivity or efficiency. People have been growing their own food for thousands of years - widespread GE foods would essentially criminalize that activity.

      • by NineNine (235196)
        Thats my big beef with GE foods, its got nothing to do with productivity or efficiency. People have been growing their own food for thousands of years - widespread GE foods would essentially criminalize that activity.

        OK, so why would a company want to spend many millions of dollars developing a new kind of corn, only to have a competitor buy a handful of seeds, and start selling them under their own label? Assuming all other things are equal, the company that developed the new strain is out many millions
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ikekrull (59661)
          Well, they wouldn't. Nobody would spend a million dollars GE-ing a corn if the corn they produced had no obvious benefits over existing corn varieties unless they could lock the farmer in.

          And thats the whole point. Look, how many farmers do you know that collect and replant their seeds? Only if you are desparately poor and can't afford any other alternative would you bother with this. If the seeds produce good corn, and don't cost much more than non-GE varieties, then they'll sell. It's that simple.

          I mean,
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by falconwolf (725481)

          OK, so why would a company want to spend many millions of dollars developing a new kind of corn, only to have a competitor buy a handful of seeds, and start selling them under their own label? Assuming all other things are equal, the company that developed the new strain is out many millions of dollars. Doesn't seem to smart to me to spend another red cent developing new strains of crops if they couldn't patent them. And if this were the case, we'd have a LOT more starving people in the world.

          Are you an

      • I despise Monsanto, but to their credit they have not used their patented sterilization gene... yet. They spent good money developing it, so odds are they'd use it in a heartbeat if they thought they could get away with it.
    • by intnsred (199771) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @06:34PM (#15986274) Homepage
      The world produces enough food right now to feed everyone on the planet. So why aren't they getting fed? The problem is within capitalism and the distribution system.

      GM food will not solve either capitalism or the distribution system's problems.

      What GM food will do is to pollute the world's plants by gene migration from GM plants to other plants (already seen and documented) and impact us in many unforseen ways (e.g. the butterflies dying from GM-altered plants).

      And, of course, GM food will also shift power to corporate agribusiness in a huge way, which is the real reason the US gov't pushes GM crops.

      In our puppet state of Iraq -- one of the areas where agriculture literally originated -- US-imposed laws now forbid Iraqi farmers from harvesting seeds from crops to use to plant next year.
      • Capitalism my ass. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shivetya (243324)
        Capitialism is one of the main reasons there is more than enough food to go around. It is one reason a lot of grains get shipped to third world areas.

        You want a government type to blame then blame the dictatorships. The petty dictators of many these countries who accept food shipments, monentary grants, and actual machinery are one of the major reasons many starve. They spend money on their luxurious lifestyles while their people live in squalor. They spend money on their armies while their people die b
      • by dsanfte (443781)
        Do all the people in the world deserve the same amount of food? That's what capitalism decides. It's allocation based on buying power, which is based on wealth, which is determined (ideally) by your use to society.

        Highly educated and well-employed folk get more food to make things like rice chips and cookies and other high-grade manufactured stuff cheaply, while the random poverty-stricken African who forages for trash for a living gets straight rice, and less of it.

        From a strictly social-engineering amoral
      • by asuffield (111848) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:03PM (#15986844)
        What GM food will do is to pollute the world's plants by gene migration from GM plants to other plants (already seen and documented) and impact us in many unforseen ways (e.g. the butterflies dying from GM-altered plants).


        Of course, selective breeding already 'pollutes' the world's plants by gene migration via cross-pollenation (seen, documented, and well-understood by the world's gardeners - or did you think roses came in all those colours by chance? most are hybrids with other flowering plants). The butterfly thing was, if not exactly 'forseen' by the people who made it, pretty bloody obvious. The plants were designed to resist insects by generating their own insectisides, insectisides kill butterflies anyway with traditional farming, it's reasonable to expect that the new technique would still kill butterflies. I expect the company who produced that crop was unsurprised by this result. If you want to make war on insectisides, go ahead - but don't blame it on 'GM food'.

        Realistically, most of the current gene-splicing techniques aren't doing anything that couldn't be accomplished with traditional selective cross-breeding, they're just massively cheaper and faster and more reliable (it can take years of careful work to breed a particular trait into a plant, particularly if you have to cross several species to get it; gene splicing can do it in a few weeks or months). Our gene splicing technology is not currently at the level where you can stick cow genes into a tomato plant and expect it to produce milk; the species being spliced must be approximately similar before you start, so we're mostly limited to what could be done with careful breeding. Farmers and gardeners have been cross-breeding plants and animals for centuries, and it hasn't wrecked the world yet. The current practice of careful study of the impact of gene-spliced crops, through controlled field trials, is a sound one, and far more careful than people have been about introducing new lifeforms into the wild in the past (rabbits in .au, grey squirrels in .uk, etc). The current public hysteria, on the other hand, is nothing more than tabloid noise. Gene splicing may not be intrinsically 'safe', but it can be made safer than common farming techniques (like heavy insectiside use) with reasonable levels of care, which are currently being applied.
    • by Asic Eng (193332)
      There are many well known objections. While it's perfectly reasonable to argue about those concerns, I don't understand the benefit of playing stupid and pretending they are unknown. Just a few examples:

      • increasing the dependency of farmers to big companies
      • depleting the richness of biotopes
      • reducing the usage of genetic variant grain strains
      • unwanted gene spread

    • ...what the problem is with technology that can produce vast amounts of nutritious food that can feed people who may otherwise not have access to such a resoruce?

      Basically, it's superstition. Europe et al likes to act superior when they make fun of our creationists (who should be made fun of), but the general public over there is just as fearful and anti-science as most other populations. This is just one of the ways it gets expressed.

    • by Pius II. (525191)
      The problem I have with GM food is the fact that the genes used are patented by large corporations.
      The crops on totally unrelated farmer's fields are being cross-pollinated by GM plants, and the farmers are sued afterwards (for "using" the patented genes). This sucks.
      Even if you believe in the (to my eyes, silly) idea that something as basic as genes should be patentable [1], there should never be any possibility for people to sue others after letting their own "property" escape in the wild. Yet this exact
    • by Heembo (916647)
      1) Pioneer and DuPont (big GE machines) have both been found in violation of EPA "safe planting" regulations 2) GE companies do not disclose to the public which genetic test are being done in local communities 3) Long term economic costs of GE are unknown 4) Leading scientists, including US Food and Drug Administration warn GE crops post unique risks to human health 5) GE organisms are alive. Once they are release, they can never be recalled 6) "Biopharmacuticals" crop that are designed to produce drugs, va
    • by syukton (256348)
      The problem is that the technology isn't safe, nor is it secure.

      I highly suggest you watch the documentary Future of Food [imdb.com].

      Here's how the documentary starts:
      "We used to be a nation of farmers, but now it's less than 2% of the population of the united states, so a lot of us don't know what it takes to grow food. Over 12,000 years ago people began planting and saving seed. Agriculture flowered and civilizations were born. In China, thousands of varieties of rice were grown. Over 5,000 kinds of potatoes were cu
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @05:53PM (#15986125) Homepage Journal
    A process which takes the best of the natural world and the best of our scientific processes and gives natural selection a helping hand.

    Because the desirable features all come from varieties of natural crops, the chances of three headed luminous offspring appear unlikely.

    When they were first talking about skin colour of wild plants I thought it was a waste (because you can see the fruit colour), but they are sequencing the saplings of these plants before they have grown enough to bear fruit. It allows them to tell within days which of the crop has the desired features.

    I just wonder how many samples it take to identify a marker though - you can't use a single sample and must really DNA test an entire range of pre-categorised samples.
    I wonder if any of the seed banks [google.co.uk] will allow their stock to be tested?

    This is in effect similar to the genetic testing of embryos for certain high risk hereditary diseases, but goes to show just how cheap and "normal" DNA testing has become.
    • A process which takes the best of the natural world and the best of our scientific processes and gives natural selection a helping hand.

      As if there is a human being in the entire world qualified enough to do that. Am I'm not talking about "playing god" here. I mean there is no-one on earth with enough competance to relieably predict the long term effects of introducing a gene into an enviornment. The world is a complex, chaotic system. We can't even predict the long term motion of a homogeneous fluid. Is th

  • How much genetic variance is there in a GM crop to it's counterpart as compared to different races of the same species?

    Is a GM crop really that radically different than their natural sibling?

    I would venture to guess that even the glowing white mice are much more genetically close to their lab family than to a wild brown mouse.

    What is the big problem? even if GM crops were to interbreed wouldn't their unique properties eventually be completely (for all intents and purposes) diluted. And if their unique genet
    • And if their unique genetics manages to survive and thrive in the "wild", is that not a simple example of natural selection and an indication of their hardiness?

      I think the part you're missing is that certain plants thrive in certain conditions to the detriment of other vitally important plants. Take kudzu in the southeast USA. It's not necessarily hardier than an oak tree, but it doesn't have any naturally-occuring limiting factor, so it grows rampant. It kills other trees and shrubs. All of a sudden, ther
    • by Asic Eng (193332)
      In the past we have several times introduced species from one environment into another. (E.g. rabbits in Australia.) The result can be harmful. That on it's own doesn't mean that the method is generally invalid. However I don't see any large-scale research in the matter which would provide a means to assess the risk. I'd say that introducing substantially genetically modified species should pose similar risks, though.

      And if their unique genetics manages to survive and thrive in the "wild", is that not a s

  • Humans have been doing genetic engineering for many thousands of years. 15,000 years ago, humans started genetically engineering wolves. In those years of genetic engineering, they made a Chihuahua and Shih-Tzu from wolves. Later, humans started genetically engineering grasses, and the result was eventually civilization.

    Does the fact that DNA can now be manipulated directly really make a difference as to what we're doing? In both cases, we are artificially selecting genes.

    Also, keep in mind that genetic
    • by baomike (143457)
      This comment should have a +5 mod.
      It why Herefords don't look like Angus.

      What about genmod grass, for golf courses?
      Valid use?

      http://www.registerguard.com/news/2006/08/25/ed.ed it.grass.0825.p1.php [registerguard.com] not all grass stays put.
    • Also, keep in mind that genetic engineering of humans will eventually become necessary. Medical technology is allowing people with severe genetic defects to live and reproduce that would have died without it. Eventually this will result in a polluted gene pool. Considering the only ways to stop this are removing medical technology, eugenics, and genetic engineering, which one would you rather have?

      Prebirth testing and abortion of fetuses in which congenital disorders are detected.

    • Humans have been doing genetic engineering for many thousands of years. 15,000 years ago, humans started genetically engineering wolves. In those years of genetic engineering, they made a Chihuahua and Shih-Tzu from wolves. Later, humans started genetically engineering grasses, and the result was eventually civilization.

      Massive difference. That "engineering" was based on crossbreeding phenotypes, not genotypes. Modern genetic "engineering", is based on crossbreeding of genotypes, whos phenotypes are not even able to crossbreed. Moreover, the phenotypes created are not even subject to rigorous study before being chucked out to pasture, in a process more akin to introducing rabbits to australia than breeding two types of pig.
    • by Asic Eng (193332)
      Does the fact that DNA can now be manipulated directly really make a difference as to what we're doing?

      It's a bit about scale. Thousands of years ago we could still burn down a piece of forest, sowing grain on the ashes, and move on a few years later when the soil was depleted. If we'd continue doing that today, it would kill us. We'd just burn all our forest and lose all our soil. If we'd suddenly switch agricultural plants large-scale all over the world, we have a scenario which differs considerably fro

  • GE? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Shadyman (939863) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @06:40PM (#15986291) Homepage
    Am I the only one wondering exactly when General Electric started growing crops?
    • by IvyKing (732111)
      No, my first impression was reading 'GE' as General Electric as well. Also tend to read GM as General Motors...
  • by gsn (989808) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @06:44PM (#15986303)
    I remember there was this outcry against Monsanto in India quite a few years (4-5) ago. The plan was to release designer seeds with much better characteristics than natural varieties but these seeds would feature a "Terminator" gene (no I promise it was called that I don't have a very large tin foil hat). The gene would prevent future seeds produced by the crop to be viable. Their buisness model was thus that you bought the seeds from Monsanto every year.

    Most farmers in India are poorer than most of you can imagine and save some of the seeds from one years crop to reuse the next. There was also some concern that the Terminator gene would find its way into the natural crop varieties and render them useless. This in particular reeks of a company creating something principally to safeguard its profits without there being any actual value added to the farmer.

    I think the result of the mess was Monsanto stopped testing it and I think later stopped developing it. That a company would try to develop something like this makes me actively distrust them and its no wonder that a lot of people are scared of genetic engineering. A lot of these groups also tend to be very secretive treating some of their research as trade secret. This is definetly what I'm used to in physics and its definetly not how science should be done. Perhaps its just me but I'm much more skeptical of research done by groups that seem primarily motivated by profit.

    I'd worry that a lab environment is just too controlled and the nature has a lot of unplanned for scenarios which may end up producing unintended consequences. I've some respect for their ability to identify what a particular gene as they are doing in the present articles research - I'm more skeptical of their ability to predict what that gene will do if it is suddenly found in another species say. And no matter how extensive your lab trials become they do not address very slow processes which may well occur with GE crops. This selective breeding is less controversial but I'm no biologist and I can already see that there might be a risk with a lack of genetic diversity and that leading to an increased susceptability to disease.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Which has more vitamin A than normal corn. I'm more afraid of the government and corporations getting together and adding antibiotics and antidepressants into things like corn, whey, and rice and seeding them in farms next to the real deal.

    That's why I dislike anything that's synthetically engineered.
  • What is wrong with kudzu [wikipedia.org]

    There is a real world out there, and it is hard to control growth of anything anywhere. We have damaged so many ecosystems willingly or unwittingly. Many GE plants are done by megacorps for the profit of megacorps. Anyone can duplicate Monsato's weed killer, but no one can duplicate Monsato's GE seeds.

    My opposition to GE does not stem from fear for the environment, but from fear of corporate greed.

  • by daemonenwind (178848) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @07:06PM (#15986389)
    Why is it that the same people who want to embrace the wholesale slaughter of embryos to drive stem cell research - which is genetically engineering drugs - get up in arms about GE food?

    Seems to me that these folks just value their dinner more than their humanity
    • by dominion (3153)
      Why is it that the same people who want to embrace the wholesale slaughter of embryos to drive stem cell research - which is genetically engineering drugs - get up in arms about GE food?

      OMG, won't somebody please think of the blastocysts!

      Those blastocysts are gonna get thrown out whether or not they're researched. So obviously, you'd rather all those innocent, angelic "babies" to die in vain, then, wouldn't you?

      Seems to me that these folks just value their dinner more than their humanity

      Maybe we understand
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ChronoFish (948067)
      Not wanting to eat GE foods has nothing to do with wanting or not wanting to study genetics and developing potential life saving gene-therapy or drugs based on genetic engineering.

      I am all for genetic experimentation in the lab to help us gain better scientific understanding. That does not mean I want to eat the results of that experimentation or release it into the wild.

      -CF
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @07:15PM (#15986422)
    as the rest of the crap going on with our food supply. My personal favorite is Cambell's Soup, which has ingredients added to it soley to assit in the formation of Monosodium Glutamate, that way they can truthfully say "No MSG Added", because, hey, they didn't add any. All they did was wait till the other stuff they added created MSG on it's own.
  • by cdrguru (88047) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @09:49PM (#15991771) Homepage
    People seem to have some idea that seeds from crops will germinate.

    This was perhaps true in the 1940's. The "Green Revolution" beginning in the 1960's with all-hybrid crops put an end to that. No farmer in the US plants seeds from crops grown - they are all sterile. Perhaps some low-yield farmer in Bangledesh plants crop seeds this way today. Certainly nobody else does.

    If you are worried about corporate seed control, we are there already. Do some reading. We have been there since at least 1970. We would all be starving if non-hybrid crops were being grown today.

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