- Author: Enter Name or e-mail
The following is a response from Dr. Margaret Mellon, a participant in the Boston Review Magazine Forum that was mentioned here.
As a participant in the Boston Review Magazine forum, I take issue with the sweeping statement that all of the participants agreed that the GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat and safe for the environment. My views on both topics are more nuanced.
I agree that GE products currently on the market--overwhelmingly herbicide tolerant (HT) and BT crops--are unlikely to be allergenic or toxic and on that basis are likely safe to consume. But I also believe that there are holes in the risk assessment process that leave some questions unanswered. This month’s issue of Nature Biotechnology has an excellent feature discussing the challenges of food safety testing.
Moreover, it is important to note that each GE product must be individually assessed for food safety and that the safety status of the HTC and BT crops says little about foods that might be introduced in the future. For example, serious attention needs to be paid to the possibility that GE products produced by gene silencing might inadvertently turn off non-target genes in people who consume them.
I disagree strongly with the statement that the BT and HT crops are safe for the environment. Yes, scientists have documented pesticide reductions in pesticide use immediately following the introduction of these crops, which I welcome and applaud. But these benefits exist only until resistance develops to glyphosate or the BT toxins.
Glyphosate-resistant weeds have already arisen across the US and are leading to enormous increases in pesticide use, reversing the early reductions attributable to the HT crops. The biotechnology industry’s response is a new generation of transgenic crops that enable the use of older, more herbicides like 2,4 D and dicamba. Unless U.S. agriculture responds swiftly, we will soon be facing a nightmare scenario of increased pesticide use resulting from resistant weeds. This is not an example of an environmentally beneficial technology.
BT has proven much more durable, in part because strong regulations allowed the government to impose refuge requirements on U.S. farmers. But resistance has already arisen in corn root worms in the Midwest and is leading to increased chemical insecticide use.
Dr. Margaret Mellon
Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program
Union of Concerned Scientists
- Author: Pamela Ronald
Reposted from Scientific America -- Food Matters Blog
Discussions about plant genetic engineering often reflect two starkly opposing narratives. On the one side are the angry mobs who invade research farms to destroy fragile green rice seedlings deemed “GMOs”. On the other, are the scientists who call for calm and respect for publicly funded research. Too often, it seems, there is little mutual understanding.
In a forum on September 5 hosted by the Boston Review Magazine, a group of journalists, activists, plant biologists, and farmers as well as academic experts in food security, international agricultural and environmental policy sat around a virtual table to find common ground. All accepted the broad scientific consensus that the process of GE does not pose inherent risks compared to conventional approaches of genetic alteration and that the GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat and safe for the environment. That agreement allowed the discussion to move forward to a more societally relevant issue- the use of appropriate technology in agriculture....
...What criteria can scientists, farmers and consumers use to assess which type of these genetic technologies is most appropriate for agriculture?
In his 1973 book Small is Beautiful, economist E. F. Schumacher states that an appropriate technology should be low cost, low maintenance and promote values such as health, beauty, and permanence. Environmentalist Stewart Brand used a similar framework to select new technologies for inclusion in his 1969 Whole Earth Catalog. One of the purposes of the Whole Earth catalog was to facilitate a creative or self-sustainable lifestyle.
We can apply Brand and Schumacher’s Buddhist economic criteria to evaluate modern agricultural technologies....
...Golden Rice is an excellent example of how a particular genetic technology can appropriately serve a specific societal purpose – in this case, enhancing the health and well-being of farmers and their families. It is a relatively simple technology that scientists in most countries, including many developing countries, have perfected. The product, a seed, requires no extra maintenance or additional farming skills. The seed can be propagated on the farm each season at no extra cost through self-pollination and improved along the way.
Can we conclude from the example of Golden Rice that all GE seeds fall into the category of appropriate technology? Unfortunately it is not that simple. Each agricultural technology must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. It is not informative to group all “GMOs” together without regard to the purpose of the engineering, the needs of the farmer, or the social, environmental, economic, or nutritional benefits.
- Author: Marissa Palin
Michael Specter, moderator of the Global Food Systems Forum, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998. His most recent book, “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives,” was published on October 29, 2009. Specter writes often about science, technology, and public health.
- Author: Marissa Palin
There's a big difference between the questions what is best for my family? and what kind of agriculture is best for the whole world?
According to Maarten Chrispeels, a plant physiologist and UC San Diego distinguished professor emeritus and Global Food Systems Forum panelist, it's very difficult to choose between organic and GM's. We're being bombarded with information, but how much of that is true? Do we even need to choose between the two?
Watch the video below to find out.
"If you're concerned about your health, there isn't any scientific basis to choose for or against organic, or for or against GM."
"If you're concerned about food, there is no scientific basis for choosing for or against GM or organic. If you're concerned about the environment, organic has some interesting practices that emphasize sustainability, but GM crops already lessen the impact of agriculture on the environment."
"The small picture: There is no scientific basis for championing or rejecting either GM or organic. But...you do need to eat more fruits and vegetables: 5 helpings of fruits and vegetables per day cuts the rates of many cancers by 50%"
"The big picture: GM or organic? is a false question. The moral issue for our world is: How do we abolish the food insecurity of 800 million humans? Organic agriculture with its lower yields cannot do this. We need all available and appropriate technologies and food production systems adapted to local ecologies."
What are your thoughts? Comment below.