back to article ready to get muddy again on GM foods

Advocates of genetically modified crops are growing more confident that the problems facing the world will soon override "Frankenstein food" fears, and now they appear to have convinced the government to once again brave the controversy. The political pages were excited yesterday as environment minister Phil Woolas stuck his …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Andraž Levstik


    Main issue I see with this is:

    you say yes:

    multinationals start genmodding everything possible

    they tag their own genmods for trademark/copyright/patent issues(no I won't use the completly undefined intellectual property meaning, since they are 3 distinct sections not a single one)

    they then release viruses to kill off anything not gentagged by them... And there you go...

    The end of natural life... And a new master-slave system is born.

    (taken from a book(though sadly can't recall the title).

    So yes genmodding should be outlawed.

    How to make farmers more profitable? kill off their subsidies for growing unprofitable

    crop etc... Have a bit of a mix in with the companies that buy from farmers to make it

    an even playing field. Free market is an illusion... If you have a free market you get

    mono- or duopolys since that's what a fully Free market strives for. A proper market that

    benefits all is one that is regulated by authorities(or one). Giving farmers more subsidies

    for growing unprofitable crop makes no business sense at all. Forcing just one side to

    do something won't make a difference. This has to be tackled in all areas at once.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It depends what you use GM for

    The main thrust behind GM is big profits for agrobusiness. GM cotton puts in a gene for Bt toxin (botulism) to kill the boll weevil. This is rightly regarded as dangerous as genes can leak into other species, and if this were to turn-up in a food staple, or even a common weed, it would be disaster.

    The other plan is to put in a gene that guarantees sterile seeds, so farmers have to buy new seed every year. This would also be disaster if it got into the wild (it would survive as a gene that offers 50% viability) - its DRM for plants, nuff said.

    Some worthy scientist types are working to improve yield, or more commonly, to increase vitamin content, undoing some of the earlier non-GM work on high-yielding varieties. This is laudable, and if the genes for vitamin B12 did escape into the wild, well so what.

    If agribusiness is happy to indemnify the world against the possible consequences of their desire to make money, then great, but insurers won't touch it, and nor should we.

    We (i.e. governments on our behalf) could take on the risks of release of less dangerous genes, if there is a great public benefit to be had.

    I suspect that irrigation, mechanisation and above all, peace, will have the greatest effect (on world food supply), and are cheaper and less risky.

  3. Ben
    Thumb Down

    A thousand vat grown sheeps eyes for your weemin eh?

    i geev you eh? what is this my son, you are feasting on the talking book alphabet spaghetti again , this is not wholesome , you must resist or lose the chance to savour the white raisins of Zeneca.Praise be to our policies of international food resource Igor, who cares that the peasants are revolting?

  4. Dave Bell

    I've a farming background.

    Some of the scare stories exhibit huge ignorance: Herbicide tolerant GM crop plants can still be killed, by using a different herbicide which kills the plant by affecting different biochemistry.

    But the big danger is that the GM feature comes at the expense of genetic variety. There are dozens of different varieties of wheat, with variations in such things as the protein content of the grain and the way in which a variety resists common plant diseases.

    If one fails, whether from a mutating disease or from a freakish growing season (That's what killed the variety Moulin), there are plenty of alternatives.And a good variety can come from a small company. There are all sorts of niches which can pay back the breeding cost.

    The GM varieties, on the other hand, are a genetic bottleneck. And the gene transfer processes needed are big-budget industrial science. GM hops might be good, and safe, but there'll only ever be one flavour. Only one sort of potato--do you want good bangers and mash, or good chips?

    Maybe the GM-tech will get affordable for the small breeder, but how much will the patent holder charge, while they can make their money from selling herbicides rather than the seeds?

    A monopoly on GM tech allows a GM monoculture that could destroy agriculture's ability to survive a changing natural world.

  5. John

    How much of the world eats British foods?

    It's highly disingenuous of GM advocates to suggest that changes to UK law will benefit the poor and hungry of the world. What quantity of crops grown in the UK are exported to the third world? Any at all?

    But then GM companies are masters of disingenuity. Lies is what they grow best. They aren't interested in feeding the poor. Money is their only motive, and they are only interested in feeding the rich. Us.

    I'm not afraid of frankenstein foods. I'm not worried that GM will pollute the environment. But I do stand against GM - because the only people who benefit from it will be the companies' shareholders.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would be happy to convert the whole world to GM crops...

    ...just as soon as someone could explain *exactly* the effect each alteration of the genome has at each and every point during development of the organism.

    (The explanation need not be understandable to a layman. I would accept an explanation recognised as correct by a significant majority of experts in the field - as, I am sure, would the Nobel Prize Committee)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Small changes vs large changes

    It's all about the testing isn't it.

    With breeding the best you can do is tiny changes, done slowly over generations, so any problems with the strains become clear. 'Tiny' changes because you can only breed two compatible species, and it take a generation to make the next generation so any changes must be slow.

    Even then we get non-viable populations that die out unexpectedly (e.g. Potato Blight, that hit Ireland).

    With GM, you can make huge changes over 1 generation and hence testing is very limited and the risks of introducing a major error very very high because the changes are very very large.

    So you may help Philippines in the short term, but in the long term if your newly invented and poorly tested strain of rice succumbs to blight you cause mass starvation.

    I'm against GM foods as a result, I reckon the changes are too great, and too poorly tested. If to achieve the same change by selective breeding would take 200 years, and we still get major unanticipated defects appearing, then testing for the same GM change, should be done for AT LEAST 200 years.

  8. shaun

    if only........

    ....they could eliminate the 'stupid, moaning hippy' gene. GM crops in the USA are the most heavily regulated crops in the world and so far, no problems. Thanks to research done by people like Norman Borlog countries in the 3rd world (Mexico, India and China) can feed themselves.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Kevin & Re: John

    Re: Kevin

    According to wikipedia Bt actually stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring insecticide, whereas botulism is caused by Clostridium botulinum,

    Re: John

    I believe the reason given by GM advocates of why changes to the law help the poor of the world is that they would be able to sell their GM produce into the EU which may increase the price they can sell at because of the increased demand, or because they would be able to grow higher yielding/less input costs strains and still sell to the EU.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do 3rd World people want it?

    My uncle on the wife's side runs a rice farm.

    (I'm the AC married to a filipino and the food thing has more to do with the cost of fertlizer). Talking to my wife's uncle what happened was that the cost of fertilizer shot up quickly as the oil price rose. They have to pay next years fertilizer bill from last years sales, and they found they couldn't afford to fertilize the whole fields. So production this year was lower which caused price rises and shortages.

    He reckons it will settle, the price is high now, they can afford the fertlizer for the full crop and so he'll be making a full or better crop next time. (He seems quite upbeat since rice prices are so high.)

    It's just the sudden shock of the oil price rise hitting the fertlizer prices.

    BTW, he does not use GM rice and doesn't see how it would fix the problem.

  11. Pete James

    Toni Childs

    GM crops won't cure the global problem of starving populations. Ending the long running scandal of protectionist trading blocks making agriculture in developing nations a financial liability will have a far greater impact than Monsanto's nasty, grasping business plan.

    Just exactly what is this world we created?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the food shortage has been caused by floods and droughts, how can GM help

    With soil & crops being washed away by unprecendented flooding in various parts of the world, and other areas being desertified by drought (spain, australia), I hardly think that even with GM, you'll keep a crop alive under 20 feet of water, or in the desert.

    This is just another excuse to politically drive financial interests. The ministers concerned will join the companies later as "advisers" and collect their bag of shekels.

    Britain is more corrupt than most other countries even though we look down our noses on the news etc when we see corruption in other countries.

    We could do with some real politicians, not in it for personal interest.

  13. heystoopid


    Interesting , or how soon we forget why the so called green revolution of the sixties was an absolute miserable failure or even how adaptable nature has developed in four odd billion years of evolution with assorted mass extinctions along the timeline too !

    The insane folly of man to think he can outfox natures grand plan for pure profit to the Chemical Companies whose products tend to turn around and bite us in the A*** every fifty years or so !

    Sadly , the late Rachel Carson in her 1962 book called " Silent Spring" got that one right on the money and all she ever did was to collate and then put in public view what the Chemical Companies already knew in the first place that the majority of their wonder income generating products created in their labs which are basically a very slow acting toxic poison that hides in the background noise !

  14. H Lucas

    Consider the waste

    I live in the usa. As an engineering student - some time ago - i supplemented my income by 'dumpster diving' (so did Madonna in her hungry years i understand). I have read, and believe, that in the usa - about half of all food produced is wasted (i.e. not consumed by humans). In other countries it is higher - due to the less developed transportation and food handling systems. I salvaged lots of produce from dumpsters that was consumable, but not perfect.. This was from food store and restaurant dumpsters mainly. With some judicious trimming, much was usable. GM tomatoes are engineered to be more bruse resistant, and tolerate handling better without becoming mushy. Many tomatoes i ate could have benefited from this. What goes in the landfill doesn't benefit anyone. "The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving" from Loompanics Press in Washington state is a good read. My 'best' find was the discovery of 2 shipping skids of ice cream in a dumpster one July day. It was still plastic wrapped and firm - ONE DAY out of date. I contacted my friends, and we emptied the dumpster. At the end - regular customers were coming over to get the last few packages. We ate icrcream all summer!! It was great! Fortunately, we had freezer space available! Consider people who could benefit from lower prices - if spoilage and wastage were reduced prices could (and would) be lowered - because competiton DOES work - look at Wal Mart! The enemy of 'good enough' is perfection - because NOTHING is perfect! - one of the most important concepts in engineering. Cheers


  15. Schultz

    Early days

    @Andraž Levstik, AC and colleagues

    Everybody take it easy, those are the early days of gene technology and most of you are talking little science and lots of fiction. Gene technology will change the world, just like breeding did (google for maize and teosinthe, then we'll talk about "gentle breeding", or maybe we should talk about dogs). It's up to society to use this technology for good or evil.

    Don't waste your energy trying to stop the train of progress. Better to work towards the world of the future and try to make it a better place!

    Ooh, and are you guys aware, that nature used gene technology for some billion years? Every generation a new experiment to find the perfect organism / kid? Try to beat that with something out of the lab. We won't have to worry about nature for a while yet, at worst we'll manage to make earth a lot less comfortable for ourselves, but the 99.x percent of microbial life won't really care!

  16. Schultz

    AC: "I would be happy to convert the whole world to GM crops...

    ...just as soon as someone could explain *exactly* the effect each alteration of the genome has at each and every point during development of the organism."

    So could you explain exactly why you got out of bed this morning? Sorry, didn't convince me, get back in there!

  17. Jack Coupal, Ph.D.

    Thanks for the warning!

    We Yanks consume GM food on a daily basis.

    Tell us again why we're supposed to be afraid.

  18. Idigapony

    The World According to Monsanto


  19. Graham Bartlett

    @Dave Bell

    Hundreds of different varieties of food crops now? Sure there are. How many actually get grown? In each geographic area, a vanishingly small number which are best suited to that area's climate. So how would this be any different if the crops were GM?

    The big lesson from the British GM trials a few years back was how little *anyone* (including the eco-brigade) knew about the ecology of farming areas. You want to support wildlife, you can forget about going organic - what crops you grow is vastly more influential than whether you use GM crops or go organic. That little story has been quietly sidelined by green groups though.

    All the scare stories about breeding methods being against nature were busily trotted out when people first started selective breeding back in the 1700s. It was considered unnatural by a lot of people. Today, the same kneejerk group reckon it's perfectly natural, and GM is unnatural. As for the AC above recommending waiting 200 years, I assume that's 200 years while he and his family remain well-fed? While we're busy going organic in the West because we've got farming capacity to spare now, there's an awful lot of places that need every bit of artificial help they can get to feed themselves.

    I'm not saying GM is universally good. I'm just saying that like all other scientific advances, if we don't try it then we'll never know if it works or not. The criminals who trashed study fields back weren't protecting the environment, they were simply protecting their ignorance.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Roundup and @shaun

    GM seeds are developed to increase profits for their manufacturer, and anyone that claims some higher purpose needs a good slap with a copy of The Economist. Genetic engineering is not cheap, and a manufacturer won't undertake it unless they're going to recoup their investment.

    Take Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soya, the best known GM crop - introduced specifically to drive sales of Roundup. From 1994 to 2005 there has been a 15 fold increase in Roundup sales, so Monsanto are happy. Of course, resistant weeds have been discovered where previously there were none, so farmers are using more and more herbicide, and if you think this isn't getting into the food chain somehow you're kidding yourself:

    Oh, and @ shaun: "GM crops in the USA are the most heavily regulated crops in the world and so far, no problems". Are you insane? American food manufacters have been experimenting on the population for 30 years now - GM, growth hormones in meat, HFCS, aspartame and so on. 32% of Americans are obese, compared to 19% of the UK (not the poster child for healthy eating, trust me). The symptoms are there, I suggest you open your eyes and look for the cause a little harder.

  21. N
    Thumb Down

    I expect it will happen

    And probably sooner than later.

    But splicing animal proteins into vegetables, and poisonous plant genes into vegetables, and antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes into vegetables...


    "So could you explain exactly why you got out of bed this morning? Sorry, didn't convince me, get back in there!"

    That's just the thing. You can't. Once it's out, it's out.

    This can only, long term, damage food production through sterile plants, poisoned populace, and reduced biodiversity.

    Don't know if the bee colony collapse issue is GM-related, but I doubt they'd like it either.

  22. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    GM crops are not necessarily bad

    It's just that the so-called "tests" are a joke. GM-crop testing has been conducted a bit like typhoid vaccine in the middle of a big city.

    So, when we have proper, scientifically tested GM crops in a controlled environment (read : where nothing gets out and no external influences get in), then I will gladly accept the conclusions.

    Until then, GM crops is nothing but a nice excuse to sell expensive seed to poor people who can barely afford it. That is not what I call working to feed the global population.

    And to Mr. Jack Coupal, Ph.D., I can only say this : you Yanks are eating GM food all day long, and what did that bring you ? George W. Bush.

    I rest my case.

  23. Jack Coupal, Ph.D.

    It does!


    Your case does need resting!

This topic is closed for new posts.