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GM and the Greens

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Alan H
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GM and the Greens

#1 Post by Alan H » May 26th, 2012, 10:17 am

There has been a lot in the media recently about the GM trials at Rothamsted Research Station and the threat by anti-GM protesters to destroy the crops there (or 'decontamination' as they insist on calling it). This was mentioned on Newsnight last week and the proponents of the 'Take back the flour' campaign came across as Luddites who were arguing from emotion and not evidence and generally seemed unable to answer specific questions from the scientists there.

The protest is tomorrow and The Green Party have come out supporting the protest, particularly the former London Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones. Se is wriggling now, saying she doesn't support the vandalisation, but still seems to support the mass decontamination. :shrug:

There are some good articles on this:

Anti-GM activists urged not to trash wheat field by Ian Sample
Though Greens sometimes get their science wrong, they're better than most by Sunny Hundal
Am I a geek? by CERN Research scientist John Butterworth

Thoughts on GM?
Thoughts on the protesters and the Greens?
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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Dave B
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Re: GM and the Greens

#2 Post by Dave B » May 26th, 2012, 10:56 am

I find myself ambivalent on GM. I am not actually against it but . . .

Firstly I am totally, completely, 100%, entirely, wholly (get the idea?) against any modification of organisms for commercial gain - as in licensing seed grains so that they have to be bought fresh every year - a huge cost for the millions of small farmers in none-industrialised areas.

For as long as people want purely organic foodstuffs there should be a great deal more protection in the favour of organic producers against cross contamination.

When it comes to pest control and increased yield, without added chemicals or artificial fertiliser, for staple crops such as rice I am more in favour.

I have no concerns about eating GM tomatoes or sweetcorn (both of which I think are in our supermarkets) but I would like to be informed that I am doing so. The "hiding" of this information goes right against the grain with me.


I am not in favour of crop research in an location where there is the slightest possibility of contamination in the surrounding land. Tried, tested and proven GM crops are one thing, anything that is still under research should be treated in the same way as medicine or bacteria.

In this modern age of transport the spread of plants is very fast, and with the apparent climate changes will cover a larger area, there are imported weed species that were spread over Britain by the rail system. Trucks pick up all kinds of stuff in the mud on their wheels (as I pointed out during the last foot & mouth epidemic when a known local outbreak site still had its tractors driving the main roads and spreading mud everywhere they went which was then picked up by other vehicles going further afield - I got no reply from the Min. of Ag.)
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Tetenterre
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Re: GM and the Greens

#3 Post by Tetenterre » May 26th, 2012, 11:41 am

Dave B wrote:The "hiding" of this information goes right against the grain with me.
+1. Not least because it gives the impression that there is something to hide. But, if anyone thinks s/he is eating GM-free, think again! In countries where they don't have to contend with the anti-scientific stance that characterises groups like Greenpeace and the self-appointed Friends of the Earth (yes, I've been members of both in distant decades), GM crops have been widely grown for decades.

Offtopic/aside: Anyone else noticed how the trendy green ignoragensia is willing to accept scientific consensus when it suggests that we are damaging the planet (e.g. AGW) but unwilling to accept it when it says that things they campaign against are actually beneficial (e.g. GM).
Steve

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animist
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Re: GM and the Greens

#4 Post by animist » May 26th, 2012, 11:55 am

Tetenterre wrote:
Dave B wrote:The "hiding" of this information goes right against the grain with me.
+1. Not least because it gives the impression that there is something to hide. But, if anyone thinks she is eating GM-free, think again! In countries where they don't have to contend with the anti-scientific stance that characterises groups like Greenpeace and the self-appointed Friends of the Earth (yes, I've been members of both in distant decades), GM crops have been widely grown for decades.

Offtopic/aside: Anyone else noticed how the trendy green ignoragensia is willing to accept scientific consensus when it suggests that we are damaging the planet (e.g. AGW) but unwilling to accept it when it says that things they campaign against are actually beneficial (e.g. GM).
re your off-topic comment, I think there is a difference. Climate change really IS about science, about what is happening and what will happen; GM (about which, like Dave, I am ambivalent) is more about technology, about doing things in a different way - it involves science, but it incorporates value judgments as well, ie that certain environmental risks are worth taking for the sake of the benefits

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Dave B
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Re: GM and the Greens

#5 Post by Dave B » May 26th, 2012, 12:21 pm

Oh, off-topic again I fear: animist, I find your comments about AGW being scientific whilst GM is not a bit confusing. Surely science is the basis behind both? but the difference is AGW appears to be happening and the value judgement is, "What are we willing to do about it?" "What are we willing to give up?"

GM is emergent and experimental, the questions then, "Do we trust the scientists?" "Will this endanger the environment and the structure of nature?" And, of course, "Are we willing to allow big Agro to make huge profits at the expense of small farmers?"

Two different circumstances but bot with ethical elements as well as science controlling how we deal with them. Oh, sorry, forgot those two destructive elements politics and greed.
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Tetenterre
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Re: GM and the Greens

#6 Post by Tetenterre » May 26th, 2012, 12:40 pm

I would argue that the science is similar in both cases, both involve technology, and both involve value judgements, political will (or the lack of it), and big business getting its profiteering fingers in the pie.
Steve

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Alan H
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Re: GM and the Greens

#7 Post by Alan H » May 26th, 2012, 2:10 pm

Dave B wrote:Firstly I am totally, completely, 100%, entirely, wholly (get the idea?) against any modification of organisms for commercial gain
But we've been doing that for millennia! :D
For as long as people want purely organic foodstuffs there should be a great deal more protection in the favour of organic producers against cross contamination.
More protection than what? Is there evidence that they aren't protected and that any 'contamination' is detrimental?
I have no concerns about eating GM tomatoes or sweetcorn (both of which I think are in our supermarkets) but I would like to be informed that I am doing so. The "hiding" of this information goes right against the grain with me.
You are already informed:
To ensure consumer choice EU law also requires any approved GM products to be clearly labelled, including foods derived from GM crops that do not have a detectable GM content.
I am not in favour of crop research in an location where there is the slightest possibility of contamination in the surrounding land. Tried, tested and proven GM crops are one thing, anything that is still under research should be treated in the same way as medicine or bacteria.
How would you define 'slightest possibility'? Could that criterion ever be satisfied? There is some good information from the scientists at Rothamsted here that will answer a lot of questions, but wheat is almost 100% self-pollinating and the risk of cross-pollination to other species is virtually zero.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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Dave B
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Re: GM and the Greens

#8 Post by Dave B » May 26th, 2012, 2:41 pm

Dave B wrote:
Firstly I am totally, completely, 100%, entirely, wholly (get the idea?) against any modification of organisms for commercial gain
But we've been doing that for millennia! :D
You are right, Alan, crop improvement by selective breeding has gone of for as long as humans got above the gatherer level. I also understand that designing a crop not to need the purchase and use of pesticides is potentially beneficial to the framer and the environment. But I am also concerned that such GM crops will become so expensive due to the licensing systems that they will be only available to Big Agro. The smaller farmers and the diversity they support is not something I would like to see disappear.
Quote:
For as long as people want purely organic foodstuffs there should be a great deal more protection in the favour of organic producers against cross contamination.
More protection than what? Is there evidence that they aren't protected and that any 'contamination' is detrimental?
I cannot support it but I think there were some law suits in America where non-GM farmers were threatened because their produce contained GM material from a nearby GM farm. Not their fault, the stuff just gets spread around naturally and by vehicles. If they had been organic farmers would they not have lost their status? So, when Big Agro wants to build a GM grain super-farm right next door to a successful but small organic grain farmer who protects the little man? Betcha BA wins in the end, he can throw a lot more money and politics at the problem than Little Guy.
You are already informed:
Fair does, is this fairly recent or are the labelling rules yet to come? I will admit that I have not looked into the subject for some time. Being ambivalent the original lack of labelling of "possible GM content" was not something that controlled my purchases - I just wanted to know and was (as ever) a bit suspicious of Big Anything who might be trying to pull one over on the public. That they were afraid their produce might not sell if it was known to contain GM material is not a sufficient excuse to me, and I seem to remember that those who bothered more than I deliberately avoided such things as sweetcorn that might originate in America anyway.


Hmm, my "slightest risk" is a bit strong but there should be all possible safeguards for the organic or traditional farmer who does not want GM material on his land, even by accident. Don't know how that can be achieved except by geographical exclusion and that is a discussion too far for me.

There is a big line between blending the genes of two closely related organisms and introducing totally alien ones. Are you sure that, if the box is fully opened, there is no chance that something really nasty might not develop, Alan, maybe from an accidental hybrid between an GMO and something "natural"? Could there be a case that no GMO with alien genes is released for consumption except after rigorous testing similar to that in the drugs industry? Those produced to manufacture purified products that are "nature identical" are a rather different matter - but still need testing thoroughly.
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animist
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Re: GM and the Greens

#9 Post by animist » May 26th, 2012, 3:27 pm

Tetenterre wrote:I would argue that the science is similar in both cases, both involve technology, and both involve value judgements, political will (or the lack of it), and big business getting its profiteering fingers in the pie.
Dave B wrote:Oh, off-topic again I fear: animist, I find your comments about AGW being scientific whilst GM is not a bit confusing. Surely science is the basis behind both? but the difference is AGW appears to be happening and the value judgement is, "What are we willing to do about it?" "What are we willing to give up?
to both of you: I said that science was involved in both questions. In the case of AGW, the attack of sceptics on is on the overwelming scientific consensus as such, and for pretty obviously political and economic motives, so it is not a case initially of either technology or value judgements. If we all accepted AGW as true that would be the important initial achievement, and then technology might come into play (or not - we might just reduce consumption), and I agree that then value judgements would be relevant over how we solve the problem. GM is a technological issue by its nature, and the choice between cheap food etc and some notional risk is with us already. TT, when you talk about big business getting its fingers in the pie in both cases, are you implying that, over AGW, business interests overall favour the warmist case? I really do not think this is true; but over GM, obviously researchers, at Monsanto or Rothamsted or wherever, do arguably have an interest in finding practical applications for their research

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Re: GM and the Greens

#10 Post by Tetenterre » May 26th, 2012, 3:56 pm

animist wrote: If we all accepted AGW as true that would be the important initial achievement, and then technology might come into play (or not - we might just reduce consumption), and I agree that then value judgements would be relevant over how we solve the problem.
The value judgement starts with the judgement of which is better: a warmer world or a colder one. Given the historical (and pre-historical) precedents, I favour a warmer one.
TT, when you talk about big business getting its fingers in the pie in both cases, are you implying that, over AGW, business interests overall favour the warmist case?
No, I think it is very clear that business interests fall on either side of that particualr divide (I understand that BP, for example, is one of the biggest global investors into research on "renewables"). I was thinking specifically of carbon credit trading when I made that comment.
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Re: GM and the Greens

#11 Post by Alan C. » May 26th, 2012, 7:04 pm

We've had this debate before (remember Clayto?)

The problem with GM is that the farmer has to buy new seed every year and buy from one of the few huge companies that will control it's distribution.
Dave B wrote:
Firstly I am totally, completely, 100%, entirely, wholly (get the idea?) against any modification of organisms for commercial gain
But we've been doing that for millennia!
As I said last time, genetically modifying seed is not the same thing as breeding new plants by cross pollination. It's that which we've been doing for millennia.

I'm opposed to GM crops.
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Re: GM and the Greens

#12 Post by Boxertwin » May 26th, 2012, 11:21 pm

My father in law is an arable farmer and has been for fifty years now. He says that whilst the crops are good using the new seeds, the cost has become so high from the main suppliers that they can barely make any money nowadays. His concerns are as above, control and centralisation with gm seeds resulting in sky high pricing.
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Re: GM and the Greens

#13 Post by Dave B » May 26th, 2012, 11:24 pm

Most of that agrees with what I said, Alan, but I keep thinking that unless we stabilise the world population there will soon not be enough food globally to sustain everyone. Localised famine is becoming regular and will get worse, commercial pressure is encouraging countries like Nigeria to grow foods for export rather then native, less environmentally damaging, staples. More and more nasty chemicals are being used to feed and protect these crops to get a better yield.

It will almost certainly be essential that GMing food plants to survive drought and pests is the only way to stop millions dying - and the possibility of food wars in some areas. Water resources will also be a cause of international friction - the Jordan has changed from a river that watered and fed three countries to a string of poisonous, near stagnant pools for a large part of the year.

But, yes, as said I am entirely against the commercialisation of survival in terms of crops that need to be bought fresh and re-licensed every year.
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Re: GM and the Greens

#14 Post by Alan H » May 27th, 2012, 12:49 am

Alan C. wrote:The problem with GM is that the farmer has to buy new seed every year and buy from one of the few huge companies that will control it's distribution.
Not being a farmer, do most of them now sow crops for seed the next season or do they buy from a supplier? Isn't most of the acreage of cereal crops already grown by a very few multinational companies?
Dave B wrote:
Firstly I am totally, completely, 100%, entirely, wholly (get the idea?) against any modification of organisms for commercial gain
But we've been doing that for millennia!
As I said last time, genetically modifying seed is not the same thing as breeding new plants by cross pollination. It's that which we've been doing for millennia.
Playing devil's advocate, it is different in some respects, but that doesn't necessarily make it bad or even undesirable per se. What are the real scientific objections? Is it just 'the unknown'?

If it is unproven safety, what level of evidence would satisfy everyone? And if you say no amount of evidence would, are you sure you're making a rational decision or one simply based on emotion?

I am genuinely undecided on this - I'm not sure I'm convinced by the 'we need it to stop world hunger' argument because we have sufficient food now, but vested interests and the march to relentlessly make profit scupper that.

If it's some safety concerns, then we need to look dispassionately at the pros and cons.

However, this hasn't anything directly to do with the (obviously illegal) vandalising of an experiment by protesters tomorrow today.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#15 Post by Boxertwin » May 27th, 2012, 1:07 am

As I posted above, most buy seed each year from suppliers and it's not just cereal crop seeds. My father inlaw grows everything from carrots to watermelons.
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Re: GM and the Greens

#16 Post by Alan H » May 27th, 2012, 1:42 am

Boxertwin wrote:As I posted above, most buy seed each year from suppliers and it's not just cereal crop seeds. My father inlaw grows everything from carrots to watermelons.
There could be many suppliers of seed at the moment and it could be that the suppliers of GM seed will become more limited by market forces, but is anyone forcing a farmer to sow GM crops? Could he sow conventional crops or will the pressure be there to buy GM seeds and/or will the fertilisers/insecticides/herbicides/fungicides that are currently needed become expensive, pricing them out of the market?

The aversion seems to be to the modification of one chemical in the crop - its genes. I can see a tension here between denouncing the chemical modification of a crop on one hand and covering crops with - let's face it - dangerous and poisonous chemicals on the other - chemicals that could wipe out species and devastate the environment and even harm humans. What really is it we are objecting to?
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#17 Post by Dave B » May 27th, 2012, 9:49 am

If any established farmer wishes to grow organic crops - not using nasty chemicals - and there is a viable market for such then he or she should have the right to do so without danger of losing his or her organic status because of what the neighbours do.

OK, that seems, to me a least, as valid a right as any other to carry out a legal business without new interference from others - even if that interference itself does not break any law. But Big Agro and Big Supermarket do not give a fig (GM or not) for such rules and usually win out if only by attrition - perhaps it is that potential bullying that bothers me.

Growing super-crops to feed the starving millions is one thing, growing such to fill the pockets of shareholders is another. Apart from that most supermarket vegetables have very little to commend them in terms of flavour - but, I know, we could never live on the output from organic and locally grown produce. We have been spoilt into expecting all veg and fruit all the year, regardless of season and that is not doing the people or land of Africa etc. much good as a whole and demands lots of chemicals. Will GM ever really solve that problem unless it is at a similar cost to now? I think we, or our grandkids at least, may have to learn to expect less variety at greater price.
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Alan H
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Re: GM and the Greens

#18 Post by Alan H » May 27th, 2012, 10:52 am

Dave B wrote:If any established farmer wishes to grow organic crops - not using nasty chemicals - and there is a viable market for such then he or she should have the right to do so without danger of losing his or her organic status because of what the neighbours do.
Still playing devil's advocate, I certainly don't have a problem with that (even if the advantages of organic are either unclear or minimal at best and the downsides are significant). Surely there is a contamination risk from the 'nasty chemicals' as well as from GM, so the question is what are the risks of contamination from both and what needs to be done to minimise them?
OK, that seems, to me a least, as valid a right as any other to carry out a legal business without new interference from others - even if that interference itself does not break any law. But Big Agro and Big Supermarket do not give a fig (GM or not) for such rules and usually win out if only by attrition - perhaps it is that potential bullying that bothers me.
Agreed to some extent, but we can control some activities by big corporations. Take the advertising of prescription-only medicines to the public - it is illegal, despite it being commonplace in teh US and despite the power, money and influence of Big Pharma.
Growing super-crops to feed the starving millions is one thing, growing such to fill the pockets of shareholders is another. Apart from that most supermarket vegetables have very little to commend them in terms of flavour - but, I know, we could never live on the output from organic and locally grown produce.
If they lack flavour, then we need to demand better varieties, but I agree with you that going organic is no solution at all.
We have been spoilt into expecting all veg and fruit all the year, regardless of season and that is not doing the people or land of Africa etc. much good as a whole and demands lots of chemicals.
I'm not sure that 'lots of chemicals' isn't simply pejorative: we do need them now and like everything else, there has to be a balance struck between the benefits and the potential harms, but I don't know where this is at the moment.
Will GM ever really solve that problem unless it is at a similar cost to now? I think we, or our grandkids at least, may have to learn to expect less variety at greater price.
Quite possibly.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#19 Post by Alan H » May 27th, 2012, 12:30 pm

Apart from the crap title, an interesting article from Will Hutton: We have a duty to put our faith in science, not trample on it
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#20 Post by Dave B » May 27th, 2012, 12:43 pm

Alan, on the point of year round veg . . . do we really need asparagus available most (if not all of) the year? Can we not wait for certain varieties of green beans until they come into season in Europe at least? There are almost certainly other fruit and veg that are, effectively, luxury items that have become commonplace now. I always buy English produce where I can, even if it is a bit more expensive.

This is not something that can be quickly or easily changed. Taking Africa as the example again it has reached the point where growing food for export has become an important industry, even though there may be those in the same country or nearby countries who are undernourished.

I have the feeling that unless major changes are spread over quite long periods and introduced in a sustainable manner they could actually exacerbate the food problems in the most sensitive areas. Unfortunately I doubt that the sensitive application of such industrial processes (which is, of course, what GM farming is) is on the top line of "Must Do"s for Big Agro.

Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Chem and all the rest of them have some pretty appalling past histories - is Big Agro going to be any better?
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