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GM and the Greens

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Alan H
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Re: GM and the Greens

#161 Post by Alan H » July 12th, 2015, 9:51 pm

Latest post of the previous page:

Bear in mind that the function of headlines is not to summarise the content; they are to attract readers. And they are never written by the authors. Journalism 101 :-)
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?

Nick
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Re: GM and the Greens

#162 Post by Nick » July 12th, 2015, 9:58 pm

Alan H wrote:Bear in mind that the function of headlines is not to summarise the content; they are to attract readers. And they are never written by the authors. Journalism 101 :-)
True enough. And unfortunately, too often the content is only there to confirm the readers' prejudices. :wink:

Nick
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Re: GM and the Greens

#163 Post by Nick » July 12th, 2015, 10:17 pm

animist wrote:
the article promises more than it delivers. I have seen the "myths" about the risks of GM paraded before, and am not trying to dispute these debunkments, but the article simply does not show that GM could help feed the world; enough food is produced already, it's getting it to the people who need it which is the problem.
Hmmm... I have my doubts about that, but let's accept it for now. Some of the problem is the waste amongst those who can afford to waste it. Apart from exhortation, not sure what you could do, realistically. VAT, perhaps? Very good in theory (just adjust pensions and benefits) but not really politically acceptable. Certainly, if the world economy were different, then food distribution might be better. But I'd bet a pound to a penny that any such improvement would also alter the food choices of those who are currently deprived- just look at changes in Chinese preferences. Furthermore, production increases amongst the poor is a basic way of improving their economic state. eg drought resistant seeds and such like. And whatever happens, we will still see an increase in the world's population by several billions. Also, the more efficient the production of food, the more land can be left for wild-life, tropical forest and so on. So yes, increasing food production is a good thing.
So that is one response and challenge to GM advocates: show that insufficient food is grown worldwide and that GM is therefore necessary to produce more.
Given the situation we find ourselves in, increasing production seems to be the best way of providing for those who are currently deprived. Any other solution would be too little too late.
The second challenge from me, which I have tried to articulate before, is that apologists of GM like the author of this article seem to presuppose that bodies like Greenpeace have some sort of omnipotence, or at least decisive influence, over decisions made by national governments in the developing world; I just don't buy this.
That might be a good thing....!
The last response, over which I don't feel so confident and again which I have mentioned before, is that, while it may be reasonable to conclude that GM foods are safe to consume, it may in principle be impossible to prove their environmental innocuousness.
There have been disasters in the past, of course, like the introduction of cane toads into Australia, but not only are we getting rather better at assessing such risks, but it would be better to evaluate our choices in degrees of confidence, rather than black and white, positive or negative. Apart from anything else, any risk is already on the other side of the equation from starvation and malnutrition. To take no action, or to ban GM is not without its own consequences.
If it were shown that these foods were absolutely vital to feed the hungry then this last problem might reasonably be ignored; but I don't think that this has been shown
Have I moved you at all...? :)

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Tetenterre
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Re: GM and the Greens

#164 Post by Tetenterre » July 13th, 2015, 9:34 am

animist wrote:enough food is produced already, it's getting it to the people who need it which is the problem.
That is a problem, not the problem. Another significant problem is spoilage. However, distribution would be less of a problem if food could be grown closer to (or, preferably, by) those who need it. Also, as I am sure you know, nutrition is not merely about quantity; quality is essential as well. This is one reason why Golden Rice could have such a beneficial effect.
So that is one response and challenge to GM advocates: show that insufficient food is grown worldwide and that GM is therefore necessary to produce more.
You appear to be begging the question here, animist: an underlying assumption that so-called "GM" organisms potentially more harmful than so-called "natural" organisms (both terms in quotes are pretty meaningless). Just about (hedging here!) every living thing on this planet is both genetically modified and transgenic. Can you (or anyone else) suggest one reason that selective, targeted genetic modification by gene splicing should be potentially more harmful than selective targeted genetic modification by selective breeding or the random genetic modification that has been happening for at least 2.7 billion (and probably much longer) years?
The second challenge from me, which I have tried to articulate before, is that apologists of GM like the author of this article seem to presuppose that bodies like Greenpeace have some sort of omnipotence, or at least decisive influence, over decisions made by national governments in the developing world; I just don't buy this.
Please think again. The anti-GMO misinformation campaign has been remarkably successful in many economically developed countries. This has lead to enormous political pressure to limit and over-regulate so-called GMOs. This has two effects on people and governments in the LEDCs where the nutrition problems are greatest. First is that they too are affected by the misinformation campaign. Secondly, you get the spurious "if they're not good/safe enough to be grown in EDCs, how are they good enough for us?" argument.
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The last response, over which I don't feel so confident and again which I have mentioned before, is that, while it may be reasonable to conclude that GM foods are safe to consume, it may in principle be impossible to prove their environmental innocuousness.
An amazing double-standard here! It's as near as dammit impossible to prove the environmental inocuousness of just about anything. Why should so-called GM crops be singled out for special treatment here? They are far more rigorously tested than (say) new organic varieties, so why should there be more fear of their potential environmental harm?

I suspect that it is because they are a threat to the very powerful organic lobby.
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Steve

Quantum Theory: The branch of science with which people who know absolutely sod all about quantum theory can explain anything.

Nick
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Re: GM and the Greens

#165 Post by Nick » July 13th, 2015, 2:03 pm

A very compelling rebuttal, TT. But a question if I may?
It's as near as dammit impossible to prove the environmental innocuousness of just about anything. Why should so-called GM crops be singled out for special treatment here? They are far more rigorously tested than (say) new organic varieties, so why should there be more fear of their potential environmental harm?
We know that human intervention, even unintentional, can have disastrous results. Eg Cane toads in Australia, or rats in South Georgia, or Japanese Knotweed in the UK. Evolution of course has had similar "disasters" as species have been eliminated over the ages, as new ones have arrived. But how would you respond to the accusation that though we may produce a better pig (say) by selectively breeding pigs, it is inherently more "dangerous" when the mixture of genetic components goes far beyond any possible combination which could be obtained naturally? Like a fish gene in a pig, say?

I suspect the answer may have something to do with genes not being quite what I might imagine them to be, besides there being a bit of a yuk factor in there too. Any thoughts?

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Alan H
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Re: GM and the Greens

#166 Post by Alan H » July 13th, 2015, 2:29 pm

Nick wrote:But how would you respond to the accusation that though we may produce a better pig (say) by selectively breeding pigs, it is inherently more "dangerous" when the mixture of genetic components goes far beyond any possible combination which could be obtained naturally?
By asking the question why you believe it's inherently more dangerous and what evidence you have for 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?

thundril
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Re: GM and the Greens

#167 Post by thundril » July 13th, 2015, 2:36 pm

Tetenterre wrote: You appear to be begging the question here, animist: an underlying assumption that so-called "GM" organisms potentially more harmful than so-called "natural" organisms (both terms in quotes are pretty meaningless). Just about (hedging here!) every living thing on this planet is both genetically modified and transgenic. Can you (or anyone else) suggest one reason that selective, targeted genetic modification by gene splicing should be potentially more harmful than selective targeted genetic modification by selective breeding or the random genetic modification that has been happening for at least 2.7 billion (and probably much longer) years?
Discussion of this matter is not particularly helped, on either side, by comparison with the natural selection process. We are considering the survival chances of one species in particular, not 'nature' as a whole. Even if (when) humans become extinct, 'nature' will carry on just fine. The question is not (or ought not to be) whether our actions are better or worse than 'nature's' for life on Earth generally, but whether are actions are better or worse for us.
The second challenge from me, which I have tried to articulate before, is that apologists of GM like the author of this article seem to presuppose that bodies like Greenpeace have some sort of omnipotence, or at least decisive influence, over decisions made by national governments in the developing world; I just don't buy this.
Please think again. The anti-GMO misinformation campaign has been remarkably successful in many economically developed countries. This has lead to enormous political pressure to limit and over-regulate so-called GMOs. This has two effects on people and governments in the LEDCs where the nutrition problems are greatest. First is that they too are affected by the misinformation campaign. Secondly, you get the spurious "if they're not good/safe enough to be grown in EDCs, how are they good enough for us?" argument.
Whether the anti-GMO lobby has been more effective than the pro-GMO lobby may be a measure of wealth, political skill etc of the two lobbies; it tells us nothing at all about the truth of their respective claims..

The last response, over which I don't feel so confident and again which I have mentioned before, is that, while it may be reasonable to conclude that GM foods are safe to consume, it may in principle be impossible to prove their environmental innocuousness.
An amazing double-standard here! It's as near as dammit impossible to prove the environmental inocuousness of just about anything. Why should so-called GM crops be singled out for special treatment here? They are far more rigorously tested than (say) new organic varieties, so why should there be more fear of their potential environmental harm?
If we can solve the problem of poor nutrition worldwide without introducing an extra unquantifiable risk, that would be better, obviously. But I am not sure about the risk/benefit calculations around this subject.
Short of taking a degree in bio-sciences, the population needs a manageable education in the subject. Could the bio-scientists perhaps take a look at what cosmology/theoretical physics has achieved over recent decades?

Nick
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Re: GM and the Greens

#168 Post by Nick » July 13th, 2015, 3:23 pm

Alan H wrote:
Nick wrote:But how would you respond to the accusation that though we may produce a better pig (say) by selectively breeding pigs, it is inherently more "dangerous" when the mixture of genetic components goes far beyond any possible combination which could be obtained naturally?
By asking the question why you believe it's inherently more dangerous and what evidence you have for it.
The problem with that as an answer, is that it does nothing much to convince anyone of the safety of GM. Surely it is not somehow unscientific to be concerned that something might be a problem? Especially if one doesn't know the answer. Surely to assume there is no danger is potentially worse than assuming (for the moment) that there is?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#169 Post by Tetenterre » July 13th, 2015, 3:31 pm

Nick wrote: it is inherently more "dangerous" when the mixture of genetic components goes far beyond any possible combination which could be obtained naturally? Like a fish gene in a pig, say?
Or genes to produce human insulin in a bacterium? Ask Type-1 diabetics how they feel about that.

Genes have been crossing species barriers (usually through the agency of viruses) for over 2 billion years; why should intentional targeted transgenesis be any more potentially harmful than random untargeted transgenesis?
Steve

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Tetenterre
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Re: GM and the Greens

#170 Post by Tetenterre » July 13th, 2015, 3:42 pm

thundril wrote:The question is not (or ought not to be) whether our actions are better or worse than 'nature's' for life on Earth generally, but whether are actions are better or worse for us.
Granted. Would you say that cheaper, more available food of higher nutritional quality is better or worse for us?
Whether the anti-GMO lobby has been more effective than the pro-GMO lobby may be a measure of wealth, political skill etc of the two lobbies; it tells us nothing at all about the truth of their respective claims..
Indeed; the science can tell us that -- and it does.
If we can solve the problem of poor nutrition worldwide without introducing an extra unquantifiable risk, that would be better, obviously. But I am not sure about the risk/benefit calculations around this subject.
Any change we make carries "an extra unquantifiable risk"; I suggest that we need to make changes (because people are malnourished).
Steve

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Alan H
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Re: GM and the Greens

#171 Post by Alan H » July 13th, 2015, 3:52 pm

Nick wrote:
Alan H wrote:
Nick wrote:But how would you respond to the accusation that though we may produce a better pig (say) by selectively breeding pigs, it is inherently more "dangerous" when the mixture of genetic components goes far beyond any possible combination which could be obtained naturally?
By asking the question why you believe it's inherently more dangerous and what evidence you have for it.
The problem with that as an answer, is that it does nothing much to convince anyone of the safety of GM. Surely it is not somehow unscientific to be concerned that something might be a problem? Especially if one doesn't know the answer. Surely to assume there is no danger is potentially worse than assuming (for the moment) that there is?
Nick. That was not supposed to be an answer to that specific question: the question (such as it was) required an understanding of just why there was a presumption that GMOs might be dangerous. Only once the answerer has understood that could he/she begin to address those fears. It's like someone asking the directions to where you are: it cannot be answered until you know where the questioner currently is.
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?

thundril
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Re: GM and the Greens

#172 Post by thundril » July 13th, 2015, 5:46 pm

Tetenterre wrote:
thundril wrote:The question is not (or ought not to be) whether our actions are better or worse than 'nature's' for life on Earth generally, but whether are actions are better or worse for us.
Granted. Would you say that cheaper, more available food of higher nutritional quality is better or worse for us?
That depends. We might be better off with less of certain foods, despite high nutritional quality. Beef overdosed with growth homone comes to mind. If we cut our beef consumption significantly, we could use the released land to great nutritional/environmental effect.
Whether the anti-GMO lobby has been more effective than the pro-GMO lobby may be a measure of wealth, political skill etc of the two lobbies; it tells us nothing at all about the truth of their respective claims..
Indeed; the science can tell us that -- and it does.
If we can solve the problem of poor nutrition worldwide without introducing an extra unquantifiable risk, that would be better, obviously. But I am not sure about the risk/benefit calculations around this subject.
Any change we make carries "an extra unquantifiable risk"; I suggest that we need to make changes (because people are malnourished).
It is very clear that the current modes of production/distribution are failing miserably to feed the people of the world. So something has to change. If the potential contribution of GM to this effort is greater than the potential risks, I would certain be in favour. But I feel very much that we need a discussion that is more technically informed, and less politically polarised.

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Re: GM and the Greens

#173 Post by Tetenterre » July 13th, 2015, 7:22 pm

thundril wrote:If the potential contribution of GM to this effort is greater than the potential risks, I would certain be in favour. But I feel very much that we need a discussion that is more technically informed, and less politically polarised.
OK: As I understand it, there are essentially five ways that genetic change occurs:

* Gene mutation due to radiation or chemical agents.
* Insertion of genetic material by viruses.
* Natural selection.
* Artificial selection.
* Laboratory-based, intentional, targeted genetic splicing.

The first three have essentially random outcomes.

Can anyone suggest a good reason that the last one is inherently more dangerous than any of the others?
Steve

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Re: GM and the Greens

#174 Post by Nick » July 13th, 2015, 8:54 pm

thundril wrote:It is very clear that the current modes of production/distribution are failing miserably to feed the people of the world. So something has to change.
No. What is clear is that today, more people are being fed, and better, than ever before. What we need is more of the same, not a change in direction.

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Re: GM and the Greens

#175 Post by animist » July 13th, 2015, 8:56 pm

Tetenterre wrote:
thundril wrote:If the potential contribution of GM to this effort is greater than the potential risks, I would certain be in favour. But I feel very much that we need a discussion that is more technically informed, and less politically polarised.
OK: As I understand it, there are essentially five ways that genetic change occurs:

* Gene mutation due to radiation or chemical agents.
* Insertion of genetic material by viruses.
* Natural selection.
* Artificial selection.
* Laboratory-based, intentional, targeted genetic splicing.

The first three have essentially random outcomes.

Can anyone suggest a good reason that the last one is inherently more dangerous than any of the others?
indeed no, I certainly cannot and I doubt that the last is any more "dangerous" than these three processes that you've identified. But is that the right question? We are talking about policy here, ie whether GM food adoption is a judicious option for the human race at present, and I don't see that comparing the fifth form of genetic change with what are three uncontrollable natural processes, which presumably have been going on for millennia, is at all relevant to policy decisions

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Re: GM and the Greens

#176 Post by thundril » July 13th, 2015, 8:57 pm

Tetenterre wrote:
thundril wrote:If the potential contribution of GM to this effort is greater than the potential risks, I would certain be in favour. But I feel very much that we need a discussion that is more technically informed, and less politically polarised.
OK: As I understand it, there are essentially five ways that genetic change occurs:

* Gene mutation due to radiation or chemical agents.
* Insertion of genetic material by viruses.
* Natural selection.
* Artificial selection.
* Laboratory-based, intentional, targeted genetic splicing.

The first three have essentially random outcomes.

Can anyone suggest a good reason that the last one is inherently more dangerous than any of the others?
No. But I can't prove that God doesn't exist, either. The level of my ignorance demonstrates nothing but itself.
One of (or a combination of) the first three will eventually result in the extinction of our species. The probability is that GM plant propagation is not as dangerous as any one of them. Wow!

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Re: GM and the Greens

#177 Post by animist » July 13th, 2015, 9:00 pm

Tetenterre wrote:
Nick wrote: it is inherently more "dangerous" when the mixture of genetic components goes far beyond any possible combination which could be obtained naturally? Like a fish gene in a pig, say?
Or genes to produce human insulin in a bacterium? Ask Type-1 diabetics how they feel about that.

Genes have been crossing species barriers (usually through the agency of viruses) for over 2 billion years; why should intentional targeted transgenesis be any more potentially harmful than random untargeted transgenesis?
I have addressed your last question in my immediately previous post. As to GM for medical rather than food supply motives, I have no opinion on that, apart from unease at the number of laboratory animals involved, and feel that this is a different issue from that which we have been discussing

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Re: GM and the Greens

#178 Post by thundril » July 13th, 2015, 9:03 pm

Nick wrote:
thundril wrote:It is very clear that the current modes of production/distribution are failing miserably to feed the people of the world. So something has to change.
No. What is clear is that today, more people are being fed, and better, than ever before. What we need is more of the same, not a change in direction.
'The same' in this context, means continuing with the past and present reality; namely, that a large percentage of the people in this world do not have any means of feeding themselves, or their descendents, in any foreseeable future. Doesn't this have to change?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#179 Post by Nick » July 13th, 2015, 9:14 pm

What have you in mind?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#180 Post by thundril » July 13th, 2015, 10:41 pm

There is a great distance between recognising that something has to change, and deciding exactly what needs to change. Unless we agree that something needs to change, there's not much point in any further discussion, is there?

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Re: GM and the Greens

#181 Post by animist » July 13th, 2015, 11:24 pm

Tetenterre wrote:
animist wrote:enough food is produced already, it's getting it to the people who need it which is the problem.
That is a problem, not the problem. Another significant problem is spoilage. However, distribution would be less of a problem if food could be grown closer to (or, preferably, by) those who need it. Also, as I am sure you know, nutrition is not merely about quantity; quality is essential as well. This is one reason why Golden Rice could have such a beneficial effect.
spoilage can undoubtedly be a problem in long distance food distribution - is that you mean to get at here? If so, at least you are getting a bit towards the nitty gritty of what I have tried to address. But you are not being too clear here, I think. Distribution is in principle less of a problem if the distances involved are less rather than more, and I guess spoilage of the good being distributed could be a concrete example of these possible problems of distance, although many other factors influence the risk of spoilage, and it is not clear that food produced relatively close to the final consumer but in less than optimal conditions is less subject to spoilage than produce transported for longer but under better conditions. But, anyway, do you have any evidence of this supposed superiority of more local produce in the real world? In the absence of this evidence, I do not think that you are entitled to say that food distribution to the poorest people is simply one problem, not THE problem.

Golden rice - this was an important topic in the video posted by Alan a few weeks ago. I don't think you commented on my response to this at the time, but, while golden rice may have its advantages, the message from the Greenpeace video was that there are indigenous plants, notably moringa, which might be able to solve the problem (in this case, vitamin A deficiency) without recourse to GM. Again, when we come down to specifics, there seems to be a lack of proof that GM food is either hotly desired by developing nations or really does benefit them.

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