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Warblogging & GM

October 19th, 2004

Since some readers want to debate these issues more or less continuously, I’m putting up a special-purpose post covering all issues related to the war on terrorism and the Howard doctrine (whatever you think it is) and also on Genetically Modified crops. Maybe there will be some cross-fertilisation or other exchange of genetic material.

For the record, my view on Iraq is that elections must go ahead in January come what may, and that the occupation forces should be withdrawn as soon as possible thereafter. On GM foods I favor stringent safety testing and compulsory labelling, and would like to see more effort put into developing products that would actually benefit people in poor countries and less into political point-scoring.

Having set this thread up, I’ll keep it running as long as needed, and will move or delete comments on these topics from posts on other issues.

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  1. Fyodor
    October 6th, 2004 at 14:48 | #1

    Thanks, JQ. I’ll kick off with my critique of the Rodent’s foreign policy.

    JW Howard’s military adventurism has not advanced Australia’s security or the critical diplomatic relationships with our regional neighbours. The diplomatic incompetence of Howard and Downer has damaged our ability to cooperate militarily with our neighbours in pursuing potential terrorist threats, and risked our other interests in the region, notably in trade.

    IMO Australia’s modest involvement in Afghanistan can be justified on the basis that we were participating in the hunt for Al Qaeda. However, the invasion of Iraq was a disaster mitigated only (and only partially) by the removal of Saddam. More importantly, that invasion served no purpose for Australia, and needlessly risked Australian lives. Why did Australian service men and women need to risk their lives for what were only token, symbolic contributions? Base politics is the answer.

    The Howard-Hill defence policy has no strategic coherence. If it has any over-arching objective, it appears to be the provision of expeditionary forces for the use of the USA. The purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter seems likely to go down as one of the great white elephants of defence purchasing, the AAW destroyers don’t fit with our maritime requirements and we’re buying US tanks we don’t need. We still don’t have sufficient infantry to serve our existing needs. After nine years of Howard, our defence capabilities need a thorough review and refocus on defence needs.

    Howard’s recent diplomatic blunder on the issue of pre-emptive strikes has cost us the support of our neighbours, and thus ironically damaged our ability to gather information on potential terrorist threats and to attack them where they lie.

    Howard has shown an inability to understand our geopolitical circumstances, and the importance of regional ties. His nostalgic attachment to the Anglo-American security umbrella has led him, time and again, to focus on placating the USA at every turn, without considering Australia’s national interests. His foreign policy is simplistic, crude and ineffective. The execution of diplomacy by Downer has been clownish and deeply embarassing for our country.

  2. Steve
    October 6th, 2004 at 15:10 | #2

    With regards GM crops, I just can’t understand the blanket opposition to these products. Yes there is need for stringent testing and labelling, but the potential benefits of GM are too great just to blanket ban them.

    This is one area where I strongly oppose the Greens policies. GM crops have the potential to be an environmental boon in terms of cheap high yields while reducing pesticide use. The upside in environmental terms, if handled properly, is too big to ignore.

  3. Tony Healy
    October 6th, 2004 at 15:40 | #3

    The four strange defence decisions I mentioned in the other thread, that seem to suggest a readiness to surrender our independence, are:

    1. buying larger troopships than we need, at the cost of having fewer than would suit our environment. Those larger troopships are the ideal size to form groups like America’s Marine Expeditionary Units, which are the forces sent overseas.

    2. buying the Abrams tanks so quickly. While they are undoubtedly needed, there is a suggestion they’re intended to support flag-waving overseas deployments. Australia doesn’t currently get much recognition for our overseas deployments, because we can’t deploy at Division strength ( about 10,000 troops) and thus aren’t given responsiblity for specific areas. To deploy a Division, we need modern tanks like the Abrams.

    3. surrendering the most important of our deterrent capabilities, the F-111, well before we will have serious alternatives. This means we expect to have friends with strike capability.

    4. choosing the budget fighter (the JSF) to replace our FA-18’s at a time when the region is upgrading to first tier fighters. This means we expect to be able to call on US F-22 squadrons next decade.

  4. wilful
    October 6th, 2004 at 15:51 | #4

    Tony, you’re looking for coherence and a long-term strategy in those purchases, which isn’t necessarily so. Those Abrams are just a really dumb idea. Not that the Beazer would do it differently.

    The JSF is just about what we could afford. The F-22 is too expensive for the US!

    These three new air warfare destroyers don’t seem to reflect their probable service uses, they’re very much designed to be used within a coalition, probably in the Taiwan Straits.

  5. wilful
    October 6th, 2004 at 15:54 | #5

    As for GM, well I too don’t agree with a blanket ban, but I very much support an extremely cautious approach, and absolutely do NOT trust the Monsantos and Aventis’ of the world. The benefits to the third world are going to remain pretty well mythical if these companies are driving anything. Experience in north america with canola has shown that they cannot ever be trusted.

  6. Neil
    October 6th, 2004 at 16:25 | #6

    To my mind, the best safety precedent for the use of GM crops comes from the use of radiation-induced randomly genetically mutated crops – the latter appear to have been used for the last couple of decades without the slightest concern. In fact, even with the blatant fear-mongering of GM crops in recent years there is still appears to be no opposition to these random mutants. I would really appreciate it if someone could enlighten me as to why they are concerned about GM but not random mutation.

    My feeling on labeling is simple – since there is no evidence of health issues specifically caused by the GM process the labeling is of an ethical/religious nature. The Government should not be in the business of MANDATORY ethical/religious labeling. If you want it, then you pay for it – eg. buy certified organic food.


  7. Niall
    October 6th, 2004 at 20:26 | #7

    On Iraq, I fail to understand how any form of democratic election process can be carried out in an environment such as exists in that country presently. As perverse as it is to have a puppet government in place calling itself independant of the only security force available, I strongly believe that elections must be held off until such times as some form of consensus can be obtained from the religious elements, which will ultimately control Iraqi politics, to allow some form of election of a stand-alone government by the people. Sadly, this process may well be prolonged as the definition between pure terrorist and resistance elements has been allowed to blur by the occupying powers. Two choices appear to remain: Get the hell out and allow the country to find its own level insofar as culture/politics/religion goes, which would cost many lives, or stay, get harder, get tougher and make concerted efforts to clear out the Zaqawi’s before exiting the veil. Either way, a lot of people will die.

    On GM food crops……the rhetoric is nice, but the evidence of failsafe is sadly lacking. If GM foods can deliver increased yields at minimal risk to human life, then do the testing in the countries which need the so-called benefits most. Developed nations with standardised non-GM cropping and marketing regimes don’t want GM, won’t tolerate the risks to their markets of testing and probably most relevant, don’t need GM or the so-called benefits. I don’t doubt GM food crops have a place, but the evidence that we, the human species, have a need for genetic manipulation in the here and now, just doesn’t exist beyond the need for Monsanto and Bayer, et al, to increase profit margins.

  8. Michael Burgess
    October 6th, 2004 at 21:18 | #8

    On GM crops. The anti-GM crowd keep referring to the fact that they don’t trust the likes of Monsanto. Neither do I. However, it is not just large corporations who are outraged by the excessive barriers being put up to the development of genetically modified crops but also the vast majority of scientists undertaking research in this area. As they, and the founder of Greenpeace have pointed out, GM crops have massive potential in the developing world in a number of areas such as reducing blindness and reducing the amount of chemicals used.

    Unfortunately, as the massively misguided debate over the impact of the Green revolution in India and elsewhere indicates, the analysis of environmentalists and others (a whole generation of Marxist academics and members of non-government organisations such as Community Aid Abroad) is generally driven almost solely by ideology rather than empirical analysis when it comes to issues involving the consequences of agriculture modernisation.

    We have seen in Australian with the still birth of what would othewise be a very viable nuclear power industry the damage green hysteria can do. It would be a great pity if they were to misuse their increasing political influence to also hinder the development of GM technologies.

  9. Steve
    October 7th, 2004 at 11:06 | #9


    You are making the assumption that GM gives benefits at a risk to human lives. The potential though is that by reduction of pesticide use (for example), there could be a benefit to humans lives. This is particularly the case in industries such as cotton that use aerial spraying, which inevitably spreads in the the surrounding waterways, towns etc.

    Human lives and the environment are being harmed by current agricultural practices, if GM can provide an economically viable way to reduce this why shouldn’t we consider it?

  10. d
    October 7th, 2004 at 14:19 | #10

    ProfQ in an earlier thread asked for evidence that The Australian Greens have tried to interfere with use of GM crops in Africa.

    One link showing this is


    Other links also show up in a google search.

    Earlier posts have shown thar corn grown in Africa is a cause of cancer due to mould that produces natural toxins called mycotoxins.
    GM corn varieties (Bt varieties) have much lower risks of cancer and birth defects, and are therefore much healthier

  11. kyan gadac
    October 8th, 2004 at 00:34 | #11

    That last comment d, is crap. Bt varieties have no effect on the growth of fungi and ‘lower risks of cancer and birth defects’ is crap – compared to what? Other varieties of corn – crap, bullshit. References please. You parrot industry bullshit till you don’t even know what your talking about my friend. Try turning on your brain and throwing away the script for a change.

  12. d
    October 8th, 2004 at 07:29 | #12

    Here is one abstract of many that are relevant.
    Instead of asking for more why not check them youself at the National Library of Medicine NCBI Pubmed literature service

    J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Feb 13;50(4):728-31.

    Fungal growth and fusarium mycotoxin content in isogenic traditional maize and
    genetically modified maize grown in France and Spain.

    Bakan B, Melcion D, Richard-Molard D, Cahagnier B.

    Laboratoire de Microbiologie et Technologie Cerealieres, Institut National de la
    Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Nantes, France.

    Fungi of the genus Fusarium are common fungal contaminants of maize and are also
    known to produce mycotoxins. Maize that has been genetically modified to express
    a Bt endotoxin has been used to study the effect of insect resistance on fungal
    infection of maize grains by Fusarium species and their related mycotoxins.
    Maize grain from Bt hybrids and near-isogenic traditional hybrids was collected
    in France and Spain from the 1999 crop, which was grown under natural
    conditions. According to the ergosterol level, the fungal biomass formed on Bt
    maize grain was 4-18 times lower than that on isogenic maize. Fumonisin B(1)
    grain concentrations ranged from 0.05 to 0.3 ppm for Bt maize and from 0.4 to 9
    ppm for isogenic maize. Moderate to low concentrations of trichothecenes and
    zearalenone were measured on transgenic as well as on non-transgenic maize.
    Nevertheless, significant differences were obtained in certain regions. The
    protection of maize plants against insect damage (European corn borer and pink
    stem borer) through the use of Bt technology seems to be a way to reduce the
    contamination of maize by Fusarium species and the resultant fumonisins in maize
    grain grown in France and Spain.

  13. d
    October 8th, 2004 at 07:37 | #13

    This one , kyan, shows the kind of problem in South Africa that is being promoted tby thiose who sabotage the introduction of GM corn:

    Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):253-6.

    Exposure of rural and urban populations in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, to
    fumonisin B(1) in maize.

    Chelule PK, Gqaleni N, Dutton MF, Chuturgoon AA.

    Environmental Health Research Unit, School of Medical Sciences, Nelson R.
    Mandela School of Medicine, University of Natal, Congella 4013, South Africa.

    We surveyed households in rural and urban areas of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa,
    to assess the exposure of the inhabitants to fumonisin B(1) (FB(1)), a mycotoxin
    produced by Fusarium verticillioides. In southern African regions maize, used as
    a staple food by the population, is prone to F. verticillioides infection.
    Furthermore, high levels of FB(1) in maize have been associated with esophageal
    cancer in South Africa. We assessed exposure of the population to FB(1) at three
    levels, namely, by analyzing stored maize, plate-ready food, and feces. The
    positions of participating households in the rural area were recorded using
    geographic information systems (GIS) for ease and accuracy of follow-up. Of the
    50 rural maize samples examined, 32% had levels of FB(1) ranging from 0.1-22.2
    mg/kg, whereas 29% of the 28 cooked maize (phutu) samples contained FB(1)
    ranging from 0.1-0.4 mg/kg. The incidence and levels of FB(1) in feces were 33%
    and 0.5-39.0 mg/kg, respectively. Of the 49 urban maize samples analyzed 6.1%
    had a range of 0.2-0.5 mg/kg FB(1), whereas 3 of 44 fecal samples (6%) ranged
    between 0.6 and 16.2 mg/kg. No FB(1) was detected in urban phutu samples.
    Because these levels are lower than those published from regions in South Africa
    with high incidence of esophageal cancer, it may be concluded that the risk of
    esophageal cancer from FB(1) exposure is lower in the KwaZulu Natal region.

  14. d
    October 8th, 2004 at 07:40 | #14

    And in case, kyan, you think by remarks about birth defects are not considerd, read the following recent paper:

    J Nutr. 2004 Apr;134(4):711-6.

    Fumonisins disrupt sphingolipid metabolism, folate transport, and neural tube
    development in embryo culture and in vivo: a potential risk factor for human
    neural tube defects among populations consuming fumonisin-contaminated maize.

    Marasas WF, Riley RT, Hendricks KA, Stevens VL, Sadler TW, Gelineau-van Waes J,
    Missmer SA, Cabrera J, Torres O, Gelderblom WC, Allegood J, Martinez C, Maddox
    J, Miller JD, Starr L, Sullards MC, Roman AV, Voss KA, Wang E, Merrill AH Jr.

    Medical Research Council, PROMEC Unit, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa.
    [email protected]

    Fumonisins are a family of toxic and carcinogenic mycotoxins produced by
    Fusarium verticillioides (formerly Fusarium moniliforme), a common fungal
    contaminant of maize. Fumonisins inhibit ceramide synthase, causing accumulation
    of bioactive intermediates of sphingolipid metabolism (sphinganine and other
    sphingoid bases and derivatives) as well as depletion of complex sphingolipids,
    which interferes with the function of some membrane proteins, including the
    folate-binding protein (human folate receptor alpha). Fumonisin causes neural
    tube and craniofacial defects in mouse embryos in culture. Many of these effects
    are prevented by supplemental folic acid. Recent studies in LMBc mice found that
    fumonisin exposure in utero increases the frequency of developmental defects and
    administration of folate or a complex sphingolipid is preventive. High
    incidences of neural tube defects (NTD) occur in some regions of the world where
    substantial consumption of fumonisins has been documented or plausibly suggested
    (Guatemala, South Africa, and China); furthermore, a recent study of NTD in
    border counties of Texas found a significant association between NTD and
    consumption of tortillas during the first trimester. Hence, we propose that
    fumonisins are potential risk factors for NTD, craniofacial anomalies, and other
    birth defects arising from neural crest cells because of their apparent
    interference with folate utilization.

  15. d
    October 8th, 2004 at 08:10 | #15

    Green groups promote various versions of the so called “Precautionary Principle” (PP). On the evidence posted in the last three entries alone, the PP says all non-GM corn should be withdrawn from the market, and the onus is on those who grow and argue for NON-GM corn to prove that it is safe – so how about it , PP advocates and organic corn growers especially ,does the PP tell us the correct decision here?

  16. d
    October 8th, 2004 at 11:56 | #16

    “…and would like to see more effort put into developing products that would actually benefit people in poor countries and less into political point-scoring.”

    Bt-corn , a major Gm crop, actually benefits poor people in Africa , China, and central America.

    The response of the Green anti-GM movement has almostly exclusively been opposition, irrational misinformation, denial of evidence, and personal abuse of those who try and present the argument, as illustrated by comments on this and previous threads. Just what is going on with ethics of these supposedly “civil society ” activist groups?

  17. kyan gadac
    October 8th, 2004 at 22:26 | #17

    “Infection of maize by Fusarium species and contamination with fumonisins are generally influenced by many factors including environmental conditions (climate, temperature, humidity), insect infestation and pre- and postharvest handling.”

    from “Infection of maize by Fusarium species and ontamination with fumonisin in africa” P. Fandohan et al. African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 2 (12), pp. 570-579, December 2003 here’s a link to the pdf file

    Oh dear, that was the first article I came across Googling – quite an extensive reivew really. Lots of ways of getting fumosin contamination and none of them really are cured by Bt technology perhaps because the corn in south africa gets contaminated by fusarium without the assistance of european insects. Anyhow, the point is – your imputations of evil design against greens have absolutely no shred of evidence to back them up. This article with, no axe to grind, doesn’t even mention you’re genetically modified corn even though it’s written a year after the one you quote – wonder why?

    You sound like a member of the democratic socialist party ranting – either way you’re a fanatic or you’re being paid for wasting web space. I suspect the latter.

  18. d
    October 9th, 2004 at 04:17 | #18

    thank you for yet another example of ad hominem comment rather than discussion of the issues.
    May I emphasise that I would never want to say that the Greens have evil design, or evil intentions for that matter. It is the knowable, actual and predicable consequences of good intentions that matter most, but if the consequences are evil, such as unnecessary denial of demonstrably safe food aid in a famine, and sabotage of research to address the serious food challenge of the coming decades is the outcome, I dont feel shy about criticism. Hugh increases in food prices that will come when food supply exactly matches demand for essential commodities amd this will surely harm the poor of the big cities who simply cannot grow their own food.

    A simple spreadsheet can calculate when demand will equal supply if we dont continue to improve agricultural productivity and it is not far in the future. GM is the best of the general tools we have to continue improving farm productivity. Ag research has long time lags, but we dont have that much time.

    And we do need over the next few decades to globally increase food output by 100% on the same land we have now or less, with less available water, with growth of cities eating up the best land, with plant variety improvements running out of steam, when if perfectly distributed our current food can only feed half that increase, when the FAO say we need to draw on all the tools of science to achieve these difficult goals, when the overall environmental challenges raise extra worries about whether current productivity levels are sustainable.
    All I hear about these challeges from the Greens is dismissive complacency that we already have enough food: just think about it, the same people who trumpet a global environmental crisis at every opportunity don’t understand that that “crisis” is relevant to issues of food security – now why is that? I dont think it represents dishonesty, but it surely indicates some emotional,self righteous muddleheadedness caused by over the top zealotry and hatred of capitalism.
    The problem of this muddleheadeded is that it the poor Africans and Indians that will be harmed, unintentionally of course, not by design, but does that mean it is morally exusable? The famine in the 1960s in China wasn’t by design either.

  19. d
    October 9th, 2004 at 06:17 | #19

    PS And K
    Protection against fumonisins is not confined to European studies, and just because there are indeed many factors that influence level of mould growth does not mean that Bt-corn doesnt have the effect of decreasing risks, which it does

  20. kyan gadac
    October 9th, 2004 at 23:09 | #20

    Quite right – the problem of farming is the 1000 accidents that may befall a crop before it reaches market to paraphrase the chemist Berthollet.

    The question is which of the accidents is it the most cost effective to meet. The costs of GM grain versus the costs of improving storage, or even asking whether the corn is the most apprpriate crop to grow in a particular situation.

    As I pointed out the article quoted was a summary of the state of play with corn biotechnology advances and lists a large number of potential advances in reducing the impact of fusarium. Which BTW is not necessarily the biggest threat to health and food security. Nevertheless they don’t even refer to the article you quote on bioengineering corn as a possibility.

    If you are so committed to curing world hunger you’d think you’d have some comment to make about the relative costs and merits of the technology that your talking about than ranting about “unnecessary denial of demonstrably safe food aid in a famine”.

  21. d
    October 10th, 2004 at 08:02 | #21

    I’m somewhat puzzled as to why you think I am “ranting” in voicing my distast for the intellectual arrogance of Green-activists who have been exploiting scientific misinformation to cause denial to poor starved Africans of safe food aid in an famine.

    Let me restate it more clearly – EU politics to protect the interests of CAP subsidised farmers (about US$15000/farm), is using EU money (about US$135 million according to WSJ))to fund various anti-GM fearmongering movements outside of Europe, including Africa, and has interrupted food aid during recent famines in Africa, and is making it more likely that poor people in Africa , China, and Cenral America will continue to be unnecessarily exposed to fuminosins and other cancer or birth defect agents. Eg Greenpeace postures,EU bribes and threatens trade barriers (eg in Namibia), thirdworld suffers.

    Much of this chain of events is on the public record, and yet you call my concern about the moral ol integrity of those who are self appointed representatives of the moral high ground, and who are responsible for food aid denial “ranting”. Well you have just clearly demonstrated you are part of the problem.

    Now, after accusing me of spreading “crap”, you are contining to demonstrate that your lack knowledge is seemingly based on one about google search, and that you have still made no effort to make a commplete reading of the mycotoxin literature. I suggest you go and find some more mycotoxin papers. I have seen about 50.

    Also, my knowlege of this issue is based on good contacts with this information and with professionals in Africa.

    And in case you didn’t hear about it, just this last month a highly repected African Professor of Microbiology came out to Australian and presented this fumonisin story in detail at an International Biology Conference attended by hundreds of professional biologists, so the moral carelessness of the Green lobby movements on this issue is quite well known in the professional bioscience research community world wide. To coin a phrase “Not Happy, John”.

    And please do keep on claiming that these various ant-GM movement are not connected, and that the ALP is not connected either.The ALP are in this mess up to their necks in Australia. The Aust Cons Foundation on this take their lead on this from Greenpeace, and its ex-leader Tricia Caswell told me that herself directly. Peter Garrett organises an annual Green get together that includes all the main anti-GM parties , at Mittagong if I recall correctly. Unfornately it is an invitation only meeting,so I dont have details, but very clearly the main Green groups help each other on this issue. No one goes against the party line. Garrett was the first funder of anti-GM lobbiest- in Australia when the ACF-Genethics unit was started, and he’s now a Labor Party member in NSW. But in the face of these events, when I point out these connections all I get is accusations that I’m trying to smear people. I can assure you that I dont make such remarks of the cuff, or repeat remarks about “crimes against humanity” without being very sure of myself. Prof Q will probably agree with that as I showed some mettle on this site in the earlier DDT discussion.

    And also I know anti-GM activists in Australia are briefed on this issue and say nothing.

    This is their usual approach they take to major debate issues, that is silence and denial about their “mis-information” , I assume this silence is because they are not genuinely concerned about human welfare, but just want to be politiclly effective. Power has corrupted.

    May I illustrate the way the green movement have misinformed on other issues. Hebicide tolerant GM crops (eg RR canola, RRR cotton) provide a way to reduce use of undesirable herbicides on farms, and do so in the cotton industry in Austalia (see recent Syney U report mentioned by Miranda Divine in the SMH). This benefit has been predicted since a conference in Canberra in March 1995 at least, a conference attended by the main anti-GM activist in Australia, Mr Bob Phelps. For nearly 10 years Mr Phelps has never mentioned these favourable herbicide outcomes, argued by professional agronomists like GW Charles and IR Kennendy, or scientists like Charlie Arnzen, but continues to say, even a week ago, that GM crops will increase herbicide use. Mr Phelps attended that conference in 1995 (page 295 Conference Proceedings “Herbicide-resistant Crops and Pastures in Australian Farming systems” GD McLean and G Evans 1995, DPIE and BRI Canberra). Go figure.

    So please explain why people who clain to be environmentalists are justified to take such persistent “economies with the truth” and why peple such as your self continue to label those who are trying to get this message out as “agents of Monsanto” or similar denigration, as you are slyly implying in your posts.

    At this website there is much discussion about “lies”. But strangely, “lies” about food are exempt from many contributors scrutiny. This strange blind morality particularly puzzles me. But as they say in the USA, “what goes around comes around”.

  22. d
    October 10th, 2004 at 08:15 | #22

    As far as costs of GM. Seed has to produce more benefit than the price premium to to be marketable, as long as there is freely available nonm-GM alternatives for farmers to buy. If GM doesnt help their crop yields enough , next season thel’ll switch back. There are econometric many studies showing that they can be better off buying GM seed. But the most obvous reason is the way in which say in Canada, the USA, Australian cotton, and in India this season, after trying the crops, and hearing what their neighbours experience, the farmers come back for more.
    If you dont know of these farming facts you dont know how to use the internet. Try Agbioview, ISAAA, IFRI and FAO. Forget Greenpeace.

  23. kyan gadac
    October 10th, 2004 at 16:36 | #23

    d obviously nothing I can say will persuade you to debate these issues fairly. Your claims of conspiracy are based upon the fact that a group of people agree with each other! I’d call that paranoia.

    Your claim that herbicide tolerant GM reduces the usage of herbicides overall is based upon an article by Miranda Devine refering to an unnamed Sydney Uni study. I suppose you call that peer reviewed research.

    The problem with glyphosate tolerant cotton. Is that weeds can and do develop glyphosate resistance along with the cotton. Simply because regular spraying with glyphosate will select for glyphosate resistant weeds, predictably within 5 to 50 generations. In the case of glyphosate the lower end seems more probable because it’s a contact herbicide and has little affect on weeds that can go dormant or rely upon corms or underground tubers. Many lilies and grasses for instance show tolernace to glyphosate.

    Ironically this article shows that increased glyphosate is associated with increased rates of fusarium in wheat. And this is why Monsanto has reportedly given up on GM wheat.

    I know it’s hard to understand but GM foods are not a viable sustainable solution. The narrowing of the genetic variability, the high reliance on fertilizers and water supply that comes with the high yield varieties – these all are catastrophes waiting to happen. I say this with certainty because these disasters have already befallen many ‘green revolution’ crops already. They are a consequence of the desire for uniformity in industrial production.

    Nature doesn’t work like that.

  24. d
    October 10th, 2004 at 19:54 | #24

    Again Kyan you continue to make speculative assumptions and statements about my views that are factually incorrect. You say for example, that my views on herbicide use are based on Miranda Divine’s article.

    They are not: My remarks are based on many, other, professional reports but most surprisingly you didn’t seem to notice that I quoted one of them in my postings here- here it is again:

    “Herbicide-resistant Crops and Pastures in Australian Farming systems” GD McLean and G Evans 1995, DPIE and BRI Canberra). It choc-a-bloc full of stuff, and it’s not the only one, and its pretty old. Also you don’t seem to be aware that Miranda Divine refers to 2004 a Syndney University Report by Professor Kennedy on herbicide use that I also have- why don’t you get that and read it too before you run around accusing me of only being aware of newspapers.

    I merely quoted that Miranda’s article as an illustration to show this information is even available in the SMH.

    Second I’m not making a conspiracy claim, I’m merely documenting loose connection and interactions that are publicly known, I didn’t and don’t assert there was a hidden secret conspiracy. Private meetings are perfectly ok – I just stated they exist to show that different organisations work together, and the existence of these connection is relevant to my argument.

    Now getting to your comments about Fusarium wilt. Now it may surprise you that the details you site about Fusarium are not new to me, and I’m more than willing to discuss them in detail but you should realize disease can be complex.

    Importantly, mere association does not necessarily imply causation, as this is particularly true with Fusarium disease in plants and use of glyphosate.

    For example, associations between glyphosate use and Fusarium disease in herbicide tolerant canola are well known (reported in the literature in Canada, but not Australia, -file on my hard disc).

    The complication to pointing the blame at glyphosate for causing Fusarium problems is that herbicide use is associated with another quite distinct practice that is much more plausible as the cause of Fusarium problems.

    That other fact is leaving crop stubble in the field till the next season which is likely to promote fungal growth in the organic matter of dead plants in contact with the soil and thus cause disease. I simple terms, straw in soil for long time grows mould!.

    This growth of fungus on dead plants is inherent in the minimum tillage practices that is carried out using herbicide tolerant crops for better soil conservation (Do a lit search on minimum till and non-till(age) farming and take in the full story here, its great ). The Fusarium problems are thus nothing directly to do with GM but indicate minimum tillage needs to be managed differently and carefully to avoid difficulties such as fusarium.

    Because of this complication, any ethical professional discussion of these issues needs to include the factors that complicate disease interpretation.

    Activists such as Greenpeace, don’t want their anti-GM propaganda to be spoiled by these real world details. I don’t expect you’ll find these facts from them. I haven’t seen it so far.

    Professional agronomists, agricultural scientists and farmers however have to face these realities if they are to stay on the farm. Best to start asking questions of those experts before you jump to conclusions

  25. d
    October 10th, 2004 at 20:47 | #25

    Since you seem to be so sketical that I actually read the original literature I have scanned section of a key paper in the 1995 book that I referred to (see below particularly key points ******)

    That paper documented the expection in 1995 that round up ready cotton was expected at that time to allow future reduction in use of less desirable herbicides in cotton, and expectation confirmed by later studies of actual use (eg SU Report 2004)

    Direct Quotes from 1995 paper on Herbicide tolerant Cotton:

    G. W. Charles G. A. Constable and I. R. Kennedy
    Research Agronomist (Weeds), NSW Agriculture
    CRC Director and Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Cotton Research Unit
    Reader in Agricultural Chemistry, Department of Agricultural Chemistry and Soil Science, University of Sydney 2006
    Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Cotton Production, Australian Cotton Research Institute, Narrabri NSW 2390

    Research is currently under way on the devel- opment of at least four separate genes for herbicide tolerance/resistance in cotton. In one case, the technology is within a year of commercialisation in the USA. Even with regulatory approval, herbicide-resistant cotton is at least three years away from release in Australia.
    The current weed management practices in Australian cotton involve multiple applications of herbicides ($85/ha application), hand chipping ($67/ha) and cultivation ($34/ha). These practices aim for weed-free fields, at minimum cost. The industry is reducing reliance on chippers due to high cost, limited availability and health concerns.
    New technology imminent in the cotton industry (pre-transgenic) includes the introduction of new herbicides and new application technology which have the potential to improve weed control and will further reduce reliance on cultivation and chippers.
    Our analyses of future scenarios indicate there is potential to reduce the amount of broad-spectrum residual herbicides, by using cotton resistant to specific non-residual herbicides. There is no evidence for the potential escape of genes from cotton into weeds or other crops and it is unlikely the technology will encourage irresponsible herbicide use. Research is needed to assess the potential for weeds to develop resistance to the herbicides used with transgenic cotton. Chemical and cultural management strategies will be required to develop integrated weed management systems to minimise the chance of weeds developing resistance to herbicides and to manage the build-up of herbicide tolerant weeds.
    There are at least two potential advantages of a transgenic, herbicide-resistant cotton plant. Of direct interest is better/easier/cheaper control of weeds, as the herbicide can be applied directly to the weed with minimal chance of affecting the crop. ****The second advantage is to reduce the use of prophylactic residual herbicides+++++. This reduction may have direct and indirect benefits to the environment.

    However, the introduction of glyphosate-resistant cotton (FG system) will have a major impact on the cotton weed control system, potentially completely replacing chipping, inter-row cultivation and residual broadleaf herbicides. This system relies heavily on glyphosate, but will need the development of an integrated weed management system including other herbicides to ensure its sustainability. Pyrithiobac will replace glyphosate on some occasions. The glyphosate system will give a direct cost saving as well as a yield increase due to the elimination of *****residual ‘broadleaf herbicides”******cultivation and chipping. This system will also have other benefits due to the very wide weed spectrum controlled by glyphosate, allowing much better control of problem weeds such as nutgrass.
    The trends in herbicide use
    A generalised comparison of the likely herbicide use in the cotton industry is presented in Table 5. Obviously our analysis greatly simplifies the situation, as seen by comparing system C from Table 5 and Table 1. Nevertheless, the estimated total herbicide use is quite similar between the two tables. Surprisingly, Table 5 indicates little change in the total herbicide use over the different systems, ******although there is a large reduction (70%) in the reliance on residual herbicides ******in the FG [GM roundup Ready Cotton] system. Given the current environ- mental concerns regarding residual herbicides in the cotton industry, this reduction in their use is a positive and desirable outcome.

  26. kyan gadac
    October 11th, 2004 at 21:11 | #26

    Here’s a link to an article from Colorado State University
    which points out that herbicide usage due to the introduction of glyphosate ready cotton has not reduced the usage of herbicides or at least the reductions that have occured can be attributed to other reasons. As the article points out cotton has experienced a reduction in insecticide use following the introduction of Bt Cotton.

    Regarding fusarium being caused by a variety of factors I think I pointed that out myself. The article from New Scientist is (I think) suggesting that, after controlling for the effects of minimum tillage, that there is an association between glyphosate. BUt at this stage I’m still trying to identify the source of the NS story.

  27. d
    October 12th, 2004 at 22:24 | #27

    thanks for the post. Indeed, I am familiar with many of the reports it cites. The way I read the CSU site though it doesn’t fit accurately with your paraphrase of it. Also , shifts away from persistent herbicides and expecially nasties like atrazine (triazine) are part of the story. There are some good USDA /ERS wbsites that deal with these type of data too.

  28. d
    October 13th, 2004 at 08:52 | #28

    “I know it’s hard to understand but GM foods are not a viable sustainable solution. ”

    Kyan, another major issue has also to be answered before we make any policy decision: whether the alterative approach advocated by those who want to stop GM crops is at all feasible, that is, what are the opportunity costs of blocking GM technology?

    The scientific evidence on this is alarming – we don’t have enough natural sources of nitrogen in the world to feed the current world’s populations, let alone the next 2 billion. Synthetic N fertiliser is already a major part of the global geochemical cycle, and this has happened only in the last 40 years. It is this fact that means that the alternatives to GM that you refer are totally impractical. By impractical, I also mean immoral to implement without a searching inquiry, as we are discussion the food supplies of billions of mostly poor people. And as rich people discussing whether to block technology that will mostly affect poor people, ethics demands we should be very careful to have an open complete discussion, that’s why I don’t hesitate to question you, and to challenge you why to think through your position carefully where I sincerely believe you to be in error.

    Perhaps I should remind you that the key hero of the Green movement, Peter Garrett, now an ALP member, who started the anti-GM movement in Australia, has also shown in a debate with Bjorn Lomborg on Australian TV which is on the public record, that he knew alarmingly little about actual global statistics on food sustainability and about the role of technology in progress against hunger, and given that established fact, you might be more forgiving of my skepticism about the credentials of the Green movement he is associated with to speak with any authority about food security issues. Hopefully this poor knowledge will be rectified by his service in parliament.

    So lets keep the opportunity costs of blocking and delaying agricultural research on the agenda.

    There is extensive good evidence that it will be foolish to shift from conventional agriculture, admittedly imperfect, to so-called “organic farming”, as the reason people use fertilizer and irrigation is that they get more food per hectare. Far better, IMHO, to try and improve conventional agriculture, and that is the main aim of all the science devoted to GM crops. This isanother path to sustainability

    By analogy with the historic (and highly analogous debate) between liberal democracy and utopian socialism, our current agriculture is the worst of all systems, except for all the alternatives.

    Organic practices that work well when organic farms are say 0.1% of all farming will not work if organic farms supply 80% of our food, if the organic farms take in N sources from off the farm, as they usually do. One has to do a complete global balance of N use, as done by agricultural economist-scientist Vaclav Smil.

    A common response I have heard given to this question by anti-GM activists is – “Oh these questions about availability of enough organic fertilizer are silly, as there are enormous amounts of sewage available from cities”. Think about that – where does the city sewage N (or other “sustainable organic” fertilizer) come from?

    And keep in mind the statistic discussed by Vaclav Smil in several erudite academic treatises that 50% of the nitrogen in the world’s current food comes from the Haber-Bosch N-fixation process (eg Smil, V. 2001. Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.), and please tell where the organic food industry is going to get all the Nitrogen fertilizer they need to feed the 2 billion extra people fed by the Haber cycle N (let alone an extra 2 billion that coming over the next few decades).

    I have never seen an“organic” fertilizer based farming system scientific study where the land used to produce green fertilizer is shown in the accounting of yields per hectare. Please show me this if you can, several studies please, as this is an issue affecting food security for billions. The contrary evidence that synthetic N fertilizers (using a minor 2% of oil consumption, and not absolutely dependent on oil) boost food production per hectare is compelling., and substantiated by the history of Agriculture over the last 150 years.

    And as to whether Gm crops can be sustainable, Kyan, well it depends how GM technology isused as to whether they add to sustainability. I do indeed understand your concerns, having been immersed in environmental issues since before Rachel Carsen, and having heard “Silent Spring” as a top-20 song hit. The claim however that a technique offers no a viable solution is a very general predjudice(in my opinion absurd) you don’t offer proof of, and it is empirically disproved by actual environmentally beneficial results seen in the Gm cotton industry. Having just recently heard a talk by Prof R. Roush of UC Davis given at the Genetics Department of Melbourne University on how Bt crops are opening up all sorts of advances in integrated pest management which minimise use of synthetic chemical pesticides, I think that you ought to start following the current agricultural scientific literature more closely. (I can post some of the papers he cites in super journals like say PNAS USA to prove the point if you wish).

    “The narrowing of the genetic variability, the high reliance on fertilizers and water supply that comes with the high yield varieties – these all are catastrophes waiting to happen. I say this with certainty because these disasters have already befallen many ‘green revolution’ crops already.”

    Hang on Kyan, The Green revolution may have problems, and there are certainly substantial issues raised by reliance on fertilizers and irrigation to feed 2 billion people in the world, but it is immoral not to take seriously the problems that may occur in imposing utopian unproven ideas to change or replace the methods that feed billions for which we dont now have the spare land to feed, just because you claim current methods are not perfect. Very few institutions in this world are perfect, especially utopian revolutions. From what I said at the start, the onus is on you to show your utopian revolution to change agriculture will do no harm to 1-2 or so billion people who are fed because of the plant breeding, irrigation and fertilizer you deride. And as a warning sign you should think about what happened with other major utopian visions, you know, the miserable actual Soviet experiment, the pathetic Lysenko Affair which has many intellectual similarities with anti-GM ideology, the famines in the Ukraine, the “Great Leap forward” in China, and so on.

    “They are a consequence of the desire for uniformity in industrial production.”
    GM per se does not have anything to do with crop uniformity or monoculture. The addition of a new trait actually is an increase in biodiversity. Generally a GM trait is crossed with several elite varieties to create specialised varieties. The fact that there are about 500 varieties of soybeans, and many GM varieties proves the vacuity of general anti-GM mantra that GM is equivalent to monoculture. Finally, monocultutre itself, by raising yield actually spares other land for raising other crops, so local monoculture is not necessarily inconsistent with preserving larger scale community biodiversity., and this case is argued by data on total land use in India , where the 40 million (from memory) or so hectares spared by the Green revolution enabled land for growing other crops to be freed up.

    In short the simplistic mantra “monoculture bad, GM is monoculture” should, like all pseudo-religious mantras, be used with a little more sensitivity to the subtlyof the real present actual world we have to live in, and so lets not confuse worthy desires for crop biodiversity with the fundamental usefulness of GM technology which can be totally compatible with the promotion of crop diversity.

  29. cathy carey
    October 13th, 2004 at 14:32 | #29

    Leaving aside whether consumption of GM foods is advantageous or otherwise, a big reason not to introduce GM crops is that the demand for non-GM products is increasing worldwide; farmers don’t get a premium price for non-GM. SBS did a story a year or so ago which revealed close connections betweenthe GM lobby and farmers’ representative bodies which support the introduction of GM crops, however many farmers have strongly held concerns – not least organic farmers, who in many cases are unable to meet the demand for their products overseas, and whose industry will be jeopardised by possible contamination. WHat’s the hurry? All this nonsense about Australia being left behind is insane – do we think that if we don’t do it now Aventis will refuse to sell us GM seed further down the track? Hardly likely. What’s wrong with waiting to see if and when the problems can be ironed out?

  30. Ros
    October 13th, 2004 at 19:32 | #30

    Thank you d, though your efforts appear to be wasted. Cathy’s comments about organic farming for the affluent of the west seem cruel at best. Say whats the hurry to the hungry and the overworked female farmers of Africa. It is also my understanding that something like 90% plus of our GM canola is sold to 4 countries, China, Japan, Pakistan and the 4th I forget who have no problem with GM, price is their concern. To not even wonder if Europe’s GM resistance is informed by the need for artificial trade barriers has some validity is hard to understand. Look at how they behave about agricultural trade. This indifference to the needy of the world gets quite tiresome. Who could feel good about those in Zambia and Zimbabwe who starved while warehouses of GM corn sat there rotting because some wackos from UN bodies actually said that they were saving them from being hurt.
    A little common sense might lead one to the view that GM is more likely to be safe than dangerous and thus the opportunity to increase the surplus production for the women who do most of the work in Africa is a great outcome. It is very hard to respect Greenpeace when they would rather people starved, or another of their monstrous moral positions, died from malaria because their is some risk to birds at the upper end of the food chain from DDT. It feels so religious, we are hurting you for your own good. You will get your reward in the next world?

  31. kyan gadac
    October 13th, 2004 at 19:50 | #31

    You accuse me of utopian schemes when all I have expressed is scepticism at you outlandish claims about GM technology. I refuted your claim that herbicide ready corn leads to a reduction in herbicides, you hem and haw about reductions in residual herbicides versus others. Do you think reducing Atrazine pollution of ground water only possible through the use of GM technology?

    I have said nothing about N fixation so you rave about that is just that – a rave. Moreover, it’s a deceitful rave becuase you conveniently forget to mention the downside of N fertilizers which is acidification of soil and pollution of water. These aren’t GM issues. They are issues that have been around for years and are well documented. In your utopian vision of a better future through science – perhaps you’d care to explain exactly how the current massive use of N fertilizers is sustainable in the face of these problems. You accuse me of all sorts of utopian idealism when in truth all I have done is expressed some scepticism at the hyperbole of your claims and the aggressiveness of your language.

  32. johng
    October 13th, 2004 at 21:43 | #32

    This debate between kyan and d is a classic example of the debates that occur between envronmentalists and their opponents. It also reminds me of debates between free market idealogues and their opponents. And also debates between Christian fundamentalist creationists and Darwinians. With all the debates there is unthinking ideology on both sides, though in the case of the Darwinians they have the facts and the arguments to back their case -just the way they present their arguments sometimes is ideological.
    I personally do not think that arguing from a pre-determined ideological position is helpful in discovering the truth, but it is a very common human thing to do. One cannot argue without having values, of course, but the idealogues have a rigid set of beliefs about the way the world works and the way it should work which makes debate very difficult.
    People’s ideological positions do change, but I suspect not much of the change is due to intellectual arguments.
    There much be advantages in this tendency to ideological positions, because it is so common.

    It is a way of processing a lot of information quickly. There is so much information out there we all need to use intellectual shortcuts to judge what we will consider to be reliable and not so reliable information. The ideologist is perhaps just extreme in using shortcuts. ie if the ideology is comprehensive, one only needs a small amount of information in order to know whether to agree or disagree with a particular position.
    Are there other reasons?

  33. d
    October 14th, 2004 at 15:53 | #33

    First point Kyan, you have not refuted the claim that herbicide tolerant crops can and do lead to reductions in persistent herbicide use. You may have shown that there are other factors happening but I noticed no refutation in what you have said so far. You have still not addressed the content of the Sydney U rr cotton report for instance.
    I have, though, noticed a common error in logic that you make. I make an assertion that one factor has a role in some effect. You discover another paper that says many factors influence this particular outcome, and then you claim this is proof my statement is false. Sorry, proof of falseness doesn’t come from there being additional causes of an outcome. All it means is that we need to be more detailed and careful in the way we analyze data.
    Second, you seem to think that if a paper that omits discussion of a point this proves that an effect is absent. Well sorry, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You also seem to think that papers are written the day they are published- more like 1-2 years before they are published.

    You still seem to still doubt that Bt GM corn minimises fumonisin hazards, just because its not mentioned in one paper you found. Do you want me to post more papers, eg those by Gary Munkvold? How does a review in Annual reviews of Plant Physiology suit you? Perhaps I need to quote the British food standards tests that found “organic” cornmeal was toxic due to fumonisins, and then ask you to declare whether you have interests in Organic food businesses to get you to take these questions seriously (see http://www.food.gov.uk in September 2003)

    Finally I would never claim there are not serious issues to do with N-fertiliser use, soil acidification and so on. These need to be addressed urgently and thoroughly. (They should involve strategies to minimise overuse of fertiliser that are actually discussed in work by V. Smil that I have cited). The problem is that immediate or substantial discontinuation of synthetic fertilizers is not a humane option as food for billions of people comes from their use. Discontinuation of N-fertilisers also would have immense environmental costs caused by expansion of farmland in response to food demand.

    These are immense moral and environmental challenges that are the responsibility of critics like Kyan to address explicitly. So far they haven’t. I wonder why this is?

    Now as far as my allegedly utopian visions for science, all I am arguing for is for new GM methods to be given a chance for reasonable scale practical trials without undue delay, (a precautionary approach that is needed because of the slow pace of agscience research, taking 10 years or more to bear fruit). This slowness, and continued increases in global food demand, means we don’t have the luxury of much delay. Admittedly, some of the promising new crops will be duds. Lets see how they go in practice, and also encourage other approaches such as use of non-monoculture seed for cereals and so on (even Gm non-monoculture). All of this is factually justifiable, and not ideology.
    I don’t disagree with the anto—Gm crowd because of any ideology they may have, but whether assumptions like-“Organic Agriculture can satisfy food demand� are realistic and true in empirical terms.
    If open minded advocacy of proactive exploring whether there is real merit in new approaches by allowing them to be put to practical test without delay , plus a tolerance of other alternative ideas is utopian, I plead guilty.

    Cathy, in another comment has asked ‘whats the harm of putting things on hold now?�. Well what it means in practice is blocking the most promising agricultural innovations for 10-15 years, as farm improvement is a long ongoing process. The people who advocate this don’t explain how when food demand has grown by say 50%-100%, how we will be able to catch up.They don’t discuss the bad effect on food prices if demand exactly=maximum supply. They also don’t explain why the best food experts in the World, such as the FAO and IFPRI, are wrong, and Green NGOs, and the armchair Green theorists who in Australia who mostly live in city centres, and who know little about food policy, are right. I tend to believe that FAO know what they are doing.

  34. d
    October 14th, 2004 at 17:13 | #34


    This great explantation of the reasons why Gm corn saves lives will convince even Kyan

  35. October 14th, 2004 at 21:15 | #35

    Of course the elections should be held and then the americans(and us) depart-but this will not happen.
    The mad neo cons always envsiaged that the US was staying on,they started building the first of many vast bases a year ago.And the US embassy is the biggest in the world-you think that they are planning to leave?
    Saudi as a no go zone now for US military,so US forces in Iraq are perfectly positioned to control the region-why would you leave?

  36. d
    October 15th, 2004 at 10:00 | #36

    “you hem and haw about reductions in residual herbicides versus others. Do you think reducing Atrazine pollution of ground water only possible through the use of GM technology?”

    Reduction in persistent or more noxious herbicide use, by allowing substitution with less persistent, less polluting herbicides such as glyphosate, is a major environmental benefit of GM herbicide tolerant crops. Recognition of shifts to the less persistent herbicides is a key aspect of interpreting and analysing the meaning of time trend data on total herbicide use that relate to the issue we are debating, and you characterise this as hem and haw. In science we call this kind of response to argument “hand waving”. It is designed to distract the attention of lazy minds. It doesnt impress the audience in serious forums.

    And no Kyan, GM is not the only way in which atrazine use can be minimised, but so what? Does that mean we should’nt exploit it?
    It happens though, that in the state of Victoria about 600 tonnes a year (from memory, correct me if the exact number is a bit different) of atrazine like herbicides are used on the 40% of the current canola crop that is “tt tolerant” (a non GM variety, atrazine tolerant, already in use). The tt variety doesnt yield as much oilseed as RR canola, but it does allow some other gains -such as use in non-till farming. If the Victorian government had not banned the new GM varieties there would have been a rapid shift away from tt canola and much less atrazine would be used over the next few years, and farmers would be millions of $s better off. This a a specific illustation of the substitution process I’m referring to. Starngely the agricultural scientist experts all know about it, but Greens never , in my knowledge, honestly address it, and kyan, you seem to be a pretty good illustration of how the anti-gm crown tackle this issue. In a word “denial”. I wonder why?
    But don’t worry too much, there are other non-GM varieties of canola (imi tolerant varieties that is) that are herbicide tolerant to substitutes for atrazine, but they may not be quite as environmentally and economically beneficial as glyphosate tolerant varieties. So yes, am am indeed aware that there are non-Gm ways of avoiding atrazine, and they may not be as economically beneficial to farmers – but I guess farmer prosperity may not coincide with your own priorities. Fortunately, the rural community still have the vote in Australia, didn’t you notice. I’m sure Mr Bracks did.

  37. d
    October 15th, 2004 at 10:15 | #37

    Some success in a serous problems- a vaccine to prevent malaria – that all over google news at the moment.
    (Just to make the point that the science of GM is not about “ideology” but about using powerful tools to tackle really serious problems, and then using objective tests to see if the new approaches do good.)

    It only took 15 years though.

    Malaria vaccine breakthrough in Africa.

    “The vaccine, originally developed by the U.S. military, consists of a genetically engineered molecule that combines a key protein at one stage of the parasite’s development with a protein that coats the hepatitis B virus. The combination stimulates a “counterattack by the immune system.”

  38. kyan gadac
    October 16th, 2004 at 15:42 | #38

    1) I have never said that I was against Biotechnolgy

    2) I have never said that GM crops are bad per se.

    3) as far as world food supplies are concerned the issue with GM is the relative cost of this solution versus others.

    4) The argument BT seeds are a solution for a problem with many causes is illogical. You can’t argue from the many to the particular in this way. You need to demonstrate and acknowledge the relative efficacy of each cause and solution and to analyse the relative costs including opportunity costs.

    5) I am not interested in pursuing an argument with you any further I find you approach offensive and rabid in the extreme.

  39. d
    October 17th, 2004 at 07:58 | #39

    May I remind you started this thread with
    “That last comment d, is crap. Bt varieties have no effect on the growth of fungi and ‘lower risks of cancer and birth defects’ is crap – compared to what? Other varieties of corn – crap, bullshit. References please. You parrot industry bullshit till you don’t even know what your talking about my friend. Try turning on your brain and throwing away the script for a change”
    You end by failing to substantiate your opinions and not wanting to continuue because you find my responses not to your liking. Too bad. I’m just interested in getting the evidence and substantiated arguments out there to reveal where the nonsense is doing real harm to poor people.
    Meanwhile, back in the third world and serious microeconomics inquiries , you should consider reading the following:

    Economic Impact of Genetically Modified Cotton in India
    AgBioForum, 7(3): 1-5.(2004)

    R.M. Bennett, Y. Ismael, U. Kambhampati, and S. Morse
    University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, UK

    This paper presents the results of a study aimed at measuring
    the economic impact of genetically modified cotton in Maharashtra
    State, India. It is the first study of its kind in India in that the
    data have been collected from farmers growing the crop under
    market conditions, rather than from trials. The research compares
    the performance of more than 9,000 Bt and non-Bt cotton
    farm plots in Maharashtra over the 2002 and 2003 growing seasons.
    Results show that Bt cotton varieties have had a significant
    positive impact on average yields and on the economic
    performance of cotton growers.

  40. d
    October 17th, 2004 at 08:49 | #40

    Kyan- you asserted
    “The argument BT seeds are a solution for a problem with many causes is illogical. You can’t argue from the many to the particular in this way. You need to demonstrate and acknowledge the relative efficacy of each cause and solution and to analyse the relative costs including opportunity costs.”
    First, I don’t ever claim that Gm crops are a (or the) solution to complex problem but argue that they can make a significant contribution. And I agree that, yes, we ideally should acknowledge the relative efficacy of each cause and solution and to analyse the relative costs including opportunity costs. One of the ironies is that it is not possible to do the evaluation you describe if you ban field trials as we are doing in Austalia.
    But their are actual serious economic studies that go close to meeting your reqirements- a study of GM maize economics in Spain, which argues that the economic welfare benefits there have been shared by both seed companies AND farmers.

    If you read this current paper (see below) in toto, you will note that in the formal literature review section it explicitly cites reduction of fumonisins as an externality benefit, absolutelty refuting your claims that because this factor was not mentioned in one peer reviewed paper it doesnt operate in the field.
    First impact of biotechnology in the EU: Bt maize adoption in Spain
    Ann. appl. Biol. (2004), 145:197-207
    Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, de Croylaan 42, B-3001 Leuven, Belgium
    (Accepted 15 April 2004; Received 20 October 2003)
    *Corresponding Author E-mail: [email protected]
    2004 Association of Applied Biologists
    In the present paper a bio-economic model was constructed to estimate the impact of a biotechnology
    innovation in EU agriculture. Transgenic Bt maize offers the potential to efficiently control corn borers
    that cause economically important losses in maize growing in Spain. Since 1998, Syngenta has
    commercialised the variety Compa CB, equivalent to an annual maize area of about 25 000 ha. During
    the 6-year period 1998-2003, a total welfare gain of 15.5 million euros was estimated from the adoption
    of Bt maize, of which Spanish farmers captured two thirds, the rest accruing to the seed industy.

  41. Brian Bahnisch
    October 17th, 2004 at 22:43 | #41

    I’ve been busy during the last week and hadn’t realised that war had broken out on the GM debate again. I’m still too busy to completely get my head into it again.

    I did hear an item on “Late Night Live” recently where Phillip Adams discussed the topic with Dr Mae-Wan Ho. Unfortunately transcripts are not available.

    Dr Ho was indeed suggesting that GM crops were bad per se. As I understood her she said that the standard approach to genetics was far too mechanistic and deterministic. It wasn’t just that genes acting in concert produce proteins which, interacting with each other, produce the characteristics, physical or behavioural, that make up the organism.

    She was saying that all elements of an organism react with all other elements. The organism reacts with the environment and adapts to the environment, not through random mutations of genes, rather through recourse to junk DNA. A foreign gene introduced into an organism does not ‘dance to the same tune’ and hence can be disruptive, uncooperative and produce unreliable effects.

    OK you can see I’m not a scientist and the idea she was putting was very new to me, so I’m not sure I paraphrased it acurately. But her argument seemed to be that GM was upside-down science and against the flow of nature. GM was unnatural, you might say.

    Nevertheless she was concerned about gene flows and said that introduced genes would inevitably flow to non GM varieties and to other species, such as weeds, with unpredictable results. This, she said, was irresponsible.

    If anyone should be inclined to accuse dear Phillip of left wing bias the segment was put to air because of an earlier segment, which I heard, which was a very cosy chat with two ‘experts’ about all the you beaut things happening with GM crops in China, India and elsewhwere. The ABC was trying to provide what they call ‘balance’.

    btw d I’m aware of the problems with grain shortage in particular in the world. The argument that the world produces enough food seems to come mainly from the vegetarian subset of the greenies who see the grain-feeding of cattle for beef production as wasteful of good protein.

    I’m not anti GM as such. Just sceptical and curious. But having grown up on a peasant farm I probably do have a mindset against corporate industrial farming.

  42. d
    October 18th, 2004 at 09:08 | #42

    G’day Brian,
    Nice to see you back, and wonderful to have a civil conversation. I didn’t get a chance to list to the Adams Ho radion talk, having been listening to Ho live at Coburg until an hour before her Adams stint and having to rely on my greenhouse friendly bicycle to get me to a radio afterwards was too exhausted to tune in. You’ve actually captured the general gist of Ho’s position really well. Whether her biology makes any sense is beside the point (it doesn’t, and also her theme has not been through scientific peer review so there are ethical issues if presenting it as solid science influences others to misuse it and cause harm, which is occurring unfortunately, but to argue the case about her biology would require a long and probably tedious detour through the history of genetics).

    The main problem with Ho’s positionon assessing safety of GM food is that she doesn’t apply her arguments consistently to both GM events and the similar genetic event that occur widely in other plants. If you do, which the recent authoritative
    US National Academy of Science Report does, you come to the conclusion that conventional plants and GM plants suffer about the same frequency of “unexpected outcomes�. That is there are roughly equal chances of unexpected possibly harmful genetic changes in GM and non-GM. In the NAS report, which you read on the net, there is full documentation of the cases where the adverse events have caused minor problems in the past in conventionally bred crops -eg toxic potatoes.

    But the whole perspective of imagining GM food introduces some new class of hazard is factually wrong and has emphatically been rejected by numerous scientific academies. Consider the fact that nature provides plants with chemical defences to prevent them being eaten, cyanides in cassava for example, or neurotoxins in potatoes that kill dogs, and that humans, being adaptable and omnivorous and equipped with highly evolved livers for detoxifying many of these chemical, pick and choose our way through this chemical thicket. As they say, it all depends on the liver.

    Ho knows random gene movements occur in nature – the so called junk genes are largely derived from that in nature and are well established to cause random mutations. Mutations in mice for instance are largely caused by these random gene jumps. There is a very readable account of this in Matt Ridley’s wonderful book Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, 4th Estate 1999 for example. At her evening talk in Melbourne Ho said that there is some force that ensures that random gene movements in nature are in harmony with the genome, but she denied this explicitly in her daytime talk in front of a more critical audience. I put it to you and to Ho that there is no evidence to ensure random movement of mobile DNA in nature in generally “harmoniousâ€? and that Ho’s story is a crudely disguised form of vitalism. The professional biologists I know laugh when they are told of Ho’s work.

    It actually not a laughing nmatters, as it is the academic basis for inane genetics theories used by Greenpeace, The UK Soil Association and various of their Natural Law Party partners, and other New Agers to inadvertedly kill Africans.

    There are also gaping holes in the logic of Ho’s treatment of DNA movement between different cells. She and associates have taken to saying gene movement from the gut to human cells is a hazard (?!). But only GM DNA is mentioned as a hazard as if only GM food has DNA -somehow DNA from non GM materials in our gut is not mentioned as a similar risk. And very oddly, while saying that GM food is a hazard because of DNA movement between species, there is the logically inconsistent claim that Genetic Engineering is hazardous because it involves gene movements between species that would never occur in nature. You can’t have both these claims being true, and in fact both are specious.

    The truth is that DNA moves around randomly between species a lot in nature, meaning that we are exposed to such events prior to the era of GM technology, but when compared to the background level of genetic hazard presented in our foods the gene movement events are merely “just another day at the office�.

    One interesting aspect of Ho’s talks is that there is a healthy diet of old fashioned Marxist distrust of genetics and Social Dawinism woven into her plot. These issues are worth a yarn, but at least we should recognize that many Marxists got it really wrong about genes (especially Trofim Lysenko and his mate Josef Stalin). Even very clever Marxists like Richard Lewontin, whom I admire enormously for his science and scholarship, are looking jaded, and many of us are moving on to more modern inclusive views like Steven Pinker’s in The Blank Slate. Thus to my mind even Ho’s social biology is quite shallow (but a step up from Jeremy Rifkin, whose science is far more amateurish. But of course, Ho is perfectly justified in mocking Jim Watson’s rather clumsy thoughtless comments on the social ramifications of genetics, as she does.

  43. d
    October 18th, 2004 at 19:04 | #43

    link National academy of science book link glitched up on last post

  44. Brian Bahnisch
    October 20th, 2004 at 22:42 | #44

    I’m speechless.

  45. d
    October 21st, 2004 at 11:36 | #45

    seems that Kyan and the others have gone quiet too.
    Below is another recently issued report and press release commenting about the effects of herbicide tolerant GM canola ofdecreasing herbicide use about 35%, refuting again the common antiGM-claims that GM crops cause increased herbicide use.

    I also just reread parts of “The Eight Day of Creation” (book on history of modern genetics by Horace Freeland Judson 1979) to check my memory. Mae Wan Ho makes a big song and dance the genetics have a Dogmatic view of “The Central Dogma”-implying strict genetic determinism runs rife in molecular biologists.

    The 6th Chapter HEADING is, quoting Francis Crick, “My mind was, that a dogma was an idea for which there was no reasonable evidence! You see?”.

    Thus Crick, on DNA fame,actually though Dogma = rather wild new conjecture. Only later Jacques Monod pointed out to Crick (p337 Penguin edition) that “dogma meant something that a true believer CANNOT DOUBT”.

    This chapter read in its entirity shows that Mae Wan Ho’s knowledge of the history of science behind her main story line lacks contact with the most scholarly hisorians of science. Continued use of the catchphrase “THE CENTRAL DOGMA” by biologists is a kind of injoke , to those who have studied the science in depth, about the original bad choice of words by Crick, a choice that was criticised rightly and which he later regretted.
    Mae Wan Ho never even got the joke!


    GM crops shown to decrease damage to environment
    October 20, 2004
    Society of Chemical Industry
    Newswise — Between 1995 and 2000, the amount of GM Canola grown increased from 10% to 80% of the total Canola area, causing herbicide use to decrease by over 40%. The environmental impact of the herbicides, calculated from human and animal toxicity and persistence in the environment, was found to have decreased by 36%
    “This is a useful quantification of the direct effects [of growing HR canola]” says John Pidgeon, Member of SCI’s (Society of Chemical Industry) Agriculture and Environment Group. These results confirm that in terms of pesticide use, growing HR Canola does benefit the environment.
    The decrease in herbicide use was attributed to the fact that herbicide resistant crops require only one or two applications of a single broad-spectrum herbicide such as glyphosate, while unmodified crops need several applications of combinations of herbicides. In addition, the powerful broad-spectrum herbicides can be targeted specifically to weed-infested areas while the crop is growing, rather than being applied to the whole field before planting.
    These findings challenge the view of some environmental pressure groups that herbicide-resistant crops will increase the reliance on herbicides. Although broad-spectrum herbicides have come under criticism for higher toxicity, the small amounts applied compared to other herbicides result in a net benefit to the environment. The reduction in herbicide use also reduces re-cropping restrictions, as there is a lower herbicide residue in the soil.
    Notes for Editors
    Influence of herbicide-resistant canola on the environmental impact of weed management
    Theresa A Brimner, Gordon J Gallivan and Gerald R Stephenson
    Pest Management Science: Volume 60, online September 2004

  46. Brian Bahnisch
    October 21st, 2004 at 23:27 | #46

    d you don’t think the scietific paradigm of genetics will ever shift do you? To be honest when I heard Mae-Wan Ho’s explanation it made sense to this unscientific observer. It always seems to me that genetic changes must to some extent be caused by the environment, inspite of the fact that I’m told they can’t be, as organisms (animals, plants etc) seem to be so beautifully adapted to their circumstances. If the whole process was through random genetic changes surely more maladaptions would be in evidence.

    I hear a lot of stuff on radio and I recall hearing about 10 years ago that two Australian scientists, microbiologists I think, had determined that about half the genetic changes were stimulated directly by the environment. It’s too long ago for me to be accurate on the detail. Ho’s statements were the first I’d heard since that seemed to line up with the earlier information.

  47. d
    October 22nd, 2004 at 10:29 | #47

    The problem is that Ho’s (and your?) perceptions of what the so-called “paradidgm” of genetics actually is may be wrong. Ho is half right and half wrong. Her description of mainstream genetics is a bizarre distortion. But is is true that genetics concepts have evolved enormously.
    You seem also to be missing the point that complex mechanism based at the start on random generator can result in seemingly adaptive responses such as immunity and even altruistic behaviour.

    Some modern software designers use “genetic algorthms ” to produce artificial intelligence. Consider why is that possible?

    To answer your specific question, I can think of microbial examples that you might be referring to, but youll have to me a bit more specific for a useful response to be given .

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