Home > Environment > Greenpeace splits on GM sabotage

Greenpeace splits on GM sabotage

January 23rd, 2014

Andrew Revkin of the NY Times has an interesting interview [Youtube with no transcript :-( ] with Phil Radford, departing chief executive of the US branch of Greenpeace. The main focus is on the energy issues that have been debated at length in this blog, and on these issues I broadly agree with Radford’s take. Two points of interest

* While correctly arguing that new nuclear power is uneconomic, he concedes that a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy may involve some nuclear plants continuing to operate over future decades

* He gives an unequivocal condemnation of the Greenpeace Australia sabotage attack on CSIRO GM foods, which I discuss here.

The interview doesn’t cover the substantive policy issue on GM – I assume Greenpeace remains firmly anti-GM worldwide, even if the criminal vandalism seen in some countries is not widely supported.

For the record, I support compulsory labelling, on the basis that consumers are entitled to know how and where their food was produced, regardless of whether food from one source is, or isn’t) objectively different from food from another.

On the other hand, I see no case for banning or substantially restricting GM food production for those who are happy to consume it. It would be more effective and more honest for GM opponents to come out and say “we don’t like the idea of tinkering with DNA. We don’t care what the evidence is, or whether there is any observable difference from ‘natural’ foods, we just don’t want to eat this stuff”.

The use of anti-science arguments by anyone in the environmental movement is damaging to the movement as a whole, and particularly to efforts to combat the uniformly anti-science views of the political right. When called on their anti-science position, rightwingers rarely defend it, instead preferring tu quoque argument that the left is just as bad.

The only really good example of this is the anti-GM movement. The arguments presented against GM food are unconvincing in themselves, and strikingly reminiscent of anti-evolution and climate denialists. It’s clear that, as in these other cases, purported scientific arguments are a cover for cultural/religious beliefs. In the case of GM foods, opponents typically mix bogus claims about health risks with arguments about capitalist control of agriculture. But, when presented with a clearly beneficial, royalty-free proposal like Golden Rice, they change the subject.

The other two examples standardly used by the right are antivaxerism (there are a handful of lefties with antivaxer views, but very few, and counterbalanced by prominent rightwingers like Michelle Bachmann) and nuclear power, where it is, in reality, the right who are denying the overwhelming evidence. Experience around the world shows that nuclear power can’t compete with coal in the absence of a carbon price, and is beaten by renewables when carbon is priced correctly. It’s notable that Radford focuses on this point rather than on the overstated claims about radiation dangers belatedly refuted in, for example, Pandora’s Promise.

Categories: Environment Tags:
  1. Megan
    January 23rd, 2014 at 15:07 | #1

    It might just be me, but has something weird happened with italics?

  2. AMD
    January 23rd, 2014 at 15:09 | #2

    I think you forgot one other left-wing anti-science issue: anti-vaccination. That could be restricted to the US though, and possibly may include some libertarian types as well.

  3. AMD
    January 23rd, 2014 at 15:09 | #3

    oh, it looks like you added that in at the end in an edit, or i was just thrown off by the italics

  4. January 23rd, 2014 at 15:19 | #4

    Good post John. I especially like you pointing out the habit some of the Right have (and the media do this a lot too, looking for the false centre where no one will yell at them) of making false equivalence arguments & comparisons about various anti-science movements, especially the labelling of anti vaxxers as “left”, as if a few nutters & media types is equivalent to whole political parties pushing or assenting to a climate change denial view.

    If anyone wants to read more on the GMO issue, I suggest…

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/01/09/261076195/a-green-movement-website-shakes-up-the-debate-over-gmos

    Key quote for me… “”The most astonishing thing about the vicious public brawl over GMOs is that the stakes are so low,” Johnson wrote. Essentially, if you care about the environment or human welfare, it just doesn’t matter very much whether farmers are planting GMOs.”

    http://grist.org/series/panic-free-gmos/

  5. Daniel
    January 23rd, 2014 at 15:41 | #5

    Listening to Dr Suzuki on Q&A a couple of months back, GM foods are still questionable when dealing with inter species (intra species seems a better solution). Due to the fact that we are still new to this technology and that long term effects are still not known

  6. Megan
    January 23rd, 2014 at 15:57 | #6

    But, when presented with a clearly beneficial, royalty-free proposal like Golden Rice, they change the subject.

    I was of the impression that Golden Rice isn’t feeding a single person.

    Anyone got figures or more info on how much the annual yield is and who it is feeding?

  7. Fran Barlow
    January 23rd, 2014 at 16:18 | #7

    Putting aside the arguments about the dangers of GM food, it’s a little more difficult to run freedom of choice arguments given the problem of cross contamination and the potential for holders of GM patents to take crippling legal action against non-GM producers for IP breaches resulting from negligence or industrial sabotage by the GM crowd.

    In principle, subject to suitable scientific evaluation, I have no problem with GM, but I’d like the rules written to put the onus on GM producers to prevent cross contamination and further, I’d put the burden of proof on them to show they had done everything reasonable to prevent it and attach swingeing fines for failure to sequester their genetic property. I’d also bar them from claiming IP infringement except in cases where there could be no reasonable doubt that another person had wittingly infringed.

  8. Fran Barlow
    January 23rd, 2014 at 16:19 | #8

    I suspect PrQ that you need to close your italics tag at “bad” Fixed now, I hope

  9. Megan
    January 23rd, 2014 at 16:40 | #9

    @Megan

    PS: It isn’t “royalty free” IIRC. Syngenta proposes to allow yields up to $US10000 to have the royalty waived at their discretion.

    PPS: Basically, what Fran said at #6.

  10. John Quiggin
    January 23rd, 2014 at 16:55 | #10

    Fran, I have no problems with such conditions. And, from her PPS, it appears Megan agrees.

  11. John Quiggin
    January 23rd, 2014 at 16:58 | #11

    BTW, the IP issues are largely independent of GM vs non-GM technology. Plant variety rights were pushed through long before GM was a significant issue, and applied to the products of standard plant breeding, not to mention traditional varieties “discovered” by multinational companies.

  12. John Goss
    January 23rd, 2014 at 17:38 | #12

    Food irradiation is another issue where some in the left have been anti-science in their approach.
    I would love to have the choice of, for example, being able to buy irradiated spices from SE Asia, as that is the only practical way of dealing with the microbial contamination issue at this point. But the hysterical irrational arguments of Greenpeace and others means we do not have that choice.

  13. January 23rd, 2014 at 19:14 | #13

    One could argue that having the government mandate GM labelling gives spurious authority to anti-GMers.

  14. Fran Barlow
    January 23rd, 2014 at 19:44 | #14

    Tom
    One could argue that having the government mandate GM labelling gives spurious authority to anti-GMers.

    Either that or it’s a mark of respect for individual choice.

  15. Ikonoclast
    January 23rd, 2014 at 20:13 | #15

    Genetic Modification is a far more complex and potentially dangerous field (in terms of possible unforeseen outcomes) than is generally credited. I would equate being concerned about GM with being concerned about nuclear power. In both cases, vested interests have a high incentive to lie and cover up about possible dangers.

  16. John Quiggin
    January 23rd, 2014 at 21:00 | #16

    Tom Davies :
    One could argue that having the government mandate GM labelling gives spurious authority to anti-GMers.

    Or one could state one’s own views on the matter without resort to the generic person

  17. iain
    January 23rd, 2014 at 21:18 | #17

    Labelling of cross contaminated foods is not even remotely feasible. JQ you seem to be ignorant of the contradictions in this argument.

  18. Mel
    January 23rd, 2014 at 22:50 | #18

    It takes less than 2 minutes googling to determine that Golden Rice isn’t feeding anyone and that this has a lot to do with anti-gm thugs engaging in extra-judicial activities, like sabotaging trials. Thanks to the hysteria whipped up by groups like Greenpeace, the most important current trial of Golden Rice was sabotaged by farmers in the Philippines.

    For the record, I support compulsory labelling, on the basis that consumers are entitled to know how and where their food was produced, regardless of whether food from one source is, or isn’t) objectively different from food from another.

    The claim that GM food should be compulsorily labelled as such is absurd and legitimises the con job perpetrated by groups like Greenpeace. It will also further contribute to the current rapid growth in mutagenesis, a modification technique that the American National Academy of Sciences says is inherently more dangerous than GM yet less regulated.

    The compulsory labelling argument is the ethical and intellectual equivalent of the right wing luke-warmer argument of people like Steve McIntyre, Matt Ridley, Pat Michaels and Judith Curry etc… ) who deny the extent of the positive feedbacks that sustain AGW theory and propose adaption rather than mitigation to any residual global warming.

  19. Mel
    January 23rd, 2014 at 23:18 | #19

    Professor Quiggin,

    Should it be compulsory for organic farmers to label foodstuffs that use the notoriously toxic bordeaux mixture? What about Nicotine Sulfate etc … ?

    And what about organic baby foods that are labelled GM free but contain unlabelled mutagenic products? Should these be labelled?

    Or should a different principle apply in these cases because organic aligns with the Left whereas GM aligns with the Right?

  20. Mel
    January 24th, 2014 at 00:45 | #20

    Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
    Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
    Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

    Moreover, how about we give the Ministry of Silly Signs the power to label anything that could possibly be dangerous to anyone.

    Since we now agree that labels should be mandatory for harmless things, it surely must follow that it should be mandatory for things that may be truly harmful.

    This list would include the hundreds of foods that can cause anaphylaxis, such as the dreaded Chinese Gooseberry (Kiwi fruit) and potato. And the carrot. And the cabbage. And let’s not forget the Silver Birch- it isn’t edible but exposure to its pollen can cause anaphylaxis and even death in some people.

    And now that an increasing number of studies are implicating breast milk with allergies:

    Despite breastfeeding being recommended as the sole source of nutrition in the first six months of life, an increasing number of studies have implicated breastfeeding as a cause of the increasing trend in nut allergy,” Kljakovic says.

    If these study findings are confirmed, should the Ministry of Silly Signs consider mandating the discrete tattooing of the offending organ with an appropriate warning label?

    /sarc off.

  21. Megan
    January 24th, 2014 at 00:52 | #21

    It took me a lot longer than 2 minutes to double-check my understanding that, despite GR1 coming on the scene in the 1990s and GR2 more recently and the whole “miracle GM rice” concept having been spouted in the establishment media since about 1984, it isn’t actually doing any of the things it has promised.

    Hundreds of millions have been spent on this stuff – supposedly because we care about poor kids getting enough vitamin A – but it is always just around the corner, just out of reach unless we embrace open slather GM (unlabelled of course) across all regions.

    It appears that my understanding was correct, ie: ‘Golden Rice’ is not yet the miracle it has been promising to be for about 20 years. But if you only spend 2 minutes searching it you would be forgiven for thinking it’s a great innovation just waiting to bust out of its green tape shackles.

    As with so many things, the spin and misinformation is overwhelmingly on the corporate side of the fence.

  22. Mel
    January 24th, 2014 at 01:17 | #22

    The Golden Rice Project has been delayed by regulations and by the fouling of trials by anti-GM vandals.

    Hilariously, if the properties of Golden Rice had developed through the much more dangerous process of mutagenesis, it would have been available for use years ago and in fact organic producers would be able to use it.

    This claim is of course an outright lie:

    … but it is always just around the corner, just out of reach unless we embrace open slather GM (unlabelled of course) across all regions

    The anti-Golden Rice crowd has blood on its hands, far more blood than the Afghanistan War and Gulf War One and Two combined, as it so happens.

  23. Megan
    January 24th, 2014 at 01:37 | #23

    I think this should just stand there:

    The anti-Golden Rice crowd has blood on its hands, far more blood than the Afghanistan War and Gulf War One and Two combined, as it so happens.

    Nuff said.

  24. Mel
    January 24th, 2014 at 02:02 | #24

    Nuff said.

    LOL. Maybe the World Health Organisation is telling lies as part of the global corporate conspiracy.

    ps. Prof Quiggin, I know I’m not supposed to be interacting with Megan. Ultimately I’d prefer to be banned than not fully engage on a ostensibly left-wing web site where most of the participants call themselves left-wing but hold anti-science views.

    There was a time when the left were the champions of progress and science. What the hell happened?

  25. Mel
    January 24th, 2014 at 03:16 | #25

    Oops. I made a mistake;

    Did you hear that a group of 400 angry farmers attacked and destroyed a field trial of genetically modified rice in the Philippines this month? That, it turns out, was a lie. The crop was actually destroyed by a small number of activists while farmers who had been bussed in to attend the event looked on in dismay.

  26. paul walter
    January 24th, 2014 at 06:09 | #26

    I think it is Quiggin’s not- best post for a long time@Fran Barlow ; Like everything else of neo liberalism, too much of what people have a right most of all to know, is hidden by security walls, spin and silence and GFM is itself becomes defacto, an apparatus for hegemony.

    Quiggin came so close to admitting this himself when he talked of the corporate role in late capitalist now veering to Huxleyian fascist cultural ass wellas material production, as the true target of dissenters.

    Mel, what people are sceptical of, is the long term capitalist habit of unconcern for others and psychopathic dishonesty; from Thalidomide to Dieldrin, to gas fracking and off shore oil drilling presented as already “safe”.

    Here is the source of the scepticism, although Quiggin may be right to imply that the latest processes might not necessarily end up defined through malice and in failure, as with so many scientific discoveries employed for anti social purposes in the past.

    But I do not trust that corporations like Monsanto are ever likely to adhere to rigorous safety standards when these get in the road of the bottom line, particularly when, a s practiced liars and employers of law for anti social and anti justice purposes, they can get themselves out of trouble if their schemes do end up damaging others.

  27. rog
    January 24th, 2014 at 06:31 | #27

    For years there had been some argy bargy of who owns and what defines “organic”. The organic industry has, cleverly I think, been able to contribute to setting a national and international standard

    http://www.daff.gov.au/biosecurity/export/organic-bio-dynamic

  28. afeman
    January 24th, 2014 at 06:46 | #28

    Are organizations that specialize in food insecurity and malnutrition encouraging development of Golden Rice, as opposed to developers of Golden Rice trying to promote it as a solution?

  29. Fran Barlow
    January 24th, 2014 at 07:10 | #29

    @Mel
    These days Mel, with smart phones and the ability to shrink data to a series of magnetic charges you could have extensive data on the provenance of each product. One could have information for example, on the chain of hands and stakeholders in bringing each product to market, their labour management practices, their ecological footprint, their treatment of animals, their links to the various states in the chain, their propensity to pay taxes, and much more.

    That sounds good to me.

  30. Will Boisvert
    January 24th, 2014 at 07:36 | #30

    @ Fran Barlow,

    You write, “I’d like the rules written to put the onus on GM producers to prevent cross contamination and further, I’d put the burden of proof on them to show they had done everything reasonable to prevent it and attach swingeing fines for failure to sequester their genetic property.”

    Fran, “sequestering genetic property” is obviously impossible when we’re talking about growing crops in fields. No one could ever “prove” that a GM seed cannot blow into a neighboring field and cross with another plant. The standard you’re advancing here is simply a formula for strangling GMO technology with insurmountable regulation. It’s a soft and seemingly reasonable way of accomplishing the same ends as the crop-burning Greenpeace zealots are aiming for.

  31. Fran Barlow
    January 24th, 2014 at 08:08 | #31

    @Will Boisvert

    If it really is impossible then in practice one can’t allow it while defending the right of consumers to choose. I don’t agree that it’s impossible to do, but one would need substantial set-offs between GM and non-GM producers.

    The problem with not doing so ought to be obvious. An organic producer can have their business ruined either through thevmalice or carelessness of a GM producer, and so this can become unfair competition. The onus on a business the practice of which entails risks to the public good is to mitigate those risks to something acceptable and in a worst case scenario, manageable. Giving GM a pass on this principle would be arbitrary.

  32. Fran Barlow
    January 24th, 2014 at 08:09 | #32

    @Will Boisvert
    If it really is impossible then in practice one can’t allow it while defending the right of consumers to choose. I don’t agree that it’s impossible to do, but one would need substantial set-offs between GM and non-GM producers.

    The problem with not doing so ought to be obvious. An organic producer can have their business ruined either through the m@lice or carelessness of a GM producer, and so this can become unfair competition. The onus on a business the practice of which entails risks to the public good is to mitigate those risks to something acceptable and in a worst case scenario, manageable. Giving GM a pass on this principle would be arbitrary.

  33. Fran Barlow
    January 24th, 2014 at 08:12 | #33

    Declaration of Interest: I buy organic goods wherever they are available in preference to non-organic goods and I’m confident that an adequate standard for such goods is being imposed.

  34. Will Boisvert
    January 24th, 2014 at 08:39 | #34

    @ John Quiggin on nuclear being “uneconomic.”

    John, you write, “Experience around the world shows that nuclear power can’t compete with coal in the absence of a carbon price, and is beaten by renewables when carbon is priced correctly.” I don’t know about that.

    In China, which is the best test case because it is deploying both nuclear and renewables systematically at large scale, nuclear is definitely cheaper than non-hydro renewables. Nuclear construction costs there are in the $2500-3500 per kilowatt range, nominally more expensive than wind and solar’s roughly $1500-1700 per kilowatt. But when you factor in Chinese nuclear’s 88 percent capacity factor versus Chinese wind’s 22 percent capacity factor and Chinese solar’s 14 percent capacity factor, construction costs per kilowatt-hour produced are much lower for nuclear than for wind and solar. As of last summer China’s wholesale feed-in tariff for nuclear was 0.43 yuan per kwh, substantially lower than wind’s FIT of 0.51-0.61 yuan per kwh and solar’s 0.75-1.15 yuan per kwh. And those comparisons don’t count the extra costs of transmission and backup for wind and solar or the greater longevity of nuclear plants.

    Nuclear costs are way higher in the West, but even in Britain feed-in-tariffs are running slightly lower for new nuclear than for new onshore wind and solar, and substantially lower than for new offshore wind.

    As for the comparison with coal, that’s iffy too. Nuclear plants have higher upfront capital costs than coal plants, but lower operating costs. After the mortgage is paid off nuclear plants will spend several decades generating electricity cheaper than coal generators do; in China it’s a good bet that nuclear is cheaper than coal over the long term. Did you consider that long-term cost differential when you were calculating your coal vs. nuclear comparison?

  35. John Quiggin
    January 24th, 2014 at 08:46 | #35

    Mel and Megan. I think you’ve both had your say on Golden Rice. Nothing further from either of you on this topic, please. And try to keep clear of each other more generally.

    Will, it may be that, under current conditions, China can do nuclear economically. If so, that’s fine with me, but I doubt it can be sustained over the long haul. I plan a long piece looking mainly at France in the 1970s, but drawing a comparison with the current situation in China. I think you’ll find it interesting when it’s done.

  36. paul walter
    January 24th, 2014 at 09:34 | #36

    John, are you going to do an analyis on Andrews Soc Sec announcement this week, that seems to have slipped under the radar?

  37. Will Boisvert
    January 24th, 2014 at 09:41 | #37

    @ Fran Barlow:

    Fran, no, seeds can blow a long way, or be carried by birds. There’s no “set-off” that can sequester GMO crops. Your sequestration requirements imply a complete ban on GMOs.

    And no, I don’t care two figs about the organic farmers who might lose their ability to charge an inflated price premium if their crops are “contaminated” by GMOs. The whole concept of harmful GMO contamination is a howlingly false superstition, and the regulatory state should not have the job of enforcing superstitious taboos just because they boost the profits of up-market food brands. It’s disgraceful for leftists to pander to such interests.

    Here’s my declaration of interest, Fran: I am too poor to afford organic food. If GMOs can make food cheaper and more abundant, I want them deployed massively, immediately, with no reservations. There have been no cases of public harm stemming from GMOs in the decades since their introduction; GMOs are safe, and the science on this is at least as clear as it is on global warming. By turning their backs on food security because of irrational purity phobias, some leftists have gone very far astray.

  38. John Goss
    January 24th, 2014 at 09:54 | #38

    I agree with John Q about Will Boisvert’s comment about nuclear being cheaper than renewables in China. I would add that the price of solar going down the way it is, it is likely that soon, even in China, renewables will be cheaper than nuclear. Also you need to add in higher running costs for nuclear as compared to renewables. Relative prices for energy production are changing so rapidly it’s hard to keep up. I would not have predicted 10 years ago the prices of renewables now relative to non-renewables.

  39. Megan
    January 24th, 2014 at 09:57 | #39

    Deja Vu.

  40. Collin Street
    January 24th, 2014 at 10:55 | #40

    There was a time when the left were the champions of progress and science. What the hell happened?

    We discovered that “progress” and “science” weren’t synonyms.

    [this should not be new information to you, which means you shouldn't have needed to ask the question, which means you should ask yourself why you -- mistakenly -- thought that asking the question was needed. Most errors are conceptual, these days.]

  41. Mel
    January 24th, 2014 at 11:58 | #41

    We discovered that “progress” and “science” weren’t synonyms.

    Well there are still plenty of us left on the Left who think little things like germ theory, vaccinations and the Green revolution have represented real progress while lukewarming on climate science and genetic engineering represent real regress.

    By way of interest, I live near a rural community in Victoria with a large population of “alternative lifestylers” who eat organic gluten free food, experiment with New Age spiritualism and who are decidedly anti-vaccination, anti-genetically modified crops and anti-the ninth element on the periodic table. These simple folk, some of whom I count as friends, may vote for the Greens but I don’t personally see them as left wing.

    I suspect the leaders of the intellectual and industrial Left of the late 19th and early 20th century would have farted in the general direction of such characters if they had shared the same window of space and time.

  42. paul walter
    January 24th, 2014 at 15:28 | #42

    Ha, ha..so THAT’s the real Mel?
    Agree but think you generalise a bit..don’t forget the reaction to corporate pharma, etc came from a mistrust derived of the failures of ethics within some industries, it was originally a rational response, until TDT and ACA got onto the act with night-terror stories about vac and chemicals in food disrupting kids- when broadsheet covered these things there was less hysteria, now its all slipped to home schooly contrarianism, a la USA.

  43. alfred venison
    January 24th, 2014 at 15:53 | #43

    ok, what about jonathan moylen then? -a.v.

  44. Fran Barlow
    January 24th, 2014 at 15:53 | #44

    @Mel

    Well there are still plenty of us left on the Left who think little things like germ theory, vaccinations and the Green revolution have represented real progress while lukewarming on climate science and genetic engineering represent real regress.

    You’re blurring doing equivocation here. To say science and progress aren’t synonyms doesn’t entail rejecting science. It merely entails setting it within a context in which it serves the empowerment of working humanity.

    One often hears the slogan “science” (and for that matter progress too) deployed by people with no interest in either but sharp enough to know that enough casual observers may be confused by the sloganeering into supporting all manner of cant.

    You seem to be a regular offender in these respects.

  45. alfred venison
    January 24th, 2014 at 15:53 | #45

    …moylan…

  46. John Quiggin
    January 24th, 2014 at 18:42 | #46

    Mel, I’m on your side on most of the substantive issues, but I have to say that, with friends like you, science doesn’t need enemies.

    It’s one thing, for example, to be pro-science in the sense of believing that the scientific method is our most reliable way of approaching the truth in a great many domains of inquiry. It’s quite another to equate “science” with an undefined notion of “progress” and to denounce anyone who questions this as an opponent of the germ theory of disease.

    You would be a more effective advocate for a pro-science left if you refrained from this kind of thing.

  47. paul walter
    January 24th, 2014 at 19:11 | #47

    Yes, that last fits very nicely with Alfred Venison s example…the breakdown of trust, essential both for successful social interaction but obversely to political divide and conquer, continues apace.

  48. January 24th, 2014 at 22:22 | #48

    John, are you ever going to stop using this slippery misrepresentation of anti-gm politics? The concern is not that they “don’t want to eat that stuff,” but that they are worried about its environmental and political consequences. If you accepted their actual arguments rather than your imagined ones, you might be less mystified by why they do not come out and admit to a position they do not hold.

  49. Megan
    January 25th, 2014 at 00:13 | #49

    @Faustusnotes

    Far too many double negatives in there.

    Could you re-state your point more directly?

  50. BilB
    January 25th, 2014 at 05:08 | #50

    I’m in the main anti GM mainly because I distrust the ethics of the multinationals who take control of otherwise useful research. I need no more proof of this lack of ethical shortfall than the very early development and use of the “terminator gene” to maximise profit.

    On the other hand I know of a development programme here in Australia that is producing “dry field” rice. Developments such as these can only be good.

  51. Ikonoclast
    January 25th, 2014 at 06:35 | #51

    @Megan

    I agree with Faustusnotes and BilB that the environmental and political consequences of GM are of great concern. Trusting modern corporations with such an over-powerful technology is like trusting Sweeney Todd to shave you. Many of the legitimate concerns with GM relate to corporate control of the food chain and the tie-in of GM crops with synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals that pollute waterways and soils. The corporate GM agenda is about control; control of food so it can be used as a monopoly profit generator and also as a weapon. Anyone who thinks the corporations actually care about feeding people properly is being highly naive.

    Beyond that I do have concerns about eating GM foods, though no doubt I have inadvertantly eaten some already. Uncritical support for GM foods seems to be rooted in the belief that the science is all nailed down and that it is simple, linear science like basic motion physics under Newtonian assumptions. The potential risks of unforeseen and unintended consequences are being too heavily discounted.

    Footnote 1:

    I would advise boggers here to read Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” trilogy. Although it contains some great exaggerations and considerable pseudo-religious nonsense, it also contains sharp critiques of corporate dictatorship and genetic engineering along with explicit descriptions of a hotter world affected by major sea-level rise.

    Like all reasonable art (the works are patchy artistically) it can sensitise you to things and trends in your own world. At first I felt the absurdities and obviousness of the corporate propaganda in the books to be too extreme. But then I watched Canadian and US product and corporate ads (being in Canada at the time) and I thought “the author is not exaggerating at all. We are clearly progressing to that level of absurd and obvious brainwashing of the entire populace.” Atwood is obviously predicting further “progress” to the condition of corporate dictatorship in an envionmentally destroyed world. She’s right, no doubt about that. That is where we are headed.

    Footnote 2: There is only one sentence which appears to hold a double negative in Faustusnotes’ post. That is the last sentence. This is scarcely “far too many double negatives”. Stylistically, the double negative in context is arresting rather than awkward or incomprehensible. The arresting nature of the double negative emphasises the point. This is clearly the point of Faustusnotes’ construction.

  52. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 07:09 | #52

    PrQ:

    You would be a more effective advocate for a pro-science left if you refrained from this kind of thing.

    Sorry about that. I think I need to cut down on the caffeine :)

  53. John Quiggin
    January 25th, 2014 at 07:50 | #53

    The argument about GM and corporate control doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for two reasons

    1. Corporations behave the same way whether they use GM or standard breeding technology. For example “terminator” genes simply replicate the effects of sterile hybrids and legally enforced PVR. In all cases, corporations are going to stop farmers producing their own seeds if they possibly can

    2. Most of the attacks by GM opponents have been on public not-for-profit research (eg the CSIRO sabotage in Australia). In tactical terms, I assume this is because research scientists are softer targets than, say, Monsanto facilities. But it reflects a broader point: in my experience, anti-GM activists have shown no interest in approaches to GM that would undermine corporate control. Whenever anything of the kind is suggested, they change the subject. If anyone can point me to people involved in the campaign who actively support improved approaches to GM, I’d be keen to endorse them

  54. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 08:00 | #54

    Adding to PrQ’s point, there is a vast black market trade in GM seeds and hybrids that have a GM parent in countries like India. Such is the state of the Indian judiciary and policing that there is nothing Monsanto can do about it.

    Also by way of interest, India has approx 200 home-grown GM crop varieties awaiting approval. There approval is currently being held up by anti-gm activist court action.

  55. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 08:16 | #55

    Faustusnotes:

    The concern is not that they “don’t want to eat that stuff,” but that they are worried about its environmental and political consequences. If you accepted their actual arguments rather than your imagined ones, you might be less mystified by why they do not come out and admit to a position they do not hold.

    Nope. All the major anti-gm players question the safety of GM food. Here is a selection:

    Australian Greens-

    Genetically modified foods have not been proven safe and the advertised benefits of GM crops are yet to be seen. Crop yields have not increased, but the use of pesticides on our food has.

    Greenpeace Australia‘s ten facts about GM food contains the following:

    2. GM foods have not been proven safe to eat

    3. GM foods are not healthy

    www. greenpeace .org/australia/en/what-we-do/Food/resources/FAQs/Ten-facts-about-GM-foods/

  56. Ikonoclast
    January 25th, 2014 at 08:47 | #56

    @John Quiggin

    My position on GM is “nuanced” if you want to be kind or “hedged” if you want to be unkind.

    1. I would support a moratorium on the introduction of further GM foods until further research on safety is done by public, not-for-profit, scientific bodies.

    2. Failing that I want full labelling so that it is my choice to eat or not eat GM food. Being a first-worlder I have the luxury of that choice, I guess.

    3. I oppose physical attacks on persons, property or experiments. Such attacks are morally wrong (disproportionate force) in what is still a grey-area moral and knowledge case. Such attacks could unleash greater dangers from damaged or breached experiments.

    4. I would support public, peaceful demonstration against the headlong rush into GM foods.

    I think my above position is a reasonable response to the unknowns surrounding GM. On other issues I am sacarcely an unscientifc denier so my opinion in this area ought to be respected IMO;

    1. I accept climate science.
    2. I accept LTG (limits to growth) albeit in the strong form which hold limits are now near.
    3. I accept vaccination and am firmly of the opinion that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
    4. I am a little uncertain about flouridation and do not feel impelled to support it or oppose it.
    (There’s a limit to how many subjects a layperson can seriously research for him or herself.)

    Overall I am a philosophical and scientific empiricist but I respect the fact that the physical and natural world is not simple, linear and deterministic. It is complex, non-linear and probabilistic. We cannot approach modern scientific controversies with Victorian era deterministic certainty and simplism.

  57. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 09:17 | #57

    Ikon:

    I think my above position is a reasonable response to the unknowns surrounding GM. On other issues I am sacarcely an unscientifc denier so my opinion in this area ought to be respected IMO;

    Actually, that is an embarrassingly unreasonable position for numerous reasons, including the fact that individual scientists and major scientific bodies, including the US National Academy of Sciences, have been *headdesking* for years now about how the unreasonable approach to GM by many jurisdictions has contributed to the growth of the much riskier, organic industry endorsed process called mutagenesis.

    As this most important and oft-repeated fact is apparently unknown to you and your plan of action would make the situation far worse, I venture to say that your opinion is prejudicial and ignorant.

  58. BilB
    January 25th, 2014 at 09:18 | #58

    Indian farmers embrsced GM’s improved products then found out that it tkes only one failed crop containing the terminator gene to loose ones livelyhood completely. The secondary effect wad that tradional sred varieties very quickly banished from availability when they were not being grown havong been cast aside in favour of the GM crop which it turned oi was not hardy in all climatic outcomes.

    Corporate spin has no regard for good agricultural common sense.

  59. BilB
    January 25th, 2014 at 09:22 | #59

    was nt wad..seed not sred..vanished not banished ..etc

  60. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 09:32 | #60

    BilB:

    Indian farmers embrsced GM’s improved products then found out that it tkes only one failed crop containing the terminator gene to loose ones livelyhood completely.

    Sigh.

    No crop in the world contains the “terminator gene”, and as Prof Q points out, a terminator gene is scarcely different from a traditional sterile hybrid or the seeds from a hybrid that don’t come true to type.

    Where are people getting these fantasy stories from?

    But anyway, the bizarre claims on this thread and others in respect of GM clearly prove my point the Left has an anti-science problem that is not dissimilar from the one on the Right.

    Now I’m off to the local Saturday Market where it is not unusual to find Greens voters handing out anti-vaccination and anti-ninth element on the periodic table literature.

  61. Ikonoclast
    January 25th, 2014 at 10:40 | #61

    @Mel

    Never mind, your opinion means absolutely nothing to me. It is clear that your scientific and philosophical understanding belongs in the Victorian era with its deterministic certainty and simplism. Words like prejudiced and antedeluvian come to mind as good descriptors.

    (This will probably get moderated.)

  62. graham white
    January 25th, 2014 at 11:02 | #62

    I just dont like the taste of gm food but there are bigger issues in the world for me

  63. John Quiggin
    January 25th, 2014 at 11:11 | #63

    As regards the moratorium idea, worth pointing out that it’s now nearly 40 years since the Asilomar Conference, which imposed exceptionally strict restrictions on early experiments.

    We’ve now gone for decades during which all the scientific evidence has supported the conclusion that, in general, there is no difference between the products of GM technology and those of older breeding methods (which, of course, involve manipulating the genome).

    And, whether you like it or not, Americans have been eating GM foods on a large scale for decades, with no evidence of any harm (except the obvious harms from eating too much food of all kinds).

  64. January 25th, 2014 at 11:22 | #64

    John, how can you say that anti-gm campaigners “change the subject” away from corporate control Immediately below a comment about corporate control? Does this make any sense to you? Immediately below you someone who agrees with you has trawled through a green peace FAQ and disingenuously sliced a tiny part of it to “show” greenpeace is only focused on food safety. The second sentence of the intro to that FAQ states concerns about “ecology, wildlife and human health,” and there is a whole section about corporate control of agriculture, as well as food abundance. It’s completely false to focus on the food safety angle, and you are doing it because it’s the only angle where their science is weak.

    As for anti gm activists only attacking govt research centers… Do you actually know anything about what these people do? The environment movement has a rich history of attacking private actors and wearing serious consequences for it. The animal rights movement attacks exclusively corporate property. Think kingsnorth, or the recent Russian arctic adventures for other examples. You cannot seriously suggest greenpeace isn’t aware of and focused on corporate activity. The most likely reason they attacked Csiro is because they could. And spare me the idea that a Csiro research effort in this area is not a corporate partnership…

    You are showing significant confirmation bias here. It’s noteworthy that you won’t discuss the corporate or environmental aspects of anti-gm campaigns, and want to pretend they do not exist. How can a supposedly left wing economist accept corporate claims to a technological solution to world hunger so uncritically, for example?

  65. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 11:35 | #65

    Faustusnotes:

    Immediately below you someone who agrees with you has trawled through a green peace FAQ and disingenuously sliced a tiny part of it to “show” greenpeace is only focused on food safety.

    This is a dishonest misrepresentation of what I did. I very clearly said the Greenpeace document I quited from contained contained 10 points and left the numbers on the two points I quoted in the quote. I did this to rebut your false claim that:

    The concern is not that they “don’t want to eat that stuff,” but that they are worried about its environmental and political consequences.

    Contra your claim, the major anti-Gm players are concerned about GM on safety, environmental and political economy grounds.

  66. BilB
    January 25th, 2014 at 11:41 | #66

    Maybe Mel, what I heard was not that India had the problem, but that they were moving to not get it in the first place

    http://discovermagazine.com/2003/aug/featgenes#.UuMUNsszHqA

    This is where the crazy idea comes from!

  67. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 11:57 | #67

    Faustusnotes:

    The animal rights movement attacks exclusively corporate property.

    This is a breathtakingly absurd falsehood that rivals BilB’s claims about the dreaded terminator gene.

    Animal rights activists have a long history of destroying university property (for example at the University of Milan, University of Michigan, University of Arizona) and then attacking university staff (for example the 2008 firebombing of the home of a UC-Santa Cruz researcher; the 2008 home invasion of another UC-Santa Cruz researcher; the 2009 firebombing of a UCLA researcher’s car; the 1990 bombing of a Bristol University medical science researcher’s car; Etc..)

    As Helen Dale (Skeptic Lawyer) has noted, the reign of terror imposed by animal liberationist groups has occasioned numerous student-academic solidarity marches in recent years in British universities including Oxford and Cambridge.

  68. BilB
    January 25th, 2014 at 12:03 | #68

    And here is a little more on the sterile seeds subject. There is an amazing shortage of coverage on the subject from 2003 on, until this article. Then a gap till last years gm seed scandle.

    Its almost like the Jedi mind trick has been applied to the media.

  69. BilB
  70. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 12:26 | #70

    BilB:

    Umm, BilB, the Global Research Centre is a Far-Left group that runs anti-vaccination and anti-ninth element on the periodic table propaganda as well as a vast range of conspiracy theories about government involvement in the assassinations of Martin Luther King and JFK. A Far-Left commenter who sometimes turns up here (Malthusista?) has a blog that quotes extensively from the Global Research Centre blog and promotes the idea that Martin Bryant (of Port Arthur massacre fame) was framed by John Howard’s secret operatives.

    But again I’m feeling mighty chuffed because the increasingly bizarre accusations and promotion of Far Left conspiracy theorist sites as credible sources of information once again confirms my point about how the Left, my side of the ideological battlefield, is almost as nutty, anti-reason and anti-science as the Right.

  71. January 25th, 2014 at 12:30 | #71

    Mel, I’m happy to moderate my claims to: anti-GM campaigners aren’t only concerned with food safety (I would have thought this was clear from previous comments); and animal rights activists mostly target private property. Even your list contains primarily private, not state-owned, property (people’s cars). Also anti-experiment vandalism and violence is a tiny minority of what animal rights activists do: mostly they target farms and butchers, all privately run.

    You’ll note the things that Helen Dale (Helen Demidenko) doesn’t credit to animal rights activists: the root-and-branch reforms of the animal experimentation industry since the 1980s to outlaw the kinds of cruelty that Dale probably never believed possible, and to force animal experiments to be subjected to proper ethical oversight. Their actions against the cosmetic industry also had profound impact on the way animals are treated there. You’ll note in that wikipedia link that the baboons video-taped by the ALF were being treated “in accordance with NIH guidelines.” It wasn’t libertarian plagiarists like Dale who reformed the animal research industry: it was the vandals and thieves of the ALF.

    What John is doing is identifying the easiest-attacked part of the anti-GM campaign (the food safety bit) and elevating it to the centrepiece of their campaign by ignoring the environmental and social justice parts that are clearly the key goals of the campaign. I think he’s doing this because the scientific arguments are much harder to win on the environmental part of the issue, and he knows that the greenie ratbags are right about the social justice part but he doesn’t want to support them because then he might be tarred with the anti-science brush by people using the same un-nuanced arguments he is deploying.

  72. January 25th, 2014 at 12:30 | #72

    oops tag close failure

  73. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 13:23 | #73

    Wow, faustusnotes, we really are a piece of work:

    - you mischievously misrepresent Prof Q’s opinion;
    - you continue your bizarre campaign against Helen Dale (yes I’ve seen your other creepy remarks like: Still, Helen Dale has a history of ascribing a privileged position to the victims of history, doesn’t she…
    - you mendaciously misrepresent what I have said

    And now you make this false claim after I’ve already shown it to be false:

    … ignoring the environmental and social justice parts that are clearly the key goals of the campaign.

    I repeat, the major anti-GM players in Oz, Greenpeace-Australia and the Australian Greens, at the very least put health concerns on an equal footing with environmental and social justice concerns.

    Here is more evidence, the first sentence of the Greens press releases in relation to their campaign for GM labelling:

    The Australian Greens today renewed calls for a halt on all Genetically Modified food approvals until they are fully tested for safe human consumption and rigorous national labelling laws are in place. greensmps .org.au /content/media-releases/gm-labelling-desperately-needed

    Or one might look at what Christine Milne has been saying:

    I think when the community comes to realise that there are real health issues associated with GMOs, not to mention organic growers actually being put out of business by the fact that there is contamination of organic certified areas as a result of GM trials, that’s going to make people even more frustrated … planetearthherald. com /gm-crops-could-destroy-bio-diversity/

    And if two of the 10 points on Greenpeace Australia’s FAQ doesn’t suggest equal footing, what about the opening para on the Greenpeace-Australia petition on the Australian Green’s website:

    For the first time, genetically modified (GM) food crops are being grown in Australia, posing potential risks to the environment and human health. However, there is currently no way for shoppers to ensure that their groceries are GM free, as labelling is not required for most products containing GM ingredients. Australians want GM food labelled for health, environmental and ethical reasons. vicmps. greens.org. au /content/greenpeace-petition-gm-our-right-know

  74. Ikonoclast
    January 25th, 2014 at 14:20 | #74

    @John Quiggin

    Other such long-term danger issues have been going on for forty years or much longer. For example, I mean the release of potential slow-acting toxins, carcinogens, allergens, drugs and hormones into the environment from modern manufacturing, industrial chemistry and pharmaceuticals. With some of these things, negative effects take a long time to manifest. The decline in male fertility (sometimes still disputed) and the steady rise in immuno-suppressive diseases, allergies and so on (also some disputes) seem to indicate some kind of “smoke” is there and maybe a “fire” in terms of long term dangers of pollution which can take a generation or two to manifest. The same may yet prove true of GM so 40 years is not necessarily a long trial period.

    How long was asbestos used before it was banned? The answer may be anywhere from 4,000 years to 100 years depending on what you consider the significant starting point. Asbestos mining began more than 4,000 years ago, but did not become large-scale until the end of the 19th century. In late 2011, Canada’s remaining two asbestos mines (both in the town of Asbestos, Province of Quebec), including the Jeffrey mine, halted operations.

    It is still significantly possible that serious long term dangers of GM could be discovered. After all, can we be entirely sure that GM foods are NOT playing some role in disturbing appetite regulation in addition to advertising inducements and unnaturally high levels of fats, salts and sugars?

  75. John Quiggin
    January 25th, 2014 at 14:23 | #75

    Unfortunately, we’ve reached a level of mutual misinterpretation such that I don’t think further discussion will be helpful. I’m going to close this one off. Future comments to the Sandpit, please. Mel, I’d prefer it if you avoid intra-left disputes of this kind for the time being. There are plenty of other topics on which you could more usefully comment

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