GM Canola

The recent announcement that the production of genetically modifed canola will be permitted suggests that the long controversy over the GM issue is drawing to a close, with a reasonable chance of an outcome that should be satisfactory to most.

GM foods can be produced and sold in Australia, but, in general, must be labelled as such. Producers and consumers can decide to avoid GM if they want to, but those who are willing to embrace GM will not be prevented from doing so. There’s a problem here in relation to canola, since it’s mostly processed into oil for use in margarine and other products and this isn’t covered by the current labelling requirements – this should be fixed.

The policy decision reflects a pretty clear scientific consensus that the products in question are safe to consume, and also a long period of experimental work with genetic modification. With a few exceptions (notably those driven by Monsanto in the US), this work has been carried out with admirable caution, beginning with the Asilomar conference in 1975, which may be seen as the first application of the precautionary principle. Given the experience of the past thirty years, and the scientific understanding that has developed over that time, it seems pretty clear that any risks associated with GM are modest and manageable, not the potential catastrophes that worried the participants at Asilomar.

The outcome of the GM policy process has been criticised from two directions. Supporters of a continued ban have made various arguments, but two deserve particular attention. First, there are claims about health risks. The problem for this argument is that rigorous scientific assessment hasn’t found any convincing evidence of serious risks. Perhaps, as this article claims, there are allergy problems associated with some products. But, as the article itself predicts, if so, consumers will reject those products and producers will go out of business.

Second, there’s the possibility of cross-contamination of non-GM crops by GM neighbours, which would remove the option, for producers and consumers, of avoiding GM. It appears that the systems in place to prevent this, while not infallible, are pretty good. As with all kinds of products of the modern world, from pesticides to electromagnetic waves, it’s probably impossible for anyone to avoid GM food completely. But most people averse to consuming GM foods (for whatever reason) will be satisfied with 99 per cent, and those who aren’t can’t expect to impose their preferences on the rest of us.

On the other side is the position, that, in the absence of proof of harm, there should be no requirement for labelling. This view was pushed successfully by Monsanto in the US, but the end result was to increase public distrust and slow the acceptance of the process. Those who are now complaining about the time it’s taken to allow production in Australia should know where to point the finger.

Finally, it’s worth comparing this debate with that over climate change. There’s a superficial symmetry in the sense that GM is an issue where lots of environmentalists are opposed to the consensus view of mainstream science. But the debate has been conducted sensibly and there’s been nothing like the vitriolic politicisation we’ve seen over climate change (except in contributions from rightwing culture warriors trying to cover their own anti-science position with tu quoque slurs) Moreover, while Green parties have maintained an anti-GM position, the socialist/social democratic/labour left has generally followed the science, in sharp contrast with the embrace of delusionism by the US Republicans and their followers.

90 thoughts on “GM Canola

  1. GM allows genes to be shared between Kingdoms.

    Genes are being inserted into plants that have never existed in that Kingdom before (as far as we know).

    Current thinking tends to believe the final phenotype is more important than the process through which it is obtained and that there is nothing more inherently risky with cross-kingdom genetic modification. I don’t agree with that. I think there are enormous risks and so far fairly marginal benefits.

    One need only look at the failed CSIRO pest resistant pea to see the possible downsides of widespread genetic modification. The fact that the project was cancelled after an allergic reaction was detected in mice was considered to be an affirmation that the regulation of genetically modified organisms was sound. I don’t know if this sort of testing is widespread for genetically modified crops, this mob seem to think it isn’t.

    Though there may still be some lingering doubt that it was the genetic modification that caused the allergic reaction it is clear that it was a surprising result.

    I don’t think the public good is the main driver of genetically modified agribusiness. The poster boy for this was Monsanto’s round-up resistant soya bean. The patent on Monsanto had expired and they needed a way to force farmers to buy their herbicide.

    This is a genie that cannot be put back I reckon.

  2. Brian, you have well and truly abused my hospitality here. Please don’t post again for 24 hours. Before returning, please read the comments policy. If you don’t like the rules here, feel free to start your own blog instead of whining about censorship.

  3. Two comments on some of the previous.

    First. Lagoda says that in his radiation experiments, “I’m not using anything that was not in the genetic material itself.� That’s not really true. The whole point of DNA is that it is a “blueprint� for the organism – it is only the information content that is relevant, not the fact that it is made up of molecules represented as A,C,G,T. The radiation mutations created are new information content that was not in the genetic material previously. Thus radiation breeding is quite like GM transfer across existing breeding barriers – it is not equivalent to natural or artificial selection of existing genetic information.

    Second. I agree that differentiating between GM processes and traditional breeding is nonsense. All new (and existing) foods, and other products, should be individually tested and labelled to maintain safety standards, and to allow consumer choice. The only real objection to allowing well-tested GM crops is that by contamination of non-GM crops we are quite specifically removing consumer choice. That should be a moral question for us all, not a scientific or economic question.

  4. As a frequent reader of this blogsite, I endorse Q’s actions in relation to brian (post #42), whose arguments were often tirade-like, overly lengthy, difficult to follow, and ultimately tiresome. There may be good scientific arguments against GM, but brian’s contributions did not attract this reader to his cause.

  5. You obviously didn’t bother reading the comments policy before ignoring my request. You’re permanently banned.

  6. I’m not the other Brian.

    This topic has been done over many times, also on this blog. In the past David Tribe usually showed up as a very knowledgeable GM advocate. Now he has his own blog.

    I’ve never encountered a topic where the facts are so comprehensively under dispute. One minute we are told that GM canola farmers in Canada get higher yields, make more dosh and use less chemicals. The next minute we are told the reverse by people who ostensibly should know.

    In the main my concerns had been over such things as the drastic reduction in diversity, the corporate monopolies that market the stuff and the rights of farmers who want to continue to grow GM-free produce. They are put in a situation where their cost of production is raised (I’ve heard claims of 20%) and they carry additional (uninsurable) risk. I understand that the standard for organic produce is ‘nil detectible’. If they are niche marketing a premium product they risk having to sell their produce for animal tucker and ruining their reputation as a supplier if some bees wander in from next door or the commercial harveter didn’t clean his machine properly.

    I used to regard GM food as harmless until I heard Dr Judith Carman (please note the spelling) interviewed at length a few years ago. She has a list of impressive and relevant qualifications and was the sensible female on the 7.30 Report the other night. Her argument is not that GM is unsafe; rather it is inadequately tested and we can’t be sure that it’s safe.

    Trust is a big factor in food choice and as a lay person I’ll trust GM when she says it’s OK.

  7. Good to see you post on this John, and I agree with most of what you say.

    One of the big problems with providing information is that public and journalists get taken in by poor quality information and overt misinformation. Vic Parliamentarian Tammy Lobato believes that the pro- GM crop side are woefully misinformed, but happily accepts flaky piffle from visiting American Jeffrey Smith as do The Age in the link you give to an Age Opinion piece by Smith, while it’s left to the Rural press Weekly Times to show what nonsense Smith trots out –three Smith bloopers.

    I’d suspect Tammy just doesn’t want to be informed that Jeffrey Smith’s “research” is so careless.

    But in the comments, there’s several themes running that are based on misconceptions.

    GM crops do not in themselves threaten crop diversity. They in some cases increase diversity – by facilitating new variety introduction; soybean varieties have gone up in number in the US for example. Additionally transgenic crops are themselves an instance of increased genetic diversity. They ARE infact new combinations of genes, and can be the vehicle for enhancement of crop diversity in the traits that matter.

    For example GM could be used to engineer increased genetic biodiversity of disease resistance traits, and increase the resilience of crops against disease threats.

    Additionally, by sparing arable land from the plough, GM a tool for preserving wilderness and promoting conservation.

    There’s mention of the Precautionary Principle, but it too should be applied without bias. The harms that results from BLOCKING technology should be evaluated , and if sustainability is damaged by discarding perfectly acceptable tools, then thats a problem too. Freeman Dyson, see my (Memorial Marriage of Heaven and Hell) puts it best I think: There is a hidden cost to saying no.

    I wouldn’t see Dr Judy Carman as a well qualified expert on this topic. Minister Kim Chance in Western Australia, while funding her with taxpayer funds, declines to produce her publication record in WA parliament because it consists of about three not so relevant papers in toto. Check it out at

    PubMed data base with Carman J search term, after discarding the other J Carman who works at a US drug company, and whom I’ve checked is a different person.

    Edited JQ

  8. I’m Brian and so’s my wife!

    (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

    For me, the info provided by Robert Merkel (#42) is the clincher. It is frustrating that people are willing to sign off on the safety of crops that have been developed with technology that is essentially a ‘shake-and-bake’ of the genome, but demonize a more controlled technology.

    I think the best path forward is to hold both technologies to the same safety standards – you want to extensively test the safety of GM crops? Fine, so long as you hold the randomly mutated crops to the same safety standards. After all – it is theorectically possible to produce the same phenotype using both technologies (yes, that would be a lot of monkeys and a lot of typewriters)

    If you do that, you eliminate the need for GM labelling – unless you have a ethical opposition to GM technology – in which you should bear the burden of the cost (i.e. ‘GM-free’ labelling, not ‘contains GM’ labelling). And there is already a pseudo ‘GM-free’ label as anything the ‘organic’ standards already eschew GM.

  9. Neil, two wrongs don’t make a right. Just sayin’.

    I once heard a plant geneticist say that he saw the role of GM as in the lab as a pathfinder technology to find types that conventional plant breeding then worked towards. I have no expertise in the technology, but he seemed to see some intrinsic value in doing it the conventional way when producing the variety that was actually going to be used in human consumption.

    PM Lawrence was, I think, making this point back at 33. Last night in Australia Talks a retired geneticist said that he worried about the number of artificially derived genes being fed out into the environment.

    I’m mentioning this in part to show that there are sensible concerned scientists out there who worry about what GM technology. This issue may have some parallels with the GW debate but personally I think Prof Quiggin has over-cooked this aspect.

    On paying, if maintaining a large diversity of strains has value, the suggestion was made on Australia Talks that the GM industry should pay for maintaining this diversity. For example they could pay to maintain 135 different types of cotton grown in Gujerat.

  10. I thought this thread could do with some basic info from Food Standards Australia New Zealand 2005

    Click to access GM%20Foods_text_pp_final.pdf

    Basically in regards to GM food. Its like eating any other food. For example, if you eat a fish you do not turn into a fish.

    The body breaks down all food into proteins and nutrients in the gut(acid Ph2) which the body absorbs. The body does not absorb DNA. If it did we would really be what we eat!

  11. David, with all due respect, what you say is extremely simplistic.

    Counterfactual #1: variant-CJD.

    Counterfactual #2: CSIRO GM peas with alpha-Amylase Inhibitor

    The body does not absorb DNA. If it did we would really be what we eat!

    No, but what we are talking about here is modifying genes to express proteins which we do ingest and which can have surprising results (see above).

  12. Humanity has been tinkering with nature for a very long time – even across species (mules). I think the parallel with the GW debate may be more in the line of “where do we reach a tipping point where our tinkering at the margin leads us into something more macro than we could have imagined?” We have extinguished a lot of species already and this is a technology which actually aims to extinguish a few more. Mind you, pesticides might have been responsible for even more extinctions. I remain agnostic, but I wonder if enough caution is being exercised by the pollies.

  13. Further to the issue of the commercial success of GM canola, readers might be interested in this report (.pdf) from the Network of Concerned Farmers website. The website summarises the findings thus:

    “27th November 2007:

    The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF), an alliance of Australian farmers, have released a report today on the economic costs of genetically modified (GM) canola, revealing that the introduction of GM canola will cause a loss to Australian canola farmers of over $143 million a year with non-GM farmers carrying an unjust burden of over $65 million a year. NSW Minister for Agriculture announced the lift of the moratorium for GM canola in NSW before it has had official government approval. Premier Brumby of the Victorian Government announced his decision on lifting the GM moratorium at 2pm today. The NCF is calling on the new Federal Minister for Agriculture, and all State politicians to intervene immediately to prevent any decision to lift any State moratoria on GM food crops due to evidence of unreasonable costs on existing farmers…

    The NCF report highlights that since GM adoption, Canada experienced an inability to segregate and suffered price penalties and market rejection associated with marketing as GM. Using similar assumptions both, Australian non-GM and GM canola farmers would conservatively face at least $81.9million less for their canola every year. If 20% of Australian farmers adopted GM canola, the additional costs for GM growers would total $10.83 million without including further additional costs such as volunteer control, resistance management compliance and crop management compliance. While Bayer Cropscience’s own yield data shows similar yields to non-GM canola, Roundup Ready canola trials showed an average of 13% less yield than non-GM varieties and therefore, farmers would likely experience a shortfall of a further $50.2 million. A conservative estimate of losses amounts to $143million”.

    I am interested in Prof. Quiggin’s admission that he would prefer “open source” GM seed, yet still is prepared to support growing GM crops in Australia under the existing (“closed source” – where seed is patented) arrangements. How can this be justified?

    It was wrong to ban brian. He was neither abusive nor coarse in his language, and had good points to make. Length of comments isn’t much of an issue, now that we have these new-fangled wheel-mouse thingies which enable rapid scrolling. And without some cut-and-thrust, blogging becomes too dull to bother with.

  14. Gordon: it’s Quiggin’s site, we play by his rules here (for what it’s worth, I would have banned him from Larvatus Prodeo for the same behaviour, regardless of the position he was arguing).

    Brian B, as always, a thoughtful contribution. One point I’d make is that on the IP/monopoly issue, the government isn’t forcing farmers to plant GM crops, they’re giving them the option to do so. I had a friend who worked for one of the agricultural lobby groups. Many farmers apparently think that the GM crops offered thus far aren’t particularly financially compelling to plant.

    In the case of GM canola, I think there’s pretty good evidence as to the safety of this specific product. We’ve had millions of Americans road-test the stuff for us already.

  15. Gordon, if GM canola were as bad as claimed here, it seems to me that no-one would want to produce it.

    As regards open source, I think the answer here is to expand public good research not to ban one technology tangentially related to the issue.

  16. David, I think these statements are a little simplistic:

    Basically in regards to GM food. Its like eating any other food. For example, if you eat a fish you do not turn into a fish.

    The body breaks down all food into proteins and nutrients in the gut(acid Ph2) which the body absorbs. The body does not absorb DNA. If it did we would really be what we eat!

    The body does not absorb DNA, but it does absorb the proteins that are expressed by genes in the DNA.

    Prions are proteins that are capable of causing disease. An example of which is ingested BSE infected cow causing variant-CJD in humans.

    It is also worth noting that the CSIRO project to express bean alpha-amylase inhibitor in peas was stopped because of an immune response to the expressed protein that did not occur with the same protein in the bean where it naturally occurred.

    From the CSIRO

    To understand why the mice reacted to the GM pea alpha-amylase inhibitor, the CSIRO team analysed and compared the molecular structure of the bean and pea alpha-amylase inhibitor proteins.

    This revealed small mass differences in the two proteins, most likely to be caused by different protein processing steps in two types of cell, including one step called glycosylation.

    These processing steps play an important role in making certain proteins, and can lead to variation in a protein’s structure. This research shows however, that these variations can have other effects supporting the need for case-by-case assessment of GM crops.

    To paraphrase, proteins ain’t proteins. Simply bunging a gene into some foreign DNA does not guarantee you will get the same functional protein expressed.

    I would like to be assured that all GM foodstuffs will be the subjected to testing as rigorous as that which the CSIRO carried out.

  17. Many farmers apparently think that the GM crops offered thus far aren’t particularly financially compelling to plant.

    Then why are we allowing it?! GM Canola will spread to non-GM crops:

    Intensive research over the past 10 years has produced many genetically-mofified lines of oilseed rape with market potential. Assessment of these lines in statutory trials prior to their release as cultivars is necessary, owing to concern over the likelihood of transgene escape from such crops. Here, we examine the movement of airborne pollen grains from oilseed rape fields and assess their capacity for long-range geneflow.
    Pollen dispersal from isolated rape fields was monitored over two seasons and related to the distribution of fields and ‘feral’ (domesticated plants growing outside cultivations) populations of the crop in Tayside and North East Fife regions of Scotland. Airborne pollen density declined with distance and at 360 m was 10% of that at the field margin. Pollen counts of 0–22 pollen grains m3 were observed 1.5 km from source fields and apparently were sufficient in number to allow seed set on emasculated bait plants. Oilseed rape pollen has greater capacity for long-range dispersal than had been suggested by small-scale field trials. Mean separation of oilseed rape fields in the survey area was 410 m and the mean distance from ‘feral’ populations to commercial fields was 700 m. Sixty percent of ‘feral’ populations with more than 10 plants occurred downwind and within 2 km of an oilseed rape field. Provided that the flowering biology of genetically-modified oilseed rape does not differ from the conventional crop, these data suggest that transgene movement to non genetically-modified fields or ‘feral’ populations is likely following commercial release.

    If canola is so hard to contain it seems a poor choice.

  18. Hey Brian,

    I’m not claiming that randomly mutated crops is a ‘wrong’, quite the opposite – I see it as a baseline for safety comparisons. I have absolutely no problem with stuffing my gob chock full of canola oil containing products that were produced from randomly mutated canola seeds. I’ve been doing it all my life and the doctors can’t find anything wrong with me.

    Now, this old, crude method of genetic modification (and, remember, random mutation of the genome is still genetic modification) is now being superseded with a more controlled method. All I’m saying is that the same safety standards should apply to both technologies.

    It is also interesting that the with the current paradigm of food safety – organic foods – it is acceptable to use randomly mutated genetically modified crops but very muchly not acceptable to use targeted-ly mutated genetically modified crops. I have my theories why this is so, but none of them have anything to do with food safety. Especially as many of those randomly mutated crop strains are not genetically stable – they lose their high yielding phenotypes within a couple of seasons. And I’d be grateful if someone, anywhere, can explain to me why it so safe to spray crops with spores of BT, yet, so dangerous to take one protein from the BT organism and have a plant express it……

  19. David, as I understand the process different DNA will produce different proteins, which interact with each other in ways that are not exactly predictable to produce different charactisctics in the organism.

    I’ve discussed this issue with a friend who is an Emeritus Prof, but is a mammalian toxicologist of international standing. At a great age they still pay his way to attend overseas conferences. He has a wall full of certificates including the one from the US where they take 300 candidates every year and let no more than half of them through. For years he was on the national poisons classification body.

    He wasn’t particularly up to date on GM, but had two comments worth sharing. One is that independent testing is essential and he doesn’t consider that we should accept testing done in the US. The place is too corruptible.

    Secondly, he said that allergic reactions are almost infinite and will always be with us. Some of these are very serious for a few people and non-existent for the many, some are very mild and affect nearly everyone.

    I’m not confident that the Americans can trace back to source long-term health issues. I faced an intriguing problem myself last year.

    After prostate surgery (why did it happen to me when the odds are only 1 in 23 for my age group?) I filled in a survey. They were trying to identify the causes of prostate cancer, which they haven’t unravelled. Of interest were baldness (yes), close contact with engine exhausts (I spend hours weekly with a brushcutter tucked under my arm) and consumption of soy products (I use soy milk as a dairy milk substitute).

    My doctors think the soy thing is very low risk, but admit they don’t know. So I continue to use it because the fats are supposed to be better for my heart (I’m a member of the zip club).

    So I continue to use soy milk, non-GM to be on the safe side.

    I’d be surprised if there was anything dramatically harmful about GM food, but we do need to know in order to make our personal choices. And I’d like to think my choice isn’t priced out of the market. I’m already paying a 25% premium.

  20. As Brian noted just because the same gene is inserted does not mean the same protein will be expressed. The CSIRO Alpha-amylase inhibitor GM pea was abandoned when it was discovered that the expressed protein caused an allergic reaction and was structurally different to the protein expressed in the originator bean species.

    In response to David above, it is not the DNA that is the problem, it is the protein that is expressed by the inserted gene that could potentially cause problems. One only has to think of prion diseases like variant-CJD to realise that ingested proteins can cause disease regardless of stomach pH.

  21. John, I keep trying to post something about protein expression (3 times now) and it keeps not appearing. Am I tripping a spam filter?

    Caught in the spam filter, but free now – JQ

  22. Robert M, I’m a bit surprised that GM cotton is not as widespread as the PR would have us believe and I’m not sure why. I gather you do spray less frequently and it’s usually done in the middle of the night, which would give me a big incentive to go GM.

    On another tack, I heard a brief item the other day on Newsradio, I think, about a study in Britain on organic farming. I thought I heard them say that there was a clear advantage nutritionally to organic. Does anyone know anything more?

    I’d also like to know how organic nets out with respect to carbon emissions, including soils as a sink or a source.

  23. Prof. Quiggin: “…tangentially related to the issue”. Does that mean that “open source” canola is available in Australia to compete with the patented varieties?

    Why does anybody grow it? Good question; part of the answer may be subsidies, another part may be that contamination means that if your neighbour grows GM you basically have to as well, because you can’t market your crop as GM-free any longer. On US subsidies, another quote from the Concerned Farmers site:

    ” “United States farmers received government subsidies to grow Roundup Ready soybean instead of the varieties they were used to. So they were financially better off replacing their old varieties, even though they had to pay Monsanto for the seeds and the herbicide, and the yield from Roundup Ready soybean is less than that of other varieties by about 10%. One reason for the reduced yield is that Roundup Ready soybean does not cope with heat stress as well as other unmodified varieties. With increasingly hot summer seasons in the Northern Hemisphere, American farmers are realising the increased risk of crop failure with Roundup Ready soybean, which now represents about 60% of the US production, rather than the 90% it used to at its peak in about 1997. With herbicide-resistant crop plants, farmers are being encouraged to use just the one herbicide repeatedly, but agronomists are advising farmers that this is not a good idea, this is a proven recipe for generating herbicide-resistant weeds, which further complicate farm management”.

    And on Canadian subsidies (from the GMWatch website): “Genetically modified (GM) seeds are a key part of the maximum-production, max-technology, max-input, max-energy-use, max-cost system outlined above. Canadian net farm income over the past 20 years has been falling. Today, it stands at its lowest level ever. Were it not for massive taxpayer-funded support programmes, off-farm income, access to credit, etc., farming in Canada would have to cease”.

    On rules (Robert Merkel) – there are rules of social intercourse that can’t be overridden on a whim. If you run a blog (or comment on one) you are going to get your pride and your self-importance wounded sometimes. There is an old saying about heat and kitchens.

  24. T comment 69, Neil said “Now, this old, crude method of genetic modification (and, remember, random mutation of the genome is still genetic modification) is now being superseded with a more controlled method.”

    Don’t get the idea that “more controlled method” means that what you get is what you want. Not only is there the time scale problem I mentioned above, but putting human decision into a control loop presents an even worse risk: PIO (Pilot Induced Oscillation). This hit Keynesian economic policy implementations pretty badly, once upon a time.

  25. “there are rules of social intercourse that can’t be overridden on a whim”

    Such as that, when you go to someone else’s place, you abide by their reasonable requests. But since some people don’t seem to understand this, the rules for joining in the conversation here are posted for anyone to read. Those who don’t like them are welcome to leave, and those who ignore them get the bum’s rush.

  26. There’s a superficial symmetry in the sense that GM is an issue where lots of environmentalists are opposed to the consensus view of mainstream science. But the debate has been conducted sensibly


    Oh please, my sides hurt, stop it.

  27. So brian is banned yet David Tribe (who, as Brian Bahnisch notes, runs his own pro-GM blog) is allowed (at #58) to attack Judith Carman as not a disinterested investigator. That is just as much a personal attack as anything brian wrote – in my opinion more so. I think that is inconsistent and unfair, and call on Prof. Quiggin to rescind the banning of brian.

  28. I am a troll who thinks he can do what he likes to other people’s websites, and imagines that using a new email account will evade a ban – Brian Souter

  29. The question with GM canola at the moment is whether the yield potential is great enough to offset: 1.)overseas backlash from countries currently paying premiums for our GM free canola presently. 2)the potential health implications 3)inevitable glyphosate resistance that will develop in Australian weeds.
    It is difficult to support yield and oil content increases based on research conducted in the last 7 years as drought made canola research highly erroneous.
    Not something to dive into half cocked…

  30. Gordon, read the discussion policy. Brian Souter’s actions in continuing to post after I called a temporary halt are clearly stated as grounds for an immediate and permanent ban.

    I missed the sentence you objected to in David Tribe’s post, but have now removed it.

  31. Gordon, can I point out that we don’t know what was in the comments made by brian that were deleted.

    For what it’s worth I thought brian started off by making some good points apart from accusing JQ of promoting GM (when he was only reporting developments and expressing an opinion) and implying that he had an interest in doing so. This was prima facie offensive to our host. As he went on brian seemed to lose it and I was expecting the outcome that actually happened.

    Neil said:

    “All I’m saying is that the same safety standards should apply to both technologies.

    I can agree with that.

    David, thanks for the link. Interesting.

    David Tribe at #60 criticises Judith Carman for her lack of publications. I’m interested in what she knows. When she talks she is very convincing.

  32. Brian Bahnisch, Judith Carman is a Director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research (IHER), which is just as much an anti-GM outfit as Tribe’s GMO-Pundit is a pro-GM outfit. But IHER have some technical publications, submissions, etc. which look good – the site looks rather new. On that site she says she has been a senior lecturer at Flinders and is currently Affiliate Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Health at the University of Adelaide. Tribe is senior lecturer at UMelb. You pays your money…

  33. Thanks for the link, Gordon. I have no doubt at all about David Tribe’s expertise and knew he was at the University of Melbourne.

    After hearing Carman on the radio I googled Carmen and of course had the spelling wrong. They reeled off her qualifications and at the time I thought they were very relevant. It turns out she has “an Honours Degree in Organic Chemistry, a Ph.D. in Medicine in the field of nutritional biochemistry and metabolic regulation, and a Master of Public Health specialising in epidemiology and biostatistics.”

    This statement is a worry:

    “She obtained ANZFA’s safety approval document and was appalled at the quality of the science used to justify safety. Of greater concern, she found subsequent safety assessments to be even worse.”

    As I said further up, trust is a big factor in food choices. I don’t have the time or the qualifications to resolve the safety issue, so meanwhile I’d like the option of not eating the stuff.

  34. I videotaped the recent NSW Parliament press conference of two top Canadian farmers speaking about their 12-year experience with growing GM canola. They reported that Monsanto ruthlessly sued the smaller growers out of business, and now there was no way to segregate the Non-GM canola from the GM canola, plus the price of the GM seed skyrocketed. These farmers don’t understand why Australians would want to give up their market advantage when Europeans and Japanese badly want GM-free produce.

    The links to the 3-part series are in order below:

  35. Very important to see both sides. Thanks for allowing ruths links, I would like a link to brians own “Trollpage”, I suspect he would be more objective there. Separately,
    What about the more distant relatives of canola, the brassicas? Have any tests been done as to the gm contamination possibilities for broccoli, cabbage, radish, chinese cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, even wasabi? Or have the genes already jumped over while we were distracted? They are a major segment of the food chain, their contamination and loss would be more than significant for the whole planets future??

  36. Unfortunately, this piece is exceptionally ill-informed – unfortunate because I expect more and better from John Quiggin. There are ZERO measures that have been imposed on growers to prevent contamination (you can find the licence conditions at There are about 300,000 canola seeds in a kilo – in other words they are tiny. They move large distances in wind, during transport and harvest, they persist (depending on which study you look at) in the soil for between 10-16 years and contamination is virtually inevitable. Not only is it inevitable, the Federal Government’s own investigation of liability found that in most cirucmstances the common law would not protect non-GM farmers in the event of contamination Finally, canola oils will not be labelled in Australia. The story is of course much worse than this – loss of food security, food quality, environmental and health impacts – these are all well established in the peer reviewed literature. For Quiggin to claim that there has been stringent assessment is wrong – GE foods are approved in Australia with almost no testing, no requirement for peer review or independent evaluation. Most approvals are granted on the basis of data submitted by the company. Our regulators have never said no to a single application. I’d urge Quiggin to look at this issue again – and dig a lot more deeply than he has so far.

  37. Jeremy, you could start by providing a link to the license conditions. It’s not obvious how to find them from the link you gave.

    On labelling, you might note that I began the post by criticising the absence of a labelling requirement.

  38. Hi John
    Here’s the link to Bayer’s approval documents. Licence conditions is one of the listed documents.
    I’d also suggest you take a look at the CSIRO pea study – not CSIROs take (or FSANZs) but the actual peer review paper. It indicates that a genetically engineered pea, engineered from a closely related legume with only small changes in protein expression resulted in immune damage in mice. It wasn’t supposed to happen. In fact, it’s not a test required by FSANZ – and if the pea had been in the regulatory process it would have been approved under current criteria. Similarly, FSANZ approved a GE corn (MON863). The only peer reviewed study into MON863 by Seraline last year, questioned the approval of MON863 on the basis that Monsanto’s own feeding trials showed statistically significant damage in lab animals. FSANZ did an internal review but continued to assert that Monsanto’s interpretation was correct. The environmental impacts in Australia are completely unknown. If you look at the OGTRs risk assessment it is based essentially on a desktop analysis of the likelihood of GE canola becoming a weed. You won’t find a single assessment of the impacts of GE canola on a single Australian species of anything (the Farm Scale Evaluations in the UK, the most thorough test ever done on GE canola, showed significant damage from GE canola and significant persisent of GE canola seeds in the soil). One of the big points of contention is whether the use of GE (herbicide tolerant) canola will result in a decrease or increase in the use of herbicides. While not peer reviewed (hard to find anything peer reviewed on this) Dr Charles Benbrook reviewed 9 years of USDA data on herbicide use and concluded that an initial 3 year decline in the use of herbicide had been followed by increasing weed resistance (hardly surprising), and 6 years of increased use of chemicals until it was well above conventional use. Finally, I think this is a classic situation of industry driven technology – not science – and the efforts of poorly funded, independent scientists to catch up with an enormous commercial push has been incredibly slow and incredibly difficult (try and get GE seeds from Bayer or Monsanto!).
    I think if you look closely at the technology you will see if offers few if any benefits to farmers (and some serious potential market downsides – there is virtually no market in the EU for GE canola in food – it has to be labelled and no one bothers because it won’t sell), no benefits to consumers and no benefits to the environment. It does continue to hold risks that no one has assessed. There is an incredible amount of hype from the industry about fighting hunger, climate change, salinity and drought. These are still pipe dreams – and based on our current understanding of the complexity of the interactions of genes, proteins and the environment, likely to remain a pipe dream for a very long time.
    I hope you’re well

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s