Greenpeace, an enemy of science

Tim Lambert comments on Greenpeace sabotage of a CSIRO experiment on GM crops. Sadly, Greenpeace has become an openly anti-science organisation.

I agree with everything Tim says, but I’d add something more on the politics of this action. This kind of criminal vandalism, in the “right” cause, appeals to the juvenile instincts that nearly all of us retain to some extent, but it has repeatedly proved disastrous for the left, and the environmental movement. It’s worth comparing this kind of action to civil disobedience protests, where people put themselves on the line and openly invite arrest. If these guys had any desire to promote genuine debate they would turn themselves in and defend their actions in open court.

Given the embrace of anti-science and anti-rational views by the political right, it is important that the left and the environmental movement should dissociate themselves entirely from this kind of action. It will be a long time before Greenpeace can regain my support, if they ever do.

139 thoughts on “Greenpeace, an enemy of science

  1. @John Quiggin

    circumstances alter cases?

    yore withus or a guinness?

    depending on individual situations in a long term, moving scenario such as this one,to make either/or judgements in a debate that is at last coming into general awareness,could mean painting oneself into an untenable corner as knowlege increases.
    separating corporate studies and public relations from uncommercial research and peer reviewed scientific studies can be very confusing.

    at least people are starting to pay attention to what is,after all,our very staff of life.

    i’m not going to relegate greenpeace to the ragbag
    and i’m not going to relegate csiro to corporate puppet.

    steady as she goes—“brilliant”

  2. @jakerman
    I’m not qualified evaluate your quote but I do know that a single result doesn’t usually count for a lot in science. No one is suggesting that independent testing of products isn’t required for Monsanto or anyone. What we want is scientific evaluation to be performed and accepted even when it doesn’t suit commercial interests or prejudices. Generic “GM = Evil” statements don’t rate as scientific evidence; they corrupt the process.

    You can be certain that some potential GM foods will be toxic. It’s not a surprise. All plants, GM or not, are stationary meals, so devote a significant part of their energy to making themselves toxic. (For example, look at Solanine in potatoes.) There is nothing inherent in the GM process that provides a radical new source of food risk. In fact, the process will tend towards less toxic food over time if proper testing is used.

    We need to evaluate the risks and benefits of any food, especially new foods, but the way to this is with science, not preset ideas. If anyone wants cede the process to the likes of Montsanto, dropping science is a great place to start.

  3. @jakerman
    Really? Anyone can write a motherhood statement about all the wonderful things that might be achieved without GM, if avoiding GM is a religious issue.

    Even if the money would have been better spent on some unspecified “sustainable food system” rather than developing the rice that is not the choice now. Golden rice is ready now. The current existing vitamin A deficiency treatment for the people who are at risk of blindness and other diseases consists of an occasional large dose. This has some medical issues and is an ongoing cost and distribution problem. Golden rice is a sustainable solution.

    Why not use it?

  4. @jakerman

    That’s exactly the argument Lomborg makes against climate mitigation (except he talks about clean drinking water).

    More generally, as Jim Birch says, this kind of whataboutery can be used on any occasion when you want to oppose something but don’t have an actual case.

    My opinion of Greenpeace is substantially lower, thanks to the links you have provided, than it was on the basis of the original vandalism.

  5. John Quiggin :
    That’s exactly the argument Lomborg makes against climate mitigation (except he talks about clean drinking water).

    I don’t see the likeness, Lomborg argument included spending money on priorities other than on mitigation.

    GP on the other hand want mitigating malnutrition put ahead of GMO rice. They find that The rice has not been through proper safety trials and that is more cost effect to use direct methods to mitigate VAD.

    GP is more like arguing for bed nets instead of broad acre spraying with DDT.

  6. Perhaps you should revisit the history of the suffragettes before talking about “disaster,” professor Quiggin. Women got the vote through wanton violence, vandalism, and hunger strikes, during which some women died through force feeding. They did not get it through writing letters to their political masters. vandalism is actually a very useful tool in the right hands.

  7. Jim Birch :

    No one is suggesting that independent testing of products isn’t required for Monsanto or anyone. What we want is scientific evaluation to be performed and accepted even when it doesn’t suit commercial interests or prejudices.
    We need to evaluate the risks and benefits of any food, especially new foods, but the way to this is with science, not preset ideas.

    Great points Jim. Couldn’t agree more, that is if part that testing includes proper long term feeding trials.

    Unfortunately regulators are saying this is not required, based on the false assumption that GMO are substantially equivalent to other food. This despite the multiple findings to the contrary.

  8. faustus you should reread the post and comments threads – your comment has already been answered in both places

  9. Also faustus, as you’re commenting on an Australian blog, you should at least mention that you are talking about another country. Australian women did get the vote by peaceful agitation “writing letters” in your phrase.

    That doesn’t invalidate the need of those elsewhere to struggle, but as I’ve repeatedly said, civil disobedience methods, including hunger strike, proved much more effective than criminal attacks on people and property.

  10. @jakerman

    …based on the false assumption that GMO are substantially equivalent to other food.


    A typical food plant has 30k to 60k genes, eg, soy bean is estimated to have 46,430 genes. GM will modify or add a few genes to this to achieve some end like higher yield, disease resistance, etc. That means that a GM variety will be genetically (like) 99.99% identical to the conventional cultivar it was based on: the GM plants are substantially the same their source cultivars. What’s more, the added genes they add typically come from known genes in other plants with known properties because building biochemistry from the ground up is horrendously complex.

    You might think that the source cultivars are safe? Actually, no, it depends. Plants devote a significant proportion of their metabolic activity to making themselves toxic. They are loaded with fungicides, antibacterials, insecticides, and chemicals that are toxic to us. There are loads of them in common foods. Plants have to devote their energy to creating them because they can’t run away from things that would otherwise eat them. A higher plant genome typically contains two or three times the number of genes as a higher animals – including us – largely because of the need to create an arsenal of these poisons.

    The reason we can eat a lot of plants is not that they are actually benign. They are toxic, but we have a liver that can neutralise a wide range of toxins, including previously unknown ones. If you don’t have a working liver normal food will kill you. It’s not a perfect organ, a few unpeeled green potatoes can kill you, persistent copious herbal tea drinking can wreck your liver, etc – it’s the usual situation of dosage and exposure, biological costs and benefits. We deal with these toxins all the time, they can injure us, but our systems cope up to a point. Some of these toxins may, at the right dose, have have some beneficial effect too, or produce pleasant effects, and many just taste good.

    All this is pretty established biology. It seems to be lost to the simplistic “good versus evil” natural food mythology.

    This all strongly suggests that using GM, eg, adding a couple of genes to rice to add a vitamin A precursor to the food, is very unlikely to produce anything toxic contrary to your claim. That is, of course, anything more toxic than the arsenal that is already lined up in the plant. Of course, it is always possible that some a new plant strain will have some nasty toxic effect, but that applies about equally to strains produced by conventional mutation and selection processes. In fact, potential GM projects that remove some of the nastier “natural” toxins from plant foods (eg, removing solanine from potatoes) should produce significantly safer food. I expect this project to develop as the GM scare wanes.

  11. @Jim Birch

    Jim, your numbers are wrong. genetic mutation resulting from the combination of gene insertion and tissue culture, which can change 2-4% of the DNA (Bao, Granata et al 1996; and Labra, Savini et al 2001).

    Gene insertion has significant effects on gene expression through the organism. Srivastava et al (1999) found that 5% of the host’s genes changed their level of expression after a single gene is inserted.

    It is difficult or impossible to assess the safety of such complex changed to hundreds of thousands of interacting proteins and enzymes without long term comprehensive feeding studies. These have not been done.

    Here is some background on the unintendd changes that vastly outnumber the intended chagnes in DNA with current GE techniques:

  12. Much of the debate on here seems to be particularly concerned with the effects of GM food on human health. There seem to be few concerns, probably similar levels to contamination of other non-GM products. As in these other cases, it seems to me that product source labelling is a critical public health measure – whether GM or not – and should be readily available on the packaging.

    Aside from the human health aspects, there are biodiversity problems with any monoculture crop, but particularly so with GM crops. The cost of transforming, testing and marketing individual breeding lines means that diversity levels among GM crops are extremely low, and escape into the wild is quite common. While the wild release of GM wheat in Australia may not be a significant biodiversity problem, there are wild relatives of soya in Australia. We shouldn’t be to human centric in our concerns.

    Finally, as this is an economics forum, where is the support for simply informing the consumer and letting the market decide what it wants? Why can’t we have a simple competitive market battle of GM versus non-GM?

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