lunadelcorvo: (Whammy?)
[personal profile] lunadelcorvo
Anyone who’s read me for any time at all likely knows that I have little patience for either anti-science superstitious hysteria, or ‘one-world’ government, Illuminati conspiracy hysteria. In this category of intellectually offensive and ridiculous nonsense I include things like creationism, anti-vaccers, aromatherapy, micro-chipping, the Bilderburg conspiracy, chem-trails, black helicopters, and so on.

That said, there have been plenty of times that a new technology hailed as the greatest thing ever, the wave of the future, FDA-approved, and perfectly safe has been anything but. Cigarettes, DDT, lead paint, RBGH, and frakking come easily to mind; there are plenty of others. These things, once ‘scientifically verified’ as safe and beneficial, have since been proven otherwise. And certainly, early protests against these things were critiqued as being anti-science, conspiracy hysteria.

So clearly not everything government and/or industry tells us is safe actually is safe. Mistakes are made. It then becomes something of a minefield to navigate the fine line between unreasoning hysteria and recognizing and revealing a genuine threat. Enter the GMO.

One the one hand, progressive and pro-reason icons like Dawkins and ScienceBlogs roundly condemn GMO opponents as little better than anti-vaccers. Even the DailyKos published an article entitled “GMO Truthers need to be kicked out of the Progressive movement.” The article offers both a strident condemnation of GMO-related “anti-science,” and a short list of refuted claims. And there is certainly a lot of hysteria about GMOs that does mirror the anti-vaccer rhetoric, including claims that GMOs cause autism, or all the studies in favor are industry funded, to name only two.

On the other hand, a lot of profit relies on this technology, and not just in terms of food production for the starving of the world (though there are other, arguably better solutions that involve changing our entire culture of food, but that is a related, but different topic; next post perhaps). But to what degree IS it reasonable and rational to hold corporate stakes as determinative in assessing the relative safety of a food technology? And while the mere fact that other nations have enacted partial or full bans on GMOs is not a testament to their safety in and of itself, consideration of which nations have done so gives one pause. Of the 26 (as of late 2013, almost double the 14 in 2012), many are progressive nations whose overall approaches to issues like sustainability, health, and the environment are admirable: Germany, France, Australia, Japan. These are not nations known for their hysterical, superstitious tendencies (like the US). And while the main consensus is that GMO foods do not produce nutritional harms, there are significant questions about environmental impact, both of the crops themselves, the impact they may have on insect populations, and even more significantly, the impact of the chemicals and pesticides these crops are so often engineered to withstand. Round-up ready crops mean Round-up will be used, in abundance. We know that both herbicides and insecticides can have serious negative consequences. There are also questions about adaptability, seeding, and loss of native species (both crops and the ‘weeds’ that such crops are designed to resist). While some of that may technically be a licensing and patent issue, it is nevertheless inextricably tied up with the question of GMOs as healthy for not just our bodes directly, but our environment, our economy, and our world. So perhaps a GMO tomato won’t hurt me. But what happens if one company ends up owning the vast majority of crops? Corporate monopoly is, I think it is safe to claim, never a benefit to anyone but the corporation.

Mind you, you will not see anything in this post about ‘meddling with nature,’ or anything of that sort. This is not, from the tomato’s perspective, an ethical issue. However, it might be an ethical issue an far larger scales. So perhaps the claim that eating a ‘conventional’ cucumber will give you cancer IS hysteria. But I am not convinced that the question of the safety of GMOs is as simple as that. I think it’s a far more nuanced issue, with much farther reaching implications and questions. And on that level I take some exception to the notion that raising those questions puts me in the same camp as the anti-vaccers and chem-trail believers (or Oprah, for that matter!)

What are your thoughts? Is this an issue for you, and if so, on which side? Why? For those outside the US; how is this issue perceived and debated in your milieu?

Date: April 30th, 2014 06:56 am (UTC)
cmcmck: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cmcmck
USians are the only soldiers in step on the pro GMO lobby. Europe is largely agin. Way too much Frankenstein rhetoric on both sides of the argument for me.

Don't get me going on that arse Dawkins. He gets odder the older he gets!

Date: April 30th, 2014 04:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Short answer: apparently GMOs are not as bad as I first thought. There sure are plenty of other issues to have with mechanized farming, however.

GMOs are ultimately bad

Date: May 1st, 2014 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I had to laugh at your categories at the top of your post! Conspiracies certainly exist, although they are rarely as powerful and pervasive as some people like to believe. And I navigate a LOT of "fringe" crowds so I know of what I speak!

I've actually been harassed by black helicopters and complained to the police (along with several neighbors.) I've seen some odd things that could be called 'chem-trails' (IF real- and I have no firm opinion on this- not actually chemicals per se as aluminum bits scattered to reflect sunlight.) Aromatherapy is harmless and smells pretty, but I wouldn't use it for more than psychological soothing. Anti-vaccine people-- AGREED, and DUH!

HOWEVER-! Even though I'm less black and white on these types of things than you are in many cases, I would have to say I agree almost 100% with your reasoning on the GMO issue. Its not that all things new and designed, even genetically, are evil or anything. But the issues you bring up (encourages over-use of chemicals, decreases bio-diversity, etc.) are legitimate concerns.

Unfortunately, I think this whole SCIENCE VS. "ANTI-SCIENCE" branding thing is going way too far and obscuring some real concerns. Just pointing a finger and calling names and saying, "People who disagree are CRAZY! Obviously!" is not going to encourage reason. Again, I've rolled my eyes at extremists in all sorts of areas that most ivory-tower intellectuals would scream to even entertain-- while far enough out there in my own beliefs that many "mainstream" types would call ME crazy. You know this!

It IS indeed a minefield. Because at some point everyone stopped listening. Most people stopped trusting anything that didn't get an official endorsement from on high. By "most people" I mean only the sanctioned part of society. Problem is, a large minority of the population is diverging from the pack.

Let me explain from those who lean towards the "crazy" point of view...

Part of the problem is that strange and crazy-sounding things DO happen, and for ANYONE who comes across evidence that even ONE thing they've been told by the establishment is a lie, there is a breakdown of TRUST with this establishment that the media staunchly endorses. What I've seen happen, again and again, is that when people realize that those holy scientists and media talking heads aren't telling the whole side, aren't actually investigating to even find out if there's anything to these unanswered questions-- they feel alienated from the process and summarily reject most of what comes out of it. They lose their faith in those who are supposed to tell them the truth.

This can lead to the whole conspiracy mindset. I myself am aware of some true conspiracies, but possible scenarios in that direction have been mostly mental masterbation for me. I don't take it all personally. But a lot of people do, and that's when reason and logic can go off the rails.

I have this odd perspective because I see many true believers of many stripes who STOP asking questions and looking for answers. That leads them to the weird ideas, such as the notion that vaccinations are bad for you.

Its obvious where THAT end of things can go wrong. However, the most frustrating thing for me is that now the establishment, using the endorsement of supposedly reasoned and logical experts, throws those words around to make ANYONE who wants to look deeper into almost ANYTHING seem like they're crazy.

part 2

Date: May 1st, 2014 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Its obviously NOT crazy to investigate all the issues surrounding GMOs. Again, its actually reasonable to do so. But notice how the finger-pointing and name-calling seeks to, once again, turn everything into a simple, black and white, either science or not-science, moral reputation type of thing?

Science, and the scientific method, is, above all-- supposed to be CURIOUS and collect information before coming to conclusions. What I see in what I call "dogmatic pseudo-science" is a culture of entrenched beliefs that actually try to SUPPRESS curiosity. Its assumed the answers are already known, but for a little tweaking on some details here and there, and all else is tossed summarily into the wastebasket.

If the respected intellectuals and the established authorities aren't going to ask the questions or poke into all those areas so many people are realizing aren't being covered, WHO WILL? Then you get a bunch of con men and fakirs stepping up to fill the gap. Its infuriating!

Now I'm noticing a growing backlash to all things scientific, even in areas where suspicion is NOT warranted, a perfect example being the vaccine conspiracy stories. Many independent studies were done, by different groups, who tested out the vaccine-as-harmful premise and found nothing there. But being lied to and ignored for so long has had its consequences... Almost a THIRD of the population, who has lost their faith, simply don't believe much of what they're told anymore.

This is a big problem and I fear that science will suffer for it. Calling people stupid and crazy, though, is part of why people are turning away.

There's my 200 cents! =^)

Re: part 2

Date: May 5th, 2014 03:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And welcome as always! (I saw your repost - I'm glad to see the discussion continuing.) I think you've hit on the crux of the problem, with the GMO discussion, and so many other issues: the urge (media driven, or at least abetted) to make everything black and white; you 'fer us or agin us.'

And, and Elyssa pointed out below, I think a lot of the questions ARE being investigated, but that information doesn't get out (or can't get out amongst the hype; when you're all on a rant, who has time for facts?) and so people who are rationally concerned don't get a voice or access to information. It's a double, maybe triple bind. Ultimately, GMOs or not, I do know our food system is deeply broken, so perhaps the more productive approach is to focus on the larger issues involved with food.....

Re: part 2

Date: May 5th, 2014 06:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*nods nods*

One good thing coming out of this is people getting into gardening again in much greater numbers, raising chickens and other small livestock, and participating in organic food co-ops and farmer's markets. That means less money for big Agriculture and eventually, when they notice the cash going elsewhere-- well, I'm guessing some new tunes might start playing.

As a scientist...

Date: May 5th, 2014 02:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The issue is even far more complex than that, because there's a lot of other reasons for GMOs than food production, and a lot of non-GMO methods of obtaining food production that are far, far worse than GMOs.

I used to work in plant genetic engineering. The thing is, everything we eat has been engineered, but in different ways, and before GMOs no one had to even test their products before putting them on the market. The first Round-Up ready crops were obtained through cross-breeding naturally resistant species with ones that weren't, no 'gene manipulation' involved. Except somehow it's seen as natural to treat seeds with multiple carcinogenic chemicals, force them to mate with non-related species, and then rebreed in the normal species for generations using the same scary techniques until it still looks like a tomato, but no one mentions the 10% of ragweed DNA or whatever they used. In fact, no one even knows anymore, because some of that cross-breeding was done centuries ago.

Look at maize, if you want an example. Or wheat. The corn we eat now, while supposedly a direct descendent of maize from south america, looks so little like its ancestor you wouldn't even think they were the same family, never mind species. And the new corn, while growing bigger and juicier, so more attractive to western buyers, also takes 50% more nutrients in the soil per pound of kernels, and strips fields bare, requiring more manure and fertilizer, requiring fields to be left fallow for years at times, depending on the soil where it was grown. But there's no one protesting corn growers.

Another case in point - did you ever see 'broccoflower' in the 80's? The answer is no, because in the late 80s, someone used really nasty chemicals to force broccoli and cauliflower to breed, and they didn't even test the impact on the environment, the nativ species, or snything else before making it publicly available. Now it's almost impossible to grow your own broccoli, because it gets contaminated with broccoflower too easily.

I agree there are unresolved issues with GMOs - but from someone who worked in the area, let me say, the scientists are not unaware of those issues. The government may hem and haw, but talk to someone who actually works in a lab creating insulin from hemp seed, or trying to increase cold-resistance of wheat, and they will readily admit to all the issues you mentioned and more. They're just not on the news talking about it, because they're busy in a lab, trying to resolve those issues. So my biggest complaint about the anti-GMO groups isn't that they have questions - it's that they assume scientists are too stupid to be trying to find the answers.

Re: As a scientist...

Date: May 5th, 2014 03:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for offering your perspective! Good to hear from someone closer to the source, as it were. And for confirming that it's a lot more complicated than "GMOs will give me cancer, oh noes!!!!" And the complexity of that discussion gets lost in the hype-screaming,certainly on the anti- side, but a little on the pro- side, too. The minute one side paints the other with a broad brush, real conversation (and real facts) get lost.

I absolutely agree on your last point; a great deal of anti-GMO does tend to take the "stupid scientists don't know what they're doing" approach (sort of like homeopathy, for example). And that doesn't do anything to actually address either anyone's concerns, or the real questions that exist....

(P.S. Nice to have you visit! :D )

Date: November 29th, 2015 03:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The thing about GMOs that is often obscured is that almost all of the crops we eat and have already been modified by humans and quite extensively at that: Wild bananas are green and have seeds in the them; the most common strawberries are actually a hybrid species created in the 18th century; and maize (corn) is also a hybrid species created by the Olmecs and Maya over 4000 years ago.

This process of domestication is a form of genetic modification and there's no evidence that it's actually safer that the direct genetic modification that's being used now. Most human-created or altered crops are more vulnerable to disease and insects than their wild ancestors and some of them have also had a bad impact on our environment, contributing to the loss of diversity of genetic diversity among plants and such.

The problem with most anti-GMO activists, though, is that a lot of them either don't know these facts or ignore them. They often also advocate for organic food, but overlook the fact that most organic food is not grown without pesticides; it's just grown with pesticides that are considered "natural" [1 (, 2 (]. Completely swearing off all pesticides is not necessarily the perfect solution, either, because insects in fruit and vegetables can also carry disease. Furthermore, even organic farms that use "natural" fertilizers (like compost and manure) can also create harmful run-offs that can contaminate the water supply and harm people and animals.

None of this proves that GMOs are totally safe, only that the solutions that a lot of the kneejerk anti-GMO crowd have to offer aren't as safe as they seem to think they are.
Edited Date: November 29th, 2015 03:00 pm (UTC)

Date: November 29th, 2015 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
(pardon if my response is not 100% consistent with my OP; that was a year and a half ago!)

I don't disagree for the most part, and of course we have been tinkering with species for eons. However, we're talking apples and oranges here (almost literally). I think we must admit that there is a difference in crossbreeding species which can be crossbred, and introducing completely unrelated DNA. Last I checked tomato-shark hybrids are damned rare in nature.

It should also give us pause that we are increasingly reliant on crops whose yield is infertile. I know we all like to think that our technological empire will never diminish, but we have yet to realistically address crises like peak oil and climate change. To imagine a giant like Monsanto failing is hard, but consider the ramifications of our near dependence on newly purchased seed every growing season if it did. We are losing species, and we are losing our global stores of viable seed. This is not sound long term planning.

While I agree swearing off pesticides isn't an answer, overuse isn't either. And while certainly manure and compost create runoff, I'd take that runoff in my water table over RoundUp any day. And finally, manure and compost don't exterminate or drastically interfere with bees and other vital parts of the ecosystem. Neo-nicotinoids for one are devastating bee populations, and if we end up wiping them out, we're fucked. Again, it's about a lot more than this year's crop, or next. It's about ten, twenty, fifty years from now.

Date: November 29th, 2015 10:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You seem to have misunderstood. Manure is used as fertilizer, not a pesticide. The issue of manure run-offs contaminating water supplies isn't simply that it's gross, it's that it can cause disease. Cholera, typhoid fever, giardiasis, and dysentery are all transmitted by water that's been contaminated with manure and feces. While most of those can be cured, they are still especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. And it's true that there are water treatment programs as now (at least in industrialised countries), but even so, when I was a baby living in Brownsville in 1988, I caught giardiasis from the water there, because the Rio Grande Valley is a very poor part of the United States. And it's also (surprise, surprise), a center of agriculture. Manure is a great fertilizer, don't get me wrong, but even so, it still has its drawbacks and that's something that people need to be aware of.

Most of the organic pesticides that are used contain sulfur and copper. Both of those things are natural, yeah, but they're also poisonous in large enough amounts, to animals and people alike. The other issue with so-called organic pesticides is that because they aren't as effective as non-organic pesticides, farmers often have to use more of them. The most direct harm that pesticides cause is to farmer workers, but even organic pesticides can harm farmer workers, and they can also hurt insects and the environment. But a lot of people just seem to ignore this because they assume that natural = safer. For example, I saw someone the other day on Pinterest touting tansy oil as an "all-natural" pesticide to use around the house, because it's natural and therefore, safer. I really hope to God that she doesn't have children because, natural or not, tansy is poisonous.

My main issue with the anti-GMO and organic food movement, at the end of the day, is that what they're hocking solves exactly none of the very real problems of sustainability, consumer safety, and harm to migrant farm workers and in fact, it can just create new problems. [1 (]

Date: November 29th, 2015 10:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No, I didn't misunderstand, and I know how manure and compost are used. I work for a sustainability non profit that uses both, and makes compost. I was commenting to both pesticides and fertilizer.

And I never said I supported 'organic pesticides.'

Date: November 30th, 2015 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I didn't say that you supported organic pesticides, I said that a lot of anti-GMO/organic advocates do. That's one of the reasons why I'm wary of them, along with the fact that they don't seem to get that most organic food is produced by the same Big Agricultural firms that non-organic food is and that organic food is currently a multi-billion dollar industry, so one should be as skeptical as their claims as they are of Monsanto.

There are already limits in most industralised countries on what types of pesticides can be used and how much. Knowledge about the dangers of overuse of pesticides has been around since the 1960s and so, there have been laws passed to regulate it. When I worked retail, there were a whole bunch of rules we had to obey about how to dispose of caustic chemicals and pesticides: namely, we couldn't throw them away in the regular garbage; we had to store them and let them be collected by an EPA-approved agency.

Using compost is a great idea, but there's nowhere near enough high-quality compost available to make enough crops to feed everyone in the United States, let alone the world. And the truth is that organic compost contains the same ingredients as the chemical stuff: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, all of which are naturally-occurring elements.

It's possible that in some years, the issue of pesticides may be irrelevant: scientists are currently trying to produce crops that won't need pesticides at all (or will need less), because they'll be genetically modified to make them more resistant to insects and disease. But hardline anti-GMO/organic types, often oppose that, too. As I said before, the issue with the hardline anti-GMO/organic movement is that what it preaches is often less sustainable than GMOs and this goes back to practical concerns as well: organic food requires more land to produce, which means that more trees will have to be cut down to make more room for farms and that has a very definite negative impact on the environment.



Things I need to remember:
• Asking for help is not, as it turns out, fatal.
• Laughing is easier than pulling your hair out, and doesn't have the unfortunate side effect of making you look like a plague victim.
• Even the biggest tasks can be defeated if taken a bit at a time.
• I can write a paper the night before it's due, but the results are not all they could be.
• Be thorough, but focused.
• Trust yourself.
• Honesty, always.

Historians are the Cassandras of the Humanities