GM Cassava to help Africa's poor.

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by Skeptical, Feb 20, 2011.

  1. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

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    The New Scientist I am reading right now (5 February 2011 - Australian edition - page 12) has an item on the development of a new genetically modified cassava.

    Cassava is an easily grown tropical starch vegetable that is a major contributor to nutrition among the poor of sub-Saharan Africa. While it feeds many millions, it has several problems.
    1. It is low in protein.
    2. It is high in cyanide. Improperly prepared, eating cassava can kill or make people ill from cyanide poisoning.

    However, introducing a gene from sweet potato increases the protein content to a much healtheir level, and reduces cyanide dramatically. So in one go, they reduce the major risk and reduce protein deficiency illness. This cassava has been developed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and will be given free to poor African farmers.

    There is absolutely no way in the world that anyone can credibly complain that this GM version might be riskier than the old version. Reducing cyanide dramatically reduces risk. The only downside is that it will take a further 5 years or so before it is widely available.

    So, is this not a clear cut example of GM technologies doing far more good than harm?
     
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  3. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    So far, sure.

    As the Irish learned in the early 1800s, and the US in the 1970s, the downside to such things can be a nasty surprise.

    The part about giving it away to poor farmers is interesting: what are its needs and vulnerabilities regarding fertilizer and irrigation and pest control - which are not being given away?
     
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  5. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

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    iceaura

    These are farmers already growing cassava.
    If they are deficient in fertilisers etc., then that is a situation that is neither made better or worse by giving them a superior cassava. The difference is to the health of the people eating that cassava.

    If there is any nasty downside to growing cassava, it is already being experienced. There is, of course. Protein deficiency disease, and cyanide poisoning - both of which will be less with the new cassava.
     
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  7. Mircea Registered Member

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    The ends never justify the means. Never means "at no time ever," and that includes now.
     
  8. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

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    Actually Mircea, The ends frequently justify the means. Look at the millions of times a company lays off workers in order to preserve the majority of jobs, by thus preventing bankrupcy. A minor 'evil' prevents a much worse one.

    The old saw of "the end does not justify the means" is just a piece of nonsense. Every situation is different and has to be judged according to what prevails at the time.

    There is nothing specifically 'evil' about GM. It is just another tool. If that tool can be used to humanity's advantage, then we should go for it.
     
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Not this kind.
    That depends on the different requirements of the superior cassava. If it needs more fertilizer, or better protection from pests and disease, than the various types being grown already, then that is an issue.
    That's the benefit. What are the costs?

    The genetically engineered cassava is different, in several ways - it's more genetically uniform, for starters. It has its own particular needs for fertilizer, care, seed handling, soil types, rainfall, and so forth.

    It generally takes a few generations to figure out a new crop, how it's going to work out in practice. This is a good idea, worth trying, and we'll see if it works out, is all.

    It's a tool we don't know much about, which is being marketed to replace our ordinary food supply and other agricultural products to the monetary profit of its developers - who are taking almost none of the risks involved.
     
  10. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

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    iceaura

    It is true that much of GM is being developed and marketed for profit. That does not make it evil, any more than a life saving drug is evil because it brings profit to its maker.

    There are also several GM crops that have been made by non profit groups for free distribution. eg. Pro-vitamin A rich rice. This is another such.

    You said, about GM in general ...
    "It's a tool we don't know much about, which is being marketed to replace our ordinary food supply and other agricultural products to the monetary profit of its developers - who are taking almost none of the risks involved."

    In fact, GM crops and foods have been a part of our landscape for nearly 20 years, and many have been studied very intensively. The truth is, we know more about GM crops and foods than pretty much any traditional crop or food that ever existed.

    By contrast, many of our foods come from crops exposed to radiation in the 1950's and 1960's to develop, totally at random, different mutants. Any mutant that looked beneficial was introduced into the human food chain without testing. You and I have both eaten such mutant crops. I have not noticed you complaining about them! Mind you, it is already too late.
     
  11. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Uh, no, agricultural stuff we just invented we don't know much about in certain crucial respects.

    Such as what the side effects and feedbacks from the daily use and larger environment will be. The only way we will learn about these things is through several generations of experience in all kinds of environments and through various events.

    Recall the surprise in the 1970s, when a sudden surge of fungus disease brought to everyone's attention something they had somehow overlooked: that 2/3 of the genetically too-uniform US maize crop was doomed, and there was nothing anyone could do about it? If that happens to this GM cassava in Africa, after a few years when it is 2/3 of Africa's cassava plantings and its superior nutrition has shouldered out other crops for acreage, millions of people will starve to death.

    That's what happened in Ireland, with a crop similar to this engineered cassava.
    This confusion of ordinary mutation with GM techniques and products is no longer excusable as mere ignorance. It's been too long, the matter has been explained too clearly and too frequently.

    There is no excuse for it. The Age Old Question returns, with these "conservative" trolls: Are they lying, or are they stupid?
     
  12. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

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    Quote from iceaura

    "This confusion of ordinary mutation with GM techniques and products is no longer excusable as mere ignorance."

    No confusion. Random mutation is way more dangerous than GM. In both cases, mostly, a single gene change is made. With mutation, the change is utterly unknown. With GM, the new gene is extremely well known. It is the difference between knowledge and ignorance. Ignorance is much more dangerous.
     
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    If you really believe that crap, your lack of wariness in the face of this GM stuff is perfectly understandable.

    But where do you guys get that kind of garbage, and why can't you follow the many patient explanations and explications you have seen elsewhere? Bizarrely ignorant invention like that is not something a person would make up on their own. Is there some kind of compendium of bullshit out there in the intertubes, like those creationist websites whose latest victims keep putting their chins out to get hammered on these science forums?
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2011
  14. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

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    iceaura

    I would have reversed your comments. How is it that people like you believe such a load of anti-GM garbage?

    The reality is that we have nearly 20 years experience, and no health detrement and no environmental disasters. Pretty strong evidence!

    There are a heap of anti-GM web sites, which makes it easy to see where people like you get your views. However, none of those web sites are reputable. They are mostly lobby groups of pseudo-religious nature, like Greenpeace and others for whom the little thing called truth is negotiable.
     
  15. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    I think this is a *wonderful* piece of work - and I'm all for it.

    And yes, before I even clicked on the thread to read it, I already knew there would be some anti-GM nut show up that would try and shoot it down.

    Not only does it show the lack of education/intelligence on the part of the anti- crowd, it also provides them with an opening to present outright lies like the one about the U.S. corn crop in the 1970s. Little do they know (or understand) that during that period of time AND today, there are still scores of corn varieties available right here in the U.S. (and across the world) that have been grown commercially for a *very* long time that was not affected by that fungus. They are called "heirloom" varieties and I grew some of them myself during my cattle operation years. One particular good one is a white, open-pollinated variety that was once famous across the southern U.S. because of it's long ears and resistance to shattering. Quite a number of farmers still grow it today in specific (more arid regions) because it's also more drought resistant than some commercial types.

    But, of course, they know nothing about all that - or, more likely, choose to ignore it because it undermines their blind agenda.
     
  16. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    If you are fool enough to believe that we have 20 years of experience with this stuff, that no detriments or problems have been noticed (such as herbicide resistance, medical worries, economic dislocations and food insecurity, etc), or most laughably foolish of all that 20 years of real experience ( if we had it) would be even close to adequate for such matters,

    then soldier on into the fog, and maybe its no one you care about who gets bit hard.
    We understand fine, and always have - that's what saved your collectively moronic ass from the corporate scheming. In a decade or so, if the fungus had held off a few more years while Cargill and Monsanto waltzed you down the gold brick road of ignorance, you might have lost very big.

    You were lucky. Nothing else. You had made no plans, set up no safeguards, paid no attention to the potential of the situation you were creating. And now you don't see a potential downside to things like this GM cassava? Nothing at all strikes you as a matter to be guarded against? You learned absolutely nothing from your several near misses?
     
  17. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

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    Not as I understand the process...you can tell you've gotten the radioisotope "tagged" section, but not what else you have gotten along with it.
    There seems to be a lot of random breakage in the genetic splicing procedure, such that you could get DNA transposed in unintended, harmful ways...
    I may be misremembering.

    Have to try to remember to go back to the textbook@ home and review when I have a chance.

    That having been said, I'd be cautiously for this stuff. Cautiously. The fact that the add-ons are spliced in from our buddy Ipomoea Batatas sounds a bit reassuring.

    However, sweet potato is vulnerable to root pests(I'll tell you if I manage to get in some in this year and they croak b/c of this). So would the low cyanide content render the root vulnerable to root pests? That would be a very pertinent question.

    Also, what kind of pollinator would the frankenplant use? Ipomoeas are hummingbird/butterfly...I think...while Cassavas from the Wikipedia picture are either small butterfly or bee pollinators.

    If they have to be hand-pollinated, that's gonna bite.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassava

    My main problem with gene splicing is it's primarily been done in food crops so that we can use more toxic chemicals on said crops. Yuk. Or terminator genes-oh yeah-let's let THOSE get loose into the food crop population!
    But my other problem is potential wrecking of other food crops and extension of monoculture. That GM foodstuffs does not help, but hurts.

    But this could also be a great help to people...so I say use it cautiously. Just don't think it's as safe as all that.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2011
  18. Skeptical Registered Senior Member

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    chimpkin

    It is important to realise that this is still cassava. Having one gene from sweet potato does not change that. The conditions for growth, pollinators etc for cassava will remain unchanged. Sweet potato root pests will not affect the cassava.
     
  19. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    Yep - just the typical rhetoric from the gloom-and-doom naysayers of the anti-GM crowd. You and your (mostly) undereducated bunch really have NO ammunition in your guns - absolutely nothing you can point to that backs your case. Normally, you guys resort to calling the companies that develop GM stuff greedy - but you can't do that in this case. How does it feel to find yourselves made totally impotent, eh? :bugeye:
     
  20. John99 Banned Banned

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    They are just conditioned to fight anything that has any "corporate" association attached to it. Well...who else is going to do these things? Individuals dont have the resources or ability. At some point it does show some ignorance. People are hungry, food wont grow, then what is the problem with helping it along?
     
  21. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    Yeah, there really IS something to that. I notice that there are a LOT of people here who think things like "corporate", "company", "profit", "patent", "trademark", etc. are all dirty, evil words. What I find amusing is that they sound just like a bunch of 20-something college students back in the 1960s who protested against all that - and then wound up working for corporations once they got out of school.

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  22. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

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    SO the plant's taxonomy is unchanged, it's still pretty much a cassava.

    Well, terminator genes getting into indigenous seed stock through cross-pollination...that's a serious concern...and Monsanto genes have turned up in the Mexican land race corn-which is kind of what we'd use if some virus or pest evolved that could take down our current corn seed stocks...this ought to worry us.

    So there's kneejerk, then there's not-so-kneejerk, reasons for being wary of some of this stuff.
    And I sometimes think the boosters of GM aren't wary enough...analogous to the fans of the new fleet of pesticides that came out in the 50's.

    I'm cautiously optimistic about it, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled.
    Golden rice seems to be a good thing, though.

    As far as the whole anti-corporate thing goes, most of us lefty types are for indigenous people not getting involuntarily hustled off their farms. Having to buy seed at ruinous prices tends to bankrupt third-world farmers...they also have to pay for chemicals-petroleum-produced fertilizer and herbicides-that the native seed crops don't need.
    They get lured in by higher yield, only to end up going broke.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2011
  23. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    And I trust you've carefully noted that your final paragraph has nothing to do with this particular instance, correct?
     

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