Is GE foods safe?

Discussion in 'Chemistry' started by janelee, Aug 8, 2008.

  1. CharonZ Registered Senior Member

    A question whether the inherent risk of GM food (of course, depending on what actually has been modified) compared to traditional, random mutation techniques, that were used for a couple of decades already.
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  3. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    To pretend that all, or even most, of the GM currently employed is some kind of analog of ordinary plant breeding is dishonest.

    GM techniques can be used to speed up, or make more precise, otherwise help, ordinary plant breeding results, and there is little controversy about that.

    Other GM techniques can be used to do such things as insert bacterially derived herbicide sequestration genes into eukaryotic multicellular plant genomes at random locations. That is not at all the kind of thing ordinary plant breeding does, and it is potentially very dangerous.

    It is also essentially unstudied in the field. No one knows much about what can happen. The recent finding that herbicide sequestration genes sometimes function in the edible parts of the plant, leading to soybeans with sequestered herbicide that can be released in the human small intestine, is just an example of the tip of the iceberg of the complexity of what these technicians are playing with. Honeybee dieoffs are another possible example - they don't know whether this GM stuff is involved or not. Nobody knows.

    You can't get honeybee dieoffs from plant breeding. You can, in theory, get them from the kinds of modifications GM tech accomplishes. This GM stuff is not just ordinary plant breeding made faster and easier. If it were restricted to that, very few people would object to it.
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  5. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    But, in the Guns, Germs and Steel view of the world, traditional farming methods did give us things like anthrax and smallpox, which crossed over into humans as a consequence of traditional farming. (That is more certain, it seems to me, than the notion that GM caused the decline in the bee population. I am not even sure there's much correlation there, let alone a causal relationship. It's just as likely that the bees are dying off from global temperature changes or a fluke epidemic).

    There is no "it's natural therefore better" in playing with the genetics of others.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2008
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    And the genetic engineers who are screwing around with a totally new kind of environmental manipulation are launched into something better compared with the agricultural revolution than with traditional breeding.

    We've had ten thousand years to adjust and deal and learn to handle the side effects of those early agricultural innovations - and we are still having problems. If the defense of GM is that it will do no worse than reduce the average height of humans by a foot and their average lifespan by a third, while filling the earth with slavery and plagues for the next thousand years, then hey - the prosecution rests.

    btw: The implication that the major objections to GM are inherently based on some kind of feckless fondness for "natural" vs "artificial" is also dishonest, along with the pretense that it's just like traditional breeding, that it will regulate itself, and that the multinational corporations doing it are motivated by a desire to help humanity.
  8. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    It's not that it will regulate itself, it's that traditional breeding/cross breeding techniques were not really any safer, people are just oblivious to those risks. People develop concerns because they perceive the risks to be somehow of a different kind or magnitude than other things, like people who obsess over the risks of being killed by terrorists, yet who are troubled not at all by more mundane threats to life, like eating red meat. Why are terrorists deserving of more attention than risks posed by red meat (given that red meat is far more likely to kill the average person than terrorists are)?

    The reasons are too complex for me to go into, in full, but in part it is because humans are terrible at making rational decisions about low probability events. We tend to implicitly overstate the risks of unlikely harms. In short, I view those people gripped by fears of GM as being in exactly the same boat as people who who are desperately afraid to fly in airplanes. Airplanes do crash and people do die, so there is a risk there, but the likelihood of the risk (especially when measured relative to other methods of transportation) is actually unexceptional.

    You also have to weight both benefits and costs. Sure, GM has risks (a cost) and if we want to engage in hypotheticals, we can hypothetically construct doomsday scenarios that involve GM products. If we do that though, why not also imagine the hypothetically possible benefits of GM, like (to go not-so-hypothetical, as that is antithetical to my nature) people around the world living longer because of the resultant increases in the local food supply? Reduced use of pesticides because pest-resistant breeds of plants were developed? Perhaps, down the road, even red meat without all the heart attacks?

    Spinning hypotheticals about how GM *might* have killed off the bees is useless, imo, because it's rank speculation. If the worst case against GM is that there's no (none, zero, zilch) evidence for a link between GM and the bee die-off, oh, but wait, let me speculate in an information-free thought experiment about how GM might be responsible for it, then I need not rest my case, I move for dismissal on the grounds that you failed to state a case in the first place.

    There are risks in many things. Immunologists work with dangerous pathogens (not hypothetically dangerous ones, actually known to be dangerous ones) and we don't knock them for it. There could always be an escape of those pathogens and problems could ensue, but we all know that immunology is important and overall beneficial so we tolerate the risk. The U.S. having a huge nuclear stockpile and stores of biological weapons has risks that are far more quantifiable and dire than GM has, yet most Americans tolerate that risk too as part of an overall national security calculus.

    GM has hypothetical risks, so far, have never been seen to come to fruition in any major respect. It's true I can't dismiss the doomsday scenarios people like you spin, but that;'s just because I am intellectually honest. It's possible that your dire predictions will come to pass. It's possible that the Sun will go nova tomorrow as well. I can dismiss neither entirely. What I can say is that I am reasonably confident that the scientists involved are not madmen, they are just as thoughtful and responsible as you are. I can also say that, thus far, GM crops have not caused massive waves of death throughout the world, but that related initiatives, like the Green Movement, have saved many lives by the standards of most people knowledgeable on the subject.

    There's no reason that I can see to put the risks of GM into a special category, separate from the other risks posed by cutting edge scientific innovation. Based on what I have read, I no more expect GM to kill millions than I expect the CERN particle accelerator will destroy the Earth. I can see why people feel compelled to paranoia as a result of either of those, but the fears seem irrational.

    What is the alternative anyway? Would you criminalize the line of research? In a modern society it seems to me letting the majority select what research should be done and what forbidden through a majoritarian process is silly. In the U.S., I have no doubt that political forces could be mustered to ban research into evolution. It is not something I'd want to encourage in a free society. (For that reason I was also opposed to cloning bans and bans on use of embryonic stem cells.)
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2008
  9. dixonmassey Valued Senior Member

    Pandaemoni, it's not wise even for adepts of sci. progress to put their trust in GMO. You simply don't know what (evil?) Mr. X is cooking, Mr. X doesn't know much more than you do. You see, traditional breeding of a horse with an ass, can't produce meat which will make your kidney to disfunction in a subtle way, for example, or affect your sperm count or egg production. GMO foods theoretically can, if "properly" designed. GMO foods can affect lots of things. Just look who financed GMOs. Among founding fathers is Rockefeller foundation famous for its obsession with eugenics as well as Uncle Sam, famous humanitarian. Don't you think masters of this world will not be stupid enough not to try food as a weapon of (subtle) mass destruction/manipulation? They most certainly will try, if not trying it on us right now.

    All GMO technique does is taking a piece of DNA of one species and embedding it in a foreign DNA context. As far as current human knowledge goes, this kind of embedding produces results which are hard to impossible to predict. Traditional breeding offers much more predictable, albeit slower, results. There is no danger to create killer chicken meat by breeding largest rooster with the largest hen, for example.

    It seems you don't know that mineral fertilizers are NOT regulated to any extent, as far as chemical content goes. Fertilizers industy utilizes wastes of power generation industry and such, that's why fertilizers are loaded with salts containing heavy metals, bon appetit. Aside contamination, mineral fertilizers deliver plant food in the most simple chemical form. Plants may not care much about it (if not overfertilize) but soil organisms care A LOT because chemical fertilizers KILL them. Without those organism soil is dead, agriculture = hydroponics. That's essentially what industrial agriculture become - poison/fossil intensive hydroponics. I will not even start about effect of poisons, tilling, rubber taste and Gulf of Mexico dead zones etc. Suffice to say that industrial agriculture will kill soils and thus us sooner or later .

    As far as Nobel Prize for super wheat goes, I repeat, take mineral fertilizers and poisons away and then look at the magic wheat's yields. Nobel prize wheat is extremely well suited for fertilizer intensive industrial farming. It's a really bad choice for organic producers.

    Let's look back at green "revolution". Green revolution which have destroyed cultures, ways of life, millions of acres of soil, economies of entire countries. All those sacrifices and people starving anyway. Yup, GMO revolution will be totally different.
  10. kmguru Staff Member

    Eugenics? The rich still need customers....even though dumb ones...keep them dumb but alive...may be that is what is going on in Africa....

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  11. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    The traditional breeding techniques are much, much safer, not only because we have ten thousand years experience with them, but also because the kinds of genetic changes possible are much more limited and consistent with what we and the planet have already accustomed ourselves to.

    That is especially true of people who are making lots of money by taking risks with other people's lives and landscapes.
    Try this one: the fuckups are self-reproducing and capable of exponential growth.
    It's an easy example of how little idea the people doing this stuff have of the possible consequences of their actions. How come they can't simply demonstrate the impossibility - or even the unlikelihood - of such an effect ?
    Of course not. I would regulate the research and especially the employment of the products of such research, according to the level of knowledge available of the risks they pose.

    So mixing and matching rice alleles, or even specified genes or alleles from related plants, to get better rice, using the much faster and more thorough GM techniques to shortcut ordinary plant breeding, would be very low risk and approved for open field planting and sale to humans for food.

    And inserting bacterially derived strings of alien DNA into all parts of a plant to cause it to produce herbicide sequestration or pesticide expression via insect transferable satellite bodies in every cell, planting these things in an open field connected to the general landscape, and then feeding the result to human beings, on less than five years of research none of it into human metabolic effects or based on thorough investigation of the contextual ecology, for the purpose of establishing a hugely profitable business selling both the seed and the chemicals to contracted and contractually dependent farmers, would be punished by a moderate term in the federal penitentiary.
    We do not tolerate just any old level of risk. We specify the severely restricted circumstances under which that research may be done, we do whatever we can to prevent mishap including licensing and inspection of labs and people, and we take a very dim view - legally and morally - of people who are careless with that stuff.

    And all of that is based on many decades of research and long familiarity with the situation.

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