Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Seven answers from ...

... Michael Crichton.

... fears are a matter of fashion. Worries are like clothing styles, they come and go, rise and fall, based on what the worry fashion leaders tell the herd of independent minds to fear this year. GM is fashionable to fear. But that will change.


  1. Anonymous12:39 PM

    Enslavement of human life to the interests of uber-capitalist globalising multinationals is also fashionable to fear. But that will change.
    Crappy art like Michael Crichton's a matter of fashion. Such stuff is like clothing styles, they come and go, rise and fall, based on what the entertainment industry leaders tell the herd of independent minds to consume this year. Crichton is fashionable to read. But that will change.

  2. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Where I'm coming from here the position that GM foods most benefit the GM companies. Also disgust at the obvious propaganda that one hears that GM foods are all about such humanitarian concerns as the ending of famine. And one sees people like GWB making exactly these statements it is all too clear the incestuous marriage of big-business interests and politics. This taken from the below site: "The development of genetically engineered crops is being promoted as the solution to agricultural problems but is actually a way of ensuring that the stranglehold on farmers and the food supply exercised by the agro-chemical industry is maintained and explains why in the 1980/90s the biotechnology industry began to buy up seed companies."

  3. I'm afraid we've been eating genetically modified foods for long before the term came into use. Every vegetable you eat is the product of hybridization, which is just a primitive - and inefficient - form of genetic modification. GM proper is much more precise. Gene splicing is bringing about the return of the grand American chestnut tree, nearly wiped out by Dutch elm disease. Thanks to a splice from the Chinese chestnut it will no longer be susceptible to Dutch elm and will no longer be stunted.

  4. Anonymous5:55 AM

    Having spent time in the corn/soy belt of America on business I came to understand the importance of GM foods. If crops can be planted that don’t require large quantities of herbicides and pesticides, the farmer and the land are both healthier for it. As the world population continues to grow and our food and energy requirements increase, every tool we have in the toolbox will be required to meet these needs. I am a great believer in the law on unintended consequences with the fallout being that you can’t predict what impact any action has on tomorrow with any certainty. What I do know is that all the fears in the 80’s about the biotechnology industry and recombinant organisms escaping the bioreators have disappeared with time. I could get up every morning and think if I get up and leave the house I might die in a car accident on my way to work and in response go back to bed. I wouldn’t want to live my life that way. There may be some negatives to GM foods but in the long run the positives will outweigh the negatives.

  5. Anonymous9:03 AM

    There's a book, Seeds of Deception
    by Jeffrey M. Smith, described as
    “Outrageous! That's what you'll say over and over again when you read how the biotechnology companies have manipulated the government, our food, and the media, and put an entire generation at risk. Notions of independence and integrity in the nation's food regulatory agencies are shattered in this well-documented, captivating book.”
    – Ben Cohen, Co-Founder, Ben & Jerry's
    “Clear, profound, and unerringly accurate, Seeds of Deception tells you what you need to know about genetically engineered food — and what Monsanto won't tell you. If you care about the safety of our food supply, if you care about the future of life on this dear planet, if you care what corporations are doing to your food and health, this is the book to get.”
    – John Robbins, author, The Food Revolution, and Diet For A New America
    “This pivotal exposé leaves no doubt that politics and corporate influence, not sound science, allowed these potentially dangerous GM foods onto supermarket shelves.”
    – Joe Mendelson, Legal Director, Center for Food Safety
    “I have seen first hand how Monsanto and the FDA have resorted to scientific deceit of the highest order to market genetically engineered milk. With captivating style and a flair for describing science in clear, accurate language, Seeds of Deception unveils the distortions, omissions, and lies for all to see.”
    – Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., professor emeritus environmental and occupational medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition.

    More specifically on the subject at hand at the relevant site:

  6. I'd be more inclined to take Seeds of Deception seriously, Andrew, if I could find a discussion of it by anybody other than anti-GM advocates. If it were just out, I'd find somebody to review it. Anyway, just as I am not an apocalyptic, neither am I inclined to subscribe to conspiracy theories. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, my stepdaughter's husband works in the GM field. But consider the benefits genetic engineering has already shown with regard to diseases such as cystic fibrosis. So GM can be used to cure disease, but not to improve food? And I still want to know why it is safe to eat hybrids and not GM foods.
    Finally, I failed to point out that you may not like Crichton's novels - I find them entertaining myself (any book in which a Martin Sheen figure gets eaten by cannibals can't be all bad) - but he is far from being scientifically illiterate.

  7. Anonymous4:11 PM

    With GM foods we are talking about undertaking very serious changes in the ecological make-up of the planet, Frank, and there is no way we can know what kind of results we could be letting ourselves in for. We are obvoiously dealing with very delicately balanced eco-systems, and also dealing with huge companies with a prime interest in making money. Mentioning conspiracy theories seems a disingenuous means of colouring any serious debate; it hardly being a wacked out notion that where there is enormous power and money at stake that corruption and deceit in various forms are inevitable. A hugely important issue is what is described as Monsanto's terminator technology: they will sell seeds to farmers to plant crops. But these seeds have been genetically-engineered so that when the crops are harvested, all new seeds from these crops are sterile (i.e. dead, unusable). This forces farmers to pay Monsanto every year for new seeds if they want to grow their crops.

    In less rich countries, hundreds of millions of people rely heavily on small farms which produce foods for the region. If these farms begin to use Monsanto's terminator technology, and cannot afford to buy new genetically engineered seeds from Monsanto the following year, many of the people in the region may starve. Under normal circumstances, food could be brought in from other regions. However, many of those other regions will likely have the same problems with famine due to Monsanto's terminator technology.”

    A couple of interesting extracts of piececs by writer, Arundhati Roy about what's been happening in India:
    Meanwhile, economists cheering from the pages of corporate newspapers inform us that the GDP growth rate is phenomenal, unprecedented. Shops are overflowing with consumer goods. Government storehouses are overflowing with grain. Outside this circle of light, the past five years have seen the most violent increase in rural-urban income inequalities since [India’s] independence [in 1947]. Farmers steeped in debt are committing suicide in hundreds; 40% of the rural population in India has the same foodgrain absorption level as sub-Saharan Africa, and 47% of Indian children under three suffer from malnutrition.”

    Arundhati Roy on Massive Protests Against Bush's Visit to India

    “And yesterday on the streets, while I was there, there were, you know, 53 widows, from my state of Kerala, of farmers who have committed suicide because of the closing net of debt around them. Tens of thousands of farmers have committed suicide. And yet, you know, he arrived here with these corporates like ADS and Cogentrix and Unocal. All of them have such dubious records. It's really unbelievable, and yet if you see the way the CEOs and the corporates are falling over him -- and I have to mention this, that they couldn't find a public space in India for Bush to speak, so he ended up -- the meeting was organized in the Delhi zoo, in the walls of the Purana Qila, which houses the Delhi zoo, where he was going to speak to some rich people and some corporate people.”

    Despair takes toll on Indian farmers:
    Monsanto has claimed that their Bt cotton (resistant to boll weevil) requires only two insecticide treatments instead of the usual 6 to 8 treatments. They also promised larger crops but, on both accounts, the farmers were hugely disappointed. In thousands of cases over the past year, desperate farmers were driven to suicide. The already indebted farmers found no way out of their desperate situation.

    Amelia Gentleman writes:

    “The modified seed sold for about four and a half times the cost of normal seed, but many farmers opted to buy it because they believed it was indestructible and would give a higher yield."

    She continues:

    “Yogesh Chand Nanda, a member of the commission, said: "There is a problem in Indian agriculture right now. During the 1990s, profitability went down - the cost of farming rose, wages increased, the price of seeds and fertilizers went up, but the returns were lower. A large number of people who used to be subsistence farmers have moved toward commercial farming - exposing themselves to much greater risks."

    They were devastated when many of the Bt cotton plants were afflicted in November with a reddening that destroyed much of the crop.”

    Sorry about the length of the extracts but much more at the site. It hardly a matter of conspiracy theory to be more than wary of the interests of untrammeled capitalism.

  8. I only have right now, Andrew, to address your first example - about the Monsanto seeds that are sterile. That is little different from the seeds of hybridized plants, which, while not sterile, will not produce the same plants that the hybridized plant did. If you start a Burpee Big Boy tomato plant from seed, you will harvest Burpee Big Boy tomatoes. But you can't plant seeds from those tomatoes and get Burpee Big Boy tomatoes. The seeds that you buy are those from the original cross-pollinated plants. This is not an evil plot on the part of Burpee. It's the way hybridization works.

  9. Another view of GM in India may be found at this link.

  10. Anonymous1:58 PM

    Just to take a line from the New Scientist article,
    "India's farmers are already voting for Bt cotton by buying the seed. GM crops that are "Made in India" can only get more popular."

    This contrasted with the lines of Amelia Gentleman who presmably unlike Randerson, does live in India,
    "The modified seed sold for about four and a half times the cost of normal seed, but many farmers opted to buy it because they believed it was indestructible and would give a higher yield."
    It all to me seems to be an issue of ever greater centralizations of power across all fields, contrary to the "responsible freedom within small self-governing groups, which is the first condition of a genuine democracy"- Huxley, Brave New World Revisited.

    Arundathi Roy who who of course also lives in India, has this to say - "Something new looms on our horizon. Something that's almost too colossal for human comprehension to contain. To even try and understand it, to hold the whole of it in your imagination, is to situate yourself at the edge of sanity. To offer yourself up for ridicule. It's not war, it's not genocide, it's not ethnic cleansing, it's not a famine or an epidemic. On the face of it, it's just business. It lacks the drama, the biblical magnificence of war or genocide or famine. It's dull in comparison. It makes bad TV. It has to do with boring things like jobs, money, water supply, electricity, irrigation. But it also has to do with a process of barbaric dispossession on a scale that has few parallels in history. You may have guessed by now that I'm talking about the modem version of globalization."

    This a brief extract from the very interestng essay linked below. I realise I've of course broadened the scope of the subject at hand, but the barbaric dispossession mentioned clearly a reality in places like India, while of course our medias will trump the rising of all boats by the tide of globalism. If ten people are playing poker in which two of the ten have an infinitely greater stash to than the oher players, it can only go one way and that is that the small players get swallowed up by the big. And that seems to be the reality of gobalization and indeed capitalism if as is the present case, they are being pushed to their nth. That hundreds of millions of lives are in the hands of the very few such as Monsanto is a global dictatorial or despotic state of sorts. As you pesumably know from Greek history, the despots were not necessarily malevolent but there is the distinct possibility of malevolence in such immense power in such few hands.
    Anyway the Roy essay below,