Explain to me why we’re so very worried about genetically modified food

I read the other day (and am too lazy to hunt down a link), that some genetically modified rice got mixed into the American rice crop. It’s significant only because Europe has now closed the door on all American rice:

The European Commission will begin testing U.S. long-grain rice to ensure it does not contain an unauthorized genetically modified strain.

Known as LL Rice 601, it was developed by a German company to be resistant to a weed killer known as glufosinate, the EU Observer reported Thursday.

“We have strict legislation in place in the (European Union) to ensure that any GM product put on the European market has undergone a thorough authorization procedure based on scientific assessment,” said the EU’s health and consumer commissioner.

Last year, the EU imported 198,000 metric tons of long grain rice from the United States. The EU’s move follows a similar action by Japan.

I know I’m being a complete doofus, but I’m unclear on why genetically modified food is viewed with such fear. Haven’t humans been genetically modifying food since the dawn of time? Admittedly, we didn’t do it in the lab at the microscopic level, but the growth of human kind is tied to the fact that humans were able to take common grass crops and turn them into the broad variety of grains now available. The same goes, of course, for fruits. Farmers and gardeners have always grafted and changed foods, and with these changes humans have become increasingly able to avoid famines. (And can anyone imagine a world without those constant influx of newly created roses?) Can someone who is more informed than I am explain to me why genetic modification is so significantly different?

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  • http://stevehouchin.blogspot.com Steve


    I have some recollection of explanations from my biology professor from several years ago that differentiated between selective breeding and genetically-altered foods. While the underlying purpose is lost to the recesses of my brain and a very obsolete computer, I view GA foods with some skepticism as well.

    Inasmuch as I’m not in a position to provide a cogent argument either for or against “frankenfoods,” I will provide this link, which weight different positions, in hopes that you can draw a meaningful conclusion from what others have said. Link: http://www.frankenfoods.org/

  • http://stevehouchin.blogspot.com Steve

    btw, the “as well” refers to the many who view GA foods with consternation.

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    The french are worried. The Europs are worried. I’m not worried.

    The EU takes any excuse it can, to do tradewar on America.

    “We have strict legislation in place in the (European Union) to ensure that any GM product put on the European market has undergone a thorough authorization procedure based on scientific assessment,” said the EU’s health and consumer commissioner.

    He means you have to pay a bribe to get past the red tape on time.

    Genetic tweaking has zero risk if you have a backup genotype of the originals and can resplice a new generation based upon that. This isn’t Hollywood, it’s not going to “mutate” and cover the world.

    Can someone who is more informed than I am explain to me why genetic modification is so significantly different?

    It’s different cause it is new. For the decadent luddites in Europe, everything that is new must be reclassified into the old. Until then, it’s bureacracy, bureacracy, and tradwars.

    With as much artificial ingredients put in food, people have an irrational fear of a scientifically improved strain of vegetables and fresh fruits. They don’t have the same fear of trans-fat and artificial sugar, because they more or less know what to expect. But oh, when it’s new, omg, it’s time to put the bureacracy in charge.

    Come on, the Third World peeps starving aren’t in charge in Europe. The Euros are in charge. They could grow a lot of food for little cost, and sell it for cheap to the Third World starving peeps. But no, they have to do it the old fashioned way. Progressive Europe? Give me a break.

  • http://writingenglish.wordpress.com/ judyrose

    Ymar, you are so funny (and smart). I loved reading this comment, especially the part about paying the bribe. I have no way of knowing myself, but I’d bet you are exactly right.

  • JJ

    No problems with genetically altered strains if there’s a reasonable reason for why it’s being done. Making a mutation of rice so it remains unaffected by a herbicide designed to kill weeds sounds back-asswards to me, though.

    I mean, fix the damn herbicide – not the crop!

    Kind of like the doctor saying that to repair your limp after you broke your leg the solution is to break the other leg too. How many times would you be likely to visit this guy?

    Aspirin has the side effect of being hard on the stomach – so the solution is to genetically engineer human beings with cast-iron stomachs so they can take aspirin?

    There are good reasons to genetically alter food. I have a little difficulty seeing that making them resistant to a herbicide that inadvertantly kills them is one of them. It seems to me that recognizing that the herbicide might have some problems would make more sense.

    Probably cheaper, too.

  • Ymarsakar

    Thanks for the kind words, Judy. Let us just say that the more bureacrats you have, the more corruption you have. Bureacrats, unlike elected representatives, can’t be fired by the people. So that means they get to steal from the people, and so long as they don’t break the laws (because they know who makes the laws and pay the people who enforce the laws in government) then they get off scott free with a retirement fund. Chirac and his buddies all have kickbacks. Saddam’s Oil for Food thingamabobe was nothing special in terms of innovation. It was special in that it had loads of kickbacks however, and since Saddam was the police, all you had to do was bribe the UN officials and the guys back home. That being France, and the UN being the UN, those bribes are really easy to get. It’s one of the reasons when people started talking about France a nd the EU and whatever being a superpower balance against the US, I was like what base original cocaine plant are they smoking? France leading the EU, the EU balancing the US? They need to balance their books first, I believe. The funny thing about bribes and corruption is that it increases regardless of the direction your civilization is going. If your civ is going chaotic, you still have bribes, except they are called “protection money” and “tribute” and so forth. If you have a high level civ, however, you still get corruption, except these are called “kickbacks” and “bribes”. The Roman Legion often paid the centurions bribes to get out of the worst duty jobs like latrine duty. Greed is a human condition. Which is why the rather interesting lack of corruption in the US and the US military, is such an interesting contrast when you compare it against the other civilizations in this world.

    Genetically improved crops are insect resistant, frost resistant, have shorter growing seasons to produce more crops per harvest, have a more robust structure that prevents weather and wind damage, and in addition, these crops are bigger and better in terms of taste and size. There are also options to make them grow in warmer or colder climates. After all, a reason a crop won’t grow in cold is because it will snap off with frost, however if it is frost resistant, then let’s just override the temperature settings a bit.

    The only reason why a crop would be made resistant to insect repellent, is if the crop can’t be engineered to be 100% resistant to that particular type of crop pest. That way you can use all kinds of chemicals on the crop, and not damage the crop or introduce poisons into the crop as it is resistant to the chemical(s). But that’s a rather inefficient method of growing crops. Because why use insect killer chems when you can just make the crop immune to all insect foragers? But we’re talking about herbicides, which is similar, but not the same.

    Concerning the world market, some advanced types of strains of crops probably means they are REALLY expensive. Sometimes more expensive than the labor cost it would take to actually GROW these things in the third world. So, we might have a strain of rice that is super resistant to everything and grows whatever and whenever. But they might not be able to afford it. They might have a lot of herbicides or whatever however. So they buy a custom pack that has only some of the super traits, and which allows poor farmers to use their obsolete technology to best effect.

    Known as LL Rice 601, it was developed by a German company to be resistant to a weed killer known as glufosinate, the EU Observer reported Thursday.

    Rice must hog soil nutrients. Why get rid of weeds? Because weeds hog nutrients. Why not get rid of the rice at the same time? Because people eat rice and it can be sold. So that’s why you need to get rid of weeds, but not the rice.

    Weeds are not locusts after all. Plants can’t be made so that they kill off the weeds, while they can probably be made to get rid of locusts. I haven’t heard anything about that, but it’s probable given current techs.

    Let’s all remember, that this rice strain was bought by the Euros. If it made sense, Europe wouldn’t be a part of it.

  • Ymarsakar

    What I said above is the gambit. Now let’s see how close my deductive logic hit upon the reality.

    What is glufosinate
    Glufosinate is a short name for the ammonium salt, glufosinate-ammonium. It is a broad-spectrum contact herbicide and is used to control a wide range of weeds after the crop emerges or for total vegetation control on land not used for cultivation. Glufosinate herbicides are also used to desiccate (dry off) crops before harvest.
    Glufosinate is a natural compound isolated from two species of Streptomyces fungi. It inhibits the activity of an enzyme, glutamine synthetase, which is necessary for the production of glutamine and for ammonia detoxification. The application of glufosinate leads to reduced glutamine and increased ammonia levels in the plant tissues. This causes photosynthesis to stop and the plant dies within a few days(5). Glufosinate also inhibits the same enzyme in animals.

    Hrmmm. Keep reading here.


    So what seems to have happened is that the Germans got glufosinate up and running, but had problems using it on crops as it either killed it or contaminated it. So some other German company, or maybe the same one, developed a strain of crops resistant to glu whatever in order to perhaps increase sales for both.

    I’m not saying you should buy either of these products, but it makes sense in terms of making profit.

    They must have a lot of weeds they want to kill.

    The development of herbicide resistant crops is a strategy developed by a number of chemical companies to increase profits and ensure that key product lines can compete in the market place. AgrEvo has targeted the broad spectrum herbicide, glufosinate, as their linchpin product for the future and initiated a fast track programme to produce a range of crops resistant to glufosinate. However, studies demonstrate that it causes adverse health effects in animal studies, is likely to leach to drinking water sources, could increase nitrate leaching, and is toxic to beneficial soil micro-organisms. The introduction of glufosinate resistant crops and a greater exposure to glufosinate increases the likelihood of these harmful effects in humans and the environment. Glufosinate resistance will tend to intensify and increase dependency on herbicide use rather than lead to significant reductions.

    Soka. Profit! From the Germans no less, they who offer to build bunkers for world wide tyrants and dictators, no less.

    The toxicity is the area where “Europe stuff don’t make sense”. I took me like 10 minutes to google it and read the first website to get the background info. Sure, on the surface it looks weird, since the article was short. But not when you use deductive logic. It’s not a coincidence after all when both the makers of glu co whatever and rice something or other were in Germany. And it also makes sense in the profit sense to have a crop that is resistant to a weed killer and broad spectrum plant killer. SInce you can use it in tandem with the herbicide, which lowers costs, increases market share, and opens up more options for sale. I just didn’t know the specifics until later.

    There’s always like a story within a story with these short articles.

  • http://suitableformixedcompany.blogspot.com/ Kathryn Judson

    May I suggest the book Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes, by Sue Hubbell, c. 2001? It’s an interesting romp through history, if nothing else.

  • jg

    Canadian TV has in the past broadcast some interesting studies about genetically modified crops and their problems.
    Wheat and other grain crops are of great interest to the Canadians.

    One story found that GM canola tended to spread into GM-free areas; there was no real way to control it. The Canadians was good about presenting both sides.

    I am more worried about the effect of big corporations on our/other nations’ food supplies. I’ve read in the past that smaller enterprises have been driven out by the international conglomerates. Some of these companies, I think, have moved into also trying to control the seed supply, another problem Canadian TV examined. To raise some types of super crops, the farmer must purchase his seed every year from one source, the patent holder.

    Today’s consumers are at the end of a very long food chain. As Y. has stated, the safety of that food supply can be up for sale.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    There are legitimate concerns about GM plants….and herbicide resistance is definitely one of them. Plant species that are closely related tend to share genetic elements, and there is some evidence that this can lead to the herbicide resisistance moving out into various weed species….not good.

    On the other hand, putting a gene for the precursor of Vit D into rice (“golden rice”) so that little kids eating it don’t go blind hardly seems like a tough call — yet the anti-GM pepole make no distinction whatever in these two cases.

    Which is why it seems more like a religious impulse than a serious scientific concern that is driving that particular group of people.

    Profit will make people take pretty substantial risks, even if they are the only ones at risk. If most of the risk will be borne by someone else, their aversion to risk shrinks accordingly. The GM field needs careful, objective (as much as possible) oversight by people who actually know the field.

    I believe that the euro-weenies are using this as an anti-comptetitive strategy. I can’t prove this, but the evidence I’ve read over the last several years (no, I do not have the references – sorry, this is impressionistic) seems pretty good. Besides, I’ll believe ‘most anything about the French, these days! :-)

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    Convincing americans of the perfidy of the French need not require a very rigorous propaganda campaign.

  • http://dkjfwekjnc4.com waystolearn

    Google on Starlink. Life repeats. In EU we have choice about whether we eat foods containing ingredients from those GM plants that have been approved for food use. Strict labelling of products is helping the consumer. Unfortunately LL Rice 601 hasnt been approved for food use either in EU or in USA. Although there will undoubtebly be no health risk, it is important to make a stance or the next repetition could have more serious consequences.

  • http://todayyesterdayandtomorrow.wordpress.com todayyesterdayandtomorrow

    Several recent studies confirm fears that genetically modified (GM) foods damage human health.

    These studies were released as the World Trade Organization (WTO) moved toward upholding the ruling that the European Union has violated international trade rules by stopping importation of GM foods.

    Previously censored studies, are now being exposed, thankfully. The health risks abound.