Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science


6:25 pm - May 26th 2012

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contribution by James MacKenzie

There’s been a lot of fuss this week about Jenny Jones’ support for Take The Flour Back, a revival of mid-1990s anti-GM activism. On one side, so the story goes, you have plucky scientists just doing research, and on the other side you’ve got anti-science vandals and woo-merchants.

The truth is rather different, but to be fair to the skeptic firing squad, some of the Take The Flour Back logic was poor. They’re worried that one of the genes inserted at Rothamsted is ‘most similar to a cow’.

I should declare an interest, or at least some history – I was convicted in Edinburgh in 1999 for an anti-GM protest, and acquitted on appeal in 2003.

You regularly hear that one side of this fight makes emotional arguments and the other relies on science, and that’s true.

We brought scientific expertise into court to talk about the existing evidence of gene flow, instability of the genome from retroviral DNA insertion, and issues with specific genes, including those used as antibiotic resistance markers, or to express the BT toxin, or to confer tolerance to herbicides made by the same companies.

At that time, we also raised concerns about corporate control over the food chain, and the consequences of that were already being seen in America, India and Brazil. The arguments against us mostly implied we sought to take food from the mouths of starving children in the South, and described us as Luddites. Despite this 180° distortion, their PR megaphones had some success reversing the roles and pitching themselves as the rationalists taking on the emotional and ill-informed opposition.

They also successfully narrowed down what science should be to appeal to a group who should have been amongst our chief allies – actual scientists, even including some who’d describe themselves as environmentalists. This appeal spread even to some parts of the left who ought to have been anxious about corporate control of the food chain even if biodiversity seemed a frivolous concern for them. They didn’t want to look like Luddites, especially if somehow these magical new products could end hunger.

Specific experiments aren’t necessarily intrinsically good science, for all sorts of possible reasons. Is the methodology robust? Has a subset of the results been cherry-picked to suit funders? Can the results be statistically significant? Have extraneous factors been minimised? Should it have been done double-blind? Fundamentally, for the GM field trial question, is it ethical?

Ethics isn’t something alien to science, some hippie obsession. It’s embedded in good science. Academic research has to pass the universities’ ethics committees, and it’s easy enough to think of research that would fail without having to Godwin the debate.

And GM field trials tell you only one thing more than GM trials in secure labs – how those crops interact with their environment. Lots of those interactions are already demonstrated, and proving them again is hardly worthwhile.

For pollinating crops, we know that genes will spread. But wheat is largely self-pollinating, the defenders of the Rothamsted experiment tell us, and that should be good enough. Don’t bother your pretty little heads about that word “largely”. But the science is against them – including this wheat-specific research. We know that traits like herbicide tolerance spread widely, to other conventional crops, to organic crops and to weedy relatives.

And it’s not just wind or insect pollination that leads to gene flow. Back in 1999 we argued about horizontal gene transfer through soil bacteria, too, and that’s happening as well: “the successful transfer of transgene-borne antibiotic resistance genes to bacteria might be unavoidable according to a plethora of scientific data“.

More alarmingly still, from the same paper, “several commercial [GMOs] contain antibiotic resistance genes that are still under the control of bacterial promoters as remnants of the bacterial vectors used to construct the [GMOs].”

The most important question for the defenders of field trials is this – what happens if problematic gene flow takes place from your trial, and how would you seek to rectify it? There is as yet no recall button, especially when (as with herbicide tolerance or the BT gene) an inserted sequence has adaptive qualities, and until there is it’s simply unforgivable to plant GM crops in the wild, especially fertile ones.

Science and its technological implementation
I am resolutely pro-science, although I have no post-school scientific qualifications. I admire Ben Goldacre’s regular destruction of myths, dodgy research, and woo groupthink. To take the alternative medicine debate, I don’t believe in homeopathy or acupuncture or iridology. Or anything that’s not been properly scientifically tested and found effective.

But, going back to the distinction between science and technology, and returning to the atom, Rutherford’s research was elegant and admirable pure science, while Oppenheimer’s role on the Manhattan Project was at best an ethically dubious development drawing on that research. We gained a lot from Rutherford’s work, but Oppenheimer’s legacy has hung over the world for more than half a century. I have no problem with the discovery of PCBs in the lab, but if I could go back in time and monkeywrench efforts to put them into the environment I would.

I’m not even anti-GM. We were promised secure vats of GM bacteria churning out medicines or other resources. Go for it. Let’s see it. Start with treatments for the diseases of the South which have proved so uneconomic for the drug companies. I’ll be right there, and I’ll do you your glowing press release for nothing.

But field trials of GM crops are bad science. It’s time for the skeptics to look again at that actual science, rather than just lauding field trials as obviously valuable research.

In fact, if they want to support good science rather than this irretrievable externalisation of risk onto the environment and the food chain, they should get their hands dirty with us.


A longer version is at Better Nation

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Reader comments


Uninformed protesters committing criminal acts is hardly pro-science. If there was evidence to support anything they’re claiming, they could get the tests stopped given that public opinion is generally against GM crops (entirely due to misinformation).

As for what the group claims – even looking at their website I’m not sure what their problem is exactly. They seem to complain about “cross-contamination” but no specific health problem related to GM food. Something about economics – apparently making crops more efficient and easier for farmers to grow, as well as helping world hunger is a bad thing.

Absolute idiots, and not pro-science at all. It’s pseudo-science, as with most environmentalists.

Wow, I’ve seen some bullshit on here before, but this takes top spot by a mile

I can’t see anything in any of your linked studies that hasn’t been more than accounted for, James.

This is utter crap. Science is based on conducting experiments to find out what happens. You keep stopping these experiments.

You can bring on as many opinions and theories as you like, but the truth will never be known without actually doing the experiment and analysing the result.

You seem happier to allow people to starve in future for the sake of some imagined genetic purity rather than carry out work that may be essential to feed us all. This is a prime example of anti-science.

The case for GM crops has been largely overstated, new* GM crops currently do not offer any chance of crop yield increases (as is often claimed), though they do offer a chance to reduce crop losses by mimicking currently existing methods to reduce crop losses, such as killing insects who eat crops, or being resistant to herbicide so you can spray weed-killer with abandon.

*The last time the world witnessed increases in crop yields was when the high-yielding crop varieties were evolved. That was the time when scientists were able to break through the genetic yield barrier. The double-gene and triple-gene dwarf wheat (a trait that was subsequently inducted in rice) brought in quantum jumps in yield potential. That was way back in the late 1960s. Since then, there has been no further genetic breakthrough in crop yields.

I really hate it when people seem to think that GM food will save people from starvation. That’s a nonsense. There’s already tonnes of food that go to waste because of the global market place can’t find a market to sell it to, and that’s the problem.

If GM remains in the hands of corporations then we will simply be re-creating the pharmacutical patent system that we currently have- where people die because they can’t afford the drugs to allow them to survive. In the food market, it already happens in the USA where farmers get sued for collecting seeds, rather than buying GM seeds every season from companies like Monsanto.

Scientists need to wake up to the fact that all their very good work still goes into a system that can be detrimental to humans. Science is very important, but so are ethics.

7. margin4error

Vandalising scientific experiements is obviously anti-science. As much as anything else, it assumes scientists are incapable of identifying flaws in methodology – which is a ludicrously anti-science attitude.

Scientific study should be welcomed and held accountable and all results should be thoroughly tested. Tha’s science at work. And it is no bad thing.

Arguing that some science is bad for other reasons than science is fine, but don’t dress it up as a pro-science outlook. It isn’t.

8. Bob Arthur

Sorry, but this is complete bunkum. You admit a complete lack of expertise in the matter, but encourage people to act on that ignorance? You have demonstrated no risks from the trials to support your claim that it is “bad science”.

However, I have no issue with you being opposed to these trials—we are all entitled to our opinions. But opinions should be used the _guide_ policy, not to unilaterally implement it. Nobody has the right to bypass due process to impose their evidence-free beliefs upon everyone else. To suggest that to do so is “pro-science” is grossly offensive.

What if I had some deeply-held belief that organ transplant is bad science? Would that give me the right to destroy a supply of donor organs?

@6 Stuart

You give yourself away in your second paragraph by introducing ‘corporations’. The ethics of GM food have nothing to do with the ethics of corporations, and sabotaging scientific advacement in case of what might happen if corporations got ahold of the technology afterwards is ridiculous.

Ultimately the environmentalist movement is anti-corporate, and see GM foods as such.

Not one part of this article demonstrates how protesting GM field trials is “pro-science”. You seem to have gone out of your way to show otherwise, in fact, by the choice of references to support some of your claims:

“But wheat is largely self-pollinating, the defenders of the Rothamsted experiment tell us, and that should be good enough. Don’t bother your pretty little heads about that word “largely”. But the science is against them – including this wheat-specific research.”

You seem to have misread or misunderstood the press release you cite. I assume the “science” that you believe is against the Rothamsted defenders is their claim that up to 70% of the samples they tested showed signs of cross pollination. First off, this is press release and not a peer-reviewed paper so it’s hard to know what that evidence is but regardless that isn’t the important number. The important number is the one next to it where it states that 95% of those samples had small cross-contamination rates of under 0.5% with the highest cross-contamination rates being 5%.

To summarize that down further:

70% of the wheat seed samples showed 99.5% being accounted for by self-fertilization. How does that disprove their claim that wheat is “largely” self-pollinating? Regardless of this, I believe that the Rothamsted institute has a large “buffer” zone around the GM-line larger than the travelling distance of wheat pollen to stop any small amount of accidental gene flow.

“We know that traits like herbicide tolerance spread widely, to other conventional crops, to organic crops and to weedy relatives.”

The second newspaper article shows the evolution of herbicide resistance among natural populations of plants when those populations are exposed to a novel threat (in this case Roundup). It doesn’t have anything to do with GM crops.

“Back in 1999 we argued about horizontal gene transfer through soil bacteria, too, and that’s happening as well”

This third reference you bring up is perhaps the most egregious in that you’ve gone to the trouble of finding an actual published article but have only cherry-picked a brief quote from the conclusion without mentioning what the researchers found themselves. You mention you are a fan of Ben Goldacre so you should know how common a sin cherry picking is and how grave a mistake it can be. Just a few sentences underneath what you quote is this paragraph:

“However, the detection of such events remains very difficult, and, in this study, we, like others before, did not detect any cellular or molecular evidence that the blaTEM116 gene from the Bt176 transgenic plant was transferred to bacteria. If such transfer events ever happened (although undetectable), they apparently remain without consequences on the soil bacterial community structure.”

They found NO evidence that the plant gene made its way into the bacterial genome. Importantly, one of the reasons they mention this didn’t happen was that that antibiotic resistance gene is already widely present in the natural environmental bacterial population. This paper even references other papers that HAVE shown plant-to-bacteria gene transfer that you could have used that you obviously haven’t read. One of them again notes that the antiobiotic resistance genes widely used in these experiments are already present in environmental bacteria. The other states that they have found homolgous gene transfer between plants and bacteria in greenhouse environment but note this could easily be avoided by ensuring that the transgenic gene constructs are made in such a way that they do not contain homologous sequences to natural bacteria. They also note that even if they took up the gene homologously in many case the promoter for the antibiotic resistance gene is not bacterial so would not generate a resistant phenotype AND AGAIN point out that these antibiotic resistance genes are present in most populations of environmental bacteria anyway.

“And GM field trials tell you only one thing more than GM trials in secure labs – how those crops interact with their environment. Lots of those interactions are already demonstrated, and proving them again is hardly worthwhile.”

Again, I don’t know what you are getting at here. The researchers at Rothamsted don’t know how well their transfected lines repel aphids in the natural environment. They don’t know how the wheat and natural aphid populations will interact. They are the ones who need to demonstrate it.

You conclude by saying that planting GM crops is bad science without having given any proof why this is so.

Yo, I think something went wrong with my comment or someone edited it because this part:

“70% of the wheat seed samples showed 99.5% being accounted for by self-fertilization”

Read something different when I posted it. I can’t remember the exact words I used by it was more like:

“70% of the wheat seed samples showed 95-99.5% being accounted for by self-fertilization”

I can do math, I promise.

Did you even read this paper that you think supports your case on antibiotics? It says completely the opposite:

“In addition, no significant differences were observed in bacterial antibiotic-resistance levels between transgenic and nontransgenic corn fields, although the bacterial populations were different.”

You fail.

I also know that your other claim about transfer of the herbicide resistance is false–what’s happening is that natural resistance is bulking up: http://www.biofortified.org/2010/05/where-the-superpowers-of-superweeds-come-from/

Here’s a pro-tip: cherry-picking sentences from papers that do not make your case is not pro-science, m’kay?

Oh, and Matt’s right on the other stuff. I just knew the other two off the top of my head so went for that first.

And yes, the containment plan for the Rothamsted trial is well designed with redundancy.

14. So Much For Subtlety

Specific experiments aren’t necessarily intrinsically good science, for all sorts of possible reasons. Is the methodology robust? Has a subset of the results been cherry-picked to suit funders? Can the results be statistically significant? Have extraneous factors been minimised? Should it have been done double-blind? Fundamentally, for the GM field trial question, is it ethical?

Specific experiments may be bad science. But breaking into someone else’s lab and destroying all their test tubes is not good science either. Vandalism is not good science no matter what you say.

Ethics isn’t something alien to science, some hippie obsession. It’s embedded in good science. Academic research has to pass the universities’ ethics committees

And presumably these tests did. But you don’t care do you? Did the people who destroyed these tests pass an ethics panel?

And GM field trials tell you only one thing more than GM trials in secure labs – how those crops interact with their environment. Lots of those interactions are already demonstrated, and proving them again is hardly worthwhile.

Whether or not it is worthwhile, it is necessary. And mandated by law. You can use them unless you have tested them.

But if you’re happy for GMOs to go straight from the lab to commercial production I could sign up for that.

For pollinating crops, we know that genes will spread.

Who is to blame for that? Monsanto wanted to make every GMO sterile. Who lead the campaign to prevent them? Why that would be people like you wouldn’t it? By all means, let’s bring the Terminator gene back.

We know that traits like herbicide tolerance spread widely, to other conventional crops, to organic crops and to weedy relatives.

Do we? Where and when has it done so?

And it’s not just wind or insect pollination that leads to gene flow. Back in 1999 we argued about horizontal gene transfer through soil bacteria, too, and that’s happening as well: “the successful transfer of transgene-borne antibiotic resistance genes to bacteria might be unavoidable according to a plethora of scientific data“.

Might be unavoidable? Not exactly proof it is happening is it?

Let’s have a look at those quotations in context.

“The successful transfer of transgene-borne antibiotic resistance genes to bacteria might be unavoidable according to a plethora of scientific data.”

The rest of that paragraph goes on to explain how that data would predict the conditions to be favourable for transfer:

“This includes the long-term DNA persistence in soil, the heterogeneous soil structure favoring contact between DNA and bacteria, the prokaryotic origin of the plant transgene sequences that represent a specific risk for a facilitated integration in a bacterial genome by HGT as demonstrated under laboratory (41), and greenhouse conditions (39). In addition, in the Bt176 event that we investigated here, the bacterial promoter was introduced concomitantly with the antibiotic resistance gene that would facilitate its expression in a potential recipient. Finally, these GMPs were cultured in the same field for 10 successive years, making this GMP-field combination particularly suitable to address gene transfer questions and impact on soil bacteria.”

In other words, if transfer is ever going to happen, these are the perfect conditions for it.

The next paragraph goes on to say:

“However, the detection of such events remains very difficult, and, in this study, we, like others before, did not detect any cellular or molecular evidence that the blaTEM116 gene from the Bt176 transgenic plant was transferred to bacteria. If such transfer events ever happened (although undetectable), they apparently remain without consequences on the soil bacterial community structure.”

In other words, there is neither genotypic or phenotypic evidence that transfer happened, in spite of the conditions being perfect. In other words, this article comes to the exact opposite conclusion that you do.

(The other quotation from that article which concerns you, about genes still being under the control of bacterial promoters, is yet another instance of a condition which the data would indicate as favourable to transfer.)

The article you linked to from your assertion that “We know that traits like herbicide tolerance spread widely, to other conventional crops, to organic crops and to weedy relatives” has nothing whatsoever to do with horizontal gene transfer — it’s about how over-reliance on Roundup has caused natural selection to do its trick in creating superstrains. And of course the Rothamsted experiment has everything to do with reducing the use of herbicides.

The research about wheat pollination was definitely your strongest link, but of course it was all about non-GM species rather than vertical transfer of modified genes.

Is this the evidence you provided in court? If so you were lucky to be acquitted

[I posted this comment on Better Nation, but they're all too busy watching Eurovision to approve it ;) so I've posted it here as well.]

Oh, and by the way–that vat of drugs you wanted to cheer about: we have that now. It’s a drug that treats a rare genetic disease.

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/protalix-biotherapeutics-review-fda-approval-222601100.html

Elelyso for Gaucher’s disease. It’s made in carrot culture cells. Here’s more: http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/05/first-plant-made-drug-on-the-market.html

Looking forward to your press release on that.

17. Caroline Allen

I’d class myself as a scientist, but not a genetist. Here is a piece on these trials from someone who is. I dont know if all of these points are completely accurate, not being an expert in the field, but there seems to be enough significant concerns to say these crops should not be in the field.
http://www.gmfreeze.org/site_media/uploads/publications/R.Steinbrecher_-_Econexus_submission_re_GM_Wheat_application.pdf

18. A. Shipley

You lose most of your credibility when you group acupuncture, a method based in thousands of years of anatomical study, with homeopathy and iridology.

@16

Never trust a letter which uses Comic Sans.

“I am resolutely pro-science, although I have no post-school scientific qualifications”
“But field trials of GM crops are bad science. ”

So if you have no scientific training at all, how the hell can you know that field trials for GM crops are bad science?!

The whole point of doing experiments is to find out wether the GM crop is any good or not! If the experiment proves ti’s no good, then that’ll be the end of it!

Destroying an experiment is disgustingly anti-science, not to mention criminal damage. I hope people like you get the maximum sentence possible for any damage caused. At the end of the day, you’re wasting our money given that this study is publicly funded.

@ A Shipley

Acupuncture is based on what…?

Thousands of years of anatomical study??

To quote the great Wolfgang Pauli, that’s not even wrong.

Chinese culturer, prior to the importation of Western medicine, did not permit the practice of dissection – so much so that there is well documented case, dating to the 19th century, of a British doctor who asked the authorities for access to corpses for dissection only to be informed that under no circumstances would this be allowed…

…although he was offered the use of the inmates of the local prison for the same purpose – which he declined.

So perhaps you’d care to explain to everyone how the Chinese managed to carry out these anatomical studies in the absence of anything to carry out such studies on.

Oppenheimer’s role on the Manhattan Project was at best an ethically dubious development drawing on that research

I reckon the avoidance of war between the USSR and the West was a pretty solid result. The residents of Tokyo, which would have been obliterated by conventional bombing (as opposed to near-obliterated) absent the Manhattan Project would probably concur.

More generally, if you don’t like the patent system (I don’t), then lobby against the patent system. Lobbying against GM because you don’t like the IP regime is equivalent to lobbying against recorded music or against drug discovery…

I agree with many of the great other comments analysing why the writer’s comments about antibiotics are bunkum.

But there are additional as yet unsaid reasons why they are misguided and misinformed.

Antibiotic resistances of the sort used in crop research are already widely distributed in most peoples guts. Not only that, they are infectious and spread between gut bacteria at high detectable frequencies. Additionally there are vast numbers of bacterial antibiotic resistance genes in soil.

In short the GMO antibiotic resistance risk is like pissing in the ocean. It won’t change sea-levels one little bit.

QUESTION: Why are even the best anti-GMO arguments (like this one at Liberal Conspiracy) so badly informed?

ANSWER: Because the vast majority of professional biologists don’t support the anti-GM nonsense.

A recent example is Nobelist Roberts, who says just days ago that EUs anti-GM position is just politics reinforces this truth.

Bust link at the end – the longer version should be linked to:

http://www.betternation.org/2012/05/why-taking-down-gm-field-trials-is-pro-science/

You write “GM bacteria churning out medicines or other resources. Go for it. Let’s see it.” Here is a small sample, in the 2 minutes I am free:

Engineered chymosin (rennin) in cheese products – this used to come from the stomaches of slaughtered calves, so the GM techinque is a huge improvement.

Food supplements, such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – OMG you eat those every day!

?-amylase (used to make high-fructose corn syrup and dry beer). Ditto every day!

Lactase (added to milk to reduce the lactose content for persons with lactose intolerance) – ‘here I only blush…’.

And insulin, essential for diabetics….but don’t worry it’s human insulin.

You write “GM bacteria churning out medicines or other resources. Go for it. Let’s see it.” Here is a small sample, in the 2 minutes I am free:

Engineered chymosin (rennin) in cheese products – this used to come from the stomaches of slaughtered calves, so the GM techinque is a huge improvement.

Food supplements, such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – OMG you eat those every day!

?-amylase (used to make high-fructose corn syrup and dry beer). Ditto every day!

Lactase (added to milk to reduce the lactose content for persons with lactose intolerance) – ‘here I only blush…’.

And insulin, essential for diabetics….but don’t worry it’s human insulin.

We’re due the old “Precautionary principle” argument soon.

You sir, are an ill informed fool.

“, we also raised concerns about corporate control over the food chain”

This is public research, there will be no corporate control of whatever comes out of it. It is akin to the golden rice case, not whatever Monsanto has been doing.

“And GM field trials tell you only one thing more than GM trials in secure labs – how those crops interact with their environment.”

This is actually the point of this trial.

How does the crop interact with the environment?

29. Chaise Guevara

“But field trials of GM crops are bad science.”

Jesus fucking Christ. Learn about science before you pontificate about it.

“And GM field trials tell you only one thing more than GM trials in secure labs – how those crops interact with their environment. Lots of those interactions are already demonstrated, and proving them again is hardly worthwhile. ”

Field trials also have the advantage that they are on a larger scale which means a larger sample size. Generally Larger sample sizes = Better science.

GM food could potentially be the new penicillin in terms of the number of lives it could save. Crops that have improved disease resistance or require less water could lead to significant increases in yields and could feed millions of people. True, it is currently corporations that benefit by producing strains that do not reproduce but if this in-built break is removed then it will benefit the 3rd world.

True, it is currently corporations that benefit by producing strains that do not reproduce but if this in-built break is removed then it will benefit the 3rd world.

That, I imagine, will be easier said than done. Given that it means preventing the ability to extract surplus value in the form of profits…

Crops that have improved disease resistance or require less water could lead to significant increases in yields and could feed millions of people.

No, it will lead to a reduction in crop losses which is different to increases in crop yields.

“That, I imagine, will be easier said than done. Given that it means preventing the ability to extract surplus value in the form of profits…”

No, not really. The terminator gene was introduced because various greenies were whining about how these GM crops might reproduce and thus take over the world.

Standard farming buys new seeds each year anyway.

33. Trooper Thompson

I wish the protesters every success.

34. Trooper Thompson

@ 20

“Destroying an experiment is disgustingly anti-science, not to mention criminal damage.”

Not necessarily, not if there are valid scientific reasons for preventing the experiment.

“I hope people like you get the maximum sentence possible for any damage caused. At the end of the day, you’re wasting our money given that this study is publicly funded.”

You better hope I don’t sit on the jury, because I’ll find them not guilty, and I very much resent public money being given to such experiments.

>I should declare an interest, or at least some history – I was convicted in Edinburgh in 1999 for an anti-GM protest, and acquitted on appeal in 2003.

If this nonsense needs any more nails in its coffin, we can note that the “acquitted on appeal” was because the case timed out, not because it was overturned by argument.

James Mackenzie was found guilty of vandalizing a field of GM crops.

The counterargument was not that the offence had not been done, but that it was ‘reasonable’.

Account here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/1118362.stm

@34

“Not necessarily, not if there are valid scientific reasons for preventing the experiment.”

There are very few cases in which destroying an experiment could be done for ‘scientific reasons’ – regardless, that clearly isn’t the case here because those attempting to destroy it don’t know the first thing about science.

37. Shatterface

The world doesn’t have a food shortage problem, it has a food distribution problem – and that’s an economic issue that isn’t going to be resolved in the laboratory.

Nevertheless this is a legitimate scientific experiment that is being vandalized by the reactionary wing of the ecology movement – whether or not it can deliver what it promises isn’t going to be decided by people acting like pests.

38. Trooper Thompson

@36

“There are very few cases in which destroying an experiment could be done for ‘scientific reasons’ – regardless, that clearly isn’t the case here because those attempting to destroy it don’t know the first thing about science.”

I think the issue is not the experiment per se, but where it is being carried out. Notwithstanding the lack of expertise you presume in the protestors, no scientist can deny the potential harm caused by GM, because its potential to harm comes from the same property which is claimed to provide its potential to do good. If scientists wish to remain far above the sordid fray, then they should not enrich themselves on tax money.

39. Brendan Staunton

The people who support the trials and would denigrate the vandals forget that scientists are human too. They’re just as susceptible to being corporate shills. I wouldn’t be surprised if fully paid up PR people were operating on this forum.

“And GM field trials tell you only one thing more than GM trials in secure labs – how those crops interact with their environment. Lots of those interactions are already demonstrated, and proving them again is hardly worthwhile.”

Well, that one thing is the essential thing, unless you think that wheat is all planted indoors. The problem with your stance is that you think that GM is one thing. Nothing further from the truth. Each genetic modification works differently, so you can’t say that this has to be proved again. This is a new variety, we don’t know whether it works or not, but unless you do the experiment you will never know.

“But the science is against them – including this wheat-specific research.”

The article you link to says that “cross-pollination between goatgrass and the herbicide-resistant Above wheat did occur, but was limited to weeds within 5 feet of the resistant wheat”, which is a shorter distance than the buffer zone designed for this experiment. If you read the press release of these scientists, you’ll see that the science is with them… and against you.

41. Shatterface

The people who support the trials and would denigrate the vandals forget that scientists are human too.

Its not those who support the trials who deny the humanity of scientists.

They’re just as susceptible to being corporate shills. I wouldn’t be surprised if fully paid up PR people were operating on this forum.

And I could suggest, with similar lack of evidence, that you are a Martian.

We were promised secure vats of GM bacteria churning out medicines or other resources. Go for it. Let’s see it.

If you could be a*sed googling, you’d see that’s been going on for decades.

43. Trooper Thompson

Could any of the pro-GM experiment people comment on this:

http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

Sure Trooper Thompson, I’ll comment on that.

That is exactly the kind of crappy and poorly written paper in a rather obscure journal that people dig up to support their case. And if they bothered to actually seek out other sources of comment on that paper, they would learn that reputable organizations like the FSANZ and others have addressed:

http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/scienceandeducation/factsheets/factsheets2009/fsanzresponsetoseral4647.cfm

Beware of bad sources and cherry-picking from them. I think that’s actually the best lesson to take from this post.

45. Brendan Staunton

“And I could suggest, with similar lack of evidence, that you are a Martian.”

And I would suggest with considerable evidence that you have a vested interest.

Ah, does any of it really matter? The majority of stuff people get worked up about is just words.

Take one position or the other, nothing really changes.

47. Shatterface

And I would suggest with considerable evidence that you have a vested interest

Since I have previously stated The world doesn’t have a food shortage problem, it has a food distribution problem my Evil Paymasters will no doubt be docking my wages this month.

And if you want to argue whether or not this experiment is good science you might want to check what the phrase considerable evidence means, because you seem to be confusing it with paranoid conspiracy theory. Most of the posters above have been commentating on this site for years on a variety of subjects. I doubt eben the GM industry could afford to keep so many deep-cover agents in employment on the chance that, one day, they might need us to emerge from the shadows to post on a blog.

“I doubt eben the GM industry could afford to keep so many deep-cover agents in employment on the chance that, one day, they might need us to emerge from the shadows to post on a blog.”

Such sponsors are damn hard to find too: I’ve not yet found any….

I doubt eben the GM industry could afford to keep so many deep-cover agents in employment on the chance that, one day, they might need us to emerge from the shadows to post on a blog.

that’s the sort of thing a deep-cover agent would say.

50. Trooper Thompson

@ Mary,

I wonder whether the fact you call it obscure and crappy is connected to the fact that it found problems.

51. Trooper Thompson

@ Mary,

whenever researchers find problems, they get denounced as ‘obscure’ and ‘crappy’ by the ‘reputable’ authorities, which have already made up their minds to support GM.

@Trooper Thompson

The paper appears to bring up some interesting points about how kidney/liver of rats may be damaged when fed on wheat modified to produce pesticides/be resistant to Roundup. They also bring up need for better methodology when investigating the possible health impacts of GMOs on mammals. It’s too close to my bed-time for me to get trough the statistics but their findings have further been supported by this paper:

http://www.enveurope.com/content/pdf/2190-4715-23-10.pdf

Which is a meta-analysis of as much available data that those authors could find on the same subject, although they mention no conclusions can be properly drawn as the methodology for the experiments used by Monsanto is pretty terrible. They also recommend an update of the common methodology used in these experiments so that consumers can be safe-guarded against possible health effects caused by these GMOs.

As Mary states other papers have been published an expert panels convened that have stated that the significant differences found by the previous authors are not actually true differences and cannot be reproduced. The problem with all of these studies is that both have some vested interest in the outcome of their analysis. The research undertaken in the paper you originally posted was funded by Greenpeace and at least one author on that paper was involved in the meta-analysis paper I posted. The expert panels that were convened and produced a paper disputing their methods was funded by Monsanto.

Whatever, increased testing of the effects of GMOs on mammalian subjects before being introduced to a wider population seems fine to me. More experiments need to be done. Saying that, the safety of those strains appear to have been proven to most of the governing food safety organisations in many different countries and I like to assume they know what they are doing and not poisoning us for kick-backs.

I don’t see what this has to do with the subject matter of this article.

@ Trooper Thompson

Funny how your expert researchers who are brave enough to tell the truth are completely ignored by major, well respected journals. It’s even stranger that the governmental body responsible (DEFRA) also doesn’t believe them.

Fortunately there are plenty of people who see the truth and aren’t discouraged from trying to enlighten others by their lack of understanding of the scientific method or peer-reviewing. Where would we be without protesters shouting about animal-plant hybrids or vandalising private property?

“Where would we be without protesters shouting about animal-plant hybrids or vandalising private property?”

In a better fucking world.

@Trooper Thompson: I’m sure you need to think that. I am aware that this paper is one of the core gospels in some circles. But how many papers in this field have you read? I read a lot. And that particular paper was incredibly poorly written, nearly indecipherable. It’s certainly not the only crappy paper I’ve read, but it’s way in the bottom of that bucket.

In addition to that I know from other examinations that the statistical work is considered to be very poor.

So it fails on readability, coherence, and data.

Further, having over 20 years in science, I am aware of the top journals and the obscure journals. In fact, I remember when that paper came out, I thought: what the hell journal is that? But even if this was Science or Nature, it would still be unreadable and statistically unsound.

But I’m sure you’ll also dismiss this and move on to Seralini is Semmelweiss or Galileo or something. Go ahead. I know that’s the next step in moving the goalposts.

56. Trooper Thompson

@ Chris,

“Funny how your expert researchers …”

They’re not my expert researchers. I just plucked the first research paper from the ether. I know there are others, and I know there is a huge amount of money at stake in trying to convince the public that everything’s fine, so it doesn’t surprise me that whenever research gives the ‘wrong’ result, then a well-paid lobby starts attacking. This process has little to do with science, and a lot to do with money and what it can buy.

“Where would we be without protesters shouting about animal-plant hybrids or vandalising private property?”

I don’t know … North Korea? Anyway, it’s not private property. It was funded out of tax, so it belongs to da peepol.

@Trooper Thompson

I’ll just bring this up again, as you seem to have breezed past my reply, what does that have anything to do with this article?

58. Trooper Thompson

@ Matthew,

“I’ll just bring this up again, as you seem to have breezed past my reply, what does that have anything to do with this article?”

I was asking a question of what the pro-GM people thought about a research paper which raised safety issues about particular GM crops, as I know there have been a number of pieces of research which have done so. I don’t see why you think this is off-topic.

@ Mary,

“I’m sure you need to think that.”

Straight in with the ad hom, I see. You shouldn’t sneer so much – the wind might change.

“I know that’s the next step in moving the goalposts.”

Okay, I’ll move the goalposts, you enjoy yourself spending our taxes. £250 million given to biotech companies in the middle of a recession. Alright for some, I guess.

@Trooper Thompson: this is–ha–patently false: “£250 million”. This project is funded by BBSRC as detailed here: http://ht.ly/aZLKN And if you are further claiming that Rothamsted is a biotech that’s a flat out lie too.

Or if you are making some other claim you’ll have to be clearer, because what you said really had no grounding in this discussion.

If you are just plain anti-biotech, fine. I hope you’ll enjoy your homeopathic treatments as long as you live. That should save the taxpayers money in the long run. Long term care won’t be an issue. Thanks for taking that one for the team.

60. Trooper Thompson

@ Mary,

regarding the £250 million, take it up with the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18195210

“If you are just plain anti-biotech, fine. I hope you’ll enjoy your homeopathic treatments as long as you live. That should save the taxpayers money in the long run. Long term care won’t be an issue. Thanks for taking that one for the team.”

How revealing of your attitude.

@Trooper Thompson: Ok, I get it now–you are opposed to biotech in general (which you could have said earlier, and didn’t specify), you aren’t talking about this specific project. I thought this post was about this specific project at Rothamsted. James points out that he’s not opposed to the science as a whole, so I didn’t think that’s what you were suggesting.

(And I still can’t wait for the celebratory press release on the GM plant that makes that drug. I’ll bet he’s working on that now.)

But if you are fully anti-biotech, that only makes the point: that is anti-science. It’s not just one project here or there that you oppose, you oppose the whole idea of biotech. You are free to feel that way. But I don’t feel like you have the right to impose that on everyone.

62. Trooper Thompson

@ Mary

“But I don’t feel like you have the right to impose that on everyone.”

I’m not imposing anything on anyone. I haven’t just got my hands on £250 million pounds of tax money. That’s an imposition.

“But if you are fully anti-biotech, that only makes the point: that is anti-science.”

When concerns are raised, you just wave the banner; “you’re anti-science!” When research finds problems, likewise. I have no confidence in the standard of ethics within the biotech industry. Rather there seems a refusal to consider the possibility of harm, at least publicly.

“I don’t know … North Korea? Anyway, it’s not private property. It was funded out of tax, so it belongs to da peepol.”

So are all the MOD bases in the country. It doesn’t mean you can go smash the place up because you don’t like war.

“it doesn’t surprise me that whenever research gives the ‘wrong’ result, then a well-paid lobby starts attacking. This process has little to do with science, and a lot to do with money and what it can buy.”

Conspiracy? Or maybe the people who are experts in the subject come up with a different interpretation to you. If biotechnology is so useless/dangerous and has no significant benefits then why are all these people knowingly wasting time and resources on a dead end? You can’t make money by investing in magic beans.

It seems to me that whenever research gives the ‘right’ result, lobby groups like Take The Flour Back start attacking. Unfortunately they are in unfamiliar territory so instead of debating the facts they try and destroy the work.

Unfortunately for your pro-GM conspiracy theories to be true then most scientists need to be in on it. So do the Food Standards Agency and the EU and the World Health Organisation and the US Department of Agriculture etc. Alternatively, the evidence is that there is no significant risk and provided proper precautions are taken the research can progress safely.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Nikhil Punnoose

    This just changed my mind about this particular case and P about GM rollouts in general: http://t.co/jD4s5cyg

  2. Ben Wyatt MLA

    I'm not sure, but this seems a v good article arguing AGAINST GM field trials. See? No lies needed. http://t.co/16Ftl6wb

  3. Paul Papalia

    I'm not sure, but this seems a v good article arguing AGAINST GM field trials. See? No lies needed. http://t.co/16Ftl6wb

  4. Politicolnews

    Why GM field trials are bad science. There's no recall button http://t.co/c0giDwTX

  5. Áine MacDermot

    Why GM field trials are bad science. There's no recall button http://t.co/c0giDwTX

  6. Yohan John

    This just changed my mind about this particular case and P about GM rollouts in general: http://t.co/jD4s5cyg

  7. chandrika gibson

    RT @libcon: Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science http://t.co/JJoCElbX

  8. Brigitte Nerlich

    Strong piece flipping the pro/anti-science framing of the GM crop protest http://t.co/NF1Ja7hU #MakingSciPub

  9. GMWatch

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  10. Áine MacDermot

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  11. Cinnamaldehyde

    Yes! Science! RT @sunny_hundal: 'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/ybRyqLX4 good piece by @mrjamesmack

  12. Angela Lo Rosso

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  13. What's YOUR damage?

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  14. Amara Chukwu

    Sheer idiocy on @libcon, but some excellent comments pointing out the various falsehoods. http://t.co/b8xgMp6o

  15. Abiyomi Kofi

    RT @sunny_hundal: 'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/9mvdhvQs < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  16. Ike Zucchetti

    I'm not sure, but this seems a v good article arguing AGAINST GM field trials. See? No lies needed. http://t.co/16Ftl6wb

  17. Matthew Mead

    I'm not sure, but this seems a v good article arguing AGAINST GM field trials. See? No lies needed. http://t.co/16Ftl6wb

  18. Tom Raftery

    Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science http://t.co/CboDhB4Q

  19. hollyannbb

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  20. Matt Cooper

    .@mattbcooper debunks article that states being anti-GM is being pro-science and being pro-GM is bad science… http://t.co/M1snQybr

  21. Mr Creek

    Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science http://t.co/ynW5gkb6

  22. SyzygySyzygysue

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  23. SyzygySyzygysue

    Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/NtZPsjCG via @libcon

  24. Cal Bryant

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  25. Charlie Wheeler

    'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/S3E665NO < good piece by @mrjamesmack

  26. Tina Blamey

    Interesting article against GM field trials . I have no idea what to think about the issue MT @timminchin: http://t.co/N68iTj2T

  27. metadesigners

    Worth a read “@sunny_hundal: 'Why protests against GM foods field trials is pro-science' http://t.co/3dQvOm1W < good piece by @mrjamesmack”

  28. Michelle Burns

    Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science | Liberal …: They seem to complain about “cross-… http://t.co/YcCuc4DG

  29. Kath

    I'm not sure, but this seems a v good article arguing AGAINST GM field trials. See? No lies needed. http://t.co/16Ftl6wb

  30. adam spiby

    @DavidAllenGreen http://t.co/0jKW8j4k

  31. Roy Grubb

    Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science http://t.co/WSljnOyd >> and details of how black is white.

  32. truthdigger

    Why protests against the #GM foods field trials is pro-#science | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/xuUoVl8y via @libcon

  33. Matt F

    RT @mjrobbins Sheer idiocy on @libcon, but some excellent comments pointing out the various falsehoods. http://t.co/jxIiFxUU <PMSL!

  34. Steven Sumpter

    Sheer idiocy on @libcon, but some excellent comments pointing out the various falsehoods. http://t.co/b8xgMp6o

  35. Nature News Blog: Green groups and scientists in anti-GM battle amid sun, cheese and folk music : Nature News Blog

    [...] action had been widely debated in much of the British press and on blogs as researchers feared the beginnings of a revival of the anti-GM activism of the 1990s and early [...]

  36. John Bauer

    rt @timminchin the science behind the problems with field testing GMO crops http://t.co/4gYDd5qZ #GMO #vt #food #organic

  37. craignicol

    Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science http://t.co/q2vVRYZ1

  38. Jim Watson

    Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science http://t.co/IghKa3Cd
    Interesting article, anti field testing and pro science.

  39. Systems thinking and Genetically Modified food | Serendipity

    [...] Why protests against the GM foods field trials is pro-science | Liberal Conspiracy [...]

  40. Gareth Winchester

    @mjrobbins This? http://t.co/l678RLkj

  41. mem_somerville

    @mjrobbins http://t.co/uK4rerku + http://t.co/qCqGAYMo + http://t.co/9FlcFZwm = destroying their own research is pro-science!

  42. keith kloor

    @mjrobbins One argument is from @RogerPielkeJr http://t.co/87W5DuiI Also, this: http://t.co/MaYJhgL3

  43. Miki Wright

    RT @JoannaBlythman: Why #GMO field trials are bad science. There's no recall button http://t.co/KZg4PbjK

  44. Miki Wright

    RT @JoannaBlythman: Why #GMO field trials are bad science. There's no recall button http://t.co/KZg4PbjK





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