GMO Labels: Surveys, Petitions, and Political Theater

March 2, 2009

I don’t trust surveys or petitions (really a type of survey). I’ve taken graduate courses on survey design and still, I can never look survey results or petitions without some level of skepticism. In my opinion and experience, surveys are best utilized when they deal with a very targeted subject matter, and presented to an audience who knows that subject matter well. Petitions are best taken with several grains of salt.

First, survey results and petition signatures are far too dependent upon how the question or issue is worded and presented, and to who it is presented. Its way too easy to design surveys and petitions that, intentionally or unintentionally, influence the response. The comedians Penn and Teller do a good job of demonstrating how this can be done in this YouTube segment dealing with the toxin dihydrogen monoxide.

Second, survey results and petition signatures often reflect not only the opinion of the survey population, but of their general knowledge, or lack thereof, of the subject matter. Take for instance the survey that questioned people on their preference for DNA-free food. While a bit tongue-in-cheek, the survey revealed that 28% of respondents (sample size of 2239) stated they would pay 50% more for food that is DNA-free. You could argue that this survey shows that people want meals that are free of DNA. A more compelling argument would be that we need to seriously overhaul our science education programs*.

I bring all this up because long-time anti-biotech activists and yogic flying instructor Jeffrey Smith has been pushing the new administration for mandatory labeling of GMO foods, and has been circulating an online petition. His main justification for this? He describes a survey which indicates that 90% of Americans favor labeling of GMO foods. I have not seen this particular survey (Smith does not provide a reference). Regardless, I have yet to see a survey on this topic that could be considered scientific, and where the questions could not be considered to be “leading”. Further, I know for a fact that nowhere near 90% of Americans have been exposed to enough serious debate on this topic to have an informed opinion. Few are aware of the following facts:

  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does require labeling where the GMO food contains a known allergen or is nutritionally different than non-GMO counterparts.
  • To date, FDA has not determined that any approved GMO food differs significantly from their not-GMO counterpart.
  • Enforcement of GMO labeling would likely to be a significant burden on government agencies and taxpayers.
  • Organic labeling under USDA’s National Organic Program provides an option for those who want to avoid food containing GMOs.

I suspect that the results of Smith’s survey would have been quite different if those surveyed were aware of these four simple facts.

Smith’s suggestion that FDA change a long standing labeling policy based on an unidentified survey is sheer political theater. Surveys and Petitions serve a legitimate, but very limited function – to create discussion. Policy formation takes in-depth research, expert opinion and a lot of critical thinking by seasoned policy makers. The issue of GM food labeling has already taken place in the US. The consensus and determination is that labeling of all GMO foods makes about as much sense as banning water or ensuring DNA-free school lunches.

* For the approximately 28% of readers who apparently will not get why, please note that DNA is present in all living things, and almost all food (especially the healthy suff). Each cell contains about 9 feet of DNA and every meal approximately 93,205 miles of DNA.

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80 Responses to “GMO Labels: Surveys, Petitions, and Political Theater”

  1. Callie Says:

    I am certainly not an expert, but I am a consumer who would like products to be labelled.

    Aside from the possible “significant burden on government agencies and taxpayers,” I don’t see any downside to truth in labelling especially if companies, such as yours, feel there is no difference between GMO and non-GMO foods. Nothing there to hide.

    Until there is labelling in effect, I’ll stick to those that choose to label.

    • Brad Says:

      Thanks Callie – Yes, you do have the option of choosing foods that are voluntarily labeled as not containing GM. A better option may be certified organic. Certified organic products are not produced using GM technology. They are a lot more widely available, and unlike the voluntarily labeled products, there is a process in place to ensure the claims are true.

  2. Kurt Says:


    While I too am a skeptic of surveys, they can indicate trends when not taken too literally.

    To your point about labeling any food containing GMOs…is there any reason to ‘fear’ mandatory labeling? Why worry, since as you say the FDA has not determined that GMO foods differ from non-GMO foods. Granted, public trust in our gov’t watching anything these days has got to be at an all-time low (like the SEC, or the, hmmm…FDA and salmonella?) so there is that concern.

    But, if the majority of the public wants labeling, and is willing to pay for it–which they will because the costs will be passed along–then no big whoop, right. In my opinion, I don’t think it would be a wise move for the biotech industry to be dramatically opposed to labeling the foods they create…would it? Doesn’t that tell the public that you might have something to hide?

    Just wondering.

    • Brad Says:

      Thanks Kurt
      This topic probably deserves its own post, but I’ll give a reply a shot. Please keep in mind that I’m not the legal labeling guru around here, and given the confines of a blog reply, I’ll probably oversimplify some of the legal stuff.

      In the US, food labeling requirements are focused on what consumers need to know. You are required to list basic ingredients and amounts (beef, salt, etc). You are also required to list nutritional information. And you need to list the presence of any common allergens, such as nuts, so people can avoid foods that could be hazardous to them.

      The US system is not designed to require information that some people may want to know about. It is left up to food companies themselves to list information their customers may find valuable. The exception is USDA organic certification, and this is run out of their marketing branch.

      Opposition to GM labeling is not based on anyone wanting to hide this information. Its just that given our system only requires labeling for information that people need to know about, a significant concern with mandatory GM labeling is that people will assume there is something risky with GMs. To date, every GM crop approved in the US has been determined by the government to be equivalent to its non-GM equivalent. I know some people disagree with this, but this is the determination in the US and most other governments.

      I think this would be a very different discussion if we had a system that required labeling with information that people want to know about – right-to-know if you will. I think such a system would be untenable – but that really is another post.

  3. Phil Says:

    All of the last 8 national survey’s done in Canada since 1999 all indicate that over 80% of Canadians want GMO foods labeled, including those done conducted by the federal government.

    Labeling laws exist so that the consumers are aware of what they are buying and consuming. People purchase products for a variety of reasons, but for those who have allergies labeling can be a serious health issue.

    A number of studies indicate that some individuals have been found to be allergic to GMO varieties of a crop but not their conventional counterpart. By not labeling GMO foods we are all at risk.

    • Brad Says:


      I am unaware of any studies, let a lone peer-reviewed studies, that show there is any asociation between allergies and GMOs. It would be great if you could provide some references/citations.

      Here is an US FDA stement on risks of GM foods that addresses both labeling and safety

      Note the statement Bioengineered foods do not pose any risks for consumers that are different from conventional foods, says Maryanski (FDA official). “We make sure there are no hazards, such as an unexpected allergen or poisonous substance in the food, or that the food is not changed in some way that would affect its nutritional value.”

  4. Mica Says:

    Isn’t this a slippery slope if the government decided to mandate labeling on information that has nothing to do with health or safety? The reason GM is not required to be labeled is because the food made with GM ingredients is not different than the othe food on the shelf – i.e. to Brad’s post earlier it does not contain a known allergen and it is not significantly different enough from conventional counterparts.

    For argument’s sake, let’s say that as a consumer I really want to know if the food was grown on a farm of less than 250 acres…or I want to know that a certain pesticide wasn’t used. The government can’t mandate that because those two pieces of information make no difference to the safety of my food. They don’t help me make an informed choice. That info may personally and philosophically make a difference in my food choice but they are not scientifically sound reasons to require labeling.

    However, a company may choose to market their products in that way (i.e. “Grown on a small farm” or “without XYZ pesticide”) just as some food companies today market their products as organic or GMO-free. But to require your government to label based on no scientifically valid reason is a dangerous proposition for all.

  5. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I think the above arguments against labeling gm foods are oversimplified and certainly dismissive of the importance many people place on being informed about their food choices. From the first article at the top:

    “Further, I know for a fact that nowhere near 90% of Americans have been exposed to enough serious debate on this topic to have an informed opinion. Few are aware of the following facts:…”

    And I will agree. Few are aware that their food is genetically modified at all due to the lack of labeling, lack of public debate and American media coverage, and lack of notification which only serves to perpetuate that lack of public debate. Some suspect this lack of notification and discussion has been intentional and that the issue indeed does have significance to the consumer. Perhaps labeling would even call the public’s attention to the subject, leading them to do more research as it has in other countries. That is why we find the resistance by Biotech, in my opinion.

    As for the differences between gmo foods and conventionally grown or produced foods, the FDA may not have defined the differences as substantial, but there are differences. Take the example of milk from cows treated with rBGH. According to this article and scientific analysis it would appear that the milk from cows treated with rBGH contains more IGF-1 than conventional milk.
    The biotech hormone induces a marked and sustained increase in levels of insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1, in cow’s milk.
    IGF-1 regulates cell growth, division and differentiation, particularly in infants. While human and normal bovine IGF-1 are identical, they are largely bound to protein and thus probably less biologically active than the unbound IGF-1 in treated milk.
    IGF-1 is not destroyed by pasteurization or digestion and is readily absorbed across the intestinal wall. In a 1990 FDA publication disclosing toxicity tests conducted by Monsanto, feeding the hormone (trade name Posilac) to mature rats for only two weeks resulted in statistically significant increases in body and liver weights and bone length. These effects were seen at a small fraction of injected doses given to control rats. But by gerrymandering these explicit data, the FDA alleged that IGF-1 “lacks oral toxicity.”
    Neither the FDA nor Monsanto has investigated the effects of long-term feeding of IGF-1 and treated milk on growth, or on more sensitive sub-cellular effects in infant rats or infants of any other species.
    IGF-1 induces rapid division and multiplication of normal human breast epithelial cells in tissue cultures.
    It is highly likely that IGF-1 promotes transformation of normal breast epithelium to breast cancer.
    IGF-1 maintains the malignancy of human breast-cancer cells, including their invasiveness and ability to spread to distant organs.
    The breast tissues of female fetuses and infants are sensitive to hormonal influences. Imprinting by IGF-1 may increase future breast-cancer risks and sensitivity of the breast to subsequent unrelated risks such as mammography and the carcinogenic and estrogen-like effects of pesticide residues in food, particularly in premenopausal women.

    end quote

    Can Monsanto (the inventor of this process, who has since divested itself of the product) argue with any of these claims? While you may not see these differences as significant, I would and want the ability to know if my milk that I feed my children and myself has elevated IGF-1 levels. It looks like a health risk to me and many others. Children drink large amounts of milk compared to their body weights. Parents were feeding their children this milk without any knowlegde of the fact that it had been modified and was not exactly the same as conventionally processed milk. Now, with 15 years of education, the tables have turned. Consumers became educated by a grassroots effort and more and more consumers are refusing to buy milk from cows treated with rBGH. Retailers have refused to sell it. But it took information. If an educated public accepts your products, then I would say you have the support the American people. However,if the public is unaware of what is going on continues to buy your product that does not equal acceptance. It demonstrates the same lack of information/education you allude to with your “food containing dna” anecdote.

  6. Dan Goldstein Says:

    Monsanto recently divested BST (Posilac) to Elanco, but I have dealt with this issue for a decade now, and will respond, as it is posted on our site.

    ALL milk production in cows depends on bovine growth hormone and ALL milk contains IGF-1. IGF-1 levels vary widely across breeds of cow, between cows, within a cow’s milking cycle, and over the life of the cow, and are even influenced by bovie diets. Commercial milk pools milk from multiple cows at various stages of milk cycles and if one looks at commercial milk vs milk labeled as BST free, there is no detectable difference in IGF-1 levels.

    (There has been a lot of confusion on this point- if you take an individual cow at the same point in their milking cycle, on two sequential cycles, with no other changes, you can detect- just barely- slight differences in IGF-1 levels. Monsanto has published this data as well as data on commercial milk, and these results are not contradictory at all- the difference in a single cow at a specific timepoint is very small, and is lost even if you look at the same cow at different time points or parts of their life cycle. It comes as no surprise that pooled milk from multiple cows shows no change.)

    More to the point, your own saliva contains approximately 10,000 TIMES MORE IGF-1 than milk. You can’t possibly drink enough milk to make a difference compared to your own endogenous IGF-1 production. As far as IGF goes- MILK DOESN’T MATTER- BST or not.

    You do see effects of bovine growth hormone in lower species, and as a rule, growth hormones like BST have some activity in lower species, but not higher ones. Specifically, BST has no activity in humans. IGF-1 does have activity in humans, and is essentially the same in cows and people- in fact you cannot develop and grow normally WITHOUT IGF-1.

    The bottom line- BST or no BST, milk is an inconsequential source of IGF-1. Levels in commercial mlik are not detectably elevated over non-BST milk. If for some reason (I can’t thnik of a good one), you don’t want the IGF-1 in milk- then don’t drink milk. But be sure to make up the calcium someplace in your diet. dag

  7. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I would be really interested to know what you think of the work of Dr. S Epstein based on the premise that:

    IGF-1 is a powerful naturally-occurring growth hormone found in
    the blood of humans. Dairy cows injected with
    genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) give milk
    containing elevated levels of IGF-1, and the IGF-1 in milk can pass
    into the blood stream of milk consumers. Cows’ IGF-1 is
    chemically identical to that in humans. Ingested IGF-1 would
    ordinarily be broken down in the stomach, but the presence of
    casein in milk prevents such breakdown.[4,5,6,7,8] (See REHW
    #454.) Thus these latest cancer findings raise important public
    health questions about the safety of milk from cows treated with
    bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

    If the issue is just as simple as spit, why would the The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association
    formally express concern about IGF-1 related to rBGH in 1991, saying, “Further studies will be required to determine whether ingestion of higher than normal concentrations of bovine insulin-like growth factor [IGF-1] is safe for children, adolescents, and adults.”
    Has the AMA been satisfied by further studies that these levels of IGF-1 are safe?

    “A recent article (Cancer Research, 55:2463-2469, June 1995) from Renato Baserga’s laboratory in Philadelphia has shown clearly that IGF-1 is required for the establishment and maintenance of tumors. The mechanism for this is that IGF-1 protects the cells from apoptosis (programmed cell death). IGF accelerates tumor growth and appears to affect the aggressiveness of tumors. As the IGF-1 level is decreased, cell death can take place. We are talking about IGF-1 levels of 10 nanogram per m1, i.e., 0.00001 milligram per ml.”

    “My concern is that increases in such minute levels could readily enter the blood stream of individuals drinking milk from BST [rBGH] treated cows. As an individual ages, indolent tumor cells do appear in various organs (breast, ovary, prostate, etc..) which grow slowly with the result that clinical cancer is not manifested until old age, or, in many cases, after the individual would have died of other causes. Stimulation of these cells by elevated levels of IGF-1 would result in clinical cancer in a decade or two or even less. Furthermore, these levels of IGF-1 could stimulate the progression and aggressiveness of childhood leukemias to a point that chemotherapy could not be effective, much less curative.”

    “The widespread consumption of BST [rBGH] supplemented milk is therefore an experiment on an unsuspecting population that could have horrendous consequences and overwhelm the health care system. The experiment would take one to three decades when it would be difficult to dismantle a well-entrenched BST [rBGH] industry, and still have one to three decades’ worth of individuals in the pipeline. I can conceive of no animal experiments to test this and to provide hard data to predict the magnitude and time frame for this effect. The risk to benefit ratio of this experiment is clearly not in favor of the consumer.”
    [George L. Tritsch, Cancer Research Scientist (Retired), August 7, 1995]

    Most websites state Monsanto’s arguements, but they rebut them as such:

    “There is more IGF-1 in saliva.” But it is destroyed by digestion because it is not protected as is IGF-1 in dairy foods.

    “A significant amount of IGF-1 is not absorbed.” As noted in the quote above, it only takes an extremely small level to cause problems.

  8. John Q Says:

    Deborah quoted:
    “Ingested IGF-1 would ordinarily be broken down in the stomach, but the presence of casein in milk prevents such breakdown.”

    And then
    “My concern is that increases in such minute levels could readily enter the blood stream of individuals drinking milk from BST [rBGH] treated cows.”

    And finally
    ” “There is more IGF-1 in saliva.” But it is destroyed by digestion because it is not protected as is IGF-1 in dairy foods.”

    I’m pretty sure we all salivate when we eat and drink. So the
    “more IGF-1 in saliva”
    ALSO is subject to the
    “would ordinarily be broken down in the stomach, but the presence of casein in milk [which we all drink while salivating] prevents such breakdown.”

    And thus
    “My concern is that increases in such minute levels could readily enter the blood stream of individuals drinking milk from BST [rBGH] treated cows.”
    should REALLY be
    “My concern is that increases in ‘more IGF-1 in saliva’ could readily [re-]enter the blood stream of individuals drinking milk while salivating.”

    So, if you are truly concerned about ingested IGF-1 entering the blood stream, and not just anti-Posilac, you really should stop drinking milk at all. The ability of adult humans to digest milk is actually a relatively recent genetic modification, after all.

    Or, you could stop salivating. ;^)

    MY personal crusade is abusive labor practices. Should I require all of my food be labeled with certification that it was harvested, processed, and packaged by legal workers being paid a fair wage? And I’d like the workers to be certified left-handed. Do these fall under FDA or USDA jurisdiction? My understanding is neither, but I am willing to be educated.

    I have to agree with Mica: “…to require your government to label based on no scientifically valid reason is a dangerous proposition for all.”

  9. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Brad, your reference to Jeffery Smith as a “yogic flying instructor” seems like you are trying to discredit him with an ad hominem attack. Because he has a different “unconventional” spiritual belief system, he must be wrong or deluded about gmo’s, too? If those really are his spiritual or religious beliefs, how are they any less valid than praying a rosary, believing in the saints, Jesus, Satan, angels, life after death? Indeed, theoretical physics starting with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity through to the modern day String Theory are questioning the boundaries of time and space in ways few can comprehend.

    I would much rather see you address the many reasons why Jeffery Smith believes GMO’s are potentially harmful to humans and the environment. What do his spiritual beliefs–or your CEO’s, or any of ours have to do with it? Some of Smith’s concerns can be found here:

    I have been waiting for many years to see your company address these concerns.

    And you might consider that a very large percentage of Americans do not know who their representatives, governors, senators, etc, are. Many do not keep up with all of the issues, much less research and fully understand them. But they still ALL have the right to vote!

    • Brad Says:


      This is a blog and hence, in part, a forum for personal opinions. I personally don’t think Mr. Smith’s activities around yogic flying refect well on his credibility on matters regarding science.

      Given that, you will note that I did not comment on Mr. Smith’s beliefs, but simply provided a link to an article that describes his activities. As Smith frequently comments on scientific issues, I believe many readers would find it enlightening to put his activities around biotechechnology into a broader context of his activities, and yes his beliefs. It is left to the reader to make his own determination as to whether it is relevant and how.

      As for addressing your broader concerns, the posting dealt with much more than Smith, but with the much more serious issue of labeling. Many of your concerns will be addressed in future blog posts, but you need to give us some time here Deborah – this blog has only been up for 3 weeks! In rather short order, I think you will see many of your questions addressed in this blog.

      In the meantime, I would suggest you go to our We page at which addresses some of the misconceptions about Monsanto.

  10. Ewan Ross Says:

    “Dairy Product Consumption and the Risk of Breast
    Peter W. Parodi, PhD (2005)”

    States – “the amount of IGF-1 consumed daily from milk products is minute compared to endogenous production. Based on a milk content of 4ng/mL,
    milk product consumption equivalent to 1.5L milk/day would contribute 6,000ng IGF-1 to the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract also receives considerable exogenous
    IGF-1 from saliva, biliary fluid, pancreatic juice and secretions from the intestinal mucosa, estimated to total 380,000ng/day [66,67]. In addition, it is estimated that in adults the liver and extra-hepatic tissues produce 107ng IGF-1/day [68]. Thus, milk-derived IGF-1 would contribute less than 0.06% of total
    daily IGF-1 production if it escaped proteolysis during intestinal passage, and was absorbed by the intestine and passed to the circulation. This is unlikely, as considerable, if not total, digestion of IGF-1 should take place in the small intestine [69].
    Studies cited to justify absorption of IGF-1 from the intestine [17] used suckling rats. This is an inappropriate model, because neonates do not have a fully developed protease/
    peptidase system and intestinal closure has not occurred, which allows enhanced permeability of macromolecules. Even so, evidence from neonatal animal studies suggests that feeding IGF-1 results in negligible intestinal absorption [70]. Of greater significance, recent studies that fed human adults up to 60g/d of a concentrated bovine colostrum protein powder for up to 8 weeks did not find an increase in serum IGF-1 levels [71–73].”


    “Increased milk levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) for the identification of bovine somatotropin (bST) treated cows

    Andreas Daxenberger, Helga Sauerwein and Bernhard H. Breier”

    Which is the first article I pulled up on increased levels of IGF-1 in rBGH treated cows indicates that levels increase by approximately 2ng/ml – which changes very little in terms of levels of IGF-1 in the intestine (unless 0.005% increase is for some reason the tipping point… and if so, I have pretty strong doubts that many people consume 1.5L of milk a day)

  11. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John say:

    MY personal crusade is abusive labor practices. Should I require all of my food be labeled with certification that it was harvested, processed, and packaged by legal workers being paid a fair wage? And I’d like the workers to be certified left-handed. Do these fall under FDA or USDA jurisdiction? My understanding is neither, but I am willing to be educated.

    I have to agree with Mica: “…to require your government to label based on no scientifically valid reason is a dangerous proposition for all.”

    There is a safety issue raised with gmo’s and rBGH milk–whether the people at Monsanto agree with opposing views are not. The issue is safety.

    As far as your labor crusade, I’m with you on that, but it’s really a new governmental policy that we need concerning trade. You certainly could start petitioning for such labelling if you think it is worthwhile.

  12. rebekah Says:

    Brad said, “I personally don’t think Mr. Smith’s activities around yogic flying refect well on his credibility on matters regarding science.”

    And you think your company’s involvement with Agent Orange reflects well on your company’s credibility on matters reguarding safety?

  13. Claire Says:

    Brad said, “I personally don’t think Mr. Smith’s activities around yogic flying refect well on his credibility on matters regarding science.”

    Is that so? Well, a recent study of physician religious beliefs at the Univ of Chicago found that 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife; 90 percent of doctors in the US attend religious services at least occasionally, and 55 percent of doctors say their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine. Does Brad want to have their licences to practice medicine revoked on the grounds that they have no “credibility” regarding science?

    And I wonder what Brad thinks of this statement:
    “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestation of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this sense alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

    Who said it? Einstein. Somehow I think Einstein had a better handle on reality than the folks at Monsanto who appear to believe the frankly ludicrous fairytale that they’re “just like [us]”.

  14. John Q Says:

    Deborah said:

    “There is a safety issue raised with gmo’s and rBGH milk–whether the people at Monsanto agree with opposing views are not. The issue is safety.”

    No, there isn’t. I acknowledge that you FEEL that there is an issue, but I just can’t find any facts to support your position. Whether or not these products were tested effectively BEFORE they were put on the market, and whether humanity agreed to be test subjects or not, the fact of the matter is humanity has been an ongoing test of these products for MANY years now, and there has not been a single verifiable adverse reaction to GM products of which I am aware.

    Not to mention, the level of testing needed to persuade the nay-sayers is IMPOSSIBLE to conduct WITHOUT involving the entire population of the planet, and/or decades-long studies.

    If the same level of scrutiny had been applied to Aspirin (introduced by Bayer in 1899 and first investigated in 1897), it would not have been approved by 1929, when the first suspected occurance of Reye’s Syndrome may have been reported, and it certainly would have been taken off the market in 1963, after the first study of the syndrome was published. In the mean time, thousands of children would have died from excessive fever.

    And still, with the millions of servings of GM foods that have been consumed, there has not been a single verifiable adverse reaction to GM products of which I am aware. But again, I am willing to be educated, if you have independently reviewed information I do not. Anecdotal or undocumented evidence is not acceptable.

    You and your progeny are welcome to not eat GM products. I applaud your convictions. But MILLIONS (if not billions) of people will die of starvation in the next half-century unless SOME way is found to feed them.

    As for Genetic Modification, take a look at roses, carnations, tomatoes, apples, beef vs. milk cows and domestic dogs and cats. Those are all “genetically modified”, too. The difference is, they were (mostly) modified using selective breeding by humans, potentially against the “wishes” of the subject species. And Roundup Ready, Drought-Resistant, and BT versions of corn (and other plants) could be created through selective breeding, also. The problem is, it would take decades, if not centuries. And we (as a species and a planet) don’t have that kind of time. And I have to wonder, would even THOSE be acceptable to you?

    I’m all in favor of a better solution, if you have one, for feeding the estimated 9 BILLION people this planet will have by 2050. But until we HAVE a better solution, at least GM is a solution. A better solution than food wars and starvation.

  15. Ewan Ross Says:

    Of course Einstein also said….

    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it”

    Which somewhat hurts that aspect of your arguement.

    While ones religious beliefs should not (and I’m assuming are not) be used to judge ones scientific credibility to an extent there are obvious instances where scientific credibility is, and should be shattered by a religious belief – like the belief you can fly, and in so doing relieve crime in the surrounding area, and go so far as to assert that this is backed up by evidence. (which is I believe the sort of thing which should at least raise some doubts about other claims issued from the same source)

  16. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, Monsanto’s claims that PCB’s and Agent Orange were safe was backed up by evidence, weren’t they? So might Monsanto’s belief in that sort of thing not apply to Monsanto’s claims about gmo’s, Roundup, etc?

    “We are sympathetic with people who believe they have been injured and understand their concern to find the cause, but reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.”

  17. Julie Newman Says:

    If Monsanto claims that GM food is significantly different enough to obtain a patent over it, it should be treated as though it is significantly different.
    The key reason why consumers are rejecting GM food is that they feel it is not adequately tested. If you look at GM canola in the Australian regulatory process, you will find no feeding trials have been done on the oil which is the part consumers eat.
    Yes, testing was done on the remaining meal and it was found that there was an increase in liver weights of 17% but this was disregarded as the regulatory authority has no authority over stock feed and meal is a stock feed.
    Monsanto only submitted data that was not regulated.
    GM canola oil escapes labelling so in order to give a choice, canola oil must be labelled as non-GM. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) doesn’t police the GM labelling legislation but has succesfully sued a New Zealand sausage maker for labelling a soy sausage non-GM when it only had 0.088% GM contamination present. Non-GM means no GM yet farmers are expected to accept contamination and be liable for all costs and losses if the product is recalled.
    If Monsanto truly believed their own propaganda that there is no problem, why not promote independent health testing of their product and why not accept full liability for all health, environmental and economic loss caused by your product?

  18. Debra Says:

    Actually, there may be evidence of the adverse effects of GM foods. Aren’t food allergies on the rise? Especially in the past decade, around the time that GM foods were introduced in America?

    • Brad Says:

      There is no evidence to link allergenicity to currently authorized GM crops.
      There is evidence to suggest that the reporting of allergies is increasing in some countries and geographic areas. This is likely due to several causes:
      • There has been an increased interest in food allergies. Unfortunately, there are no stable diagnostic criteria for testing for food allergies and food intolerance. Together, these two factors have probably resulted in an increase in reporting of allergies. Therefore, rates of allergies may not have actually increased as much as it would appear.
      • Increased prevalence of allergies is in some cases well documented. These are likely due to the fact that the consumption of some foods has increased in certain geographic areas. For instance, in the U.S., the use of soy-based infant formula has increased in the last 10-20 years. You need to be exposed to a substance in order to develop an allergy to it, and historically not as many people had been exposed to soy, particularly as infants, as they are today. Any increase in infant soy allergies is likely due to increased consumption of soy.
      • There is also evidence that better household hygiene and reduced early exposure to allergens and infections may be partially responsible for increasing rates of some allergies. This has been called the “hygiene hypothesis”. Because exposure to certain allergens is removed or greatly reduced during infancy and early childhood, the immune systems may develop an improper or exaggerated response, which results in allergies later in life. Supporting evidence for this theory includes the fact that children on farms have lower rates of asthma than non-farm children, and children born into a household with a pet are also less likely to develop asthma than children in a home where a pet is introduced later in life.

      Assessing the allergenicity of introduced proteins is a required component of the safety assessment of GM crops. There is no single test that can be used to determine if a substance is an allergen. Consequently allergenicity must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

      No matter what the source of the gene, every new protein is assessed for certain characteristics to help avoid the introduction of potential allergens into a GM crop. This is done by looking at two aspects of the protein:
      • The physicochemical characteristics of the protein. We know that some allergenic proteins share certain physiochemical structures. Where the introduced protein in a GM crop shares such structures, they are subject to additional scrutiny as potential allergens.
      • The susceptibility of the introduced protein to digestion. If a protein is quickly digested, it has less likelihood of being able to elicit an allergic reaction. This can be easily tested using enzymes important in protein digestion.

      Sources of known allergens, such as nuts or eggs, are generally avoided as gene sources for GM crops. Where the source of a gene is known to contain an allergen, the GM crop is examined critically to determine whether the proteins that are introduced into the GM crop are the same proteins that are allergens in the source. This is done by comparing the protein to lists of known allergens, and by testing with the blood/serum of patients known to be allergic to the gene source.

      There are hundreds of thousands of different proteins in the human diet, and only a tiny fraction of these are significant food allergens. Thus, the risk of a new protein being a food allergen is very low. By using a ‘weight of evidence’ approach which considers source, structure and digestibility, the risk of introducing an allergen into GM crops can be reduced to a negligible level.

  19. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Here’s the CBS survey from 2008:

    According to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 53 percent of Americans say they won’t buy food that has been genetically modified. But CBS News investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports that it’s not that easy to avoid. While most packaged and processed foods do contain genetically modified ingredients, the labels don’t have to say so.

    What concerns parents like O’Brien is not what’s listed, but what is not. Particularly foods made with genetically modified organisms – or GMOs.

    “My concern as a mother is, are these kids part of a human trial that I didn’t know that I had signed them up for,” O’Brien says.

    The FDA does not require “disclosure of genetic engineering techniques…on the label,” calling GMOs the “substantial equivalent” of conventional crops.

    Baloney, says Kimbrell.

    “There is nothing – nothing, substantially equivalent from a conventional crop to a GMO crop,” he says. “And in every cell of these new GMO foods are bacterias we’ve never seen in food before: viruses, genetic constructs, antibiotic bugs that they put in there, laboratory contructs that they’ve put into every cell of these foods.”

    A new CBS News poll found that 87% of consumers would like GMO ingredients to be labeled, just as they are in Europe, Japan and Australia. Yet the U.S. Congress has never even held a vote on the issue, to give shoppers the opportunity to exercise their most basic right – to make a choice.


    If you want to see the original poll, Brad, you might write to CBS.

  20. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Still more on rBGH from USA Today, March 15, 2009

    Even in a sick economy, low price isn’t the only hot sales tool for foods. There’s also marketing value in telling consumers about some ingredients not in foods. “Companies do bow to the will of consumers,” says Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, which has never used synthetic hormones.

    Fresh & Easy. The grocer’s milk has never contained rbST, but it’s now aired radio ads noting the fact, spokesman Roberto Munoz says. “We’ve done focus groups, and people don’t want it.”

  21. Ewan Ross Says:

    “There is nothing – nothing, substantially equivalent from a conventional crop to a GMO crop,” he says. “And in every cell of these new GMO foods are bacterias we’ve never seen in food before: viruses, genetic constructs, antibiotic bugs that they put in there, laboratory contructs that they’ve put into every cell of these foods.”

    Anyone who can read this without cracking up, just a little, should probably keep out of the debate all together. This does an amazing job of proving Brad’s initial point about the level of understanding which will sway a survey one way or the other.

  22. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    March 17, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Anyone who can read this without cracking up, just a little, should probably keep out of the debate all together. This does an amazing job of proving Brad’s initial point about the level of understanding which will sway a survey one way or the other.


    Or, perhaps, instead of deciding who belongs in this debate and who doesn’t; instead of dismissing others’ points without any evidence, you should back up your position with some documented facts. Here is the Center for Food Safety’s website. Maybe you can give us your side of the debate; isn’t that the whole point of this blog?

    You could start by addressing why you think there is a “substantial equivalency” comparing your patented product–which by definition seems to imply a difference that can be quantified or qualified–to conventional crops.

    Does every cell of the plant contain genetically engineered material?

    I think this approach would be more credible and informative than a sweeping dismissal. And less insulting.

  23. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Here is the Center for Food Safety’s website, and the pages regarding genetically engineered foods:

  24. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah, I was having a light hearted giggle at the utter lack of scientific knowledge portrayed in the statement.

    Yes, every cell of a genetically modified plant will contain the DNA which it has been modified with. It will not however contain bacterias we’ve never seen in food before, viruses or antibiotic bugs (whatever these are). Thinking that it would shows a distinct lack of knowledge about the subject area and deserves to be dismissed (again, part of the point of the initial post)

    Every cell will contain the segment of DNA transformed into the plant by whatever system of transformation was used. Every cell in which this gene is expressed will contain RNA and protein encoded by said gene. And that is all. After the DNA is inserted into the genome it is to all intents and purposes the plants DNA. One extra gene amongst 30,000+, one extra protein amongst millions.

  25. Deborah Rubin Says:

    As if a gene–even among thousands–is insignificant! I’m beginning to feel a little bit light-headed rather than light-hearted about the scientific merit of that suggestion. Let’s not downplay or minimize the importance of one little gene or its subsequent protein expression, by any means:

    Argument [Ewan]: “Just a way of improving the genetic make up of food”. “Not a big deal. Just a very small gene is added.”

    Comment [by Physicians and Scientists for the Responsible Application of Science and Technology]: This is very misleading. It gives the impression that GE is a simple and safe way to change the genetic makeup. This is not true at all.
    First of all: Several lethal chronic disorders are caused by one single “little gene”. Genes are very powerful. So one “little gene” added to a recipient organism may cause important changes and disturbances, even lethal ones in the worst case.

    Second: The added gene commonly comes from an unrelated species. It gives rise to a foreign substance (protein) that never has existed in the organism where the gene is inserted. The total effect of a gene is decided by its environment. Therefore the introduction of a gene in a foreign environment always has unpredictable consequences. Unexpectd substances may appear, some of which may be difficult to detect and harmful, see “GE Possesses Inherent Unpredictability” [EL] and”The safety of GE foods. Reasons to expect hazards and the risk for their appearance” [ML] [Partly EL].

    Third: In genetic engineering the “desired property” gene is never inserted alone. To make the insertion successful, additional genetic material (DNA) is included. This material is taken from pathogenic viruses and bacteria.

    There are two categories of additional genetic material associated with the inserted gene:

    A “promoter complex”. It ensures that the inserted gene is active in the new surrounding.
    A “vector complex” with DNA that promotes gene insertion and prevents rejection by the new host. It counteracts the effective species protection mechanisms that prevent the uptake of foreign genes.
    The promoter complex contains so called enhancers that have a non-specific stimulant effect that may activate surrounding genes, thereby causing unexpected biochemical disturbances, see “The safety of GE foods” – The promoter [ML]. The most commonly used promoter comes from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV). It has been demonstrated that its DNA can combine with infecting viruses, thereby generating new and potentially hazardous viruses, see “The Virus Hazard” [ML]. Recent research has shown that the CaMV promoter DNA can be taken up from the intestines and become inserted into the cells of animals, and therefore, most probably, humans. There it may activate dormant genes that may disrupt the normal functioning of the cell. It may also combine with viral genes “sleeping” in the DNA and create new potentially harmful viruses in your body.
    The vector DNA is derived from bacteria and contains genetic code sequences that trigger inflammatory responses. Research has shown that such DNA may enter the blood when we eat GE foods. It may cause serious inflammatory disorders in humans, see The fate of food genes and the DNA CpG motif and its impact. [ML]

    Even worse, the most common vector, which is taken from the tumor-generating Agrobacterium Tumefaciens, has recently been found to be able to insert into human DNA. This vector has the well known property of initiating tumor growth in plants. Research has found that it attaches to, and genetically transforms several types of human cells in a similar way as when it causes tumor growth in plants.

    In addition, some scientists warn that the vector DNA may cause ecological problems. This is because of its ability to promote DNA transfer between unrelated bacteria which can lead to the emergence of new pathogenic bacteria ,see Horizontal transfer [ML]

    In conclusion, genetic engineering is far from “just adding a new gene”. It has been using viral and bacterial DNA which may become inserted into your cells and may in the worst case cause serious health problems. Moreover it is potentially hazardous to the environment.

  26. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – yes, I simplified somewhat, although the promoter, coding region and terminator of a gene can be classified as a single gene – all genes have associated non-coding elements which are as important to the gene as the coding region is.

    None of the literature I can find supports the statements about CaMV being integrated into other endogenous viruses or being taken up and expressed in human intestinal cells (there is an article which shows that when it is specifically engineered into human intestinal cells it expresses, which is probably the source of this information, with the appropriate level of spin)

    The ability of Agrobacterium tumefacienes to transform human cells is irrelevant in this discussion as GM foods which are transformed by A.tumefaciens do not contain A.tumefaciens – only the ‘gene'(3’UTR,5’UTR, coding region..) inserted, and not the multiple genes required by A.tumefaciens to actually integrate DNA into a genome.

    Horizontal transfer is an interesting phenomenon which occurs in bacterial species – this would make a strong arguement for extensive testing of any genetically modified bacteria before into the environment, as Monsanto deals in GM plants and not GM bacteria this doesnt really apply here.

    The tumor inducing properties of A.tumefaciens in plants appears to be cited in the text you pasted as an ominous thing – whereas it is exactly this property (or a function of this property I guess) which makes this a useful molecular tool – good scaremongering by the author of the piece though by making the spurious link between tumorgenesis and GMOs.

    And finally… viral and bacterial DNA which may become inserted into your cells? There is no evidence to support this hypothesis, no mechanism by which it could obviously happen (I cant think of a single case of any food gene making its way into the genome of the creature that consumed it other than perhaps Mitochondrial and Chloroplastic genes 3 billion years ago)

  27. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Speaking of horizontal gene transfer, in the above PSRAST informtion, the antibiotic resistance marker seems to have been left out. And I see you didn’t mention it either. Do any of Monsanto’s gmo crops contain antibiotic resistance marker genes?

    If so, what is the risk of horizontal gene transfer of the antibiotic resistance trait?

    Bacteria can take up and spread genes different ways:

    1. They can take up naked DNA directly from the surroundings.
    2. They can obtain genes from infecting viruses.
    3. They can take up genes through mating.

    From the PSRAST information, it seems that horizontal gene transfer might not only occur between two bacteria, but

    “Debris ploughed back from genetically engineered crops. The dead or dying cells are likely to release naked DNA that may survive for many hours. An experiment showed that when adhered to clay soil particles, the DNA survived at an average about 28 hours.”

    So in that way, shouldn’t horizontal gnee transfer be important to Monsanto–more than just
    “an interesting phenomenon which occurs in bacterial species – this would make a strong arguement for extensive testing of any genetically modified bacteria before into the environment, as Monsanto deals in GM plants…” Are we certain that it doesn’t apply here?

    If your company uses antibiotic resistance markers, it should make a strong argument for more extensive testing in my opinion. And couldn’t this same interesting phenomenom apply to the transfer of other genetically engineered traits from gmo’s in the environment to bacteria there as well–or from gmo foods within the digestive tract to bacteria within the human gut, etc?

  28. Ewan Ross Says:

    If horizontal transfer as you are describing it is an issue then soil bacteria should have massive quantities of acquired DNA from crop plants regardless of their origin (GM or non-GM) I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case.

    “the most recently claimed HGT(horizontal gene transfer) from a plant to a bacterium probably occurred over 10 million years ago”

    from – “Horizontal gene transfer from transgenic plants to terrestrial bacteria a rare event?” (Kaare M. Nielsen, Atle M. Bones , Kornelia Smalla , Jan D. van Elsas)

    – a review article of over 250 scientific papers – backs this point up rather well – I would assume that the risk of a single gene transferring in the sort of timescale it takes for multiple species to evolve and go extinct is within the bounds of acceptability?

  29. Deborah Rubin Says:

    But I guess the question for me is whether transgenic plants will behave the same way as “natural plants.” Are transgenic plants, with their various constructs and sources of dna more likely to transform the dna of other organisms? That is the difference between the last 10 million years and the last 20 or so.

    “With the introduction of bacterial genes, bacterial promoter and terminator sequences, and bacterial origins of replication into transgenic plants, the degree of sequence homology between the genomes of competent bacteria and transgenic plant DNA increases. Gene constructs inserted into plant genomes often consist of sequences of mixed origin, e.g., the sequence of one gene is inserted into another gene. Homologous recombination between a recombinant sequence in the plant chromosome and the natural sequence in competent bacteria can result in the stable insertion of the captured DNA.”

    From your article, more detail than your synopsis provided:

    Today, 12 years after the first field release of a genetically modified plant (GMP), over 15 000 field trials at different locations have been performed. As new and unique characteristics are frequently introduced into GMPs, risk assessment has to be performed to assess their ecological impact.
    Only a few cases of HGT from eukaryotes such as plants to bacteria have been reported to date.
    Although experimental approaches in both field
    and laboratory studies have not been able to confirm the occurrence of such HGT to naturally occurring bacteria, recently two studies have shown transfer of marker genes from plants to bacteria based on homologous recombination.

    The few examples of HGT indicated by DNA sequence comparisons suggest that the frequencies of evolutionarily successful HGT from plants to bacteria may be extremely low. However, this inference is based on a small number of experimental studies and indications
    found in the literature. Transfer frequencies should not be confounded with the likelihood of environmental implications, since the frequency of HGT is probably only marginally important compared with the selective force acting on the outcome.
    Attention should therefore be focused on enhancing the understanding of selection processes in natural environments. Only an
    accurate understanding of these selective events will allow the prediction of possible consequences of novel genes following
    their introduction into open environments.

    From a scientific point of view, it is difficult to obtain a clear consensus about whether GMPs pose an actual risk to the environment, since few experimental data exist to support such a concern. With the exception of the aforementioned studies using artificially introduced homology between the DNA of the plant donor and the recipient bacterium, to our knowledge experimental evidence demonstrating
    HGT of heterologous genes from GMPs to naturally occurring soil or plant-associated bacteria
    is currently not available. The main reason for
    this may be that a suitable detection system has not been developed until now, or that attempts to monitor such events have focused on transfer of functional and expressed genes [238,239,241] instead of shorter DNA fragments [126,137].

    The evolutionary aspects of the partial removal of a strong genetic barrier between plants and bacteria by the introduced prokaryotic homology in GMPs should be further addressed.
    Horizontal gene transfer from plants to other
    plant-associated organisms

    Although transfers of genetic material from plants to organisms other than plants have been claimed to be absent [246,247], HGT has been reported from plants to plant-associated fungi. Fungi are known to be transformable [248] and uptake of DNA from the host plant (as confirmed by hybridization to plant specific genes) has been claimed for Plasmodiophora brassicae [249,250]. Also, the GMP-harbored hygromycin gene (hph) was reported to be taken up by Aspergillus niger [251]. Stable integration
    and inheritance of the plant DNA in the genome
    of these fungi has, however, not been substantiated by experimental evidence.

    The few direct investigations of HGT from plants to bacteria are probably insufficient to conduct risk assessments of environmental effects related to the approximately 15 000 field trials
    of GMPs. The majority of field trials have focused on the efficiency and functionality of GMPs from an economic perspective [254]. At the same time, these field trials have failed to increase the knowledge of possible HGT events in the environment.

    The general lack of research focusing on HGT, and the as yet limited understanding of bacterial genetics, ecology and selection in natural environments [255] suggest that several areas should be addressed in the future to improve the quality of risk assessment of novel
    genotypes. Particularly, the in situ functionality of barriers to HGT in bacteria should receive increased attention.

    Although it is important to elucidate the mechanistic features and frequencies of gene transfer to understand its significance to genetic variability in bacteria, we strongly emphasize the need to enhance the knowledge of selection processes that occur in natural environments. Only an accurate perception
    of the selective advantages expressed by novel genes will allow the prediction of possible consequences following their introduction into open environments.

    Smalla, one of the researchers, in an interview about her work:

    “As part of an EU research project, we are currently investigating which soil and rhizosphere bacteria are actually naturally transformable. These studies will also help us to better estimate the likelihood of bacterial transformation by transgenic plant DNA.”
    I think that might have been better done beforehand–what do you think?

  30. John Q Says:

    Deborah, I acknowledge you do not feel there has been adequate testing of GM food. My question for you is, will the testing suggested in your last blog be sufficient to satisfy you? If not, what level of testing WILL satisfy you?

    Now please consider the plastics, metal, and drinking water industries. Have they been subjected to that level of testing? What about cars, cell phones, and microwave ovens? That “new car smell” is likely carcinogenic and/or mutagenic. Power transmissions? How often do you have your house tested for Radon? The plastics, paints, and carpets in the stores your frequent are probably outgassing known harmful chemicals, similar to the infamous “hurricane trailers”.

    Yet all of these items are accepted by society. I have to wonder, how much lower level of risk below that exhibited by the plastic bottle your drinking water or soda is shipped in must GM foods be tested to until you are satisfied?

    The genes we are discussing weren’t just MADE UP, they came from SOME other organism, and thus already exist “in the wild”. As do Helicobacter pylori, the Human Papilloma Virus(es), and the Epstein-Barr virus. Among others.

    Life is fundamentally not safe. And while I agree with you that we should not intentionally ADD unnecessary risks, I think we should look at the relative magnitude of risk involved, and act appropriately.

    Are you being consistent in where you draw the “risk line”?

  31. AG Says:

    Well, of course you oppose labeling of GM foods. People don’t want to eat them. You would lose money if GM food was labeled as such, simply because people won’t buy it. It’s in your financial interest to keep people in the dark as to what their food really contains.

    It’s time for Monsanto to stop trying to decieve its consumers. Your company’s opposition to labeling is motivated by money, not science. Deny it all you want, but this is the truth laid bare.

  32. John Q Says:

    AG, I assume you are against trans-fats, also?

    If you buy a muffin (or anything else) that is labeled as “0g trans-fat”, how many grams of trans-fat do you think this label gua

    A LABEL of “Og trans-fat” means “<0.5g trans-fat PER SERVING”. I don’t know the standard for muffins, but a lot of foods are sold at as many as 4 servings per sales unit, especially from those quaint boutique bread outlets. So, for the sake of argument, your “0g trans-fat muffin” may well have up to 2g of trans-fat in it, and still be LABELED as “safe”.

    As a point of reference, I heard on NPR this morning that it takes about 8g of trans-fat to cause a significant effect on an adult’s LDL level (assuming a 2,000 Calorie diet). So your hypothetical breakfast muffin has already put you about 1/4 of the way to “significant effect”. And beware that salad dressing for lunch, and fries for dinner, and cookies for snacks….

    Monsanto provides seed for Vistive soybeans, the oil from which can be used in place of oils with trans-fats. So, now we all have a choice: “Natural” vegetable oil, with it’s potential for trans-fats and their KNOWN risks, or Vistive oil, without trans-fats and their unknown (and possibly imaginary) risks.

    I know which choice I’ll make.

  33. AG Says:

    “Monsanto provides seed for Vistive soybeans, the oil from which can be used in place of oils with trans-fats. So, now we all have a choice: “Natural” vegetable oil, with it’s potential for trans-fats and their KNOWN risks, or Vistive oil, without trans-fats and their unknown (and possibly imaginary) risks.”

    No thanks, I’ll stick to olive oil. It’s much more nutritous than canola or soybean oil.

    I’m aware that the nutrition labels don’t tell the whole truth, since many times the values given for each type of fat don’t add up to the total amount of fat given.

    That’s beside the point, though. Let me ask this: Do you think consumers would avoid GM foods if they were labelled as such?

  34. Deborah Rubin Says:

    from a different thread:

    Kates says: “…all the best cookies have nuts but that is beside the point.

    FDA labeling is only mandatory for health related issues, things you NEED to know. Voluntary labeling is up to the food producer and addresses what consumers WANT to know.

    So again,
    FDA says GMO’s are not a health issue.
    Labeling is required for only health issues.
    GMO’s are not a health issue so labeling is not required.”

    I brought this up on another one of your threads, but what about COOL–country of origin labeling? Is “country of origin” a health issue? It is a required label now for some commodities. Why would we NEED to know that any more than whether or not a food is a gmo? It took a long time to get that COOL legislation, but we finally have it. I can only hope GMO labeling is next and will continue to work toward that end.

    COOL info:

    SUMMARY: The Farm Security and Rural
    Investment Act of 2002 (2002 Farm
    Bill), the 2002 Supplemental
    Appropriations Act (2002
    Appropriations), and the Food,
    Conservation and Energy Act of 2008
    (2008 Farm Bill) amended the
    Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (Act)
    to require retailers to notify their
    customers of the country of origin of
    covered commodities. Covered
    commodities include muscle cuts of
    beef (including veal), lamb, chicken,
    goat, and pork; ground beef, ground
    lamb, ground chicken, ground goat, and
    ground pork; wild and farm-raised fish
    and shellfish; perishable agricultural
    commodities; macadamia nuts; pecans;
    ginseng; and peanuts. The
    implementation of mandatory country
    of origin labeling (COOL) for all covered
    commodities, except wild and farmraised
    fish and shellfish, was delayed
    until September 30, 2008.

  35. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – good point, why do we need to know country of origin? I’d argue that we don’t. I’d argue that this is a pointless piece of legislature which is going to cost 100’s of millions of dollars with the only real benefit being a possible increase in market share for US grown products based on consumer decisions driven by fear of ‘unsafe’ foreign imports as compared to ‘safe’ US grown/raised food.

    If food from a given country isn’t safe then it shouldn’t be available for consumption in the US (or anywhere for that matter) – it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to decide which country offers safe food – the information simply isnt available to them – I personally feel the resources poured into this bill would have been better utilized in actually ensuring the food coming into the country is safe, rather than giving the illusion of a choice where consumers lack the information to make an informed decision.

    Although it is probably a great thing for US agribusiness in general especially in times of economic stress

  36. Brad Says:


    I do not believe that COOL labeling suggest that labeling requirements are changing.

    Note that we have been talking about mandatory Food and Drug Administration requirements. COOL is managed from the USDA Agricultural MARKETING Service (AMS), the same group that oversees the National Organic Program. AMS is not involved in “Need to Know Labelling”, but as the name suggests – marketing strategies.

    Many would contend that, as it is clearly a marketing tool, that COOL should be voluntary rather than mandatory. That is a different discussion than we have been having.

    Sorry if I did not address this in the previous post. I simply don’t have the time to go back and manage responses to the older threads, especially when I suspect that most readers have moved on as well. I will do my best to continue to monitor the threads on older posts and respond, but please forgive me if I miss some – it is not intentional.

  37. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Nonetheless, COOL labeling is mandatory. Other labels can be legislated as well. Like GMO. I didn’t mean to imply that you did not reply, Brad, just that I am cross-posting.

    Actually, this idea occured to me only this weekend after reading AG’s post on another thread. I thought that if country of origin has been mandated, consumers should continue to push for any legislation they feel is necessary. Don’t let Monsanto interpret the law for you. That is up to the government and the courts.

  38. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John Says:

    March 25, 2009 at 12:35 pm
    Deborah, I acknowledge you do not feel there has been adequate testing of GM food. My question for you is, will the testing suggested in your last blog be sufficient to satisfy you? If not, what level of testing WILL satisfy you?

    Life is fundamentally not safe. And while I agree with you that we should not intentionally ADD unnecessary risks, I think we should look at the relative magnitude of risk involved, and act appropriately.

    Are you being consistent in where you draw the “risk line”?

    John, like so many people today, I want to know more about my food, such as how and where it was produced, etc. Surely, it is not unreasonable to want to understand what I am eating and feeding my family three times a day–since our very health depends upon it. It seems to me that every other thread here on your blog is predicated on Monsanto’s claim that GMO’s are safe to eat—if they aren’t safe, we certainly don’t need them to feed the world or anything else for that matter. So I am asking Monsanto to set up a blog that lays out your company’s safety testing methodologies, research, experiments, reports, and data, everything. I ask for the number of studies (and repetitions, modifications) done for each event (that Monsanto is aware of or references) as well as any follow-up recommendations and follow-throughs. If feeding safety is established, then we should look at environmental safety next.

    But feeding safety studies have to be a starting point for me. I didn’t ask you into my kitchen. You came uninvited. And you expect to stay, no questions asked. You expect me to eat GMO’s (there are no warning labels to even alert me) that you invented; so prove to me that they are safe right here in the public domain, on your website. Let the world’s scientists weigh in. And let an open debate begin at last.

    Like many people, I will not be convinced that GMO’s are safe until I see the safety data and read or hear the feedback of other scientists. From what I read, Monsanto is actually refusing to give some scientists access to seed samples for studies. Can any scientist request a seed sample and an isogenic non-gmo strain to study? Is Monsanto purposefully obstructing scientists from independently safety-testing their seed?

    “Glyphosate-resistant samples were not collected because farmers are contractually prohibited from providing seed to third parties for any reason, including research and testing.”

    I think it would serve the public and me very well if Monsanto would start a blog, explaining their safety studies and the data. It could be event by event, whatever you like. Then each event could be examined and discussed publicly–as I believe it should have been in the first place. Other scientists and consumers could look at it, ask for more information, repeat and compare experiments, extend experiments, offer an opinion, and then we all could get a clearer perspective on the situation.

    I won’t just take your word for this when so much contradictory information is available. That would be naïve and foolish. And there is too much at stake. I have seen plenty of attempts to minimize, dismiss, sidestep, mislead, and omit information pertinent to the issues here on your blog. Do you honestly think that makes people trust you?

    If you and Monsanto believe in the Integrity of your Science, then what do you have to lose? Instead of asking me what level of risk I am willing to bear, for why should I bear the risk, I am asking you to do the only thing you can to allay the perception of risk: You could prove your point publicly, once and for all, by posting and explaining your safety data, and then participating in an open debate on that information.

  39. Brad Says:

    You are correct Deborah. COOL labeling is mandatory.

    However we have been discussing labeling in the context of safety and right-to-know, neither of which is what prompted COOL. As I understand it, the purpose of this bill is to provide people with the opportunity to “buy American”. No doubt some perceive American sourced food as safer, but this is not a basis for the rule.

    No one has suggested you that anyone “let Monsanto interpret the law for you” anywhere in this blog, or that citizens should not push for legislation they feel necessary. I am perplexed as to what prompted your statements to this effect in your last reply.

    Monsanto employees have voiced their opinions in this blog as to the value and practicality of various labeling options. You have as well.

    Your last statement is very confusing and seems significantly out of context with this forum and its purpose.

  40. Dan Says:

    It is a simple question of morality. Monsanto fears loss of profits from labeling – period. If Monsanto products are superior, be proud and put the GM label on them. If they prove to be superior, people will seek them out. Let the marketplace decide. Do not force your morality of what is acceptable on us. Lately, government studies have lost credibility as more and more products are recalled from the marketplace after the damage has been done.

    I have seen too many government approved products that have devastated the health of people in my lifetime. I believe if food is genetically modified, it must go through the same rigorous approval system that a pharmaceutical item does. Even that rigorous process has been manipulated and allowed harmful effects to be discovered only after the damage has been done to the public. At least there would be a modicum of safety. Even then, the foodstuff should be labeled to allow people to make an informed choice. Yes, Monsanto may lose some sales, but caution should always prevail over profits.

    As I said, it is a question of morality. Let Monsanto fail or thrive in the marketplace based on the quality of their products, not on forced consumption by deceit.

  41. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Yes, You have been discussing labeling as it regards safety and the right to know. But you seem to be interpreting the law for people, telling them that it is not their right to have gmo’s labeled as such, or that other labels can not be mandated under existing legislation. That is what I was referring to. The government (We, the people) will ultimately have to interpret the will of the people and decide what to do about it.

    Some of the people who are commenting–myself included–feel it is their right to know if their food is a gmo, and that there is a potential “safety” issue which isn’t being addressed…or that we simply have a right to make an informed choice, just like country of origin allows. Perhaps that can be addressed as a USDA marketing option or any of a number of other ways. I often use country-of-origin to help me find GMO-free when I know a certain country does not grow or accept a certain gmo.

  42. Brad Says:


    I don’t think your criticism is fair.

    I have been relaying my understanding of labeling law as I know it, as have you. I have been transparent about my employment with Monsanto and have taken significant care to cage my comments appropriately. See towards the top of this very thread where I state “I’m not the legal labeling guru around here, and given the confines of a blog reply, I’ll probably oversimplify some of the legal stuff.”

    Nowhere has anyone suggested that citizen should not pursue laws they believe should be passed. Several individuals have questioned the validity a right-to-know-concept as part of mandatory labeling. Several others have stated their desire for such labeling. Both are on equal footing as being able to present their views.

    It is simple fact that COOl is not a component of food safety labeling. The fact that it is housed within the Agricultural Marketing Service rather than FDA is testament to this. That you find a use for COOL in addressing what you as an individual perceive to be a potential safety risk does not change this.

  43. Kate Says:

    You stated: “Let Monsanto fail or thrive in the marketplace based on the quality of their products, not on forced consumption by deceit.”

    Monsanto is a seed company. We sell our seeds to farmers who then grow them. In this case the consumer, the farmer, does know he is buying biotech or GM. Monsanto proudly advertises what biotech traits are in a seed. Farmers are not only aware that the seeds are GM but seek them out for that characteristic.

    Monsanto’s position on labeling food is in support of the current FDA system to label need-to-know information.

    A commenter, Mike, summed it up well on Brad’s HR 875 post:
    “Consumers may assert that they have a “right to know,” but they exercise that right by their purchasing decisions, not by imposing that “right” on others. When I wake up in the morning I want to know the time and temperature, but the solution is not to enact a law that forces someone to tell me”

  44. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Brad Says:

    March 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm
    It is simple fact that COOl is not a component of food safety labeling. The fact that it is housed within the Agricultural Marketing Service rather than FDA is testament to this. That you find a use for COOL in addressing what you as an individual perceive to be a potential safety risk does not change this.
    Brad, I never said or meant to imply that COOL is part of food safety labeling. I use it as an example of another application of mandatory labeling–as GMO labeling might also be defined in the future.

  45. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Kate, it’s really hard to believe that you believe that Mike is summing this up well or keeping this issue in the proper perspective.

    Having one’s food labeled for what one has considered to be a potential safety issue is not even in the same universe of consequence as mandating someone to tell you the time upon waking. To suggest otherwise is really stretching it.

    In the last example the person is infringing on someone to satisfy a whim. In the first case, a person is asking to be informed about what he or she is eating. It doesn’t get much more personal and serious than that.

  46. John Q Says:

    Deborah said:

    “Having ONE’S food labeled for what ONE has CONSIDERED to be a POTENTIAL safety issue”
    [caps emphasis mine]

    Deborah, the amount of ambiguity and uncertainty (which I highlighted) in that sentence is what “we” are arguing against.

    ONE is welcome to ask for ONE’S food to be labeled, but what you are asking for is for ALL of our food to be labeled, and I don’t want to have to pay for all of the infrastructure that would be necessary to make that practical, even if we ignore the fact that I don’t think it’s useful.

    As for labels, this reminds me of the old switch from NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) imaging to MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Did the underlying technology change? Not a bit. But the industry was afraid of the public’s emotional response to the word “Nuclear”, so they changed it.

    Another, more recent example is the Obama administration’s change of term from “War on Terror” to “Overseas Contingency Operation”. What does that even mean? But it upsets the public less.

    Yet another example is the HSA “Threat Level”, which currently says:
    * The United States government’s national threat level is Elevated, or Yellow.
    * For all domestic and international flights, the U.S. threat level is High, or Orange. See the Transportation Security Administration for up-to-date information on items permitted[sic] and prohibited on airlines.

    How long has it been yellow/orange? Do we even notice anymore? Yellow is “significant risk”, orange is “high risk”. But nothing ever happens (thank the deity of your choice), and we no longer modify our behaviors in response (taking off your shoes at the security checkpoint notwithstanding).

    Finally, nearly every available surface on ladders and lawnmowers is covered by some sort of warning label. And yet people continue to injure themselves with them. I like to call this the “Chicken Little” effect, where people get desensitized to warnings.

    If we put ALL of the warning labels “for what ONE has CONSIDERED to be a POTENTIAL safety issue”, not only will it have the opposite effect (some people will start ignoring ALL warnings), but it will also increase the amount of packaging needed (and contribute to our waste stream), exacerbating the trend GM products are trying to counter.

  47. Mica Says:

    This has been a very interesting exchange. I commend Brad, John & Deborah for using well-versed replies citing sources rather than relying on rhetoric. And for also refraining from name-calling that you usually see on the Web.

    Your comments have really made me think.

    This seems to boil down to one difference in opinion: Some don’t believe the government can sufficiently deem a food “safe” (for various reasons and perhaps even personal philosophy – Deborah, would I be correct to place you in this category?) and some do. Perhaps that is too simplistic, but that’s what I walk away with.

    Who then wins out in this argument? A difficult problem to solve.

  48. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Mica, not really the correct category. I don’t think there are enough publicly available, independently peer-reviewed safety studies to ensure that gmo foods are indeed safe, rather than “not proven unsafe.” And this is the status now, 15 years in. I don’t see a recognized scientific consensus. On the contrary, there are a lot of conflicting viewpoints and studies. Some I have already cited. That is why I have asked John, in an answer to his question of how much risk I am willing to accept, if Monsanto will publish their safety data in a public blog or forum format so that there can be an open, scientifically-based debate on the subject. I don’t believe I should have to accept any level of risk from Monsanto’s gmo’s–certainly not the level that has been accessed by some scientists from their studies and scientific prinicples. I should at least be given the basic information–a label–I need to make that decision for myself.

    John, I really do not agree with many of the analogies you compared to my wanting to have gmo food labeled as such. It’s not merely changing a name, it’s changing the dna–pretty fundamental stuff that should be labeled. Monsanto patented the traits. If you don’t want to pay for the infrastructure, your company should not have altered the dna. I don’t see why writing several words will increase packaging–that’s hyperbole at best. I should have the final word over what I choose to eat and feed my family. Again, this seems like a fundamental choice to me. Many people want to know. The FDA’s own survey in 2000 proved that to them.

    “Virtually all participants said that bioengineered foods should be labeled
    as such so that they could tell whether a given food was a product of the
    new technology,” said the report, which is based on focus groups conducted
    last year. “They thought it would allow them to make more informed decisions
    about whether or not to buy a product.”

    “There is overwhelming public support in favor of mandatory labeling, and
    the agency knows that,” he said. “Whether the concerns are environmental or
    health-related, ethical or religious, people want to know when biotechnology
    is being used in their food.”

    In the focus group report, consumers voiced great surprise and concern over
    the way that bioengineered foods have been introduced, and how widely they
    are now used.

    How about that public forum on gmo safety studies? How much risk is Monsanto willing to accept, John? Can they risk the truth?

  49. Kate Says:

    I suggest you check out two new articles just published on about biotech crop safety.

    How Monsanto Proves Biotech Crop Safety: Product Characterization

    How Monsanto Proves Biotech Crop Safety: Product Safety for Food and Feed

  50. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Deborah Says:

    John, I really do not agree with many of the analogies you compared to my wanting to have gmo food labeled as such.
    I meant, I do not agree with “ANY.” It was a typo.

  51. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Kate, I don’t think this really addresses my request. I don’t see any data at all–only a brief outline of (hopefully some of) what Monsanto does. Perhaps I am just not seeing them; are Monsanto’s scientific safety studies and data listed here?

  52. John Q Says:

    Deborah, while I am speaking in support of Monsanto, I have no capability to speak FOR Monsanto. So I’m sorry, I cannot answer the questions you ask of me.

    Deborah wrote:

    ” If you don’t want to pay for the infrastructure, your company should not have altered the dna.”

    I meant I as a consumer, not I as an “advocate” for Monsanto. (And it’s not really “my company”.) Because, in the end, Monsanto (or even the US Govt.) won’t be paying for any new labels, GM or otherwise. It will be the purchasers of those goods. Not to mention we already HAVE a “Non-GM” label: “Organic”.

    Deborah also wrote:

    “I don’t see why writing several words will increase packaging–that’s hyperbole at best.”

    Sorry if I was unclear. The point I was trying to make with any or many of my analogies was, Deborah wants several words added for what SHE “has CONSIDERED to be a POTENTIAL safety issue”
    [caps emphasis mine]
    Ralph ALSO wants several words added for HIS pet potential safety issue, as does Bart, and myself. All for POTENTIAL safety issues. If “we” add a label for EVERY potential safety issue, it is not hyperbole. And if we add one only for YOURS, that is favoritism at best.

    And as several incidents in the past year or so have illustrated, having a govt. label on a product says very little about it’s real safety.

    Deborah also wrote:

    “I should have the final word over what I choose to eat and feed my family.”

    Deborah, the only way to TRULY have the final word over what you choose to eat and feed your family is to grow and process it all yourself. Otherwise, you have to place your trust in Monsanto, Syngenta, the US government, or some other “corporate” entity, and give THEM the final word. Again, my personal feeling is Monsanto et al. are more trustworthy than the US government.

    And if you choose to grow and process all of your own food, I applaud your decision. I am teaching my children how to garden as well as can their own food, but still, we are then placing the final word in the hands of the Burpee Seed Company, the Ball Jar Company, or other entities.

    Now, Deborah, since you called me on the carpet for dodging your question, I would like to restate mine:

    Current estimates are we will have 9,000,000,000 people on the planet (50% more than the turn of the century) by 2050. Without GM food, how do you plan to feed all of them?

  53. John Q Says:

    Mica wrote:

    “Who then wins out in this argument? A difficult problem to solve.”

    I agree it is a difficult problem to solve, but I disagree with the premise that this argument can be “won”. The opinions of Deborah et al. are just as valid as mine. Likely NEITHER set represents “the truth”, whatever that is. But they are how we feel, and I for one respect that.

    I would like to echo your comment of appreciation that everyone has remained civil and engaged, as opposed to “stomping off” in frustration.

    Kate provided:

    [two very good links]

    Thanks, Kate. I was looking for something like that but couldn’t find it.

    Although, to play devil’s advocate, while those articles describe the PROCESS, they do not, as Deborah requested, provide any actual DATA. But, to go that extra step, neither would a label. ;^)

  54. Mica Says:


  55. John Q Says:

    Mica, sorry, didn’t mean to shut you down. I know you were just trying to encourage us to keep the interchange going.

    It’s not important (to me at least) if I win. What is important is that the dialog continue, and we keep striving for understanding of “the other side”. Deborah et al. present their arguments well and civilly, and I can see where they are coming from, I just don’t agree with them.

    For example, from my vantage point, most of “their” arguments are backed up with articles written around 2000, and we have nine more years of experience to draw from, which I feel (rightly or wrongly) they are ignoring. Since I live on a continent that didn’t “exist” 550 years ago, I find dated information to be suspect. And the state of the art for GM organisms is changing so fast, nine years is a LONG time.

    But I have seen a lot of posts in other blogs here where people have already made up their minds as to what the “truth” (or at least their own personal truth) is, and they pay no attention to the points the other side (from EITHER side) is trying to make. And that saddens me.

    I’d rather we ALL win, and if that means I’m proven wrong, I’m a big enough person to admit it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m wrong on a daily basis! ;^)

  56. Diane Says:

    Monsanto is more trustworthy than the US Government? What an interesting concept.

    In reading these blogs and the responses (particularly from the happy Monsanto employees) I see a substantial amount of intellectually dishonest debate tactics and tossing around of pseudoscience disguised as legitimate science. Since most laypeople do not understand the difference between pseudoscience and actual science, I guess you have found some way to justify this approach.

    Money talks, but nature ALWAYS bats last!

    Somewhere on here, someone mentioned frankenfood, and a happy Monsanto employee chimed in with the poor quality of literary knowledge based on the idea that the monster was not REALLY a monster, but in fact was perceived as a monster. Could it not be that the “frankenfood” nickname corresponds instead with Dr. Frankenstein himself, who was mad with power and the idea of playing God? He didn’t patent his creations though.

    When you have invested heavily in a biotech education, I guess you have to rationalize it somehow. Good luck with that.

  57. aliegemita Says:

    Очень интересно. Но чего-то не хватает. Может быть, стоит добавить каких-нибудь картинок или фото?

    Translated via Google Translate:
    Very interesting. But something was missing. Maybe add some pictures or photos?

  58. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John, please consider my question about releasing the Monsanto safety studies now redirected to whoever has that authority at Monsanto to release them.
    You said that we already have a non-GM label, “organic.” But as we discussed here or on the “Either/Or” thread, that isn’t really a guarantee and the standards are continuously being eroded to accomodate GM contamination.

    John, if you did some research and came to the conclusion, along with other respected scientists who have come to this conclusion–that gm foods are not understood well enough to be considered safe and may have even been proven unsafe in independent experiments, would you want a label? Would you want to see a moratorium on GM crops?

    Also, I am wondering what continent you live on–the one that did not “exist” 550 years ago? That is certainly news to me. What do you mean by that? Also, please consider the gmo development protocol that Tom Nickeson (at Monsanto) directed me to–with the accompanying dates (I was a bit taken aback by the dates–was hoping for more up-to-date revisions since many of the intial presumptions–gene flow, etc–have been disproven, but am checking it out just the same.):

    “If possible, check out some of these references and let me know your questions especially specific criticisms you referred to earlier.

    National Research Council. 1989. Field Testing Genetically Modified Organism – Framwork for Decisions. National Academy Press. 170 pages.

    Tiedje, JM. et al. 1989. The planned introduction of genetically engineered organism: Ecological considerations and recommendations. Ecology, 70, 298-315.

    OECD. 1987. Recombinant DNA Safety Considerations. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Paris. 74 pages (

    OECD. 1993. Safety Consideration for Biotechnology: Scale-up of Crop Plants. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Paris. 40 pages (also available on the web from OECD)”
    And finally, what evidence is there that we need GM to feed the world? I have not seen any. However, I have seen many independent and governmental groups come to just the opposite conclusion–with very recent dates (extra credit: Do you know when the entire corn genome was decoded? Was it before Monsanto and others started genetically engineering corn?):

    The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), through their joint Capacity-Building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development (CBTF), take food security very seriously and have joined forces to contribute to the search for sustainable solutions.
    This study examines the relationship between organic agriculture and food security in Africa, particularly East Africa, which is where the CBTF has been implementing a project on organic agriculture since 2004. Organic agriculture is a holistic production system based on active agro-ecosystem management rather than on external inputs, and it utilizes both traditional and scientific knowledge.
    The evidence presented in this study supports the argument that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term.
    This is in line with the findings of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security, held in May 2007.
    Therefore, we encourage policymakers and development cooperation partners in Africa and around the world to take a new look at this promising production system with fresh eyes. It offers not only improved food security, but also an array of other economic, environmental, health and social benefits.

    further references:

  59. Dizattanna Says:

    как сказал один очень умный человек которого мы все хорошо знаем )

    Я спросил у мудрейшего: “Что ты извлёк
    Из своих манускриптов?” И он мне изрёк:
    “Счастлив тот, кто в объятьях красавицы нежной
    По ночам от премудростей книжных далёк”.

    Translated via Google Translate:
    as one very clever man whom we all know)

    I asked a wise man: “What have you learned
    Because of their manuscripts? “And he spake to me:
    “I am happy that those who embrace the beautiful soft
    At night the book is far from wisdom. ”

  60. graniurorn Says:

    Неплохой пост, но много лишнего.

    Translated via Google Translate:
    Nice post, but a lot of excess.

  61. John Q Says:

    Deborah said:

    “You said that we already have a non-GM label, “organic.” But as we discussed here or on the “Either/Or” thread, that isn’t really a guarantee and the standards are continuously being eroded to accomodate GM contamination. ”

    Deborah, this confuses me. Are you arguing FOR or AGAINST another label? Aren’t your criticisms of the “Organic” label just as applicable to other labels?

    Deborah said:

    “Also, I am wondering what continent you live on–the one that did not “exist” 550 years ago? That is certainly news to me. What do you mean by that?”

    Sorry I was being obtuse. The point I weas trying to make was, ten years ago, GM was considered “untested”. In the intervening years, there has been enough research to satisfy me (at least) that GM foods are at least as safe as the rest of our foodstream. Just like 550 years ago, the Americas didn’t “exist”. In the intervening years, there has been enough research to prove that they DO in fact exist. Data more than 10 years old in the GM industry is of little more than historic interest.

    The genetics of cattle, sheep, pigs, corn, cotton, wheat, apples, tomatoes, peppers, and roses have been modified for CENTURIES. But they were modified using selective breeding, which is VERY slow and hit or miss. Selective breeding can take GENERATIONS to produce even a measurable (but still not commercially useful) change in the genetics of an organism. GM can bring a trait from concept THROUGH testing, regulation, and validation and to commercial production in about a decade. My understanding of current GM food products is those genes already exist in nature and in (some) foodstreams, just not in the organism in question. But if you eat un-farmed fish, you run the risk of eating an organism that spontaneously mutated, exposing you to proteins, etc. that no one has been exposed to before. To me, there is no difference.

    Deborah asked:

    “And finally, what evidence is there that we need GM to feed the world?”

    To quote from one of your references:

    * Up to 25 percent of the world’s food production may be lost due to ‘environmental breakdowns’ by 2050 unless action is taken. Already, cereal yields have stagnated worldwide and fish catches are declining.

    I’ll grant that they also cite some possibilities that may counter this. But my interpretation of those possibilities is they will take a lot of work and cost to implement.

    The numbers I have seen indicate we need to do SOMETHING in the next 40 years to be able to feed 9,000,000,000 people in 2050. You are right that it doesn’t HAVE to be GM, but I’d be interested to see YOUR numbers of the yields and acres necessary to feed 9,000,000,000 by 2050, compared to the numbers we have today. And also how you plan to get from today’s numbers to the 2050 numbers WITHOUT GM (in the next 40 years), and who is going to pay for that effort?

    So it doesn’t get lost in that paragraph, I’ll restate:

    I’d be interested to see YOUR numbers of the yields and acres necessary to feed 9,000,000,000 by 2050, compared to the numbers we have today.

    (And by YOUR, I don’t require you specifically to develop them. They don’t have to even be from a “Non-GM” source. Just numbers that you agree with.)

  62. Ewan Ross Says:

    Diane – surely then we’d be Frankensanto or such, rather than the food being frankenfood – which has the benefit of being a nice soundbite, and playing into the portrayal of GM food as a monstosity.

    Deborah – I’m going to go ahead and say last year (28th of Feb), here in St Louis. But what the date of sequencing of the corn genome has to do with genetically modifying corn is not exactly clear -it is however clear that with this knowledge both GM driven research in corn and molecular breeding have gained a spectacularly useful tool for further work.

    Also the UN study on african food security was interesting – but as has been stated numerous times, GM tech isnt viewed as THE solution, just part of the solution – what I think would further bolster the implementation of ‘organic’ farming in africa would be the use of certain GM traited crops in that environment – implementation of a both of best worlds policy would in my mind probably be a great step forward in alleviating hunger and poverty in those areas (conventional ag would be hard to implement in areas with little or no fertilizer availability, so obviously organic methods such as using animal manure to fertilize would be great – combine this with drought resistant or insect resistant tech plants (as I’d guess access to manufactured ‘organic’ pesticides would be severely limited also) and the benefits reaped could be enormous. (I’d personally love to see GM accepted as part of ‘organic’ systems at some time in the next few decades as there truly is no reason to tie it specifically to industrialized input heavy agriculture – perhaps at some point in the production of the second trillion meals containing GM the safety regarding the technology will become accepted to this extent)

  63. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Just for clarification, I would also like to restate two points:

    We don’t need GM to feed the increasing world population if it is inherently unsafe for consumption and/or the environment. Can we have the safety studies released by Monsanto put up for public scientific peer-review? First we must establish that GM crops are safe, or we certainly do not need them for anything at all.

    Does Monsanto allow any scientist interested in researching a gm line and an isogenic non-gm line access to those samples? Are farmers prohibited from giving scientists samples?

    My further, more detailed reply to John about feeding the estimated population of 2050 will be a different post. But I still have not seen your evidence that GM can do it–only promises of inventions that do not exist and may never exist. So it seems you are asking me to find plans to feed an estimated population in a worst case scenario that is better than the plan you have not proven. Must my plan be based on proven technologies, unlike yours; or may I take liberties such as you have?

    I’d love to see biotech put their scientists and logistics specialists to work right now, formulating a plan to feed Everyone on this Planet today–when and where we have the food. It is a tangible challenge, concrete in nature, a noble focus of energy.

  64. me Says:

    If Monsonto thinks that their GM food is safe for consuming then they should not be afraid to label their products, I think the are worried that the public will refuse to purchase their product. The world would be a much safer place if toxic products like round-up did not exist. If people knew that people who use round-up has high risks of parkinson’s disease. Another problem with GM seed is if the wind blows in infects other farmers crops. I also do not think that a company should be able to patent food, control food, not good for the future of food.

  65. John Q Says:

    Deborah said:

    “We don’t need GM to feed the increasing world population if it is inherently unsafe for consumption and/or the environment.”

    OK, I accept your premise. I don’t AGREE with it, but I accept it as a premise to frame a conversational position.

    How DO you propose to feed them, then? What vields and planted acreage are you proposing will do the job, and how will you get those numbers?

    I acknowledge you don’t like “my” solution. That’s the EASY part. What do you propose in it’s stead?

  66. John Q Says:

    “me” said (among other things):

    “The world would be a much safer place if toxic products like round-up did not exist.”

    [I hesitate to legitimize your post by responding, but here goes.]

    Actually, one of the big selling points of Glyphosate (the main active ingredient in RoundUP) is it ISN’T all that toxic. Most herbicides exist for a LONG TIME in the environment, sometimes YEARS. Glyphosate is broken down by naturally occuring bacteria in DAYS.

    Not to mention things like cyanide, arsenic, and botulin are naturally occuring toxins. Heck, WATER is toxic in large enough amounts. Search for “water intoxication” for more details.

    I’ll let others adress your other “points”….

  67. John Q Says:

    Deborah, sorry it took me so long to find this link.

    You asked:
    “And finally, what evidence is there that we need GM to feed the world?”

    Here it is, from a non-Monsanto source:

  68. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John, I don’t see any evidence, only one person’s opinion. Where is the proof? Is it based on the as yet unproven technology biotech says can do the job? How will GM feed the world? I read recently that food flows in the direction of economic demand, not hunger—and that I believe.

    In 2050, you say we will feed more people than we can actually feed now, people we have the food for, but choose not to feed, or can not/WILL not get food to–but at the same time, we can invade distant countries, bail out Wall Street with a trillion plus dollars, launch satellites, genetically engineer food crops and burn them up for fuel while people are starving to death right now…And Monsanto is pushing South Africa and other nations to grow biofuels.

    How will things be any different in 2050, John–unless things change in the direction of a sustainable future; the land and seas will be more degraded, the climate is unpredictable, the population is unpredictable, social unrest is unpredictable. I will wager that poverty will still be around. Can the hungry and starving wait until 2050 to see if the GM plan works? The time is up for some already. How will things change if we continue on this unsustainable path of industrial farming, trade imbalances, the overall type of industrialization we in developed nations practice and overconsume?

    From Environmental Science: Toward a Sustainable Future, 2008, Richard T. Wright:

    “Although India has been self-sufficient in food since 1990, one-fifth of the population suffers from malnutrition because they can’t afford to purchase the food they need, and there is no safety net….
    No new science or technology is needed to alleviate hunger and at the same time promote sustainability as we grow our food. The solutions lie in the realm of political and social action at all levels of responsibility… If we respect human dignity and have a sense of social justice, we must agree that hunger is an affront to both. The right to food must be considered a basic human right.”

    Devinder Sharma said, “In 2000, India had record food surplus of 44 million tons. By 2002, the surplus had grown to 65 million tons, not due to excess production, but because more and more people [at least 1/5] are unable to buy the grain that lies stockpiled.” [contrast, 1/4 or 25% in the US are Clinically Obese–there is a problem other than a shortage of food!]
    According to Miguel A. Altieri, “In 1999, enough grain was produced globally to feed a population of Eight Billion People [and that is just grain, not fruits, and vegetables, etc]…By channeling one-third of the grain produced world-wide to needy people, hunger would cease instantly.

    “Changing the ways in which food is produced, handled and disposed of across the globe — from farm to store and from fridge to landfill — can both feed the world’s rising population and help the environmental services that are the foundation of agricultural productivity in the first place,” says a new study titled ‘The Environmental Food Crisis’ released by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

    The major findings of the study include:

    The 100-year trend of falling food prices may be at an end, and food prices may increase by 30-50 percent within decades, with critical impacts for those living in extreme poverty who spend up to 90 percent of their income on food.

    Up to 25 percent of the world’s food production may be lost due to ‘environmental breakdowns’ by 2050 unless action is taken. Already, cereal yields have stagnated worldwide and fish catches are declining.

    Today, over one third of the world’s cereals are being used as animal feed, rising to 50 percent by 2050. Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation.

    The amount of fish bycatch currently discarded at sea — estimated at 30 million tonnes annually — could alone sustain more than a 50 percent increase in fish farming and aquaculture production, which is needed to maintain per capita fish consumption at current levels by 2050 without increasing pressure on an already stressed marine environment.

    Losses and food waste in the United States could be as high as 40-50 percent, according to some recent estimates. Up to one quarter of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the U.S. is lost between the field and the table.

    In Australia, it is estimated that food waste makes up half of that country’s landfill. Almost one-third of all food purchased in Britain every year is not eaten.

    Food losses in the developing world are also considerable, mainly due to spoilage and pests. For instance, in Africa, the total amount of fish lost through discards, post-harvest loss and spoilage may be around 30 percent of landings.
    Please see the IAASTD report 2008 that I directed you to above, did you read it, John?


    Poor farmers in developing countries can substantially improve both their yields and livelihoods by adopting resource-conserving practices, says a large international study to be published next month.

    The study reviewed 286 recent attempts to introduce such practices on more than 12 million farms in 57 countries, mostly in Africa.

    It assessed how yields change when farmers using approaches such as less tilling to conserve soil, integrated pest management — which favours ecological pest control over pesticide spraying — and improved management of soil nutrients.

    According to the study, adopting such approaches meant yields increased by an average of 79 per cent and harvests of some crops such as maize, potatoes and beans doubled.

    As well as causing less damage to the environment, ‘conservation agriculture’ also improved farmers’ wealth by, for instance, reducing their reliance on costly pesticides.

    Sustainable farming practices also demand less water, says lead researcher Jules Pretty of the University of Essex, United Kingdom, who points out that by 2025 most developing countries are predicted to face water shortages.

    The study concludes that while it is not clear whether these techniques can meet future food needs in developing countries, poor households have most to gain from adopting them.
    So, John, I must honestly say I do not know in what condition our Earth will be in 2050–I can only hope we get on a more sustainable path immediately. I know many who are personally working toward that end and trying to adjust their lifestyles within the system. But the system has to change. It is not sustainable, Can you see that? I do not know what the population will be, if 9 billion people will exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity. How could I know–it will depend on the choices we made yesterday, the ones we make today, and those that we will make tomorrow. We have to be proactive with a comprehensive, sustainable plan across the board, and not just continue reacting from crisis to crisis with even more problematic techno fixes. I believe we must work diligently to make all of our systems–food, energy, consumption, industry, finance, trade, society, etc, sustainable. Otherwise, I fear 2050 may bring a world in which none of us will want to live. In that short of a time. We should have been transitioning decades ago; but we must start now.

    In the only honest answer I can give you regarding how we will feed whatever the population of 2050 is, I will say that I hope we do not feed the people like we do today. We have to find a balance and redefine our values because our brothers and sisters and their children and parents are starving to death right now while food is rotting in the landfills of every nation. And our life-support system, this planet, its atmosphere, the intrinsically beautiful web of living creatures and systems are being severely degraded, if not destroyed. I do not believe GM is the answer, John. It may perpetuate itself, but it is not sustainable in my view and that of many others.

  69. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    April 6, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Deborah – I’m going to go ahead and say last year (28th of Feb), here in St Louis [is when the corn genome was sequenced]. But what the date of sequencing of the corn genome has to do with genetically modifying corn is not exactly clear -it is however clear that with this knowledge both GM driven research in corn and molecular breeding have gained a spectacularly useful tool for further work.


    Ewan, this is the first time I have ever agreed with you that I can recall. It is not at all clear what the sequencing of the corn genome 15 years or so after the introduction of genetically engineered corn really means. It is not clear.

  70. John Q Says:


    Thanks your for the very well worded and reasoned response. I agree with most of it. I’m not sure it is realistic to expect Dr. Federoff to provide her data to the BBC, or the BBC to present it to us, however.

    The few differences I had were:

    1. Monsanto cannot affect all of the changes you request, even though I agree most of them will be necessary. But Monsanto is doing what it can to address them. Some may not agree with Monsanto’s actions, but at least Monsanto is taking action.

    2. My (oversimplified) understanding is most of the situations where food is sitting in warehouses while people are starving are because their governments (or the individuals in power) won’t disemminate the food to them. I’m not sure what Monsanto, or even the US Govt. or the UN can legally do about that.

    3. You present GM crops and sustainability as an either/or situation. I don’t think that is the case. In fact, Monsanto has a big initiative going for improving yield while decreasing the inputs required. I thought Monsanto had a Blog here about sustainability, but the best I could find is

    More information can be found at

  71. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I saw this wonderful episode of Independent Lens and think it gives a lot of insight into the interdependent environmental, social, and food issues in Africa–at least in Kenya. GMO’s are not mentioned, but the issues are well presented. I thought you might be interested.

    Viewer discretion is advised due to violence.

    Let Wangari Maathai tell in her own words what went wrong and what was done to correct it. We see this similar cash crop system, resource grab going on all over the developing world. What does it leave the people and the country with? Who really benefits?

  72. Deborah Rubin Says:


    I would like to suggest that Monsanto start a sustainability thread–why they believe their products are sustainable for the future of OUR planet, OUR people, and OUR biodiversity.

    Why should governments and their people–ourselves included–invest in Monsanto’s “promises in the pipeline” when we have proven methods of sustainable farming today that increase yields, decrease inputs, conserve and improve soil, and actually get food to hungry people? And do not require such expensive research and operating expenses?

    The Global Food Security Act of 2009, S384, which mandates biotech research (and its financing one would assume) as part of US aid is being debated right now in Congress. So many here at Monsanto do not want to pay for gmo labeling, yet Monsanto and the government want us, the American people, to pay for more biotech research? Who will really benefit from this scheme? And how effective have gmo’s proven in reducing world hunger? Why should we expect that to change in the future?

    The funding the Lugar-Casey bill mandates is essentially a subsidy to private research and development goals: it has nothing to do with reducing hunger. Public money will go to U.S. corporations to produce patented products, essentially subsidizing risky projects and privatizing gain in the name of charity.

  73. John Q Says:

    Deborah, I’d like for you to suggest that, also.

    Somewhere on this (and every Monsanto blog) page is a “Topic Suggestions” link, but for ease of use here is a link to where it takes you:

    Another reason to do so is I think Monsanto is implementing a 10-day limit to author’s responses to existing blogs. It is VERY possible “Brad” is no longer reading (or at least responding) to this thread.

  74. David Says:

    Brad says he doesn’t trust surveys or petitions and yet this blog regularly uses surveys to support Monsanto’s side of the story.

  75. Brad Says:


    Kindly point to where Monsanto references a survey in this blog. If you could be more specific, it would help to respond. I can’t find any such uses of surveys.

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