10 Reasons We Do Need GM Foods: Helping a Thirsty World

March 18, 2009

From time to time we all start wondering how our life would be without the things we consider indispensable (no, I am not talking about your BlackBerry!!!). As the list gets longer and longer and we all keep getting used to this comfortable life, we do not realize how important everyday things are in our life until–for some reason–we lose them.

This morning was freezing at home, so I put on my robe and ran quickly to the bathroom to take a hot shower. I closed the door, turned on the lights (that is the correct order so I don’t wake my wife up–as she instructed me), got into the shower, spun the water knob and voilà–there was no water!!! I completely freaked out. It was not only about the shower, and the shaving, and the cleaning teeth, and the hot tea–it was everything!!! I was stuck there and boy it was cold!
Biotech and Water use

Suddenly, I realized I had spent two days researching and writing stuff about bio-fuels, wind and solar power, and some other alternative sources of energy, but the truth is we have no substitute for water.

The UN says it is predictable, if present consumption patterns continue, two out of three people will live in drought or water-stressed conditions by 2025 (yes, less than 20 years from now). And it is not about having a hot shower every morning, it is about surviving.

Did you know agriculture is accountable for about 70 percent of all fresh water withdrawals? I certainly didn’t. The problem is, since global population keeps growing, more water will be required for domestic and industrial use, so it will be impossible for farmers to keep up this rate of consumption.

Water shortages throughout critical times of the growing season are going to be a major problem for farmers around the world. Climate changes are also expected to lead to drier conditions and more frequent droughts in some parts of the world. Agriculture must find a way to reduce the use of water and increase the yields to face the growing demand for crops for both food and fuel–at the same time. So, without water you are not going to have food either, but do not worry, the odds are you are not going to starve to death; you are more likely to dehydrate first.

Over the last several years, the ag industry has focused biotech resources and expertise on the discovery and development of drought-tolerant traits and, again, Monsanto is leading the crusade. Its pipeline of biotech crops is focused on environmental-stress adaptation. Included in the pipeline are drought-tolerant crops and nitrogen-efficiency genes. Drought-tolerant crops are designed to provide greater yield stability in years when crops would otherwise suffer due to drought conditions. These products will take some of the risk out of farming in both developed and developing countries. Nitrogen-use efficiency can potentially contribute to a significant reduction of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining high grain yield at lower nitrogen levels.

GM crops that are drought resistant may be grown by farmers around the world within 4-5 years. Drought-tolerant oilseed rape plants have been in field trials in the Mid-West, Colorado and California for four years now and are at the most advanced stage of development. A drought-tolerant variety of maize has been tested too, but only for about two years. Also, biotechnologists are working on modifications for more efficient water use, larger seeds, heat tolerance and increased biomass.

The biotech industry has found a way to decrease the use of water for future generations and let agriculture keep providing food resources for the world growing population. Now, it is time for us improve our abilities to reduce our water consumption.

10 Reasons We Do Need GM Foods

Santiago is a Manager of Public Affairs at Monsanto. He was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, post-graduate studies in Social Communication & Media and an MBA in Marketing Management. Prior to working at Monsanto, Santiago taught PR for almost seven years while working as a Communications Advisor for several organizations and industries. He also worked for a multi-national IT company and an Oil & Gas company as PR Manager.

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78 Responses to “10 Reasons We Do Need GM Foods: Helping a Thirsty World”

  1. debbie Says:

    I don’t need ten reasons, I need one.
    Follow the money, it leads to your gmo seeds.
    and the smell is unbearable to those of us who value good fresh food that has not been altered.

  2. debbie Says:

    Maybe you should write for someone who really has the world’s best interests at heart, heres a start:
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/

  3. Dr Moore MD Says:

    If you feel we need GM foods that is your opinion. I for one want the right to choose natural foods, not genetically modified franken food. You have no control over genetic variation/mutation. We do not know enough about genetic expression to determine exactly which genes get turned on or off and quite frankly, you are playing russian roulette with the health of the world. You want genetically modified food, you eat it. I want natural food and labeling so that I can make an intelligent choice. No fish genes in my tomatoes please, just tomato genes.

  4. Kim Price Says:

    Now if we can just get people in the cities to realize that they can help decrease water use by doing just simple every day things – shut the tap off when you brush your teeth, shorten your shower by just a couple of minutes, watch how many times you flush the toilet, reduce the water you use to water your lawn….I live on a ranch in northwest Nebraska where water is a big concern. I brought these topics up to my family that lives in Denver and they laughed. They just didn’t see how their water use can have an impact on water use. Farmers here have been in a drought for a number of years and are struggling with how to raise crops with reduced irrigation. It isn’t about GM seeds anymore, it is about how we can learn to conserve our natural resources, feed the world and maintain our livelihoods and that of our children to come.

  5. Ewan Ross Says:

    Dr M – the term ‘franken food’ always amuses me – what with the whole moral of the story being that the ‘monster’ in question was only a monster because society deemed it so rather than because it was one. Kinda fitting but not in the way you intended it I guess…. although I often think the analogy says as much about literary knowledge as it does scientific.

    Of course the analogy only works to a point, I dont really see that GM plants have the capacity to lash out against society for not understanding them.

  6. scared stiff Says:

    I know lets all eat some gmo food and after having the cdc tell us that morgellans disease is possibly a product of and contains the same spore as gmo food. What is the …….????

  7. debbie Says:

    Ewan:
    Do you find genetic mutations in wildlife funny too?
    maybe you should seek employment with Monsanto.. or wait, do you already work for them?

  8. justeatfood Says:

    Just because Monsanto has the technology to develop seeds in a laboratory doesn’t mean they should. The root of the issue is water conservation. Perhaps we don’t need any more maize. Don’t you think we have enough when Monsanto’s freakish drought resistant, bug resistant, human resistant maize ends up in our soda, bread, crackers, tomato sauce, etc? Yeah, I think we have enough. Perhaps if they stopped feeding the corn machine we could conserve a ton more water. Then perhaps the run off from the insecticides because the corn has built up a tolerance wouldn’t run down in the Gulf of Mexico killing our wildlife and contaminating our waters. I think we have a bigger problem on our hands.

    Emily
    http://www.justeatfood.com

  9. Ewan Ross Says:

    Debbie, I find genetic mutations (which are the driving force behind not only evolutionary change but also conventional crop breeding (where, for the record, such mutations go completely untested as regards safety)) absoulutely fascinating, not amusing.

    And yes, I already work for Monsanto, in research, which I feel incredibly lucky to do as it was the work Monsanto was doing in the late 80’s and early 90’s which inspired me to pursue molecular genetics as a degree course.

  10. scared stiff Says:

    If it is so controversial to do human genetic testing/alteration why is not also controversial when it comes to some of the oldest living organisms in the world…. Plants. In the way of my beliefs all things are alive and manipulating the natural genetics is well… horrifying.
    We understand that there is huge risks when it comes to testing on humans but not in any way when it comes to our natural growing food which is alive. And in many cases becoming extinct because we are changing what it is.
    How is that right on any sort of humane life preserving ideology???

  11. Diane Says:

    I often tell my children when they say they NEED something that NEED is a strong word.

    And we certainly do not have to see these GM seeds as monsters. We can see them as yet another creation resulting from the human desire to play god and make money in the process. But nature always, ALWAYS bats last. If GM foods kill us all, would that not be a fine way for the system to move into homeostasis?

    Thanks, Monsanto! You really are nature’s little helper!


  12. I have many questions. Let me start with this one and if I get a coherent answer I will post a few more. First: yields have not increased as promised. In fact, since the hybrids used for GM breeding programs are not necessarily the highest-yielding varieties, GM crops often perform worse than their non-GM counterparts. Many studies from around the world have shown that apparent yield increases are short-lived and are based upon carefully selected comparisons with less effective non-GM lines. Can you refute this? Thank you.

  13. Ewan Ross Says:

    Scared stiff – as far as I am aware the reasons behind avoiding human genetic manipulation (testing really isnt the right word here – human genetic testing is a widespread and important part of modern medicine) are controversial due to moral implications rather than safety implications – although obviously genetic modification of humans could potentially cause pain and suffering due to said modification which is something that plants cannot. We also dont eat humans, spray them with chemicals to get rid of them (so long as we are civilized) etc etc – the analogy doesnt hold particularly well at any level.

    Humans have ‘manipulated the natural genetics’ of plants and animals for the past 40,000 years – this is the foundation of modern agriculture, every domesticated plant and animal is a result of human manipulation of genetics.

    I’m unaware of anything that has gone extinct due to manipulation of genes in the biotechnological sense, or which would – a corn plant with a single gene (or 8) added is still a corn plant.

    And as an aside completely unrelated to the point of the blog…. plants are by no means the oldest living organisms (forgetting the obvious fact that all organisms trace their ancestry back to a single time point and can therefore pretty much be considered equally old) – single celled photosynthetic organisms were not seen for the first 800 million years of life, complex cells (eukaryotic) were not seen for the first 1.8billion years of life, multicellular life was not seen for the first 2.8 billion years of life, land plants were not seen until around 475 million years ago, flowering plants were not seen until around 130 million years ago.

    So depending on your exact definition of what it is to be a plant other lineages of life have been around for anywhere between 800 million years longer than plants (at the least conservative definition) and ~3.2 billion years (at what most people would consider the evolution of plants as we know them)

    Although I can’t see why the ancestry of the organism would have anything to do with considerations about modifying it genetically (and only brought it up because I am spectacularly pedantic)

  14. A Moore MD Says:

    GMO’s are man’s attempt to play god. Mother nature’s mutations, rarely if ever,cross species
    barriers in higher level organisms. Until we can control absolutely gene expression we have no business attempting to release these potential time bombs into nature. Once the genie is out of the bottle you can’t put it back.

    My comment does not indicate an lack of scientific understanding only a lack of faith in the recklessness of the biotech industry. As an OB-GYN with a PhD in molecular biology with a specialization in genetics, I would
    say I understand the field just as well as you do and possibly better. Monsanto is playing russian roulette with the ecosystem and it needs to stop.

    Consumers, if given a choice, don’t choose GMO’s. Stop fighting labeling and give us a choice.


  15. I notice my question remains unanswered.

  16. Kate Says:

    Patric Juillet,
    It’s not my area of expertise but I will attempt to answer. As to the delay, I apologize for any inconvenience – blogging is not our full-time job, the employees who blog here do so in addition to our regular workload, sometimes it is not possible for us to get to every question.

    I would be very interested to see the citations you are referring to – I have not seen any peer reviewed studies that suggest what you are claiming.

    This study pulls from reports around the world. Here is a summary:
    * Mexico – yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybean of 9 percent.
    * Romania – yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybeans have averaged 31 percent.
    * Philippines – average yield increase of 15 percent with herbicide tolerant corn.
    * Philippines – average yield increase of 24 percent with insect resistant corn.
    * Hawaii – virus resistant papaya has increased yields by an average of 40 percent.
    * India – insect resistant cotton has led to yield increases on average more than 50 percent.

    I might point out that the best indication of increased yield would be the wide adoption of biotechnology. Farmers and growers are intelligent and shrewd businessmen. They look at the bottom line and choose the best product. Products that do not produce a substantial yield are not planted. Do not underestimate the intelligence of the farmer.

  17. Brad Says:

    Patric

    Yes, overall yields have increase. See:

    http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/

    http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto_today/for_the_record/gm_crops_increase_yields.asp

    Note, that if you take the time to read the PG economics study (which is peer reviewed) he cites studies from around the globe examining yield gains.

  18. Deborah Rubin Says:

    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/failure-to-yield.html

    Failure to Yield
    Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops

    For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.

    That promise has proven to be empty, according to Failure to Yield, a report by UCS expert Doug Gurian-Sherman released in March 2009. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

    http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdf

  19. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – I dont find it particularly surprising that a document published by a partisan operation such as the union of concerned scientists finds that GE doesnt increase yields (somewhat akin to the lack of surprise you would find in Monsanto press releases and website messages saying that GE crops do increase yield no doubt)

    A few things I find interesting – the report puts a great deal of stock in the fact that the traits under discussion have not increased intrinsic yield (ie maximum potential yield given perfect growing conditions) whereas they have (to a certain extent) increased potential yield. I dont think anyone would argue that IR or HT crops would be expected to increase intrinsic yield – both are stress tolerance/reduction methods which you wouldnt really expect to increase the maximal potential yield of the plant (ie the yield of the plant if it is under zero stress – no weeds or insects).

    A second interesting point (and I’m not sure how endemic this is through the report as I only checked one of the references) is that positive data from the reports appears to have been ignored – “The First Decade of
    Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States” is cited (I think on numbers of trials of intrinsic yield type genes) but nowhere does it mention the studies mentioned in this report in which “The majority of the results show GE crops produce higher yields than conventional crops.” or the figures detailing reasons for adoption of GM crops by farmers – which are overwhelmingly due to increased yield.

    A final point – the ‘study’ is US centric in its focus, for good reason, the US agricultural system already has in place hugely succesful methods for stress reduction – herbicide use, pesticide use, massive fertilizer application, agronomic education and high tech machinery – one of the reasons these stress reducing technologies offer such significant yield gains in less technological agricultural systems is that they help to bridge the gap between the potential yield and the intrinsic yield of the crop – something largely already managed in US systems (hence the 2-7% (or 0-2% increases as the source you cite claims)range of increases as compared to 15-50% ranges globally).

    Increasing yield isnt only a concern to US farmers. It is arguably far more important to farmers in less developed nations where such increases can bring a real shift in economic status to rural communities.

  20. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    April 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Increasing yield isn’t only a concern to US farmers. It is arguably far more important to farmers in less developed nations where such increases can bring a real shift in economic status to rural communities.
    ***************
    The way it is important in India and South Africa where crop failures often prove devastating? How much good have GM schemes really done there?

    As far as the intrinsic yield point made by the report, conventional breeding has been successful at increasing intrinsic yield. Do you have any other statistics about the value of the potential yield over the intrinsic yield advances?

    Here is a brief summary from the UCS report:

    The study reviewed the intrinsic and operational yield achievements of the three most common genetically altered food and feed crops in the United States: herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn, and insect-resistant corn (known as Bt corn, after the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, whose genes enable the corn to resist several kinds of insects).

    Herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn, and Bt corn have failed to increase intrinsic yields, the report found. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn also have failed to increase operational yields, compared with conventional methods.

    Meanwhile, the report found that Bt corn likely provides a marginal operational yield advantage of 3 to 4 percent over typical conventional practices. Since Bt corn became commercially available in 1996, its yield advantage averages out to a 0.2 to 0.3 percent yield increase per year. To put that figure in context, overall U.S. corn yields over the last several decades have annually averaged an increase of approximately one percent, which is considerably more than what Bt traits have provided.
    ===================
    I would like to consider the findings and rigor of the science over the “side” of the scientist. Only then can I discover the truth. That is why I am willing to consider your studies as well as the UCS and other groups. I will look at them for what they are. I question any report, article, or study that I see, no matter who came up with it.

    And I do have great respect and admiration for Doug Gurian-Sherman and his work.

  21. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah –

    Devastating in what respect Deborah? Devastating in a 10% yield reduction which is compensated to the farmers and caused by a change in breeding technique nothing to do with GM – and which also has no real impact on food supply or pricing? In an area which has succesfully utilized the for a decade?

    Devastating in the respect that the technology has increased per acre income for Indian farmers on average more than 60%?

    How much good have GM schemes done there?

    http://soer.deat.gov.za/themes.aspx?m=521

    south african governmental report detailing an 11% increase in income for south african farmers utilizing GM crops – (18% increase in yield, 13% reduction in pesticide cost, 100% increase in seed price, 11% total benefit in terms of gross margins)

    And obviously as mentioned the 60%+ increases in farmer income in india – take a look back at the posts by “Michelle, India” on the indian farmer suicides blog for a far more detailed look at this.

    http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/UCSresponseapr2009.pdf

    Gives a pretty detailed rebuttal of the UCS report.

    I’d argue that looking at a per year increase in yield for a biotech crop is a poor method of assessing performance – one wouldnt expect a trait to increase in performance on a year to year basis (just as one wouldnt expect a conventionally bred line to increase in performance year to year without further improvements) – biotech benefits come in fits and spurts at product release – therefore the 3-4% increase should be seen as a 3-4% increase for that given year, assuming the trait is then utilized in conventionally bred hybrids this 3-4% increase should always stay on top of what the conventional breeding techniques have given (biotech and conventional breeding are not two opposite poles, rather two complementary methods – monsanto uses approximately half of its R&D spend on breeding programs)

  22. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan says:

    A final point – the ’study’ is US centric in its focus, for good reason, the US agricultural system already has in place hugely succesful methods for stress reduction – herbicide use, pesticide use, massive fertilizer application, agronomic education and high tech machinery – one of the reasons these stress reducing technologies offer such significant yield gains in less technological agricultural systems is that they help to bridge the gap between the potential yield and the intrinsic yield of the crop – something largely already managed in US systems (hence the 2-7% (or 0-2% increases as the source you cite claims)range of increases as compared to 15-50% ranges globally).

    _____________________

    But don’t farmers in developing nations need increased ferilizers, herbicides and machinery, plus the extra expense of seeds to grow GM crops in their countries as well? Aren’t the GM systems dependent on these expensive inputs, making the farmers dependent on them in the loop? Are the GM system requirements any different for people in developing nations who are at a higher risk if the crops fail than those in the developed nations? What may be perceived as a benefit to farmers in developed nations may be a risk to farmers in precarious economic conditions in developing nations. So I think looking at primarily the US in the UCS report puts GM in a more generous light.

    Did you note any of the increases posted on the GMO labeling blog here regarding farmers in developing nations using sustainable/organic agriculture? And the fact that hungry people actually have access to the food–it isn’t just a cash crop.

  23. Ewan Ross Says:

    Would increased fertilizers, herbicides, and machinery help in bringing developing nations yields closer to the intrinsic yield of the crop? Absolutely.

    Are increased quantities of any of these materials required to farm a GM crop? Absolutely not (although clearly if you dont have access to roundup there is no point in growing roundup-ready crops).

    There is nothing about GM crops that means they have to be farmed on a purely industrial basis, the only thing that currently excludes GM crops from ‘organic’ systems is that the organic movement has rejected GM, not because GM wouldnt work in these systems – obviously with the exclusion of synthetic herbicides roundup-ready would be a pretty pointless technology to use in an ‘organic’ system, but IR tech would certainly be beneficial in such a system, as would water use efficient and nitrogen use efficient technology in the future.

    IR crops in particular would lend themselves to cultivation in exactly the sort of situations described in the article on the labelling thread (which I cant find – your article says it should have been published in Feb – if you can find a link to it I’d appreciate it) roundup ready crops are one method of easily adopting no-till methods of agriculture, future GM crops such as water use efficient and nitrogen use efficient would equally be important in such farming practices.

    Looking purely at the US allowed the UCS report to report low to negligible yield increases. Looking globally would have severely hampered the ability of the report to make neutral/negative conclusions about the capacity to increase yield for the pure reason that GM crops have without doubt increased yields significantly in developing nations (while also reducing chemical inputs in some cases)

  24. Ewan Ross Says:

    http://mulch.cropsoil.uga.edu/~parrottlab/Response%20to%20UCS.pdf

    Another rebuttal of the UCS report – pulled this from the twitter feed on the right just to make sure it wasnt missed

  25. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    April 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Deborah –

    Devastating in what respect Deborah?
    ——————–
    Devastating to an Indian farmer, or other small, financially strapped farmer who has borrowed to the hilt to make a big investment in gmo technology only to have his personal crop fail or not yield what he or she was promised. The rains don’t come. There is no irrigation. Now he or she can not repay his or her loan. Now he or she is devastatingly deep in debt, perhaps ruined.

  26. Ewan Ross Says:

    In the same respect that on an individual level a farmer may attempt to make the transition to an organic system, fail and end up deep in debt?

    Overwhelmingly adoption of GM crops has been beneficial to Indian farmers. (average increases in yield of 50%+, decreases in the use of type 1 pesticides, increases in per acre income of ~8000Rs on an initial investment of ~450Rs)

  27. Deborah Rubin Says:

    It’s difficult to reconcile those claims with the reality of farmers’ own testimonies and suicides, Ewan.

  28. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah –

    Only if you focus only on the negatives. 4 million farmers in India planted GM cotton in 2008. I guarantee that if you take any sample size of 4 million users of any technology you’ll be able to cherry pick in the order of 1000’s who blame said technology on all their woes.

    Unfortunately for the anti-GM crowd when you look at the bigger picture, ie the *average* benefit to 4 million people, the numbers come out looking decidedly favorable towards the technology – hence increased useage of the product and the willingness to switch to upgraded versions of the product.

    The reality of farmer testimony would, I assume, be largely in favor of GM crops (assuming a representative sampling) and the reality of farmer suicides, while tragic, is not tied to GM crops.

  29. John Q Says:

    Ewan:

    Ah, but stories where GM crops are beneficial to farmers are not nearly “sexy” enough to report on.

    Hundreds of millions of car-miles are driven each day in the US, but no one reports on those. They don’t even report on the fender-benders. Only the catastrophic accidents make the nightly news. If we held cars up to the same standards suggested for GM crops, they’d have 3-foot thick doors and be limited to 10 mph, if we were allowed to drive them at all.

  30. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    April 20, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Looking globally would have severely hampered the ability of the report to make neutral/negative conclusions about the capacity to increase yield for the pure reason that GM crops have without doubt increased yields significantly in developing nations (while also reducing chemical inputs in some cases)
    _________________
    Do you have any statistics on that? Can you break it down with and without increased fertilizers, herbicides, and machinery usage?

  31. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – the statistics for improved yield globally in developed countries has been repeatedly linked across the various blogs – I dont believe there is a great breakdown in any of them on the comparitive yields with and without various inputs as I believe the inputs are generally held to be similar across each study (if they werent then no conclusions about anything could be drawn)

    I’d equally like to see your statistics on the absolute dependance of GM crops on high cost inputs – the only essentially fixed link I can see is seed cost vs non GM, everything else, as far as I can tell, is free to vary in so far as various situations will allow it (the fact that low-input agriculture in the US and other first world countries excludes GMOs on an ideological basis will obviously skew any figures about “required” inputs in favor of non-GMOs and so this whole area should in general be avoided – although one hopes that the Rodale institutes recent inclusion of GM into their trials (are they still doing that or did they back out?) should provide some data around using GM crops in a less high input environment
    I do recall that one of the reports on the indian farmer suicides had a statement in it that with zero pesticide application Bt cotton did better than non-Bt cotton (as you’d logically expect)

    My stance that GM crops would perform better in low input environments follows exactly the same logic – they carry traits which reduce the effects of external stress, therefore if all else is equal they will perform better than an isogenic line, whether this be in a field sprayed with herbicides and pesticides dispensed from a $5million GPS guided supertractor, or hand weeded by a small family with no other available inputs – there is no reason to expect otherwise (although hybrid choice would obviously come in to play in this respect – comparisons would have to be between isogenic hybrids, as some are better suited to high tech ag environments etc)

    http://www.up.ac.za/dspace/bitstream/2263/2854/1/Gouse_GM(2005).pdf

    summarizes findings on small subsistence type farmers in SA using GM crops which is so far the best I can personally come up with on the effects of GM crops on smallholder farmers in developing nations (notwithstanding the other data already presented elsewhere in these blogs)

  32. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, you maybe I am missing something, but from your link http://www.up.ac.za/dspace/bitstream/2263/2854/1/Gouse_GM(2005).pdf
    I have a few comments from the get-go:

    4.1 Methodology

    The small-scale farmers selected for this survey by the local extension officers and enumerators were from six of the nine sites in which Monsanto gave out free seed samples in 2001. The sample sizes in each site were calculated so as to be significant and representative of the population that received the maize seeds from Monsanto. The Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development of the
    University of Pretoria, with help from government extension officers, surveyed 368
    farmers in the six selected sites. Potential enumerators from the specific areas were
    identified by extension officers and trained by University staff to collect the necessary data
    from the small-scale farmers. The survey was conducted from April 15 until June 21, 2002
    and a university staff member was present at the various sites for the duration of the survey.

    After an initial analysis of the data, we decided to express yields in kilograms of
    production per seed planted, rather than per hectare because of difficulties estimating both
    the output and area planted. [why would an experiment be done with so little data measurement? why are they trying to estimate?]

    The survey used farmer recall [what????] to obtain data on yields, area, and plant populations. Since their answers to the yield per ha and plant population per ha
    questions varied so greatly, it was felt that it would be more reliable to base the report on
    the output per quantity of seed planted. Farmers did have a fairly good idea [how do we know that?] of their total output of each type of hybrid, and the amount of Bt seed and the isoline seed planted could be verified by Monsanto’s distribution programme. [how do we know what was planted and germinated for certain] Thus, we thought that output per quantity of seed would be more accurate than output per hectare. In subsequent years we
    will measure by the quantity harvested and area sown, rather than rely on farmers’ recall.

    [A much better experimental method]

  33. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    April 24, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    My stance that GM crops would perform better in low input environments follows exactly the same logic – they carry traits which reduce the effects of external stress, therefore if all else is equal they will perform better than an isogenic line, whether this be in a field sprayed with herbicides and pesticides dispensed from a $5million GPS guided supertractor, or hand weeded by a small family with no other available inputs
    —————————
    What traits do gm plants have to reduce the effects of external stress? Are you just talking about Bt? RR traits would be of no use. Bt may help the plant withstand a certain insect infestation, if it occurs, but what good would that be in any other circumstance? What does GM have to offer the small farmer.

    No real conclusions can be drawn from your example above as the methodology would not even be accepted by my children’s elementary school science fair–and I am completely serious, not just poking fun. There are no empirical measurements.

  34. Ewan Ross Says:

    What traits do GM crops have which reduce the effects of external stress?

    Bt – both above and below ground systems (same class of protein, different proteins, different expression) both reduce external stress from insect predation – 100% proven to reduce insect stresses in situations from zero to reduced insecticide spraying in India (hence the 50%+ increases in yield)

    Drought tolerance genes – not yet on the market, but coming soon, reduce stress brought on by drought.

    RR – not necessarily of no use, depends entirely on the economics of the individual farmer – I’d say this one would be of most limited use but could probably impact small scale farms who dont currently use herbicide systems but do have the capacity to apply roundup to their crop. This system without doubt reduces environmental stresses from most weeds.

    I dont agree that no real conclusions can be drawn from the study. The measurements used are not ideal, but as it is a preliminary study of small scale farmers, and the small scale farmers overwhelmingly preferred the GM crop, reported increased yields with the GM crop, predominantly reported reduced pesticide useage with the GM crop, preferred the grain quality of the GM crop etc I dont think it can be entirely discounted due to a few minor issues with data collection.

    Considering the fact this data is put together by published scientists and held on a university website I can only stand in awe of the quality of elementary school you have found for your daughter. I guess I should have dug a little deeper and found some actually published work, here’s a few for the record (by the same scientists, apparently peer-reviewed journals arent as picky as science fair judges – who says the education system is failing?)

    http://www.agbioforum.missouri.edu/v7n4/v7n4a04-schimmelpfennig.htm

    http://inderscience.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,5,13;journal,14,28;linkingpublicationresults,1:110837,1

    http://agbioforum.org/v9n1/v9n1a02-gouse.htm

    (this previous one is interesting in that it makes the very good point of Bt as an insurance policy – with the actual benefit in non-pressure years being entirely dependant on the tech fee, low enough and it would be a nice insurance, too high and it would be detrimental)

    http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/18054/1/wp020025.pdf

    http://www.up.ac.za/dspace/bitstream/2263/3309/1/Gouse_Output%282006%29.pdf

    (previous one is more economics than science)

    These sum up pretty well what GM crops offer small farmers in South Africa

  35. John Q Says:

    Deborah, I agree the methodology used leaves a lot to be desired. However, I read it as a restriction imposed by the lack of technological sophistication (not just poking fun) of the “small-scale farmers”.

    The way I envision it, most of them have been farming the same field for generations, have no idea what a hectare is, and have family-proprietary methods for planting (seed) densities and so forth, so comparing production per randomly planted hectare against optimally spaced hectares would be meaningless at best, and misrepresentative at worst.

    Not to mention they likely have little patience for allowing strangers (and outsiders) to wander around their fields. Granted, I was not there, so it may all be projections from my imagination, but that is what I read into the wording that was used.

    Also, RR crops DO reduce external stress, by removing some of the competition for nutrients, assuming RoundUp was in fact used. Most other herbicides still stress crop plants, just not enough to kill them at the application rates specified. The assumption being that stress is less than the scarce-nutrient stress.

  36. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Considering the fact this data is put together by published scientists and held on a university website I can only stand in awe of the quality of elementary school you have found for your daughter. I guess I should have dug a little deeper and found some actually published work, here’s a few for the record (by the same scientists, apparently peer-reviewed journals arent as picky as science fair judges – who says the education system is failing?)

    ————-

    I still think you have to be kidding. Everything in an elementary school science fair entry must be quantified (taken from memory would not be accepted, no exceptions) and monitored daily in a data log. Without monitoring, as I said, you can’t be sure how many seeds were planted or germinated.

    Just to be clear, I am criticizing the study designers, not the farmers for being asked to rely on their memories. This is a design and monitoring flaw. The scientists should have measured the area, counted the seeds, logged how many germinated and what each produced, IMO.

  37. John Q Says:

    But dividing by the total number of seeds provided gives a worst case estimate. If they planted fewer seeds, or if only a percentage of them germinated, using those numbers would only drive the calculated yield UP.

  38. Ewan Ross Says:

    So, taking a brief look around at science fair entry rules, I dont accept that this experiment wouldnt be accepted – potentially docked a few points for the data not being ideal, but most likely awarded some points.

    http://users.rcn.com/tedrowan/Judging.html

    although possibly the use of external data collection would have invalidated the whole thing…

    http://users.rcn.com/tedrowan/Rules.html

    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/fair.html

    doesnt neccesarily preclude opinion/memory etc type measurements (which cereal etc tastes the best isnt ever going to be an empirical measurement no matter how the experiment is designed)

    And also, as you’ll notice the linked peer reviewed articles (lets assume for the moment that the criteria for publication in peer reviewed media is somewhat more stringent than elementary school science fair entry criteria) attached to my second post make exactly the same points, although do have better data (and had I spent more than 2 minutes looking I would most likely have linked these and not the original article – unfortunately constraints of time dont always allow for quite as much research behind any given post as I’d like)

  39. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John Q Says:

    April 28, 2009 at 9:18 am
    But dividing by the total number of seeds provided gives a worst case estimate. If they planted fewer seeds, or if only a percentage of them germinated, using those numbers would only drive the calculated yield UP.

    _________________________

    But you would still have to compare it to the other types of corn grown. And the ambiguity there. How was the yield calculated? It said farmers had a pretty good idea.

    “The survey used farmer recall [what????] to obtain data on yields, area, and plant populations. Since their answers to the yield per ha and plant population per ha
    questions varied so greatly, it was felt that it would be more reliable to base the report on
    the output per quantity of seed planted. Farmers did have a fairly good idea [how do we know that?] of their total output of each type of hybrid, and the amount of Bt seed and the isoline seed planted could be verified by Monsanto’s distribution programme. [how do we know what was planted and germinated for certain]”

    I don’t get it!

  40. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan, you could check the criteria for elementary science fair entries–and middle and high schoolers these days who are serious often go to university labs to conduct research in our district with supervision. I know there is info/guidelines online. The whole point is to teach the scientific method to children, to get them to think in terms of the process. I do not believe an experiment that was designed as the one above would be thrown out; it would not go forward for not following the method. Everything must be counted, measured, and logged in pen so as not to change unfavorable data.

    AS for this argument you pose: “doesnt neccesarily preclude opinion/memory etc type measurements (which cereal etc tastes the best isnt ever going to be an empirical measurement no matter how the experiment is designed)”
    ********************
    The example you are comparing it to here is a different sort of experiment than your initial case. I understood you to be demonstrating a quantifiable increased yield, not a consumer preference survey which it does have more in common with. This anecdote draws conclusions from thin air.

    To answer an earlier point you made, I don’t believe you can count drought resistant crops because they have not been demonstrated to eliminate stress in the field as of yet, and may never do so. That is only a projection. Bt may help in times of infestation. RR without roundup would do nothing to decrease stress. You talk about fear-mongering in the EU; this is the inverse. Making “scientific supporting” claims not backed up by evidence. I don’t think GM has much to offer small landholders who farm with low inputs. The Bt safety issue still has to be clarified in my opinion…or who needs it?

    I will check your other articles when I have more time.

  41. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John Q Says:

    April 28, 2009 at 9:18 am
    But dividing by the total number of seeds provided gives a worst case estimate. If they planted fewer seeds, or if only a percentage of them germinated, using those numbers would only drive the calculated yield UP.

    ————-
    Not necessarily compared to the other seeds planted. Let us not forget those. What if traded some with a neighbor and planted more. What if they mixed up the planted areas? What if….with no data log, who knows?

  42. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    April 28, 2009 at 9:23 am
    doesnt neccesarily preclude opinion/memory etc type measurements (which cereal etc tastes the best isnt ever going to be an empirical measurement no matter how the experiment is designed)
    —————-
    but you can’t use memory to record data. that is the distinction. you can test people’s memory and log as you test. but you, the researcher, can’t try to remember what the participants said or remember. You have to know for sure.

  43. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah, lets step away from a fruitless debate on the semantics of whether or not a single paper (chosen in haste) satisfies scientific criteria and refocus on the 5 papers I linked which come to the same conclusions but use universally scientifically acceptable methodology – I still feel that the first paper offers a true reflection of what occured (possibly more qualitatively than quantitatively) especially in light of the other papers.

    When a poorly(comparitively) designed study comes to the same conclusions as a well designed study then it does nobody any good to carry on criticizing the poorly designed(comparitively) study to support an arguement that its findings are wrong – if the poorly designed study was at odds with the well designed study, then obviously it would be correct to continue to debate the merits to achieve a consensus view.

  44. Brad Says:

    Deborah,

    Regarding testimony of farmers on suicideThere are testimonies of farmers who claim benefits of Bt cotton as well http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/country.asp?cname=India

    The question then becomes, how does one reconcile conflicting testimony. Most rationale individuals will look to sound scientific analysis as the IFPRI study which found no associaltion between Bt Cotton and suicide:

    http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/dp/IFPRIDP00808.pdf

    Here is a newspaper article for those not inclined to look at actual data:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/nov/05/gmcrops-india

    Previous studies also include:

    http://www.igidr.ac.in/suicide/ExecutiveSummary_SFM_IGIDR_26Jan06.pdf

  45. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I would like to continue this conversation on the “Indian Farmer Suicide” thead since that is where most people would expect to find this information.

  46. Christa Says:

    IT IS LAUGHABLE THAT THIS COMPANY TRIES TO PRESENT ITSELF AS “SUSTAINABLE!” READ THE PAPERS, PEOPLE! IF YOU PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON, YOU WILL SEE THAT EVERYTHING THAT THIS COMPANY SAYS OR DOES IS DECEPTIVE! THEY ARE USING QUITE A BIT OF WATER ON MOLOKAI! CHECK OUT THIS ARTICLE FROMT THE MOLOKAI DISPATCH!

    Here is the link: http://www.themolokaidispatch.com/node/2290
    Monsanto Could be its Own Worst Enemy
    Thursday 7-24-08
    Filed Under: Letters & Opinions
    Using too much water could force the company to downsize.

    Editorial by Todd Yamashita

    There are some who will have you think that Monsanto employees are in danger of losing their jobs at the hands of environmentalist and activists. The biggest threat to Monsanto however, is its own growth and thirst for more water.

    Unfortunately, the biggest threat to Monsanto workers is Monsanto itself. Like most large corporations, Monsanto’s number one priority is to maximize profits. In this case it means planting as many acres as possible, and using a lot of water – a practice which could ultimately force the corporation to downsize.

    Over the Limit
    Last November, General Manager of Monsanto Molokai Ray Foster said that the company was sensitive to the island’s water needs and that Monsanto had a water conservation program for times of drought.

    Last month however, amidst a 20% water cutbacks mandated by the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS), Monsanto is requesting an increase to its water use. However with water supply levels in the Kualapu`u reservoir over 60 million gallons short of where it was this time last year, many are left wondering where the water will come from?

    The MIS was built for the Hawaiian Homesteaders which is why the law reserves two thirds of its water for Hawaiians. As the MIS becomes short on water due to dilapidation and drought, Hawaiian Homesteaders are beginning to feel the pressure.

    Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS water consumption. Monsanto itself is using almost twice the amount of water of all 209 homestead users combined.

    SO YOUR AWESOME, “SUSTAINABLE” COMPANY IS USING ALL THE NATIVE HAWAIIAN HOMESTEADER’S WATER ON MOLOKAI! THAT KIND OF, UM, CONTRADICTS THIS POST, NO? YOU GO AHEAD AND JUST LET US ALL KNOW WHEN MONSANTO GETS THIS DROUGHT RESISTANT TECHNOLOGY INTO COMMERCIALLY APPROVED PRODUCTS. AFTER 20 YEARS OF PROMISES THAT THE COMPANY’S GMOS WILL GIVE SOME KIND OF BENEFIT TO CONSUMERS, THE WORLD, ETC…(OTHER THAN POISON HERBICIDE RESISTANCE AND PESTICIDE LADEN GENE ALTERED CORN, WHICH I AS A CONSUMER WOULD NOT TOUCH IF I WERE STARVING, MUCH LIKE THE COUNTRY OF ZAMBIA WHICH DENIED OFFERS OF GMO CORN DURING A TERRIBLE FAMINE) I WILL NOT BE HOLDING MY BREATH!

    YOU PEOPLE NEED TO STOP TELLING SO MANY LIES! PEOPLE CAN READ THE PAPERS AND SEE THAT WHAT YOU ARE SPOUTING OFF IS TOTAL C***, MUCH LIKE YOUR FOUL PRODUCTS!

    Editors Note: Edited because of foul language.

  47. Christa Says:

    Kate, do you think that maybe the government subsidies for GMO crops are the main reason farmers plant them? Taxpayers are being forced to subsidize these “crops” and then are being force fed them in our Lea & Perrins, bread, ketchup, etc in the form of HFCS? Why do you want to increase yields of crops that we already have way too much of? Just like why would Monsanto want to increase milk production with rBGH when there was already a huge surplus that taxpayers have to pay to take care of? Why give us gene-altered versions of c*** we absolutely DON’T NEED OR WANT?

    Can you name one thing that Monsanto has given us in GMO food crops that can appeal to consumers? Can you name one thing that biotechnology has given us that we could not have gotten in another way (hand weeding, spray Bt, crop rotation, etc)? Farmers are not necessarily using your products because they are the best available, but because they get guaranteed government subsidies funded my my tax dollars to do so!

    Editors Note: Edited because of foul language.

  48. Christa Says:

    Kate, according to this information from STL staffing, someone there IS being paid to blog.

    Here is a link to STLrecruiting describing the position Monsanto was hoping to fill, which sounds a lot like what is going on on this blog:
    http://www.stlrecruiting.com/2008/06/monsanto-hiring.html

    Monsanto Hiring A Social Media Specialist
    I was pleased and surprised to see that Monsanto is looking to hire a social media specialist. It’s a position in their Public Relations department (a good place for a social media specialist), and it’s a good sign for my recruiting practice in social media that companies are looking to hire these positions with these titles. A list of some of the duties are not bad.

    Responsibilities:

    Monitoring and tracking of online media, blogs, and social media sites
    Analyzing and reporting on trends in online discussions
    Working with internal and external communication teams to develop social media outreach strategies
    Working with internal teams to consult and educate on new online developments and tools.

    So, apparently, someone is being paid by the company to blog here.

  49. Kate Says:

    Christa,
    The tone of your comments appear rather attack-like and it seems to me that you are unlikely to really be interested in true conversation. However, I do understand that tone often gets miscontrued on the internet so I am going to operate under the assumption that you ARE interested in dialogue.

    First, yes, Kathleen is our social media specialist but as you pointed out there are several other responsibilities in her job, none of which is blogging. She does not get paid to blog here, she does so when she has time between her daily tasks. She could stop blogging tomorrow if she wanted. The employees that blog and comment here do so because we believe in our work, we do not like to see false claims laid against our company.

    There are NO subsidies specific to the use of GMO crops in the US. There are, however, lower crop insurance premiums available for farmers who use GMO crops. These crops are percieved as having less risk than other crops. This is not, however, a subsidy.

    I suggest you talk first hand with farmers and ask them why they either choose our products or other products (which contrary to popular belief there are several choices out there other than Monsanto products). Farmers are intelligent individuals that know their land and resources, sometimes our products are the ones that perform best for their circumstances, sometimes another brand may do it better.

    As to the benefits of biotechnology and feeding people. Read this report if you are interested in data based examples: http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/GM_crop_yield_arial.pdf

    I might also add that the 963 million people worldwide that are undernourished might disagree with you that we have enough food. We produce a lot of food here but the US is also one of the biggest exporters of core crops.

  50. John Q Says:

    Christa said:

    “Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS water consumption. Monsanto itself is using almost twice the amount of water of all 209 homestead users combined.”

    Christa, I have to agree with Kate, that I read you tone as very confrontational. I will also assume that reading is a failure on my part.

    Let’s do a reality check on the numbers above, shall we?

    Let’s assume the 209 homestead users account for all 16% of the remainder after the “Non-homestead ag-users like Monsanto currently account for 84% of MIS water consumption”. In actuality, business and civic users will take SOME of that 16%, but let’s go worst case, for illustrative purposes.

    So, Monsanto is using almost twice that, or less than 32%. Which means OTHER NON-MONSANTO “Non-homestead ag-users” are using MORE THAN 52% of MIS water consumption.

    Taken this way, those numbers don’t look bad to me at all!

    Thank you for the opportunity to clear this up.

  51. John Q Says:

    Christa asked:

    “Can you name one thing that Monsanto has given us in GMO food crops that can appeal to consumers? Can you name one thing that biotechnology has given us that we could not have gotten in another way (hand weeding, spray Bt, crop rotation, etc)?”

    I’d be glad to, and thanks for asking!

    Firstly, crop rotation happens even for GM crops, or at least it does with smart farmers, so that is a non-issue.

    How much of your income do you spend on food? If you are like most US citizens, it’s somewhere near 10%, I’ve been told. And I’ve also been told, but I have to admit I haven’t personally asked any of them, that most 3rd world farmers spend 50% to 90% of their income on food. So there’s one thing.

    But I’m feeling generous, so let me list a few others, just so the benefit is clear. Besides driving up the COST of food, have you ever spent time hand-weeding a large field? This is something I HAVE done, and I have NO desire to do it again. It is literally back-breaking work.

    BT spraying also adds cost, and it is what is called “non-specific”, in the sense that, besides killing the targetted pest species, it may well kill non-harmful or even beneficial species. Spraying is also subject to drift and weather. Whereas “BT” GM crops only harm insects that actually consume some part of the plant, which by definition makes them a pest. So, decreased environmental impact and greater bio-diversity are yet more “things”.

    Thanks again for the questions, and glad I could be of help!

  52. Ewan Ross Says:

    Christa,

    On the subsidies – as far as I am aware corn receives subsidies which drive the preponderance of corn growth throughout the US (both GM and non-GM) – I dont have particularly good information on this as my only current source was Michael Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemma” so perhaps someone else can weigh in with some counter arguements to this (and I’m moderately troubled by using information from a book which vaguely suggests that there might be something to the idea that fungi use “lunar energy” in contrast to plants which use solar…)

    The problem then lies with the use of corn as a commodity, which predates GM tech by decades, aswell as balancing free market economics with the need for food security (I may be mistaken in the case of the US, but I am pretty sure that the now controvertial subsidies awarded to farmers in the UK stem from the need to maintain an agricultural framework in the country to act as a safety net in times of international trouble)

    This also poses the question :- if all farm subsidies were removed would this necessarily be a good thing for any side of the GM vs non-GM debate? For US farmers to continue growing corn global pricing would have to increase hugely – which probably wouldnt happen to the extent required, while there would remain a demand for the products made from corn (which in terms of US industrial agriculture is pretty much everything – HFCS, livestock(I rather enjoy Pollan’s description of a Chicken McNuggets as corn battered corn fried in corn and served with corn), various oils, additives – not to mention ethanol used to keep dependance on foreign oil somewhat down)

    These would have to come from somewhere, and the cheaper the source the better – what is the alternative?(other than a complete restructuring of society) Will all this land be used for another super cheap crop? (if so you can make a safe bet that the smart money will invest in Monsanto stock, battered by the death of corn it would be bound to resurge once the first transgenic *whatever replaced corn* came onto the market) – will the US consumer base accept a slight hike in prices as we start importing corn, turning a food crop into a cash crop internationally and sucking dry the bread baskets of the world to produce consumer products? Or would the huge increases in food costs caused by the death of subsidies cause such a public outrage that the subsidies would be reintroduced after doing huge damage to agricultural communities and the economy at large? (keeping in mind that at present it seems perfectly acceptable to throw literally trillions of dollars at schemes which sold immaterial products to greedy people for no apparent change in anybody’s economic status – compared to this farm subsidies are pretty piecemeal and do form a foundation to most of US agribusiness)

    On increasing yields in the US – do we, right now, absolutely need this, as a society? I’d say this is pretty debateable – one arguement is that increasing yields reduces prices which then drives the need to increase yields so that a given quantity of land will at least maintain revenue – however how do you break out of a cycle like this, and is it necessarily as simple as that? Farmers would need to either act in unison or be incredibly altruistic to achieve anything other than a desire to yield the most possible out of your land – the few who choose to take the moral high ground and produce less will end up out of business or in general financial disarray, while everyone else who produces as much as they can benefits from these martyrs – with the net result that the demand for higher yield stays.

    Assuming that you accept that farmers in general are going to want to increase their yields, is it then be wrong for a company to help them achieve these goals? If so how far does the responsibility go? Is the individual consumer who shops at Wal-Mart, or Aldi wrong for attempting to save a buck? Are the countless people country wide who sit in McDonald’s drive throughs to get their egg McMuffin (corn in corn with extra corn) and morning coffee culpable? Are the manufacturers of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers (both chemical and manure based) equally wrong (purely in terms of achieving increased yield, lets ignore the arguements around environmental aspects in this particular instance)? Or is it only wrong to help farmers increase yields if it is done in a way that you personally do not approve of?

    Things that can, or should, appeal to consumers?

    Cheaper food. Increased yields, decreased inputs – cheaper food. (although this is partly speculation as I dont have any hard facts on this!) – If you want the entire US corn crop to be hand weeded then I’m sure this would do amazing things for employment across the corn belt – it’d also send the price of corn, or any crop, through the roof.

    Reduced environmental impact of food production while maintaining prices (cheaper food!) Spraying Bt costs more than growing Bt, both in terms of money, and in terms of environmental impact (assuming you accept that burning of fossil fuels is in general a bad thing – nevermind the potential spray drift damage John Q mentions) Using herbicides other than roundup causes significantly higher environmental damage (in the order of approximately 30%) while being either cost neutral or higher cost (ignoring hand weeding here).

    Increased farmer incomes and general wellbeing – while this doesnt directly affect the bulk of consumers (other than those consumers who happen to be farmers, but then I’m guessing they’re already sold on this) I think it is something that people probably should care about – agriculture remains the bedrock on which civilization is built – something that is pretty easy to forget when you are ten steps removed as most people in the US are – increasing the income of the people who keep society afloat should be seen as a great thing. Increasing the wellbeing of farmers in whatever way should also be a goal of society as a whole – whether this is by reducing the amount of pesticide they need to spray in order to achieve a profitable crop (thus improving their own health, the health of the environment, and lining their pockets) – as in the case of Danny who stated he has reduced pesticide use by 80% or by buying them more time with friends and family due to the ease of use of the roundup ready herbicide system.

  53. John Q Says:

    Ewan, thank you for taking the time to do a very thorough and well-reasoned (and more effective) version of the same points I was trying to make.

    Now that you’ve provided a good foundation, I’d like to try to summarize in my own thought model, in case there is anyone else out there whose brain works the way mine does.

    1. Subsidies are bad? They keep the price of food down, while maintaining farmer income. Take away the subsidies, and the consumer pays more. But who pays the subsidies? The US Government. And where does the US Government get their money? From the consumers (eventually). So the consumers pay, one way or the other. The difference is, if the farmer raises his price, the processor raises HIS price, and the warehouser raises HIS price, and the grocer raises HIS price, so it could be argued that “we” may end up paying less by having to (indirectly) pay for the subsidy, rather than having that cost built into the price of the crop and marked-up incrementally all along the supply chain.

    2. What do consumers really want? To spend less, and get more. That is what motivates them. So things like hand-weeding, while emotionally satisfying, aren’t going to fly when it comes down to “paper or plastic?” time. Similarly, small farms, while they give a nice warm “Norman Rockwell” feeling, add COST that will show up on your grocery receipt. Otherwise, stores like Walmart wouldn’t be driving all of the locally owned shops out of business.

    3. Despite what Ewan said, farmers couldn’t care less about YIELD, at least in terms of bushels per acre/hectare. What they REALLY care about is yield in DOLLARS per acre. If they could find a way to get $100,000 for a single corn cob per acre, they would be fine with that.

    There are two ways to increase $/acre.
    1. Decrease COST/acre.
    2. Increase (gross) income per acre.
    (1) is why GM crops are still being sold, and why small farms are disappearing. And why no-till becomes more popular every season.
    (2) is why a LOT of farmers planted corn last season, expecting to sell it for ethanol. But if corn doesn’t maximize the $/acre, they will “rotate” their crop to soy, or wheat, or cotton, or canola, whatever they THINK will give them the most $/acre. The fact that the rest of us do (or don’t) get fed as a result of this is a secondary concern, at best.

    Because farmers who DON’T maximize their $/acre will eventually be out of business. The problem is, this is an inexact “science”. As the oil, ethanol, and corn prices showed last season, crops that look good at planting time may yield a different result at harvest. Input prices should be a little more stable, but the price of Glyphosate, for example, has swung significantly as the Chinese plants went off- and on-line. So while the fate of individual farms and farmers may vary, as a whole they aren’t doing TOO bad these days, and GM crops are helping that.

    A different take on this is presented at http://deltafarmpress.com/biofuels/laws-column-0424/
    which says in part:

    The report also exposes the myth that farmers can’t grow enough corn. “The reality is the pie is getting bigger and more can go for ethanol without taking away corn from food and feed,” says Rick Tolman, the National Corn Growers’ CEO. “It is not a zero-sum game. Agriculture is in the midst of a tremendous technology boom that is increasing productivity with the same or fewer inputs.”

  54. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Kate Says:

    May 5, 2009 at 12:25 pm
    I might also add that the 963 million people worldwide that are undernourished might disagree with you that we have enough food. We produce a lot of food here but the US is also one of the biggest exporters of core crops.

    =========================

    It has been shown over and over that there is enough food to feed everyone. Poverty is the main reason for hunger. No matter how much food you genetically engineer, grow , water, and spray with pesticides, the poor do not have access to it.

    Genetically engineering food does not feed the poor. The millions Monsanto repeatedly claims to invest in their inventions could be so much better spent if feeding the poor were the goal.

  55. Kate Says:

    Deborah,

    I believe that genetic engineering is an essential technology in agriculture. It is not a cure-all but it does significantly improve farmers’ lives.

    http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/farmers.asp?cname=South%20Africa&id=ElizabethJele

    http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/farmers.asp?cname=Portugal&id=JoseMariaFalcao

    http://www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/farmers.asp?cname=Argentina&id=AndresFernandezMadero

    Also, check out some of our partner programs that are working to make technology more available to those who can benefit from it.
    Water Efficient Maize for Africa
    SHARE

  56. Ewan Ross Says:

    Good point on the $/Ac John – although I think that in general $/Ac and Bu/Ac correspond pretty closely.

    In terms of subsidies etc being bad – I dont know that the cost model you propose would work as the US doesnt operate on a completely closed system – it’d be interesting to see if the price/Bu would change to an extent that importing corn from the developing world would become more economical than paying more for home grown corn – this has tended to be the case with many non-subsidized items (electronics, cars, other crops, call center jobs… etc) which then ties in to food security

  57. Brad Says:

    There are perhaps enough calories to feed everyone (now), but I would make 3 points on this:
    1. The only reason there is enough calories to sustain the world is because of advances in technology that have increased grain production, especially corn. Is it sustainable though to ship grain from one continent to another? While we will likely always need to do this (absent a huge reduction in population (“your deity of choice” forbid) we need to do more so people in Africa and South Asia can grow their own crops and be self sustainable.

    2. Calories do not equal nutrition. We need more nutritious food, not just grain. Technology is part of the solution to bringing better nutrition to the world.

    3. The UN estimates we will have to double food production by 2050 just to meet caloric intake. You will need technology, including biotechnology, to do do this. It is not a silver bullet, but is part of the solution.

  58. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Not all land is arable and farming marginal land only leads to desertification and the degradation of other resources we will ultimately need to farm in the future. It’s a vicious cycle of destruction of the land that leads to even more destructive attempts to techno-fix the same!

    But as far as farming arable land and increasing yields, many studies that have been repeatedly cited, though rarely acknowledged by Monsanto, say organic and other low-input methods are most sustainable and beneficial to hungry people:

    http://www.agassessment.org/

    **********************

    http://scidev.net/en/news/conservation-agriculture-boosts-yields-and-incom.html

    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.

    *****************
    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, vegetables, legumes,etc]…By channeling one-third of the grain produced world-wide to needy people, hunger would cease instantly.

  59. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – do you know where the 2nd paper you link (the pre-report of a soon to be published paper) ended up? The closest I could come to was

    http://www.essex.ac.uk/ces/esu/occasionalpapers/SAFE%20FINAL%20-%20Pages1-22.pdf

    Which while an interesting read in itself is not a complete document (I was intruiged by the “Annex B: Some Thoughts on GMOs and Organic Agriculture” but as this isnt the full document (and I dont seem to be able to find anything past page 22, which may be poor ability to search on my behalf) which is a shame.

    I’m still not sure why Bt and water/nitrogen efficient transgenics cant be considered as part of a sustainable system even when sustainability is taken to its most extreme (ie zero pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer inputs) as there is nothing intrinsic to these technologies which requires all the bells and whistles of modern industrial agriculture (the traits simply need to be in plant lines which are suited to the climate at hand – using hybrids selected for the ability to grow in ind. Ag. situations would obviously be a dumb move)

    I would fully agree that organic like practices(with my caveat that I see absolutely no good reason to exclude GM seeds from the mix), and better resource management practices are definitely part of the solution for helping farmers in the developing world, even such simple things as better, more universally available agronomic education would no doubt lead to huge gains in the productivity of some of the poorest farmers (remembering a story in one of Richard Dawkins books where his father had immense trouble trying to explain to local farmers that rather than eating the best seeds of their crop they should plant them (which seems like obvious common sense to anyone who’s taken an even fleeting interest in modern agriculture/genetics but which is one of the historical eureka moments for modern society))

    Also there are potentially many changes society at large could make to increase the availability of food in general. If everyone became vegetarian for instance a lot of the problems around future food production would simply go away (at least until the global population became much larger) but this doesnt seem to remotely be likely – meat consumption in China in particular has risen dramatically in the past few decades, but hasnt even yet hit 50% of US consumption rates – can we afford to ignore a trend like this which will put increasing pressure on demands for grain? Will the affluent meat eaters simply stop because the increased price of grain is cutting millions off from affordable food? (not sure how accurate this reflection is, it’s my hunch that a lot of the grain that goes to feeding animals would be pretty worthless to humans in terms of edibility – although that still means that land is tied up growing otherwise worthless grain) – I’d say sadly not.

    To paraphrase a professor of mine when discussing population genetics and the current explosion of the human population “if we could persuade everyone to eat algae there would be no food crisis in the forseeable future”

    In the meantime however, I believe that every available method in the agronomic arsenal should be utilized to increase food production globally and to initiate sustainable agricultural practices – focusing on only one solution, or only a handful of solutions, out of the many available, would be foolhardy – I dont think anyone should want to roll the dice on the survival of billions either due to ideological restraints(anti GM) or to turn a quick dollar(industrial agriculture or bust).

  60. John Q Says:

    Deborah quoted:

    “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.”

    Roundup Ready supports less tilling.

    BT and other IR technologies support integrated pest management and less pesticide spraying.

    GM technology in the pipeline will address drought resistance, improved nitrogen utilization, and improved management of [other] soil nutrients. Were it not for regulatory restrictions, these traits might well be in production already.

    This isn’t an either/or proposition. GM can support and promote sustainability, and also reduce workloads per unit production. But developing these traits costs money, as does regulating them, and Monsanto is, after all, a commercial enterprise.

    And yet still, Monsanto supports
    Water Efficient Maize for Africa
    SHARE
    (links for which are in
    Kate Says:
    May 6, 2009 at 1:12 pm,
    since she is apparently better at this blogging technology than I am!)

  61. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I see it as the Green Revolution has had short- term successes and unforeseen long-term failures. Of course, one can not disentangle the social systems’ shortcomings either. Consider this NPR article:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102893816&ft=1&f=1001

    Their comparatively small region, Punjab, grows far more wheat and rice for India than any other region. But now these farmers are running out of groundwater.

    They have to buy three times as much fertilizer as they did 30 years ago to grow the same amount of crops. They blitz their crops with pesticides, but insects have become so resistant that they still often destroy large portions of crops.

    The state’s agriculture “has become unsustainable and nonprofitable,” according to a recent report by the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology. Some experts say the decline could happen rapidly, over the next decade or so.

    When farmers switched from growing a variety of traditional crops to high-yield wheat and rice, they also had to make other changes. There wasn’t enough rainwater to grow thirsty “miracle” seeds, so farmers had to start irrigating with groundwater. They hired drilling companies to dig wells, and they started pumping groundwater onto the fields.

    But Sandeep says he has been forced to hire the drilling company again, because the groundwater under his fields has been sinking as much as 3 feet every year.

    Government surveys confirm it. In fact, his family and other farmers have had to deepen their wells every few years — from 10 feet to 20 feet to 40 feet, and now to more than 200 feet — because the precious water table keeps dropping below their reach.

    “Farmers are committing a kind of suicide,” warns Kalkat, the director of the Punjab State Farmers Commission. “It’s like a suicide, en masse.”

    Kalkat offers an unsettling prediction in a nation whose population is growing faster than any other on Earth: If farmers don’t drastically revamp the system of farming, the heartland of India’s agriculture could be barren in 10 to 15 years.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102944731 [part 2]
    Farmers In Debt

    The groundwater problem has touched off an economic chain reaction. As the farmers dig deeper to find groundwater, they have to install ever more powerful and more expensive pumps to send it gushing up to their fields.

    Sandeep says his new pump costs more than $4,000. He and most other farmers have to borrow that kind of cash, but they are already so deep in debt that conventional banks often turn them away.

    So Sandeep and his neighbors have turned to “unofficial” lenders — local businessmen who charge at least double the banks’ interest rate. The district agriculture director, Palwinder Singh, says farmers can end up paying a whopping 24 percent.

    Farmers In Debt

    The groundwater problem has touched off an economic chain reaction. As the farmers dig deeper to find groundwater, they have to install ever more powerful and more expensive pumps to send it gushing up to their fields.

    Sandeep says his new pump costs more than $4,000. He and most other farmers have to borrow that kind of cash, but they are already so deep in debt that conventional banks often turn them away.

    So Sandeep and his neighbors have turned to “unofficial” lenders — local businessmen who charge at least double the banks’ interest rate. The district agriculture director, Palwinder Singh, says farmers can end up paying a whopping 24 percent.

    Another side effect of the groundwater crisis is evident at the edge of the fields — thin straggly rows of wheat and a whitish powder scattered across the soil.

    The white substance is salt residue. Drilling deep wells to find fresh water often taps brackish underground pools, and the salty water poisons the crops.

    Destroying The Soil

    In the village of Chotia Khurd, farmers agree that the Green Revolution used to work miracles for many of them. But now, it’s like financial quicksand.

    Studies show that their intensive farming methods, which government policies subsidize, are destroying the soil. The high-yield crops gobble up nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, iron and manganese, making the soil anemic.

    The farmers say they must use three times as much fertilizer as they used to, to produce the same amount of crops — yet another drain on their finances.

    But the commission’s director, G.S. Kalkat, says Punjab’s farmers are committing ecological and economic “suicide.”

    If he is correct, suicide is coming through national policies that reward farmers for the very practices that destroy the environment and trap them in debt.

    =========================

    This story is repeated over and over in many different places. The ever expanding Gobi Desert, the drought stricken lands of America…Do your seeds come with water, nutrients, and topsoil? What works in one region and society doesn’t necessarily work in another. Anyone intelligent enough to G E plants should have been able to comprehend that concept.

    The green revolution wasn’t sustainable and I see the gene revolution requiring the same, if not more, inputs. Along with more financial and ecological risks. During this green revolution, we did not even understand the damage we were doing until it was so pervasive throughout our contaminated bodies and environment that we couldn’t miss it. The damage was insidious and rampant at the same time. Now we have those problems to fix as well as managing to feed ourselves and saving our environment. Much of what we have done is irreversible in our lifetimes–and then some.

    I have not seen anything to convince me GM will be any better, that GM is sustainable, and that any of your pipeline dreams are even attainable. I shudder to think of your contaminating heirloom and organic seeds and lands. But at this rate, I believe it will happen. It’s like a virus spreading through a dense population. It knows no bounds.

    The GM system still relies on toxic pesticides, heavy fertilizer usage, monocultures; it exists in an unfair trade system and an unpredictably changing climate; and now we have the added bonus of the unkown effects of genetic engineering and contamination.

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer…” Ewan, you speak of anti-science, but science should be APPLICABLE to the needs and equilibrium of the system; science need not impose a new order on the world. Entropy would get right to work on such an arrogant presumption. Science, like it’s child, Medicine, should first do no harm. Even if genetic engineering is a valid scientific endeavor theoretically or in some particular applications, we don’t have to apply it to our food source (or else we are ANTI-science) or let it loose to perpetuate itself in our closed environmental system (We might be wise to exercise caution.). It really is foolish madness, IMO. You can’t embrace Science just for the sake of Science. Sound honest science says we don’t even know the extent of the damage Monsanto has done. And I would be willing to bet everything I own that you have done some serious damage. Every action has a reaction. Think of the law of the conservation of matter–I don’t think you can genetically engineer your way around it. You don’t get anything (huge yields) without the cost (huge environmental resources) of something else. It isn’t possible. Monsanto forged ahead into the Commons without any knowledge of how your crops would ultimately affect every living thing from soil microbiology to whole ecosystems. And here in the middle of all this are we, the people.

    You don’t truly know how your crops affect human health long-term. There are no conclusive studies you have put forth. So don’t sit on your high-horse talking about feeding the hungry and saving the planet from global warming when you are really cornering the global seed market with nothing but financial interests in mind. “Making some money,” as you are fond of saying on this blog. You try to pressure the South Africans into growing corn for biofuel and yet state you want to help continents become self-sufficient for food. And how you could write an article about farmer suicides in India and include the phrase “the bottom line” is really cold and hitting bottom in my opinion. Your Bt cotton made a bad situation worse from 2002 on in many parts of India. I’m bracing myself for you next explanation as to why Monsanto had nothing to do with it.

    I can’t think of any philanthropic reason why Monsanto is investing so much money in an expensive and unproven technology when we already have proven methods of sustaining agriculture, people, their economies and cultures, soils, water resources, biodiversity, etc. We already have enough food to feed everyone and we know what we have to do to equitably distribute it. We could get to work on it right now, instead of in 2010 or 2020, or 2050 or when pigs fly! When your panacea flows from the biotech pipeline. How many will have starved to death by then? Tell that to 963 million hungry people, Kate. Water efficient maize is coming. Nevermind that we already have enough food to feed you if you can come up with the cash! And escape those war zones!

    We already have seeds compatible with different regions. Farmers have the knowledge of how to grow them in balance with the environment that they understand. We should ask the hungry what they need and want to improve their lots in life instead of creating multi-vitamin/mineral corn and rice. We could distribute vitamins with a much lower overhead. Do impoverished people actually want and deserve as a basic human right a balanced diet?

    Monsanto could use their pull with governments to make real changes in the lives of struggling people and degraded environments. Instead of suing Germany and France to muscle in your seeds and lobbying to prevent labeling in the US, you could work for generative, tangible progress. I can only reason that you are hoping to cash in on the great misfortune of others and the planet with your patented seeds and accompanying pesticides. And you will only make things worse. Then what will we do? Look to you for another solution to the last problem you caused. It reminds me of the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. She should have quit while she was ahead…Or had a glass of water and been done with it. You people could really learn something from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. You might have read it as a child. Every child should.

    I just saw a profound documentary on the Gobi desert. The final clip had a farmer saying that the spreading sand dunes weren’t the scary thing. It was the people who were scary. There was no end to how much they wanted.

  62. Ewan Ross Says:

    Do our seeds come with water, nutrients and topsoil?

    No, but water use efficiency, nitrogen use efficiency, and the easy transition to no till offered by GM tech (~10 years, coming soon, and right now respectively) are all GM technologies which in a certain respect fulfil these requirements.

    Indeed what works in one region and society may not work in another. Hence the need to use the correct germplasm for GE, the need to establish the correct agronomic practices.

    Your vision of the ‘gene revolution’ (I like that, havent heard it before, guess I need to read more) as requiring more inputs seems to me questionable, I dont understand why anyone would believe that this has to be the case, it has been established that GE traits used now already reduce inputs (not all the way to zero, but a definite reduction) when applied to industrial agriculture from large to small scale. I fail to see how WUE or NUE traited products, given that this is the only difference, would require anything other than reduced inputs under the same conditions (reduced water for WUE, and reduced fertilizer for NUE) as this is essentially the entire point of these traits. Which hybrid they are put in would then dictate the other needs of the crop – put them in a super high yielding super demanding germplasm and yes, they’ll be just like any other high input crop (only slightly less so in one respect) but put them into germplasms specifically designed for low input environments (such as the germplasms which will no doubt be utilized in projects such as WEMA) and I can think of no logical reason why anyone would believe they would require higher inputs. Not one. Perhaps you can enlighten me on your thinking here without resorting to parables of Dr Suess or other childrens tales? If we can bring into the open the logical framework under whch you base these assumptions then maybe we can get somewhere with regards to better understanding each other.

    I’m a little confused by your Yeats quotation, I’m guessing that both sides in this debate would go ahead and lump themselves in as “the best” and the other side as “the worst” although I’d say that equally both sides neither lack conviction nor passion.

    Is the beast that slouches towards bethlehem GE or dogmatic distrust of science? Either side could essentially use the poem to their own advantage by inserting the other side as the bad guy.

    You know as well as anyone that “the bottom line” isnt being used in a business sense in that title, its just another way of saying “the truth” “the facts” or whatnot. You continue to propagate the myth that Bt cotton “made a bad situation worse” based entirely on the popular press and a handful of testimonials while rather unscientifically ignoring the bigger picture – is there a reason other than dogmatic distrust of GE technology that the average increase in farmer income, and average decrease in type I pesticide useage are either ignored or discounted? Why focus on the outliers when the population as a whole has benefited? As Karl Haro Von Mogel succinctly pointed out – why arent you railing against the cultural pressures forcing poor farmers to take out loans for extravagant marriages (pointless loans with no chance of ever making money, as compared to the calculated risk of loans on crops which in general will pay off)

    There is no single approach that will work – hopefully organizations built to do exactly as you propose are doing as you propose, finding out what is needed, educating farmers (perhaps in the ways that Michelle India detailed, although I guess that is all part of the big corporate conspiracy), Monsanto is a biotech seed company, as such it makes sense that we approach the problem from our own sphere of expertise (biotech and breeding) and add what we can bring to what everyone else can bring.

    While you appear to view the green revolution as a failure – it is responsible for saving hundreds of millions from starvation – from a purely environmental stance it would probably have been better that starvation be allowed to run rampant, but I cant see anyone with an ounce of human emotion seeing this as the preferred pathway.

    We’re investing in this technology because we firmly believe that it is a fundamentally important part of the solution, and because it is within our area of expertise. Monsanto does use our pull with governments to make real changes in the lives of struggling people and degraded environments (improved farmer incomes in india, reduced pesticide useage in China resulting in fewer illnesses/deaths for farmers, reduced useage of the harshest pesticides on bt crops, reduced useage of the more toxic herbicides, WEMA (which isnt just biotech, but also breeding, which I’m assuming is not anathema to anti-GM folks) – if our regulatory folk didnt do the amazing job they do in getting our products accepted globally then none of these benefits would have been realized)

    “How many will have starved to death by then?”

    Who knows? Can this number be fairly put at Monsanto’s feet? If the rest of the world drags its feet and expects biotech to provide the only solution then I’d argue that every death can be squarely placed at the feet of an uncaring, unthinking world which has placed too much trust in a single solution to a complex problem which will never be solved by a single approach – a better (and equally unanswerable)question may be how many people will starve if we do not invest in this kind of technology? Are you willing to write off hundreds of millions of future lives because of your admittedly unscientific dislike of the technology? (“Sound honest science says we don’t even know the extent of the damage Monsanto has done. And I would be willing to bet everything I own that you have done some serious damage.”)

    From your last statement I think that we at least do agree on some aspects (shocking as that may sound) of the root problems – there is no end to how much people want. My feeling is that to overcome this production needs to be upped to maintain standards of living while society itself modifies towards a more sustainable mode of living – the alternative is to let production stand where it is and allow the system to self rectify in catastrophic manner – a global population crash – which I’d also guess we both would agree would be a terrible thing.

  63. John Q Says:

    Deborah said:

    “You don’t truly know how your crops affect human health long-term. There are no conclusive studies you have put forth.”

    and then,

    “We already have enough food to feed everyone and we know what we have to do to equitably distribute it. We could get to work on it right now, instead of in 2010 or 2020, or 2050 or when pigs fly! When your panacea flows from the biotech pipeline.”

    and also

    “We should ask the hungry what they need and want to improve their lots in life instead of creating multi-vitamin/mineral corn and rice. We could distribute vitamins with a much lower overhead. Do impoverished people actually want and deserve as a basic human right a balanced diet?”

    Deborah, I have to admit I’ve lost track of what you are asking for. If you want more and better testing and documentation, you cannot then berate Monsanto for having a lengthy pipeline.

    As for asking the hungry what they need and want, I think most of us have a good idea, but sure, ask away. Now, come up with a legal way to deliver that into sovereign nations that DO NOT WANT OUR HELP. In fact, many of these nations would rather see their subjects DIE than let them see any of the successes of the outside world. Seeds or vitamins, it doesn’t matter. Or are you suggesting we declare war and send in armed forces to deliver whatever aid the hungry ask for?

    As for “We already have enough food to feed everyone and we know what we have to do to equitably distribute it.” Yes, but can this be done in a sustainable way? Or are you just transferring the burden from agriculture to transportation and storage?

    Not to mention a side effect that has already been alluded to, but not acknowledged: are you going to be the one to tell everyone on the planet they have to give up eating meat? Are you even willing to tell YOUR FRIENDS this? Because if we continue using grain to feed meat animals, I’m not sure how much longer your calculation of “enough food to feed everyone” holds. And the “generic distribution of food to all” you are suggesting sounds very much like “Soylent”. (My apologies for the unavoidable but unintended “Soylent Green is people” connection.)

  64. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I don’t think the Green Revolution was a complete failure; my point is that the increase in yield places a heavy demand on the environment–hence my conservation of matter reference. My point is that many of the affects of increased yield, fertilizer, pesticide, and land usage has had detrimental effects on the resources (and ourselves) we depend on as long as we plan on eating. You don’t get something for nothing, ever!

    I’ll wait for your new India thread to comment there.

    I’m not sure how toxic roundup is, what are we finding out, what more will we find in the future?

    Many sources state we are still experiencing ever increasing pesticide usage worldwide. ON a different thread or perhaps this one, I cited how Bt cotton farmers still spray refuges and their Bt crop with other insecticides. Secondary pests are becoming a bigger problem. I see that the frequency of spraying is increasing. And roundup spray is increasing, along with other herbicides.

    As for China, Ewan, you say ” reduced pesticide useage in China resulting in fewer illnesses/deaths for farmers..”

    I have read in many places, but will cite one for now:

    http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July06/Bt.cotton.China.ssl.html

    July 25, 2006
    Seven-year glitch: Cornell warns that Chinese GM cotton farmers are losing money due to ‘secondary’ pests

    Although Chinese cotton growers were among the first farmers worldwide to plant genetically modified (GM) cotton to resist bollworms, the substantial profits they have reaped for several years by saving on pesticides have now been eroded.

    The reason, as reported by Cornell University researchers at the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA) Annual Meeting in Long Beach, Calif., July 25, is that other pests are now attacking the GM cotton.

    The GM crop is known as Bt cotton, shorthand for the Bacillus thuringiensis gene inserted into the seeds to produce toxins. But these toxins are lethal only to leaf-eating bollworms. After seven years, populations of other insects — such as mirids — have increased so much that farmers are now having to spray their crops up to 20 times a growing season to control them, according to the study of 481 Chinese farmers in five major cotton-producing provinces.

    “These results should send a very strong signal to researchers and governments that they need to come up with remedial actions for the Bt-cotton farmers. Otherwise, these farmers will stop using Bt cotton, and that would be very unfortunate,” said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, the H.E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell, and the 2001 Food Prize laureate. Bt cotton, he said, can help reduce poverty and undernourishment problems in developing countries if properly used.

    The study — the first to look at the longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton — found that by year three, farmers in the survey who had planted Bt cotton cut pesticide use by more than 70 percent and had earnings 36 percent higher than farmers planting conventional cotton. By 2004, however, they had to spray just as much as conventional farmers, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed is triple the cost of conventional seed.

    In addition to Pinstrup-Andersen, the study was conducted by Shenghui Wang, Cornell Ph.D. ’06 and now an economist at the World Bank, and Cornell professor David R. Just. They stress that secondary pest problems could become a major threat in countries where Bt cotton has been widely planted.

    This study was jointly conducted by the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Science and Cornell.

    *********************

    AS for the Dr. Seuss reference, you’d have to read the book to get it. Wiki doesn’t really do it justice.

  65. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John, most of my friends understand they need to eat less meat than their parents did. It’s an ethical choice each person will have to make for him or her self. I’m not telling anyone what they have to do. Eventually, the environment may make the hard choices for us…things can not stay the same. This Center can not hold.

  66. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John says:

    Deborah, I have to admit I’ve lost track of what you are asking for. If you want more and better testing and documentation, you cannot then berate Monsanto for having a lengthy pipeline:
    =============
    I want your safety studies published on line for open scientific peer-review.

  67. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah –

    even if we assume a worst case scenario for Bt cotton and China as stated in your post (of lets say 4-7 years of reduced pesticide use and increased incomes) that still equals 4-7 years of reduced pesticide use and increased incomes. That still equals 4-7 years of reduced fatalities due to pesticide toxicity. If the Bt crop is no longer profitable to the farmers they can simply switch back to the cheaper seeds.

    And thats assuming the worst case scenario.

    It is interesting to note the following segment:-
    “These results should send a very strong signal to researchers and governments that they need to come up with remedial actions for the Bt-cotton farmers. Otherwise, these farmers will stop using Bt cotton, and that would be very unfortunate,” said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, the H.E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell, and the 2001 Food Prize laureate. Bt cotton, he said, can help reduce poverty and undernourishment problems in developing countries if properly used.

    And to note that Monsanto has a horrible market share in China with the Bt cotton market being predominantly “home grown” (pun intended?) and relatively uncontrolled – one has to wonder if this inefficiency of the system would have still been in place if the much touted control over farmers Monsanto is alleged to wield were actually true.

    Also

    http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/21623/Bt_Cotton_Incecticide_Use_September_2006.pdf

    published at around the same time appears to paint a different story of pesticide useage across China, so clearly there is some question around how widespread any issues that occur are.

  68. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Yes, Kate, you had published it. Is there a place on this website for people to comment? That is actually what I have asked for, a back and forth discussion. Is there a place where people can ask questions of Monsanto regarding the studies?

  69. John Q Says:

    Deborah:

    I clicked through on several of Kate’s links, and the links on those pages, and most reference articles from peer-reviewed journals.

    Frankly, and this is NOT a Monsanto opinion, but I don’t think the majority of the people are qualified to adequately REVIEW the data behind these studies. I know I am not. Perhaps you are, but I feel exposing the details to the general public will just result in MORE confusion, rather than less.

    As for a place for a back and forth discussion, I’m pretty sure this has been linked to you (or at least someone more “your side” than “ours”), but each page here has a “Topic Suggestions” link, which points to

    http://blog.monsantoblog.com/monsanto-according-to-monsanto/suggestion-box/

    My understanding is requests of this nature are more likely to get acted upon if they are submitted there.

    But I feel obligated to make the same request to you. Can you provide us with “peer reviewed” data, and a place to have back and forth discussion and questions about YOUR data? And I’d rather they were serious studies and not anecdotal, if you don’t mind.

  70. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John, I’m not saying I have any data. Monsanto is the one who needs to prove their product is safe and says they have done. So as a consumer, I am asking for that proof. Several times the PR people here have said we must be scientific in our approach to GM foods and not hysterical or anti-science, so let’s go for it. Any independent studies out there will most likely come up in the conversation, or Monsanto could list them as well, as they are on some of the links from Kate. Their findings and criticisms could be reviewed publicly as well. It’s only fair.

    How can you say you feel that more information will only confuse the public? Information is what we need more of to make an informed decision. Without it, we are only speculating or assuming. I trust that people have the wherewithal to sort things out their confusion for themselves. How can we be objective without data and discussion?

    If Monsanto is so confident in their safety data, what do they have to worry about? They have all of their scientists their to deal with any questions and back up their positions.

    I did make the request some time ago to the suggestions blog when you let me know about it.

  71. John Q Says:

    Deborah said:

    “How can you say you feel that more information will only confuse the public? Information is what we need more of to make an informed decision. Without it, we are only speculating or assuming. I trust that people have the wherewithal to sort things out their confusion for themselves. How can we be objective without data and discussion?”

    Deborah, do you want information, or (raw) data? You use the two term interchangeably, but I do not think they are interchangeable.

    Actually, what I SAID was: “I don’t think the majority of the people are qualified to adequately REVIEW the data behind these studies. I know I am not.”

    So, perhaps YOU can tell us what sample size you need to get a 1% margin of error with a 95% confidence interval, but I dare say the average reader cannot. That is where the raw data comes in.

    The distinction I am trying to make is the INFORMATION is in how that DATA is interpreted by the people who collected the data, and I guess their detractors, too. This interpretation is also a science, but after the data has been digested into information, I think the general public has a better (but not assured) chance of understanding it.

    As an example of this, look above in this tread for
    John Q Says:

    May 5, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    What Christa gave us was data. What I gave us was information. It is VERY easy to misinform people with data, by allowing the people to draw erroneous conclusions, like Monsanto is using 84% of the water on the island.

    You argue for informed decisions. People in governmental and NGO agencies spend their LIVES learning and applying how to make these informed decisions. And they have decided, rightly or wrongly, that GMO’s are worth the risk. I think it is extreme hubris to believe that my decision, with my limited training, would be somehow better than theirs. Or are you advocating anarchy along with informed decisions?

    Again, I have to ask, would you subject automobiles to the same level of scrutiny? Or do you take the various governmental agencies word for their interpretation of the data derived from various research studies?

    For example, would you put a 6 month old in a rear-facing carseat in the front seat of a car with airbags, just because you hadn’t seen the data on the reaction velocity of the explosives used in airbags?

    What about helmets for motorcycle riders? There have been LOTS of studies that show that not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcyle is VERY dangerous, WAY more dangerous that you imply GM crops could be, and yet people are still allowed to ride in most jurisdictions without them.

    I know some of these examples may appear to contradict some of my positions, I’m just trying to determine where on the “risk scale” you fall. If you want more GM food testing but don’t support requiring motorcycle helmets, I have to admit I find that hypocritical. On the other hand, if you stray too far the other direction, you risk turning the state into a nanny, where EVERYTHING is regulated, because life is, after all, dangerous.

  72. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I would like to see Monsanto’s safety studies, data and all, publicly reviewed. The whole ball of wax.

    John, you say that, “People in governmental and NGO agencies spend their LIVES learning and applying how to make these informed decisions. And they have decided, rightly or wrongly, that GMO’s are worth the risk.” What percentage of people does that represent? And people have been known to make mistakes and to do wrong for gain. Certainly many people in NGO’s and at least some in the FDA/EPA have decided against gmo’s. And so have many individual citizens, you may know us as consumers.

    Once again, the revolving door between Biotech and Government comes to mind; who decided? People pushing through that door decided.

    I don’t find any of your other examples of choices the least bit relevant to the non-choice of eating 3 meals a day, 7 days a week for the rest of my life.

    Is asking for information with the risk of dissenting opinion anarchy? Or democracy? I think it’s a whole lot easier to confuse people with a LACK of information. And to control them as well.

    Could that be Monsanto’s intention?

    I do believe you hit the nail on the head when you said that, “The distinction I am trying to make is the INFORMATION is in how that DATA is interpreted by the people who collected the data, and I guess their detractors, too.” Who collects and interprets the data now? Who pays for that data and interpretation? Who is interpreting the data for us? I would like to see a much wider range of data collection and interpretation. Since when is advocating for independent analysis of data considered anarchy?

    “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

  73. John Q Says:

    Deborah, you said:

    “Certainly many people in NGO’s and at least some in the FDA/EPA have decided against gmo’s.”

    Yes, certainly they have. MY question is, have they decided based on EVIDENCE, or personal conviction? Because I just don’t see the evidence to support their decision, so I am suspicious they decided on personal conviction, and then started collecting (only) data to support their position, rather than taking an objective approach without prior bias.

    “And people have been known to make mistakes and to do wrong for gain.”

    Exactly. So, are “you” (as in is some random person) more or less prone to making mistakes than trained investigators? And how does having more studies and more regulatory agencies make this better?

    “the non-choice of eating 3 meals a day, 7 days a week for the rest of my life.”

    Remember those mistake-making people from the previous paragraph? They grow, store, and transport your food. The only way around it is to grow your own food, and then still you have to trust the seed-providers. There’s no way around it.

    “Who collects and interprets the data now? Who pays for that data and interpretation? Who is interpreting the data for us? I would like to see a much wider range of data collection and interpretation. Since when is advocating for independent analysis of data considered anarchy?”

    As far as I know, all of Monsanto’s studies are published in peer-reviewed journals, which is enough to satisfy me. And the data behind those studies is available to the “peers”, who are in the best position to judge it.

    The impression I have of most of Monsanto’s detractors is they DON’T publish peer-reviewed studies, and they are NOT objective and unbiased. They publish misleading, biased interpretations that ignore data which don’t support their pre-determined agenda. The way I read Dr. Dan in the other discussion, this is his contention, also. But I don’t want to put words in his mouth.

    You ask for independent analysis. I’d add to that unbiased and objective. Because as I showed above, it is very easy to present data in a way that leads people to come to the wrong conclusion.

  74. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I also ask for unbiased and objective studies and analysis. That is exactly what I want.

    To me, you could easily turn any of the statements you made above right back around on Monsanto. Monsanto also refutes all work that does not support their position. That is the problem.

    What I would like to see is those conflicting studies done publicly in conjuction with independent scientists-including those who oppose gmo’s-with agreed upon methodology, etc, in public view, under governmental or some other agreed upon oversight. That way we can see an objective, unbiased conclusion. It is a sound scientific principle to repeat studies until you have a consistent outcome.

    One other point you made interests me as well. Do you mean to say that all of Monsanto’s safety studies done prior to deregulation of crops are published in peer-reviewed journals? If so, would you please direct me to that link?

  75. John Q Says:

    Deborah said:

    “Monsanto also refutes all work that does not support their position. That is the problem.”

    No, that is the SOLUTION you are asking for. Refuting work is done by collecting ALL data, and then seeing where it takes us. That is the approach that Monsanto takes. And others can try to take ALL of that data and refute Monsanto’s position.

    What (in MY opinion) Monsanto’s CRITICS do (in many but not all cases) is only take the data that SUPPORTS their position, and IGNORE any data that contradicts their position.

    Taking that approach, I could easily “prove” that all women in the US are over 6 feet tall and have blue eyes, because those that aren’t are statistical anomolies that don’t matter. And my “proof” is just as meaningful as anyone else’s who takes this approach.

    Deborah said:

    “Do you mean to say that all of Monsanto’s safety studies done prior to deregulation of crops are published in peer-reviewed journals?”

    I do not, have not, and will in all likelihood never speak for Monsanto. But my understanding, from the outside, is that if Monsanto conducts a study as part of an investigation for some government “process”, ALL of that data had to be included in the study documentation provided to the government. PRESUMABLY the government has that data peer-reviewed, a point to which I will get back shortly. And any studies which Monsanto DOES publicly publish SHOULD be in peer-reviewed journals, postings on the various Monsanto website notwithstanding.

    This is NOT a practice I have observed the various detractors of Monsanto following. “They” make accusations and publish NO data behind them, peer reviewed or not. THAT is not science, nor is it a discussion, or even a debate.

    Back to my deferred point. I do not, have not, and will in all likelihood never speak for the US government, either. But some will argue the US government actually DOESN’T review, peer or otherwise, Monsanto (or anyone else’s) data. I can nether speak for or against this. But if one doesn’t trust this activity, why then call for ANOTHER agency to certify and label food as “GM” (or non-GM). In my viewpoint, adding another layer CAN’T make the problem (if it exists) better, it can only make it worse.

  76. Deborah Rubin Says:

    John Q Says:

    June 1, 2009 at 9:43 am

    What (in MY opinion) Monsanto’s CRITICS do (in many but not all cases) is only take the data that SUPPORTS their position, and IGNORE any data that contradicts their position.

    Taking that approach, I could easily “prove” that all women in the US are over 6 feet tall and have blue eyes, because those that aren’t are statistical anomolies that don’t matter. And my “proof” is just as meaningful as anyone else’s who takes this approach.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++

    Look, this is clearly not what I am advocating. I’m not sure why you keep saying this sort of thing. Here is what I have asked for over and over. Some examples from this thread alone. I think you are purposefully ignoring this fact:

    Deborah Rubin Says:

    May 30, 2009 at 12:49 pm
    I also ask for unbiased and objective studies and analysis. That is exactly what I want

    Deborah Rubin Says:

    May 21, 2009 at 10:11 am
    I would like to see Monsanto’s safety studies, data and all, publicly reviewed. The whole ball of wax.

    Deborah Rubin Says:

    May 15, 2009 at 8:11 am
    John, I’m not saying I have any data. Monsanto is the one who needs to prove their product is safe and says they have done. So as a consumer, I am asking for that proof. Several times the PR people here have said we must be scientific in our approach to GM foods and not hysterical or anti-science, so let’s go for it. Any independent studies out there will most likely come up in the conversation, or Monsanto could list them as well, as they are on some of the links from Kate. Their findings and criticisms could be reviewed publicly as well. It’s only fair…..
    ******************************
    The problem is so much directly contradictory information and a lack of studies. I would like public peer review. You go on to say, “I do not, have not, and will in all likelihood never speak for Monsanto. But my understanding, from the outside, is that if Monsanto conducts a study as part of an investigation for some government “process”, ALL of that data had to be included in the study documentation provided to the government. PRESUMABLY the government has that data peer-reviewed, a point to which I will get back shortly.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++=
    I do not believe this is the case, but would be glad for Monsanto to set the Record Straight. I hope the information is peer-reviewed by independent scientists before a crop is released, but do not believe this is part of the deregulatory process or mandatory.

  77. John Q Says:

    Deborah, sorry, I didn’t mean to make it appear by juxtaposition of the conversation points that I was accusing YOU of data misrepresentation. I was just trying to point out why Monsanto (and every other corporation doing research studies) is reluctant to release raw data. Dr. Dan, in the “How Safe is Your Food?” thread, which is at
    http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/05/19/food-safety-gm-foods/ (original post and also discussion), did a better job than I have of this.

    I also have no specifics as to the approval process (in ANY jurisdiction) of GM crops, but I DO know that testing IS done, and documented. I’m pretty sure this IS part of the regulatory process and also mandatory. I changed your deregulatory to regulatory because rest assured, it IS still highly regulated, even after a specific technology has been approved for commercial release.

    Dr. Dan alludes to this also in “How Safe is Your Food?”

    Perhaps we can implore Dr. Dan to give us more details on the approval process itself, like timelines and data that must be collected and submitted. Likely he can point us to any published studies of Monsanto data as well. Would you like to make that “Topic Suggestion”, or shall I?


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