I Am Monsanto

July 6, 2009

By Jeff

There are a lot of things that describe me. PhD scientist, husband, father, biophysicist, biochemist, blogger, history buff, platform lead, poet, Monsanto employee and political progressive. The last two things on that list are a source of great conflict, at least for me recently.

Those that know me well know that my political leanings lie far to the left and they also know that I make no apologies for it. As a result, I read Daily Kos daily. I have met some wonderful progressive activists through that blog and participated in activities that are aimed at making our corner of the world a better place. For those non-political geeks, the dictionary defines progressive in the context of politics thus:

1 a: one that is progressive b: one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action

It is the end of that definition that I identify with most. It is one of my core beliefs that government can be used as a tool to enact social change.

So, what about this conflict? It should come as no surprise to most of you that Monsanto is not a favorite among much of the progressive crowd.  Perhaps the opposition to GM crops in Europe spearheaded by Greenpeace is the most well known example of progressive opposition. Over the last couple of years, the local food movement has blossomed in the U.S. The term locavore is now heard regularly in the news and on the Internet. One focus of the local food movement is food security – the availability and access to food. Perhaps now you can start to connect the dots to see how the local food movement – a progressive movement – might be at odds with Monsanto.

As you might imagine, the patenting of seeds is seen by many in the movement as an attempt to control, monopolize even, the access to food. And of course, our attempts to enforce our legal patent rights are also seen in a negative light. In this context, hardly a week goes by without a diary on my favorite progressive blog bashing Monsanto for the work we do. You can see them in the link to this search.

Pick a few of those diaries and read them. Then go and read the comments. I assure you it will be enlightening. You will learn that Monsanto employees are stupid. We’ve been hoodwinked by our employer. Why else would we work here? Not only are we stupid, we’re evil. You must be evil to want to control the world’s food supply. You might also learn that Monsanto employees are still working on Terminator technology. Did you know that we put animal genes into plants? Did you know that pollen from our genetically-modified crops will magically migrate into another farmer’s field and contaminate his crop? When that happens, big bad Monsanto will forcibly move onto that farm and confiscate the crop. Our goons will go and put that small organic farmer out of business. That’s what the evil Monsanto does. As any reasonable blog entry will have links, go check them out. Most of them link to pseudo-science sites or other blogs.

If you can’t tell by now, those particular diaries really make my blood boil. But it isn’t only about anger, it’s about hurt. Because I suspect that those diarists and I will probably agree on more issues than we disagree. Some of those same folks might be standing beside me volunteering at the food bank, organizing online for AIDS relief for Africa, or bringing attention to the restoration of the poor parts of New Orleans after Katrina by lobbying our representatives. So, when those people, MY people call Monsanto evil, call Monsanto stupid, they’re calling ME evil and stupid. And they’re calling other employees evil and stupid. And just as I have a bond with those political progressives, I have a bond with those employees who come to work every day and bust their backsides trying to discover the latest yield gene, or those who sweat their backsides off in a hot Iowa cornfield sampling plants in the summer, or those on the sales force that go the extra mile to make a customer feel like the only customer we have.

We are not stupid and we are not evil. It is not evil to develop drought-resistant maize for Africa. It is not evil to help stop child labor in India. We are not evil for improving the working conditions of migrant farm workers. The Monsanto Pledge is not a bunch of words that make us sound good. In fact, this:

With the growth of modern agricultural practices and crops that generate ever-increasing yields, we are helping farmers around the world to create a better future for human beings, the environment, and local economies.

Sounds pretty darn progressive to me. There’s nothing incompatible with the work we do every day and a progressive vision. And THAT is one of the reasons that I come to work here every day. Those folks in the food security movement would call me stupid for saying it, but we’re just as progressive as they are. Well, they’re going to call me stupid anyway.

I wrote this mainly as a way to vent. I could not write responses to all of the Monsanto bashing that occurs on my favorite progressive blog. First of all, it would take too much time. Second, the people that do try to inject reasoned science into the discussion are dismissed as “evil corporate shills” and ridiculed. Sadly, because of the transparency that we advocate, I would probably not wish to subject my family to any possible fallout from some of these people – and that is rather sad to me given our common progressive ideology.

However, I don’t think that Monsanto as a company can ignore these people or this movement. If we do, I fear it might be at our own peril. A look at the growth of the locavore movement over the last two years tells you that this grassroots movement is gaining in popularity and clout. Recall that such a grassroots movement just elected the first African-American president of the United States. It would behoove us to develop a coherent, reasoned response to this movement and let our side of the story be heard.

I will not abandon my progressive brothers over this issue just as I won’t abandon my colleagues. I hope someday we’ll all be able to work together to make this world a better place.

Jeff is a Senior Research Scientist at Monsanto where he currently leads the Protein Design Platform. Prior to joining Monsanto he was a Robert A. Welch Fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Jeff received his PhD in Biochemistry from Texas Tech University. His career at Monsanto has been devoted to both understanding the biological activities of Monsanto’s proteins as well as optimizing proteins for the product pipeline. He is the co-author of 9 peer-reviewed publications, 1 book chapter, and 2 United States Patents.

Jeff is also keenly interested in politics, social justice, and early-American history. He continually draws inspiration from his political hero, Robert Kennedy.

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77 Responses to “I Am Monsanto”

  1. LKMiller Says:

    First, you should know that I am very supportive of GM research and development in general, and of the work that Monsanto does in particular. And no, I am not a Monsanto employee.

    However, I urge you to reconsider your progressive approach. You freely admit that you believe government action should be used for social improvement. So far you have been fortunate that the US government does not prohibit genetic modification. But, look at the progressive governments in other parts of the world, in particular, Europe.

    It is not unrealistic to envision the prohibition of GM in the US should the country continue its current rapid slide to the left.

    You quite properly rail against the pseudo-science of those who are against GM. However, you are silent on the other religion of progressives: anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

    Those who worship at the altar of AGW also genuflect in the direction of anti-GM.

    Be careful with whom you associate, because they very well may turn on you. A government that can force cap and tax may very well also prohibit GM.

  2. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Jeff, get a grip!

  3. John Q Says:

    Deborah, I find your comment non-constructive, at best. I applaud Jeff for exploring this “inconsistency”, and having the guts to open himself up.

  4. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Well, considering what Dr. Dan has said about Seralini’s work “In my mind, Seralini’s data are worthless and irrelevant for safety assessment at best. At best, the data are misleading to those who have not sorted through the politics and emotion to get to the science” Other scientists motives, ethics, and quality of work have been criticized on this site–I think Jeff should tighten up! Take it like the professional he is. He made his choices; he’ll have to take his lumps. If he can live with himself, so be it!

    I don’t think many people believe a researcher like Jeff is “stupid” per se. “Evil” is open to interpretation. I do believe he is working toward the wrong ends and making things worse. I believe he could do much better with his talents and education if he had a different worldview.

    • Kathleen Says:

      I would like to ask all commenters on this blog post to keep their comments civil and talk about the issues addressed in this blog instead of focusing on a person’s personal beliefs. This post may be subjected to a closed commenting section.

  5. Catherine Says:

    It pisses me off that they call farmers stupid, lazy, and brainwashed. Today on the OCA homepage the headline for the USDA report on the adoption of the technology by farmers is:

    “America’s Brainwashed Farmers Planting More and More GE Frankencrops”

    I don’t know what you can do about it. But I think it is a smaller group than it seems. The same crap gets posted from site to site and there isn’t much there there. I think it will fade of its own accord when people realize there really aren’t veggies of mass destruction. And that fear for fear’s sake is tiresome eventually.

  6. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Jeff, if your angst is real and not a contrived PR effort to integrate Monsanto’s genetic engineering of crops (and all of the social and scientific baggage that goes along with that) into a progressive political and philosophical framework, your apparent struggle with cognitive dissidence may bear fruit when it is finally resolved. Something seems to be off…is it the rest of the world, or you?

  7. Dr. B. Says:

    So Deborah, you don’t think that people like Jeff actually exist, or do you believe that to be considered a progressive that you have to buy the party platform hook line and sinker? Either, or, you’d be wrong on both parts.

    It all comes down to education. Get a grip Deborah.

  8. Jeff Says:

    LKMiller:

    Thanks for your support of our work.

    Your point about progressive governments in Europe preventing implementation of GMO technology is well taken. However, I don’t see it as a reason to abandon the rest of my progressive ideals. In fact, I would say that requires those in favor of biotechnology to be more aggressive but transparent and respectful in arguing our side in the free arena of ideas. Ultimately that is where the fate of plant biotechnology will be won or lost.

    Your comments on climate change seem tangential to me, but I would just say that those on the climate change denial side of the argument also have their fair share of pseudo-science altar worship.

  9. LKMiller Says:

    Jeff,

    Guess we will have a respectful disagreement on global warming, because every day, more and more reputable scientists believe that the “science is not settled” and the “debate is not over.”

    But as you say, tangential to your main point.

    My argument is more about your reliance upon government action for social improvement. This is a slippery slope, and one on which our personal freedom and liberty are eroded with each passing day. And I still maintain that a government that relies on bogus global warming “science” and wants to act to enact cap and tax, will also some day outlaw GM.

    Remember, it’s all about saving the planet (not).

    It is about command and control.

  10. Jeff Says:

    Deborah,

    this post originated on an internal Monsanto blog a few months ago, with no knowledge of anyone in PR. Some of my coworkers saw it and wanted their friends and family who questioned why they’d work at a place like this to be able to see it. It was forwarded along to our PR folks and that’s how it ended up here.

    What you read here are my thoughts and are not part of some contrived PR plan. To your last question, a few of my friends sometimes say that I am indeed “off”. However, as I mentioned in the original entry, I don’t think GMO technology is incompatible with a progressive agenda.

  11. Ewan Ross Says:

    Jeff – You’re not alone (as you probably know anyway…) I’m another pro-GM ‘progressive’, pretty sure that most of what I believe politically would put me pretty far to the left of even the Democrats… but dont worry folks… I dont get to vote!(other than by mail across thousands of miles) – I think the problem lies in attempting to bucket people into such a broad category – there’s no reason why you cant be pro-GM and believe in Global warming, or anti-GM and believe it is all made up, or pro-nationalized health care while being anti-global warming. Or any combination of any number of stances which alone might end up categorizing you as progressive or conservative. Keep fighting the good fight and perhaps a pro-GM stance will no longer be anathema in conversations with otherwise like-minded people.

  12. Jan Ambrose Says:

    I applaud Jeff for being able to speak his mind and I applaud Monsanto for supporting his views and publishing his blog. Two of my sons work for Monsanto and they are good, kind, smart, incredibly educated, humanitarian and well informed men who I respect very much. They wouldn’t be there if Monsanto wasn’t doing the right thing. I have heard all of the criticisms of Monsanto and actually researched their methods and practices and I think we need them especially now when our resources are in jeopardy.

    They have my support and Jeff, thanks again for speaking out.

    Jan Ambrose

  13. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Jeff says:

    1 a: one that is progressive b: one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action
    ******************************************
    I’d say you are in the mainstream if you believe gmo’s are political and social improvement, Jeff, because your government and so many others are actively implementing and mandating gmo technology in their own countries and as part of foreign aid:

    http://pbsblog.wordpress.com/

    PBS Selects New Director
    Posted on June 18, 2009 by lakatosc
    Dr. Judy Chambers has been selected as the new PBS director and will formally assume the role on July 27. Dr. Chambers joins PBS with extensive experience in biotechnology and biosafety. She served as Director of International Government Affairs at Monsanto Company and as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where she was responsible for co-developing the first public-private sector agency program on agricultural biotechnology (ABSP). She has also worked as an independent consultant on agriculture biotechnology issues for public, private, non-profit and academic establishments. As a highly-regarded, internationally-recognized senior executive with over fifteen years of experience in strategic leadership positions within and on behalf of diverse institutions, Dr. Chambers joins PBS with a strong background in international and cultural issues affecting technology and product acceptance, public-private sector coalition building, and corporate social responsibility initiatives. PBS welcomes Judy to the team.

  14. Matericia Says:

    ‘Profits over people’ isn’t progressive and that’s what drives Monsanto. Endangering the food supply with GMO’s should keep you all up at night. If you really want to check your progressive leanings against Monsantos business practices, reasearch why Indian farmers commit suicide over Monsanto seeds, check out Pulitzer prize winning investigative reporters Bartlett and Steele’s article in Vanity Fair.

    May God bless you all.

    From Philadelphia, PA

  15. John Q Says:

    Matericia, thank you for your post.

    Firstly, I like to think of it as “profits HELPING people”, because a lot of people would be going hungry without Monsanto’s technology, and your food bill would go up 2- to 10-fold.

    As for Indian farmers committing suicide, I don’t think it is directly as a result of Monsanto seed. Most people willing to approach the situation with an open mind attribute it more closely to lending practices and socio-economic conditions.

    But in any case, this HAS been addressed already on this site:
    http://blog.monsantoblog.com/?s=indian+farmer+suicide

    But again, thank you for your willingness to contribute to the discussion.

  16. Ewan Ross Says:

    Matericia – the indian farmer suicide claims have been discussed ad nauseum in this blog –

    http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/03/26/indian-farmer-suicide-the-bottom-line/

    with the reality being that the introduction and useage of GM cotton in India has led to huge increases in yield, huge increases in financial security for cotton farmers, and Monsanto’s presence in the lives of Indian farmers is a two way street – it’s not just about profit over people, but about developing the communities involved in agriculture so that they can lead better lives (I’d point you specifically to the posts on the blog by ‘Michelle India’ for a first hand account of what Monsanto as a company do, rather than looking through the warped lens of a vanity fair article)

    Profits over people is not at all what drives Monsanto. It is true that profit is a driving force for the company (find me a company where profit isn’t, particularly a publically traded company) but that is only half of your accusation – the profit before people just doesnt ring true to me. Monsanto currently profits due to the capacity of our seeds and technology to improve people’s lives. Increasing yields, decreasing costs and time spent in the field, reducing useage of more toxic pesticides – these are all direct things our products do for our customers. On top of that there are numerous things that we do as a company which benefit others without being profitable – money Monsanto receives from patent infringement cases is used for youth leadership initiatives and agricultural scholarships. Aswell as (and here I will list various projects from the past year which are up for internal recogntion/awards but which I think otherwise would not make it into the public arena for fear of tarnishing Monsanto’s image as a corporate monster):-

    – Community outreach in Brazil, 76 communities were chosen for tree planting events which were attended by 27,000 – the team discussed deforestation, sustainability, recycling and consumption – all in the name of raising environmental awareness in a quickly developing economy

    – Human rights program in India – Monsanto has worked to reduce child labor in cotton seed production fields since 2005, achieving a reduction from 20% in 2005 to less than 0.5% in 2008. Also introduced free personal protective equipment to cotton seed production fields for all compliant producers – benefitting 2500 growers.

    – Health program for workers in Malawi – providing lunch for seasonal workers who were otherwise relatively malnourished,
    – Educate workers and families about malaria, HIV and AIDS, malnutrition, child immunization, infectious disease prevention, dental health, and prenatal care
    O- ffer access to and training in the appropriate use of male and female condoms
    – Offer multivitamins and daily porridge (fortified with proteins and vitamins) for children under age five
    – Reduce malaria risk at home – all workers were given mosquito bed nets (treated with insect repellant), and training on their use
    – Offer medical services – provide adult tetanus and hepatitis B vaccination, and evaluate and treat acute malaria and other illnesses early, using the latest generation of anti-malaria drugs, to minimize their health impact and improve outcomes
    – Pediatric clinical evaluations – assessment and completion of pediatric vaccines for children under age five, including hepatitis B (not provided by the government program), nutrition and health education.
    – Preventive dental visits, fluoridation, and toothbrushes and toothpaste for all beneficiaries
    – HIV testing and medication offered to all HIV-positive people until they can access the government program (6-8 months)

    – Water efficient maize for africa
    – in conjuntion with the bill and melinda gates foundation Monsanto are providing breeding and biotech knowhow and traits/hybrids to bring drought tolerant maize varieties to Africa

    to cover just a few non-profit related activities all of which I would say paint a far more progressive picture than the totalitarian profit machine which tends to be the image associated with Monsanto by its detractors.

  17. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    July 8, 2009 at 9:02 am
    Matericia – the indian farmer suicide claims have been discussed ad nauseum in this blog –

    http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/03/26/indian-farmer-suicide-the-bottom-line/

    ++++++++++++++++++++
    It may be ad nauseum for you, but for those in India with rain fed crops who lost everything those first few years, there is no going back. The consensus shows an increase, but looking state to state you see the specific failures of the seed. Your disregard for Monsanto’s part in that failure is hard to hear over and over…very upsetting.

  18. Deborah Rubin Says:

    correction: Your disregard of not for.

  19. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – I havent seen specific information showing that it was entirely the seed used that caused the failure – farming is a risk heavy endeavor particularly without the technology available to western farmers – lack of rain kills crops, whether GM or not(I dont recall seeing a breakdown of GM vs non-GM farmers in the suicide statistics, although I do recall that overall levels of farmer suicides did not show any change across the transition between GM and non-GM useage), the anti-GM lobby appears to want to put the entire blame onto Monsanto seed because it is GM whereas the situation is far more complicated than that and it appears that reprehensible lending practices combined with social pressures to spend exorbitantly on other costs (big wedding for instance) are the major factor at work – the seed costs while higher categorically are not the primary cause for the poverty which sadly drove some farmers to suicide.

  20. jjdoublej Says:

    I have a colleague here at Monsanto that has come over here from India. He says the Indian farmer suicides have been going on far longer than GM cotton has been around, and at a similar rate. I have actually seen the data on it somewhere. Does anyone have those stats? Anyway, much of the suicides are due to loans that are taken from unscrupulous loan sharks that command a huge interest rate. Evidently the grower gets behind and feel they cannot pay the loan back, and they commit suicide.

  21. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Jeff, from my perspective, one of the things that makes people like me upset with Monsanto is that, as I cited above, Monsanto and its people are so assimilated into government. They craft the policies that benefit them and the people who disagree have little voice. Another fine example of a man with a history through the revolving door and back yet again!

    http://www.grist.org/article/2009-07-08-monsanto-FDA-taylor/

    “In a Tuesday afternoon press release, the FDA announced that Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto executive, had joined the agency as “senior advisor to the commissioner.” If the title is vague, the portfolio (pasted from the press release) is substantial—a kind of food czar of the Food and Drug Administration:”

    Collectively, we are all Monsanto, whether we like it or not. It’s like the Borg. I am forced, by my government, to support Monsanto’s directives.

  22. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Here are Taylor’s responsibilities:

    • Assess current food program challenges and opportunities
    • Identify capacity needs and regulatory priorities
    • Develop plans for allocating fiscal year 2010 resources
    • Develop the FDA’s budget request for fiscal year 2011
    • Plan implementation of new food safety legislation

  23. Deborah Rubin Says:

    jjdoublej Says:

    July 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm
    I have a colleague here at Monsanto that has come over here from India. He says the Indian farmer suicides have been going on far longer than GM cotton has been around, and at a similar rate. I have actually seen the data on it somewhere. Does anyone have those stats? Anyway, much of the suicides are due to loans that are taken from unscrupulous loan sharks that command a huge interest rate. Evidently the grower gets behind and feel they cannot pay the loan back, and they commit suicide.

    —————-
    I agree that the tragedy of farmer suicide in India already existed before GM cotton was introduced. There were drought issues and social issues as well. But, the data seem to show that the introduction of GM cotton has not done anything to help many Indian cotton farmers. Many accounts say GM has exacerbated the problems with increased costs and varieties not suitable for the climate, looping back to increasing debt. Suicide rates are not going down and many farmers have already lost their farms.

    http://www.hindu.com/2007/11/12/stories/2007111253911100.htm

    Dramatic increase

    The number of Indians committing suicide each year rose from around 96,000 in 1997 to roughly 1.14 lakh [a lakh is 100,000] in 2005. In the same period, the number of farmers taking their own lives each year shot up dramatically. From under 14,000 in 1997 to over 17,000 in 2005. While the rise in farm suicides has been on for over a decade, there have been sharp spurts in some years. For instance, 2004 saw well over 18,200 farm suicides across India. Almost two-thirds of these were in the Big Four or ‘Suicide SEZ’ States.

    A yearly chart is included.

    http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/csd16/PF/presentations/farmers_relief.pdf

    􀂃
    According to a study by the government of Maharashtra, almost 6 in 10 of those who kill themselves had debts between $110 and $550.

    [Some relief:]

    Amma’s actions to date:
    􀂃
    Amma met with Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, in March 2007 to discuss a farmer relief package.
    􀂃
    M.A. Math (MAM) pledged a $43 million in a financial support package towards farmer suicide relief efforts.
    􀂃
    Amma felt that counseling and education would immensely help farmers overcome this dire situation.

  24. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah –

    On the statement “But, the data seem to show that the introduction of GM cotton has not done anything to help many Indian cotton farmers.”

    This only applies if you only look at the bottom end of the statistics. The data shows that the introduction of GM cotton has done a lot to help most Indian cotton farmers – if this wasnt the case how can one explain the data which leads to vast *average* yield increases, vast *average* increases in farmer income, and *average* reductions in pesticide use? There is no conceivable way that all these averages could increase/decrease without most farmers seeing benefits – numerically there may be “many” who didnt see the benefits, but in terms of percentages (which is a fairer way to look at these things when the numbers involved are so large) farmers who were either worse off or the same were doubtless the vast minority (if not then there is no explanation beyond mass insanity for the massive level of adoption of GM tech amongst Indian cotton farmers)

    It may be true that a minority of adopters of the technology had a worse year after adoption (It’d be interesting to see the spread of statistics to see what percentage did better, what percentage did the same, and what percentage did worse – havent seen any data like this to date though), but this could be due to a number of other reasons outside of the switch to GM for example – poor weather (if I adopted an organic system on my farm, and then it didnt rain that year, would it be remotely fair to blame my crop failure on my switch to organic?), use of fake GM seed (which was a massive problem initially when the technology was introduced, and undoubtedly would have caused issues if the crop was treated as if GM)

    The main take home message that I get from the alarming level of inidan farmer suicide over the past 20 years(ish) is that clearly agriculture in Inida needs help in terms of education, financing, securing crop yields (against weather, insects, and weeds) – all so that farmers who have to borrow to grow are not left high and dry at the end of the season – something I believe strongly that Monsanto can work on a number of fronts to help with now and in coming years.

  25. Ewan Ross Says:

    Another point I dont entirely agree with either is the ‘assimilation’ of “Monsanto and its people” into government.

    High level positions in government and in corporate life require a certain level of knowledge of subject matter, a certain expertise. To my mind it makes sense to employ people with decades of experience in the food industry to oversee the same industry – likewise in terms of having regulatory expertise it makes sense for companies like Monsanto to hire people with experience working for the USDA, FDA or other regulatory agencies into positions which are involved in these areas.

    The alternative seems almost ludicrous – employ people with no experience in the industry to look after it. Employ people with no background in regulatory procedures to ensure your company complies with these procedures.

    The only obvious cases I can see where a true conflict would exist is if an individual was employed both to oversee the industry and as part of the industry at the same time. Everyone changes jobs, generally to a position within the same area of expertise – I’ve done it, I’m guessing you’ve probably done it – the suggestion that loyalty to a prior employer would be so high as to jeapordise your new job would to me be pretty insulting, as I’m sure it would be to you – I’m guessing the same applies to pretty much anybody who has ever changed jobs.

  26. Deborah Rubin Says:

    all so that farmers who have to borrow to grow are not left high and dry at the end of the season – something I believe strongly that Monsanto can work on a number of fronts to help with now and in coming years.
    ——————————–
    The time is too late for those who were left high and dry. Did Monsanto try to help any of them?

  27. Molly A. Says:

    Jeff – Thanks so much for writing this. As a Monsanto employee and recent transplant from St. Louis to California, it’s been both surprising and hurtful to really get a good look at how some people feel about us. I think in St. Louis we’re cushioned from it a little more. Monsanto is, in many cases, simply another place where people work. I am also very progressive and often find myself to the left of my own party, the Democratic party.

    Like you, I’m not stupid, and I’m not evil. I work for Monsanto because I believe in sustainable agriculture, and I believe that we have to find ways to feed the booming world population. GM crops, along with responsible agriculture practices (precision agriculture as an example), are one of many ways to go about this. Organic farming is great, but organic farming alone will simply not feed the world.

    Thank you for articulating so well what I have been encountering and feeling out here recently.

  28. Jeff Says:

    Deborah,

    the topic of lobbyists is another can of worms. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and it seems to me that they are necessary. I’m pretty sure that most Senators/Representatives don’t have a background in science/food. So, we need people with experience in that area to give them advice. I’m certain that the non-GMO groups also have their lobbyists. It therefore becomes a matter of politicians hearing the sides and making up their minds.

    The problem as I see it is that sometimes the average Joe doesn’t have a voice other than their own. Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to participate in the process and then it inevitably comes down to which side’s lobbyist have the most money.

    This is off topic and perhaps something that can be addressed in another entry.

  29. Catherine Says:

    @Deborah: you may want to read more widely before you draw conclusions. Marion Nestle, who is quite knowledgeable and respected on this topic says that Michael Taylor is a good choice:
    http://www.foodpolitics.com/2009/07/michael-taylor-appointed-to-fda-a-good-choice/

    Of course, she was instantly called a shill for that. But that’s the way the discourse goes these days….

  30. Cindy Says:

    Amazing how we can justify what we do even amidst a blazing amount of evidence that Monsanto is probably the most evil company on the planet. I speak as a nurse and health educator. The vast majority of the products monsanto makes do not make the world a better place. OK, maybe drought tolerant maize is good for Africa, but I’d like a little more research than just monsanto’s say so.

  31. Ewan Ross Says:

    “The time is too late for those who were left high and dry. Did Monsanto try to help any of them?”

    Did, or does Monsanto try to help any of them is probably a better question, which can be answered with an emphatic yes.

    Monsanto tried to help Indian farmers as a whole by introducing seed technology which increased yields and reduced pesticide useage (from the introduction of the technology through today and into the future).

    Monsanto tries to help Indian farmers as a whole by educating on best agronomic practices amongst numerous other projects(again I’ll refer you to ‘Michelle India”s posts on the initial inidan farmer suicide blog.)

    It would be interesting (although likely impossible) to see how many farmers were saved from crop devastation by insect pests due to adoption of GM tech, how many suicides avoided because of increased income which rather than falling short of that required to keep loan sharks at bay were high enough to pay off the loan sharks and potentially avoid having to utilize them the next year round. How many kids saved the effects of the harshest pesticides because of adoption of Bt tech (if the numbers reflect the reduced death rates in China, as I suspect they would, then this alone would warrant the introduction of Bt crops even without the improvement of yield and farmer income)

  32. John Q Says:

    Cindy sats:

    “Amazing how we can justify what we do even amidst a blazing amount of evidence that Monsanto is probably the most evil company on the planet.”

    And you will excuse me if I’d like a little more research than just your say so?

    Practically every speck of your “blazing amount of evidence” has been refuted elsewhere and then quoted here. I’d encourage you to read the rest of this site, and the various external links provided.

  33. Jeff Says:

    Cindy, I’d like to see this “blazing amount of evidence that Monsanto is probably the most evil company on the planet”. As a scientist, I’d like to know how one goes about quantifying evil.

  34. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Catherine Says:

    July 11, 2009 at 3:41 pm
    @Deborah: you may want to read more widely before you draw conclusions. Marion Nestle, who is quite knowledgeable and respected on this topic says that Michael Taylor is a good choice:
    http://www.foodpolitics.com/2009/07/michael-taylor-appointed-to-fda-a-good-choice/

    ============
    Catherine, I have already read Nestle’s opinion. Perhaps one misconception you have is that people do not think for themselves. I am not following the lead of Nestle or anyone else, only trying to ascertain the truth for myself. I have my own opinions and do read widely, thank you.

  35. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Catherine, Before I draw any more conclusions, did Monsanto help the Indian farmers who lost their farms after trying to grow Bt Cotton? I have not been able to find anything about it on the web, but realize there is a lot of information to sift through, and I can not read everything.

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

    Jeff, a lot of us do participate in the process, but the process is a bit rigged. Check the comments on the APHIS dockets. With former Monsanto employees in government, supplying safety data to government, lobbying government, buying up seed companies, and the press is also oddly quiet and in some cases has been sued.
    ==============================
    jjdoublej,jjdoublej Says:

    July 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm
    I have a colleague here at Monsanto that has come over here from India. He says the Indian farmer suicides have been going on far longer than GM cotton has been around, and at a similar rate. I have actually seen the data on it somewhere. Does anyone have those stats? Anyway, much of the suicides are due to loans that are taken from unscrupulous loan sharks that command a huge interest rate. Evidently the grower gets behind and feel they cannot pay the loan back, and they commit suicide
    ****************
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1132562.cms

    Monsanto’s cotton has deficiencies: study
    Abhay Vaidya , TNN 4 June 2005, 08:40pm IST

    These observations are significant in the context of the ban clamped by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) last month on the commercial cultivation of Mahyco-Monsanto’s Mech-12, Mech-162 and Mech-184 Bt cotton varieties in Andhra Pradesh. This ban follows reports of seed failure that have been backed by the Andhra Pradesh government.

    The GIPE study based on field survey of 100 Bt cotton farmers in Maharashtra has pointed out that contrary to claims that Bt cotton can reduce the bollworm attack significantly along with substantial drop in pesticide expenses, “the results of our study do not completely support this.”

    They pointed out that “farmers have reported that Mech-162 variety is more susceptible to pests and diseases as compared to Mech-184 and therefore, the use of pesticides is higher in Mech-162.”

    According to Monsanto, the genetically-modified Bt cotton, which carries the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) gene, offers long-term protection against cotton’s worst enemy, the bollworm insect. It not only gives higher yields than conventional varieties but leads to cost reduction due to the minimal use of pesticides.

    The GIPE study states that although these attacks did not lead to severe crop loss due to bollworm, they did increase cost of cultivation due to higher use of pesticides. This, it has pointed out contradicts one of the guarantees given by the seed company on low production cost.

    The analytical report on the impact of Bt cotton cultivation on productivity and other economic parameters was based on a comparison of 100 Bt cotton farmers and 50 non-Bt cotton farmers in the prominent cotton growing districts of Yavatmal and Buldhana. The comparison was drawn for the kharif 2003 sowings between Bt cotton varieties Mech-162 and Mech-184, and the popular hybrid varieties, Bunny-145 and Anukur-651.

    While Mech-162 and 184 accounted for about 47 per cent of the total cotton area of the Bt cotton growers in the two districts, Bunny 145 and Ankur 651 accounted for 44 per cent of the total cotton area in the two districts.

    The average quantity of pesticides used by Bt cotton farmers was found to be relatively lower (3.68 litres/ha) as compared to the non-Bt cotton farmers (3.89 litres/ha) while the cost of Bt cotton cultivation was substantially higher (Rs 26,000/ha) than non-Bt cotton cultivation (Rs 19,300/ha).

    and http://www.ipsnews.net/africa/interna.asp?idnews=28812

    LONDON, May 25 (IPS) – Indian farmers have won a small battle against GM crops by establishing simply that they can be less productive than normal crops.

    Earlier this month the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Indian government withheld licenses for commercial cultivation on three varieties of genetically modified (GM) cotton developed by the U.S., firm Monsanto – Mech-12 Bt, Mech-162 Bt and Mech-184 Bt.

    That was followed by a painstaking campaign by several non-governmental organizations. ”For the last three years we carried out systemic research in Monsanto’s Bt cotton,” P.V. Satheesh, who heads the Coalition in Defence of Diversity in the southern Indian state Andhra Pradesh told IPS in London Tuesday. That led to the ban on the three varieties of GM cotton seeds.

    ”Every year we have been socking the results into the face of Monsanto,” Satheesh said. ”They were not able to counter us. So it became very compelling for the Andhra government and for the Government of India to act.”

    The three-year scientific study tracked the experiences of small farmers from planting to harvest in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. ”It found that three GM cotton varieties did not live up to the claims made by the agro-company Maycho-Monsanto and performed less well than traditional non-GM seeds,” the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) which supported the anti-GM campaign said in a statement Tuesday.

    Though costing nearly 400 per cent more to buy, the average yield from the GM cotton was about 150kg per acre, 30 percent less than from other non-GM varieties. The GM seeds also cost 12 percent more to cultivate in their need for manure and irrigation, and the reduction in pesticide use was negligible.

    ”Non-GM farmers earned 60 percent more than their GM counterparts over the three-year period,” IIED said.

  36. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – the quoted GIPE study flies in the face of other, larger scale studies on Bt performance in the same area in the same timeframe.

    http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/publications/data/2006-09-04_vgandhi.pdf

    Gives 2004 data which shows a 12,000 Ru/Ha advantage of Bt over non Bt in Andhra Pradesh aswell as significant advantages in all regions studied (profit, yield, reduced pesticide useage) with the only negative factor being increased seed cost (at approx 180-200% of normal seed cost)

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=963498

    (sadly just an abstract… maybe more digging will uncover the full article..) looks at 2002-2003 with the telling phrase being “Bt cotton varieties have had a significant positive impact on average yields and on the economic performance of cotton growers”

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T5T-4DPYKNP-1&_user=1631782&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=957393049&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000053988&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=1631782&md5=794ddbb2651ead30d1056c61383a1c59

    (which if the link works, should take you to Genetically modified insect resistance in cotton: some farm level economic impacts in India – same authors as the abstract)

    which again shows increased yield and profit from Bt cotton in india.

    etc etc etc…. (do a google scholar search for something along the lines of “Bt cotton varieties have had a significant positive impact on average yields and on the economic performance of cotton growers +India”) for many more articles in the same vein.

    If the stories about yield you posted here were a true reflection of GM cotton in India then we most likely wouldnt even be having this discussion as GM cotton would not be grown in India, the fact is that in reality Bt cotton offers huge benefits in India which accounts for the uptake, spread, and retention of the technology amongst Indian cotton farmers (who I am guessing rely more on word of mouth from their friends and neighbours than scientific articles from either side of the debate)

  37. erin Says:

    Well, as a consumer and a human being, I sure as hell don’t want to be eating GM foods, and if others are okay with it, fine. But the fact that it’s not even labeled as GMO? Ridiculous. Hell, a lot of people don’t even realize they’re eating it! The world belongs to all of us, not just to you “progressives” as you say, and if you want to eat GM products then be my guest. When I find out that up to 80% of our food supply is contaminated with GMOs, it makes me feel outraged. I am proud to say I have switched to an all-organic diet free from your experiments. Think you can do better than nature? Yeah right.

    I seem to remember a little incident involving Monsanto, BGH and some Fox news reporters. To say Monsanto cares about anything other than profit is a fallacy. True, maybe some employees, maybe you, Jeff, are genuinely well-intended. But the truth is, Monsanto is the Mengele of food, and we are all its victims.

  38. Ewan Ross Says:

    Erin – victims in what sense? Victims of cheaper food? Vicitims of reduced pesticide and herbicide use? Or victims of some unspecified, undocumented nebulous health threat invented out of a gut feeling that genetic modification is wrong and harmful regardless of the evidence to the contrary?

    I would also say that yes, we definitely can do better than nature. I’m going to make the huge assumption that the all organic diet you eat doesnt consist of wild berries, tubers, and wild animals, but of organically raised fruit, vegetables, and animals, all of which have been improved upon from their natural state by the hard work of generations of plant and animal breeders – all of whom improved upon nature to provide the varieties available today – genetic modification is just an extention of this ability, allowing us to circumvent the need to wait for (or cause by chemical or radioactive mutagenesis) a useful random mutation and then select for it.

    I’m also tempted to cite Godwin’s law, but perhaps that would be petty.

  39. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan says:

    If the stories about yield you posted here were a true reflection of GM cotton in India then we most likely wouldnt even be having this discussion as GM cotton would not be grown in India, the fact is that in reality Bt cotton offers huge benefits in India which accounts for the uptake, spread, and retention of the technology amongst Indian cotton farmers (who I am guessing rely more on word of mouth from their friends and neighbours than scientific articles from either side of the debate)

    +++++++++++++++++++++
    If what you are proposing is factual in India, do you really think so many cotton farmers would be committing suicide?

    Do you assert that the newspaper is lying about the failure and banning of 3 Monsanto cotton lines?

  40. Anastasia Says:

    Jeff, I feel the same way. I’m in agreement with 99% of the views of people in my Sustainable Agriculture program, but when I mention biotechnology some of them actually act differently towards me. It can be very frustrating.

    Why can’t people stay on topic? It’s as if I wrote a post on wooden toys and had a whole lot of people post comments about trees. Sheesh. You have your work cut out for you. Don’t get discouraged!

  41. Kelly Says:

    As someone who works in nutrition AND agriculture, I feel there’s a definite lack of balance in the opinions here. I believe in GMO’s. I believe they have the capability to feed the world more efficiently than organic farming, which have a MUCH lower yield. Mass production farming in America is directly responsible for feeding people in the more underdeveloped corners of the world. While I agree that an organic lifestyle is beneficial to people who can afford it, I also think that GMO’s are necessary to put food in the mouths of billions of undernourished and malnourished people across the world.

    Note, I had no qualms about using the word “billions.”

    Now, until someone can prove that there is a truthful, successful mode of “mass-production” organic farming with the same yield and consistency as GMO crops, I will stand by GMO crops. Without them, vast quantities of people would starve, would be unemployed, would be homeless, would be hurt.

    I stand in the middle politically, with several more conservative tendencies. But for a country that is rooted in curiosity and discovery, it shocks me that so many people are suddenly turning away from science and the facts. The simple truth is that GMO’s are a necessity to feeding the world. And if all of you people calling Monsanto “evil” feel that way, then go find a new way to raise crops yourself.

    Everyone is so willing to throw around blame and say that Monsanto is hurting the Earth and it’s people. I’m waiting for someone to prove there’s a better way.

  42. Kelly Says:

    Also, I feel the need to add that without GMO’s, the use of pesticides would be exponentially higher.

    I’d rather have a natural enzyme or protein added to my food than loads of chemicals that are proven to be harmful.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Plenty of GMO’s were created to reduce wildlife loss through pesticides. Would you guys rather we go back to killing birds and fish than using a naturally-occurring bit of DNA?

  43. Ewan Ross Says:

    “If what you are proposing is factual in India, do you really think so many cotton farmers would be committing suicide?

    Do you assert that the newspaper is lying about the failure and banning of 3 Monsanto cotton lines?”

    Deborah – yes and no. The suicide figures for cotton farmers have remained relatively unchanged pre and post Bt cotton introduction. It appears that Bt cotton has not actually had a significant impact on farmer suicides. What is clear is that average incomes have increased, adoption of Bt cotton is practically ubiquitous, and the use of more harmful pesticides has decreased. I would assume that poor yields/failed crops for other reasons (drought, other insect pressure, other weather aspects) combined with punitive interest on loans (which may or may not be taken out directly for agricultural useage) drives the higher suicide rate amongst farmers than other individuals – a failed crop is a failed crop regardless of whether it is GM or non GM – due to the suicide rate remaining unchanged one can but assume the failure of crops due to events outside of the control of genetic modification, or the farmers themselves must have remained relatively similar.

    On the truth of the 3 varieties statement, I have no idea – in an admittedly brief search all I can find is that an NGO demanded the license be withheld, but the story you linked is all I have found which actually states that any varieties have been banned/withheld.

    (and apologies for going off topic, I’d rather do that than have comments go unanswered though)

  44. George Kalogridis Says:

    …”with the reality being that the introduction and useage of GM cotton in India has led to huge increases in yield, huge increases in financial security for cotton farmers,”….

    So how do you explain this news story?

    US: Cotton farmers sue Monsanto, Bayer, and Delta&Pine for crop loss

    by Carey Gillam, Reuters
    February 24th, 2006

    More than 90 Texas cotton farmers have sued Monsanto Co. and two affiliated companies, claiming they suffered widespread crop losses because Monsanto failed to warn them of a defect in its genetically altered cotton product.

    The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Marshall, Texas, seeks an injunction against what it calls a “longstanding campaign of deception,” and asks the court to award both actual and punitive damages.

    In addition to Monsanto, the suit names Delta & Pine Land Co. and Bayer CropScience L.P., producers and retailers of Monsanto’s biotech cotton. A Delta & Pine Land spokeswoman said the company had no comment and no one for Bayer, a unit of Bayer AG, returned phone calls seeking comment.

    Monsanto, which denies the allegations, wants the complaints removed from the court system and handled through arbitration. About half of the farmers agreed this week to enter into arbitration, but others have not. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Monday in Austin.

    The farmers’ essential claim is that Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” cotton did not tolerate applications of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer as it has been genetically altered to do.

    The farmers claim there is evidence that the promoter gene inserted into the cotton seeds in the genetic modification process does not work as designed in extreme high heat and drought conditions, allowing herbicide to eat into plant tissue, leading to boll deformity, shedding and reduced yields.

    The plaintiffs claim Monsanto knew this but did not disclose it so the farmers would continue to buy and use Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

    “We feel like Monsanto’s been lying to us all along,” said B.B. Krenek, a Wharton, Texas cotton consultant who is working with a number of affected farmers.

    Monsanto spokesman Andrew Berchet said there is no evidence that anything other than the weather is to blame for the technology that caused the crop losses.

    “As far as we can tell this is weather related. The month of June was one of the driest and hottest in more than a century,” said Berchet. “We don’t see evidence that this is related to our product.”

    But farmer Alan Stasney said he has evidence in his fields. A strip of cotton four rows across and 3,000 feet long that inadvertently was not treated with Roundup yielded 1,051 pounds of lint per acre at harvest, while on either side of those rows, cotton that was treated with Roundup yielded only 675 pounds per acre.

    Stasney said the lost yield cost him more than $250,000 in sales and forced him to refinance his farm.

    “It is just a real sad situation,” said Stasney. “There are a lot of people in a world of hurt because of that.”

  45. ogre Says:

    Jeff (et al.),

    My father spent his career in aerospace–and the vast majority of it was helping design and build rockets… and the silos… that were the bedrock of the lunacy of the Cold War’s MAD. He believed in it (then) as a meaningful, important act–one that helped protect us.

    Looking back, his view’s very, very, very different.

    He wasn’t stupid, and he wasn’t evil–in that cartoony sense where we’re told that the evil-doers (h/t George Dubya) sit around rubbing their hands together, cackling and planning their next evil act. Those are, well, cartoons. Despite the fantasies, none of the tyrants of the 20th century did that. And I’ve no doubt that they–and those working in the governments and businesses of those states–didn’t think of themselves as evil, either, nor think they were even doing evil.

    Saying “I’m no evil” is rather an empty claim. It’s like Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” It’s highly questionable… at least. It’s more than well worth investigating why someone would make the charge. Lawsuits that accuse farmers of THEFT when a GMO product *contaminates* their fields, without their knowledge or wish? Lawsuits that–given the economics of farming and those of large corporations–almost inevitably mean that it’s a choice of doing what’s wrong and caving in, or of being destroyed?

    The presumption that GMOs are safe–harmless, innocuous–and have no unintended side effects or consequences? That’s absurd; the very idea is utterly unscientific. We know that organisms and ecologies are complex, and that genes often do more than one thing. We know that. We know that there are unexpected interactions. We know that. But Monsanto (et al.) insist that nothing they do will do anything but the one or two beneficial things they intend.

    Absurd. Sooner or later, one of those will be the thalidomide of biotech. Only it’ll be found out when it’s been spread wide and has contaminated the larger genepool. Ooops, sorry. The testing regime is simply inadequate and the assumptions underlying it are driven by little other than corporate profits. That the initial *science* is undertaken with high ideals isn’t an excuse or a justification.

    As for the assertion that GMO is just like natural mutation… that’s inane. The kinds of changes aren’t — frequently — things that would have developed. Maybe they’re innocuous… but the genetic crap shoot being played at is simply too uncertain to unleash such things without *extended* periods of testing under highly controlled conditions. Drugs undergo more intensive scrutiny–but they aren’t being unleashed into the ecology, nor will innocent bystanders be sued into bankruptcy for having breathed air or drunk water that contain traces of those drugs.

    Lastly, with corporations like Monsanto controlling access to the patented seeds so that no one can do any honest, independent testing and investigation into the effects of GMOs… means that the “data” is utterly cherry picked and totally one-sided. Again, the antithesis of science.

    Evil? Not in initial vision or intent, probably. But the results and the consequences? Probably so. And my father would see the pattern in an instant, Jeff.

  46. Ewan Ross Says:

    George –

    I said “useage of GM cotton in India”

    you quote a story about

    “US: Cotton farmers”

    So, the two stories aren’t entirely connected. I’m having a little trouble finding any information other than the news story, or variants of it around the lawsuit – suffice to say that all the scientific data I am pulling up around Bt cotton yield performance in the US shows a 2-10% increase in yield. Hopefully someone with better knowledge of cotton in general, and that case specifically can say something about it.

    Ogre –

    Monsanto doesn’t accuse farmers of THEFT when a GMO product *contaminates* their field – they may well do this when a farmer actively goes out of their way to infinge patents – this does however have to be a knowing deliberate act and not just a case of a few stray seeds being present in their field.

    The presumption that sooner or later a biotech plant will be the equivalent is more absurd and unscientific than the presumption that GMOs are safe, harmless and inocuous – the weight of scientific evidence to date supports the stance that currently available commercial GMOs are safe.
    The fact that genes and ecosystems are complex and that genes often do more than one thing is a pretty tenuous linkage, and to then jump to the conclusion that because of this GMOs are dangerous is somewhat simplistic. Indeed the complexity of genes, and their multiple effects, are explain why there are only a handful of commercially available transgenics out there right now, and why it is so difficult to engineer others.

    These products all go through extensive testing. How extensive exactly do you propose the testing be? I’m guessing so prohibitively extensive as to make them completely economically pointless. And as stated above nobody who is innocent ends up getting sued into bankrupcy.

    Asserting that a GMO is like a natural mutation is perhaps somewhat inane. No natural mutation (or radiologically/chemically induced mutation) will undergo anywhere near the level of testing that a GMO will go through, and as we know that genes and ecologies are complex and that genes may have more than one effect surely we should be against any altered genes not going through at least this bare minimum that GMO genes have to go through? After all the genes in GMOs are already out there in the ecosystem in some form or another – these mutant genes most likely have never seen the light of day. This genetic crap-shoot apparently doesnt worry anybody however, despite the fact that totally unguided mutation has produced cyanide forming enzymes, snake venom, and the various mycotoxins which make it so foolish to eat wild mushrooms without at least a certain degree of knowledge about them.

    How exactly you assign your probability of evil in terms of results and consequences is equally baffling – I’m assuming you plucked it completely out of the air based on a gut feeling that because certain things are complicated, and beecause certain other unrelated things have been dangerous in the past, then therefore it illogically follows that GMOs must, at some future point, be dangerous (despite not proving so over the past decade) – one could look at it from a slightly more logical stance, in terms of global population, food security, yield, pesticide useage, herbicide useage, water useage, nitrogen useage – although the conclusions drawn may be somewhat different.

  47. Ewan Ross Says:

    will be the equivalent… of thalidomide, got so riled and invective filled that apparently I forgot all the words….

  48. Joe Conway Says:

    Does anyone have any comments on the following news release by Monsanto?

    “Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto Complete U.S. and Canadian Regulatory Authorizations for SmartStax Corn; Plans Set to Launch Seed Platform on 3 Million- to 4 Million-Plus Acres”

    http://www.boliven.com/news_release/200907201630PR_NEWS_USPR_____DE48779

  49. John Q Says:

    Joe, while I agree that is an exciting topic which needs addressing, it is not particularly relevant to “I Am Monsanto”.

    Can I suggest you re-state your request in
    http://blog.monsantoblog.com/monsanto-according-to-monsanto/suggestion-box/

  50. Deborah Rubin Says:

    ogre, I thought your points were very well taken and kindly explained as they relate to Jeff’s post. The benefit of a lifetime of experience in retrospect, very well-examined, relevant yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    Try as he might, Ewan will have a difficult time trying to obfuscate the parallel. Most of us know where the weight of the body of studies comes from and that although these genes are out there, they are not in the same species or kingdom in nature and the full implications of their insertion into another genome can not be completely understood. It’s amazing
    Ewan tries to deny such a widely held theory. He says, “The fact that genes and ecosystems are complex and that genes often do more than one thing is a pretty tenuous linkage, and to then jump to the conclusion that because of this GMOs are dangerous is somewhat simplistic.” Oh really? You are actually serious, Ewan?

    Ewan, The danger logically follows when you modify something you do not fully understand. And then you release it into a living ecosystem, and feed it to your people and the other inhabitants.

    Most of us also know that Bt cotton is less productive than conventional in some areas. Even though Ewan is “having a little trouble finding any information other than the news story, or variants of it around the lawsuit – suffice to say.” There is plenty of evidence out there for anyone who wants to find it. He might try using Googlescholar or some similar search engine…

    It’s interesting that Ewan cites food security in his “slightly more logical stance”–whose? water usage: gm cotton is more water intensive, how is that good for the environment; herbicide usage–okay as long as it’s roundup I bet, which releases phosporous and CO2 and new studies show it is harmful as well. Perhaps that’s where Ewan’s global population benefit comes in. And resistance may require a bit of atrazine, 2,4-D, and now liberty link as well, but…herbicide usage must be going down–oh wait, on another thread Ewan or Brad explained that herbicide use would be expected to rise with RR crops–that being the point or something….

    And that handful of gmo’s out there, Ewan, are grown in legions. And then there is the number in open field trials around the world.

    SmartStax, we see it in the financial pages and farm press. I never see it in the Thursday Food Section of my paper, though. “Coming soon, various insectides and herbicides in and on your family’s food. What’s for dinner this weekend, America?” I guess the consumer interest could be a concern. They might not see the added value. Is it true that the stack is assumed GRAS without any testing because the individual traits are considered GRAS? Was there any safety testing of this whole organism? Should there be based on the “tenuous” theory, according to Ewan, that one gene has more than one function in the genome and could therefore be harmful in some unforeseen way? Now, How about performance testing? Did Monsanto and USDA invest in that? Because it may not follow that 8 stacks would perform as 1 or 2 or 3?

    And, finally–for now, let’s not overlook the fact that Monsanto is going back to work on gmo wheat. That about sums it up for staple crops.

  51. Kelly Says:

    I wish there were projections on how many more people a year worldwide would die of hunger if it weren’t for American mass-production agriculture.

  52. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah:-

    Yes I’m serious. The linkage between genes being complex and potentially pleitropic, and ecosystems being complex is a tenuous link, chocolate is tasty, and marshmallow can be used for more than one thing – should I therefore conclude that chocolate covered marshmallows are, oh, lets say, gravity defying?

    There is a complete lack of logical connection a) between the two statements, and b) between this erroneous linkage, and final conclusion.

    On the lawsuit – I’m pretty sure you’re not going to find legal information on google scholar, and it was specifically information on the lawsuit which I was looking for, the quick look on google scholar will turn out results pointing out that Bt cotton outperforms non-Bt in most circumstances (although I think I muddied the water somewhat there mentioning Bt cotton, as the story was about roundup ready… apologies for that) – again, I’ll reiterate that I can’t find any other information around this (I’d also like some) other than the original story or versions of it in which a monsanto spokesperson attributes the poor yield to the weather and not the transgene (I’ll reiterate my hope that someone with more knowledge about cotton, and this case in particular, will say something about it)

    Food security – everyone’s. (Take Malawi and corn as a case in point)

    Water useage – I’m pretty sure that any increased water useage by GM plants is more a function of the hybrids being used rather than the transgenes, and with drought tolerant transgenes being something which will be released in coming years one can hardly use past performance as a good indicator of transgenics engineered for more efficient water use.

    Herbicide useage – when compared to crops grown with other herbicides RR crops use less toxic herbicides and have a lower environmental impact. In an ideal world yes, zero herbicide useage would be great, and whoever develops a system for any of the major crops which allows for no herbicide useage while maintaining the same yields and profitability will become mindnumbingly rich (and no, organic systems categorically do not offer this alternative)

    I dont believe I ever stated that a theory that a gene *may* have more than one function was tenuous (what was tenuous was linking this idea with the idea that ecosystems were complex)

    Monsanto has invested in performance testing of smartstax – just as they invest in performance testing of every GMO they produce – if the stacks didn’t work they wouldn’t be released, because if they don’t perform, nobody will buy them.

  53. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Kelly, you would also have to show that such mass production could only be achieved with gmo’s to solidify your case. And what about the projected damage to be figured in, and how to figure it? How do we quantify–or even prove–some of the resources we have lost? Monsanto’s claim of increased yields is also contentious as many official studies show just the opposite result, decreased yields and increased inputs. Some problems with the use of glyphosate are listed here: http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/dpi/nrenfa.nsf/93a98744f6ec41bd4a256c8e00013aa9/02221cb57c86c26eca25739c001727c9/$FILE/45-Harper.pdf

    And Ewan, what is your “slightly more logical stance” on nitrogen usage? How about in conjuction with roundup usage? Can you say that you will enhance nitrogen efficiency in one crop while glyphosate and/or roundup usage has decreased nitrogen fixation for 25 years or so?

    http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/research/s302/S-302_Annual_Report_2004.pdf

    Don Huber (IN) reported that glyphosate reduced manganese uptake in soybean. Deficiency can be corrected with foliar Mn applications. Other reported effects of glyphosate included: (1) reduced Mn uptake, (2) immobilization of Mn, (3) reduced root nodulations and N fixation, (4) increased drought stress, (5) earlier maturity, (6) more susceptibility to diseases, and (7) changes in soil microflora (rhizobium, fusaria, disease predisposition). He reported Corynesporum on dead ragweed roots and reduced growth on adjacent soybean plant sprayed with glyphosate. This was not observed on soybean plants 18 inches away.

  54. Ewan Ross Says:

    My slightly more logical stance on nitrogen useage is based on the current investment into development of more nitrogen efficient crops rather than any currently released product (as with water, although the wait for N efficient transgenic crops is going to be somewhat longer) – this is a subject close to my heart as it is the team I work on.

    Can we say that we will enhance Nitrogen efficiency in one crop while roundup has reduced N fixation for 25 years (I question this figure… anyone spraying roundup on N fixing crops prior to the introduction of RR crops was killing their crop, therefore any roundup useage on any vegetation prior to the introduction of RR crops cannot be seen to have reduced N fixation as without a doubt the vegetation, and with it the N fixing microbes, would have been removed by some other method – soil bacteria in other soils treated with glyphosate would I assume be affected by other herbicides, and would most likely recolonize soil relatively quickly considering the speed at which glyphosate is removed from the soil) or so (perhaps you just have very big error bars)?

    Yes. I dont see any logical reason why one would preclude the other. If we can develop an N efficient corn (and we believe we can, and invest a lot in this area, and you’ll hear about whether we make any progress or not when Monsanto reports a phase transition for the project) which for instance reduces the requirement of the crop for N fertilizers by say 30-60lbs of N per acre (a tough goal, but within the range of what we’d like to do) would have huge impacts both environmentally and financially (I did a back of the envelope calculation a while back taking into account total US corn acreage, average fertilizer useage, and this average -30 and -60lbs – suffice to say the difference in spend on N fertilizers was in the billions of dollars) and is completely unconnected with any other aspect of what Monsanto does. (keep in mind that corn doesnt fix nitrogen symbiotically (yet – hopefully by 2050 Monsanto (or someone at least)will have pioneered that particular technology also))

    I also seem to recall that the effects on symbiotic N fixers in soy was a transient effect with no effect on yield within season or on the subsequent crop (basically you apply the roundup, it knocks out the symbiotic N fixers, but then they return) – this was a I believe in a paper you had previously linked on the same subject.

  55. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    July 27, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Monsanto has invested in performance testing of smartstax – just as they invest in performance testing of every GMO they produce – if the stacks didn’t work they wouldn’t be released, because if they don’t perform, nobody will buy them.

    _____________________

    What about the safety testing? Too bad that we can’t say that without adequate safety testing we won’t eat them…

    Is the absurdity of your chocolate fluff analogy meant to take away from the from the serious risk of modified genes having unforeseen, adverse effects on an organism which then perpetuates its genes, itself, freely in nature…Is it so much of a leap to conclude that one reaction causes another reaction in a fluid, living system? Is it likely that an action will have a reaction?

    What would be the odds that a gene constructed with man’s limited knowledge, inserted into an organism he does not fully understand, set loose in a living sytem he does not fully understand– might have negative, unforeseen consequences? I wonder what the odds are that it doesn’t already? You know there have been unforeseen consequences already. How bad they are, only time will tell. The genes are not logically removed from the dynamics of the ecosystem. You are wielding fluff!

  56. jg Says:

    Deborah – ‘mass production’ started way before GMO’s were thought of. There are lots and lots of ‘mass produced’ food that are not GMO – for instance – all organic food that you do not grow in your back yard or pick up from the farm yourself.
    I like mass produce food – it gets washed before I get it and preserved (frozen, dried or canned) for me so I can eat in the winter.
    I like garden fresh too- it is super yummy. I will literally go home tonight and pick green beans an cucumbers for my dinner. I did not grow enought to can this year, however my sister texted my a picture of the pickles she canned last night. I hope she used my grandma’s recipe! – again – super yummy!

  57. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – the absurdity of my analogy is merely meant to mirror the absurdity of the original genes might have more than one effect, ecosystems are complex, therefore GMOs are dangerous.

    You hit the nail on the head when you bring probabilities into it. I’d rephrase the “What would be the odds that a gene constructed with man’s limited knowledge, inserted into an organism he does not fully understand, set loose in a living sytem he does not fully understand– might have negative, unforeseen consequences?”

    To a more concrete less biased statement along the lines of:-

    What would be the odds that a gene inserted into an organism and released into the environment has negative consequences.

    (the might have is unneccessary when discussing a probability in the first place)

    My guess would be spectacularly low. Especially considering the vast amount we do know about inserting genes, the vast amount we do know about the organisms we are inserting them into, and the vast amount known about the genes being inserted. I get rather tired of the continued repetition that we dont know anything yet blindly go ahead releasing these things willy nilly. Man’s knowledge will always be limited (lets hope so, or the entire field of science will cease to exist), I dont see that we will ever “fully” understand anything, let alone living systems (following your same logic we should never do anything, ever, as we dont understand the system in which we are operating). However we are not in a perpetual state of ignorance. There’s a lot we do know, and a lot we don’t (and we revel in this gap in our knowledge as it gives us something to do) – we bring what we do know to the table, expand on this, and use this knowledge to improve agriculture.

    Oh and you can say that without adequate safety testing you won’t eat them. Buy organic.

  58. Deborah Rubin Says:

    jg Says:

    July 29, 2009 at 3:16 pm
    Deborah – ‘mass production’ started way before GMO’s were thought of. There are lots and lots of ‘mass produced’ food that are not GMO
    +++++++++++++++++
    jg-I did not say that mass production of food started after gmo’s were introduced. I said that for Kelly to “imply” gmo farming had enabled the feeding of so many people who would otherwise not be have been fed, she would have to prove that the increases in food are caused by the farming of gmo’s specifically and not just mass production of crops. Perhaps Kelly was not making that point, since she did not mention gmo’s. I was assuming that to be her point.

  59. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Oh and you can say that without adequate safety testing you won’t eat them. Buy organic.

    ++++++++++++++++++
    I can’t actually say that for certain as we both know organic crops get contaminated and can still be labelled organic. Seed gets contaminated and limited by buyouts.

    But what a world this would be if Monsanto were as concerned about safety testing a crop before releasing it as they were about performance testing–I wish farmers would adopt this concern as well.

  60. Ewan Ross Says:

    However Deborah, if you buy organic you vote with your wallet, which is what corporate America listens to, and also any ‘risk’ that did exist with any given GMO would be so diluted as to no longer be a risk (if it was a risk at the miniscule %age which may or may not exist within any organic product then it would be hard to argue that the increased risk from 100% GMO would not have been detected (yet for present GMOs, and in the future under any kind of testing regime)

    I’d also argue (or repeat others sentiments on the blogs) that Monsanto are concerned about safety testing crops and ensuring as far as possible that any gene that actually reaches the testing stage (in a crop) is as safe as possible (everything goes through a bioinformatics toxicology/allergen screening before ever being inserted) – there is just a disagreement between what the anti-GMO crowd consider enough testing (but is it safe when grown under a half moon during a leap year within 1500 ft of a major highway to a certain specific cell line in vitro when run by an experimenter named Georgio) and what scientific convention considers enough testing (what is done)

    Following from the various ‘not enough testing’ arguements I’m pretty sure one could also argue that performance testing was never ‘fully’ performed because it wasn’t done over 20 years and in every possible growing condition.

  61. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Is there any peer-reviewed safety testing of the SmartStax line available, Ewan?

  62. Matericia Says:

    “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”
    Mahatma Gandhi

    You can pat yourself on the back for what you think you are doing for the hungry, but your capitalist mentality will soon finish us off. Your draconian tactics against farmers, against science, against regulation are causing harm to those you profess to help.

    Seeding the FDA and other regulatory agencies with former politicians and cronies is unfair to the American People. Your profits give you power, but your power is hollow. Two or three more exposes by investigative reports like Barlett and Steele and you are sunk.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805

    I don’t appreciate the patronizing tone of your response to the question of Indian suicides. The link you provided is a cold calculation on the profits in some report in 2004. It seems like in corporations a certain amount of suffering and death is part of doing business.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Monsanto_in_India

  63. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – not as far as I am aware, I believe that the reasoning behind this is sound in that every trait in smartstax has gone through rigorous safety testing and there is no reason to assume interactions between the various traits in regards to safety.

    Matericia – How well informed on projected population growth, projected food demand, and available land for agriculture was Gandhi when he made those statements? In the idealistic world yes, the Earth most likely could support it’s burdgeoning population on what it can produce without help, but what draconian tactics and harsh regulations would we need to impose to make everyone a vegetarian and to cut caloric intake in developed nations to 50% of where they currently are? In the real world, for the forseeable future, demand for food is going to increase faster than population growth (as the developing world catches up to the developed world in terms of what it eats). I dont see that attempting to provide for these demands will in any way “finish us off” – quite the opposite, based on the unrest globally during the onset of the food crisis – lack of affordable food is far more likely to deal a blow to society than an attempt to provide affordable food.

    On india (again) http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/03/26/indian-farmer-suicide-the-bottom-line/

    and the subsequent discussion likely cover your points – suffice to say the main arguement that Monsanto is behind the deaths is a purely profit or lack thereof based one, therefore it makes sense that the response point out that the introduction of Bt corresponds with huge increases in average cotton farmer income hand in hand with *no appreciable change in suicide rate amongst farmers* – The sad fact is that it appears a higher than average suicide rate is part of farming in India in general, whereas Monsanto’s part in Indian agriculture is to increase the wellbeing of the majority of adopters of the technology. You can read the finer points of the arguement in the link provided.

  64. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:
    August 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm
    Deborah – not as far as I am aware, I believe that the reasoning behind this is sound in that every trait in smartstax has gone through rigorous safety testing and there is no reason to assume interactions between the various traits in regards to safety.
    ___________________________
    Ewan, are you absolutely certain no safety testing was done, but that performance testing was done? If performance could be affected, why couldn’t safety? This doesn’t make sense to me at all. Should corporations such as your own just be making assumptions about the safety of your crop inventions, our food? There is an ultimate disconnect to the very purpose of the endeavor! ALL emphasis and insurance is on the production rather than the product–food safety and quality!
    Does Monsanto have any answers to these specific items regarding SmartStax?
    http://www.bmgfj.gv.at/cms/site/attachments/9/7/5/CH0808/CMS1228994124985/ages_stn__-_mais_mon89034x1507xmon88017x59122_public_version.pdf [confidential? parts left out]
    A stacked organism has to be regarded as a new event, even if no new modifications
    have been introduced. The gene‐cassette combination is new and only minor
    conclusions could be drawn from the assessment of the parental lines, since unexpected
    effects (e.g. synergistic effects of the newly introduced proteins) cannot automatically
    be excluded.
    The data submitted for molecular characterisation of GM maize
    MON88017xMON89034x1507x59122 consist of southern blots to demonstrate the
    presence of the introduced traits (Cry1A.105, Cry2Ab2, Cry3Bb1, Cry1F, Cry34Ab1,
    Cry35Ab1, pat and epsps) by comparative analysis with the parental single events. These
    data however are not entirely sufficient to demonstrate that the structure of the inserts
    is conserved, and that the likelihood for changes due to interaction of transgenic
    elements by recombination is low.

    In the technical dossier, the notifier says that the safety of all transproteins, Cry1A.105,
    Cry2Ab2, Cry1F, Cry3Bb1, Cry34Ab1, Cry35Ab1, PAT and CP4 EPSPS, expressed in the
    test material GM maize MON89034x1507xMON88017x59122 have been discussed in
    detail in other applications for authorisation. This concerns, amongst other things,
    history of safe use, structural description and digestion in simulated gastric fluid. In
    contrast to this, we would like to point out that:
    • there is no history of safe use of the new recombinant protein expressed by an
    artificially arranged insert such as Cry1A.105.
    • concerning all Bt toxins, a history of safe use cannot be argued on the basis of the
    safety of Bt sprays applied in organic farming. The inserted genes are truncated
    and arranged with expression modulating DNA parts originating from different
    organisms and permanently expressed compared to a tight timely Bt spraying
    schedule (Lewis et al. 1997; Sexton et al. 2007).
    • all eight transproteins used in acute toxicity tests (Cry1A.105, Cry2Ab2, Cry1F,
    Cry3Bb1, Cry34Ab1, Cry35Ab1, pat CP4 EPSPS) originated from microbial
    expression systems. Establishing structural and functional equivalence of this test
    proteins and the plant derived proteins adds uncertainties to the interpretation
    of the animal tests (Spök et al. 2008), thus, only limited information about the
    plant expressed transproteins can be obtained.
    Additionally, a 90‐day rat feeding study with GM maize 59122 (Malley 2004) showed
    alterations of total protein and albumin levels, and we are still of the opinion that this
    study should be repeated, as recommended and remarked by Austria in the scientific
    comment on triple stack GM maize 59122x1507xNK603 transferred to EFSA in
    September 2007.
    Furthermore, according to EFSA, a potential for increased toxicity and/or allergenicity to
    humans and animals or for modified nutritional value due to the stacked events may
    arise from additive, synergistic or antagonistic effects of the gene products or by these
    produced metabolites (EFSA 2007). But the safety of all newly expressed proteins in
    animal models applied simultaneously and combined was not assessed in the dossier.
    Insecticidal Cry proteins produced by GM plants as well as transproteins conferring
    tolerance to herbicides constitute a sum of new plant constituents possibly interacting
    within the organism. So far, there is absolutely no scientific knowledge about such new
    combinations and possibly resulting additive and/or synergistic effects. Therefore, at
    least one subchronic feeding study (90‐days) with rodents with the whole GM maize
    plant (MON89034x1507xMON88017x59122) should be carried out.
    Additionally, the introduction of multigeneration studies focusing on reproduction in the
    risk assessment process should be considered, at least on a case‐by‐case basis. So far,
    although GM crops have now been grown for over 20 years, only very few life‐term
    and/or multigeneration studies have been carried out (Domingo 2007; Dona and
    Arvanitoyannis 2009).
    Moreover it is suggested to carry out mutagenicity tests on bacteria with the
    transproteins.
    Furthermore, in the dossier it is remarked, “the history of safe use of the Cry proteins by
    humans on agricultural crops for over 10 years, either as the active ingredients in Bt
    microbial pesticides and/or in biotechnology derived food and feed crops (maize and
    cotton). There are no known reports of allergy or toxicity to Bt or to the Cry proteins” (p.
    83). Actually, the simple fact that GM corn has been grown for over 10 years on millions
    of hectars, and that no reports about adverse effects have been transmitted is no proof
    for safety. The same could have been said about DDT and many other synthetic
    agricultural supplies that are now banned. Since GM products have not been labelled in
    the USA and Canada, no epidemiological survey of potential effects has been conducted.
    Thus, if the GM food may or may not play its part in the increase of nutrition‐related
    health distubances such as allergies and food intolerances cannot be clarified.
    Additionally, allergic reactions against Bt toxins have been reported in farm workers
    exposed to Bt containing pesticides (Bernstein et al. 1999).

  65. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – I’m not absolutely sure that no safety testing was done, but as far as I am aware I dont believe this is the case.

    The performance testing is needed to ensure that everything that is put into the genome is doing what it should be and that any ‘yield drag’ effects are negligible – also to supply hard data to buyers as to what it is that they are buying.

    Getting back to the probabilities mentioned earlier – there are very real probabilities that a given cross between two inbred lines may not perform as well as currently used elite hybrids. There are very real probabilities that a given event may not perform as well as you would like. As these probabilities are very real, and would have a significant impact on the end product, they are tested for, and any combinations which dont work – dont become products. (it may surprise people to learn that a single transgenic event (or stack thereof) is not what goes all the way from conception to product – part of the 10 year development is sorting out the winners from the losers to ensure that only those that actually work make it as commercial products)

    The safety side of things however, as far as I see it, does not pose a real probable danger when combining genes (particularly by conventional breeding which the austrian document still has issues with) already proven safe within the genome of the species at question (Zea mays in this case) – the same ‘risks’ of recombination etc exist for genes throughout the genome of the organism (ie no risk at all)

    Should performance and safety testing be seen as equal, in that if you do one it should mandate the other? I’d argue no. I work at the very beginning stages of performance testing, when October comes around I’ll be swamped with field performance data. It’s an exciting time because there is so much data, and so many interpretations to make from this data. Different events of the same gene may give wildly different yield results, hundreds (if not more) of man hours are spent pouring over this vast haystack of data to extract a few needles which hopefully will become the products of tomorrow. Performance varies. Hugely. Compare this to (I believe… it was in another blog and I dont have the energy to search for the exact quote) Dr.Dan’s relative ambivalence to the various safety studies – great in that they all come to the same conclusion, but somewhat frustrating to be involved in because the end result is so highly predictable that no doubt it feels like you are wasting your time.

    Should corporations be making assumptions about the safety of the crops they produce? Not in a vacuum, no. Government (and independant)scientists should also be assessing the validity of these assumptions (which as far as I am aware results in a majority accepting the validity, with the obvious vocal minority providing the impetus for your opposition), there should also be a framework in place whereby if these assumptions prove to be wrong the consequences be dire (in this case for the company involved).

  66. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Will anyone at Monsanto address the specific comments of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health, those which I listed above, regarding the questionable safety of consuming SmartStax corn?

    1. A stacked organism has to be regarded as a new event, even if no new modifications
    have been introduced….data however are not entirely sufficient to demonstrate that the structure of the inserts is conserved, and that the likelihood for changes due to interaction of transgenic elements by recombination is low.

    2. There is no history of safe use of the new recombinant protein expressed by an artificially arranged insert such as Cry1A.105. [IS THIS TRUE?]

    3. Concerning all Bt toxins, a history of safe use cannot be argued on the basis of the
    safety of Bt sprays applied in organic farming. The inserted genes are truncated and arranged with expression modulating DNA parts originating from different organisms and permanently expressed compared to a tight timely Bt spraying
    schedule (Lewis et al. 1997; Sexton et al. 2007).

    4. All eight transproteins used in acute toxicity tests (Cry1A.105, Cry2Ab2, Cry1F,
    Cry3Bb1, Cry34Ab1, Cry35Ab1, pat CP4 EPSPS) originated from microbial expression systems. Establishing structural and functional equivalence of this test proteins and the plant derived proteins adds uncertainties to the interpretation of the animal tests (Spök et al. 2008), thus, only limited information about the
    plant expressed transproteins can be obtained.

    5. Additionally, a 90‐day rat feeding study with GM maize 59122 (Malley 2004) showed
    alterations of total protein and albumin levels, and we are still of the opinion that this
    study should be repeated, as recommended and remarked by Austria in the scientific
    comment on triple stack GM maize 59122×1507xNK603 transferred to EFSA in
    September 2007.

    6. Furthermore, according to EFSA, a potential for increased toxicity and/or allergenicity to
    humans and animals or for modified nutritional value due to the stacked events may arise from additive, synergistic or antagonistic effects of the gene products or by these produced metabolites (EFSA 2007). But the safety of all newly expressed proteins in animal models applied simultaneously and combined was not assessed in the dossier.

    Insecticidal Cry proteins produced by GM plants as well as transproteins conferring tolerance to herbicides constitute a sum of new plant constituents possibly interacting within the organism. So far, there is absolutely no scientific knowledge about such new
    combinations and possibly resulting additive and/or synergistic effects. Therefore, at
    least one subchronic feeding study (90‐days) with rodents with the whole GM maize
    plant (MON89034×1507xMON88017×59122) should be carried out.

    Additionally, the introduction of multigeneration studies focusing on reproduction in the risk assessment process should be considered, at least on a case‐by‐case basis. So far, although GM crops have now been grown for over 20 years, only very few life‐term and/or multigeneration studies have been carried out (Domingo 2007; Dona and Arvanitoyannis 2009).

    7. Moreover it is suggested to carry out mutagenicity tests on bacteria with the
    transproteins.

    8. Actually, the simple fact that GM corn has been grown for over 10 years on millions
    of hectars, and that no reports about adverse effects have been transmitted is no proof
    for safety. Since GM products have not been labelled in the USA and Canada, no epidemiological survey of potential effects has been conducted.

    Thus, if the GM food may or may not play its part in the increase of nutrition‐related
    health distubances such as allergies and food intolerances cannot be clarified.

  67. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – I’m not going to address all the points, just a couple (hopefully someone better qualified will cover the rest, although it may have to go via suggestions, I dont know – perhaps a smartstax specific blog will result?)

    2. – http://ps.fass.org/cgi/reprint/86/9/1972
    or http://ps.fass.org/cgi/content/abstract/86/9/1972
    if the full article isnt publicly available

    Shows a safety study with the Cry1A.105 protein – I assume the arguement being made is that there is no history of safety in terms of comparison to the other Bt proteins which have proven safe used in organic ag, and in transgenics since their release (that or the author cant do a spectacularly simple search)

    3. If true then surely 2 is pointless? I dont agree with the assertion, the mode of action of the proteins is the same whether sprayed or inserted into the plant, the safety of one gives a pretty good guarantee of the safety of the other.

    4. I’d personally guess that as the proteins are initially microbial, and work in plants, that the structure cannot be overly dissimilar (if plants altered the structure to a great degree the proteins would cease working)

    6. I dont see a credible reason to believe the proteins produced would interact synergistically or alter metabolite profiles of the transgenic plants in any significant way – the enzymes introduced are well characterized and serve the same function as the enzyme which the herbicide knocks out – as such I see no reason to suppose some additional as yet uncharacterized function. The insecticidal proteins are non-enzymatic, therefore I cant see a massive cause for concern in changes in metabolite levels, and interactions with other proteins in the plant proteome seem unlikely due to the high specificity proteins require to interact in a meaningful way – considering the evolutionary distance between the source organism and the plant it is unlikely that such specific interactions would exist.

    7. As all the transproteins (as far as I know) are sourced from bacteria it seems to me that testing for mutagenicity is somewhat an odd request, why would bacteria express mutagenic (to themselves) proteins.

    8. Equally then there is no proof of safety of any crop grown. I’m pretty confident that if any real effect was there that it would have been observed and tested by now.

    Hmm… that appears to be somewhat more than a couple… anyway hopefully someone with a little bit more expertise can come in and give a somewhat more official stance on these.

  68. Deborah Rubin Says:

    For starters, Ewan, the study you cite is not a safety study; it is a performance study. The two are not at all the same. From your bird finishing study:

    “Both studies were conducted to compare bird performance (feed intake, BW,and adjusted feed:gain), carcass yield, and meat quality
    of the birds fed the diets containing the test corn, control corn (genetic background similar to the test corn), and conventional corn.”

    This is not how a safety study is conducted. Safety is not measured by carcass yield and meat quality.

  69. Deborah Rubin Says:

    I hope someone with more expertise can come in and give a more official stance because your guesses and lack of scientific vision are not addressing the issues. Maybe you don’t see a credible reason to test for synergy, etc, but others in the scientific and consumer community do. What are your qualifications? And number 4, the fact that the proteins from bacterial production vs the protein expressed by the plant differ is an issue. They are different and can not therefore logically be assumed the same. It doesn’t make sense. They might very well still be toxic and work insecticidally, but have other toxic effects as well–because they are different.

  70. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    August 11, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    7. As all the transproteins (as far as I know) are sourced from bacteria it seems to me that testing for mutagenicity is somewhat an odd request, why would bacteria express mutagenic (to themselves) proteins
    ****************

    I believe what the Austrian Ministry of Health is referring to in this point:

    “7. Moreover it is suggested to carry out mutagenicity tests on bacteria with the
    transproteins.”

    is an Ames Test–The Health Ministry is not concerned that the proteins would be mutagenic to the bacteria producing them in Nature. It is people and animals about whom and which they are concerned: http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/A/AmesTest.html

    “The use of the Ames test is based on the assumption that any substance that is mutagenic (for the bacteria used in his test) may also turn out to be a carcinogen; that is, to cause cancer.”

    This is standard safety screening testing.

  71. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Of course, other important bacteria and life forms besides animals may be adversely affected by these transproteins as well. I don’t mean to exclude that risk.

  72. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah – my point around the Ames test is that it just doesn’t seem logical that a bacterial protein would be mutagenic to bacteria. Obviously to scientifically prove this the test would have to be done, although it seems from the outset to be a waste of resources.

    http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/A/Ames_Causes.html

    (following your link to a nice logical conclusion) also undermines to a certain extent the validity of positive Ames tests in making any kind of safety decisions, and, in an unrelated note, gives a good authoritative statement around fears of pesticide residue toxicity compared to lack of fears around a single cup of coffee. (so thanks for that, not a comparison I’d come across before)

    On number 4 again – you state as ‘fact’ that these proteins from plants and bacteria differ and that this is an issue – what evidence of difference do you have beyond a concern that there may be a difference? I still think it logically holds that if the proteins still work in the way that the bacterial protein works, and the coding regions are the same (in terms of amino acids, at a guess there may be some codon differences to achieve proper expression in plants) then the proteins themselves will also be the same (working on the assumption that modifications made by the plant to the protein would reduce or eliminate efficacy of the protein)

    What are the differences you are proposing? Why would you believe that these differences would then end up being harmful rather than either doing utterly nothing, or simply reducing or eliminating protein function.

    I’ll concede that no, the broiler study isnt directly a safety study, and that on a second look I’m not having much luck finding published info on the Cry1A.105 protein (I did find a safety level quoted for it in one paper, but unfortunately the reference was to unpublished research by Monsanto) – I still believe that the broiler study can be considered as a safety study to a certain extent (I think this came up in another posting in which Dr.Dan (I think…) explained the utility of broiler studies in looking at feed safety) although clearly not first choice.

    I’m also somewhat confused by your statement about a lack of scientific vision. Unless you’re defining scientific vision as seeing boogeymen under the bed and harm in everything we haven’t tested under every condition we can imagine. My coverage of the points was intended to address the points from a somewhat scientific stance (at least utilizing current scientific knowledge combined with a little logic – not exactly the scientific method at work, but good enough for a debate on the points I feel – or does only one side of the arguement get to attempt this style of debating?)

  73. Roger Says:

    Dear Jeff,

    Maybe you really believe in what you say. I really don’t understand one thing.. Why is Monsanto insistent on cumbersome FDA labeling for GM foods, when it is my fundamental right to put only what I wish in my body? If Monsanto really believes in what they say why not proudly emblazon GM modified right across the packet? Perhaps it is because Monsanto’s track record is nothing to be inspired by….it was the same company that claimed in the 1960s that Agent Orange did not have any effect other than defoliating trees!

  74. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Ewan Ross Says:

    August 17, 2009 at 8:40 am
    I’ll concede that no, the broiler study isnt directly a safety study, and that on a second look I’m not having much luck finding published info on the Cry1A.105 protein (I did find a safety level quoted for it in one paper, but unfortunately the reference was to unpublished research by Monsanto) –
    ++++++++++++++++++=
    It’s not even indirectly or anything close to a safety study and you should know that. Are there any real safety studies? If not, how does this get approved?

  75. Ewan Ross Says:

    Deborah

    It categorically is an inderect safety study. Not as powerful perhaps as a study designed specifically around safety, but a toxic/unsafe substance in the feed would most certainly effect the various growth parameters.

    Taking a bit of a better look around I came across this passage:-

    Monsanto Canada Inc. has submitted data from dietary toxicity studies on the effect of Cry1A.105 or Cry2Ab2 protein on non-target invertebrates, including the honeybee larvae and adult (Apis mellifera), minute pirate bug (Orius insidiosus), ladybird beetle (Coleomegilla maculata), a parasitic wasp (Ichneumon promissorius), and earthworm (Eisenia foetida). Collembola (Folsomia candida) were fed an artificial diet containing 50% of MON 89034 leaf tissue. In all cases, the Cry1A.105 and Cry2Ab2 proteins were demonstrated to be safe to these indicator species at doses equal to or exceeding 14 times the estimated environmental concentration of Cry1A.105 and Cry2Ab2 proteins in the diet of non-target invertebrates feeding on MON 89034 tissues or exposed to MON 89034 corn via their preys. In addition, no adverse effects were observed when the aquatic invertebrate Daphnia magna was exposed to MON 89034 corn pollen at a concentration of 100 mg/L, which indicates that no hazard is anticipated to aquatic invertebrates from exposure to MON 89034 corn pollen.

    Data was also submitted on non-target vertebrates including the mouse, the bobwhite quail and broiler chicken. No adverse effects were detected when mice were exposed to a single oral dose of 2,072 mg Cry1A.105 protein/kg body weight or 2,198 mg Cry2Ab2 protein /kg body weight. These doses represent several thousand times the worst-case daily dose of Cry1A.105 and Cry2Ab2 proteins to humans or livestock feeding on MON 89034 grain. No adverse effects were detected when bobwhite quail or broiler chicken were fed a diet containing 50% MON 89034 corn grain for 8 days and 42 days, respectively.

    In

    http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/plaveg/bio/dd/dd0874e.shtml#a11

    which a) shows there is more data available, at least to the regulatory bodies (acceptance by a regulatory body is a form of peer review, as the regulatory scientists can be considered peers – ideally though it would be nice if this data were also peer reviewed in a publically available scientific journal (it may be and my ability to find it may be the issue))
    b) shows that regulatory bodies do consider broiler studies as a form of safety study.


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