SSHOw: Roundup Ready GM Corn Study

SSHOw: Roundup Ready GM Corn Study

• You may have seen the competing headlines. Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors, 70% of females die early! Contrast this to a more critical response, Monsanto’s GM Corn And Cancer In Rats: Real Scientists Deeply Unimpressed. Politics Not Science Perhaps ?

Confused by the Controversy? Watch the ScienceSunday team dig into the dirt to get to the bottom of the issue, along with guest Alan McHughen , UC Davis Professor of Plant Sciences and author of the book, Pandora’s Picnic Basket; The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods.


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98 Responses to SSHOw: Roundup Ready GM Corn Study

  1. Rajini Rao says:

    Why is that, Simon Skiles ? What is your main objection?

  2. As Alan McHughen suggests, though, the practice of genetically modifying crops has been going on for quite a while — whether we know about it or not.  As such, you might well have already unknowingly consumed some.

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    If 70% of corn in the US is already pesticide tolerant, then yes, for sure. It’s not widespread in Europe, though.

  4. Rajini Rao It is the reason for the use big loads of roundup, for example. Then creating more resistent weeds and making farmers more and more dependent on big industries.

  5. There is a movement of scientists in the UK that are rallying against the default good press recieved by Organic farmers and want organically-produced food to be labelled ‘Land Inefficient”‘. Hehe. 

  6. Bailey Roe says:

    One of my biggest complaints is the companies themselves who do the GM crops. They abuse their power and lock the farmers into a cycle of dependence. GM crops also increase dependence on herbicides/pesticides and result in pests that are resistant to the -cides. This means either a stronger does must be used, or a new even more toxic product must be developed (usually by the same company selling the GM seeds). There have also been studies that show crops grown organically can better resist drought because the soil food web has not been destroyed by the chemicals being sprayed on the field. 

    Until more studies are done on the effects of GM corn on the body I can’t say one way or another if it can harm you that way, but the other effects I’ve mentioned above are enough for me to not want to support GM crops. 

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    Víktor Bautista i Roca , the business practices of Big Ag are another issue, even though they are entwined with the product. From a scientific perspective, eating a plant that has one mutation in one enzyme is no different than all the other plants we consume with hundreds of genetic variants.

    Pesticides can be toxic in high enough doses, sure! But the GM corn itself does not carry RoundUp or any pesticide, do you agree?

  8. If farmers didn’t spray Roundup, they’d continue to spray older herbicides, in various combinations. The use of GM crops has resulted in a dramatic reduction in overall pesticide use. Ans the ones that are used are less toxin than the older chemistries.

  9. Bailey Roe says:

    Even too much nitrogen can destroy the soil food web ( I did a study on this while obtaining a BS in Botany) and when the food web is disrupted you get plants that are weaker and more susceptible to disease and pests. 

    So it’s not that the GM itself decreases the drought tolerance  but the farming practices they promote decrease drought tolerance. I can’t find a direct link to the study, but this article goes into a decent amount of detail and cites the original study at the bottom of the article.

  10. Rajini Rao I was answering about the “I won’t touch GM corn” question.

    About the «eating a plant that has one mutation in one enzyme is no different than all the other plants we consume with hundreds of genetic variants.» they are not significantly different, but for me it is different me eating corn that has one random genetic mutation, and you eating another random genetic mutation, than millions of people eating the same new genetic mutation (I don’t really care if random or not). If my random mutation is in fact at long term dangerous, it will affect me and the ones eating from the same farm. If the mutation made by Monsanto ends up being dangerous at long term, it will affect millions of people.

  11. All plants undergo spontaneous mutations and evey plant can be expected to have dozens of mutations that make it genetically different from its parent. If you avoid eating somerthing because you  worry about spontaneous mutations, what do you eat?

  12. I think it is nearly impossible for someone to have not eaten any GM products at this point in time. There are many reasons to choose to avoid these products (poor taste probably being on the high end among others). The problem is not the technology ….as per history…it is what man does with it.

    If possible and I am not sure if it is ….why doesn’t the research community focus on Human studies? Those who consumed say Bt corn and those that have not. (There would be no problem getting participants?)

    Thanks all I enjoyed watching!

  13. Alan McHughen Has anybody in this thread said they are worried about spontaneous mutations?

  14. «I think it is nearly impossible for someone to have not eaten any GM products at this point in time.»

    Cheryl Ann MacDonald The world is bigger than the US.

  15. No insult mean’t there Víktor Bautista i Roca ahhhhh, but this makes the study even more possible….those that eat the GM and those that have not.

  16. Rajini Rao says:

    Víktor Bautista i Roca : But you have indeed been eating the same mutations as millions of other people because of selective breeding which as Alan explained in the HO, has been going on for thousands of years. Nearly all modern vegetables and cereals are the result of breeding and the same identical genetic variant is then planted mass scale. Apparently, carrots were never orange in the old days, now it’s impossible to find one that is not. Unless you are eating non-orange carrots, you are consuming the same genetic variant as millions of others. When I buy a packet of tomato seed at the local store, it has a brand name on it (e.g., Big Boy is a popular one in the US), which means that all packets of that named tomato are genetically identical. It’s not a wild tomato by any means. Also, many plants are propagated by cloning.

    I’m not defending Monsanto’s business practices, that is a separate issue. If you don’t want to eat their corn as a political statement that is perfectly A-OK with me. Perhaps I will even join you 🙂 But that is totally different from believing a scientifically rubbishy study that scares everybody into thinking that corn with one modified enzyme is going to give everyone cancer. That is an important distinction in my opinion.

  17. Max Huijgen says:

    The show would have been better if someone from the original study group had participated. 

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Max Huijgen , Seralini’s group? That would be practically impossible! I doubt that they are entertaining interview requests given the reception that their study has received. Would have been awesome, though! 🙂

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    Víktor Bautista i Roca brings up an excellent point: the world is bigger than the US. In fact, millions of people and animals have been consuming GM crops in the US for well over a decade, having passed safety regulations here. Yet, there are no studies showing an increase in cancer or any other disease in the US when compared to our European counterparts.

    Even more telling, rats and mice are fed chow with GM crops in them. Millions of them are used in laboratory research. If rats in American labs turned out to get cancer at a high rate, but not those in Europe, then this would have been rather obvious by now.

  20. 🙂 Still requesting a some “real research” Rajini Rao. The study is entirely possible with these products & glad to hear that the use of GM products is not as wide spread as I thought. (There are conflicting opinions on this one)

  21. Max Huijgen says:

    Yes Rajini Rao Someone who would defend the choices made in the study.

    Your attempt to make a comparison with Europe seems weak. There are so many differences between the US and Europe that the frequency of cancer would not reveal any or deny any influence of GM crops. 

    Lowly educated white Americans currently have a lower life expectancy than a decade ago; a first in modern history. Result of GM junk food? Too simple.

  22. Argh!!! I had spent 5 minutes writing a comment and this shitty G+ has deleted it (I just accidentally clicked outside the notifications frame). I’ll try to write it again.

    Rajini Rao In a certain way, orange carrots have ben “time proved”. And also they didn’t go from 10 eaters to 100 million eaters in less than 5 years.

    I believe in language diversity, in cultural diversity. I’m for biodiversity. I prefer there are different computer OS. I don’t even fancy cavendish bananas (in fact, in a few years we might have no bananas in the market as the ones we have now). So, I can not favor Monsanto’s soy or corn.

    By the way, I’m a computer engineer, and I think it’s really dangerous to have all the computers in an organization, even worse in a country, run the same OS and same programmes. That’s a reason why, even if I’m not a biologist, I don’t like this lack on domestic seeds diversity.

  23. Remember to distinguish between crops and food. Although only GM corn is cultivated in Europe, virtually all European consumers have eaten GM foods, either via meat from animals fed on imported GM feeds, or from eating hard cheese, almost all of which is made with chymosin from GM yeast. And don’t forget wine, fermented with GM yeast.

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Max Huijgen , I don’t personally know of any scientist who would defend their study, sad but true. An informed, open minded person can listen to the critique, read the blogs and reviews and make up their own mind. I wish we did have “the other view”, but you would be hard pressed to find one even here on G+ among practicing scientists, IMO.

    What is GM junk food? There is no such term. Junk food is high in carbs, sugar, and fat and low in nutrition. GM food is certainly does not fit that description! I think this is a knee jerk reaction to not understanding the science or technology underlying the term GM. Being afraid of possible “Frankenfood”. For which, scientists themselves may be partly to blame, since we rarely venture out of our labs to talk to the public and let a few politically motivated groups define the terms instead. Just as unfortunate as the anti-vaccination hysteria, climate change denial or nay sayers of evolution. Same tactics, different arguments.

  25. Rajini Rao says:

    Sorry, that has happened to me too, Víktor Bautista i Roca ! I agree with you, I’m all for diversity and choice. In food as well as computer OS.

  26. Bookmarked – I’ll watch this informative video on the train tomorrow morning. 

  27. Rajini Rao I believe it is correct to say that the Bt corn contains a pesticide (it produces Bt).  Do you disagree?

  28. Preserving biodiversity is crucial for long term survival. Some genotypes available, but not grown commercially, today may become popular in some years’ time. Fortunately, we have international seedbanks to preserve those varieties for posterity.


  29. Bt corn, like all plants, contains many pesticides, of which Bt is one. And, fortunately, Bt is one of the least toxic to humans and other animals.

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes, I would agree with you, Richard Seiter . I’m not up on the whole Bt story, although I’m sure Alan McHughen is.

    That’s why I kept the focus on the Roundup Ready corn in the HO. I understand the technology and biochemistry behind that quite well.

  31. Max Huijgen says:

    Rajini Rao You missed the point. I jokingly used GM junk food to make clear how a comparison between the US and Europe would fail. Life expectancy to continue on my example is not dropping in Europe. 

    I don´t believe my example would would work hence my downplaying it with the ´GM junk food´ joke. 

    Your suggestion I don´t understand science is not helpful. I have my university summa cum laude if you need proof. Don´t assume  others are stupid if you want to make a point. It doesn´t work and is counter-productive to your very own argument. 

  32. Yash Kommula says:

    The term “GM” is describing the molecular biology techniques altering food for consumption. It looks like these genetically altered foods are more of a potential factor and less of a sole cause, as 90% of the USA’s corn is GM. Also, the experiment that showed apparent harm to the rats used rats that were particularly prone to mammary tumors…. overall the whole study is inconclusive to me.

  33. Rajini Rao says:

    Of course not, I would never imply that of you or anyone else with whom I interacted with, Max Huijgen ! Sorry if it came across that way.

    I didn’t know that you used GM junk food as a joke term. I had a serious response to it, because genetically modifying a single enzyme does not in any way compute to junk. I hope we don’t start seeing that term flying around!

    Edit: Congrats on the summa cum laude, by the way! 🙂

  34. Alan McHughen I just brought Bt corn up as a counter example.  My biggest complaints about it are its toxicity to beneficial insects (e.g. butterflies) and the likelihood that it will result in resistance to one of the organic farmers best pesticides.

  35. Rajini Rao says:

    I wish I knew more about the butterfly story, Richard Seiter , I honestly don’t. Richard Smith is a plant biologist who has offered to chip in. Perhaps he can address your concerns.

  36. Rajini Rao as with most things involving large amounts of money there is controversy about the butterflies.  Here is an example of the “party line”:  Here is an example of the other “side” (note that this includes roundup as well):

    I think it’s fairly safe to say putting large amounts of pesticide into any environment will have detrimental effects on insects (beneficial and otherwise).  That’s kind of the point isn’t it?

    One of the reasons I pay attention to the butterflies is I live half a mile from an overwintering site for Monarchs (they just started coming back this month, one was flying outside my window earlier) and have been sadly watching the local population decline in recent years (that likely has other factors, like habitat loss).

  37. Rajini Rao says:

    I’ll check them out, thanks Richard Seiter . Are you in the Monterey area? I saw tons of beautiful Monarchs at Asilomar. I had a post on the migration of Monarchs a while back.

  38. I live in Santa Cruz near Natural Bridges State Beach.  I’ll be walking down to see the Monarchs (and ocean 😉 shortly.

  39. The impact of Bt on beneficial insects (and Monarch butterflies) has been examined extensively. Yes, Monarchs are lepidopteran insects so they are susceptibe to Bt IF they ingest it. Fortunately, Monarchs and other (non-pest) insects rarely encounter sufficient Bt from Bt crops to cause them harm. In fact Bt crops are better for the local ecology, because non targets are not sprayed at all, unlike in organic and conventional farms.

    Of course, all pesticides must be handled with care and monitored carefully to prolong effective use for as long as possible, as pests will inevitably develop resistance sooner or later. And that’s true for conventional, GM and organic farmers.

  40. Alan McHughen if Bt corn stays in widespread use would you like to place a bet as to how long it will take for resistance to Bt to start appearing in pests?

    Unlike conventional farmers (don’t worry, Monsanto won’t mind seeing resistance in their pesticides so they can just sell you a new one that is still on patent) organic farmers can’t just move to the next pesticide.

  41. Rajini Rao says:

    Resistance will always appear, quite reliably too, IMO. As long as there is selective pressure. That’s true for bacteria vs. antibiotics, plants vs. herbicides, roaches vs. pesticides…

    We try to stay one step ahead. The alternative is to be run over by weeds, bugs and roaches. I do agree that overuse is harmful. They ought to use mixtures of herbicides to make resistance against any one of the chemicals ineffective.

  42. Rajini Rao but the time it takes resistance to appear depends on how the pesticides (or antibiotics for another good example) are used.  Do you disagree with my assertion (speculation more accurately) that Bt corn will speed the appearance of Bt resistance in pests? (I am talking about in this world, not a perfect one where all users of Bt corn do everything right)

    Note as I said before: organic farmers can’t just move to the next “new” pesticide.

  43. Rajini Rao says:

    Richard Seiter , yes I do agree that the more heavily a pesticide is used, the sooner that resistance will emerge. Makes sense.


    In fact, Roundup resistance is already prevalent. There was an interesting tidbit I read about Coca plants (Boliviana negra) in Columbia that were the target of heavy aerial Roundup spraying as part of a multi billion dollar anti drug campaign. Turns out that the Coca plants there are now resistant and doing quite well. Genetic analysis showed that this was not a GM variety (it did not have the CP4 EPSPS variant used in GM plants), but rather appeared to have been selectively bred. Hah! Some drug addict is consuming a mutant version, but hey, it is not GM 🙂

  44. Desh Maharaj says:

    hi i am for modernisation. But a lot of GM stuff is skillfully tucked away in big names and psudo scientific jargon. So will the industry come forth and deal with the common man in simple terms.

  45. Rajini Rao says:

    Luke Seymour and Bailey Skiles , I also have a BS in Botany (also Zoology and Chemistry, they were grouped together) but it was a long time ago..old fashioned classification, Latin names and the like. I still have a soft spot for Botany 🙂 Now it’s all molecular and cellular.

    Desh Maharaj , do watch the Hangout. I realize it is long and dreary at 37 min or so, but we don’t use jargon and I try to explain exactly what was done to the GM corn. Let me know if it makes sense to you. Thanks!

  46. Rajini Rao says:

    Luke Seymour , are you not in the Science on Google+: A Public Database database? If you were, you would be in my circles before now 🙂

  47. Thanks for putting together a hangout on this important topic!

    It would be great to see more unbiased long term safety studies!

  48. Malthus John says:

    The sound quality was poor at times, but I suppose that is always a factor.

    Where to go..  so many related subjects!  I’ll try a question related to several comments so far.

    What about genetic diversity?  Is allowing a few companies to control the entire global seed stock, selling a few strains, that are likely sterile, anywhere close to a good idea?  Is the seed bank (in Greenland?) being duplicated elsewhere to preserve natural stock?  Evolution takes its time with things, and I trust it much more than any corporate profit motivation.

    It seems that we need to purposefully do this; plant & maintain a significant portion of the market via natural methods.  The market exists, of course, but more importantly, we need to safeguard not only seeds, but from some unforeseen collapse (of GM strain) that goes beyond a few extra mutant weeds or pests.

  49. Rajini Rao says:

    Sorry about the sound and video quality..we need to invest in a good microphone/headset/webcam if we want to do this more regularly!

    I agree that preserving diversity is important. Monocultures are especially susceptible to disease and can wreak economic havoc if they fail for any reason. 

    All technology can be used for good, and I hope GM crops don’t get a bad rap from poorly done studies and fear mongering.  

  50. Fred Gandt says:

    Go GM! You rock!! 🙂

    Thanks for the coverage. I’ll admit to not being at all persuaded by the “press release”. I actually kind of ignored it. I guess my bullshit detector was functioning well that day. But I am very glad to see this breakdown of the subject, simply because it means I can share it in the hope that others with less well tuned BSDs learn something.

    I was just discussing the general topic of GM crops (especially drought resistance) with Star Seed. I’ve provided her with the link to this, but would love to be peer reviewed on what I have already said on her post. Any takers? My feelings are very robust. Tell me where I’m wrong. I’ll cry quietly 🙂

  51. Desh Maharaj says:

    Hi. By ‘psudoscientific jargon’ i meant the terminilogies to the ordinary man does not mean much.It is a fantastic and real science. i have a keen interest bec i was selected for Genetic Engineering in the early 80’s but chose otherwise.

    Now i teach a lot of business application systems to SME companies and most of the time what seems logical and simple to me(or tech dudes), is a total confoundment to many people on the learning curve. So mostly it is about the comms than the logic.

    i would like the link to the hangout mentioned.

  52. Desh Maharaj says:

    Thanks Guys i have watch the Hangout while i had beakfest this morning here in Johannesburg. It a fantastic effort. Maybe for these shows you should use a wired lan so there will be better and more stable through-put.

  53. Rajini Rao says:

    Desh Maharaj , I’m not going to do anymore of these until I get the tech issues sorted out! The audio/video issues are really distracting. I need to get an adaptor for the network cable so I don’t rely on wifi (I’m using a MacAir for this, so special adaptors for everything!). I need to figure out a headset and microphone. Not my area of expertise, for sure 😛

    Thanks for watching and let me know if you have questions.

  54. Rajini Rao says:

    Self policing has to continue, Drew Sowersby . Bad papers should be called out. There are many poor studies appearing out of pressure to publish, unfortunately. In this case, though, the intent of the publication was likely not “publish or perish” but more of a personal anti-GM agenda. I think the authors are convinced that they are correct, so that’s how their story is going to be presented. 

  55. Self Policing or Peer Review has really not worked very well in many area’s of Research Rajini Rao, because of research biases, just wondering if there is a better way.

  56. Rajini Rao says:

    What an awesome take-down of the GMO corn study by Paul T Morrison here (please read his comments too):

    He thought we were being too nice in the HO, hehe!

  57. Rajini Rao says:

    You have my permission to inform me in no uncertain terms when I behave otherwise, Drew Sowersby 😉

  58. Rajini Rao says:

    Cheryl Ann MacDonald , yes..not a perfect system by any means. The quality of peer review varies so dramatically. Open access journals now have on line comments and critiques from other scientists and the public. They’ve not really caught on, but that could be the way of the future. Some sort of crowd sourcing of peer review might work too, although as an author I wonder how that would be managed.

  59. As a researcher Rajini Rao I guess you would have some questions….I do not do research….but as an author, the process of finding accurate info without excessive bias is very difficult & time consuming. We need a better system, just what is the question, I guess. And, if the public is paying for the research ….being informed is very important.

  60. Corey LeMont says:

    Rajini Rao Hi. Thanks much for this hangout, exposing the exaggerated fears towards genetic modification of our plants.

    Please take this as a serious question but why are there warning labels for farmers who apply Roundup if there can be no harm?

    I understand that concentration is important but could there be long-term exposure hazards from chronic low-concentration consumption through a build-up or maybe just a wear-down of other machinery or chemicals?

    I just want to be skeptical. As others have mentioned, there is an obvious and profound taste difference between many organic products vs. their conventional counterparts. Whether or not this is even directly or indirectly related to genetic modification or pesticide, herbicide, or fertilizer use is something I wonder about.

    There are obviously lots of variables.

    Here’s an article about Nitrate Accumulation.

    It mentions drought which supposedly, the genetically modified corn and soybeans are more drought-resistant. Sometimes I think that is a bad thing if it is hiding a bigger danger than higher prices.

    Anyway, I know that there’s always risk no matter what you do. Also, longevity is probably not the only measure of health that we should use on ourselves. Even documented/diagnosed cases of disease are not necessarily bulletproof showing the whole story because a lot of cases go under-diagnosed.

    I remain just a little skeptical that genetic modification has no downsides. Sometimes the evidence for things is really hard to find even when looking for it. You could say that it doesn’t exist if you can’t find it but think of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. It’s there and the effects of it can be seen as just the normal Universe but it changes things.

    Here is a strongly worded article against the use of Roundup on crops with carefully articulated Scientific reasoning:

    If you have access, there is a good paper on the potential inhibitory effects of Roundup on Steroidogenesis through disruption of StAR (Steroidogenic Acute Regulatory Protein) expression here:

    Would you care to comment on some of these concerns, especially the technically specific concerns about the unintended modes of action on mammalian pathways other than the Shikimate pathway only found in plants?

    Thanks. 🙂

  61. Rajini Rao says:

    Andrew Carpenter , there were a lot of questions and ground covered in that comment! I’ll try to address them all, but they may be in parts because I’m at work now. 

    First, re. toxicity of Roundup. Sure, Roundup (both glyphosates and the surfactants used in the formulation) can be toxic to animals even though we lack the target enzyme. Because at high enough concentrations, there will be off target effects on other enzymes/cellular processes that would harm us. This is true for every chemical..people can die if they consume purified caffeine, yet we drink loads of coffee where we get caffeine in small doses. There are toxicology studies for Roundup, as there are for every herbicide or pesticide on the market. Could there be effects at doses below what is reported? Possibly, that could be argued for every chemical on the market. BTW, there are warning labels on everything from laundry detergent to the purified NaCl that is on my lab shelf (yes, table salt!). As Alan said, if farmers did not use Roundup, they would use something else because unlike my gardening preference, it is not practical to yank out weeds by their roots.

    However, we were not validating the use of RoundUp in the HO or even making the argument that it is safe. I discussed the biochemistry of it, so I could explain how Roundup Ready corn was made. The focus of the HO was to consider the study that triggered scares of Roundup Ready corn causing tumors. The GM corn itself does not have any Roundup in it. 

    Going back to off target effects at high doses, I recall that the aromatase pathway in mammals was implicated. I believe there are published studies testing this. Interestingly, at the recommended use dosage, the effects of glyphosate in plants must be solely through the shikimate pathway. We know this because putting back a glyphosate resistant EPSPS enzyme reversed toxicity. This is the kind of control experiment that would need to be done to confirm any mammalian pathway that is implicated as a target of glyphosate. At least, this is the experiment I would make my students do before sending out the paper for publication 😉

    Hope this help, more later. Thanks for the questions! 

  62. I think I mention earlier, ALL chemicals (including HOH) need to be treated with respect. Overuse or overdose of anything will bring unintended, unpleasant consequences. That’s true of glyphosate, and it’s also true of whatever the glyphosate alternative may be. No one said there’s no downside to Roundup or to GE… all of these tools (including those used by organic farmers) need to be properly managed to gain the benefits while managing the risks.  

  63. Thanks so much, Rajini Rao and everyone for bringing us closer to the truth!

    Here’s another perspective from Ben Goldacre:

    “Missing data poisons the well for everybody. If proper trials are never done, if trials with negative results are withheld, then we simply cannot know the true effects of the treatments we use. Evidence in medicine is not an abstract academic preoccupation. When we are fed bad data, we make the wrong decisions, inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering, and death, on people just like us.”

    It would be great to see more unbiased long term safety data to confirm or correct these hypotheses:

    “One of the many ways in which we have become cognitively lazy is to accept our initial impression of the problem… Once we settle on an initial perspective we don’t seek alternative ways of looking at the problem.”  – Michael Michalko

    Here’s an interesting perspective on sample size:

    See also: The Power of Sustainable Changes in Diet & Lifestyle by Dean Ornish, M.D. ->

  64. Corey LeMont says:

    Rajini Rao  Thanks for the followup. We definitely have to deal with necessary risks such as pesticides and herbicides. It’s a part of life. Speaking of pesticides, the Bt being used as pesticide and in some cases being genetically inserted into Maize is a whole other issue to be considered. (this time more closely linked with the main topic of Genetic Modification)

    Pest Resistance also has to be considered.

    I wonder about alternative ways to grow the world’s food crops such as greenhouses and other “bio-dome” like growing systems. If growers can simply wash their boots as they go into the bio-area with a disinfectant, and the building is outfitted with a buffer zone at entrances to screen for vermin, use of pesticides can be reduced.

    So, yes, right now, farming is on a very large scale and chemicals are not used very selectively but just sprayed over the entire field. Perhaps in the future, robots will make the selective, targeted use of chemicals more efficient. (I hope) This would allow for very acute methods of killing plants such as vinegar application to be used on weeds and eliminate any undesired human consequences.

    I’ll admit that it’s probably not practical to selectively spray weeds as the proximity with desired plants is so close.

    I foresee advances in genetic understanding to the point that we have a better control over the effect we want.

    Or maybe we will be able to tailor the whole web of life in a field, and relying on predators to go after the undesired pests and weeds.

    Someday, maybe Chemistry will totally take over the food industry more directly and we will grow all our sustenance in carefully controlled matrices of chambers and pipes, growing life in a way which never allows unauthorized developments to take place.

    That would be something I could get behind. 🙂

    Strangely, it has less of a turn-off factor than in-vitro laboratory-grown meat. I guess the whole blood and guts things makes it weird for me.

    But insofar as nutritional engineering and synthetic calorie generation goes, as long as it is nutritionally sustainable, that’s a future I’d like.

  65. Rajini Rao says:

    Really thoughtful comments, thanks for sharing them with us Andrew Carpenter . Biodomes and artificial food (or meat) will be expensive given the 7 billion humans on the planet. I hope we move towards smart and humane solutions, ones good for the environment as well as the plants and animals in it. Whatever the solution, it is important to keep everything in perspective and help the consumer make informed rather than emotional opinions.

    I have no personal investment in GM crops of course, but I find the arguments against them to be illogical. As Alan explained in the video, “traditional” breeding can employ highly unnatural and untargeted methods (like radiation) which would seem even more troubling than the more precise and controllable recombinant DNA methods, but fly quite nicely under the radar.

    Re. the Bt toxin, I recall treating my yard with the Bacillus to control Japanese beetle bugs (I used pheromone traps too). Seemed like the most harmless and natural option. Relative to consuming chemical herbicides, I would probably choose the Bt protein, since it would be cooked and digested in my rather inhospitable gastrointestinal tract. The only scary proteins I know are prions, and they are much worse than all the Bt in the world, IMO. But people still ate hamburgers through the outbreaks 🙂

  66. Corey LeMont says:

    Rajini Rao Do you know of a Scientific explanation for the profound taste difference between organically grown and conventionally grown produce? Perhaps there is more at play than GM or maybe no correlation at all.

    Maybe general bio-diversity in the soil and plants within a smaller geographic area helps make more nutrients bio-available to the plant, thus increasing flavanoids, etc.

    I, for one, would like to know! 🙂

  67. The main criterion for taste preference is freshness, followed distantly by cultivar. When double blind taste tests are conducted, using the same cultivars and picking date, tasters cannot tell the difference between organic fruits/produce and conventional or GM foods.  When tests are conducted and the foods are labeled, the tasters almost invariably say they prefer the organic sample.

  68. Rajini Rao says:

    Do you mean to compare the same product from the same batch and breed of seeds, growing organically vs. not? Assuming that the organic version is not from one’s backyard, since obviously freshness and optimal picking time would have a huge impact on taste 🙂

    The problem in general with commercial crops (GM or not) is that they select for commercial factors like sturdiness to shipping, ripening in synchrony, color and form and so on. If they selected for taste and flavor, then you would probably like them better, as would I. Organic farmers have a smaller market, and choose heirloom varieties that taste good. I’m all for more flavor!

    In the end, big farms and monocultures are cheaper, and that makes a difference when it comes to providing food for all.

  69. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Alan McHughen . I think I had pretty much the same answer as you did! (We didn’t plan this!)

  70. Corey LeMont says:

    Alan McHughen Sources?


    Both of those factors may be likely to be skewed differently for organic vs. conventional.

    I wonder if so called organic farmers are more likely to use less common strain/varieties/cultivars of plant which may have characteristics of higher nutritional content and better taste. Conventional growers tend to grow for yield primarily and care less about the flavor and nutritional outcome. Sure, they care, but secondarily.

    And I can definitely see how organic produce, being in the more expensive bracket, filling a smaller niche of the store’s stock, and being specifically marketed to very conscious consumers, would be more finely tuned to go from pick date to sell date as quickly as possible. – and move faster. If bought at a health food store, this is even more likely to be a mainstay of their business model.

    I think that there are lots of issues that need investigating and I and a lot of other good people are getting needlessly bogged down by criticizing Scientists regarding the more complex issues such as Genetic Modification when we should actually be looking at the SIMPLE things.

    Growing practices, business practices, soil fertility, plot sizes, cultivar, supply chain, and other relative basics.

  71. Corey LeMont says:

    Rajini Rao Thankfully, markets can shift. I believe I see trends towards organic (and perhaps more importantly, local food) and increased demand, many times, creates economies of scale and more incentives for technological innovation that can support the demand better, cheaper.

    And with those trends, we can have more economical heirloom varieties, freshly consumed, and grown in more holistic, sustainable, healthy ways. (and with less energy to boot!!) win – win – win – win – win

  72. Gaythia Weis says:

    Rajini Rao asked me to carry over a comment I made on another  post regarding how in addressing real concerns about how agricultural policies were implemented.

     I don’t see GMO/not GMO as the right dividing line. What we need are media reported discussions that are broadly based but centered on science, regarding agriculture and health, agriculture and the ecology, agriculture and sustainability and so forth.

     I also commented on  how combating extremists directly rather than discussing implications of science more generally gave the extremists more publicity than they deserved.  That is because of the media tendency to be “fair and balanced” and present “both sides”.  That effectively leaves out a middle position and all positions with much complexity. 

    But I don’t think it quite fits as a direct copy and paste.  Anyone interested can follow that discussion here;

  73. I often recommend people plant their own gardens and learn the joys and rewards of growing their own food. In addition to providing food, it helps overcome some of the common romantic notions about how easy it is to grow crops. And nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato (or whatever) just picked from the back garden– whether grown fully organically or with the help of some fertilizers and pesticides.

  74. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks and well said Gaythia Weis . Also want to leave a link here of an excellent short interview given by Kevin Folta where he pretty much makes the same point about traditional breeding and GM that Alan McHughen brought up in the HO. It’s a good watch:

  75. Gaythia Weis says:

    I did a post on strawberries that attempted to address the somewhat arbitrary nature of what gets designated as “organic” here;  That link plays into what Andrew Carpenter is saying about growing media.  As I pointed out there; Watsonville is located on Monterrey Bay, a nationally designated marine sanctuary.  The area that is now agricultural fields was once redwood highlands sloping into riparian floodplains and ocean estuaries.  The redwoods existed with a strong symbiotic relationship between the trees and soil fungi.  IMHO, if we are going to reduce the soil to heavily fumigated “soil” or fake substances (coconut husks) anyway, as I described on that post, maybe we should just reconsider more local greenhouses.  Sometimes these can be paired with power plants to use the waste heat.

    I think this also relates to what Andrew Carpenter and Alan McHughen are saying above regarding ripeness.

    Where you live is also a factor on food decision making.  Where I live now, Bellingham, WA, is berry heaven. (the Santa Cruz area was also, but Colorado not so much) Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries grow well here.  In season, I can purchase 5 types of strawberries:  National brand organic or nonorganic; local non organic, officially designated organic, or informal organic.  IMHO, the best of these are local and some sort of organic and purchased quite ripe from fruit stand or farmers market. These berries must be eaten or processed nearly immediately.  Mold starts to grow within a couple of days.  They also usually come into the house accompanied by a number of fruit flies.  These are quite small and disappear once the berries are eaten.  I wash the berries but otherwise ignore the flies. 

  76. watched the first 15 minutes

    So, what are the exact effects of EPSPS on the human body? I don’t get it – if it’s a statistical error with a small sample group, why bother condemning the paper? Do the study all over again.

  77. If you were to do the experiment again, can you use another animal/another species as a control?

  78. Rajini Rao says:

    Shah Auckburaully , the studies have already been done and failed to find significant differences, including a Japanese study that went for 2 years as well. Why do it again? How many times does one beat a dead horse? There is no effect of EPSPS on our body as far as I can tell, certainly this study does not show there is one.

    This study is a big deal because governments in France and Russia are using it to decide on policy. So it is important to debunk it scientifically.

  79. Kevin Folta says:

    Shah Auckburaully  You have EPSPS in every cell.  The plant version binds glyphosate and is unable to perform its job in amino acid synthesis.  A version of the enzyme has a single amino acid substitution in its protein sequence, a minor difference, changing I think a serine to an alanine.  Minor change, but it is resistant to glyphosate binding.  Same enzyme, just does not bind the inhibitor. The inhibitor is then pumped out of the cell or inactivated by cytochrome p450s. If you understand this stuff it is not scary at all, actually really specific!

  80. Plants and microbes produce EPSPSynthase; animals (including humans) do not, which is why glyphosate is relatively non-toxic to animals.

  81. Kevin Folta says:

    Alan McHughen  my bad!  Of course.  I completely lost track of my metabolism here.  I don’t remember how animals move along phosphoenolpyruvate and thought it was the same enzyme.  Excellent point.  Sorry about that.

  82. I think this paper adds to the conversation:


    Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. If new genetically engineered forms of corn and soybeans tolerant of 2,4-D are approved, the volume of 2,4-D sprayed could drive herbicide usage upward by another approximate 50%. The magnitude of increases in herbicide use on herbicide-resistant hectares has dwarfed the reduction in insecticide use on Bt crops over the past 16 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

  83. Gaythia Weis says:

    I agree with the point raised by Richard Seiter .   In discussing GMO crops both here and on a parallel post by Paul T Morrison , the idea that there are serious issues with the ways that GMO technologies has been implemented has been raised but not expanded upon. 

    On other threads, I have personally expressed my opinion that supporters of GMO technology are making a big mistake in terms of scientific credibility in discussions with the public if we do not take a strong stance supporting additional regulations, and make it clear that we attack egregious practices with as much vigor as we attack the problems with papers such as the one in this post.  These practices may be more directly related to such things as monocultures and [herbicide and] pesticide use practices than they are to concerns about the science of GMO technology specifically.  But GMO technology is what made the implementations possible, and so it is perfectly reasonable for the public to see the linkage here.

    I also think it is worth noting that in the case of 2, 4, D tolerant crops, herbicide drift was raised as an issue by farmers who might be adjacent to such operations.  Issues of 2, 4, D drift and volitilzation have been met by promises that compounds that limit this would be added to pesticide formulations.  However, some such compounds increase toxicity.

  84. Kevin Folta says:

    Gaythia Weis   Good points on drift, but that’s even been mitigated with low-volatility sprays– also I think you meant herbicide, not pesticide.  The main problem here is that Richard Seiter lumps herbicides with Bt. There is no doubt that there is a new increase in herbicides, even though glyphosate has low impact environmentally relative to other herbicides. 2,4-D + glyphosate will not double the usage. If resistance is the problem for increasing glyphosate, levels should return to basal once a second effective herbicide is applied. 

    Bt is nothing short of amazing in its specificity and success in limiting pesticides. Farmers also benefit from herbicide resistance– if they didn’t nobody would use it.  It saves fuel, tilling, labor, etc, and plants are sprayed early rather than when bearing products. That limits residues.  Sure we dump more in pounds/acre, but you have to look at benefit and risk.  That equation is still heavy toward benefit. 

    Keep in mind that resistance to herbicides is not exclusively a transgenic (GMO) issue.  Conventional farming faces the same arms race between cultivation and the plants that hinder it. 

  85. The author of this report has been claiming for years that GE crops are

    increasing pesticide use. His conclusions have been refuted over the same

    period by various academic and public sector experts in the field,

    including in a major report from the US National Academy of Sciences/

    National Research Council in 2010 (

    First, the author notes an increase in glyphosate sale/use over the years,

    and assumes all of this is applied to GE crops. He neglects to account for

    the use of glyphosate independent of GE crops (it’s used extensively to

    keep roadways, firebreaks, electrical transmission lines, etc. clear of

    vegetation, as a drydown agent in some non-GE crops, as well as home garden

    use). Second, GE crops use weaker herbicides that require greater volumes

    than the older standard herbicides, eg. 1l/ac instead of 5ml per acre.

    Switching from an older, more potent herbicide at 5ml/ acre to glyphosate

    at 1L/acre represents a big jump in volume (the sole focus of the author)

    but a drop in environmental impact (EIQ), which most academics now use in

    recognition that, for example, 1 gram of sodium does not present the same

    risk as 1 gram of cyanide..

  86. Kevin Folta what makes you say I lump herbicides (e.g. Roundup aka glyphosphate) in with Bt (a pesticide)?  I have referred to both, but attempted to be specific in each case.  I recognize the difference (there are also similarities such as both pesticides and herbicides are at least somewhat toxic chemicals and both are subject to acquired resistance).  They are often both included in GMO crop analyses (since they represent two of the current major GM crops) so they appear together in some of the resources I cite (I can’t vouch for all those resources making the distinction correctly).  Edit: It might be helpful for all of us to talk about insecticides rather than pesticides.  The latter term is sometimes used to refer to both insecticides and herbicides.

    Alan McHughen thank you for adding more information about the paper I cited.  It sounds like I need to do some more research regarding its conclusions.  Can you recommend any freely available (your reference costs $49) papers that discuss the EIQ impact of GM crops (preferably not from scientists funded by Monsanto)?

    I come across as very anti-GMO here, but that’s a bit misleading.  The pro-GMO scientific camp is well represented in this thread and I think being devil’s advocate is valuable in making people question assumptions (I’m still waiting for an attempt to refute my concern that Bt-corn will impact organic farmers by accelerating Bt resistance).  The biggest problem IMHO in the GMO debate is (like much of the current American political process) there are advocates on both sides who appear willing to selectively cite studies and/or actually misrepresent data to make their points.  Getting to any sense of objective truth in such an environment is difficult.  I consider knee jerk “scientific” advocacy of GMOs as bad as knee jerk environmental criticism of GMOs.

    I think Gaythia Weis made an excellent point that bears repeating: “the idea that there are serious issues with the ways that GMO technologies has been implemented has been raised but not expanded upon.” (in these threads)

  87. Gaythia Weis says:

    [Anyone else following this discussion, ought to check Google Profiles and note the qualifications of Kevin Folta , Alan McHughen and the author of the study cited by Richard Seiter , Charles Benbrook, (via a search) relative to my own,  I am NOT a biologist.]

    I also heartily recommend Alan McHughen ‘s latest post here:  regarding how this is a press release mascaraing as a scientific study.  This is not the only study out there that has suffered greatly from this whizzbang press release syndrome.   Trust in science, and science communication, is diminished by such misrepresentations.

    IMHO, it is a tragedy for GMO science that the first widespread implementation of such technologies, and thus the ones in which the use of GMOs first entered the public policy arena, would be in enhancing the linkage between food crops and a certain manufacturer’s herbicide products.  As I see it, it is an failure on the part of Monsanto that they did not control the implementation of their technology in a manner that reduced the creation and/or proliferation of resistant weeds, and hence the need to escalate to the use of 2, 4, D.  This could have been better limited by the application of known scientific principles.  I believe that both of the above point to the failure of a private industry, corporate model to work in ways that promote sustainable agriculture.    I believe that the points of Alan McHughen  above are largely correct, and could have remained correct, with better governmental regulations, having mostly to do with monocultures.  My opinions are largely in allignment with those of the Union for Concerned Scientists, here:

    The formulation of 2, 4, D used, and additives present, changes its toxicity, and so there are tradeoffs between absorption into the tissues of the plant, volatility that can lead to drift, and toxicity to other organisms, including aquatic species by drift or other transport mechanisms:   Thus, reassurances by Dow that drift will be limited by the formulation do not reassure me that overall toxicity will be necessarily reduced thereby.

  88. Kevin Folta says:

    Richard Seiter   Bt is not toxic to humans.  Period.  You’re right, it does help to be precise about the language because pests can include arthropods and nematodes, all that require separate management. Bt is not really even an insecticide, as its spectrum is extremely narrow.  It only affects certain beetles, moth and butterfly larvae. 

    I hear you on knee-jerk advocacy and try to weight pros and cons negatively.  I guess with my intimate knowledge of plant molecular biology and physiology I don’t see much downside. There are a few, but several of those are not specific to transgenics. 

    Gaythia Weis   I totally appreciate your point about widespread implementation and the role of specific companies in seed and products to make it work. However, this is a monster built by resistance to the technology. The cost/time etc to get approval is so high that nobody bothers to even think about commercializing horticultural crops.  Arctic Apple is one exception and look at the grief they are getting.  If you want to knock MON, DOW etc down a peg, then let’s get smarter about the approval process and let the little guys compete.  

    I have a strawberry line that resists nematodes in a greenhouse.  To get approval to even test it in the field is a problem I don’t even want to approach.  Nematodes cause tons of nematacides and fumigants to be pumped into soil. Imagine if my plant could express the gene only in the roots and reduce the need for poison!   Instead, it sits in a refrigerator.  No way we have the $$ to commercialize it, and even if we did it would take huge adoption and many years to recoup that money.  Plus, some goofball would maybe rip out my trails anyway.  Yuck.  We have something that could make a difference, but it will not see the light of day– until volatile fumigants are banned and MON/DOW etc make the same product.  Double Yuck.

  89. Kevin Folta I think if you read my Bt posts you will see that my focus has been on the resistance issues with Bt and with its toxicity to butterflies.  As for Bt toxicity in general, I think we both realize that toxicity is relative (LD50 for salt in humans = ~3 g/kg, for Bt in rats = ~5 g/kg) so I won’t quibble with asserting Bt is nontoxic to humans.

    I think your strawberry line is a good example.  That sounds like a technology that is much more useful to the consumer than the producer (lost fumigant etc. sales).  How can we encourage technologies with major positive externalities?

    I appreciate the deep background you and others (like Alan McHughen ) bring to this conversation.  I am enough of a believer in science and understand enough of the potentialities to realize that genetic engineering has an incredible upside potential.  My concerns can be summed up in these points:

    1. Little faith in corporations (in particular Monsanto, I truly do believe they are worse than most, but would be interested in an intelligent rebuttal) to be careful enough about safety when bringing new technologies to market.

    2. Many historical cases of uncritical adoption of new technologies followed by terrible unintended consequences.  I think if you read the history you will see that those people were just as confident of there not being any problems.  Why is it different this time?

    3. Dismissal of (IMHO) valid concerns like potential Bt resistance (Bt is special because it is important to organic farmers).

  90. Kevin Folta says:

    Richard Seiter   hi Richard.  I’ll take a stab at your last questions.  Here’s what I think…  I’m not a big fan of big corporate anything.  Media, groceries, oil, food… does not matter.  I’m not going to defend MON, other than there is nothing inherently wrong with the technology just because they use it.

    2.  adoption of new technology…  Okay, you can point to DDT and thalidomide, probably a dozen others.  But what about technologies with similar vetting that saved lives?  Experimental therapies that became conventional meds? Those by FAR outweigh the negatives 10,000 to 1!  We have to start from plausibility. There is no way that Bt or rEPSPS can be harmful.  It is tested anyway.  

    In today’s litigious world these companies know damn well that the stuff isn’t harmful.  For people to say that we are guinea pigs is naive.  I know people in corporate ag and they’ll tell you all about the crazy testing and QC they go through. They just don’t publish it because nobody believes them anyway, and it is not advancing science much.  

    3.  Bt resistance.  I guess I don’t understand why organic types would use it and why organic consumers would tolerate it.  After all, it is the most lethal poison on the planet in their descriptions.  Ah, irony.  

    Your point is good.  It really relies on farmers to use it as directed, maintain refuges, etc.  Science needs to use Bt cry genes that are different from those used in native Bt used on organic crops. Or, maybe organics should install the Bt gene so they don’t have to keep buying the stuff and applying it.   Talk to me in 2020… that’s how it will be!!!

    I hope you realize that my tongue is in my cheek here at times.  It’s Friday!  Have a good weekend.


  91. Rajini Rao says:

    Alan McHughen recently posted the EFSA’s (European Food safety Authority) preliminary review of the Seralini study. Take a look here:

    Do you think this will carry greater credibility in Europe because it is from EFSA?  

  92. Anti-GMO activists have already denounced EFSA for consistently reaching the ‘wrong’ conclusions on their GMO safety assessments. One hopes the general public will appreciate the efforts of the well respected scientists at EFSA.

  93. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for link, Drew Sowersby . I’ll look into it.

  94. Rajini Rao says:

    Paracelcus said it best. In toxicology, “the dose makes the poison”. Even pure NaCl on our lab shelf carries a hazardous chemical warning. 

  95. Rajini Rao says:

    In this case, the bacteria would have an enzyme (EPSPS) that synthesizes Phe, Trp and Tyr (which they already do), but they would be resistant to RoundUp. I don’t see that as a factory for destruction. Left alone, the bacteria will (and have) acquired RoundUp resistance already. 

    I am arguing specifics here, Drew Sowersby , because I can’t take on the entire GM endeavor all in one post. I’m keeping focused on whether introducing a point mutation in a plant protein, EPSPS, is going to give us, the consumer, cancer (or anything else, for that matter). I really don’t see how that is plausible. 

    Also, bacteria can obtain fragments of DNA that are not recombinant..they can’t preferentially select for the GM fragment. So the issue goes back to whether an enzyme that is tolerant of a single herbicide, glyphosate, is a danger to animals. 

  96. Rajini Rao says:

    Those bacteria are quite tricky, we ought to respect them. I agree, Drew Sowersby !

  97. Rajini Rao says:

    But again, Murphy’s law is similarly applicable to the so-called traditional methods of breeding, irradiation and selection, Drew Sowersby . As Alan explains, there is nothing normal about those methods but they fly under the public radar. There’s no reason why Murphy’s Law should apply only to GM methods but not other genetic approaches. 

  98. Drew Sowersby , in the mid 1960’s, the Earth was “due to run out of food for overpopulation”.

    Even Star Trek addressed it poorly.

    We’re still here.

    Indeed, one can go half again and STILL supply all with food and water.

    Now, what is SUSTAINABLE? THAT is the question.

    Let’s omit ALL oil and try to find a solution to retain current lifestyles, technologies, etc.

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