Intelligence Squared Debate: Dec. 3, 2014

Genetically Modify Food

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9 comments to Intelligence Squared Debate: Dec. 3, 2014

  • James M. Kelly

    A nice debate on the topic. But, I thought Jonathan Ater’s prequel more than adequately summarized many of its multiple perspectives. Clearly a yes/no answer is far from adequate or possible. With the help of Jonathan Ater’s essay we could all find areas to pursue further in our readings and use help move the debate along more rational pathways than the ones that have characterized the larger debate so far. I thought the remark about fearing and acting on dangers that are not as perceived, made by Alison Van Eenennaam, was perhaps the most apt of the debate.Overcoming those fears and the thought processes leading to them requires both education and a lot more transparency in our institutions.

  • Henry Clay Childs

    May I heartily endorse Earl Staelin’s every word. I don’t know why Chip Neville is unaware of the studies sited, as they are widely broadcast. Concern for poor Indian farmers should be a convenient clarion call for all us to heed.

  • Earl Staelin

    I’ve been studying this issue for at least 13 years because in addition to a long legal career I became very interested in nutrition as a better approach to health back in 1971, later completing all requirements for a Ph.D. in nutrition except a thesis. Later, after the university had closed, what would have been my thesis was published in a health journal.
    I believe GM foods should be banned until they are proven safe for human health through long term studies–applying the precautionary principle. Very few long term studies of health effects have been done, and virtually none by independent parties. Even short term studies have shown serious harm and even death of animals within very short periods of time. Monsanto’s own studies involved serious ethical violations and destruction of evidence.
    There are indications that GM foods and possibly glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) may be responsible for the rapidly rising rates of food allergies, a concern that should be thoroughly studied.
    Labeling is essential in order to make reliable epidemiological studies to trace the potential harm. However, Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and other GMO producers are dead set against labeling. They make false claims about the cost of labeling, which is minimal—a few dollars a year per person at most. They have spent far more fighting labeling laws than it would ever have cost to label foods as GM. What are they hiding?
    The claims of Monsanto to be able to feed more people are seriously compromised by the evidence that GM foods may cause serious adverse health consequences, the evidence that GM crops become weaker over time and require increasing amounts of pesticides/herbicides, and that the yields may become smaller over time. Pesticides and herbicides used in connection with GM crops kill soil microbes. Billions of soil microbes are essential to maintain a healthy soil and to grow healthy, disease-resistant and pest-resistant crops. Organically grown crops can maintain and build a healthy soil and sustain crops that are naturally resistant to pests and disease.
    There is also evidence that farmers in countries such as in India have been committing suicide in epidemic numbers because of the unaffordable cost of patented “terminator” GM seed that they must purchase annually instead of being able to save their own seed, as well as the financial ruin that such farming has caused them. GM crops also cannot be contained in their own fields and are contaminating nearby and not-so-nearby fields of non-GM crop farmers. Then Monsanto sues the farmers whose fields have been contaminated for damages for “patent infringement”.
    The EPA approved GM foods in the 1990s and called them equivalent to non-GM foods as a result of serious conflicts of interest involving former Monsanto employees at key points in the EPA approval process, despite the lack of any reliable scientific evidence of safety for human health.
    The above are just a few of the many reasons GM foods should never have been approved by the EPA, and why approval should be withdrawn until GM foods and Roundup are proven safe through independent long term studies, why people would be well-advised to avoid all such foods until they are proven safe through long term studies, and why, until a ban is imposed, all such foods should be clearly labeled. I strongly recommend the book by researcher Jeffrey M. Smith entitled _Seeds of Deception_, and his DVD “Genetic Roulette.” The book and DVD explain in detail why GM foods are likely to harm human health and animal health and why they should have been thoroughly studied for safety and health before they were introduced into our food supply, citing scientists of impeccable reputation such as Arpad Puztai. I also recommend reading the 2009 statement of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine concerning GM foods (via Google).
    Earl Staelin, Englewood, Colorado

    • Chip Neville

      And Earl, I probably should leave a comment here because just above your insightful and provocative comment, I left an off-topic website policy comment about possible invective if we continue to allow anonymous posts. Your comment is certainly NOT of that sort. It is, as I said above, both insightful and provocative, as well as extremely informative. I did not know about the studies showing “serious harm and even death of animals within very short periods of time.” Can you give me a journal reference or two? While it makes sense that incorporating genes producing Roundup may lead to harmful exposure to humans, is the same true for genes that would provide greater resistance to more extreme temperatures? And if these GMO strains were developed with public funding and made freely available, might that not resolve the problem of “the unaffordable cost of patented ‘terminator’ GM seed that they [poor Indian farmers] must purchase annually instead of being able to save their own seed?”

  • Chip Neville

    Jonathan, thank you for your incisive preview of the GMO debate.

    I think I know why “Voters in Maui voted on Election Day to ban the use of GMO crops in Maui, pending further testing.” Hawaii has a huge problem with invasive species imported from the Mainland or from Asia. Their biggest invasive plant problem is with Miconia, which was used as an ornamental on the Mainland and cultured in the University of Hawaii herbarium. Miconia was believed to be incapable of spreading in the wild, as it seemed to require constant care as an ornamental. Well, EVERYBODY was wrong, and when it escaped from the U of H herbarium, it spread like wildfire in all the Islands of Hawaii. I know this because my daughter Rachel was the coordinator for the Oahu Invasive Species Committee (OISC) and spent untold hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in Federal and State grant money to try to eradicate it. While OISC and the Invasive Species Committees of the other Islands have been able to keep Miconia in check through constant diligent effort, it is now impossible to eradicate it. If this isn’t a cautionary tale, I don’t know what is. One of the great fears with GMOs is that one will escape and become the new Miconia of the North American Continent.

    On the other hand, I think I know what Alison Van Eenennaam, the UC Davis agricultural scientist and “For” debater will argue because I have read some of her stuff. She and many other scientists believe that the only way to rapidly breed enough food crops capable of growing well in a swiftly warming world, and to prevent the starvation of billions, is to use genetic modification techniques. Nina Federoff, the past President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, warned in her 2012 AAAS Presidential Address that for every 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) of warming, crop yields decrease by 10%. And if you want a taste of what climate change can do to civilizations, and how many human beings it can kill, read Eric H. Cline’s Op Ed in the May 27, 2014 New York Times, “Climate Change Doomed the Ancients.” It turns out that climate change in the other direction (it got colder, probably due to volcanic eruptions) caused a 300 year drought and crop failure in the Eastern Mediterranean, and this caused (or profoundly contributed to) the Bronze Age Collapse, a collapse of civilization so profound and deep that humanity outside of Egypt and Mesopotamia forgot how to read and write.

    So it seems that we are impaled on the horns of a nasty dilemma, where either choice, to GMO or not to GMO, leads to possible disaster. Clearly this is a time when calm debate and rational discourse are needed. Unfortunately, the obstructive actions of Corporate Agriculture, like Monsanto’s spending “$8 million to oppose the [successful Maui GMO labeling] measure” and now filing “suit to block implementation,” are simply attempts to prevent this from happening. SHAME ON THEM!

    And Jonathan, thank you again for your incisive and informative preview.

    • How interesting, Chip. Your daughter certainly was in the midst of this tricky Miconia effort. My wife’s brother has lived on Oahu for more than 40 years and has shared this and other invasive plant and animal stories with us, as well as providing great explanations of the geology of the islands. He is a geophysicist.

      Your comments on Yale62 have been so insightful and filled with new and worthwhile information. In thinking of the subjects you and I have discussed over the years, and the material you have created for, I realize what a broad knowledge base and breadth of experience that you have. Also, my thoughts are with you on your own health battle. Thanks for sharing.


      • Chip Neville

        Al, Fooey! I had a serious senior moment and forgot to fill in the Name and Email field in the above. And Chris, BTW, we probably shouldn’t allow anonymous comments on this site. They can lead to invective and cyber bullying. These things happen on Yale related sites as surely as they do in the rest of the world.

  • Steve Buck

    Dear Jonathan – Just read your piece. Very thought provoking.

    Sounds to me like the GMO issue needs to be looked at on a case by case basis as in the GMO modified potato that reduces or lessens a carcinogen produced when cooking.

    The problem of course is how would one be able to explain all this product by product? Just saying GMO might scare people away from a good product, the potato above,, while perhaps sounding an alert for other more dubious products (antibiotics in milk, etc. etc. etc. – or perhaps that’s another subject).

    The devil is always in the details.

    And at least that keeps lawyers busy!

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