Truth, Justice, and the American way. TRUTH: Helping to correct people's misconceptions about history, science, and the state of the world. JUSTICE: Meant in the biblical sense. Fair treatment of other people, rational laws, and assisting the disadvantaged. THE AMERICAN WAY: A classless society where everybody has an opportunity to meet their potential and for economic advancement, regardless of race, ancestry, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rebuttal to Newsweek article about GMOs

The cover story in the May 29, 2015 issue of Newsweek makes the point that genetically modified plants are necessary to feed the increasing population of the world. This part of the story is correct, but the article should have supported genetic hybridization (GHO) and not GMOs. There is no question that commercial GMO crops are introducing toxins into human food and that the toxins collect and become poisonous in the people who eat the food.

However, there is a difference between Dragons Teeth (cross genus DNA manipulation) and moving genes from one variety in a species to another (genetic hybridization). Dragons Teeth is an old farming term for plants that do not reproduce normally, because they are genetically faulty. Natural plant seeds have "Hybrid hardiness", but current commercial GMOs are monospecies and pests are adapting to that species.

The CRISPR technology discussed in the article could be a boon to agriculture. It produces different varieties of the same species and does not introduce toxins.

So far, most genetically modified seeds produce poisonous plants. Almost all of the non-organic corn produced in the US now produces the BT toxin, derived from bacteria. This toxin is actually in the corn kernels we eat, and is toxic to humans as well as bacteria. This should be identified by a USDA Black Box Warning (as with tobacco).
The other common modification is Roundup resistance. This allows farmers to spray their crops and eliminate  weeds which can rob the crop of water and sunshine. However, spraying Roundup onto the entire plant (instead of around the plant) increases the amount of Roundup in the food and increases toxity. New weeds are becoming common that are Roundup resistant, so Monsanto (who manufactures both Roundup and the seeds) is developing seeds that are resistant to both Roundup and another herbicide that Monsanto produces. The safe level of Roundup is still under debate, but the combination of herbicides is much more toxic.

 The sad part of Roundup resistant crops is that it is only necessary because farmers are still planting crops in wasteful furrow plowed fields. Using furrow plowed fields wastes a lot of water, causes the loss of topsoil, and moves the crops further apart than necessary (thus wasting farmland). The soil should flat with a slight slope and the ground should be virtually covered. If the ground is covered, the weeds do not have enough sunlight to grow. The space between the main crop plants should be carpeted with a ground-cover plant. Using clover, alfalfa, or other limited height plants helps grow a more plentiful crop and provides fodder that can be sold to ranchers.

The article makes a passing mention of the fact that farmers are not allowed to plant seeds produced from current GMO seeds. Monsanto and other companies have sued farmers whose plants were contaminated with pollen from GMO plants, even though the farmers had not signed any contract with the company and were trying to grow organic crops. This has caused a virtual monopoly in Corn seed. It should be the other way around. Those providing the GMO seeds and those planting those seeds should be responsible for elimination of the contamination of other farmers' crops.

The reason that individual farmers (rather than agribusinesses) reject GMOs is that they lack hybrid hardiness, the farmers are required to pay for new seed every growing season, and they have good historic reasons to mistrust the chemical companies which produce GMO seed.

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Canoga Park, California, United States
Software Engineer with Ph.D. in Computer Science. I have a deep background in the sciences and in computer-human interaction. I was a college professor for 11 years, followed by over a decade of work in industry.