Agricultural Biotech and Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) Issues
(including “TakeAway” debate between Monsanto and Vandana Shiva)
1. Difference between GMOs and products of traditional selective breeding?
a. Over 90% of soybeans and corn grown in U.S. are genetically altered
i. Does this suggest they are safe as no negative results?
b. No requirement that GMOs are labeled in U.S.
i. 64 countries require GMO labeling
c. Industry spending $100 millions to defeat GMO labeling laws
i. Don’t like difference standards between states
ii. Afraid forced labeling would suggest food safety issue
d. 66% say want GMOs labeled, 7% do not
e. Voluntary labeling: Non-GMO foods are allowed to label their products as such
i. 80% say willing to pay more for such foods
ii. 24,000 food products with voluntary non-GMO labels have been certified as correct
f. Federal “Organic” label guarantees food does not have GMOs
g. When you buy some food that does not say non-GMO do you know whether or not it has GMO incredients? (No)
3. Seed patent debate and bio-piracy See Supreme Court Case (and result) and seed freedom
a. Undermines tradition of farmer save seeds and plant next year
b. Some countries banned such patents (India?)
c. Wind blows GMO pollen and contaminate’s neighbor’s non-GMO field and thus neighbor can’t plant own seeds
d. Universities developing and releasing patent free seeds
4. Are GMOs biopiracy?
a. According to critics like Vandana Shiva:
b. GMOs based on stealing biological heritage of 3rd world and then selling it as an invention
i. “We've also found that the GMO banana is bio-pirated, which means the yellowness has been taken through theft from Micronesia. This, to me, is one of the biggest outrages of the false promise of genetic engineering. That at the end of the day, it's bent on stealing the biological heritage of the third world, their knowledge, and then selling it as an invention. If Monsanto takes soya bean, which is an East Asian crop, puts one toxic gene into it and says I've invented the seed, that is not creation; it is not invention.”
ii. True, but the patent is not on soybean seed, but this particular, sightly altered soybean seed.
5. Terminator technology
a. Negatives and positives
6. Herbicide tolerant versus pest resistant GMOs
a. Roundup-Ready Soybeans versus Bt Corn
i. Explain Bt Corn example
b. What is problem with herbicide tolerant GMOs?
c. Most GMOs are herbicide tolerant rather than pest resistant?
7. Problem of “super-weeds”
a. Gene for herbicide tolerance passed on to weedy-relatives of the herbicide tolerant crops
8. Breeding pesticide resistant bugs (Bt corn example) and the analogy to anti-biotic resistance
9. Analogy between non-native (exotic) species and (escaped) GMOs
a. Ge Salmon
10. Allergic reaction to GMOs concern
a. Brazil nut gene in soybeans
b. Solved by labeling
11. Political problems
a. Good for developing countries to give up control over own food supply and become dependent on global market and proprietary seeds?
i. Kingsolver’s “magic wheat” example
b. Exacerbate negative views of U.S. if we control world food supply?
TakeAway with John Hockeberry interviewing Monsanto Exec on GMOs Here
1. Chief tech officer of Monsanto (Dr. Fraley)
2. Skepticism of GMOs due to bad and misleading science, myths on the internet, and failure of Monsanto to communicate with consumers
3. Vaccine analogy: Analogy between skepticism about safety of GMOs and skepticism about effectiveness of vaccines
4. GMOs been used for 30 years
a. Exceptional track record of benefits and safety
5. Real question is: How double amount of food between now and 2050? (GMOs big part of answer)
a. Population will go up by at least 2 billion people and many more in middle class
6. Reduced pesticide use? (But not herbicide use, as selling herbicide tolerant crops) and so increases use of chemicals in agriculture
7. Increased yields
8. Golden Rice example (insert gene with vitamin A into rice to prevent blindness)
9. Absolutely supportive of voluntary GMO-free labeling
a. Consumers already have choice
b. Punitive labeling
c. “Not against transparency?”
d. Doesn’t like state by state; support national labeling laws?
a. Pesticides that may be linked to bee and bird polulation collapses
b. Goes into food and animal tissue and wild predators (bees)
c. Says bee populations not hurt by these
11. Denies there is a problem of GMOs being grown next to non-GMO crops
TakeAway with John Hockeberry interviewing Vandana Shiva on GMOs Here
1. Critique of industrial (chemical) agriculture (monoculture, miracle seeds, chemicals–herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, GMOs)
a. “Industrial agriculture destroying the planet”
b. Industrial ag contributes 40% of green house gases
c. Destroyed fertility of the soil
d. Corporate agribusiness destroying traditional farms and small farmers
e. Farm lands used to produce commodities other than food (biofuels)
2. Ecological agriculture: Non-chemical, organic, biodiverse (non-monoculture) agriculture
a. “Works with nature” rather than against nature
b. Rejuvenates soil
c. A climate solution
d. Works with micro-organisms in soil and with pollinators
e. Can double our food supply
f. Is good for small farmers who don’t have to pay for patent seeds and pesticides and fertilizers
3. GMOs been of two sorts
a. Bt crops and herbicide tolerant crops
b. Both involve increase use of chemicals
4. GMOs created super-pests and super-weeds and this has led to less, not more productive farming
a. BT cotton let to more pests than ever before and so more pesticide use
5. Increased yield in both green revolution and GMO period due to increase in acreage and irrigation not new seed technologies or chemicals
6. Golden Rice
a. Promise of golden rice reducing blindness is a sham
b. Has less vitamin A than other foods already available for free to Indian farmers
i. “just give every woman a kitchen garden, and you've solved the Vitamin A problem”
7. GMO banana
a. Suppose to help with iron deficiency
b. Again, there are free substitutes that solve problem better
c. Involves theft of genetic heritage of developing world
8. GMOs based on stealing biological heritage of 3rd world and then selling it as an invention
a. “We've also found that the GMO banana is bio-pirated, which means the yellowness has been taken through theft from Micronesia. This, to me, is one of the biggest outrages of the false promise of genetic engineering. That at the end of the day, it's bent on stealing the biological heritage of the third world, their knowledge, and then selling it as an invention. If Monsanto takes soya bean, which is an East Asian crop, puts one toxic gene into it and says I've invented the seed, that is not creation; it is not invention.”
b. True, but the patent is not on soybean seed, but this particular, sightly altered soybean seed.
9. Say’s can’t have and use GMOs w/o relying on industrial agriculture
10. Ontological schizophrenia
a. GMO food and traditional food are “substantially equivalent” so no food safety worry
b. But for ownership, GMO food is an invention, different from non-gmo food, can be patented
11. Some of Shiva’s language critiquing of industrial agriculture:
a. “For me, technology is a tool and you look at what the tools do. In the case of agriculture, a tool is a very small component. The soil fertility decides how much you'll get, whether you have irrigation or not that decides how much output you have. The potential of the seed decides. The biodiversity intensification decides. The reason our systems produce more is we intensify biodiversity. And the more biodiversity there is, the more nutrition per acre there is. The industrial system which is called the use of technology actually kills—destroys—biodiversity, has destroyed the fertility of soils, that intensive agriculture that's producing less food per acre is producing more commodities per acre. But commodities are going to drive cars as biofuels, they're going to torture animal as animal feed. That's not a food system. The first issue about industrial agriculture is it is destroying the planet. The second issue is that it's giving us nutritionally empty commodities with no micronutrients, no trace elements and that's why we have so many new diseases, which also need to be looked at much more. The impact of toxics need to be looked at much more. The third aspect is the fact that industrial agriculture, which uses 10 times more input than it produces food and also uses 10 times more finances than it can earn for the farmer—it's a negative economy. Farmers trapped in this negative economy is the reason family farms have disappeared, is the reason our small peasants are being pushed off the land, when there are systems of farming that can give meaningful viable livelihoods that protect the livelihood of farmers.”
Study Questions for Monsanto vs Vandana Shiva on Genetically Modified Organisms
1. Discuss the controversy over GMO labeling. Does Monsanto support GMO labeling? Explain.
2. Discuss the debate over patenting seeds. Why does Vandana Shiva think GMOs involve “biopiracy?” Explain.
3. Explain the difference between herbicide tolerant and pest resistant GMO crops. Give examples of each.
4. Explain Monsanto’s comparison between skepticism toward GMOs and skepticism toward the use of vaccines. Do you think it a good one?
5. Describe some of the differences between the industrial agriculture Vandana Shiva’s opposes the ecological agriculture she supports.