GMO Foods - Safe? Effective?

So I recently got into a debate with some friends over GMO on facebook (my folks are old-school hippies, so most of the family friends are also old-school hippies, with all the ignorance of science and neo-ludditism that tends to bring with it), and I kept hearing that they were unsafe, and that independent studies showed that it was harmful. However, in terms of independent studies, what I found was that most of them were of similar quality to the Séralini rat study - lousy sample size, muddy data, overdrawn conclusions. What’s more, there appears to be tons of studies showing the opposite.

So here are my questions.

  1. Are GMOs safe for human consumption?
  2. Are GMOs beneficial for crop yields and overall resources?
  3. What is the environmental impact of GMOs?
  4. What impact does influence from agribusiness have on the results of the scientific studies? (:rolleyes:)

As for 1, there appear to by a lot of studies showing that they are safe, both within and without the monsanto-dupont-BASF compex. For 2, I keep getting muddled responses. One would think that higher crop yield would be an intrinsic result of what we’re doing, but at the same time you get studies like this. I couldn’t find solid information on this in either direction. For 3, there’s this which I’d really appreciate if someone with more knowledge of biology looked over (I couldn’t really parse it), but I’m not entirely sure how it connects to GMOs. There are a lot of contradictory claims with regards to the increase in pesticide/herbicide use, does anyone know anything about that? And if we skip 4, well, all the better. :rolleyes:

GMO means too many different things for any serious discussion. GMO includes both a harmless genetic modification to increase the red coloration of tomatoes that could easily be reproduced by selective breeding, or adding a synthetic pesticide which is potentially lethal to humans is included.

You can’t group them all together. It’s silly. I do grant you, however, that much of the world has been taken in by this collective sillyness.

Now, you can very readily argue about specific GMO crops, or specific genetic modifications, but not “GMO’s” as a whole. Any argument that shows the “horrors and woes” of GMO foods only demonstrate the horrors and woes of that specific crop rather in the same way as the worst of humanity (or the best) doesn’t represent all of humanity.

Yes, anything available to consumers is safe. GMO denialism is akin to climate change denialism or creationism at this point.

Well, when it comes to toxicity, we generally talk about either the wost-case scenarios or the worst-case scenarios which have a large market function. Most of the time, critics focus on Bt and Roundup-ready crops, due to their large prevalence in US agriculture. I honestly couldn’t tell you which ones I thought were best worth discussion on those merits, because I don’t actually hold that position, and all of the research I’ve seen so far (excluding Seralini’s tripe) indicates that GMOs are extremely safe.

Genetic modification is a tool, not an object. Like any tool, it can be used to do a huge variety of things. One could, in theory, modify apples to include some poisonous toxin that would kill 90% of people who ate it. This would be a bad thing. One could also engineer a banana that confers immunity to polio. This would be a good thing. So it’s ridiculous to talk about all GMOs as if they were a single thing. They need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

As far as safety, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been one single solitary documented case of any person anywhere being harmed in any way whatsoever by any GMO, fearmongering aside. There are legitimate issues surrounding economics and environmental impacts that can be discussed, but the safety fears are just stupid, IMHO. At least for the GMOs that have been made so far. The poison apples are still probably a bad idea.

Humans have been genetically modifying food for thousands of years. We’ve done this by selectively choosing which animals or crops we prefer over others or by splicing and grafting plants with one another. So, now we can take this to a further level and modify the plant’s genes in a laboratory setting, as opposed to the field. Anyone who is afraid of this is not very knowledgeable.

Grafting plants does not alter their DNA in any way.

The DNA of the hybrid plant isn’t different from the parent plants? I’m not a botanist, obviously, but how is this not true?

The hybrid plant only passes on the genes of the parent plant that provides the grafted limb. You have to re-graft each successive generation. It’s like receiving a donor organ; your sperm would not contain my chromosomes even if you received my transplanted kidney (though I expect it would if you received my transplanted testes. Ough.)

Yes. No disease has ever been confirmed to have occurred due to genetic modification of food crops.

Yes and yes. Crop yields are vastly higher now than in pre-industrial times, nearly everywhere on earth. There are many reasons for this, including better fertilizers and pesticides, farm machinery, and irrigation systems. But genetic modification has played an enormous role in process of improving agriculture.

It also has the potential for good effects on the environment. If you modify corn’s genome so that it repels pests automatically, you don’t need to spray on extra pesticides. If you modify wheat so that it can grow with less water, then you don’t need to pump as much water from lakes and rivers. There was even talk, a few years ago, of engineering a type of pig that would produce less waste than a normal pig–I’m not sure if it ever happened. Given how much environmental damage is caused by pig s***, that would seem to be an all-around good.

Yes, but that’s not evidence of anything. GMO foods aren’t distinguished from non-GMO foods at the point of sale, so if one of them made you sick you wouldn’t know it.

Round-Up ready crops rather than being monsters in the natural world, are in fact very “green”.

They reduce the number of workers a farmer has to put into the fields for weed control, and the whole environmental impact they bring along. They reduce the machinery and fuel used to control the weeds.

And for this reason farmers like these crops because they greatly reduce the cost of production, and the end cost to the consumer. But rather than seeing these benefits, opponents decry the greed of the Agri-business giants and Monsanto, and on and on as evil incarnate. The idealism of living in a Mother Jones world puts blinders on people and prevents them from seeing the benefits.

The increased yields, the reduced footprint on the land of the labor, fuel and machinery involved is lost in the scare words.

I’ve got my own little organic garden plot going on, but the work is substantial and we are not going to feed the world that way. GMOs and Round-Up ready crops are increasing the yield per acre to levels never seen before.

Would it be more moral to not do these GMO things? Is it better to use more labor, fuel and machinery to produce less? Should the hungry not be fed?

But wait, Monsanto is making money, it must be wrong!

On the other hand, GM grains are widely used in making many varieties of processed foods. And while some of those foods (especially if overindulged in) are not that healthy, none have been linked to specific diseases due to GM content.

As I said in another thread in GD, concerns over crops genetically modified to resist pesticides can be problematic if farmers over-rely on them and don’t use other good agricultural practices to limit the development of pest resistance. And certainly it’s justifiable to test new GM crops thoroughly to make sure that new genetic combinations don’t have unforeseen negative health or environmental effects.

That said, no health problems have developed in the decades since GM food technology was introduced (the same cannot be said for a few vegetables developed through “traditional” techniques). The list of references provided in the OP’s link show that this is a heavily studied area, with plenty of documentation from non-industry funded sources.

The arguments used by anti-GMOers are overwhelmingly based on unsupportable fears, goofy anecdotes (like the fabled mice who wouldn’t eat kernels of GM corn but happily devoured “natural” corn), and a few grossly deficient research studies (like Seralini’s rat paper and the notorious “pig inflammation” study*, whose defects (and gross conflict of interest) should be obvious to any junior grad student). Consequences of this dumbassed Ludditism include delays in introduction of golden rice, a well-studied and safe vitamin A-rich strain which promises to save millions of kids in Third World countries from blindness - if only anti-GMOers would stop blocking it.

*the study claimed that pigs fed GM grain had more inflammation in their stomachs than those fed non-GM grain. Unfortunately, the authors never bothered looking at any tissue under the microscope to see and quantify inflammation. In science, we call this “bullshit”.

While not labelled, it’s origin is not in doubt. If you are the CDC and get a case of whatever-have-you, they can easily determine where that stores’ foods came from. This is readily apparent each time lettuce gets E Coli.

Honestly, I agree that Monsanto is a horrible organization and it should probably get sliced up for the good of mankind.

But I believe that GMO is largely harmless as currently practiced. The only concern I really have is introducing potential allergens to products that didn’t previously have them. So if you have a wheat allergy and it’s introduced to corn, you now have to stop eating corn.

I’m not afraid of consuming GMO crops, but I do wish it was clearly labeled as such, so I was the one making the choice. As mentioned by Farin, as GMO foods start to share genes, who knows what allergic or such may start turning up. I’ve heard people argue against GMO labels (and against rBGH labels) by saying that the public will take that to mean that GMOs unsafe, since they have to be labeled against. First - HA! That hasn’t stopped tobacco uses. Second - Then it’s up to the growers to educate the public.

My one concern about GMO crops is the environment. How do Roundup ready crops affect non-damaging insects that eat them. What happens when pollen from GMO apple trees pollenates non-crop trees. Or when we start modifying fish, and some escape and cross breed with the wild population, what happens then?

That’s a slothful induction. All smokers do acknowledge that smoking is dangerous. Smokers smoke despite that. Moreover we know that a majority of Americans don’t smoke, and 99.99% don’t allow their children to smoke, precisely because the do know that they smoke.

So the example of tobacco proves exactly the point you are trying to disprove. Labeling something does indeed mean that it is unsafe.

Your argument seems to be that since tobacco is labelled as unsafe, but people use tobacco anyway, that proves that nobody thinks that labels mean that something is unsafe. But I can bury you under cites proving that this is not the case, and that all smokers know that smoking is dangerous, they just do it despite that and that the majority of people do not smoke, and they do that precisely because it is labelled as unsafe.

Why? This is a total non sequitur. Why should the state be able to force a citizen label their services as harmful without evidence and why is it up to the citizen to then pay again to disseminate the truth?

Do you also believe that, say, electric cars should be labelled with a warning on the dash saying “The American Cancer Society requires that all passengers be made aware that the air the are breathing has been in proximity to high voltage rechargable batteries”?

After all, it’s perfectly true. Right? And labelling doesn’t make people think it might be dangerous. Right? And if air in electric cars doesn’t cause cancer, well that’s up to the manufacturers to educate the public on. Right?

Of course that’s ludicrous. The label alone is a clear implication that breathing the air is carcinogenic. Why should Toyota have to pay to “educate the public” on the truth when there was no need for the government to spread the misinformation in the first place?

Firstly any insect that eats a plant is, by definition, damaging. Some won’t be sufficiently damaging to warrant insecticide application using conventional methods. Secondly, depending on the exact genes used, the effect can range from “rapidly lethal” to “utterly harmless”, but so what? It’s a crop. Why does anyone care what happens to insects that eat it and why does anyone but the owner have say in that? Thirdly, one of the great advantages of GM insecticide is that it results in less non-targetted effects precisely because it only affects insects that eat the crop, not insects that just happen to be in the field.

So this simply isn’t a legitimate concern.

Why don’t you ask the hundreds of scientists who actually research this? Or read the scientific literature? Since these are precisely the sorts of tests that are required to be done before a GM crop can be released the answer does exist?

Well, when you can show us evidence of the existence of GM fish that could conceivably escape into the wild, I’ll answer your question.

Until then, this is like asking what we’ll do when we start making electric cars that think for themselves and they try to take over the planet. It’s a ridiculous question based upon something that doesn’t exist in the real world.

But I’ll throw a similar question back at you what happens when we crossbreed wild tomato species with domestic tomatoes and some escape, what happens then? This is something that actually happens in the real world.

So can you explain why you believe that GM is more scary than this?

Or do you oppose the use of any hybrid crop and demand that only pure-strain wild type plants be allowed to be grown?

  1. Yes.

  2. Overall, yes.

  3. and 4): It always depends of what the ones using that tool are looking for.

Just about the only thing I can think that is iffy on the wild has little to do with the GMO itself, it is the use of herbicides in association with the round-up ready crops causing the appearance of more resistant weeds.

Two separate issues, aren’t they? Grafting is physically putting a branch from one tree onto the roots of another. No DNA sharing.

But hybridization is cross-breeding: the pollen from one tree into the blossoms of another. Or having your donkey cover your mare.

The result might be a “mule,” i.e., sterile, and so, like grafting, can only be done on a case-by-case basis. But the result might be a viable hybrid, with some of the DNA of both parents passed along to all further generations.

Oak trees in southern California display a wide variety of natural hybridization. DNA is actually being swapped about. Promiscuity!

Grafting = pomato.
Hybrid = tomacco. Looks like someone online made grafted tomacco…

Monsanto is bad not because of what they produce, but because they’ve engaged in patent trolling, suing farmers because the seeds landed on their farms. But for certain people on Facebook*, it doesn’t matter. They’re evil, and also a corporation, so eviler, according to the usual suspects.

Anyway, GMO is evil! Once upon a time some guys took some wolves, and genetically modified them, culminating in my 18" tall dog. Those sickos! :slight_smile:

As people said it can be good or bad, but hippies only picture apples growing a human ear on them. I think the biggest drawback might be lack of genetic diversity: the “old” stuff might be deprecated. Also, there is talk of mandatory labeling and that doesn’t sit right with me. I’m not completely sure why or which way that would cause the needle to swing. But it’s not like Monsanto is injecting radioactive poison into plants.

*A quick look on my feed, I see “marijuana/hemp is the Jesus of plants,” fracking, and an organic gardening poster is now being put to task for using plastic near plants because “won’t the BPA leach out?”

Of course, this is already a huge issue. There is more genetic diversity in one small corn-patch in the hills of old Mexico than in all the cornfields in Kansas. However, the good part is that we engage in periodic re-hybridization to re-introduce variety into our mass-produced seed grain. So, yes, it’s a distinct problem…but one food-scientists are aware of an are addressing.

I’m terribly conflicted regarding labeling. My liberal instinct is that labels are good and everyone should have the right to know exactly what is in the products they buy. Openness is good, and secrets are bad. But it saddens me to think that labeling will have the effect of suppressing GM foods, because [impolite term redacted] some people will boycott them.

But, well, that’s democracy. We don’t make decisions because they’re good for us; we make decisions because we’re free to. Sometimes, the decisions will be wrong, even stupid. So, with bitter reluctance, I think I have to favor labeling.