Opinion: My family farm isn't under "corporate control"
January 17th, 2013
07:01 PM ET
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Editor's Note: Brian Scott farms with his father and grandfather on 2,300 acres of land in northwest Indiana. They grow corn, soybeans, popcorn and wheat. He blogs about it at The Farmer's Life, where a version of this post originally appeared. Corporate relationships and the use of genetically modified products are complex and controversial issues, and Eatocracy will be presenting points of view on it from more farmers, food scientists and environmentalists in the coming weeks. We invite you to become part of the dialogue.

As a farmer who is active on social media, I’ve seen a lot of posts online about how corporations control farms or how farmers are slaves to “Big Ag.” Some people claim we are beholden to companies and must sign unfair contracts to be privileged enough to use their biotech seed.  They also claim the contracts rope us into buying other inputs like pesticides and herbicides from the same company.

Others make claims about how family farmers are treated by big corporations that they see as enemies of nature, monopolizing agriculture and ruthless in their greed. It’s easy to misunderstand something if you aren’t directly involved.

We get a lot of our seed from big corporations like the so-called "evil" Monsanto, Pioneer and others, meaning I have first-hand experience raising a crop under such an agreement. In hopes of clarifying the matter and fostering honest dialogue, I posted a copy of an actual technology agreement I signed, so others may see how we are able to operate our farm in the manner Dad, Grandpa and I choose.

The website for Farm Aid - a a non-profit group that champions family farms -  poses the question, "What does GE (genetic engineering) mean for family farmers?" The text goes on to say:

"Corporate Control. Farmers who buy GE seeds must sign contracts that dictate how their crop is grown - including what chemicals to buy - and forbid them from saving seeds. This has given corporations incredible control over the production of major staple crops in America."

Let's examine this "corporate control" a little further and look at it from the level of my own family's farm. Technology use agreements are common with many companies dealing in biotechnology. I signed an agreement with Dow already this year, and it’s very similar to other agreements.

When we buy Monsanto's GMO (genetic engineering is used widely in agriculture to make crops resistant to pests and herbicides) seeds, we sign a Technology/Stewardship Agreement.  Section 4 of the 2011 agreement I have on file covers everything the grower must agree to when purchasing these products.

Here is a rundown of the requirements.

Keep a handle on the land

If we buy or lease land already seeded with Monsanto technology that year, we need to abide by the contract.  Makes sense to me. If I end up leasing ground in crop for some reason, I should honor the agreements it was planted with.  This would be a very odd thing to happen, by the way. Even if land changes hands during the growing season, the previous tenant will still harvest the grain with the new owner or renter taking over the following spring.

Manage insects

I must read and follow the company's Technology Use Guide and Insect Resistance Management/Grower Guide.  So, Monsanto has ideas on how best to use their product. Is that really a surprise?

Some of it is required by the EPA to make sure farmers like me understand how to steward the technology. And the guides actually contain ton of good agronomic information.

I also agree to implement an insect resistance management program.  Shocking! Monsanto thinks controlling pests responsibly is a good idea and, if you farm, insects are something you deal with regardless of what production method you choose.

Only buy licensed seed, and don't sell or breed it

Monsanto also says I should only buy seed from a dealer or seed company licensed by them.  I'd want to do that anyway.  Would you buy a brand new home entertainment system out of the back of some guy's van parked in an alley?  I’m spending a lot of money so I want to be sure I know I’m getting what I paid for.

I must agree to use seed with Monsanto technology solely for planting a single commercial crop and I shouldn't sell any to my neighbor, either.  We can't save seed to grow the next year and frankly, I'm not interested in doing so.  

For the critics who are not sold on GMO crops to begin with, do they really want farmers holding onto this seed and planting it without any kind of paper trail? Some farmers would like to save soybean seed, but with hybrid corn, the seed harvested will not be identical to the parent seed. In that case, I’m buying seed next year anyway.

If you want to plant seed to be used as seed, you need to sign an agreement to do so with a seed company licensed by Monsanto.  We do this for two different companies.  In fact, we've actually worked with one company through several name changes long before GMO showed up.

We do this because we can get a premium price for the soybeans we grow to be used as seed by other farmers next year.  The premium accounts for the extra effort we put in to make sure our planting, harvesting and storage equipment is extra clean to provide a pure product to the customer.

We can't grow seed to be used for breeding, research or generation of herbicide registration data.  This goes back to saving seed.  If we wanted to breed our own varieties I'm sure we could, but I look at it right now as division of labor. Seed companies are great at coming up with great products, and American farmers are great (in many cases the best) at turning those products into a bounty of food, feed, fuel, and fiber.

Our farm has agreed to only export and plant these crops in countries that allow them. That's kind of a no-brainer - not to mention we aren't the ones exporting anything.

My vendors, my choice

Here's the part where some people think family farmers become slaves to the corporations - the part where GMO seeds force us to buy our chemicals from the same company (but if you've got a Technology/Stewardship Agreement handy you'll find this is not true.): If I plant Roundup® Ready (RR) crops, Monsanto would sure like me to use Roundup® herbicide on them. But I don't have to.

The agreement says for RR crops I should only use Roundup® herbicide or another authorized herbicide which could not be used in the absence of the RR gene.  When I worked off the farm, I sold a lot of generic brand glyphosate, a common herbicide.  It's just like buying your grocer's private label brand of cough medicine instead of the name brand.  The only catch is if you have a problem you need to talk with the company that provided the herbicide.

If we spray Brand X and it doesn't work, it won't do any good to go crying to Monsanto.  Sounds like pretty standard business practice to me. If you bought a Cadillac would you call a Toyota dealer with a warranty issue?  Furthermore, I don't even have to use glyphosate on my glyphosate-tolerant crops.

In 2012, I raised waxy corn from Pioneer and waxy corn from a local dealer who sells Monsanto products.  The latter will be RR, but the Pioneer variety won't. We planted them in the same field side-by-side to see which one performs better.  If we spray glyphosate on those acres, all the Pioneer corn will die!  Instead, we controlled weeds with an herbicide that corn resists naturally.

We have to pay for the seed.  Ridiculous isn't it? Paying for something gives value in return?

Maintaining a paper - and pixel trail

We may have to provide documents supporting we are following the agreement within seven days after getting a request from Monsanto.  I'm not worried about this if I'm following the agreement anyway.  To my knowledge, we've never received a request.

If Monsanto asks to do so, they can inspect our land, storage bins, wagons, etc.  Again I'm not worried. I can’t say I’m super excited about the possibility of inspection, but nothing out of the ordinary would be found on my farm.

And finally, we agree to allow Monsanto to obtain our internet service provider records to validate an electronic signature.  If anything on this list is questionable, it's this one.  I'm just not sure electronic signatures are the way to go personally, but it's becoming more common.

If you want to see the exact wording of the contract, click to view a PDF of my 2011 Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement.

So there you have it.  You can see what we have to agree to in order to make use of Monsanto's biotechnology on our farm.  I don't see anything in there that hurts my farm.  I don't have to buy their herbicides, and I don't have to buy anything from them next year if I don't want to.

The biggest problem I have with seed companies is that it seems like they phase out a variety from time to time that is a really strong performer on our farm.  I understand the concern organic farms have with GMO crops in close proximity to their own.  Those farmers have worked hard and shown patience in getting an organic certification, and they don't want to start over again.  Even though we don't have any neighbors farming organically, it's important that we are careful when making field applications.  

We hope our neighbors do the same because our waxy corn generally isn't RR and our popcorn definitely is not.  You could also have drift from any corn field do damage to soybeans next door, so even guys like me are sympathetic to the practices of other farms.

A good deal of the non-farm population carries the misconception farms like mine are not family endeavors. To my surprise, an Illinois study shows that urban dwellers believe most farmland is corporate owned. If perception is reality, then America needs to hear from farmers to let them know who runs American farms. In fact, the vast majority of them are family owned and operated. Even farms listed as corporations are often merely organized partnerships between relatives.

Now, I would love to hear your thoughts. What do you think about these agreements? Do you think farmers are under control of multinational corporations or are they free to farm as they choose? Weigh in, and we'll continue the conversation.

Previously:
Opinion: My family farm isn't under "corporate control"
Farmers aren't evil. Now can we have a civil conversation?
What should a 'local' farm (and farmer) look like?
Praying for rain in the Arkansas drought
What a farmer wants you to know about how beef gets to your plate
Start a conversation with a farmer
Farmer in the know: 5 easy ways you can help us help animals
Farmers aren't evil. Now can we have a civil conversation?



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soundoff (803 Responses)
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  6. Nate

    "We get a lot of our seed from big corporations like the so-called "evil" Monsanto, Pioneer and others,"

    That is where I ended reading his rant. I really do not care if a farm is owned by a corporation, a family, or a group of gypsies. If you choose to used GMOs on your farm, than I do not support your farm and hope you go out of business. I am going to take my hard earned dollar to a corporation, family or group of gypsies that supports sustainable ways of producing food for our society. The United States needs to realize that our whole food system is not sustainable in our current mono-agriculture GMO hormone laden, antibiotic, profit driven system.

    To the few that actually support Monsanto, I have one question. Why does corporations fight tooth and nail against just labeling products that use GMOs? If they are safe to ingest and have in our society, these corporations need to allow the people to choose if they want them in our food. I have the right to know how my food is made and what ingredients are used. If GMOs are so safe, than these corporations should have nothing to hide.

    April 17, 2014 at 9:44 pm |
    • TheKnowerseeker

      Right on!

      August 18, 2014 at 9:52 am |
  7. supermanalexthegreat

    LOL you're pathetic, the problem isn't nature, it's the fact that we have overpopulated the planet- it has natural controls in place to control that (like pests) so instead of trying to circumvent nature and cause further problems, go with it and let it do what it has been doing right for billions of years- keeping the population in check!

    and now, the AMA agrees:

    GMOs should be safety tested – AMA

    Thursday, 21 June 2012 12:07

    NOTE: U.S. regulators rely almost exclusively on information provided by GM crop developers like Monsanto on an entirely voluntary basis, and those data are not normally published in journals or subjected to peer review. This is why many critics regard U.S. regulation of GM foods as a rubber-stamp approval process that does nothing to ensure the safety of GM foods.

    The American Medical Association's stance echoes what the British medical journal The Lancet said in an editorial more than a decade ago, "Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health."

    http://bangmfood.org/quotes/24-quotes/29-regulatory-breakdown

    -
    -
    GMOs should be safety tested before they hit the market says AMA
    Monica Eng
    Chicago Tribune, 20 June 2012

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/food/stew/chi-gmos-should-be-safety-tested-before-they-hit-the-market-says-ama-20120619,0,4405082.story

    The American Medical Association called for mandatory pre-market safety testing of genetically engineered foods as part of a revised policy voted on at the AMA's meeting in Chicago Tuesday.

    Currently biotech companies are simply encouraged to engage in a voluntary safety consultation with the Food and Drug Administration before releasing a product onto the market.

    Some activists concerned about foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, had hoped the association would have gone so far as to support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. But some still view the policy change as a major breakthrough.

    "We applaud the AMA for taking the lead to help ensure a safe and adequate food supply," said Anne Dietrich of the Truth In Labeling Campaign, which advocates labeling of genetically engineered foods. When Monsanto Co., the world's largest biotech seed company, testified Sunday at the AMA committee hearing on the policy, its representative did not raise any objections to the mandatory safety assessment provision.

    On Tuesday, however, Monsanto spokesman Tom Helscher would not say whether or not the company supports mandatory pre-market testing, only that the current voluntary consultation process "is working," he wrote to the Tribune. "All of Monsanto's biotech products, and to our knowledge all those of other companies, go through the FDA consultation process, which provides a stringent safety assessment of biotech crops before they are placed on the market."

    The AMA's Dr. Patrice Harris said the testing provision was aimed at addressing public interests and ensuring public health.

    Just now!
    The AMA's Dr. Patrice Harris said the testing provision was aimed at addressing public interests and ensuring public health.

    "Recognizing the public's interest in the safety of bioengineered foods, the new policy also supports mandatory FDA pre-market systemic safety assessments of these foods as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the public," Harris said in a statement. "We also urge the FDA to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods."

    Tuesday afternoon FDA officials would not say whether the department supported mandatory testing. "New foods have an obligation under the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act to ensure that the foods they offer consumers are safe and in compliance with applicable legal requirements," the agency said. "In meeting their legal obligation, firms do conduct premarket safety testing."

    The agency was referring to testing manufacturers commission for their own use. Critics, however, argue that independent testing overseen by regulatory authorities often produces different results than testing paid for by the manufacturer.

    After the policy was announced Tuesday, Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen released a statement saying: "We wholeheartedly commend AMA for coming out in support of mandatory pre-market safety assessment of (genetically engineered) foods, but are disappointed that AMA did not also support mandatory labeling. ... Studies in the scientific literature have suggested that genetic engineering could introduce new food allergens, increase the levels of known allergens, raise or lower nutrient levels and have adverse effects on the animals that eat such foods."

    Just Label It, the national campaign for the labeling of genetically engineered foods (www.justlabelit.org), issued a statement saying "just the fact that the AMA even considered this measure is a significant win for the vast majority (91%) of Americans (see the Mellman Poll findings) who believe they have the right to know about the foods they eat and feed their families - a fundamental right already enjoyed by citizens in more than 50 countries worldwide, including all of Europe, Japan, Russia and China."

    December 23, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  8. supermanalexthegreat

    Something that Monsanto doesn't like to admit to is that there has been growing resistance to glysophate (as anyone with any knowledge of biochemistry understands- immunity builds with exposure- this is why we're seeing a problem right now with antibiotics in farm animals)- and Monsanto and Dow's ideas of what to replace glysophate is- one of the two active ingredients of Agent Orange.

    December 22, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
  9. supermanalexthegreat

    It was over the summer that an employee of Monsanto admitted to me they know the company has a horribly checkered past, but that they are now under "new leadership." What I said to him was- I'll believe that when the company leadership publicly admits that what they did was wrong, and not just settle class action lawsuits and hide behind a gag order. And that includes Dow and Bayer also, it's not just Monsanto, though they bear the majority of the blame.

    December 22, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
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    June 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Drew

      I is also likes to having seed growing!!

      June 24, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  13. Denise

    City gal here. Generally, I have no issue with GMOs. Some of my social sites exploded over Monsanto, probably because of the recent court decision, and I needed a farmer's voice to help sort and balance out the yelling. Thank you Mr. Scott for taking the time to write.

    May 16, 2013 at 2:00 am |
    • Brian

      Thanks, Denise, for reading!

      August 6, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  14. CL

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch as I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch! "We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less." by Laertius Diogenes. CL http://jerseybeerscene.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=269143

    May 10, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  15. Interesting

    Google Farmers Against Monstanto and you see other sides to the story. From https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/01/08-11:

    A group of family farmers is headed to a federal appeals court on Thursday in their ongoing battle against genetically modified seed giant Monsanto.

    The group's suit, first filed by lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) in March 2011, argues (.pdf) that farmers who want nothing to do with genetically modified (transgenic) seed could have their crops unwillingly contaminated by it and "could quite perversely also be accused of patent infringement by the company responsible for the transgenic seed that contaminates them."

    The was dismissed in February 2012 by Federal Judge Naomi Buchwald, but attorney Dan Ravicher of the not-for-profit Public Patent Foundation said, "The District Court erred when it denied the organic seed plaintiffs the right to seek protection from Monsanto's patents."

    In July of 2012 the group filed an appeal to reverse the lower court's decision, and on Thursday the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will hear that appeal.

    "It's time to end Monsanto's campaign of fear against America's farmers and stand up for farmers' right to grow our food without legal threats and intimidation," said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!.

    Murphy states that Monsanto, which has a history of lawsuits against family farmers, has waged a "campaign of fear against America's farmers."

    Jim Gerritsen, President of OSGATA adds, "We are not customers of Monsanto. We don't want their seed. We don't want their gene-spliced technology. We don't want their trespass onto our farms. We don't want their contamination of our crops. We don't want to have to defend ourselves from aggressive assertions of patent infringement because Monsanto refuses to keep their pollution on their side of the fence. We want justice."

    January 25, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Wolf

      I hope GMO technology is destroyed! Furthermore, those who have developed and promote this destructive technology need to bare the negative consequences that this technology has had on so many people around the world. However, I don't believe the legal system will be of any long term benefit because large companies have the power to buy off politicians or financially drag out the legal process. Large companies have turned democratic countries into a new type of dictatorship. Our forefathers fled Europe for freedom. Yes, we have freedom. We are free to do what large the corporations desire. Welcome to the new reality America! No Freedom without Force!

      January 25, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
      • Uberanalex

        By force? (So wrongheaded)

        June 27, 2014 at 7:27 pm |
      • TheKnowerseeker

        Unfortunately, "the founding fathers" (who were not *all* of our - U.S. - forefathers, but they are celebrated as such) were the 1% of their time and wanted a nation run by the 1%. I guess they're happy with how it turned out.

        August 18, 2014 at 9:57 am |
  16. Jimbo

    Every year farmers have a choice of what seed to buy and plant. Nobody forces them to grow GM varieites. They do so based on a simple calculation of input vs. output: How many resources do I have to put into the land (time, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel etc...and thus money) vs. how many bushels per acre (and thus money) do I get back? Every year more and more farmers decide GM crops offer a better ratio of output. It's called math. But again, ultimately it's their choice. My wife's family has farmed for generations and her Uncle once told me point-blank that if weren't for GM seeds, he would've gone out of business years ago.

    Organic farming has it's place in Agriculture for those who can afford the higher prices, but as others have stated here, the reality is it does not and will not produce enough food to feed the earth's gorwing population, especially in the poorest regions of the world. Most people in the US have not experienced a serious food shortage so we don't really appreciate the life or death struggle that is already occurring in other parts of the world due to lack of agrigultural production. When that struggle finally finds its way to our doorsteps (not IF, but WHEN), I trust that all those who oppose GM crops today will gaciously volunteer to starve to death and leave your portions to the rest of us, right?

    January 23, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • jayeferguson

      Kindly point those of us that will happily starve to death, as opposed ingesting an unproven/untested/unsafe science experiment, to the hard data that scientifically proves your sweeping statement: " it [organic] does not and will not produce enough food to feed the earth's growing population". I see this all the time, yet I never see any hard science to back up the claim. That grandiose statement can't just be a hunch or a notion if it is to be taken seriously.

      A lot of us in the tinfoil hat crowd – in the absence of transparent labeling laws –would be happy if we went back to good ‘ol days of 1995 when there was no GMO seed yet planted. It seems we have always had surpluses of corn. GM crops were not planted until 1995. According to "Ethanol Producer Magazine" in a recent article regarding the 2012 drought:

      "USDA is now projecting the national average corn yield will be 123.4 bushels per acre, in the range that was expected by the trade. That is a 22.6 bushel per acre reduction from last month's supply/demand report. In July, USDA also dropped the national average yield by 20 bushels. This summer's deepening drought totally wipe out USDA's spring predictions of a record corn crop. As currently forecast, the 2012-'13 corn yield would be the lowest since 1995-'96."

      So if the 2012 corn yield matched the 1995 yield when relatively no GMO seed was planted, clearly higher yield is not an advantage of GMO seed, correct? So why again are we planting GMO seed? So BIG Chem/BioTech can sell more chemicals? So BIG Chem/BioTech can perpetuate its control over and monopoly of global agriculture? I mean we aren't getting higher yields. And the corn surplus continues to grow at a record rate…

      According to the Des Moines Register: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture Thursday said that the corn surplus in the U.S. would double to almost 1.9 billion bushels after the 2012 harvest."

      So why do we need to plant so much GMO corn again? It seems like we have a bit too much already, no? Maybe some of that extra land could be converted to organic farming for the benefit of us elitist, tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists that prefer clean food over toxic food...just a thought…

      OR – JUST LABEL IT!!!

      January 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
      • Jim

        ""USDA is now projecting the national average corn yield will be 123.4 bushels per acre, in the range that was expected by the trade. That is a 22.6 bushel per acre reduction from last month's supply/demand report. In July, USDA also dropped the national average yield by 20 bushels. This summer's deepening drought totally wipe out USDA's spring predictions of a record corn crop. As currently forecast, the 2012-'13 corn yield would be the lowest since 1995-'96."

        "So if the 2012 corn yield matched the 1995 yield when relatively no GMO seed was planted, clearly higher yield is not an advantage of GMO seed, correct? "

        No, that's grossly incorrect. The yields being similar to those found in the mid 90's was caused by the most severe drought since the 1930's. Had farmers not had access to the improved genetics and technology the 2012 yields would likely have been similar to those found during the droughts of 1934-36 or about 20-25 bu/ac. Should that have happened we would be dealing to market chaos and hungry people.

        So why again are we planting GMO seed?

        Because they provide farmers the opportunity to produce better crops more economically.

        January 24, 2013 at 7:49 am |
      • Jimbo

        @jayeferguson
        Wow, talk about grandiose claims: "unproven/untested/unsafe"?? There is a large body of documented scientific testing showing currently authorized GM crops are safe: See http://cera-gmc.org/index.php?action=gm_crop_database. It's a pretty comprehensive review and a fairly straight forward process of navigating to the various studies if you bother to take the time to do so ...I doubt you will, you seem to act as if stupidity were a virtue. As for issues like food production, I know I probably can't persuade you but luckily you don't have to take my word for it. Mark Lynas is a leading environmental activist, and until recently, a staunch GMO opponent. He recently gave a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference about how his opinions have evolved. There's an article about it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-tercek/mark-lynas-gmo_b_2424493.html. You can see the whole speech on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pl3vVfhslc. I've also included a full transcript for your convenience below. I recommend you follow his lead by doing a little homework and informing yourself before you make ignorant comments about something you clearly know nothing about. Oh, and the other guy that replied to you- "Jim", about the stats you used on last year's yield...He's right. You did hear about the drought didn't you? Do some homework and get back to us.

        Here's that transcript:

        Mark Lynas – Oxford Farming Conference -1-3-13
        I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

        As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

        So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

        When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

        These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

        This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

        For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. I published my first book on global warming in 2004, and I was determined to make it scientifically credible rather than just a collection of anecdotes.

        So I had to back up the story of my trip to Alaska with satellite data on sea ice, and I had to justify my pictures of disappearing glaciers in the Andes with long-term records of mass balance of mountain glaciers. That meant I had to learn how to read scientific papers, understand basic statistics and become literate in very different fields from oceanography to paleoclimate, none of which my degree in politics and modern history helped me with a great deal.

        I found myself arguing constantly with people who I considered to be incorrigibly anti-science, because they wouldn’t listen to the climatologists and denied the scientific reality of climate change. So I lectured them about the value of peer-review, about the importance of scientific consensus and how the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals.

        My second climate book, Six Degrees, was so sciency that it even won the Royal Society science books prize, and climate scientists I had become friendly with would joke that I knew more about the subject than them. And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

        Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

        So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

        I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

        I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

        I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

        I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

        I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

        But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

        But this was still only the beginning. So in my third book The God Species I junked all the environmentalist orthodoxy at the outset and tried to look at the bigger picture on a planetary scale.

        And this is the challenge that faces us today: we are going to have to feed 9.5 billion hopefully much less poor people by 2050 on about the same land area as we use today, using limited fertiliser, water and pesticides and in the context of a rapidly-changing climate.

        Let’s unpack this a bit. I know in a previous year’s lecture in this conference there was the topic of population growth. This area too is beset by myths. People think that high rates of fertility in the developing world are the big issue – in other words, poor people are having too many children, and we therefore need either family planning or even something drastic like mass one-child policies.

        The reality is that global average fertility is down to about 2.5 – and if you consider that natural replacement is 2.2, this figure is not much above that. So where is the massive population growth coming from? It is coming because of declining infant mortality – more of today’s youngsters are growing up to have their own children rather than dying of preventable diseases in early childhood.

        The rapid decline in infant mortality rates is one of the best news stories of our decade and the heartland of this great success story is sub-Saharan Africa. It’s not that there are legions more children being born – in fact, in the words of Hans Rosling, we are already at ‘peak child’. That is, about 2 billion children are alive today, and there will never be more than that because of declining fertility.

        But so many more of these 2 billion children will survive into adulthood today to have their own children. They are the parents of the young adults of 2050. That’s the source of the 9.5 billion population projection for 2050. You don’t have to have lost a child, God forbid, or even be a parent, to know that declining infant mortality is a good thing.

        So how much food will all these people need? According to the latest projections, published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we are looking at a global demand increase of well over 100% by mid-century. This is almost entirely down to GDP growth, especially in developing countries.

        In other words, we need to produce more food not just to keep up with population but because poverty is gradually being eradicated, along with the widespread malnutrition that still today means close to 800 million people go to bed hungry each night. And I would challenge anyone in a rich country to say that this GDP growth in poor countries is a bad thing.

        But as a result of this growth we have very serious environmental challenges to tackle. Land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases, and perhaps the greatest source of biodiversity loss. This is another reason why intensification is essential – we have to grow more on limited land in order to save the rainforests and remaining natural habitats from the plough.

        We also have to deal with limited water – not just depleting aquifers but also droughts that are expected to strike with increasing intensity in the agricultural heartlands of continents thanks to climate change. If we take more water from rivers we accelerate biodiversity loss in these fragile habitats.

        We also need to better manage nitrogen use: artificial fertiliser is essential to feed humanity, but its inefficient use means dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and many coastal areas around the world, as well as eutrophication in fresh water ecosystems.

        It is not enough to sit back and hope that technological innovation will solve our problems. We have to be much more activist and strategic than that. We have to ensure that technological innovation moves much more rapidly, and in the right direction for those who most need it.

        In a sense we’ve been here before. When Paul Ehrlich published the Population Bomb in 1968, he wrote: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” The advice was explicit – in basket-case countries like India, people might as well starve sooner rather than later, and therefore food aid to them should be eliminated to reduce population growth.

        It was not pre-ordained that Ehrlich would be wrong. In fact, if everyone had heeded his advice hundreds of millions of people might well have died needlessly. But in the event, malnutrition was cut dramatically, and India became food self-sufficient, thanks to Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution.

        It is important to recall that Borlaug was equally as worried about population growth as Ehrlich. He just thought it was worth trying to do something about it. He was a pragmatist because he believed in doing what was possible, but he was also an idealist because he believed that people everywhere deserved to have enough to eat.

        So what did Norman Borlaug do? He turned to science and technology. Humans are a tool-making species – from clothes to ploughs, technology is primarily what distinguishes us from other apes. And much of this work was focused on the genome of major domesticated crops – if wheat, for example, could be shorter and put more effort into seed-making rather than stalks, then yields would improve and grain loss due to lodging would be minimised.

        Before Borlaug died in 2009 he spent many years campaigning against those who for political and ideological reasons oppose modern innovation in agriculture. To quote: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

        And, thanks to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries, we are perilously close to this position now. Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

        It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I’ve just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialisation, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.

        There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about.

        In the EU the system is at a standstill, and many GM crops have been waiting a decade or more for approval but are permanently held up by the twisted domestic politics of anti-biotech countries like France and Austria. Around the whole world the regulatory delay has increased to more than 5 and a half years now, from 3.7 years back in 2002. The bureaucratic burden is getting worse.

        France, remember, long refused to accept the potato because it was an American import. As one commentator put it recently, Europe is on the verge of becoming a food museum. We well-fed consumers are blinded by romantic nostalgia for the traditional farming of the past. Because we have enough to eat, we can afford to indulge our aesthetic illusions.

        But at the same time the growth of yields worldwide has stagnated for many major food crops, as research published only last month by Jonathan Foley and others in the journal Nature Communications showed. If we don’t get yield growth back on track we are indeed going to have trouble keeping up with population growth and resulting demand, and prices will rise as well as more land being converted from nature to agriculture.

        To quote Norman Borlaug again: “I now say that the world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.”

        As Borlaug was saying, perhaps the most pernicious myth of all is that organic production is better, either for people or the environment. The idea that it is healthier has been repeatedly disproved in the scientific literature. We also know from many studies that organic is much less productive, with up to 40-50% lower yields in terms of land area. The Soil Association went to great lengths in a recent report on feeding the world with organic not to mention this productivity gap.

        Nor did it mention that overall, if you take into account land displacement effects, organic is also likely worse for biodiversity. Instead they talk about an ideal world where people in the west eat less meat and fewer calories overall so that people in developing countries can have more. This is simplistic nonsense.

        If you think about it, the organic movement is at its heart a rejectionist one. It doesn’t accept many modern technologies on principle. Like the Amish in Pennsylvania, who froze their technology with the horse and cart in 1850, the organic movement essentially freezes its technology in somewhere around 1950, and for no better reason.

        It doesn’t even apply this idea consistently however. I was reading in a recent Soil Association magazine that it is OK to blast weeds with flamethrowers or fry them with electric currents, but benign herbicides like glyphosate are still a no-no because they are ‘artificial chemicals’.

        In reality there is no reason at all why avoiding chemicals should be better for the environment – quite the opposite in fact. Recent research by Jesse Ausubel and colleagues at Rockefeller University looked at how much extra farmland Indian farmers would have had to cultivate today using the technologies of 1961 to get today’s overall yield. The answer is 65 million hectares, an area the size of France.

        In China, maize farmers spared 120 million hectares, an area twice the size of France, thanks to modern technologies getting higher yields. On a global scale, between 1961 and 2010 the area farmed grew by only 12%, whilst kilocalories per person rose from 2200 to 2800. So even with three billion more people, everyone still had more to eat thanks to a production increase of 300% in the same period.

        So how much land worldwide was spared in the process thanks to these dramatic yield improvements, for which chemical inputs played a crucial role? The answer is 3 billion hectares, or the equivalent of two South Americas. There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yields. Nor would there be any tigers in India or orang utans in Indonesia. That is why I don’t know why so many of those opposing the use of technology in agriculture call themselves environmentalists.

        So where does this opposition come from? There seems to be a widespread assumption that modern technology equals more risk. Actually there are many very natural and organic ways to face illness and early death, as the debacle with Germany’s organic beansprouts proved in 2011. This was a public health catastrophe, with the same number of deaths and injuries as were caused by Chernobyl, because E.-coli probably from animal manure infected organic beansprout seeds imported from Egypt.

        In total 53 people died and 3,500 suffered serious kidney failure. And why were these consumers choosing organic? Because they thought it was safer and healthier, and they were more scared of entirely trivial risks from highly-regulated chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

        If you look at the situation without prejudice, much of the debate, both in terms of anti-biotech and organic, is simply based on the naturalistic fallacy – the belief that natural is good, and artificial is bad. This is a fallacy because there are plenty of entirely natural poisons and ways to die, as the relatives of those who died from E.-coli poisoning would tell you.

        For organic, the naturalistic fallacy is elevated into the central guiding principle for an entire movement. This is irrational and we owe it to the Earth and to our children to do better.

        This is not to say that organic farming has nothing to offer – there are many good techniques which have been developed, such as intercropping and companion planting, which can be environmentally very effective, even it they do tend to be highly labour-intensive. Principles of agro-ecology such as recyling nutrients and promoting on-farm diversity should also be taken more seriously everywhere.

        But organic is in the way of progress when it refuses to allow innovation. Again using GM as the most obvious example, many third-generation GM crops allow us not to use environmentally-damaging chemicals because the genome of the crop in question has been altered so the plant can protect itself from pests. Why is that not organic?

        Organic is also in the way when it is used to take away choice from others. One of the commonest arguments against GM is that organic farmers will be ‘contaminated’ with GM pollen, and therefore no-one should be allowed to use it. So the rights of a well-heeled minority, which come down ultimately to a consumer preference based on aesthetics, trump the rights of everyone else to use improved crops which would benefit the environment.

        I am all for a world of diversity, but that means one farming system cannot claim to have a monopoly of virtue and aim at excluding all other options. Why can’t we have peaceful co-existence? This is particularly the case when it shackles us to old technologies which have higher inherent risks than the new.

        It seems like almost everyone has to pay homage to ‘organic’ and to question this orthodoxy is unthinkable. Well I am here to question it today.

        The biggest risk of all is that we do not take advantage of all sorts of opportunities for innovation because of what is in reality little more than blind prejudice. Let me give you two examples, both regrettably involving Greenpeace.

        Last year Greenpeace destroyed a GM wheat crop in Australia, for all the traditional reasons, which I am very familiar with having done it myself. This was publicly funded research carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific Research institute, but no matter. They were against it because it was GM and unnatural.

        What few people have since heard is that one of the other trials being undertaken, which Greenpeace activists with their strimmers luckily did not manage to destroy, accidentally found a wheat yield increase of an extraordinary 30%. Just think. This knowledge might never have been produced at all, if Greenpeace had succeeded in destroying this innovation. As the president of the NFU Peter Kendall recently suggeseted, this is analogous to burning books in a library before anyone has been able to read them.

        The second example comes from China, where Greenpeace managed to trigger a national media panic by claiming that two dozen children had been used as human guinea pigs in a trial of GM golden rice. They gave no consideration to the fact that this rice is healthier, and could save thousands of children from vitamin A deficiency-related blindness and death each year.

        What happened was that the three Chinese scientists named in the Greenpeace press release were publicly hounded and have since lost their jobs, and in an autocratic country like China they are at serious personal risk. Internationally because of over-regulation golden rice has already been on the shelf for over a decade, and thanks to the activities of groups like Greenpeace it may never become available to vitamin-deficient poor people.

        This to my mind is immoral and inhumane, depriving the needy of something that would help them and their children because of the aesthetic preferences of rich people far away who are in no danger from Vitamin A shortage. Greenpeace is a $100-million a year multinational, and as such it has moral responsibilities just like any other large company.

        The fact that golden rice was developed in the public sector and for public benefit cuts no ice with the antis. Take Rothamsted Research, whose director Maurice Moloney is speaking tomorrow. Last year Rothamsted began a trial of an aphid-resistant GM wheat which would need no pesticides to combat this serious pest.

        Because it is GM the antis were determined to destroy it. They failed because of the courage of Professor John Pickett and his team, who took to YouTube and the media to tell the important story of why their research mattered and why it should not be trashed. They gathered thousands of signatures on a petition when the antis could only manage a couple of hundred, and the attempted destruction was a damp squib.

        One intruder did manage to scale the fence, however, who turned out to be the perfect stereotypical anti-GM protestor – an old Etonian aristocrat whose colourful past makes our Oxford local Marquess of Blandford look like the model of responsible citizenry.

        This high-born activist scattered organic wheat seeds around the trial site in what was presumably a symbolic statement of naturalness. Professor Pickett’s team tell me they had a very low-tech solution to getting rid of it – they went round with a cordless portable hoover to clear it up.

        This year, as well as repeating the wheat trial, Rothamsted is working on an omega 3 oilseed that could replace wild fish in food for farmed salmon. So this could help reduce overfishing by allowing land-based feedstocks to be used in aquaculture. Yes it’s GM, so expect the antis to oppose this one too, despite the obvious potential environmental benefits in terms of marine biodiversity.

        I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. So my conclusion here today is very clear: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.

        Just as I did 10 years ago, Greenpeace and the Soil Association claim to be guided by consensus science, as on climate change. Yet on GM there is a rock-solid scientific consensus, backed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, health institutes and national science academies around the world. Yet this inconvenient truth is ignored because it conflicts with their ideology.

        One final example is the sad story of the GM blight-resistant potato. This was being developed by both the Sainsbury Lab and Teagasc, a publicly-funded institute in Ireland – but the Irish Green Party, whose leader often attends this very conference, was so opposed that they even took out a court case against it.

        This is despite the fact that the blight-resistant potato would save farmers from doing 15 fungicide sprays per season, that pollen transfer is not an issue because potatoes are clonally propagated and that the offending gene came from a wild relative of the potato.

        There would have been a nice historical resonance to having a blight-resistant potato developed in Ireland, given the million or more who died due to the potato famine in the mid 19th century. It would have been a wonderful thing for Ireland to be the country that defeated blight. But thanks to the Irish Green Party, this is not to be.

        And unfortunately the antis now have the bureaucrats on their side. Wales and Scotland are officially GM free, taking medieval superstition as a strategic imperative for devolved governments supposedly guided by science.

        It is unfortunately much the same in much of Africa and Asia. India has rejected Bt brinjal, even though it would reduce insecticide applications in the field, and residues on the fruit. The government in India is increasingly in thrall to backward-looking ideologues like Vandana Shiva, who idealise pre-industrial village agriculture despite the historical fact that it was an age of repeated famines and structural insecurity.

        In Africa, ‘no GM’ is still the motto for many governments. Kenya for example has actually banned GM foods because of the supposed “health risks” despite the fact that they could help reduce the malnutrition that is still rampant in the country – and malnutrition is by the way a proven health risk, with no further evidence needed. In Kenya if you develop a GM crop which has better nutrition or a higher yield to help poorer farmers then you will go to jail for 10 years.

        Thus desperately-needed agricultural innovation is being strangled by a suffocating avalanche of regulations which are not based on any rational scientific assessment of risk. The risk today is not that anyone will be harmed by GM food, but that millions will be harmed by not having enough food, because a vocal minority of people in rich countries want their meals to be what they consider natural.

        I hope now things are changing. The wonderful Bill and Melinda Gates foundation recently gave $10 million to the John Innes Centre to begin efforts to integrate nitrogen fixing capabilities into major food crops, starting with maize. Yes, Greenpeace, this will be GM. Get over it. If we are going to reduce the global-scale problem of nitrogen pollution then having major crop plants fixing their own nitrogen is a worthy goal.

        I know it is politically incorrect to say all this, but we need a a major dose of both international myth-busting and de-regulation. The plant scientists I know hold their heads in their hands when I talk about this with them because governments and so many people have got their sense of risk so utterly wrong, and are foreclosing a vitally necessary technology.

        Norman Borlaug is dead now, but I think we honour his memory and his vision when we refuse to give in to politically correct orthodoxies when we know they are incorrect. The stakes are high. If we continue to get this wrong, the life prospects of billions of people will be harmed.

        So I challenge all of you today to question your beliefs in this area and to see whether they stand up to rational examination. Always ask for evidence, as the campaigning group Sense About Science advises, and make sure you go beyond the self-referential reports of campaigning NGOs.

        But most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt. If you think the old ways are the best, that’s fine. You have that right.

        What you don’t have the right to do is to stand in the way of others who hope and strive for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better. Farmers who understand the pressures of a growing population and a warming world. Who understand that yields per hectare are the most important environmental metric. And who understand that technology never stops developing, and that even the fridge and the humble potato were new and scary once.

        So my message to the anti-GM lobby, from the ranks of the British aristocrats and celebrity chefs to the US foodies to the peasant groups of India is this. You are entitled to your views. But you must know by now that they are not supported by science. We are coming to a crunch point, and for the sake of both people and the planet, now is the time for you to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.

        Thank you.

        January 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
        • supermanalexthegreat

          No it time for you and your kind to get out of the way- you are money sponsored science not real science. And if you dont get out of the way voluntarily, it will happen by force. You can count on that ;) the plans are already in the works. Big money will NOT win

          December 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
        • supermanalexthegreat

          You are nothing more and nothing less than a Nazi sympathizer. Take your BS elsewhere. These are the same companies that developed Agent Orange and DDT. You have NO case.

          December 23, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Mr. Scientist

      Mr Brian, I applaude you for trying to be honest about your farms decision to go GMO, so here is my honest discussion as to why it's a bad idea.......

      * JIMBO – "Wow, talk about grandiose claims: "unproven/untested/unsafe"?? There is a large body of documented scientific testing showing currently authorized GM crops are safe" – Who do you think did and paid for those studies Jimbo ???? Yes, that's right the Big AG companies ( Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, DuPont, etc. ). In case you haven't read, their animal feeding studies have never gone past 3 months......ever think to ask why ???? Why not have an INDEPENDENT group of scientists ( meaning not paid for by the companies, and no conflict-of-interest), do their studies if the technology is so safe......ever think to ask why ???? Why in the last few months have they spent 12 million dollars to fight off simply labeling that a product contains GMO ingredients ???? Because the people don't want to eat something that hasn't been tested properly ( and please don't give me the "it covered too many products" BS ). If you're not 100% sure that a product is safe, it's better to err on the side of caution until you KNOW it's 100% safe. Not plant it, and then hope that you were right, and not giving little children severe allergic reactions that could kill them, as I've seen 1st hand. Even the FDA's own scientists sounded the alarm that not every GMO product that goes to market could be properly tested for allergic reaction on the general population.
      -----------------------------------------------–
      * "Every year farmers have a choice of what seed to buy and plant. Nobody forces them to grow GM varieites. They do so based on a simple calculation of input vs. output: How many resources do I have to put into the land (time, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel etc...and thus money) vs. how many bushels per acre (and thus money) do I get back? Every year more and more farmers decide GM crops offer a better ratio of output. It's called math. But again, ultimately it's their choice. My wife's family has farmed for generations and her Uncle once told me point-blank that if weren't for GM seeds, he would've gone out of business years ago." – This is exactly why people say you're a slave to big AG. If you don't plant their "cheaper" seeds, you go out of business.
      ----------------------------------------
      Seriously if you haven't seen "The World According to Monsanto" then watch it here...

      http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-world-according-to-monsanto/

      and then tell me you don't see any problems with a Corporation who made DDT, PCB's, and Agent Orange ( which Monsanto STILL says didn't cause all the Vietnam vets cancer !! ), and said that all of them were safe, and 30-40 years later ALL being proven DANGEROUS and BANNED. Now they make GMO's and Glyphosate, they spray it on your food, and once again tell you it's SAFE.......sorry, but I for one don't believe this BS ( along with 49% of the US population according to the Label GMO Prop 37 campaign ). But Monsanto and the others hope that just like the PCB lawsuit, they'll make enought money before the truth is discovered, and that they've made much more $$$ then they pay out in lawsuits. And the only way that they could convince you farmers is by supplying the seeds cheaper. And to elimainate the seed price competition, they also decided to buy up most of the seed producing compaines.....If you don't see what's happening here, your a toolbox or you're living in a cave !!!

      I also hear you guys talking about how GMO's can feed the world and organic can't. Well, then just plant more organic farms in places where the "drought" won't happen. Organic farming has fed the world for 100 years, and no one has starved. I would think if you were about to starve-to-death you would plant your own garden !!!

      So, please watch my link, and then "get back to us after you've done your homework".

      February 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
      • What?

        "Organic farming has fed the world for 100 years, and no one has starved."

        That has to be the single most idiotic statement that has ever been made on one of these blogs, and I have seen quite a few "winners".

        February 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
        • Mr. Scientist

          Sorry, my typo, I meant to say the U.S., not the world.

          February 1, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
        • supermanalexthegreat

          I'm not going to say too much here, but Monsanto/Dow/Bayer's reign of terror is about to come to an abrupt end

          December 23, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
      • Horta

        A little education on the problems with organic farming, why it can't feed the world. http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/2013/03/no-cows-dont-make-fertilizer.html The premise that if I am going to starve, I will grow my own food is absurd! I do grow my own food for fun, organically, much of the time it is destroyed by insect pests or just poor growth. You suggest feeding the world with areas that can support organic growing, this would mean clear cutting land that natural ecosystems remain. This would be tragic. The locations on our planet that need GM crop innovations the most due to poor climate and soils, and lack of irrigation, do not have the luxuries that we do in America. A successful farming industry would solve so many problems in those regions, preventing starvation and providing an income.
        Safety has been proven internationally. Unless you believe the entire world is determined to destroy humans through a few crops that humans have been consuming for 20 years, in which case I suggest visiting a psychologist and quitting the internet, because you are far too gullible and paranoid to handle it.
        Educational links if you are capable of reading them, I understand that a pseudo-science mockumentary is much more entertaining and is excellent for alarming those primitive parts of our brains into action, but really, logic and science needs to be prioritized, this international hysteria from laypersons is getting quite embarrassing.
        http://www.bsbanet.org/en/publications/ (If you go to this link, there is a publication available to read, a ton of background information as well as the results of research on the safety of gm foods.)

        Or if you prefer a less anonymous source: http://doccamiryan.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/10-reasoned-responses-to-10-reasons-we-dont-need-gmos/
        This link is more layman friendly. If you peruse the blog, a lot of education can be obtained as well.... from a person who has been working in the field for 20 years and is currently a researcher and has a phd.
        If you deny the authority of someone with credentials, I hope that you have similar credentials.
        On an ending note, I was also anti-gm a few years ago. It is very difficult to sift through the garbage that most of the internet provides. I understand that, and the passion behind the anti-gm propagandists is very convincing as well as the organizations that have sprung up, but what really caught my attention once I swallowed my pride, was that NO peer reviewed scientific document supported the anti-gm viewpoint and there are numerous scientific organizations all over the world, who support gm. I can not logically believe that every one of these organizations have successfully been bribed by a company. Even if the possibility that there are that all of these scientists were so desperate and immoral, biotech companies have a huge overhead of expenses, shareholders, employees.... How would they be able to come up with THAT much money to bribe 1000s of scientists who are not hurting for money in the first place?

        May 15, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
        • supermanalexthegreat

          You're hilarious, I've posted numerous articles from independent scientists in respected journals that expose GMO for what they are, if you're not capable of understanding them, why should anyone ever listen to anything you have to say, lackey?

          December 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  17. jayeferguson

    Can someone again point to the research done by the producers of GMO seed - and the accompanying chemicals - where the extensive safety testing was done on said compounds? Or point me to the peer-reviewed studies on the long-term safety of GMO foods; they have been around since 1996, there has to be some data, right? Can someone point me to the FDA food safety studies of GMO corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, papayas, sugar beets, that were not done by the producers of these products?

    Can someone point me to the studies on the safety of consuming Glyphosate (Round-Up), 2,4D (the "safe" half of Agent Orange), Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt-Toxin), or the studies where the effects of using all three on the same crop were closely examined?

    Can someone explain how according to the German journal Ithaka, every single urine sample collected from city dwellers around Berlin - that bastion of farming excellence – the Sully, Iowa of Germany - tested positive for Glyphosate (Round Up)? Can someone explain how Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec made the disturbing discovery that Bt-toxin from genetically engineered Bt corn in fact accumulates in the human body – contrary to industry assurances, and that the toxin was identified in 93 percent of pregnant women tested; 80 percent of umbilical blood in their babies; and 67 percent of non-pregnant women?

    Can anyone explain why Peru banned GM foods for 10 years, Russia and France suspended imports of Monsanto's GMO corn, Ireland has banned the growing of GMO crops since 2009, Japan and Egypt ban the cultivation of GMO crops and Switzerland extended a moratorium on genetically modified animals and plants, banning GMOs until 2013?

    And can someone PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE tell my why –if GMO foods are so amazing, and everyone is so proud of the GMO science - we as consumers just can't have a tiny label on the package that reads: "GMOs Inside" when: Mexico, Brazil, UK, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and 35 other countries have GMO labeling?

    January 23, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • What?

      If you have any idea what an ELISA test is, or how it's conducted, or what it means – but, especially, what kind of CONTROLS should be used – then maybe somebody could explain to you at least the Bt work. Otherwise, they would just be wasting their time.

      January 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Jimbo

      GM crops have been studied extensively. I gave a really good resource for you to look at various studies in my comment above. You obviously know nothing about Bt. Its use is ubiquitous in organic farming...yes, USDA CERTIFIED organic farming. If you've even eaten organic food, you've probably consumed Bt. BTW its mode of action is innocous to humans, as it works on an enzyme in insects that we don't have. See http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05556.html

      Seriously, do some homework. So far your comments have only proven your own ignorance.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • supermanalexthegreat

      GMO labeling is already legal in a few states, more on the way. These people are scared so they whine on these blogs, but we have the upper hand now and they wont stop us from making sure they leave this field and never come back. This is what we should have done to "tobacco" scientists a long time ago. Glysophate is bad for groundwater and the environment- but it gets a lot worse. As any biochemist knows, with time these "pests" build up immunity and now we are seeing superweeds crop up that are resistant to it. The same reason how using antibiotics is a bad idea in meat and results in superbugs which are resistant to them. So now Dow and Monsanto are trying to use Agent Orange on these crops. Like I said, they aren't long for this world......

      December 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
      • Uberanalex

        Your proof of the agent orange claim?

        June 27, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
  18. Nye

    I'm sure Brian is telling the truth about his experience. The real question is the safety of GMO, pesticides, etc. I am a science guy and realize that there has been very little credible evidence (if any) which proves GMOs to be dangerous or less healthy. I am also a healthy skeptic. I am even more skeptical of people and organizations with tremendous power. I mean after all: "Nicotine is not addictive," or "Asbestos has no adverse effects on the respiratory system," or "Intel says he has copious amounts of WMDs," or "Mortgage backed derivatives are safe and will always yield returns...forever," and so on.

    The problem is how do we know what is being reported as science is actually science? Who can we trust? And just because it is science does not mean it is infallible. That would go against what science is. Quoting research papers and other seemingly trustworthy sources is great, but are they telling the whole truth. History shows us that even the most "official" sources lie and distort because they have some agenda and/or bias. That is why I think it's necessary to constantly scrutinize, especially something as important as our basic need to eat.

    January 23, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Jimbo

      This is one of the few intelligent comments on this article. Thank you. To quote Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy: "Of course we want passionate debate and discussion about different strategies; this can only move us forward. We do not seek nor could ever achieve lock-step agreement, but when the debate loses all connection to science, the environmental movement suffers badly in the long run."

      January 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  19. AMD

    Everyone should take a close took at the comments here. Really take a close look. Look at what the people who oppose GMO's are saying. Look at what they are resorting to and what "truth" to they are speaking about. Posts filled with hate, wishes of death and cancer upon farmers and their family, completely made up and false statements, conspiracy theories, paranoia, and ignorance. This is the face of so called "truth speaking and educated" Anti-GMO movement. These are the kind of people the majority of their ranks are filled with. They are incapable of rational thinking and keeping an open mind. Everyone is out to get them, poison them, murder them and their families. They are anti-science.

    January 23, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • supermanalexthegreat

      No we are antiMonsanto, but maybe you dont care about the hundreds of thousands they killed with Agent Orange and never owned up to it and yet paid billions for it in hush money? Or the PCBs they dumped? Had you lived in the 40s you would have sympathized with the Nazis too. You are one of "those" kinds of scientists.

      December 23, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
      • Uberanalex

        'Nazi' violation per Godwin's Law. Time out for you, hayseed!

        June 27, 2014 at 7:22 pm |
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