Monday, October 31, 2016

Musings: The Right to Choose

The recent New York Times article claiming GMOs haven't delivered on the promise of reduced pesticide use and greater yields is notable both for what it asserts, and what it leaves out.

For starters, reporter Danny Hakim unequivacably states:

Fears about the harmful effects of eating G.M. foods have proved to be largely without scientific basis.

So will all the anti-GMO folks who are circulating the article as confirmation of their views also accept this as reality? Can we finally take food safety — the focal point of the anti-GMO messaging — out of this polarized debate?

Unfortunately, the article fails to explore the significant role that these same anti-GMO activists have played in preventing GM crops from reaching their full potential. It's a bit disengenous to claim the crops have underperfomed without also acknowledging that their development has met fierce resistance every step of the way, with many, especially those in the public sector, stymied completely.

Much of the work I've focused on has been the development of insect-resistant crops that are already showing the potential to reduce insecticide use and pull people out of poverty, such as the Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, Bt cotton in India and the Bt cowpea in West Africa. But the article skirts these contributions in focusing solely on commodity crop comparisons between Europe and the U.S.

The article also makes hash out of statistics. As University of Wyoming professor Andrew Kniss notes in his Control Freaks blog:

First, the data is presented in different units (thousand metric tons for France, compared to million pounds in the US), making a direct comparison nearly impossible. Second, the pesticide amounts are not standardized per unit area, which is critically important since the USA has over 9 times the amount of farmland that France does; it would be shocking if the U.S. didn’t use far more pesticide when expressed this way.

It is true that France has been reducing pesticide use, but France still uses more pesticides per arable hectare than we do in the USA. In the case of fungicide & insecticides, a LOT more. But a relatively tiny proportion of these differences are likely due to GMOs; pesticide use depends on climate, pest species, crop species, economics, availability, tillage practices, crop rotations, and countless other factors. And almost all of these factors differ between France and the U.S. So this comparison between France and the U.S., especially at such a coarse scale, is mostly meaningless, especially with respect to the GMO question.

If the increase in herbicide use in the U.S. is due to GMOs, what can explain the increase in herbicide use throughout most of Europe, where GMO varieties are not available?

I recently wrote an article about Dr. Kniss and the complexity and nuances involved in both analyzing farm chemical use and issuing value judgments about the findings. As he noted:

It's a really complex question and it can't be boiled down to a single answer when you ask, is herbicide use better or worse than it used to be? It's different. Some aspects are probably going to be better and some will probably be worse. In ag, nothing is black and white and that is particularly true with most pesticide use. Everything in agriculture is a trade-off.

Acute toxicity has decreased in all crops, whether they're GMO or not. If anything, if we had not had GMO crops the chronic toxicity would have increased even more. Glyphosate represents 70 percent of the herbicide used in these crops, but it barely registers as a [toxicity] impact.

The NYT reporter also treats all herbicide-tolerant crops as GMOs, when many have been developed through selective breeding or targeted mutagenesis, and are not GMOs at all.

What's more, he totally fails to address no-till, one of the main benefits of herbicide tolerance. According to a study by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and researchers from Aarhus University:

The study confirmed that that there are significant interactions between management factors, including pesticide application, with respect to effects on soil organisms. There are many sources of variation, and the disturbance of tillage alone may be greater than the effects of pesticides.

While tilling is praised as “more natural” than herbicides, it does cause cause erosion and impact beneficial soil organisms. This again underscores the complexity of these issues. 

Though people like to think in polarized terms of “good” and “bad,” the real world is all shades of gray. We only cheat ourselves when we fail to acknowledge that fact and persist in simplistic thinking.

But what really struck me about the NYT article were these quotes from French farmer Arnaud Rousseau, who is prohibited from using GM crops:

He wants access to the same technologies as his competitors across the Atlantic, and thinks G.M. crops could save time and money.

“Seen from Europe, when you speak with American farmers or Canadian farmers, we’ve got the feeling that it’s easier. Maybe it’s not right. I don’t know, but it’s our feeling.”

At the end of the day, it's all about ensuring that farmers — not activists — get to choose what to grow.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are these your Cornell Science Alliance talking points Joan? Am sure all of you on their payroll got an email from them within hours after that NYT article broke.

Joan Conrow said...

Not surprisingly, you're wrong on all counts! Still, it never ceases to amuse me that you're so upset by my voice, while you are relegated to anonymous trolldom.

Anonymous said...

10/31 @ 8:46 am, why don't you read the entire article by Andrew Kniss yourself, then draw your own conclusions?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking reporting, Joan.

Life is not black and white, but it sure is less taxing on the brain pretending that it is.

Anonymous said...

New York Times Attempt at a Nuanced View of GMOs Lacks Nuance

http://fafdl.org/blog/2016/10/31/new-york-times-attempt-at-a-nuanced-view-of-gmos-lacks-nuance/

Anonymous said...

I wish before I went to college for 5 years that someone would have told me all I needed to do was go to Cornell for 12 weeks and I would no everything.

Joan Conrow said...

@9:57

Sad that even 5 years of college didn't teach you the difference between "know" and "no." And btw, I didn't do the 12-week Cornell course. I learned on my own. Like you could, too, if you were so inclined.


Anonymous said...

how many people can get an entrance to Cornell......dream on sarcastic asshole

Anonymous said...

5 years and you spell know with no?

Wow education ain't like it use to be.

Was it at least free edumacation?

This is coming from a person who relies on smart electronics to do all the spelling and grammar checks.

Manuahi said...

Must have been an online "university".

Anonymous said...

The grammer police are here again!

Anonymous said...

October 31, 2016 at 9:57 AM perhaps attended Trump University, although I can't imagine anyone spending 5 years there. It probably didn't last that long before Trump put it into bankruptcy for a tax write off on other people's investments like the casinos. You would learn to think and tweet like Trump.

John Kauai said...

Trump University.

Bradley Choquette said...

@ 8:46 a commenter posted a link to the article in Joan's last blog post....

Bradley Choquette said...

@ 8:46 a commenter posted a link to the article in Joan's last blog post....

Another thing this article failed to mention is advances in soil fertility and the ability to micro manage applying multiple nutrients through VRT (Variable rate technology). Soil Grid sampling has made my soil perform more uniformly. High performing ares were very low in nutrients. My under performing areas were out of balance with micro nutrients in relation to N P K. This technology both decreased the amount of fertilizer I needed to apply, decreased my cost (even in years where fertilizer prices increased) and increased my crop yields. Also, VRT seeding rates help utilize optimum seeding rates on a per foot basis. A majority of farmers have adopted theses technologies. Therefore, many other factors contribute to differences in trend line yield increases besides the adoption of GMOs.

John Kauai said...

Bradley:

Earl Ortlip invented that technology. I have been trying to post the history of it, but the Blog is not cooperating. I was an original investor.

Anonymous said...

The New York Times hates Trump and GMO.

Anonymous said...

@3:06

That's grammar, not "grammer." And yes we're here and will call out your sloppiness. Somebody has to.

Anonymous said...

I love you Joan, for all you do. Long live Trump, Joan and GMOs!!

Anonymous said...

@7:41
Speaking of grammar, shouldnʻt the period be after the quotation mark instead of before it? It looks like even the grammar police can be sloppy.

Anonymous said...

Quotation Marks with Commas and Periods

The most common question people ask about quotation marks is whether periods and commas go inside or outside, and the answer depends on where your audience lives because in American English we always put periods and commas inside quotation marks, but in British English periods and commas can go inside or outside (kind of like the American rules for question marks and exclamation points). I use this memory trick: Inside the US, inside the quotation marks. Here are some examples:

“Don’t underestimate me,” she said with a disarmingly friendly smile.

I can never remember how to spell “bureaucracy.”

Don’t get confused when you see this handled differently in The Economist or on the BBC website; just remember that it’s different in those publications because the British do it differently.

Compositors―people who layout printed material with type―made the original rule that placed periods and commas inside quotation marks to protect the small metal pieces of type from breaking off the end of the sentence. The quotation marks protected the commas and periods. In the early 1900s, it appears that the Fowler brothers (who wrote a famous British style guide called The King’s English) began lobbying to make the rules more about logic and less about the mechanics of typesetting. They won the British battle, but Americans didn’t adopt the change. That’s why we have different styles.

Anonymous said...

Hey Joan, Supreme Court rejected Mayor's appeal this afternoon. He does not have authority over Chief. It is over.

Anonymous said...

Fuck Trump! He's just another white devil racist and sexist PIG.

Bradley Choquette said...

Place a question mark or exclamation point within closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the quotation itself. Place the punctuation outside the closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the whole sentence.

Anonymous said...

4:30 Mel and Ross were correct again, Joann wrong. No sense say you're an attorney. Problem is she no listen to nobody, only fake conversations. She gotta go, sickening.

Anonymous said...

haha two dirty pigs in an oil wrestling greased match. Clowns!

Anonymous said...

I just watched Kevin Flota on Joe Rogan podcast. He seems like a pretty smart person that is passionate about what he does. The one thing that seemed weird to me is that he is a scientist who works for the University of Florida but all he talks about is Cornell?

Anonymous said...

Like it or not, Ms. Joan, it has been in your loathing of activists, that you yourself have become one of the most dedicated activists in GMO discourse. Unpaid, true dedication. And a great researcher and writer, too. Wow, do you realize that your loathing of the red-shirts has driven your slow-but-sure evolution into a Monsanto wet dream?!

Joan Conrow said...

Ha! Perhaps the antis are now kicking themselves for turning on me. It was their hatefulness, and their mob mentality, that really inspired me to take a deeper look at biotechnology. I can't speak to Monsanto, much less its wet dreams, but I'm proud that I've been able to advance the Hawaii GMO discussion in an intelligent and well-researched manner. i can't stand intentional ignorance, especially when it's used to drive policy.

Anonymous said...

Main thing is to get the message across. That is how pidgin came about. Nits pickings = Ukus pickings.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.
Many of your readers feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

You are so delusional Joan. Just like Kevin Folta has, in due time your hand in the Biotech cookie jar will be exposed.

Joan Conrow said...

I've been totally upfront about my work in biotech. There's nothing to "expose," other than your own delusions.

Anonymous said...

Hop back into your basket of delusionals, 7:38AM, and bask in the company of Lukens, Carmona, Hooser, and the rest of the SHAKA/HAPA detritus.

Anonymous said...

Why all the trashing? Sounds like a sick puppy. Go find your mama, you probably missed feeding time, get grouchy and moody.

Anonymous said...

That's what Folta said

Anonymous said...

Anti-GMO activists all believe that chem-trails are a government conspiracy to shower us in sterilizing chemicals. Hence a shortage of aluminum foil in the grocery stores. Or maybe it's a conspiracy of the tin foil makers? Hmmm....

Joan Conrow said...

Folta didn't do anything wrong. He was just crucified by the anti-science crowd that is desperately trying to silence intelligent, credible voices.

Anonymous said...

He repeatedly denied any affiliation with Monsanto. Then when his emails were released it was proven that indeed he was in the take.

Joan Conrow said...

No, he wasn't "on the take." That was the character assassination claim.

Anonymous said...

"First, the data is presented in different units (thousand metric tons for France, compared to million pounds in the US), making a direct comparison nearly impossible."

"Nearly Impossible"? And this coming from a scientist? Let me in my Modest way help solve this Impossible with this link https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=Meteric+tons+to+pounds

There I just made the "nearly Impossible" possible and one must question the credibility of any scientist who cannot think of this simple solution.

Bradley Choquette said...

@ 7:50 The conversion doesn't matter because the numbers/data is garbage. There are too many outside factors, over the course of 20 years that GMOs have been on the market, to influence fluctuations in the amount of pesticides used per acre. (Which the article failed to address.)

Bradley Choquette said...

As for Kevin Folta, he fully disclosed how he used the $20,000 grant from Monsanto to promote GMOs. He used none of the money personally. In fact, there are a things he didn't reimburse himself. He gave a full account of how the money was spent (Subway sandwiches, hall rent, hotel room and car rentals). Finally, the University refunded the money, in full, back to Monsanto. Farmers received 10x the bang for the buck compared to Ashely Lukens, who is paid heavily to promote lies about how farmers raise food. He disclosed the e-mails in question, in full, and the antis clearly took what was said out of context. SAME OLD PLAYBOOK. Like it, or not, farmers are going to have our say about GMOs too. Antis propaganda has been spewed unchecked for far too long.