Monday, February 6, 2017

Musings: What I Do

A persistent critic in comments keeps asking what, exactly, I do for the Cornell Alliance for Science. It's actually pretty easy to find out, since my work is posted on the Alliance website and searchable under my byline.

But I'll make it even easier, by summarizing some of it here.

I've written about the National Academy of Sciences' study on GMO crops, attempts to save the iconic American chestnut through genetic engineer, and the efforts of an Indian scientist to confer the pest-repelling properties of garlic and onions on other veggies. I've written about the climate impacts of a GMO ban, transgenic animal research, and what farmers need in India.

Most recently, I wrote about a project that is tweaking the process of photosynthesis to improve yields of cassava, which has tremendous implications for the 800 million persons who depend on that food crop in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

I've worked on a number of videos, including the half-hour documentary on the rise of the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii and its impact on the ringspot-resistant papaya; the fast-growing AquaBounty salmon; climate change in Hawaii, and the adoption of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, which has helped farmers there greatly reduce their use of pesticides and earn higher profits.

I've written about the work of Dr. Susan Miyasaka, whose former graduate student successfully engineered a variety of Chinese taro resistant to taro leaf blight. But then misinformed, loud-mouthed activists like Walter Ritte got involved and UH caved and destroyed that research. It didn't even involve Haloa. It was Chinese taro, worked on by a Chinese scientist. But then, nuances and accuracy have never been the strong suit of the antis.

I've also written about a project funded by the US government, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that is using both genetic engineer and conventional breeding to develop drought-tolerant corn for Africa, with the seed controlled by African companies. 

Right now, I'm working on a video about some really cool research that is attempting to replicate the nitrogen-fixing capabilites of legumes (beans and peas) in crops like barley and corn. It has the potential to improve yields for small farmers, and also reduce the huge agricultural pollution problem of nitrogen, which is an issue for both organic and conventional farmers.

In doing this work, I've met some brilliant scientists, dedicated farmers and amazing citizens who are driven by the desire to ease hunger and poverty and make the world a better place. They're working to reduce pollution, boost the sustainability and productivity of agriculture and improve food security around the globe.

My work with the Alliance keeps me focused primarily on the hopeful, positive side of biotech, and the really good people who are working in that field. It gives me the passion and motivation to keep slogging through the ugly, depressing side of biotech, as represented by the fact-challenged, demagogue-dominated anti-GMO movement.

That's the side I cover in this blog, using my own time and my own resources. It's not unlike what I've been doing with this blog for the past nine years, when I wrote about the ugly side of Hawaii and Kauai politics, the prosecutor's office, the vacation rental industry, beach and shoreline access, drug abuse, domestic violence and so many other topics.

I keep covering the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii because it's pervasive and persistent. Just this week, Outside published a partisan screed that contained flat out lies. Meanwhile, the "Island Earth" video, yet another propaganda piece extolling the virtues of 'o'o agriculture and the horrors of modern farming, is making the rounds. 

Sadly, people believe this stuff and it's motivating at least some of them to attack Hawaii agriculture, which is already struggling. 

So you have to start thinking about, who, exactly, benefits from pushing the perception that the land in Hawaii has been poisoned by sugar and seeds —that it's too poisonous to farm?

You guessed it: the real estate industry. Which is why it's no surprise that Hawaii Life, the premier gentrifier of ag land in the Islands, has been a big supporter of the anti-GMO movement, right along with the "nonprofit" groups that raise money via fear-mongering and the organic industry that profits from GMO fears.

So I have to laugh when people get so upset by my little blog and the work of the Alliance. Yes, God forbid there should be a voice or two in the wilderness attempting to share accurate info and directly counter the huge anti-GMO propaganda machine. 

As for industry, it isn't doing much, and what it is doing is late, and not nearly enough. Though that is not meant in any way as a criticism of the Hawaii people working on its behalf — people for whom I've developed a great deal of respect.

I'm not industry's voice, nor do I work for it. If I did, I wouldn't be letting liars like Outside's McKay Jenkins get away with writing this kind of bullshit:

They plant these seeds, then spray them with a wide variety of chemicals that are designed to kill weeds and insects. When they find food crops that can stand up to these toxins, they begin the process of taking them to market.

Yes, this belief still prevails among antis because industry has not done a good job of explaining to people what it does here in the Islands. And pesticide testing isn't part of, despite what people like Gary Hooser, Ashley Lukens and Jeri DiPietro claim.

Still, I did find a bit of pleasure in reading McKay when he told of Gary Hooser's response to losing his Council seat and the court decision overturning Hawaii's failed GMO laws: “Each incident was like a gut punch.”

Every now and then, justice is served. And that, like the good stuff, keeps me chugging along.

46 comments:

Allan Parachini said...

Way to go, Joan. The process of debunking all of the lies that have been spewed into the air over the past five years won't be quick, but it's vital. You are a big part of that.

Anonymous said...

O'o agriculture! These people will have Kauai looking like North Korea in no time. Just because the Hawaiians did it does not mean we can do it today, not without a major social upheaval and compulsion.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate all you do Joan (and always have). It requires a tremendous amount of research, intellect and energy.

Anonymous said...

Your enemies are purveyors of "alternative facts." Keep up the good work, Joan. Kauai needs you!

Anonymous said...

yeah ms. joan!

Joan Conrow said...

I see that the producer of Island Earth was so threatened that he deleted all my comments, including posts that showed funding for the anti-GMO movement, from his promotional posts on Facebook. And then he blocked me from leaving any more comments. Guess he just can't handle the truth — and wants to make sure his viewers aren't distracted by reality!

Anonymous said...

Saw something worthwhile of sharing in today's TGI LTE section. It relates to "Narcissistic Personality Disorder" and surprisingly written by a north shore resident. Think if accurately describes our failed councilmember, Hooser.

Joan, continue your excellent work. Always look forward each morning to reading your blogs.

Dinkydao

Anonymous said...

Joan, Mahalo from a "persistent critic" who has been patiently awaiting this information. This "persistent critic" applauds you for finally sharing in depth what you have been doing for Cornell. And since you have answered one of my questions, it makes me wonder why comments of mine asking for this information were never posted? Anyways, thanks again. I am a big fan of transparency.

Anonymous said...

You also provide much needed knowledge and flair through your writing. And oh so much enjoyable reading, mahalo

Joan Conrow said...

Your comments weren't posted, 12:09, because they were always couched in a personal attack. And you needn't have waited patiently for me to provide this information when it's been on the Alliance website all along. What's more, I don't believe you are a big fan of transparency. Otherwise, you wouldn't be posting anonymously and you would have been calling for the antiGMO groups to disclose their funding. Instead, you have been fixated entirely on me and the Alliance.

Anonymous said...

@12:09 am. GARY H, you left your Round-Up at my house. Just thought you should be more careful with that stuff.

Anonymous said...

"to share accurate info and directly counter the huge anti-GMO propaganda machine." Like science can "prove" things. Everyone is familiar with paying someone a high fee to do some writing and it is with a "wink and a nod" that they will write a blog for "free".

BTW Support the Science 14 is unadulterated hokum which after years cannot reach their goal of only "2800" people. http://cas.nonprofitsoapbox.com/science14

Gosh you mean "the huge anti-GMO propaganda machine" has more money than Mr. Bill. Oh-No she's gonna hurt me!

Joan Conrow said...

Except I was writing my blog for free for years before I started working for the Alliance, and I still am. I'm not sure why it's so hard for the antis to accept that people act out of altruistic motives. Maybe because they don't? I'm sure Mr Bill has more $ than the anti GMO propaganda machine. But he puts the bulk of his philanthropy into things like eradicating diseases and helping to lift people out of poverty. Still, it's fascinating that you and the antis are so threatened by one blogger and one small organization!



Anonymous said...

sheez, the antis have the most weakest comebacks ever....reminds of the clip below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7yQ1aSSCxo

Anonymous said...

"transparency" - you did it for them. Now it is their turn to be transparent. LOL

Joan Conrow said...

To the anti-GMO troll who has left numerous unpublished comments about my "screeching." Thanks for showing us the misogyny in the movement and making it clear that what really bothers you is a woman with a powerful voice!

Anonymous said...

2:25 "Except I was writing my blog for free for years before I started working for the Alliance, "


Uh yep yep I remember that and the Hooser was a hero, and environmentalists were your BFFs, now post-alliance the Hooser is a looser and the anti's are lack the altruism that for profit private land grant colleges like Cornell have and Mr.Bill is giving money he should have paid in taxes to "do good works". Your old blog was about many things but not so much today. IMHO it reeks with the influence of money!

Joni Kamiya said...

If every anti-GMO person went to a. Ountry to see what they are doing to others, they may have a different stance on the issue. They prefer to live in the land of Google farming and fear mongering pictures while soaking in the great stories of Ashley and Gary. This issue goes far beyond our islands and is about people, whom they will never see or listen to their stories.

The antis talk of love and peace in the world while believing in fairy tales of farming. What they do is nothing peaceful or loving. The hate they spew against others who challenge them is telling of the true nature of this movement.

Joan Conrow said...

@3:38. Wrong again. I was criticizing Hooser and the anti-GMO folks for a good two years before I did any work for the Alliance.

And please, let's not forget that the anti-GMO movement is funded almost entirely by wealthy donors using money they "should have paid in taxes," except they aren't actually doing good work. They're just spreading divisiveness and fear. I'm sorry altruism is such an unfamiliar concept to you. Perhaps if you practiced it you'd understand why some of us find it's far more rewarding than cash.

Anonymous said...

Whoa. The antis got their panties all bunched on this one.

Anonymous said...

Joni Kamiya at 3:49 PM, that is so true.

And we'll see the love and peace in full force tomorrow at the Capitol, when some of the antis' completely unwarranted legislative bills meant to wipe out real ag in Hawaii, are heard.

Maybe the antis think they'll only hurt the big guys but since they have no clue as to what it takes to farm here, all farmers will be hit, especially small ones. And they keep true farmers from showing up at the legislature with their intimidating bullying tactics.

I want to know who's paying the airfare, car rentals, meals, etc. for all the antis who show up to fill the hearing room from Kauai and other neighbor islands. Where's the transparency?

Bradley Choquette said...

Ok, I have a chance to watch the trailer of "Island Earth". Sorry kids, but you're not going to build that health soil you're bragging about by beating it to death with a rotor-tiller. Yes, plant diversity is a great thing, but economics pay the bills. Sure, wheat is a great rotation, but it's currently unprofitable. Are there ways we/I can improve our/my current rotation? Yes, how about some winter cover cropping. IT increases water infiltration rates, suppresses weeds, increases organic matter, recovers nutrients, provides late season nutrition to plants, and decreases pesticide run off. The NRCS had a goal of getting 20 million cover crop acres by 2020; however, they scrapped that goal. Know why? Farmers have already surpassed that goal, so the new goal is 40 million acres by 2020. Know who else uses cover crops? Monsanto's seed farm in Hawaii...

I'd love to raise peanuts and cabbage on my ground. However, my climate and soil isn't suited to peanuts and we don't have a cabbage processor near by. You can add more diversity to a crop rotation, but it's going cost more to truck those vegetables farther to the processing plant because farmers in other counties would be needed to raise the same volume. So, monocultures have the advantage of reducing freight cost, which saves fossil fuels. Same applies to raising corn on corn for silage near feedlots. Yet, they utilized cover crops for grazing the rest of the year.

Finally, organic produce has its share of bug eaten leaves. Please, don't bullshit me otherwise. If it's so bad that bugs wouldn't want to eat organic, than why would I want to eat organic? I planted an 8 way (very diverse with grasses, brassicas, and broad leafs) cover crop mix and I've never seen so many bugs in all my life. (Those bugs ate the hell out of waterhemp seeds.) Don't get me wrong, I raise my second best soybeans on my worst ground after that cover crop. Plus, it was my second cleanest field and it had 1 less herbicide application ( the 4 way cross was 5 times cleaner and yielded 8 bushels better). Sometimes more diversity isn't better. This high and mighty attitude that only organic uses regenerative agriculture is total BS too.

Anonymous said...

Love hearing from a real farmer. Thanks, Bradley.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Kauai was never meant for big Ag. "Small is Beautiful."

Anonymous said...

100 years ago, Kauai was 100% self sufficient (food wise) and now we and the state of Hawaii are only 15% self sufficient. Small farming was apart of the land divisions (ahapuaa) and through this, the people were able to fish, farm and raise their own food without importing. Kauai and the state of Hawaii has money, funding, studies, and people for these kinds of sustainable economic diversity. Putting all our eggs in one tourism basket is foolish.

Bradley Choquette said...

I found this gem of idiocy over at Shaka, but it's complements of ZEN Honeycutt... http://www.mauigmomoratoriumnews.org/new-paper-justifies-moratorium-gmos/

This is based of a Gilles-Éric Séralini papers, so most intelligent people will have already dismissed this (especially after being touted by Zen). However, I happen to grow food grade corn, so let me let you in on a very well known industry secret. Only 3 percent of the corn grown is food grade. Of that, 100% of the genetics is from Pioneer. There are other companies that sell food grade corn hybrids and it is ALL Pioneer's genetics. Pioneer is well known to replace genetics rapidly. 33b16 has been an excellent white corn number, but is being phased out after only 6 years. That's twice as long as some hybrids are on the market. Now, that genetics will be licensed to other companies like Hoegemyer and Nutech. However, NK is a Syngenta company. They don't buy 6 year old technology from Pioneer. In fact, they don't sell any food grade hybrids AT ALL. https://www.pioneer.com/home/site/us/products/end-use/food-grade/

So, Shaka is telling people that NK603 is making 1 in 2 people sick, and the sad reality is people don't even eat NK603. These F'n people are so disingenuous, and dishonest, that it makes me sick.... A few simple phone calls could've verified that this information isn't true. Even a couple of Google searchers could've proven that fact. I almost regret pointing the fact out because now they'll manufacture faulty research against Pioneer.... The anti-gmo establishment means well, but they don't have a moral center... They will sell any lie to further their cause without any conscious of doing anything wrong. The really sad fact is there are people so ignorant, and gullible, that they believe everything the antis say...

Anonymous said...

Bradley, "The anti-gmo establishment means well.."

You're joking, right?

Anonymous said...

When the Plantations ran everything, many of the camp houses had gardens. Many were big and ran on to the perimeter of the sugar fields.
These gardens were not all out of love. The food fed the families. Plantation pay was OK, but most people fished and grew gardens in addition.
A good life. A hard life.
And to any that say Kauai wasn't made for big Ag...The complete racial mix of the island is a direct result of Sugar. Of course so are most of the roads and electric and water systems.

But Da Hoos has made some headway regarding Roundup. The other day a small group of older folks (50 years plus) were huddled around the herbicides. They were not going to buy Round Up because it was so bad...so they settled on the generic Weed and Grass Killer...half-price, same product.....but it tweren't Roundup.
Anything but Roundup.

Anonymous said...

7:54, take me back, take me back to the days of not working, to the days of free land and I shall follow you. Like 100 years ago people did not have jobs, did not have electricity, cell phones, computers. You can romanticize all you want, but since white man came to the islands and changed the land system, we must work for the green thing called money, so no, we can't go back to all growing our food, cause we have to do something called work to earn something called money. Now if you are talking about doing away with that, and the land is free, I can grow enough food to feed me and the neighborhood. My digging fork is awaiting. Please call .

Anonymous said...

Bradley makes me sick reading his words, can't imagine what his "big corn" would do to me

Joan Conrow said...

I'm sure you've already eaten some of his "big corn," @8:28. Of it not his, someone else's. But yes, I can imagine that it would be difficult for a died-in-the-wool anti-GMO activist and farm utopian to choke down his words of truth, which are never countered with actual facts, just attacks.

Anonymous said...

We really need to reclassify the "anti-GMO" activism as a religion, not as a movement. They are cultists that have no evidence but want you to believe in their word as the gospel. Like most religions, there is no verifiable evidence that GMO or pesticides applied in regulated quantities actually is harmful to your health. Salt, which is comprised of two deadly chemicals NaCl, is both essential to human survival yet harmful in excess quantities. The anti-GMO crowd would simply ask that you to take it on faith that GMO crops and small traces of pesticides will adversely affect your health ... even though there's no real scientific proof. That sure sounds like cult religion to me. The druids have been reborn.

Anonymous said...

so write on Joan! you are an inspiration to many. i am glad that after 35 years of journalism you have finally found a voice that puts fear into many and raises the spirits of more than you can imagine. let the haters hate, Joan, we love you!

Bradley Choquette said...

@ 6:11 They mean well in the fact that they want safe health food for their families.... In their minds, organic is the only choice, even though that production system uses pesticides as well. They are totally irrational in their fake belief system, like 9:14 says: a religious cult.... There is a difference between meaning well and doing well... I wish them well in their own organic farming endeavor because I have plenty of demand for my crops, and I don't need their business.

Anonymous said...


Here's a great blog about how the anti-GMO and anti-vaccine crowds have a great deal in common. To hell with science, they just believe it because they want it to be true.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2014/07/08/the-cult-of-anti-gmo-a-lot-like-the-cult-of-antivaccine/

It really is a religion to these "Jim Jones" fanatics. They've drank to Koolaid and there's no turning back. They are in way too deep now to ever admit they could possibly be wrong about this issue. With science, at least the scientists admit their errors when "proven" wrong. For example, the science community eventually came to concede that global warming was real once empirical evidence was provided.

Anonymous said...

You will always be a sheep that will never be able to think outside of the box.

Bradley Choquette said...

Empirical evidence is proved? What is the greatest man made gas humans add to the atmosphere? The chemical compound readily transforms between solid, liquid and gas. This gas can go from 100% saturation, to 0% in the atmosphere. In fact, this gas varies so much that it's excluded from climate models.... What is this mystery substance? Water. Cars emit water as part of the combustion process. Farmers put water in the atmosphere when we till the soil. Maturing crops put water in the air when they dry down. Clouds shade the ground and cool the temperatures. Cool, wet, rainy years are cooler than drought years. When it rains, it cools the atmosphere. Washing your car affects climate change.

Now, these "climate models" disregard cloudy wet years and cherry pick data to make their case. There are more things wrong with the models than are actually right.

From NOAA's website: "There has also been increased cloud cover, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere during the past century (Groisman, 1999). While water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas, low clouds also shade and cool the surface. Currently the role that water vapor and clouds play in warming or cooling the Earth's climate system is being investigated by scientists."

The fact is, "The record of instrumental temperature measurements, which extends back to the 19th century, provides one clear indication that the modern earth is warming: that the mean annual surface air temperatures of the earth have risen approximately 0.5°C (0.9°F) since 1860." That is not really statistically significant.

Now, what other human activities have contributed to a warming climate? Paving over farm ground at the rate of 1000 acres a day? Parking lots and roofs are around 100/110 F on hot sunny days. My corn field is around 90F and my pastures/alfalfa fields are around 80/85 F. So, converting millions of acres of pasture to farm ground has contributed to global warming... How much is this factored into climate change models? 0%. How about burning millions of acres of rain forest in Brazil and Argentina to create new farm ground? That's going to contribute global warming.

There is a consensus among sciences that want to believe in man made global warming is caused solely by green house gases. There is also a consensus among meteorologist and environmental engineers that the Earth's climate has been changing for 4 billion years and man's presents on the earth is altering that natural progression. They also find too many faults in the current model for it to be considered reliable. The current model, by the author's own admissions, has missed the projected rise in temperature by 1,000%. (That's why they call it climate change, instead of Global warming, now.) They blame that on the Earth going through a natural cooling cycle.

So, when you make excuses for your global warming model being incorrect, and admit that you're still studying water's effects on climate change, one realizes that the empirical evidence might not match the original hypothesis. There are some scientist that don't believe this, but there are engineers and meteorologist that do... So, the debate rages on and the science continues to evolve. That the great thing about science; it continually seeks to find a universal truth and sparks great debate among great minds. By the time they think they have it figured out, mankind will change how we impact the environment and screw it all up again....

Anonymous said...

Yawn ... must be another slow day in Nebraska

Anonymous said...

Amen. Good night & good luck!

Anonymous said...

Stick to farming.

Anonymous said...

February 7, 2017 at 11:00 PM said to Bradley Chouqette: "Stick to farming." I've always learned something from Bradley's comments. Whatever your vocation is, 11:00PM, stick it up your brain.

Anonymous said...

"The fact is, "The record of instrumental temperature measurements, which extends back to the 19th century, provides one clear indication that the modern earth is warming: that the mean annual surface air temperatures of the earth have risen approximately 0.5°C (0.9°F) since 1860." That is not really statistically significant."

Then the "mean annual surface air temperatures of the earth" should have risen by 141.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1860. I stuck that in my brain and it melted.

Anonymous said...

2/8 @ 6:34 AM, are you assuming the 0.9 degrees F increase was per year? I believe that is the total change since 1860.

Anonymous said...

Since Bradley probably has never been to Kauai it's hard for him to understand you don't need hundreds of thousands of dollars of machinery,nor a delusion to feed the world, to grow food here. Like I told you before, I don't need to buy any food. No GMO. No Organic. Nothing. I grow everything I need . Anybody on any property on Kauai could pretty much do the same. It's not rocket science unless your trying to make millions of dollars and/or "save the world". You would think Joan could understand it being the part time resident that she is. I would love to show you but you would probably turn me in for my illegal shed and start an abuse chronicle about me for allowing my drunk friend to live in it.

Joan Conrow said...

Oh, yes, @7:51, I'm sure you'd love to show me – but you don't, because then you'd have to admit you aren't being entirely honest. Don Heacock was the last person who told me he was providing all his own food -- well, except for the Kirkland soy milk and the peanut butter and olive oil and potato chips and flour and coffee....

But even if you personally are growing everything you eat, so what? Most people on Kauai are not, and will be increasingly unable to as they're shunted off into ohana units on residential lots. And they're certainly not growing enough to feed all the tourists, or all the folks around the world who depend on US exports. Which is why we still need people like Bradley, who are growing on a commercial scale.

Bradley Choquette said...

My sister lives in Australia. My friend Dean's college roommate lives/farms on Maui. I have several other farmer friends on Hawaii and there has been an on going discussion about taking several Hawaii farm tours in January of 2018. Well, not my sister. She wants us to go hiking on many of the Hawaii's trails in the cool morning air. Since January is a holiday month in Australia, she might bring some of her family along. Who knows, my brother Gary might come along too....

That being said, @7:51, I'd budget time for a tour of your garden. My dad has several acres of farmer's market produce, so it's nice to tour other systems. I'd even sit and have a beer with the dude in your shed... However, no left hand cigarettes: those intensify my personality, and it turns out I'm an asshole... (I stole that from George Carlin.)

BTY, it's not a bad dream to hope starving people can have nourishing food. Looking forward to the future, it would be better to teach them how to raise it themselves. However, places like China and India are becoming too over populated for that dream to be a reality. SO, there will be a market for my goods for many years to come.