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09/20/2011

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Dave

The fact that Native Foods avoids GMO means that the fear-mongerers have done their job to generate a "controversy" where there is none. Just like we see in issues of intelligent design, vaccines, anthropogenic global climate change, amongst others there's a minority who balk at the science for ideological reasons. This is an opportunity for Native Food to innovate and take a progressive lead by dropping their anti-GMO stance to set an example for other vegans and businesses.

Native Foods

So are you pro-Monsanto Dave?

Native Foods

This is Holladay from Native Foods asking that btw.

Dave

Hey Holladay! I'm not sure what your question means. Can you please elaborate?

jv

It's not a "pro-Monsanto" vs "anti-Monsanto" question, but whether there can be scientific innovation that can, in an ethical, sustainable manner, meet the demands of today's population.

Personally, I believe there are two separate issues

1). the technology itself (good, bad, sustainable, etc...) and
2). the manipulation of the food supply.

I believe there can be beneficial technology, but the biggest problem with this sort of technology is its proprietary nature and thus a single source ends up monopolizing the market, ultimately at the cost of consumers and farmers, out-competing more natural processes free from patent infringement.

Inserting a plant gene that preferentially produces more mono-saturated fat over its polyunsaturated analog is a pretty straight forward process and there's a number of existing plants that do this already depending on the variety (safflower and sunflower for example).

The problem is what happens with inadvertent contamination of non-GMO fields, which will ultimately happen.

From a vegan (& a scientist's perspective) this falls under technology we didn't ask for and isn't really necessary. It becomes an unnatural solution to an unnatural problem, as the high cholesterol link for trans and saturated fats is a rarity in vegan diets [1] and the benefit then becomes simply one of shelf life.

jv

[1] genetic anomalies and women taking certain hormone medications are the exceptions.

Dave

JV,

It's also not a "pro-GMO" vs "anti-GMO" questions which is what I would like vegans to understand. Let's not throw the tofu out with the water it was packaged in. ;)

Native Foods

Hi Dave, JV gave a pretty good break down for me.... To tell you the truth, this kind of science makes my brain spin so I do not have such a clear understanding of it.... But basically I wonder why we would want to manipulate any genes with in the food supply? - Holladay

Dave

Hey Holladay,

My brain is spinning too as this is definitely not my area of expertise but what I can do is listen to the experts in their field and try to keep up. A good source is everything and for the longest time I followed some pretty bad ones and fell for the anti-GMO fear-mongering.

Humans have been mucking with the genes of plants for a long time. We've just been doing it the clumsy way. Now that we know a lot more on biology we have the ability to target the specific genes we're looking to change. Why would we want to do this? The same reasons we've always been doing it. To make agriculture easier with less inputs and greater outputs. Also to make better tasting and more nutritious plant foods. That's just scratching the surface. Did you see the post Christopher Arnett wrote about GMO on this blog?

Specifically I'm excited by possibilities that can benefit vegans. I wrote about it in a post here: http://pythagoreancrank.com/?p=1504

Thanks,
-dave

jv

The difference between the mucking about way and the modern way is that when you manipulate something at the atomic/molecular level, the impact is dramatic (like a laser vs fire.

In terms of evolution, minor changes in plants does not create much evolutionary pressure on co-inhabitants of the eco-system, but when you create corn that produces the toxin of a bacteria, this is a million year advancement in evolution[1] and creates an evolutionary pressure on the environment with unpredictable results.

Some of the concerns are of course, resistance, which is rapidly occurring in the European corn borer, b/c BT Corn growers are not complying with growing non BT sacrificial corn to slow this down.

There's also the possibility of excess BT toxin from over production and its impact on the ecosystem when it is produced in the roots and spreads.

Untargeted species is another problem, particularly in the case of the monarch butterfly. We know it does kill them, but not at the levels they see *now.* We do not know what external events might force them into areas where their BT exposure is much higher than anticipated. Other non-targeted insects have shown susceptibility to the BT toxin.

These are legitimate concerns that should be addressed before sending this technology out. Once it is out, it cannot be recalled. Even with "terminator genes" there are several seeds out of a million that are defective and will reproduce. Given there are billions of seeds/year used. The propagation of this technology is unavoidable.

So it's a balance between risk and benefit. In the case of BT corn it's a +3-7% yield/plant/corn borer. To a farmer that means more money, but is this substantial enough to outweigh the risks? I don't know.

The "mad hippies" used to annoy me, but I realize they are our "quality control". We scientists mean well, but we're arrogant and optimistic and often are in denial when 10 years of research seems to be a complete failure. I've seen this 1st hand with frantic emails flying about trying to figure out why the results were not what we wanted. This denial is how drugs like vioxx make it the public and then several deaths occur, before an investigation leads to a few scientists who "massaged the data." Science will progress, but I am happy if we slow it down so we make sure we get it right the 1st time.

jv

[1] in the case of changing a plant's oil composition, this is a much more minor change. Each technology should be evaluated separately.

jv

Case in point is the whole Roxarsone in the chicken feed business, where scientists said it was the harmless "organic arsenic" without realizing bacteria in the soil break it down to carcinogenic inorganic arsenic, and when the chickens poop, it gets into the ground water and towns in the east coast are contaminated with arsenic. Organic farms that use chicken poop are contaminated with arsenic. Home gardens that use chicken manure pellets are contaminated with arsenic.

After 50 years of use it is finally being banned in the US.

http://pubs.acs.org/cen/government/85/8515gov2.html

Dave

Yes but JV, it's all about context. Agriculture itself is scary and unnatural and the GM/GE options could mitigate the footprint agriculture leaves behind. Mutation breeding for example is a-ok for traditional and organic farming and they are not regulated for safety. Where is the public outcry for that?

"Mad hippies" (for which I was one, thanks ;)) or anybody ignorant, make pretty bad quality control when they don't understand the context for which to evaluate the alarm. No company would employ such QA methods to judge their product unless the person understood what that product should do. A video game I'm working on would fail if one were evaluating it on it's ability to process spreadsheets. I think it would be better to try to reach out to the ignorant than to pat them on the back as "you stupid fool, but thanks anyway.". Maybe they're ignorant perspective could have utility but it just seems a bit patronizing (though I must admit to delving into such vices at time, guilty).

Scientists are humans and fallible sure, but isn't that why we look to consensus and independent peer review? If I come off as "pro-GMO" it's only in contrast to the anti-GMO proponents who've polarized the argument to such a degree it's hard to find common ground on which to have a rational discourse. Native Foods (on this blog) was one of the first who showed a glimmer of hope for that and I'm grateful.

This is pretty much what we shared yesterday over our vegan meal at Vegan Chicago's Munch meetup anyway. (that was awesome btw, I missed you!) I just wanted to put it out there. :)

Skepticalvegan.wordpress.com

While like Dave I think it would be nice if Native Foods took the initiative to drop their self imposed ban on GMOs and even begin to educate customers about the environmental and potential health benefits, I am at least glad that this post and the past post Vegans Who Support GMO's (Say What?) both have given me glimmer of hope for a more rational discussion on the matter. If they could get past the manufactured fear and myths then the promise of GM technology should be appealing to the average customer of a shop such as Native Cafe, those concerned about the environment or whole are vegan.

In addition to the link Dave provided I would suggest interested people, vegans especially, read these blogs by vegans who have come out against the fear mongering about GMOs

Frankenfood Fears
http://skepticalvegan.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/frankenfood-fears/

Bt Cotton, Farmer Suicides, and Fluffy Thinking
http://skepticalvegan.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/bt-cotton-farmer-suicides-and-fluffy-thinking/

The IRRI – Conducting Genetic Modification We Can All Support
http://veganskeptic.blogspot.com/2011/10/irri-conducting-genetic-modification-we.html

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