Will GM crops feed the world?

It’s time I started blogging about genetic modification (GM). As a scientist, I know the power of GM in the lab. I’ve done it myself. But GM in the field? That frightens me.

In recent history the Green Revolution changed many lives. Can GM crops be the next big thing? They already are so in many parts of the world. Here in Britain, Leo Hickman at The Guardian describes an ongoing debate.

My fellow blogger petrel41 has written about in vivo evidence of GM maize (corn, Zea mays) being hazardous to eat. [Edit: that study, by Gilles-Eric Séralini, involved a maize called NK603 being fed to lab rats (Rattus norvegicus). Maize NK603 was developed by Monsanto to resist its herbicide (weedkiller) called Roundup (glyphosate) so this is a Roundup Ready crop. The rats were fed Roundup as well as maize NK103. They got cancer. You can read about that study, and the controversy is arose, here.] [Edit#2: Stories told about Séralini’s work aren’t always correct. Here’s the Frequently Asked Questions page on Séralini’s website.]

But another fellow blogger, Skeptical Raptor, compares anti-GM to climate change denial.

At my University there’s good plant science going on. I even signed up for a PhD in the Plant Centre. Then my funding from the meat industries’ levy boards came through and I followed my heart. That meant doing the dirty on a senior scientist who didn’t deserve that but who, miraculously, is still speaking to me. Anyway it’s water under the bridge. I should look again at what the Plant Centre people are doing, especially at what they say about their GM crops’ biosafety.

I want to know what the people at the Africa College and the Global Food Security Network are saying. I’m not jumping to conclusions.

What do you think?

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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18 Responses to Will GM crops feed the world?

  1. I think part of the problem with “GM in the field” is that even as a sciencey person, you still get exposed to all the media kerfuffle about it, and yes, while there are concerns, and a discussion to be had, many of the fears raised by people are due to certain sections writing about “Frankenfoods” or that “Jellyfish genes are put in plants” (The last is a reference to GFP)

    • argylesock says:

      Yes. Now you mention it, you and I are quite well-placed to get our heads around this stuff. Eg recently somebody reported a GM lamb with a gene (I forget which gene) from a worm (C. elegans?) The journalist called it ‘the lamb that’s really a worm’ and showed a photo of the lamb being bright yellow, struggling to rise from its front knees. Of course this is what any neonatal lamb looks like when its fleece is still soaked in amniotic fluid. But a reader who didn’t know that, might think it was a weird freaky lamb bred to be yellow and disabled by some stereotypical ‘evil’ scientist.

      Hopefully I’ll find energy to make this grow into a series of posts about GM. Hopefully people will be interested, and won’t yell at me rudely.

      • I find the best way to figure it out if the news article is being all sensational, is to find where they mention the product, figure out what it is really called, then hit google scholar. Someone told me that they were putting pig genes in tomatoes, so I spent several hours on google scholar with “Porcine genes tomatoes” and variants as the search terms without success.

    • argylesock says:

      PS a certain senior scientist, who shall remain nameless, called me ‘a Frankenfoods person’ for daring to mention that I’m concerned about genetic pollution. Bah! Do you ever feel as though you’re being insulted from both directions at once?

      • Hehe, yes. I have my own concerns about using GM crops, but I try to find out as much as possible, because genetics really isn’t my area, although I understand the ecosystem concerns. In one day, I was called a very abusive 4-letter word on a forum because I pointed out that using some news sites as a scientific reference for the dangers of GM food was not appropriate in a science forum, and called a “Big Agro-business stooge” (whatever that means), and at the same time yelled at for saying I thought we should make sure to minimize any mixing of crops. I understand the societal concerns, and the concerns about needing to increase drought-resistant crop yields etc, and in some ways I think it is just speeding up what we have always done, but, at the same time I am the sort of person who buys organic food, and am a bit of a tree hugger, so have concerns regarding the ecological impact too.

  2. Re “Which pork gene?” It wasn’t being put into food at all….it was to do with this paper about Porcine Circovirus, which mentions a tomato disease later in the paper. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC224580/

    • argylesock says:

      I’ve glanced at the paper and yes, it’s not about pig genes. Interesting stuff though and yet another possible future blog post. I know people whose work concerns the wasting syndrome in newly weaned piglets.

  3. One final thing, as you like stats, have you looked at the Monsanto related paper? It might just be me, but it looks like the rats fed pure roundup have a better survival rate than the control group.

  4. eqfe says:

    Taking the sensationalism out of it, here in North America we are field testing GMO crops on the human and animal populations that eat them. Seems like a terrible rush to market. The vast majority of food produced by GMOs are the so called “round up ready” varieties. To be honest I’m more concerned about roundup residue on food, and the way roundup destroys the land, than I am about GMOs per se.

    • argylesock says:

      Why are you concerned about roundup residue on food? I’ve heard that you can drink a glass of Roundup without harm. Otoh on the land, it does concern me.

      I think a ‘Roundup’ post on my blog here is called for… must research this.

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