DailyDirt: GMO, GMO, Wherefore Art Thou, GMO?

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Genetically modifying animals and plants is a growing concern — with some people totally against the idea. And there are now a variety of biotech tools that make defining GMOs a bit less clear-cut for the general public. Taking a gene from a sea animal and putting into a pig sounds extremely unnatural, but does simply removing a gene sound as bad? Or what if farmers used traditional breeding techniques to get to a particular genetic end goal that was discovered by less “natural” genetic experimentation?

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Comments on “DailyDirt: GMO, GMO, Wherefore Art Thou, GMO?”

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shanen (profile) says:

Good GMO versus bad

Tomatoes. Genetically modified for even outside color and higher retail prices even if the insides are half unripe. Bad.

Humans. Genetic testing to avoid Tay-Sachs. Good.

Even the simple example will confuse many people. No need for abortion. The genetic testing could be used to deter people with the recessive gene from marrying each other in the first place. Still GMO and eugenics, though you might prefer a different flavor, eh?

Actually, a lot of the confusion involves misunderstanding what the genes represent. They are NOT a blueprint for a unique organism or even a set of genetically identical organisms. They are more like a set of recipes for a rather large set of possible organisms… Your results will differ depending on many factors, but especially the nutrients.

(I sympathize since I only came to understand this difference a few years ago. Probably thanks to Richard Dawkins?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good GMO versus bad

GMO is a broad definition of methods used to artificially alter DNA. If you insert a gene it is usually done through a natural vector such as a virus, a bacterium or plasmid. The real problem is that the vectors are somewhat non-specific and survive well in nature, meaning they will transfer genes from the intended organism to related organisms over time. That is why “round-up ready” is time-limited in effect and likely to introduce the genes to almost all plant-life if given enough time. That is not good for anyone except Monsanto. A way to use genetic modifications without the problems is by identifying natural genes encoding for specific abilities and use those genes for your crop. Today we know that the environment around DNA plays very significant roles in how genes are expressed and usually you need to alter several genes to get a decent performance of the desired effect. Therefore genetic modification is still a very young field and introducing patentability is not really doing it many favours since we are still too inexperienced to understand even the basics of what we do, making introduction of non-natural genes into nature potentially very dangerous.

Genetic testing is a completely different animal. You do not want to alter the DNA or reintroduce it to other organisms. Genetic testing is very good science of observing, but not altering. That is how basic science works! Altering is engineering!

DNA is a large set of recipes for possible building blocks for organisms. DNA and the genes stay almost the same from generation to generation. It is just a question of what genes get read and turned into building blocks!

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

“GMO” Makes About As Much Sense As “Chemicals”

Nature has been doing this sort of thing for millions of years.

Did you know that cattle have picked up a piece of snake DNA in their genes?

Or that grafting—a common technique practised by gardeners, farmers and horticulturists for millennia—can cause exchange of genes across the graft?

So complaining about gene-splicing purely as as matter of principle makes about as much sense as denying that everything we eat is made up of “chemicals” anyway.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: “GMO” Makes About As Much Sense As “Chemicals”

Except that mankind is arrogant, stupid (we think we know everything) and greedy. Grafting and other techniques in nature have their own way to let us know they are bad. Corporations, not so much. When they have tested corporate created GMO foods (not grafts or other forms of cross breeding) in volunteer humans for several generations I will believe them safe, but only if all data from the tests is made public, and I do mean all and in as close to real time as practical (give or take a week, but no more).

There is no need for everything we eat to be chemical, these were introduced to save corporations money via longer shelf life and better marketing through created colors, etc..

We fatten cattle up with corn, which they were never designed to digest because grass fed cattle cost too much (even though corn is a grass, it is not the kind of grass that cattle eat, naturally).

The damn corporations do all kinds of crap for their benefit and work hard to hide it from us. Tomatoes are a vegetable rather than a fruit, not because they have an internal seed, but so that they could fill out a school lunch nutrition chart in their favor. The definition of organic is being legally gerrymandered to that what you think might be organic really isn’t. The definition of natural is being manipulated so that things that aren’t quite natural get slipped in. The country of origin is now going to be hidden because other countries have different rules about labeling and we will know eve less about what we consume. Not all ingredients are listed, though we think they are supposed to be, because the rules have been quietly discombobulated so that they don’t have to list everything anymore and only a few who follow things closely are aware.

If mankind were not so arrogant, stupid or greedy I might feel differently about all this, but they are and I won’t.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Arrogant, stupid or greedy"

You know that we naked apes are also arrogant, stupid and greedy enough to overpopulate until there is a food crises and we all die of famine, right?

GMOs are one of the technologies that is going to prolong this inevitability.

…since space colonization isn’t working out.

Do you have kids? Are you sterile?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Arrogant, stupid or greedy"

What are your arguments for when population doubles again? It won’t be long. Feed people whatever, but don’t forget to pay Monsanto and ADM for the privilege?

In the meantime, let us accept whatever those greedy bastards tell us because they are ‘GOOD’ corporate citizens and would ‘NEVER’ do anything to hurt us…but God help them if they miss a payment to shareholders.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Arrogant, stupid or greedy"

Heh. My argument for when our population continues to expand to where our infrastructure to sustain it collapses is well, that’s gonna happen.

Unless we develop a new frontier (e.g. the settling space or the oceans) we’re headed towards inevitable disaster. Not unless we figure out a way to change culture to curb our population growth.

As for the corporations, of course they’re abusing their power to maximize short-term profits (at the expense of long-term profits). And that’s a failure of our company-based capitalist system.

I don’t have a solution for that either. But I’m pretty sure that outlawing GMOs isn’t really going to do much.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 "Arrogant, stupid or greedy"

Where did I suggest we should outlaw GMO’s. I want each iteration tested, in human volunteers, for several generations in a heavily over-sighted study with ALL findings publicly disclosed so that we know the actual outcome.

There are pesticides in our drinking water. There are pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. Corporations are forcing countries to move their natural seeds into corporate control so that farmers must pay to plant new crops, crops that may or may not be harmful to the consumers. Then the farmers lose their farms because they cannot afford the seed anymore, and all of this needs to stop.

Feeding an overpopulated world is another issue. One that need addressing (both from the how to feed side and the how to reduce population growth and total population without another war or some kind of genocide), but GMO’s aren’t going to feed more people. They are going to make those corporations more money with better looking but not better tasting or healthier foods..

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Corporate malfeasance

I think the excessive environmental pollution is probably symptomatic of regulatory capture, and that neither of our political parties value natural conservation or even environmental protection.

GMOs are momentarily an asset exclusively for the few companies making them, but the technology will eventually become public, and we’ll be able to do what we want with those vegetables, including feeding more people.

Norman Borlaug used the technology of his time to facilitate the feeding of a billion people. The current epidemics of protectionism and IP maximalism isn’t going to last forever, and we’ll be able to craft foods with whatever features we want.

GMOs aren’t going to feed more people today, but that’s not the fault of GMOs, but the officers of the corporations that create them.

Regarding how we test GMOs, I suspect that we’d have to overhaul the FDA in the first place, since it, like all other agencies is vulnerable to regulatory capture.

Paraquat (profile) says:

The devil is in the details

Just because something is labeled “GMO” doesn’t automatically make it evil. But the devil is in the details.

Adding a gene to corn to make it juicier or tastier is probably harmless.

Adding a gene so that the corn produces its own pesticides is now common (it’s known as “Bt-corn”). Here’s a description of it:


Maybe it is harmless to humans, but I am very skeptical. The BT endotoxin does very nasty things to an insect – I would not automatically assume that it is harmless to humans just because Monsanto says so.

Adding a gene to make corn “Roundup-ready” means you will be getting a lot more of the herbicide Roundup in your diet. Although the corn itself maybe harmless to eat, I very much doubt that the Roundup it contains is benign. Perhaps those lobbyists who work at Monsanto can demonstrate how safe it is by drinking a glass of Roundup in front of the TV cameras, and then get back to us a week later if they’re still alive.

Actually a Scientist says:

Re: The devil is in the details

Bt is completely harmless to humans. Bt stands for “bacillus thuringiensis,” which is a bacteria that produces Bt toxin naturally (and where the gene came from.) The receptors that Bt toxin target are not found in humans – only in insect guts (this same principle is why some people are immune to HIV – they don’t have the CD4+ receptors necessary for HIV to infect their cells). In fact, Bt toxin is so specific that different types of Bt toxin target different insects, and won’t work on the same kinds. (E.g., you need a different Bt type to kill beetles vs moths.) You could drink the stuff and it wouldn’t hurt you, because humans simply lack the thing required for it to hurt us.

You cannot, however, drink Roundup and be fine, and no one from Monsanto is claiming that you can. However, the working ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is far less toxic to humans than pretty much every other herbicide on the market, and since it’s so effective farmers can use less of it then other nastier herbicides and get the same effect. Most of it washes off through rain or irrigation, so by the time your average Roundup ready soybean gets to its final destination, there is little if any Roundup present, and certainly not in high enough concentrations to hurt you.

All that being said, Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, and other agricultural companies do absolutely get up to some unbelievably shady shit, but that’s mostly on the intellectual property/business side.

Anonymous Coward says:


According to a 1917 study by Palemon Dorsett, Archibald Dixon Shamel and Wilson Popenoe of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a single mutation in a Selecta orange tree planted on the grounds of a monastery near Bahia, Brazil, probably yielded the first navel orange between 1810 and 1820.

Because the mutation left the fruit seedless and, therefore, sterile, the only method to cultivate navel oranges was to graft cuttings onto other varieties of citrus trees.

Today, navel oranges continue to be propagated through cutting and grafting. This does not allow for the usual selective breeding methodologies, and so all navel oranges can be considered fruits from that single, nearly two-hundred-year-old tree: they have exactly the same genetic make-up as the original tree and are, therefore, clones.

Wow. Genetic mutation, grafting, clones. Horrors! How could we ever allow such a thing to be sold in stores?!

Anonymous Coward says:

While I don’t really see anything wrong with GMOs, I think the labeling can be misleading and people have a right to proper labeling. Just like with food labels the govt lets these businesses essentially get away with lying.

For example if a compound was synthesized but that compound can be found in nature somewhere then food packages can still advertise that the product is ‘all natural’ even though one of the ingredients was made in a lab. The government does little to protect us from false advertising because they essentially legalize it.

Perhaps what we should do is create a generic document that narrowly defines things so that when some food package or bag says it’s this or that they can refer to the document. Kinda like how we have generic licenses such as the GNU-GPL or CC where terms are very specifically defined.

A food package can advertise the document name and organization behind it followed by the class

(as a hypothetical)
All natural society – General labeling

1: All natural means that nothing to be ingested in this package has been synthesized. This even includes ingredients that are naturally found in nature but were synthesized. No naturally occurring synthetics. (have a lawyer review this for even more clarity if necessary).

2: Organic means no insecticides were used. This includes but is not limited to (the list of synthetic exceptions that the govt normally allows on organic labeling).

3:) Non genetically modified means … (have lawyer review).

A package can say something like this is ALS (all natural society) organic. Now consumers can evaluate package labeling based on (elaborately defined) common definitions put forth by a third party organization and not based on the very misleading definitions put forth by our broken government. Any label that deviates from the strict definition is false advertising and should be subject to fraud (hah, good luck getting the government to do anything …)

Actually a Scientist says:

Re: Re:

It’s fine for people to know what they’re eating, but it’s kind of pretty pointless to label a compound synthesized in a lab vs naturally found. There is literally no difference between a chemical synthesized in a lab vs that same chemical isolated from a plant, except that in many cases it’s cheaper to synthesize in a lab.

And the current legal definition of “organic” allows the use of pesticides and insecticides – they just can’t be synthetic (which ironically allows for (and in many cases, requires) the use of insecticides that are far more dangerous to the environment and humans than synthetic insecticides.)

The main problem is that the average grocery shopper doesn’t understand what these labels mean. Most people, for instance, would like food that contains DNA to be labeled as such, even though this would obviously be pointless because any food containing any meat or plant products contains DNA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It helps get votes. People like to know what they’re eating is “Organic” (WETF that even means nowadays). Thank all the pseudo-asian philosophy gurus from the 80s up until now.

Though now that I think about it, at heart, it all probably started with the hippie movement in the 60s.

The 50s were after all, in relation to technology, pretty forward facing; full of fairs on how life would be “In the year 2000”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

While I generally agree with you I still think people have the right to be properly informed. It’s their choice, not yours or mine, to decide what they want to eat.

And organic can include synthetics

“However, under US federal organic standards, if pests and weeds are not controllable through management practices, nor via organic pesticides and herbicides, “a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases.”[25] “


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Most people, for instance, would like food that contains DNA to be labeled as such”

Yeah, I guess so. I’d be more concerned if it contained none.
Most food items contain DNA. For example – produce, meat and dairy all contain DNA. The processed food items possibly contain much less.

I am guessing that you meant GMO rather than DNA.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Using “organic” to mean “didn’t use pesticides” is a stupid, wrong, and dangerous misuse of an existing word. Might as well call downloading unauthorized copies of files “piracy”! Makes as little sense.

How about just saying “we didn’t use pesticides”? It is easy to understand, and a lot more accurate.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What does "Organic" mean today?

Many foods from the early organic movement were grown without chemical pesticides, instead controlling pests with imported predators. Maybe that proved to expensive to sustain without selling strawberries at $50 per pound?

If organic doesn’t preclude chemical pesticides, what does it mean?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Good enough for government work"

Came from Good enough for the government during WWII, which is to say the work we did would hold together in the elements of war and keep our pilots / tankers / soldiers alive — at least they wouldn’t die from equipment failure due to shoddy workmanship.

Contrast Gerry-built which was stuff that (allegedly) did fall apart. Though I don’t hear many stories of Germans getting betrayed by their gear on the field.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: USDA - Bless Their Hearts

Typo – s/b “too good for gov’t work” – the expression is applied to approve of superior efforts to what the gov’t would be expected to accomplish in the same circumstance. “Good enough for” is how you describe sub-par efforts (usu. of others, e.g., the gov’t). I was raised with both – either would work here.

Anonymous Coward says:

On the matter of organics, to paraphrase an (excellent) Cracked article (http://www.cracked.com/article_15982_5-horrifying-food-additives-youve-probably-eaten-today.html) Goat Sperm could legally be a “natural additive” and yet you wouldn’t want it in your food.

Is a plant GMO if you remove genes?
I dunno Sherlock, does removing something from something else result in a modified thing? /s
Yes the question probably refers to the legal meaning of GMO. But it’s all bullshit in the end.

At this point, unless you’re at least a chemistry major all’s left is hope that what we eat won’t kill us.

Normally I’d say Monsanto would (at least) NOT be so stupid as to food poison its revenue base but right now I don’t know about that anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Diversity in the food chain is good, monoculture is bad. I doubt there is much argument about this in the scientific community, but BigAgra does not like it when facts hurt their bottom line. Forcing farmers to stop saving seed from one crop for use in the next is not only wrong but its replacement potentially leads to a monoculture.

Skeeter says:

Why Is This GMO Question Difficult to Answer?

Why do we always have trouble parsing questions in society? Human-lab-manipulated GMO is bad, period. Questions like ‘is merely removing a gene bad, when not adding one?’ is easily answered by rephrasing the question to simply ‘are we modifying the genetics of this plant?’ If the answer is yes, then the outcome is bad. Simple logic chart. The validation in this is, if you have a computer program and remove some code, is it still the same program? Well, are there other dependencies that this removal process may break when you do? Unless you test the whole code just like the original code was tested, then the answer of ‘functionality’ or even safety cannot be validated. THIS is what GMO tampering is best compared to.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Human-lab-manipulated GMO is bad, period.

Yes. Why is manipulating genes in the garden good while doing it in the lab bad? At least the guy in the lab is testing the result on animals. The guy in the garden is testing on his family and neighbors!

Don’t kid yourself – techniques like grafting and cross-pollination are making GMOs.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Comparing grafting and cross polination to gene splicing

I would. There isn’t anything mystical or magical about gene-splicing that is playing God! that isn’t done with the same kind of horticulture that gives us Russet Potatoes and Cavendish Bananas.

GMOs aren’t abominable monstrosities that are bad for you per se. Some might be, but the same is true for all the other vegetation we grow (e.g. cyanide in apple seeds).

And GMOs have proved to be a useful tool to provide enough fuel to feed our non-stop population growth, since we seem unable to stop breeding until there’s a massive food crisis and famine.

Considering the corruption we’ve already seen in the FDA (Pink Slime? YES! _Plan B Contraceptives? NOT WITHOUT PUBLIC PRESSURE!) there are already things in our food and drugs that are way worse for us than the risk that general use of GMOs add. So this really is just a matter of Ludditism and fear of playing god

… which we did long ago when we made the tangerine. From Tangiers.

Bas says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Human-lab-manipulated GMO is bad, period.

because if you are, you are not recognizing that gene-splicing is producing effects that would never happen in Nature. Nature produced DNA variations follow certain rules that gene-splicers are not interested in, in order to produce certain effects. These effects do not remain invariable in future generations. therefore, they are starting a chain of events that would never have occurred in Nature, and the effects are not predictable. gene-splicers are just tinkerers with no sense of responsibility for the future.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Human-lab-manipulated GMO is bad, period.

[Citation Needed]

While you’re at it, a citation of why this is a bad thing is also needed. We process a lot of food unnaturally and use pretty freaky chemicals in what we eat, and that’s all okay?

Something tells me you just want to be afraid of artificial stuff

Bas says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Human-lab-manipulated GMO is bad, period.

I certainly don’t eat processed food because it makes me ill. this limits my diet to whole foods grown locally (without freaky chemicals), which I prepare myself, and grains and pulses from sources I trust. I can also grow my own food seasonally, and sprout seeds. That is a whole other can of worms. I worked hard for years to carve out this lifestyle, and it is not available to a lot of people. there is more food available these days that is not highly processed and sugared than when I started 35 years ago, but it is a conscious choice in the this country, and needs to be made more widely available, especially when one is forced to eat out. But, at 60 years old, I am healthy and need no pharmaceuticals, so if you are determined, it can be done.

Bas says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Human-lab-manipulated GMO is bad, period.

here is a citation: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/risks-of-genetic-engineering.html

And, regarding your link to “Naturalistic fallacy”, this is a straw man and false equivalency. Like it or not, you are a being created on Earth by Nature, and we are not genetically engineered to be able to process genetically engineered foods, we are tied to Nature’s creations in the form of the foods we eat, and our body processes are tailored to digest foods designed by Nature. Anonymous Coward mentioned the fact that GMO corn pollen can not be eaten by Monarch butterflies, because it is foreign to what they can process. It kills them. And witness the myriad health problems in this country caused by eating processed foods–this is not conjecture. http://www.cancer.org/healthy/eathealthygetactive/acsguidelinesonnutritionphysicalactivityforcancerprevention/acs-guidelines-on-nutrition-and-physical-activity-for-cancer-prevention-food-additives

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 "straw man and false equivalency"

Nature is not an anthropomorphized intelligence that decides in advance what’s good for us. Rather, famine has been a considerable force for natural selection, where those of us beasts who have too narrow a palette have died off in favor of those of us who can digest and process garbage.

As for GMO corn pollen not being edible by monarch butterflies, the cause is not that it’s a GMO but that the Gs were Md so as to make the corn pollen toxic to Monarchs. We could just as easily create a GMO in which the corn pollen is preferred by Monarchs.

We’ve been yammering the ill health effects of our food additives, and in some cases there may actually be merit to the issue, but few of them are universal. MSG causes health problems in some people, but not as many as purported during its panic. Saccharin, known to cause cancer in laboratory rats is actually less toxic for the sweetness attained than Aspartame (because it’s super-duper sweet), and more people have problems with processing sugar in the excess quantities that we eat it. Are GMOs dangerous? Any given one is probably safe, but we’ll occasionally have some that aren’t. As is the case with additives and industrial pollutants. Compared to your automobile exhaust, however, it’s all safe as houses.

I’m pretty sure that it’s not a straw man that you seem to be generalizing huge swaths of foods in given categories, e.g. natural vs. GMO. It’s very possible you’ve never eaten a natural vegetable in your life.

As for processing, Acorns have been the stable of civilizations, and yet are quite toxic without processing (e.g. leeching out the tannin by boiling).

I’ve mentioned before that most of our food preparation today comes from trying to make food last longer or taste better than in its raw form.

These are mere tools by which we can sustain our population of 7.2 billion people, half of which have to face food shortages continuously (largely due to freight difficulties than supply, but additives, processing and even GMOs are part of the solution.)

So check your privilege, dude.

Anonymous Coward says:

What is going on now is that Monsanto is putting Round Up genes in plants destined for human consumption then they claim that eating these foods that contain the glyphosate gene are helping people who are starving. A does not equal B. Also, the glyphosate gene has been not only showing up in human urine but also in human dna.

The FDA does not test gmo crops. Nor gmo animals. Claims by Monsanto that the crops are safe for human consumption are not based on any longitudinal studies or other independent studies. The FDA has failed the American people on this issue.

MM_Dandy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Roundup (glyphosate) is a herbicide, and contains no genetic material. Roundup-ready crops allow the farmers to apply Roundup to the crops, killing the weeds, while the crop survives, leading to increased yields. Which means that more people can be fed with the same amount of cropland. Thus, the claim that they are helping starving people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think the poster to which you responded was saying that the roundup ready plants have modified genetic material that makes them resistant to the affects of the roundup herbicide and said poster referred to it as “Round Up genes” although they may not actually be called that – idk.

Problem is – nature is crafty and the effectiveness of such an approach will fade, eventually becoming useless – sort of like what is happening with the anti-bacterial soap.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

"Have researchers not seen/read Jurassic Park? Or Blade Runner?"

The history of the internet has shown us that we will create any technology we can, and we will commit every atrocity thought up in fiction (and plenty more that never occurred to us) until we work out there are better ways to accomplish the same end.

There will always be researchers operating outside laws to stop unethical science, which may or may not operate outside the jurisdiction of those laws.

And when we decide that a certain technology should not be used in certain ways, there will always be people above the law with the means and motive to do it anyway.

Bas says:

Re: "Have researchers not seen/read Jurassic Park? Or Blade Runner?"

removing the strong profit motive would help. the fact that Monsanto is outlawing seed-saving in an effort to protect its profits through patents, and suppress any research into long-term effects of its GMOs is leading to much more destruction.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Just as a reminder: “wherefore art thou” does not mean “where are you”. It means “why is it that you are”.

When Juliet says “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”, she is not asking Romeo where he is; she is asking “Why is it that Romeo (the man I love) is Romeo (the scion of the one family with which mine has insurmountable enmity)?”.

The modern usage, such as in the headline of this article, is simply incorrect, and it always bothers me to see it – particularly in places, such as here, where I have enough respect for the writers to think that they really should know better.

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