[NAFEX] Genetically Modified vs Genetically Altered (Mutagenesis)

road's end farm organic101 at linkny.com
Fri Dec 30 20:25:44 EST 2005

On Dec 29, 2005, at 7:43 PM, Anton Callaway wrote:
> In all cases, the differences that humans have brought can be thought 
> of as acceleration and direction.  Humans have thought of ways to 
> speed up natural selection to make plants more adaptable to specific 
> agricultural situations and more nutritious or palatable to humans and 
> animals.  Rather than wait a million years for the mutation that 
> confers resistance to an herbicide or a pest, mutagenesis allows you 
> to find that mutation in a few years.  Then the breeder backcrosses or 
> outcrosses repeatedly to isolate the one desired mutation from the 
> others that were either neutral or undesirable.

Yup. Speeding things up has advantages. It can also have disadvantages. 
If the direction is unwise, getting there faster is not an improvement.

This doesn't mean, of course, that going fast is always bad. It does 
mean, in my opinion, that it's more necessary to look very hard where 
you're going when you're going at speed; and often wise to slow down.
> The persons I have met in agribusiness are keenly aware that food 
> safety is an absolute must.  They realize that if any "GMO" food 
> slipped through the incredibly strict screens for safety, the effects 
> on the company's reputation and bottom line would be extremely costly.

It has however happened. StarLink corn, anyone?

If there has been little or no damage done by this example, that 
doesn't change the fact that this easily slipped past "the incredibly 
strict screens".

> The little discussed fact is that "GMO" food is safer and more 
> wholesome than conventionally produced foods because of the dramatic 
> decreases in required pesticides and fungicides and the greatly 
> reduced levels of very hazardous natural toxins like aflatoxin (made 
> by a natural fungus).

I find it very odd that people keep saying that the use of crops 
modified to produce insecticides reduces pesticide use. It may well 
reduce sprayer use; but that's not the same thing. It does not decrease 
the use of pesticide to have the entire crop produce it continuously 
(as in BT producing corns) instead of having the pesticide applied 
intermittently to the field through a sprayer. It increases the use of 
pesticide to cause the entire crop to become a pesticide producer. It 
can also make it impossible to recall the pesticide if the use of it 
should later appear unwise, as the plant, being a living organism, can 
spread on its own. (Although corn/maize, unlike many other crops, does 
not survive without human intervention, the pollen can spread the trait 
to other strains of corn; considering the importance of this crop to 
human diets, this makes even corn GMO's effectively unrecallable. 
Pesticide production might well also be engineered into other crops.)

There are of course other ways to reduce use of pesticides and 

Can you cite for me some studies showing that aflatoxin is actually 
greatly reduced in GMO crops? I did a fast search; and I can find 
references to claims that it might be so reduced in theory; but the 
only references I could quickly find to studies done on actual foods or 
food crops were to studies that in most cases showed a similar or lower 
toxin level on organically grown crops (or foods derived from them) as 
compared to conventionally grown crops. I couldn't rapidly find 
anything comparing actual levels in GMO crops to non-GMO crops as such.
> I think that the public should continue to scrutinize agribusiness and 
> academic laboratories, just as they should scrutinize their government 
> and other major industries.  However, I also believe that the more the 
> public understands about the process of food and feed improvement 
> performed by BASF and other companies, the more they will not only 
> welcome it, but demand it.  I also believe that many in agribusiness 
> welcome constructive scrutiny, despite the inconvenience of it.

This is possible; but I'd be more convinced if most people promoting 
the use of GMO's didn't vehemently fight labeling of such crops in the 
grocery store. There is certainly a lot of ignorance on the subject; 
however not all of it is outside of the "agribusiness community". The 
release of BT producing corns without long-term studies on the results 
of the persistence of this form of the toxin in the soil indicates to 
me a disturbing willingness to accept a significant degree of ignorance 
about the effects of the technology in the interests of selling it 
faster, rather than waiting to put it on the market until the results 
are better understood. Again, if this specific instance turns out not 
to cause a problem, it doesn't change the fact that the work hadn't 
been done before release of the seed.

Finger Lakes NY; zone 5 mostly
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