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Reasons Why We DO Need GM Food

10 Reasons Why We Need Genetically Modified OrganismsTwo months ago, my family and I moved to St. Louis. We are from Argentina (if you keep going down the map from the U.S., it is right at the bottom of South America) where I used to work for an oil and gas company as a public relations manager.

New in town, I was hired by a company I have heard of a lot, but which I barely knew. Having grown up in a city of 8 million I don’t know much about agriculture either. I was a bit concerned about this–going to work for a company I knew little about that worked in a field I didn’t know anything about. “Not a problem,” said a colleague. “Most people in the world don’t know much about agriculture. Those of us who have been involved with it most of our lives sometimes have trouble explaining it. We need your voice”.

So, my initiation charge will to be to write a series of blog posts on the benefits of biotech in agriculture.

As PR specialists do, I looked for a scientific approach to my investigation–so I decided to go to the sources of humankind knowledge: Google. First thing I noticed was that there are a lot (meaning zillions) of people that do not like us, so I assumed that we must be doing something really huge to have upset so many activists around the world.

I needed to find out the truth and look for an answer to all these critics of biotech and genetically modified organisms (GMO). So I did the math: being 34 years old and planning to retire before I die–not enough time.

Well, so at least I have to be able to find response to the top-ten biotech critics (or go back to Argentina!!!), so I promptly went back to my computer, wrote down “10 reasons why we need GM,” push the Google’s ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button and there it was, a leaflet that is going to be my handbook for the following weeks. One by one they have listed 10 reasons why we don’t need GM foods, and I am decided to demonstrate why they are wrong. Stay tuned.

10 Reasons We Do Need GM Foods

Santiago is a Manager of Public Affairs at Monsanto. He was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, post-graduate studies in Social Communication & Media and an MBA in Marketing Management. Prior to working at Monsanto, Santiago taught PR for almost seven years while working as a Communications Advisor for several organizations and industries. He also worked for a multi-national IT company and an Oil & Gas company as PR Manager.

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49 Responses to "Reasons Why We DO Need GM Food"

  1. good luck, mate – you’ll need it!! You’ve chosen a very hard job – just take the money and run .. oh, and spend some time on a farm .. it’s an art working with nature, not a science.

  2. Have any of the gmo food crops that you think we DO need been studied long (or even short)term by independent scientists for feeding humans? Have those results been published in peer-reviewed journals? If so, would you please direct me to them?

    Have any long-term feeding studies been done on the the stacked gene varieties–or do you just assume that since the individually altered plants were considered GRAS that the combination of genes would therefore be safe as well?

    One more question: You have had USDA deregulate many gmo crops. But how do you know that the hybrids of gmo crops with non-gmo crops or other gmo crops are safe as well? We know these hybrids exist from public USDA information. Have all the possible outcomes that are out there and that are being consumed by humans, livestock, and wildlife been deregulated without any safety data?

    • Deborah,

      I also asked our Director of Medical Sciences and Outreach, Daniel (also an MD) to weigh in as well:

      Thanks for starting with the simple questions so I can just ease into this ;-) Just kidding- three separate, and good, questions- which I would consider to be 4 topics. I will try to address each one briefly, and one at a time. As this is a blog, I’ll keep it short.


      The safety assessment process for GM crops is well defined and the process itself (I’ll come to the data momentarily) has been the subject of multiple publications in government documents, peer-reviewed publications, and publications from international organizations such as WHO / FAO. The process is described, and the publications cited on Monsanto’s For the Record website.

      This website also has crop-by-crop bibliographies of peer reviewed literature which underpins the safety assessment. Some of these publications are from Monsanto authors (we increasingly publish our results this way in the interest of transparency) and others are by non-Monsanto authors, but all have been subjected to critical review.

      For additional information about the broader array of GM crops approved globally (Monsanto and non-Monsanto), the regulatory status of these crops, and the literature which supports safety assessment, the Agbios website is a great resource.


      (I will come to the “long term studies” part below.) The situation with stacks varies around the world. In some places (U.S.) stacks of GM are generally considered to be safe based upon the safety assessment of the individual components, subject to FDA’s general authority to take action against any food it would consider unsafe (we still need to demonstrate that our crops are effective). In the US, we develop GM crops in consultation with the FDA and other agencies. The basic presumption is that a stack will be as safe as the components entering the stack, and for most simple GM traits (which introduce a single enzyme or other protein) this is a very good assumption. HOWEVER- FDA has the authority to call for data and to deny marketing of any food which they believe is, or may be, unsafe. Although FDA does not automatically require new data- it certainly has the ability to require data if and when it believes that this is needed.

      In some other world areas, we are required to provide chemical analysis data and/or studies of stacked products. To date, such studies have not identified any new safety concerns as a result of stacking itself, suggesting that the US approach- ask for data when indicated and necessary- is the appropriate one.


      All crops can hybridize among themselves (some more efficiently than others- corn cross pollinates while soybean mostly self pollinate for example) and produce new combinations of genetic information in the field. Crops may also acquire genes from (or exchange genes into) wild relatives it they are capable of cross pollinating (again- some do and some don’t… corn can’t in most places- it has no wild relatives, canola can cross with wild relatives). None of this is new, and none of this is unique to GM plants. In fact, we have undertaken agriculture for thousands of years and have never assessed ANY conventional crop for the safety of hybrids under field conditions.

      This assumption of safety has proven to be fairly robust- but there ARE some recognized exceptions- specifically situations in which the levels of natural plant toxins have increased as a result of conventional breeding practices (solanine in potatoes, psoralins in celery). In both of these instances, it was the plant’s NATURAL ability to produce toxins that was the problem- not something new that was introduced through biotechnology. My key point here is that crossing with wild or cultivated relatives CAN raise safety concerns – but these concerns are NO DIFFERENT for GM crops than for conventional crops. Specifically- the genes and proteins in GM crops, and any intended changes in such crops- are carefully assessed for potential toxicity, making highly unlikely that any new toxicity would be introduced. We also test GM varieties for any known food toxins (like the solanine alkaloids in potato or anti-nutrients in soybean) to be sure that we have not affected levels of endogenous toxins.

      In short, the risks of unanticipated genetic events resulting in enhanced toxicity appear to be similar with GM and non-GM crops, and consequently, they are held to the same standards of safety assessment. We do not go out into the field and test conventional crops for safety issues resulting from hybridization, and it would be virtually impossible to do so with the thousands of varieties of corn, soybeans, cotton, etc. currently under cultivation.

      This is a very abbreviated answer to a complex topic- for a much more in depth discussion of these kinds of issues, you may want to see the National Academies of Science document entitled Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects, for sale by the NAS (but able to be viewed on-line here.


      A document on this subject will be coming to the Monsanto “For the Record” website soon. Briefly, short term toxicity testing is used to identify toxicity. This testing is usually done with isolated proteins, not whole plants, for a very simple reason- you want to give a large dose to look for any toxicity, and the level of GM proteins in a GM plant are generally so low that it is impossible to feed enough protein to an animal by feeding a whole food. Long term (lifetime or near lifetime) testing is used for other purposes- primarily for assessing cancer risks (lifetime studies) and reproductive hazards (multigeneration testing) (It can be used to help establish safe long-term doses of materials that are toxic in acute toxicity studies- but as the proteins and other materials in GM crops have not demonstrated toxicity in high-dose short or medium term (28 day) testing in animals, there is no logical reason to do this).

      DNA and RNA are common to all organisms and are intrinsically non-toxic. There is no point in testing DNA or RNA for toxicity- short term or long term- and that is why DNA and RNA are considered to be GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe). Proteins, as a rule, are readily digestible, and even those which are not readily digested do not exhibit long term toxicity. There are literally millions of proteins in the human diet, and thousands of different foods, and virtually NONE of them have been tested in long term animal systems for exactly this reason. There are some discrete exceptions- specifically protein toxins and protein hormones- which can cause long term effects at appropriate doses- but these are readily identifiable based on protein structure and would not be developed for use in GM foods.

      Foods do naturally contain many materials which may have long term health effects- but we do NOT subject conventional foods to long term toxicity testing. GM foods are clearly the most tested and evaluated foods in human history. The assessment paradigm is well developed (see item 1) and there is no logical reason for long term toxicity testing of GM foods as they are established by the safety assessment as being as safe as conventional varieties.

      - Daniel

  3. Kathleen and Daniel,

    Is there a particular study you would direct me to regarding human long term feeding studies concerning MON810 corn and MON863?

    Also, very importantly, I would like to know if the independent peer-reviewed studies to which you are directing me were done before or after the deregulation of the crop. To me this is a very important issue. IF the independent studies are performed afterwards, how is that information helpful to the public and the scientific process as it applies to APHIS, considering that the commenting period on a proposed deregualtion is the only time to raise any concerns about the wisdom and integrity of that deregulation. The APHIS comment dockets I have read all base the safety studies on the unchallenged word of the inventor and lack transparency of the entire methodology of the studies. The problem with that is that one cannot question information one is not privy to. Further, once a crop is deregulated and planted enmasse or even as a trial, it is very difficult to reverse such a decision and I would suspect impossible to recapture all escaped gene flow should opposing information arise. Equally disconcerting, it would appear to me that GMO deregulation is an uncontrolled experiment in reality. In reality there is no way to tell if there are any long-term safety issues associated with your products. There is certainly a rise in digestive disorders, diabetes, food allergies, and asthma during the timeframe you cite, Kathleen. But with so many variables and no control groups we can’t really be sure GMO foods are not to blame. Nor can we be sure they are. And that leaves you in a position to say there is no proof. How could there be without control parameters? There are no controls to indicate any correlation or causation. This situation does hearken back to the old cigarette, asbestos, DDT, etc argument: To the consumer, Prove it isn’t safe…without any control data. By the time there is enough anecdotal info to work with, the damage is done. Shouldn’t the product be proven safe first? And the precautionary principle adhered to until then?

    Even the pharmaceutical companies are forced to put their products through clinical trials to avoid just such a scenario, and still we have many dangerous drugs approved which are only caught after people (who are much better documented than those eating gmo’s) fall ill from similar conditions. GMO deregulation procedures would never pass the pharmaceutical process from what I can see. You may argue they don’t need to, but I would disagree since far more people eat food than take a particular drug.

    Finally, are the proteins you and others tested in the feeding studies of MON 810the same exact proteins expressed in the plants?

  4. Daniel, you wrote:
    “Foods do naturally contain many materials which may have long term health effects- but we do NOT subject conventional foods to long term toxicity testing. GM foods are clearly the most tested and evaluated foods in human history. The assessment paradigm is well developed (see item 1) and there is no logical reason for long term toxicity testing of GM foods as they are established by the safety assessment as being as safe as conventional varieties”

    I would argue that Monsanto is logically, legally, and morally responsible for long term toxicity testing of the GM foods they create because they have actually introduced novel genetic sequences from different biological kingdoms into our food which express proteins that to my knowledge have never before been achieved through plant breeding. True, we have been eating natural hybrids since the beginning of time, and I would argue that no one is responsible for the solanine or chaconine in various crops as they are naturally occurring under certain circumstances–although we can avoid green potatoes and tomatoes, etc. But if MONSANTO introduces a toxin or a novel protein into our food, MONSANTO is logically responsible and hopefully accountable for all of the consequences. For that reason, long-term human feeding studies should have been done before introducing these proteins into our diets, an alteration which occurred unbeknownst to most American citizens. People start eating these foods during infancy and continue on until the day they die. As a doctor, do you honestly feel a 28 day toxicity study is adequate–especially considering the laws that protect children from participating in what I would call a feeding experiment with no controls? What of multigenerational effects like those we have seen with endocrine disruptors, etc? Illnesses come on so subtley, in conjuction with other environmental and physiological variables, including individual predispositions. We will be the data, my children and theirs will provide the data which can be compared to Europeans–or some society if it still exists– of people with similar diets that only exclude gmo’s.

    And what of the newly accepted revelation (to some at least) that has certainly been bandied about for a while that one gene does not act alone, but rather in concert with other genes up and down the line? This is another reason to test the crops your company has created for unintended and unforeseen toxins. Following what seems to be a logical sequence of thought, I would think the probability of an unnoted disruption is even greater in the stacked and outcrossed events. And has it not been proven that upon reevaluation of later generations of GMO crops that the dna has been found to be unstable in many cases and rearranged? Is that crop not now a new event that should have to undergo a new deregulation process? Is it still the same organism? Were these instabilities noted in the trial period?

    These are just my initial thoughts on your response and similar responses I have seen for years from Biotech and the government.
    I don’t appreciate what companies like yours have done to my food and that of my children, but I do appreciate the chance to discuss it with your company at last. I only wish this would have happened 15 or 20 years ago and that I had a say in what I was eating. I also resent the fact that your company lobbies for laws that will prohibit labelling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. That to me is undemocratic politically and unethical in every other way. Monsanto and the government should not deny any people the ability and the right to choose or even know what we are eating.

    • Deborah, thanks again for reading and coming straight to Monsanto employees with your questions. A lot of the things you brought up (including Mon810 and the fear surrounding biotech foods) will be addressed in the blog down the road. Until then, don’t hesitate to check out a section on our website called For The Record that addresses a lot of the concerns most people have concerning Monsanto. Keep reading for more info.

  5. Wow, this was really informative. Thanks Dan. I’ve worked here for 4 years and I think it’s fun when I can learn something new.

    I’ve always wondered why there is so much concern over testing when GM crops go through round after round of testing for the insertion of one gene (or perhaps up to 8 now with some of our newer technology), but there is no testing for organic or conventional crops produced through breeding. You have literally hundreds (thousands?) of genes crossing species and creating new hybrids but there is no testing to determine whether those are safe or what the long-term health effects may be. Because it’s conventional breeding it’s regarded as safe.

    I like knowing that these crops have been studied backward and forward for the insertion of a handful of genes not only for their potential effect on health but also on the environment.

    Mother Nature is creating new plant species everyday and we never know what beneficial (or potentially toxic) creation she may come up with.

  6. Mica says:

    “I’ve always wondered why there is so much concern over testing when GM crops go through round after round of testing for the insertion of one gene (or perhaps up to 8 now with some of our newer technology), but there is no testing for organic or conventional crops produced through breeding. You have literally hundreds (thousands?) of genes crossing species and creating new hybrids but there is no testing to determine whether those are safe or what the long-term health effects may be. Because it’s conventional breeding it’s regarded as safe.”

    Using an analogy, I would quote nutritionist and educator Joan Gussow who has said, “I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than chemists.” (Substitute natural hybridization for genentic modification.) Crossing species or varieties within the plant kingdom is a lot different than splicing in genetic material from different kingdoms to express toxins….That process gives some individuals pause before eating.

  7. “Crossing species or varieties within the plant kingdom is a lot different than splicing in genetic material from different kingdoms to express toxins”

    Is this comment based on assumptions or on a weight of evidence? Crossing species and varieties within the plant kingdom by conventional breeding could quite easily turn crops safe for people with certain food allergies into killers.

    The proteins expressed in commercial GM crops are highly specific in their mode(s) of action targetting (or modifying) metabolic pathways that dont exist in humans (and in the case of herbicide resistance modifications resulting in end products which naturally occur in the organism in the first place)

    Finally, if you look at trends in yields since the introduction of biotech crops you see an introduction of stability to what is a generally noisy upward curve in yield (while yields trended higher throughout the 80′s there was severe year – year variation, this severe variation has largely been eliminated in the biotech era) – stabalizing (the trend) and securing a year to year yield will become increasingly important in terms of global health in coming years (is it worth starving due to an imagined threat?) – I would argue that the most important thing GM foods offer in the next 20 years (as opposed to the last 15-20 which) is the opportunity for your children and grandchildren to maintain a standard of living similar to that which we enjoy today – without increasing yields and decreasing inputs (two goals which essentially sum up Monsanto strategy around agriculture) this is an increasingly unlikely dream

  8. Ewan, To take your last point first, I was under the impression that inputs are definitely on the rise with herbicide tolerant crops. Hasn’t there been a substantial rise in the total usage of Roundup and the rate of application per area since the introduction of RR crops? I believe the EPA has also increased the maximum residue levels allowed on soybeans last December (2008) from 0.1 mg per kg to 20 mg per kg. Accordingly, the limits were increased on other farm commodities as well per the Federal Regsiter Document E8-28571.

    And now that we are beginning to see Roundup resistance, aren’t some farmers having to resort to combining Roundup with the older herbicides, such as atrazine and 2,4-D, which Roundup was supposed to make obsolete? And how much have the prices of Roundup and RR seeds risen in the last 5 years? Is there truly a decrease in inputs when you consider these herbicide increases and the Bt production that comes with the seeds and is produced in the plants?

  9. I’d like to see comparisons not of just rates of roundup application to crops, but overall herbicide application on RR crops as compared to non-GMO crops – also take into account inputs such as fuel required while spraying.

    As to roundup resistance and increased useage of other pesticides – this may be the case, however it is probably still the case that overall herbicide application is down across GM crops -(I dont have actual figures for this) and with the near future release of multiple herbicide resistances the evolution of resistance in weed species should be less likely (akin to using a multiple antiviral/antibiotic approach in medicine to prevent resistances)

    Inputs in this case refers more to physical inputs rather than cost inputs (water, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fuel use to apply these inputs etc) – also if the cost input increased for no benefit then Monsanto would be out of business – farmers wouldn’t buy product which increased yield but at a cost which reduced profitability.

    I wouldnt associate Bt production with an input either in this case – as far as I know the only time I would associate Bt as an input is in organic farming where Bt proteins are widely used in spray format due to being from non-pathogenic bacteria and having been proven to be safe in all higher animals tested (UCSD) – in the case of plants producing the protein there is no associated environmental (other than the death of targetted insect larvae) impact – the fact that these proteins are produced in vivo on site rather than requiring application is a real victory in terms of environmentalism (in my eyes)

  10. Center for Food Safety has some figures on overall pesticide usage on a webpage called Genetically Modified (GM) Crops and Pesticide Use1 from January 2008. According to their numbers based on USDA data the usage of glyphosate on soybeans, corn and cotton from 1994 to 2005 increased from 7,933,189 lbs to 119,071,000 lbs. In soybeans from which there are figures until 2006, the increase is from 4,896,000 lbs in 1994 to 96,725,000 lbs in 2006.

    Within the same timeframe, the use of older pesticides has increased as well. For example, from 2002 to 2006, the use of 2,4-D in soy was increased from 1,389,000 lbs to 3,673,000 lbs. From 2002 to 2005, the use of atrazine on corn fields was increased from 55,018,000 lbs to 61,710,000 lbs. From 2002 to 2005, the use of Acetachlor decreased from 34,702,000 to 32,045,000–after spiking to 39,203,000 in 2003. The use of metachlor increased from 25,875,000 lbs in 2002 to 27,511,000 lbs in 2005. Overall, for the top 4 herbicides used on soy and corn, there was an increase from 115,595,000 lbs in 2002 to 121,266,000 in 2005, with a spike of 127,218,000 lbs in 2003.

    Center for Food Safety says that “From 2002 to 2005, atrazine use on corn increased by
    12%. Use of the top four corn herbicides increased 4.9%. The 5-fold increase in glyphosate use on corn over the same time span (see Table 1) has clearly not displaced any of the leading corn herbicides.

    Use of 2,4-D on soy rose by more than 2.6-fold from 2002 to 2006. Over the same period, glyphosate use on soy rose 43% (see Table 1). Glyphosate is clearly not displacing use of 2,4-D.”

    For Bt, the numbers differ as well. According to the same site:

    “Pesticide use reductions from Bt corn sometimes greatly exaggerated by
    assuming all current Bt corn growers would use insecticides to control
    European corn borer (ECB) if they switched back to conventional corn. In
    fact, only 5.2% of corn acreage was sprayed for ECB prior to availability of
    Bt corn. According to the National Academy of Sciences:
    “… the European corn borer, which is the major target of transgenic Bt field corn, has not commonly been
    controlled with insecticides. A survey of the literature (Gianessi and Carpenter 1999) indicates that across the corn
    belt only 5.2% of the acreage is sprayed annually for corn borers and in Iowa only 2.6%. Some of the reasons for the
    lack of chemical control are that the perceived yield loss has always been considered small (estimated at about 4%),
    the cost of pesticides is high relative to the crop’s value, and typical insecticides have not been very efficient at
    killing the pest after it bores into the plant.”

    According to these figures, the use of herbicides is up and we have more toxins in our food and environment. Don’t forget that you can wash off at least some of the Bt spray used on organics and it degrades in the sunlight relatively quickly. I don’t think the same can be said for the toxin produced within the plant itself. Roundup is also absorbed into the plant, and the increase in Maximum Residue Levels says a lot to me.

  11. My initial request was for independent peer-reviewed safety studies. This article from the Pesticide Action Network is saying there just isn’t enough independent, non-industry based or funded, information out there to make a sound scientific determination. Is there enough transparency from Monsanto; just how open are the books?

    Scientists blocked from researching GM crop impacts

    Biotechnology companies are stopping scientists from researching the efficiency and environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops, according to a statement submitted to U.S. EPA by 26 specialists in corn pests. The scientists, primarily from land-grant universities, submitted the statement anonymously for fear of being blacklisted. Andrew Pollack of the New York Times interviewed the scientists, whose stories of the industry’s chokehold on research include outright prohibition of research and laundering of data. Leading agricultural biotech companies, including DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta, are also the primary producers of insecticides and herbicides. Scientists are concerned that neither EPA nor farmers can get enough non-industry-controlled science to make informed decisions about whether GM crop technologies are worth either the money or the risks increasingly associated with biotechnology. “U.S. agriculture uses far more biotech than any other nation. The companies foisting these technologies on the developing world at a considerable profit are U.S.-based. The fact that neither U.S. regulatory agencies, nor American farmers, can get independent scientific assessment is especially alarming,” said PAN Senior Scientist, Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman. Risks and unintended consequences are only slowly coming to light, and include reduction rather than increases in yields, potential uncontrolled spread of food allergens and other genes, human and animal health harms associated with eating GM foods, and more. Genetically engineered crops have failed to deliver on industry promises of increased yields, nutritional value, or drought-tolerance. Herbicide tolerance (particularly for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUpTM) is the engineered crop trait that does appear to work, and is in broadest use (82% of biotech crops worldwide). According to a World Watch Institute report, wide adoption of such herbicide-tolerant crops in the U.S. has increased use of pesticides, resulting in the spread of 15 species of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” in the U.S. alone. In the 1990s there were two such species of superweeds.

  12. Here are a few studies indicating a need for more comprehensive investigations into the environmental effects of GM crops producing the Bt toxin. First, reconsider our history with pesticides–one fraught with unforeseen consequences in almost every case–at least unforeseen to the trusting public. Then consider that for every study one can find concluding that GMO crops are safe (some 15 years plus after deregulation!), I can find another asserting that the first was incomplete or used improper methods, etc, etc. And vice-versa. I am not at all confident that biotech companies and the regulators who work with them, and sometimes for them, know all there is to know about the environmental (and health) repercussions of plants producing Bt toxins based on these conflicting studies that we have. For these reasons, I think we may have jumped the gene gun:


    The Hungarian team found the following for MON810 maize:

    “The Bt maize produces 1500-2000 times as much Bt-toxin as is
    released through
    a single treatment in conventional crop protection, with the chemical
    called DIPEL,
    which contains Bt toxin.”
    II. “Other experiments have found that the residues of Bt plants are
    slower to
    decompose than their isogenic lines. Some 8% of the toxin produced by
    the plant
    remained in the field after harvesting. Indeed, a substantial share
    of this active
    toxin quantity could be identified in the soil 11 months later.”
    III. “In the soil of the field under the transgenic plant, the entire
    biological activity was
    lower than in the control field.”
    IV. “The caterpillars thriving on herbs in and on the edges of maize
    fields, hatching
    during the pollination period, are the most substantially affected by
    the Bt toxin
    produced by MON 810..


    A new study indicates that a popular type of genetically engineered corn–called Bt
    corn–may damage the ecology of streams draining Bt corn fields in ways that have
    not been previously considered by regulators. The study, which was funded by the
    National Science Foundation, appears in the Oct. 8 edition of The Proceedings of the
    National Academy of Sciences.

    This study provides the first evidence that toxins from Bt corn may travel long
    distances in streams and may harm stream insects that serve as food for fish. These
    results compound concerns about the ecological impacts of Bt corn raised by previous
    studies showing that corn-grown toxins harm beneficial insects living in the soil.

    This controversial study:

    Results of our research on the influences of Bt crop byproducts on
    headwater streams have several broad implications. First, previous
    research assumed that transgenic crop byproducts would remain on
    fields (3), which overlooks the potential for these materials to enter
    and be dispersed by headwater streams. Surface waters can transport
    transgenic DNA (22), and we now show that toxin-containing
    crop byproducts are likewise dispersed through the landscape by
    streams. Secondly, stream insects have not been a focus for examination
    of the ecological effects on nontarget organisms despite
    their proximity to agricultural fields and, in the case of trichopterans,
    their close phylogenetic relationships to target species.
    Our results indicate that Bt corn byproducts may have negative
    effects on the biota of streams in agricultural areas. Based on these
    findings, we suggest that the assessment of potential nontarget
    effects from transgenic crops should be expanded to include
    relevant aquatic organisms, such as stream insects. Lastly, headwater
    streams in the midwestern United States are already impaired
    by nutrient enrichment and extensive habitat degradation (23, 24);
    Bt crop byproducts could represent an additional stressor to these
    systems, which has implications for stream restoration and riparian
    management in agricultural landscapes.

    This, perhaps, even more provocative follow-up:


    The Results

    Bøhn et al.’s findings were that mortality, growth and fertility of D. magna [Daphnia magna, a freshwater crustacean arthropod commonly used in toxicological investigations] were all negatively affected by the MON810-containing line compared to the control maize. Interestingly, however, the animals fed transgenic maize showed early maturation, indicating a likely toxic response to a component of the transgenic maize, rather than a response to malnutrition.

    The authors suggest that their results reinforce the possibility that Cry1Ab transgenics may have significant implications for aquatic ecosystems. However, the mechanism by which the transgenic maize affects D. magna is not resolved by this data. One possibility is that the assumption that Cry1Ab is lepidopteran-specific may be inaccurate or, alternatively, Cry1Ab may be modified within the cellular environment of plants. In either case, transgenic Cry1Ab, and perhaps other cultivars containing different Bt toxins, may be toxic to non-target organisms to an unexpected degree. Cry proteins may thus be having effects on soil arthropods (for which there are no published studies on Bt toxin effects). Angelika Hilbeck however is cautious: “It is difficult to make cross-comparisons from water to land ecosystems, since they are such different environments”.

    Since MON810 was the only Cry1Ab event studied by Bøhn et al., there remains an alternative mechanistic possibility however, which is that the effects on D. magna are a result of some unanticipated consequence of transgene insertion or expression. Such unanticipated effects are not merely theoretical: Rosi-Marshall et al. normalised their results for C:N ratios because Cry1Ab containing Bt maize varieties have more lignin than non-Bt varieties (Saxena and Stotzky 2001). This normalisation was done to prevent any confounding influences of nutritional quality from affecting their results (Rosi- Marshall et al. 2007).

    A recent paper detailing the first proteomic analysis of a MON810- containing cultivar may be relevant to this discussion. The authors found at least 43 significant protein expression differences between the MON810 line and a near-isogenic control (Zolla et al. 2008). Given this perhaps surprising degree of difference between a transgenic cultivar and a non-transgenic isoline, it becomes plausible to imagine that one of these differences might be responsible for the effects observed on D. magna. A substantial equivalence connection?

    Irrespective of whether Cry1Ab (or some other MON810 constituent) turns out to be the specific cause of increased D. magna mortality, Bøhn et al.’s result (and also the caddisfly result) constitute a challenge also to the regulatory doctrine of substantial equivalence. According to this principle, MON810 has been declared ‘substantially equivalent’ and it should be safe for all organisms (other than known targets of Cry1Ab), whether they are D. magna or humans. Instead, MON810 is apparently substantially equivalent but not safe.

    These new results may stimulate discussion of the concept of substantial equivalence and its relationship to GMO safety. One possible interpretation of this data is that it disproves absolutely the existence of any fundamental relationship between substantial equivalence and safety. Instead, it supports the view that substantial equivalence was never a true scientific concept, as has been argued, it is a regulatory ‘principle’ associated with no biological relationship nor any theoretical validity (Millstone et al. 1999).

    Thomas Bøhn however takes a very different tack: his answer to this conundrum is that MON810 was originally determined incorrectly by US (and also EU) regulators as substantially equivalent. This answer however, illustrates another apparent problem of substantial equivalence: that there is no agreed, universal or a priori set of criteria of what, in terms of crop composition, constitutes a finding of a substantial difference (Millstone et al. 1999).

    And why Denmark restricted glyphosate in 2003:


    Denmark placed unprecedented restrictions on the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, as of September 15, 2003. The government action resulted from testing which showed the presence of the toxic chemical in Denmark’s groundwater, where most of the country’s drinking water comes from. The Denmark and Greenland Geological Research Institution (DGGRI) had found glyphosate sieving down through soil after applications, where it polluted groundwater at a rate of five times more than the level allowed for drinking water.

    “When we spray glyphosate on the fields by the rules, it has been shown that it is washed down into the upper groundwater with a concentration of 0.54 micrograms per litre. This is very surprising, because we had previously believed that bacteria in the soil broke down the glyphosate before it reached the ground water,” says DGGRI. Glyphosate had also been found earlier in wells in Roskilde and Storstroms regions as well as the Copenhagen district council area. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that the material does have the potential to contaminate surface waters. If glyphosate reaches surface water, it is not broken down readily by water or sunlight. The half-life of glyphosate in pond water ranges from 70 to 84 days.

    When the chemical was first detected in Denmark’s groundwater, Professor Mogens Henze, head of the Institute for Environment and Resources at Denmark’s Technical University, responded by stating, “The results show that glyphosate is polluting our drinking water. And unfortunately we have only seen the tip of the iceberg, because glyphosate and many other spray chemicals are on their way through the soil at this point in time. Politicians need to look at agriculture in relation to clean drinking water and decide what it is they are going to do.”

    Although glyphosate use is widespread, there are many concerns regarding its health effects. In fact, the most recent data (1998) from California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation finds that glyphosate ranks first among herbicides as the highest causes of pesticide-induced illness or injury to people in California. Symptoms following exposure to glyphosate formulations include: swollen eyes, face and joints; facial numbness; burning and/or itching skin; blisters; rapid heart rate; elevated blood pressure; chest pains, congestion; coughing; headache; and nausea. It is also linked to chronic health effects. A 1999 study, A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides, (American Cancer Society, 1999), found that people exposed to glyphosate are 2.7 times more likely to contract non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

    One need only consult Agbios for the inverse of these arguments.

  13. Roundup use -

    It is not really surprising that roundup use increased from such low levels in the 90′s to such high levels in the early 2000′s. The same trend (although starting at 0 not in the millions) would be seen for the useage of blue ray discs and nintendo wii’s – roundup technology didnt exist in the market until 1996.

    “Altered pesticide use on transgenic crops and the associated general impact from an environmental perspective” Pest management science vol 63 issue 11 paints a somewhat different picture to the centre for food safety figures with Kg/Ha of active ingredient used in soybean between ’95 and ’05 shifting from ~1.1 for non-glyphosate and 0.1 for glyphosate for the years 95, 96 and 97 then a gradual switch between the two until in 2005 the numbers are pretty much opposite – 1.1ish for glyphosate and approximately 0.2 for the non-glyphosate.

    Another table in the same paper details environmental and consumer impacts of GM vs non GM crops with pesticide use down 25-33% in a comparison between the two, total impact (as a measure of pesticide use, farm worker impact, consumer impact and environmental impact) down 39-59%

    GM Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact – The First Nine Years 1996-2004
    Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot also details significant reductions in pesticide stating -

    “The analysis shows that there have been substantial economic benefits at the farm level, amounting to a cumulative total of $27 billion. GM technology has also resulted in 172 million kg less pesticide use by growers and a 14% reduction in the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use. GM crops have also made a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 billion kg, equivalent to removing five million cars from the roads for a year.”

    I would have to assume the figures pulled from the centre for food safety either fail to take into account differences in acreages planted per season (more acreage = more pesticide, need to normalise) differences in formulation (less active ingredient = spray more for the same environmental impact) or are just somewhat off due to the partisan nature of the source – just as one shouldnt trust gun safety figures published by either the NRA or “Mothers against guns” perhaps one should be a little wary around using figures directly from an anti-GMO source.

    Finally, in response to your last paragraph

    a) It is not clear that the use of herbicides is up
    b) If Bt is as bad as you appear to believe is washing ‘at least some off’ any comfort?
    c) When calling these products toxic let’s maintain a little focus – the chemicals are toxic to specific classes of organisms targeting biochemical pathways that do not exist in humans. (in the case of those involved in GM crops)
    d) Increased maximum residues do indeed say a lot. Mostly about increased knowledge around the safety of the products in question.

  14. All I can tell you, Ewan, is that the Center for Food Safety’s numbers are derived from USDA/NASS statistics. I would think they account for the ratio of larger amounts of pesticides to larger areas, etc. I wonder why the intensity of herbicide application has not decreased proportionately to the increase in herbicide tolerant crops planted, rather than increasing–or nearly holding level, as in your scenario. Wasn’t that the idea–or was it? In your case, it is just a flip of the manufacturer, with a slight increase in intensity. And Monsanto appears to be the big reaper of financial gain.

    I found this May 2008 report, which seems to demonstrate some grasp of the math, according to the citation. It seems that the Center for Food Safety picked up the calculations where USDA saw fit to leave off:


    Sources: “Agricultural Chemical Usage: Field Crops Summary,” USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, for
    the respective years. Accessible from:
    http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo.do?documentID=1560. The figures represent total
    herbicide use on the respective crop in the “Program States” included in USDA’s survey, divided by the number of
    acres planted to that crop in the Program States. The Program States surveyed by USDA represent a high
    percentage of nationwide acreage planted to the crop (usually more than 80%, often more than 90%). The only
    assumption made here is that the amount of herbicides applied per acre covered by the survey is equal to that applied
    on acres not included in the survey. This is accepted practice for calculation of pesticide intensity. For instance, see
    Table 3.3.3 in Section 3.3: “Biotechnology and Agriculture,” in: “Agricultural Resources and Environmental
    Indicators, 2006 Edition,” USDA Economic Research Service, Economic Information Bulletin 16, July 2006,
    accessible from: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/AREI/EIB16/. In this 2006 report, USDA for some
    unexplained reason plotted pesticide intensity on major field crops only up through 2001 or 2002, despite the
    availability of data for later years.

    “Intensity of herbicide use began rising in 2002 for soybeans and cotton, and in 2003 for corn, as herbicide tolerant
    versions of these crops became prevalent.”
    There is a graph if you are interested. Some explanation might be found here:


    Glyphosate applications in Roundup Ready corn are effective at controlling most annual grass and broadleaf weeds. While glyphosate will kill large annual grasses, applications should be made when weeds are small to maximize yield. The best approach is to plan on making two glyphosate applications – one within a week of weed emergence (first flush) and another just before canopy closure. The second application may not always be necessary. Tank-mixing atrazine with glyphosate is generally needed for improved broadleaf weed control. Few differences have been observed when atrazine was mixed with the first or second application or when atrazine was added to both applications.

    Weed management in conventional corn can still be as effective as weed management in Roundup Ready corn. The choice to use one or the other should be based on hybrid, cost of weed control and drift management. Resistance management is another issue that needs to be considered. Heavy reliance on glyphosate is beginning to lead to the development of glyphosate- resistant weeds. To prevent or slow down glyphosate resistance, the LSU AgCenter recommends rotating or using various herbicides with modes of action different from glyphosate.
    or here:


    There are a number of new
    developments and considerations
    for weed management for 2008.
    Glyphosate continues to dominate as
    a weed control tactic in soybean and
    corn, and it is a certainty that more
    herbicide resistant corn will be planted.
    While the benefits of the glyphosate
    technology are many, there are several
    unintended consequences. These
    unintended consequences include new
    weed problems, evolved glyphosate
    resistance and volunteer crop
    management issues. Thus, the need
    to include stewardship [more pesticides?] to supplement
    crop production tactics becomes
    increasingly important.
    Production systems used in glyphosate
    resistant crops (GRCs) increases
    selection pressure on the weed
    community due to the limited number
    herbicides (glyphosate) used to control
    weeds and increased selection pressure
    increases weed population shifts. Specifically for
    GRCs, both “types” of weed population
    shifts have occurred in response to
    grower use of glyphosate in GRC-based

    However, anecdotal
    evidence strongly supports the
    supposition that glyphosate-resistant
    weed populations exist in Iowa.
    It has been interesting to follow
    the predictions of how quickly
    weed shifts would develop.

    Early predictions suggested that shifts in
    weed populations would not evolve.

    Other predictions suggested that weed
    population shifts were inevitable and
    would occur sooner rather than later.

    For example, resistance to glyphosate
    in isolated common waterhemp plants
    was observed two years after the
    commercialization of GR soybean and in horseweed, glyphosate resistance was
    widely distributed three years after GR
    soybean commercialization.

    The correlation to leukemia puts me off of wanting to eat more Roundup–and the cell death shown in Seralini’s study. As for the Bt, I did mention that it also rapidly degrades in the environment as well as washes off. I doubt any pesticide and its metabolites wash off 100%, but I would still opt for something I have a chance to wash off over something that is within the product–I mean food.

    E X T O X N E T
    Extension Toxicology Network
    Bacillus Thuringiensis
    Berliner (B.t. variety kurstaki): Dipel, Thuricide, Bactospeine, Leptox, Novabac, Victory. Certan (B.t. variety aizawa). Teknar (B.t. variety israelensis)
    B.t. is a naturally-occurring pathogen that readily breaks down in the environment. As a biological entity, it is subject to death and inactivation in the same fashion as all living things (1, 5). B.t. is degraded very rapidly when exposed to UV light. Its half-life under normal sunlit conditions is 3.8 hours. Formulations of B.t. spores and crystals encapsulated in starch lost all spore viability and insecticidal activity within 4 days (18).

  15. Ewan Ross says:

    GM crops have also made a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 billion kg, equivalent to removing five million cars from the roads for a year.”

    Just for comparison:


    Earlier this year, Rodale Institute began an aggressive campaign to show how organic farming can fight climate change. Part of that message has been that converting all U.S. agricultural lands to management practices utilizing cover cropping, crop rotation and compost application instead of farming with mineral fertilizers and synthetic pesticides could be the carbon-offsetting equivalent of removing nearly 80 percent of all operational vehicles from U.S. roadways. The Institute believes that the addition of organic no-till would significantly increase that mitigation capacity. Now, through the benefit of the SARE grant, scientists there have the opportunity to put that idea to the test.

  16. Yes there is a market problem with GM crops and it is ignored. The logical solution is to allow independent health testing on GM products but Monsanto insists that the outcomes must be controlled by Monsanto as it is a patented product.
    Instead we have a regulated system which allows Monsanto to decide what feeding tests they should submit.
    Take GM canola in Australia:
    GM canola is crushed and half results in oil for human consumption and half results in meal for stock feed.
    The oil was not tested.
    The meal feeding trials showed an increase in liver weights of 17% but because FSANZ has no authority over stock feed and meal is used for stock feed, these results were ignored.
    Yet it was supposedly ruled as safe.
    Yet, Monsantos own user agreement in US warns farmers not to graze their stock on GM canola as there is insufficient information available to ensure it is safe.
    Doesn’t inspire consumer confidence does it?

  17. How can GM crops improve the environment?
    No tillage is not due to GM, it is a change in farming systems and farmers use it on non-GM. However as part of the glyphosate resistance management system, farmers are to use an alternative to glyphosate as a knockdown in following rotations. This only leaves tillage or paraquat/diquat. As paraquat/diquat is not as effective and is far more toxic (farmers easily get blood noses, headaches and hallucinations.
    That means the better option is more tillage! So why then is Monsanto promoting less tillage, less environmental impact etc?

    Bt is promoted as an environmental benefit too but the reason farmers spray less is that the plant itself produces its own insecticide in every cell. This equals more chemical released to the environment and a product that the insecticide can’t be washed out of.

  18. How can GM crops improve the environment?

    This almost warrants a whole set of actual blogs (by someone in the know rather than someone with a little bit of knowledge..) rather than a single response – I’ll try and illustrate how I personally think GM crops do that today, and more importantly will do it in the next 5-20 years (and possibly beyond depending on how my mood takes me)

    First we need to make a few assumptions about how farming is just now, and how it is likely to stay – input based, industrialized, and business oriented. Lets assume that farmers are going to fertilize at rates to achieve similar yields to current targets, spray pesticides to reduce insect damage to their crops, and use herbicides to keep down weeds.

    Roundup ready technology has been a huge help in reducing the useage of harmful herbicides – every spraying of roundup on a crop is one less spraying of another herbicide. Roundup is proven to be safe (unless you happen to be a plant obviously) – most importantly it is proven to be safer than its counterparts. Use of roundup-ready technology also reduces the number of sprayings required per season thus reducing inputs required for multiple sprays (more gas, more pesticide etc etc) – therefore Roundup ready technology offers environmental benefits which conventional crops do not (assuming all other practices are kept in common)

    Bt/insect control – spraying vs not spraying again – fuel cost savings, production of insecticide savings (in environmental terms) – a chemical proven safe (so long as you arent an insect), no drift of insecticide during spraying

    These are the big 2 right now – both offer environmental benefits although as this blog has seen, these are not neccesarily accepted by the hardcore of the anti-GM camp – I’d hope that at least viewing these products in terms of conventional farming that some environmental benefits can be seen.

    Future GMOs in my mind offer the most amazing routes for environmental benefits from GM crops.
    Firstly water use efficient crops – environmentally its hard to see a downside to a crop which requires less water (see Santiago’s post on 10 reasons “helping a thirsty world)

    Next – nitrogen use efficiency GM crops – currently under development – crops which will be able to achieve maximal yields at reduced levels of N fertilizer (30-60lb+ targetted reduction in N per acre) – this amounts to anywhere between a 25% to 50% reduction in fertilizer use (on corn acreage) – this is a huge deal environmentally – fertilizer runoff into rivers, lakes and the sea causes massive environmental damage – I can half imagine (only half though) a world in 15 years where environmental groups are clamoring to force the mandatory adoption of such technology, or possibly at least where the current ‘organic’ crowd (at least those who eat organic for the perceived good of the environment rather than the perceived good of their health) happily pay a premium to eat this GM product.

    The real holy grail of Nitrogen use GM organisms (and as far as I am aware this is only a pipe dream) would be crop plants engineered to fix nitrogen directly from the atmosphere – either drastically reducing (compare fertilizer use between legume plants with N fixing microbial associations and other crops which lack such associations) or totally removing the need to apply N fertilizer – currently a distant dream but considering the rate at which science changes this could be a reality within our lifetime.

  19. “I don’t appreciate what companies like yours have done to my food and that of my children, but I do appreciate the chance to discuss it with your company at last. I only wish this would have happened 15 or 20 years ago and that I had a say in what I was eating. I also resent the fact that your company lobbies for laws that will prohibit labelling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. That to me is undemocratic politically and unethical in every other way. Monsanto and the government should not deny any people the ability and the right to choose or even know what we are eating.”

    Bravo Deborah! You’ve stated the case very eloquently–and I for one whole-heartedly agree.

    Food for thought: many food items are labeled to show that they’re allowed under kosher and/or halal rules. There’s also labeling to indicate that foods contain ingredients like peanuts, because some people can have life-threatening allergic reactions to them. Now, you argue that GM foods haven’t provoked any significant physical reactions from the people who consume them. Using that logic, a company could do away with kosher/halal labeling too, because their stance is that there’s no significant difference between kosher and non-kosher foods.

    Can you imagine how people would react to that? They would do the same thing we are: demand that the company properly label their food products. This is obviously a hypothetical example, but I think you can see where I’m coming from. Consumers have a right to be informed about what they’re eating.

  20. AG,
    I think it’s been stated several times before but any company can elect to label their product as long as that label is not deceptive.

    So, those companies that label their product as kosher/halal are doing so because it gives them access to a unique market sector and it’s something that a targeted audience WANTS. I might argue is that’s what the organic industry does. Products that are organic are not required to be labeled as such but are labeled because of there is a profitable market that finds that label appealing.

    Allergen labeling is MANDATORY. It’s a health risk and I should know, I have a severe allergy to tree nuts. Which is unfortunate, all the best cookies have nuts but that is beside the point. FDA labeling is only mandatory for health related issues, things you NEED to know. Voluntary labeling is up to the food producer and addresses what consumers WANT to know.

    So again,
    FDA says GMO’s are not a health issue.
    Labeling is required for only health issues.
    GMO’s are not a health issue so labeling is not required.

  21. I brought this up on another one of your threads, but what about COOL–country of origin labeling? Is “country of origin” a health issue? It is a required label now for some commodities. Why would we NEED to know that any more than whether or not a food is a gmo? It took a long time to get that COOL legislation, but we finally have it. I can only hope GMO labeling is next and will continue to work toward that end.

    COOL info:


  22. Ewan,
    Conservation tillage is nothing to do with GM crops, non-GM farmers use it wisely.

    Roundup Ready canola only gives resistance to glyphosate from the 2-6 leaf stage which is too late for ryegrass (requires an alternative chemical) and too early for radish (no alternative chemical around so it will reduce quality).

    GM Bt crops aren’t “resistant to harmful insects” they produce their own Bt insecticide that kills bollworm and budworm in cotton and corn. This should be measured when assessing insecticide use but it is not.

    Next… nitrogen fixation is indeed a furphy as GM technology is only a single gene technology and to change a cereal crop to a legume would require an alteration of around a third of the genes which is not possible by GM means.

  23. Julie,

    I dont believe I mentioned no till farming in my response.

    Specific weed types may require another weed management technique (which may well be spraying with another herbicide) however this in no way changes the hard fact that roundup resistant crops require less applications of less harmful herbicides

    Even if one measures Bt produced by the plant as an insecticide one has to take into account Bts low environmental impact *in comparison with other pesticides* and combine this with the fact that the Bt does not have to be applied to the crop as it is produced in situ – thus reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

    Finally – if you look at trends in GM organisms over the past 20 years there is a steady increase in the number of genes modified in any given organism. To call GM technology ‘single gene’ belittles the vast amount of work put in to get roundup ready and insect resistance traits stacked in single organisms, and the upcoming releases (in the next year or two…. I forget) of 8 gene products. Extrapolate this another 30 years or so into the future and who is to say what the capacity will be to genetically engineer plants? One doesnt have to neccesarily change a cereal into a legume – there are potential options for engineering the N fixation into the plant itself without the requirement for microbial interactions and callous formation as is seen in legumes – now obviously work of this magnitude would warrant at least a nobel prize or two, but to discount it out of hand as a potential future use of genetic engineering is disingenuous at best.

  24. My comments regarding nitrogen fixation were not disingenuous or even off the cuff. I concluded this after interviewing numerous top scientists in Australia. GM remains a single gene technology and the fact that you are still restricted to either Bt or herbicide tolerance after 13 years since commercialisation proves that moving a few genes one at a time is not easy. A plant DNA has around 30,000 genes present and all have interactions that affect others so it should not be considered a building block scenario.
    You did run the normal Monsanto debate about less fuel when it is not applicable in herbicide tolerant crops.
    Roundup Ready canola will increase the use of herbicides in Australia. Because our worst weeds in canola are ryegrass and radish. Ryegrass seriously impacts on yields if not controlled at emergence so an alternative residual chemical trifuluralin is used for that. Therefore the grasses are controlled with this residual chemical. The remaining broadleaves can have an application of glyphosate between 2-6 leaf stage but the worst of the broadleaves is radish and turnip which germinate after the 6 leaf stage and can not be controlled with alternative chemicals due to these weeds being in the same brassica family as canola. Therefore your comment that Roundup Ready reduces spraying is not accurate when compared to triazine tolerant varieties where triazine gives residual control for both broadleaves and grasses.
    Your comment “every spraying of roundup on a crop is one less spraying of another herbicide.” is not quite right as every spraying of Roundup means that you need to remove Roundup from following rotations and use the far more toxic paraquat/diquat mix. Every planting of Roundup Ready canola means that farmers and their neighbours must add more chemical (such as 24D) to glyphosate to kill the unwanted glyphosate tolerant volunteers.
    The input costs are far more so agronomically and economically it does not make sense for a farmer to adopt GM canola in Australia.
    The reason farmers want to try is because they are being promised an increase in yield that is not there.

  25. This is what I can not understand, Julie. My research has come to the same conclusions: that RR crops not only are sprayed with RR in America, but also with atrazine–which may even be banned in Australia, or other herbicides. The total herbicide use is worse for the environment and the consumer. NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) has stopped surveying pesticide use in the US this year, except for fruits (recently allowed for by an omnibus spending bill), due to alleged budget shortfalls. We won’t even know how much pesticide we are using and consuming unless that changes. RoundUp residue levels have been raised in the past to allow for increased usage. Someone here said it proves safety? But anyway, the above statistics will be impossible to come by for evidence of increased pesticide use in the future unless NASS starts reporting again. As you can see, it is hard enough to argue the point with the statistics in hand, without the stats–there is little leg to stand on. I find it hard to fathom how something like toxic pesticide reporting can be slashed from the budget!! It certainly doesn’t benefit the farmer or consumer. Hopefully, other more conscientious countries will continue to monitor pesticide usage until we come back to our senses so we can all draw upon that data.

    But honestly, I can not understand why farmers choose to go with RR crops. I wish we could get more feedback from genuine farmers on both sides of the issue, not just PR people.

    We also discussed that corn borers only threaten a small amount of the US corn crops–2-6%. Again, what is the benefit to the farmer?

    The only thing I will agree with Ewan about is that ” Bt does not have to be applied to the crop as it is produced in situ.”

    Following that logic, there is also an increased consumption of Bt by humans and other animals which has been shown in independent studies to harm some animals. Of course, resistance is building in the target species, as well. Time for a stack attack! And who knows what else is affected by the genetic modification itself?

    Thank you, Julie, for some very specific information.

  26. Deborah – I’d love to see more input from farmers also (I was sure I’d seen one farmer’s wife respond on one of the topics but cant find it any more)

    I’m still going to go ahead and disagree with your increased useage of herbicides theory – the papers I cited in a post above clearly illustrate a reduction in herbicide useage and in the EQ of herbicides applied due to adoption of RR technology.

    RR adoption also gives the farmers time they wouldnt otherwise have and reduces the number of sprays cutting the fuel and equipment costs associated – yes, there may be the need for some additional applications of alternative herbicides, but no, these additional applications do not amount to the quantity of applications over a given area.

    IR technology even given an incidence of “only” up to 6% is seen as an insurance policy on the crop the benefit to the farmer is that should their acreage be part of the 6% effected in any given year they do not have to worry about it – whereas without the IR tech in the plants either you spray (not sure how regularly) to prevent this occurance, or spray once it is a problem (by which point massive loss of yield will already have occured) – it essentially removes that risk from the situation (must admit that if I had a 2-6% chance of losing the bulk of my yearly income I’d be more than willing to pay to make this a non-issue)

    Lets also keep in mind that the increased consumption of Bt which has “been shown in independent studies to harm some animals” has also been shown in independent studies to not harm humans, whereas the fumes given off while burning fossil fuels applying alternative (or the same protein even) pesticides (which may also actually have some toxicity to humans) have been shown to be harmful not only to “some animals” but to humans also.

  27. Of course other herbicides are used with RR crops – this is how you managage resistance.

    In corn, RR crops usually use less triazines and acetanalide herbicides than non-RR crops. Acetanalide and triazines both have carcinogenic potential (glyphosate has none) and both are far more prone to leaching into groundwater (glyphosate has VERY little). RR crops do not negate the need for these herbicides, but they reduce it considerably.

    In most studies I have seen, RR crops use less herbicide. However, in some cases, depending ont the weed complex, season, how many years the field has been managed – you may use more herbicide by volue.

    Volume however is not a predictor of risk. Risk (or hazard, depending on your preference in terms) is a function of Toxicity X Exposure.The properties of glyphosate is such that both the toxicity and exposure is significantly less than any chemical alternative.

    There is not a single documented case of Bt resistance in the field.

    Monsanto opposed the funding cut to NASS because we valued having an independent observer collect those numbers.

    I would suggest that your lack of understanding as to why farmers use GM crops stems from a lack of understanding of farming. Speak to farmers. They are astute business people – if they weren’t, they would have lost the farm years ago – it’s a hard business. When I speak to famers the reasons they give me for planting GM crops generally fall into one or more of the following answers:
    1. Increased yields – better weed and insect control leads to better yields.
    2. Insurance – my livelihood depends on the crop succeeding. The likelihood of a succesful crop is increased with GM crops
    3. Less Resources – fuel (fewer tractor passes with HT an IR crops), less labor (time is a precious resource on a farm), less pesticide use/costs, better pesticides (I have yet to meet a farmer who prefers methomyl (corn insecticide) or methyl parathion (cotton insecticide) to Bt -even if by volume there is more Bt.

    And yes, there is less fuel use with HT crops in most cases. Better control generally means less applications. Glyphosate kills most weeds. Without it, you generally need several varieties of herbicides to effectively manage weeds. You need seperate herbicides to manage grasses and broadleafs. They need to be applied at the weed’s most suspceptible period of development (and not all weeds reach this at the same time which means more applications). Further, some weeds are controlled better with some herbicides than others, so you often need to use several different types of, for example, broadleaf herbicides. Glyphosate kills most all the weeds. Yes, you do need to use different chemistries alongside it to guard against resistance but the net benefit for the farmer and for the environment.

  28. Brad Says:

    April 6, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    There is not a single documented case of Bt resistance in the field.


    A new study entitled “Insect resistance to Bt crops: evidence versus theory,” and published in the February issue of Nature Biotechnology has discovered boll weevils with field-evolved resistance to Bt cotton. Bt cotton is genetically modified to contain Bacillus thuringeinsus, a naturally occurring soil bacterium deadly to many pests, including a variety of larval moths that prey on cotton bolls.

    Bt-resistant bollworms were found in fields in both Mississippi and Arkansas in 2003 and 2006, according to lead researcher Bruce Tabashnik.? “What we’re seeing is evolution in action,” Tabashnik said.

    “This sets the countdown clock ticking for generic pest resistance to Bt,” said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, based in Santa Cruz, Calif. “Our questions from day one were about how long it would take for pests to become resistant.? The answer from Monsanto was that it didn’t matter, because they’d just engineer a new gene into [Bt cotton].”

    Indeed, Monsanto has now introduced Bollgard II, a two-gene product, and is urging all farmers to begin the transition to the new product, which is intended to be complete by the 2010 planting season.? Monsanto argues on its Web site that “the two-gene product should have an exponentially longer life than the single trait, as it is virtually impossible to develop simultaneous resistance to two different modes of action.”

    an interview with the researcher:

    GMO Safety: Did the occurrence of cotton bollworms that show a resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis toxin in transgenic crops surprise you?

    Bruce E. Tabashnik: No. Most experts agreed that pest resistance to Bt toxins in transgenic crops was inevitable. Because of their inherently low susceptibility to the Bt toxin in the first generation of transgenic cotton, bollworm (Helicoverpa zea) was considered likely to evolve resistance faster than other pests.
    GMO Safety: Will we see more field-evolved resistances in the next years?

    Bruce E. Tabashnik: Yes. The results to date suggest that field-evolved resistance might occur next in pests other than bollworm with inherently low susceptibility to the Bt toxins in transgenic crops.

    GMO Safety: Thank you for talking to us.

  29. Deborah – interesting paper – clearly illustrates the need to start implementing stacking strategies not only as a means to reduce refuge size requirements but also to combat any emerging resistances in target species – it does look like H.zea had an initial resistance which has been selected for rather than starting from scratch like other species – which would explain why it is the only species which has, in limited areas, evolved a slightly higher tolerance (still sees 40-60% larval mortality) for cry1Ac.

    One minor point of correction – the article you are citing from (not the scientific one) is incorrect in its statement that Bt cotton is engineered to contain the bacterium B.t. – it contains a single gene from B.t. (and thus I’d avoid taking any of the scientific statements about GM crops from the source at face value without a bit of digging)

  30. Hi Deborah – I oversimplified my answer on resistance for which I apologize.

    First, Bt resistance has been created in the lab, but it has not been documented in the field.

    The Tabashnik study to which you refer did not document “resistance” as it is typically defined. The definition accepted by EPA (who regulates pesticides including resistance mgmt in the US) basically means when performance of a given control agent is reduced in the field. Dr. Tabashnik has agreed that this is not the case with Bollgard (Bt) cotton.

    What Dr. Tabashnik found, and characterized as “resistance”, were laboratory studies of insects collected in the field, which showed resitance. There have not been product failures in the field. EPA and Dr. Tabashnik’s colleague Dr. Randy Luttrel (who conducted the studies upon which Dr. Tabashnik based his findings) took exception to his characterization of the findings as resistance.

    Link to an article refuting Dr. Tabashnik’s conclusion at http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v26/n10/full/nbt1008-1072.html

    I knew a mosquito entomologist who said that for every new malaria drug developed, somewhere there in a swamp, there is a mosquito that is already resistant to it. The same is true for any insecticidal agent, including Bt. Somewhere, there is an insect that is resistant to it.

    Resistance can even develop to non-chemical controls. I saw a presentation a couple years back of mice developing behavioral resistanct to entering bait stations.

    I do not agree that resistance is inevitable. The potential for resistance is an ongoing reality and need to be managed. Refugia and stacking of traits are means by which this is done with Bt crops.

  31. Okay, Brad, that’s one spin on it. Here is another:


    The resistance of H. zea to Bt toxin Cry1Ac in transgenic cotton has not caused widespread crop failures, in part because other tactics augment control of this pest. The field outcomes documented with monitoring data are consistent with the theory underlyin g the refuge strategy, suggesting that refuges have helped to delay resistance.

    But there’s more to say on this from the original papers’ authors:
    Field-evolved resistance to Bt toxins, Bruce E Tabashnik, et.al., Nature Biotechnology 26, 1074 – 1076 (2008),
    Bruce E Tabashnik, Aaron J Gassman, David W Crowder & Yves Carrière reply:

    We welcome the opportunity to confirm one of the main conclusions of our paper1: some field populations of a major cotton pest, Helicoverpa zea, evolved resistance to Cry1Ac, the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Bt) in first-generation transgenic Bt cotton (also called Bollgard cotton). This conclusion is based on extensive resistance monitoring data for 1992 to 2006 from five papers by Randall Luttrell and his collaborators2, 3, 4, 5, 6, including crucial information about field efficacy and larval survival on Bt cotton plants from three papers not cited by William Moar et al. above. These data show that the field-evolved resistance documented with laboratory diet bioassays (see Table 1 below) is associated with increased survival on Bt cotton leaves (Fig. 1) and control problems in the field2–(Continues in Journal )

    The Pundit’s thoughts:
    It’s great to see a real scientific debate rather than the flaky stuff we see most of time. This one should be watched closely and the issues will obviously not be decided by hasty off-the-cuff judgements.

    • Hi Deborah,

      I agree that there are multiple viewpoints on how to interpret scientific studies. While the consensus is that Tabashnik’s findings do not support evidence of resistance in the field (including EPA), there is a minority of well-credentialed and well-regarded scientists who believe that it does. I would not characterize either side as having spin (which has a negative connotation) – but healthy difference of opinion.

      I think the Pundit’s thoughts in your post from AgBioworld are equally applicable here in this blog. It is refreshing to see a substantive excahnge of information (with references) and ideas rather than a constant string of hyperbole.


  32. I would suggest consensus can be gleaned from 3 venues:

    1. A review of the broader scientific literature clearly indicates that the accepted metric for resistance is failure in the field.
    2. EPA has not recognized Dr. Tabashnik’s findings as evidence of resistance. One could argue that as the regulatory authority charged with minimizing the risk of resistance, that their decision represents consensus.
    3. Most importantly, farmers (the ones who rely on this technloogy) do not report any evidence of resistance in the field. This in my mind trumps all other claims of consensus.

  33. Brad, Is that basically
    1. Monsanto

    2. the EPA–another trusted protector of the public good

    3. And the farmers who say so and not the farmers who say otherwise?

  34. Deborah

    1. The vast majority of independent scientists worldwide.
    2. EPA, one of three regulatory agencies which by US law are charged with ensuring biotech crops do not pose risk to the environment and whose postion on this is consistend with the findings of agenices and authorities worldwide including those in Canada, Japan, the European Food Safety Authority.
    3. Farmers who use the technology – not those fundamentally opposed to it.

    I respect your opinion on the risks of biotech. However yours is a minority opinion. It is juvenile to attack those who disagree with you, particularly when it is the vast majority of scientists, farmers and regulatory authorities worldwide.

  35. Brad, your claim about the vast majority of independent scientists worldwide is unsubstantiated. Just because you say it over and over does not make it true.

    The EPA has overseen and regulated many disasters in the past, and continues to do so. I think we all are familiar with at least some. It has largely been more a political than scientific agency of late. Even the scientists of the EPA claim to have been gagged. How about the FDA, USDA? Do you have any idea what is approved to feed cattle?


    EPA has never even put a cap on CO2 emissions. Logical? Scientifically sound?

    What of all of the farmers worldwide who choose not to use the technology?

    Independent scientists do claim they are unable to get access to gm and isoline seeds for research. I still would like to know if Monsanto prohibits scientists from doing independent research by refusing them access to seed samples.

    It certainly is juvenile to attack those who do not agree with you. Or to suggest to someone who differs in her opinion that she is guilty of an attack…Is that the best you have?

  36. Dated 2/09/2009 by independent scientists to the EPA:


    The following statement has been submitted by 26 leading corn insect scientists
    working at public research institutions located in 16 corn producing states. All of
    the scientists have been active participants of the Regional Research Projects
    NCCC-46 “Development, Optimization, and Delivery of Management Strategies for
    Corn Rootworms and Other Below-ground Insect Pests of Maize” and/or related
    projects with corn insect pests.

    [emphasis mine]

    It should not be interpreted that
    the actions and opinions of these 26 scientists represent those of the entire group
    of scientists participating in NCCC-46. The names of the scientists have been
    withheld from the public docket because virtually all of us require cooperation from
    industry at some level to conduct our research.


    “Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically
    modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public
    scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless
    the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly
    independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions
    regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM, and
    its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA
    Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.”

    Dr. Krupke is chairman of the committee that drafted the statement, but he would not say whether he had signed it.

    Dr. Shields of Cornell said….”People are afraid of being blacklisted,” he said. “If your sole job is to work on corn insects and you need the latest corn varieties and the companies decide not to give it to you, you can’t do your job.”

  37. Ewen,
    Your comment is quite offensive:
    “Deborah – I’d love to see more input from farmers also (I was sure I’d seen one farmer’s wife respond on one of the topics but cant find it any more)”
    Are you implying that women are not farmers? Farming is not just a mans job and if it was, women would not be found in the agricultural areas. Families are all involved in the farming operations and I was doing full shifts on the tractor clearing land well before I legally got my license.
    The farming point I made was that there is no reason why chemicals or fuel would be reduced with Roundup Ready canola.
    Think about it:
    The RR trait only allows the farmer to apply glyphosate between the 2-6 leaf stage. A residual grass control is required prior to this application. Then one or two applications of glyphosate. This is the same or more than what we would use on TT canola.

  38. Deborah,

    1. If you look at any research on resistance beyond Dr. Tabashnik’s, you will quickly see how rare it is that scientists define resistance in the absence of failure in the field.

    2. I do not agre with everything EPA does either, but to ignore the protection they do provide is disingenuous. I too agreee that Governement decisions are often political (although I see many political decisions that fly in the face of science that likely benefit your perspective as well). Politics is an unfortunate part of a democracy. What do you suggest? Neither communism nor socialism has faired anywhere near as well for the environment as democracy.

    If you do not believe that EPA protects you, I suggest you leave this country and look at the state of the environment elsewhere.

    3. The farmers who choose not to use this technology don’t have to use it. What of all the farmers in the world who would like to use it and cannot get access.

    It is not the fac that your opinion differs from mine that I find objectionable. It is your continued use of hyperbole (as in snide statements such as “EPA–another trusted protector of the public good” that I find juvenile and contrary to constructive dialogue.

  39. Julie – no, I wasnt inferring that women couldn’t be farmers, what I was saying, was that someone posted on the board, stated they were a farmer’s wife, and stated that GM tech had helped them out. Nothing more. I had at one point found the post again, but it appears to be lost in a sea of noise as I cant find it right now.

    If you want to take offense at the fact that someone might identify themselves as the wife of a farmer, and that someone might subsequently comment on this, that is fine, but my intention was not to imply anything of the kind you are suggesting.

  40. Found it! (yay ctrl-f) :-

    Tami Says:

    March 24, 2009 at 3:09 pm
    I have read this blog from its beginnings because I was in a disucssion earlier today about organic food verus GMO or biotech food.

    As a farmers wife, I see my husband produce corn, soybeans and wheat and other farmers I know produce potatoes, green beans, asparagus and more.

    I am perplexed as to why people call the grain my husband harvests “GM / biotech corn or beans”. He is raising corn and beans using several farming practices. And he is planting seeds that have been developed through many processes including biotechnology. But the grain he raises is still corn and beans…just like the same corn and beans he raised long before he planted the biotech version.

    Except now, he doesn’t have to spray insecticides for bugs or use as many herbicides to kill weeds. As a wife and a mother, I want to feed my family the best products I can. The process that develops them is much less improtant to me…whether it is biotech, or conventional.


  41. Brad Says:

    April 20, 2009 at 7:57 am

    1. If you look at any research on resistance beyond Dr. Tabashnik’s, you will quickly see how rare it is that scientists define resistance in the absence of failure in the field.


    From what I have seen, the “absence of failure in the field” is largely credited to the backup methods: spraying of other pesticides and refuge areas.

    I have been out of the country, Brad. Thanks for the advice, though. And even in cases where there is less protection of the environment in some other countries, that hardly makes negligence here in the US acceptable.

    Happy Earth Day!

  42. Ewan Ross Says:

    April 6, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Lets also keep in mind that the increased consumption of Bt which has “been shown in independent studies to harm some animals” has also been shown in independent studies to not harm humans

    Would you list these studies with links?

  43. Deborah,
    Thanks for the great question. GM crops were introduced for human consumption in 1996 and there hasn’t been a single reliably documented safety issue. Most studies done on GM crops are for regulatory submission by and large, and are rigorous in nature. In the US, the USDA does not approve of anything that isn’t declared just as safe as its non-GM counterpart. You can check out the USDA’s stance on biotechnology here. You can find some great studies if you go to AgBios. The section I linked to is all about food and feed safety and the studies are done by scientists of all kinds. Another great resource with links is the Monsanto Food Safety page. We link to external studies and information.

    Hope this helps!