Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
According to Quantum mechanics truth is relative not absolute. According to philosophy of some religions too truth is relative. So I cannot say what I am saying about Genetically Modified crops is absolute truth. But I will try to be as close to truth as possible while dealing with this topic dogged by confusion, suspicion, polarised opinion and recrimination.
In a world where for every Monsanto, there will be a Vandana Shiva ( Indian activist who opposes GM crops), it is extremely difficult to come to a conclusion based on generalizations even for a scientifically literate person like me! I think case by case study of the whole process of Genetically modified foods is important because one GM crop might differ from another, one experiment might differ from another and one cause (commercial) might differ from another (feeding the hungry) .
There are several theories, both for and against GM foods and crops. Both supporters and skeptics are trying their best to push forward what they believe in as truth. But broad statements about the value or risks from genetically modified organisms are pretty much useless, according to experts. The details matter more. It is necessary to understand the cultural, social and psychological roots of reactions to GM.
The truth is we need Biotechnology to feed the nearly 11 billion people that are going to walk on this planet Earth in the decades to come. To meet that challenge, we need every tool at our disposal: biotech, non-biotech, organic, conventional, local, regional, national and global. Yes, we need to improve storage and distribution systems. But still after putting efficient systems in place, we still fall short of required targets. So we cannot completely dismiss GM food. Moreover, benefits such as reduced pesticide use and its ecological impact cannot be ignored. In developing countries like India, where malnutrition and vitamin deficiency cause severe illnesses, complete banning of these GM crops like yellow rice is highly controversial (5,6)- oh, yes, some people say eating carrots is better than eating costly yellow rice). Starvation causes several hundred deaths globally every year, in large part because of malnutrition. Nobody has ever died directly because of GMO's. This is a fact! And some of the anti-GM studies are incomplete and inconclusive (4). Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 20 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA (7). More than two-thirds of foods sold in the United States involve some GM product, estimates suggest, without any bad consequences. Even cattle fed on GM crop residues didn't show any side effects during various studies (8). We now have a large set of data, both experimental and observational, showing that genetically modified feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. In the past 20 years, around 1,200 scientific studies, the "vast majority" of which were published in journals that have no financial ties to the food or agriculture industries, make the case for mainstream use of GMO's in food.There does not appear to be any health risk to the animals, and it is even less likely that there could be any health effect on humans who eat those animals. Majority of the scientists agree with this logic. A recent poll from the Pew Foundation found that nearly 90% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – one of the world’s largest science bodies – have concluded that, based on increasingly mounting evidence, GM food is perfectly safe (9). And they think that people who disregard two decades of scientific research for some feel-good factor, are falling prey for a psuedo-scientific myth!
If you are taking insulin, odds are it's from GMO bacteria. And it's saving lives.
Medicines for other deadly diseases like malaria too are being developed by using GM modified yeast (13).
The same people who are against GM food are perfectly willing to inject themselves with genetically engineered insulin if they are diabetics or genetically moleculed antibodies if they have lymphoma. What an irony!
Watch this video to know how genetically modified microbes can be used to clean up oil spills and plastic wastes:
Research shows that, ecologically, certain GMOs can have less than desirable impacts. But many effects can be predicted and worked around. GM salmon, for example, run the risk of interbreeding with native salmon of the North America. That’s why they are being raised in tanks far from salmon streams. Strict regulation of each proposed GM product — examining the details of its impacts — can be an effective way to deal with the potential risks. Another detail to consider in assessing risks is how they compare with benefits, such as the potential to increase large numbers of people’s food supplies and improve their health.
Humans have been genetically modifying foods through selective breeding for more than 10,000 years. Were it not for these original genetically modified organisms—and today's more engineered GMOs designed for resistance to pathogens and herbicides and for better nutrient profiles—the planet could sustain only a tiny fraction of its current population. Golden rice, for example, was modified to enhance vitamin A levels, in part, to help Third World children with nutritional deficiencies that have caused millions to go blind.
Natural mutations are occurring all over the world since living beings came into existence. When once the green revolution started, human beings started to produce good quality products by manipulating gene pools. There is nothing new in this. But commercialization of Agriculture has created some problems in recent times.
When there is some sort of genetic modifications occurring naturally as well as through artificial manipulations since ages why do people still fear and hate GM food and crops?
In a recent New Yorker article, Maria Konnikova returned to an explanation for these gut reactions that has been around at least since the early efforts at genetic engineering in the 1970s: The idea that fear and distrust of GMOs is based on ancient intuitive (but sometimes illog...
Psychologists have long observed, according to this article, that there is a continuum in what we perceive as natural or unnatural. As the psychologist Robert Sternberg wrote in 1982, the natural is what we find more familiar, while what we consider unnatural tends to be more novel—perceptually and experientially unfamiliar—and complex, meaning that more cognitive effort is required to understand it. The natural is seen as inherently positive; the unnatural is not. And anything that involves human manipulation is considered highly unnatural—like, say, G.M.O.s, even though genetically modified food already lines the shelves at grocery stores. As Michael Specter put it, “The history of agriculture is the history of humans breeding seeds and animals to produce traits we want in our crops and livestock.”
Therefore Ms Konnikova points out that familiarity breeds the opposite of contempt. She takes the Enlightenment view that time is on the side of what she calls “increased rationality.” I do agree that familiarity will be a powerful dampener of Unreasoning Fear of GMOs. And we must realize that that people in some parts of the world are already eating lots of GM foods (espcially in the US) with no ill effects or very insignificant ones - at least till now!
Stefaan Blancke and his colleagues in their paper (10) titled "Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition" argue that people tend to rely on intuitive reasoning, instead of critical one to make a judgment on GMOs. This intuitive reasoning includes folk biology, teleological and intentional intuitions and disgust. Anti-GMO activists have exploited intuitions successfully to promote their cause. Intuitive judgments steer people away from sustainable solutions. According to them negative representations of GMOs are widespread and compelling because they are intuitively appealing. By tapping into intuitions and emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, but are constituent of any normally functioning human mind, such representations become easy to think. They capture peoples' attention, they are easily processed and remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted and becoming popular, even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs, in part, because it just makes sense that they would pose a threat.
The solution, say the researches, lies in education starting from a young age and specifically targeted at tackling common misconceptions might immunize the population against unsubstantiated anti-GMO messages. Other concerns can be addressed and discussed in the wider context of agricultural practices and the place of science and technology in society. However, for now, the best way to turn the tide and generate a more positive public response to GMOs is to play into people’s intuitions as well. For instance, emphasizing the benefits of current and future GM applications — improved soil structures because herbicide resistant crops require less or no tilling, higher income for farmers in developing countries, reduced vitamin A deficiency, virus and drought resistance, to name a few — might constitute the most effective approach to changing people’s minds. Given the benefits and promises of GM technology, such a change is much needed.
Fears about the environmental impact of GM organisms is the most important explanation people give for refusing GM crops. The other was fears about GM organisms in the human food chain. And both reflect deeply held concerns about the ethics and effects of tampering with nature. This concern relates not only to the direct and immediate physical impacts of ‘tampering’, but also to a fear of unforeseen longer-term repercussions. People explicitly relate this to considering the entire ecosystem in which we live as one system — a system in which a change to one part can have unexpected impacts in others.GM generally relates to organisms used for food, particularly plants. And although genetic modification intends to create organisms that better serve various human purposes, GM in food was a major concern. As the old adage has it, we are what we eat — and in the context of worries about ‘tampering’ with nature, it seems that people worry about introducing repercussions into their own bodies.
However, Scientists are making kill switches for GMOs to address this problem! ( 11) A genetic kill switch could prevent industrial espionage and environmental contamination. Once an engineered organism completes its task, it is useful to degrade the associated DNA to reduce environmental release and protect intellectual property. An environmentally dependent method to excise particular genes and eliminate genetically modified organisms (GMOs) if they leave the lab, published on May 19 in Nature Communications (12), uses an inducible CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing system to snip out vital pieces of the E. coli genome.
The most recent published attempts at creating such a GMO “kill switch” relied on making the survival of genetically-modified bacteria dependent on synthetic amino acids that were only available under laboratory conditions. In the latest study, scientists at MIT created a system that would instead make fatal changes to the bacterial genome when triggered by a change in environmental conditions. Yes, scientists are taking the fears of people outside seriously.
People from developing countries see powerful countries, and companies which export GM organisms, as introducing danger — if not knowingly then uncaringly.
Because... they say...
The first step in genetically engineering plants, the process of cutting and splicing genes in the test tube, is precise, but subsequent steps are not. In particular, the process of inserting a genetically modified gene into the DNA of a plant cell is crude, uncontrolled, and imprecise, and causes mutations – heritable changes – in the plant’s DNA blueprint. These mutations can alter the functioning of the natural genes of the plant in unpredictable and potentially harmful ways. Other procedures associated with producing GM crops, including tissue culture, also produce mutations.
In addition to the unintended effects of mutations, there is another way in which the GM process generates unintended effects. Promoters of GM crops paint a picture of GM technology that is based on a naïve and outdated understanding of how genes work. They propagate the simplistic idea that they can insert a single gene with laser-like precision and insertion of that gene will have a single, predictable effect on the organism and its environment. But manipulating one or two genes does not just produce one or two desired traits. Instead, just a single change at the level of the DNA can give rise to multiple changes within the organism. These changes are known as pleiotropic effects. They occur because genes do not act as isolated units but interact with one another, and the functions and structures that the engineered genes confer on the organism interact with other functional units of the organism. Because of these diverse interactions, and because even the simplest organism is extremely complex, it is impossible to predict the impacts of even a single GM gene on the organism. It is even more impossible to predict the impact of the GMO on its environment – the complexity of living systems is too great.
According to scientists, when we are selecting the traits for genetic modifications, we are selecting only the beneficial ones. Even if the wild plants get these genes, they are desired qualities like disease resistance or enhanced vitamin production. We need not worry about them. In order to maintain the position that GMOs are not adequately tested, or that they are harmful or risky, you have to either highly selectively cherry pick a few outliers of low scientific quality, or you have to simply deny the science.
Read how scientists are addressing the concerns of public about GMOs and how they are disproving the false propaganda about them : Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/How scientists have addressed teh...
Watch this video that wonderfully discusses all the controversies related to GM foods:
The Indian Government recently told the Supreme court of the country that GM crops are must for a country like India(1) because it could not achieve the goal of reducing the number of hungry people by half without taking recourse to genetically modified crops, which could herald the second green revolution in the country. The central government said GM crops would not only lead to increased food security but would also reduce pressure on land use. In the last 13 years, the average availability of land per head had shrunk from 0.21 hectares to 0.10 hectares. While the population had increased by 181 million in the last decade, the land under sowing remained static at 140-143 million hectares since 1970. Pitching for field trials of GM crops, the government said: "Genetic engineering promises remarkable advances in medicine, agriculture and other fields." "Ban on GM crop field trials will be highly detrimental and not in national interest," the central government said in its affidavit. In an attempt to persuade the apex court to reject the recommendation of the TEC, the central government's affidavit said: "In biotechnology and genetics, the principle sciences behind the GM crops, India has done exceedingly well in investing in HRD, education and training since 1986 with the establishment of department of biotechnology, the first country to do so globally."It added that the success of the green revolution was driven by sufficient human resources available. Making a strong plea for field trials of GM crops, the government said that "a 10-year moratorium would have a "cascading effect" of putting all the related research fields which thus far on the upswing into a decline". It added that it would be a "blow to Indian science as it would put the country 20 years back in scientific research in comparison to fast growing economies who are developing GM crops like Brazil, China etc".
But some of the experts here asked the Prime Minister of India to ban GM field trials (2). According to 256 experts in Molecular Biology, Bio-diversity, Nutrition Science, Toxicology and various other fields of science, 'There is undue haste in getting GMOs released into the environment while the science behind its development is still controversial and evolving. However, some of them say they have no objections to conducting field trials in a covered green house, the practice of conducting open field trials without the use of nets would adversely affect cross-pollination and thereby India's Biodiversity. They also pointed out most of the studies that claimed GM products as being safe were conducted by biotechnology companies that were responsible for commercializing these GM crops and that they were concerned at the major gaps in the regulatory system that needed to be addressed before it became advisable to conduct more field trials. Some of them even say "GM crops are one of the biggest scientific frauds that the biotech seed industry is pulling off on India!
Well, we heard both sides of the story and the opposite arguments. Now it is time to do thorough thinking on these aspects.
There are four things to consider before us:
(1) We cannot completely avoid GM crops and foods because we have to feed the ever increasing population of the world. Therefore shutting the doors on GM crops is not possible. Insulin production using genetically modified bacteria and other medical benefits to save lives are not things that can be ignored.
(2) Yes, Genetic Modification is not a full proof option right now for people who fear them. Most of the studies are although satisfactorily conducted they cannot conclude anything with certainty at the moment. But I think 20 years of observation that says GM products are safe is a point to ponder. Moreover, we cannot put all GM crops in one basket and say they are bad. Each case must be investigated individually and should be dealt with according to the conclusion of the studies by the experts.
(3) People express concern about humanity’s potential, through science, to be ‘out of control’. This needs to be both understood and taken into consideration in making decisions about GM. Opposition won’t just fade just because the scientific community wishes it — we need to understand and respond to it better.
(4) There are scientists who are trying some safe methods. Creating Tastier and Healthier Fruits and Veggies with a Modern Alternative to GMOs by combining traditional plant breeding with ever-faster genetic sequencing tools, researchers are making fruits and vegetables more flavorful, colorful, shapely and nutritious (ref 3). Therefore, searching for more safer foods produced by other methods is the best option till GM foods are proved to be completely safe by time (how much time do we need still?) and expertise to people who oppose them.
And after reading this article some people have asked me whether I would eat GM foods if told that before hand. My instant answer : " Yes, I would, without any hesitation".
2. Deccan Chronicle 22 nd Nov., 2013 Issue (article titled 'Ban GM field Trials:Experts')
GM trials slash dengue mosquito numbers
The National Academy of Sciences reaffirmed GMO safety and pointed to the potential for future improvements
The same people who are against GM food are perfectly willing to inject themselves with genetically engineered insulin if they are diabetics or genetically moleculed antibodies if they have lymphoma…So, this emotional disconnect between medicine and food is irrational.”
GM food have immense possibilities, but unfortunately what has happened is that there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation to public, thanks to anti-GM movement by NGOs like Greenpeace. They have persuaded that GM techniques are dangerous…Currently, there is tremendous work in the area that there is absolutely no
reason (to believe) why the so-called GMOs (gene modified organisms) are more dangerous than traditionally grown plants
Scientists create GM cow to cut milk allergies in children
Calf was cloned with extra genetic material that 'switches off' the protein allergen
Food science expert: Genetically modified crops are overregulated
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013 - 10:05 in Mathematics & Economics
(click to enlarge)
University of Illinois professor emeritus of the department of food science and nutrition Bruce Chassy will present a talk in which he argues genetically modified foods are safe for consumption and overregulated.
L. Brian Stauffer
It has been almost 20 years since the first genetically modified foods showed up in produce aisles throughout the United States and the rest of the world, but controversy continues to surround the products and their regulation. Bruce Chassy, a professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believes that after thousands of research studies and worldwide planting, "genetically modified foods pose no special risks to consumers or the environment" and are overregulated.
Chassy elaborated on this conclusion at the 2013 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Feb. 17. During his talk, "Regulating the Safety of Foods and Feeds Derived From Genetically Modified Crops," Chassy shared his view that the overregulation of GM crops actually hurts the environment, reduces global health and burdens the consumer.
Farmers have witnessed the advantages of GM crops firsthand through increases in their yields and profit, and decreases in their labor, energy consumption, pesticide use and greenhouse gas emissions, Chassy said.
Despite these benefits, various regulatory agencies require newly developed GM crops to be put to the test with rigorous safety evaluations that include molecular characterization, toxicological evaluation, allergenicity assessments, compositional analysis and feeding studies. This extensive testing takes five to 10 years and costs tens of millions of dollars, and Chassy argues that this process "wastes resources and diverts attention from real food safety issues."
"With more than half of the world's population now living in countries that have adopted GM crops, it might be appropriate to reduce the regulatory scrutiny of GM crops to a level that is commensurate with science-based risk assessment," Chassy said.
During his talk, Chassy chronicled the scientific tests used in pre-market safety assessments of GM foods and elaborate on the evidence from thousands of research studies and expansive GM plantings that he says show these crops do not present risks to consumers or the environment. The overregulation of GM foods is a response not to scientific evidence, Chassy said, but to a global campaign that disseminates misinformation and fear about these food sources.
Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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The real truth about GMOs
Humans began genetically modifying plants to provide food more than 10,000 years ago. For the past hundred years or so plant breeders have used radiation and chemicals to speed up the production of genetic changes. This was a genetic shotgun, producing lots of bad changes and a very, very occasional good one. That’s the best we could do until the three laureates (and their colleagues) developed molecular techniques for plant genetic modification. We can now use these methods to make precise improvements by adding just a gene (or two or a few) that codes for proteins whose function we know with precision. Yet plants modified by these techniques, the best and safest we’ve ever invented, are the only ones we now call GM. Almost everyone believes we’ve never fiddled with plant genes before, as if beefsteak tomatoes, elephant garlic and corn were somehow products of unfettered nature.
The anti-GM storm gathered in the mid-80s and swept around the world. Most early alarms about new technologies fade away as research accumulates without turning up evidence of deleterious effects. This should be happening now because scientists have amassed more than three decades of research on GM biosafety, none of which has surfaced credible evidence that modifying plants by molecular techniques is dangerous. Instead, the anti-GM storm has intensified. Scientists have done their best to explain things, but they’re rather staid folk for the most part, constitutionally addicted to facts and figures and not terribly good at crafting emotionally gripping narratives. This puts them at a disadvantage. One scare story based on a bogus study suggesting a bad effect of eating GMOs readily trumps myriad studies that show that GM foods are just like non-GM foods.
If the popular mythology about farmer suicides, tumors and toxicity had an ounce of truth to it, these companies would long since have gone out of business. Instead, they’re taking more market share every year. There's a mismatch between mythology and reality. Maybe it's worth remembering that technology vilification is about as old as technology itself. What's new is electronic gossip and the proliferation of organizations that peddle such gossip for a living.
A glowing green thumb
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Herbicide resistance and other genetic modifications could confer an advantage on plants in the wild