Novella responds on GMOs

[Below is Steve Novella’s response, also published on his blog, Neurologica, to my post about his criticism of the recent New York Times article on GMOs.]

by Steve Novella

I always enjoy when someone whom I respect and who cares about using careful and valid arguments disagrees with me. It is an opportunity for me to correct any mistakes I have made, to deepen my understanding of the topic, or at least tighten up my arguments.

Last week I wrote an article responding to a recent New York Times piece on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Massimo Pigliucci, who is a friend and skeptical colleague, disagrees with my analysis. Massimo thinks that knee-jerk defense of GMOs is a problem generally in the skeptical movement, and uses me as an example. I disagree with him, but will discuss that toward the end.

I want to take the points that I make in my previous post one by one and see how they hold up to Massimo’s criticism, and may expand upon them and include other comments as well.

GMOs should not be considered as one thing.

I wrote in my previous article:

“Any meaningful analysis of GM technology has to consider each application unto itself. Further, the GM trait is only part of the picture – you also have to consider how it is being applied.”

I have consistently taken this position in my writings, and this is also the most common position I encounter when reading other skeptics writing about GMOs. It is not really meaningful to consider GMOs as if they are one thing, and this is a mistake that Hakim makes in the original NYT article.

Hakim talks about “genetic modification” as if it were one thing. Of course he later talks about glyphosate resistant crops and pesticide producing crops, but only after he has set up the premise that these two specific applications are essentially equal to “genetic modification.”

I maintain that this is meaningless. This is similar to talking about “drugs” as if they were a thing, rather than looking at the risks and benefits of each drug in the context of how those drugs are used.

Even worse, Hakim is attempting to answer a meaningless question — what is the net effect of “genetic modification.” Not only is this an incredibly difficult question to answer, it is inherently deceptive to even approach the question in this way.

The problems with this framing have to be understood in the context of the ongoing GMO debate. The anti-GMO crowd wants to equate genetic modification with increased chemicals in the mind of the public. That strategy has largely worked.

There are two big problems with this. The first is that “genetic modification” is not even one technology, but a suite of technologies. Deciding where to draw the line on what constitutes a GMO is somewhat arbitrary. Does this only refer to transgenic crops? What about cisgenic crops, gene silencing, directed breeding, mutation farming, or forced hybridization?

Further, this approach confuses a technology with specific applications of that technology (more on that below).

Massimo does not even address this point, which I think is a major omission in his commentary. This is a problem because he tacitly endorses the approach by accepting Hakim’s framing and not addressing this issue, either to agree or disagree with my position. Hakim, in turn, is tacitly accepting this anti-GMO framing. He gives no indication that he recognizes this, so I have no way of knowing if it is deliberate or naive.

Evaluating a technology by its specific applications.

I maintain that when evaluating a technology, which is explicitly what Hakim’s piece is doing, it is very important to separate out the technology itself from specific manifestations of the technology and how that technology is used.

About this Massimo writes:

“Steve continues: ‘The promise of genetic modification, rather, is that it provides a tool for agricultural scientists to make more rapid and more specific changes to crop cultivars. The technology has completely fulfilled that promise. The technology works, it is safe with no demonstrable inherent risks.’ Again, this is a rather strange way to put it. No, the promise of GMOs is not just to provide agricultural scientists with faster ways to change crops, it is to make life better for the farmers and the public at large. And yes, the technology works when ‘works’ is narrowly defined, but whether it has delivered on its broader, and most important, promises, is very much at issue.”

I have to fervently disagree. Hakim’s article is not really about early hype or marketing from the biotech industry, it is about genetically modified organisms. He begins his piece:

“The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat. But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.”

He characterizes these issues as a basic problem with genetically modified crops. Again, this is like asking, does surgery work?

If the piece were, rather, just criticizing the way in which the industry marketed their GMOs, and clearly distinguished this from GMOs themselves, or the technology, Massimo might have a point.

I deliberately defined the purpose of GMOs narrowly to make a very clear point — GMOs are a technology, they are not equal to their application. Hakim is making a category mistake.

This is a critical distinction because, getting back to the context of the public conversation about GMOs, the question is whether or not we as a society should continue to use various tools of genetic modification or should we abandon this technology? There are those who want to ban the technology completely.

One could even reasonably argue that even if there weren’t a single application of genetic modification that has had a positive result, we should not necessarily blame the technology or abandon it, just seriously reconsider how that technology is being used.

Another way to look at this is — are the alleged failures of the application of a technology inherent to the technology itself, or are they solely a manifestation of how the technology is currently being used? Hakim does not even ask this question, he just equates the technology with some of its uses.

Is yield the best way to evaluate GMOs?

I argued that it was unfair to use yield as a primary criterion in assessing the impact of GMOs because there aren’t even any GM traits on the market that are specifically designed to increase yield. Why pick yield, when we could also look at predictability of crops, loss reduction, reducing labor, improving profits for farmers, reducing tilling of soil, environmental outcomes, and improved nutritional and other qualities in the food themselves?

Hakim justifies this choice because he argues that this was the way in which GMOs were originally sold by the biotech industry. Massimo agrees, writing about my position:

“This makes little sense in light of the fact — as clearly substantiated in the NYT article — that GMO companies made precisely those promises, very clearly, and very early on, presumably in order to gain both public support and regulatory approval.”

Actually, although I did not address this in my previous article, the NYT article does not clearly establish this premise. Hakim, for example, gives this quote:

“‘It’s absolutely key that we keep innovating,’ said Kurt Boudonck, who manages Bayer’s sprawling North Carolina greenhouses. ‘With the current production practices, we are not going to be able to feed that amount of people.'”

That certainly implies increased yield, but it is a much more subtle statement. The word “yield” does not occur. They are arguing generally for biotech to improve food production (which has a lot of components, not just yield) and that is still a reasonable position, whether or not current GM traits have specifically increased yield.

But that is a minor point — even if we accept Hakim’s premise that the biotech industry made promises about yield they did not keep — so what? Again, that is a legitimate point if you are writing an article about how industries use hype and empty promises, but this article is ostensibly about GM technology.

Judging technologies in general.

Leading from this last point, is the broader point I made that it is misleading to use early expectations, even specific industry claims, to judge a technology itself. To be clear, I frequently criticize industry hype, over hyping a new technology, making unwarranted predictions about technology, and making premature claims for technology. Those are a staple of [the Neurologica] blog.

But a technology should be judged based upon its inherent vices and virtues, not how it was hyped, and not necessarily how it is currently used. These are distinct things that can and should be teased apart in any meaningful analysis.

I gave a couple of example that Massimo did not accept. He writes:

“The first one concerns the human genome project, which he points out hasn’t cured any major human disease, contra to the hype that helped promote the original effort. Right, but the human genome project was largely an exercise in basic science, and it was funded as such, not because it promised to cure cancer (the National Science Foundation, for instance, clearly separates the actual immediate scientific merits that justify funding a given project from the possible ‘broader impact’ of the same project).”

I don’t follow Massimo’s logic here. It seems irrelevant to me that the human genome project was a basic science project. I know that, that is actually a key part of my point. But Massimo is glossing over the key part of the analogy — the project was absolutely sold to the public for its potential to lead to cures to serious diseases. Sure, the NSF knows that funding basic science is not always about later applications, but that was not the public hype.

My point was clear — early hype is not a valid criterion for judging a technology. The human genome project was a basic science success, and still has the potential (20 years later) to lead to specific disease applications, but it hasn’t yet.

Massimo also rejects my computer analogy:

“The second example brought up by Steve is that of personal computers: ‘One might have argued (and many people did) even into the 1990s that computers did not improve productivity. They did not reduce use of paper (remember that one – the paperless office).’ No, they didn’t, but I adopted personal computers at around the time Steve did, and they delivered immediately exactly what they promised: they helped me run some nice statistical analyses for my thesis, to produce graphics to accompany the same thesis, and to write the thesis to begin with.”

Again, Massimo misses the point. He actually strengthens my analogy. The computer industry hyped their products to companies with the explicit promise that they would improve productivity and reduce paper. It took a long time to deliver on the productivity end, arguably two decades, and even still we have to take this case-by-case. They never delivered on the reduced paper claim, and in fact we use more paper than ever.

So, Hakim could write an article titled, “Doubts about the promised paperless office and increased productivity of computers.” Massimo points out that computers are great for statistical analysis, and added later for playing video games. Right, Massimo, that is exactly my point. Computers are useful for all sorts of things. (And GMOs saved the Hawaiian papaya industry and brought back the American chestnut.) Don’t judge them narrowly by two applications that did not meet early industry hype used to sell the public on the idea of personal computers.

I will add another good analogy — microwave ovens. They were initially sold with the claim that they would revolutionize cooking. The industry made microwave cookbooks, and sold them as cooking tools. It turns out that microwaves are completely useless as cooking tools. But they became indispensable heating tools.

If we are asking the question, was early microwave industry hype accurate, the answer is no. If we are asking the question, is it useful to have a microwave, the answer is yes.

Massimo reinforces his position when he writes:

“The discussion concerns the use that the industry has made of that technology, therefore judgment very much needs to include a consideration of whether what the industry promised has been delivered or not.”

Again, I have to completely disagree. Massimo is missing the real context here. The discussion is about whether or not GMOs should be labeled, demonized, banned (all GMOs) vs used as a useful tool among many in biotechnology.

The use to which the industry has put the technology is a valid question, but it is actually much more complex than saying it is all herbicide resistance and pesticides, and evaluating them is more than about yield. I maintain that industry hype (while it may be a legitimate point unto itself) is irrelevant to the current questions of GMOs.

Conflating herbicides and insecticides.

Massimo writes:

“Next, somewhat puzzlingly, Steve claims that ‘Hakim reproduces a common anti-GMO trope to combine Bt crops with herbicide resistant crops — two completely different applications.’ But in fact Hakim does no such thing. The NYT article very clearly distinguishes the two, acknowledges that the use of insecticides has gone down in post-GMO USA, and then focuses on herbicides.”

I, too, am puzzled. The opening two paragraphs of Hakim’s article refers to “pesticides” as one category. This is also a confusing term, and we have to keep reminding people that “pesticides” equals herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. So Hakim conflates them in the opening of his article. He continues this strategy when he writes:

“The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design — weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany — and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer.”


“The industry is winning on both ends — because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons.”

My criticism remains valid. Hakim talks about pesticides as a category. Yes, deep in the article he does talk specifically about insecticides and herbicides, and the attached graphs split out the data as well, but the framing is clear and misleading. At the very least this is poor communication. The bottom line given in the first two paragraphs will have a much more dramatic effect on the average reader than complicated data given deep in the article.

To be fair I will give Hakim partial credit for this one since he does break out the data eventually, but the problem with his narrative is clear and remains a problem.

As I stated, insecticide use has decreased as a result of Bt crops. This is undeniable and a very positive thing for the environment. Herbicide use is a much more complicated story, as I have always stated. Much depends on how herbicide resistant crops are used, more so perhaps than the crops themselves.

When evaluating the net effect of GMOs, different GMO should not be combined, and herbicides and insecticides should never be combined. It is just misleading.

What are the net effects of GMO on yield and chemical use?

Here is where I think Massimo’s criticisms are most legitimate. To be fair, however, I never intended to do anything near a thorough treatment of this question. Reading back I don’t think I made my point clearly, but I was only trying to say that Hakim is cherry picking his data. I gave representative references showing that the full story is much more complex. These references are not definitive and have their own problems, but I only made the point that Hakim does not even mention such data.

I did point out that the NYT analysis of the UN data was not peer reviewed. This does not mean it is useless, and I never said so, but was making the more limited point that this is not sufficiently rigorous data and analysis to use as a primary basis for the major conclusion of a NYT article.

The primary focus of my first article was the narrative used by Hakim, not a review of the data on yields, herbicide use, and insecticide use. However, others have done that more detailed technical analysis. Nathaniel Johnson did a review of the article which focused on this question. He concluded:

“Hakim cites the report where it supports his conclusions, but not in the places it contradicts them. He writes that the report found ‘there was little evidence that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.’ But Hakim doesn’t mention that the report also noted that genetic engineering increased yields ‘where weed control is improved’ and ‘when insect-pest pressure was high.’ He doesn’t mention the report found that insect-resistant GMOs reduced insecticide use in all cases examined.'”

The main point is that if you take a zoomed-out view, and can choose which zoomed out view to pick, you can support whatever narrative you want. Again, this is like asking the useless question, does medicine work? A closer to home analogy would be comparing European medicine to American medicine and then making broad conclusions about medical systems, ignoring all the many variables that could influence such data. Johnson points out as others have as well that comparing North America to Europe is very complicated and does not lend itself to reliable conclusions.

Many critics also zinged Hakim for using France to compare insecticide use, when their prior use was unusually high and was just coming down to more average levels. This is therefore a highly misleading comparison.

Massimo rejects my references because they are not analogous to Hakim’s data, but that is irrelevant. My point is, there is nothing special about Hakim’s comparison, other comparisons may be as or more valid. Perhaps GMOs have more impact in undeveloped countries. Again, so what? That’s the problem when you frame your question about “GMOs.” Everything is on the table.

You need to zoom in and see how specific GMOs are being used in specific contexts. What specific disease populations are taking what specific drug at what dose?

Incidentally I can’t help but notice that Johnson independently came to the same computer analogy that I did, writing:

“Back in the ’90s, businesses were buying computers like crazy, but overall productivity numbers ‘failed to suggest that anything unique was occurring in the workplace,’ according to the St. Louis Fed. Computers didn’t bend the trend lines for decades.”

Are skeptics biased?

Massimo concludes:

“One thing, however, I am fairly confident of: the NYT article was not a ‘hack piece with a biased narrative.’ If it needs to be criticized, by all means let’s do it, but we need to have good arguments and carefully laid out evidence, and Steve’s piece simply does not provide enough of either.”

He also writes in the comments to the piece:

“Yes, I do think that there is a bit of groupthink within the skeptic movement. Steve is one of the best, but we all have our blind spots (yes, yes, including yours truly). In this case, the attitude seems to be that any criticism of GMOs, no matter how qualified and circumscribed, is an ‘attack’ that helps those irrational bozos who want to reject the technology.”

I disagree on both counts. Hakim accepted a framing of the GMO issue that was crafted by the anti-GMO movement, namely treating GMOs as one thing. They are not one thing technologically, and the organisms themselves have to be evaluated individually. He then chose to evaluate GMOs based on two biased criteria, yield and overall pesticide use. He also chose to use cherry picked data for his analysis.

I agree in that I don’t really know if Hakim is biased or a hack, but he is some combination of the two in this article. My sense is that he is coming to this party late, is not up to speed, bought into narratives that are biased at the outset, and so his entire endeavor was doomed from the beginning.

I hold the NYT to a high standard, which I think is legitimate. At the end of the day his piece did not add anything useful to the narrative on GMOs. He made some rookie mistakes and the take home of his article was very misleading. It will be fodder for the anti-GMO movement, which does not make it wrong, just irresponsible (or biased).

On the latter point about skeptics and knee-jerk defense of GMOs, I will just say, having read pretty much everything out there on this issue, that is not what I have seen. Mostly I find well reasoned articles on GMOs that nicely deconstruct the propaganda that has dominated the conversation from the anti-GMO side for the last two decades.

As I have many times, as Kevin Folta does very carefully, and as other writers who typically defend GMO have done, we acknowledge that GMOs are not a panacea. We recognize that GMOs need to be regulated, that industry sponsored research may be biased, and that the data on the affects of specific GMOs are often imperfect and complicated. My own writings on this topic are here for anyone to see.

It could seem that we are defensive because there is so much anti-GMO misinformation out there. They have controlled the narrative, by blatant lying, and by many more subtle deceptions. Treating GMOs as if they were one thing is one biased anti-GMO framing. Treating GMOs as if they all have to do with chemical use is another. Saying that GMOs have not met their promise is yet another.

Hakim falls for all of them.

I honestly don’t know how much Massimo is aware of this context or how much he has engaged on the GMO issue before. While he makes some fair points on some of the details of my first article, I think he missed this overall context, and was simply wrong about my main points.

42 thoughts on “Novella responds on GMOs

  1. dbholmes

    Mr Novella, with all due respect (as I agree with much of your position on GMOs and how they should best be discussed) your defense in commentary is unclear to me…

    “Regarding my references, I acknowledged the data is not perfect. Again, my limited point was that Hakim was cherry picking, even within his flawed framing. It is a separate point that the framing itself is flawed.”

    You seemed to be trying to cast framing as a very important issue in the posted essay while attacking Hakim (that seemed to play a part in his being a rookie). Are you now saying it is not that important?

    Also, how do you get “cherry-picking” for Hakim, rather than simply showing suitable examples for a case that GMOs (generically speaking) do not automatically mean better yield than non-GMOs? He only needs to show counter-examples to make that broader point.

    “Finally – you cannot criticize biotech for claiming that they are increasing yields. They are increasing yields.”

    This seems in direct conflict with the argument you were making in your essay, as your use of “they” treats GMOs as monolithic. Yes when treated as a monolithic average (which you originally complained about and I agree) there appear to be increased yields. But when broken down to any specific GMO that case cannot always be made. So according to your arguments one should (and I would agree) criticize biotech for making such claims, except where they very limited claims to a specific GMO and set of growth conditions.

    “I think his comparison is fatally flawed, and no one here so far has challenged my specific criticisms.”

    I do not remember you listing a flaw in Hakim’s work that does not pertain (at least in kind) to the referred study. The first graph Hakim used is certainly poorly chosen, but others are included which taken together make his general case.

    What is the most important criticism you made of Hakim’s work, that you feel was not addressed?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dbholmes

    Also (to Mr Novella)…

    “Their narrative is, GMO=chemical, big business, monoculture, and pest resistance. These are all complex issues not unique to GMOs. Herbicide resistance is also emerging in non-GMO crops and regions as well,…”

    True, but wouldn’t that problem be heightened when you have companies making crops that are not affected by chemicals they themselves produce, with the goal of increasing production/use/sale of those chemicals?

    Why isn’t it relevant to note where one has added a dimension of financial incentive to increase use, beyond what is required for best solutions to problem pest species?

    I thought his piece was a cautionary tale meant to focus public concern where it would be most useful, not simply block all GMOs.


  3. Jonathan Swayze

    “Still waiting for a pro-GM commenter to admit there are currently or potentially downsides to GM crops. When you are able to do that I will take you seriously. You don’t have to convince me of the benefits – I see them – it is you that seem unwilling to explore the topic in detail.” – michaelfugate

    1) If I could say everything Coel said @ November 9, 2016 at 10:07 am I would

    2) It’s probably not conducive to good conversation to imagine your opponents in the silliest way possible. We can all pick out examples of the most silly thinking – to argue against that is a form of strawman argumentation, to imagine people talking to you in this way is to enter the conversation in a combative way. I don’t imagine anyone who read either of these pieces would ever think so narrowly, on either side of this issue. I prefer instead to imagine mostly rational people engaging who may have a spot or two of irrationality skewing their thinking – but nothing so crass and tawdry as to imagine only upsides and no downsides on any topic.

    3) I don’t particularly identify with “pro-GMO” as much as I do with “skeptic”, though I suppose I would support most of what a reasonable and allegedly “pro-GMO” person would say.

    4) You are falling into the trap of talking about GMOs as a monolith – to even talk about “GMOs” having “upsides” or “downsides” is kind of a clumsy and inaccurate way to talk about them. Which cultivar has upsides or downsides – how do these compare to alternatives?

    5) If you must know, my delay in response to this challenge to imaginary people thinking silly things was mostly cause I was only able to access via mobile the last 24 hrs and my “sign in via facebook” method doesn’t work on mobile. It wasn’t because your point was so devastating to the house of cards behind my thinking on GMOs that the cognitive dissonance left me paralyzed and unable to respond. This kind of thinking may be more a sign of your adversarial nature in this thread than anything else.


  4. SocraticGadfly

    2. Erm, cuts both ways?
    3. “Skeptic” is still human, per comments by Massimo, myself and others about tribalism, etc.
    4. I don’t think we are.
    5. I didn’t understand this point. I think my cognitive dissonance fuzzed it up. 🙂 (Nobody’s better at Harvard-sanctioned life extension than me.)


  5. Jonathan Swayze


    Im responding to michaelfugate so please read my points as in context to the claims he made which I quoted about imagining pro-GMO people to never be able to admit there ever being any “downsides” about “GMOs”

    To your points:
    #2: I am not imagining anything about michaelfugate, I am addressing his imaginings of “Pro-GMO” people who are “unable to admit” there might be “downsides” about “GMOs”. Any one of us could slip into an adversarial way of talking, I admit – this “cuts both ways”. However here I am specifically addressing HIS repeated claims about “Pro GMO” people, and how these claims are not all that conducive to a charitable conversation and a good back and forth.

    I much prefer to imagine us all as a bit better than that – and I extend that to you and michael!

    #3, 100% agreed. I do not exempt myself from the potential to succumb to irrational belief. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. This is why I try to practise skepticism and self-identify as a skeptic – introspection and humility before my own pschological frailty is a cornerstone for me.

    #4. Maybe not in all posts, but michaelfugate is here and that is what I was addressing specifically (the part I quoted, not all posts made by all people in this thread., let me quote him again directly: “Still waiting for a pro-GM commenter to admit there are currently or potentially downsides to GM crops” – ok which crop, vs what – in what context? ‘

    #5 Michael speculated as to why people from the “Pro-GMO” side may have refrained from addressing his point until Coel did. I explained my technical reason for not responding until now. Perhaps others didn’t respond because of the fundamental silliness of the thinking and the accusation – and because it signalled that a conversation with Michael was unlikely to prove fruitful as it could be interpreted as a sign of combativeness to even talk this way in the first place about how silly people are in their thinking. I think Massimo’s piece kind of encouraged him to get there – as this can easily stem from thinking overlong about the problem of “groupthink” and the consideration of a “pro-GMO” side succumbing to it. This got michael thinking about all the ways commenters in this very thread might be examples of such irrational cheerleaders.


  6. michaelfugate

    Jonathan, all I can say is that your argument is so confused as to make no sense. I realize you have a stock argument to employ against the anti-GMO crowd, but it didn’t apply here. You start off with something about the safety of GMOs for human consumption – not relevant to any argument here. Then you launch into GMOs in the field using a cassava article that isn’t in the field and is funded by Monsanto, while claiming that corporations aren’t relevant to any argument. This issue is bigger than you want it to be and there are still many unanswered questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jonathan Swayze

    I think you’ve been thinking about this in terms of “sides” for too long and it is infecting your ability to treat us with charitability, if you slip into tawdry imaginings of people who are “unable to see downsides” and then act surprised when people aren’t engaging with you on this claim.


  8. Jonathan Swayze

    Michaelfugate says “Then you launch into GMOs in the field using a cassava article that isn’t in the field and is funded by Monsanto, while claiming that corporations aren’t relevant to any argument.”

    Michael – its hard enough to have a conversation online without the social cues and the presence of each other to help us find our way, please try to to refrain from putting words in my mouth and reformulating what I said in the silliest way possible.

    I will note firstly that my argument was a high-level one and that I included additional data points apart from the Cassava example, starting with a recent study of the relevant research and corporate conflicts of interest and a few other examples of “plants in the ground”. So your one point about the cassava article is not sufficiently engaging with what I brought to the table, even if it were a good point – but it wasn’t.

    here is what I said:
    “here are a few examples where “corporate control” is not really the driving force behind actual plans in actual fields:”

    I did NOT say “corporations aren’t relevant to any argument” – which was your restatement of my words into a cruder and silly form, all the better to knock me down I guess?

    Did you read the article and understand Monsanto is only involved tangentially and from its charitable arm? That other charitable entities and public entities are diluting their influence? It was a perfect example of where the “driving force” behind the crop development wasn’t “corporate control”. It was actually “charity” and “solving real problems for growing food” driving that.

    And there are plenty of others I could pick like that, the most famous of which would be Golden Rice. I only wanted to pick a few examples to help illustrate the point that talking about GMOs – as a monolith that is best understood with constant reference to “corporate control” – is not supported by what’s happening in the real world.

    Here’s another angle. Why isn’t Monsanto seen as an Uber-like “disruptor”? A case could be made that even examples that demonstrate more classic examples of “corporate control” – like say their business profits from Bt Soy that they sought – these could very well be at the expense of older and more established chemical giants who lose some “corporate control” in the competition brought to bear by a younger, nimbler competitor that is eating their lunch and “control” over insecticide sales in say, Brazil:

    Another interesting angle to consider, if we are truly considered “corporate control” – is to what extent the anti-GMO labelling movement is an attempt to extend “corporate control” over the food supply and food choices from a conglomerate of billion dollar organic farms, distribution and retail interests who have a business interest in denigrating all other products that aren’t organic as a way to secure customers-for-life. They could become “merchants of doubt” about the scientific consensus on GMO safety and utility and then scare customers into lifestyles where they ensure as many food dollars as possible accrue only to them for the rest of those customer’s lives.

    Sounds familiar? Who are the real “tobacco science” people?


  9. Robin Herbert

    As I said before if framing GMO’s as one thing and asking if GMO’s, on the whole, have worked is a bad thing then we need to reject both of the papers Steve Novella originally linked on that basis because they both do these things.

    And the Klumper Qaim article frames the benefits of GMO’s in terms of chemical use and so an article which addresses this claim cannot be dismissed on this basis either.

    But mainly, I seem to be reading a different NY Times article that he is. Hakim does not treat genetically modified organisms as one thing – he makes explicit distinctions, he says that GMO’s have had beneficial effects.

    Certainly the NY Times article has its flaws but I don’t see that it has in any way been discredited. Also claims of “hack” are just name calling and not useful in any way.


  10. Robin Herbert

    And this needs to be addressed:

    He says crops resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s most popular weedkiller, saved his cooperative.

    But weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup around the world — creating an opening for the industry to sell more seeds and more pesticides. The latest seeds have been engineered for resistance to two weedkillers, with resistance to as many as five planned. That will also make it easier for farmers battling resistant weeds to spray a widening array of poisons sold by the same companies.

    That really is an obvious typo – clearly Hakim did not mean “pesticides” in context. You would have to be reading this really uncharitably to think otherwise.

    Is this the basis for the claim that Hakim is conflating herbicides with pesticides?


  11. Robin Herbert

    Also I am failing to see where Hakim is prosecuting this “deeper premise” that ” that we should judge a technology by its current and early applications”. He doesn’t seem to be saying that at all.


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