Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Genetically modified bullshit! The Oregon wheat story

Professor Harry Frankfurt observed that one reason, among many, for the astounding growth in bullshit, which we mostly tolerate, comes from the fact that in a democracy we the people are pretty much expected to have opinions on everything.  Whether we know anything or not is immaterial.

This blog is, perhaps, a wonderful illustration of his point--every post is more bullshit, it seems like, because I opine on so many issues. Surely, I am bullshitting, right?

A few weeks ago, it was big news in my part of the world when researchers found that wheat from a certain farm tested positive for genetic modification.
On May 1, with GMO-positive test results in hand, Mallory-Smith contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s  Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to tell them that unapproved seeds which had been engineered 14 years beforehand by one of the biggest agricultural companies in the world, Monsanto, had somehow found their way into a wheat field in Oregon. And on May 29, the USDA alerted the public about the genetically modified wheat’s presence in Oregon.
Ah, Monsanto. So much has been said and written about this company that I now have no idea how much of  anything is true anymore.

So, what the heck is this GM-wheat?
click to enlarge
If Monsanto destroyed, back in 2011, all the experimental seeds that were developed then how come this Oregon presence?
“It would be nice to know how the wheat got there,” Rowe says. “We don’t want to solve the wrong problem and waste a bunch of effort because of speculation.” 
We don't know!

So, GM crop is the issue?  GM crops are not grown?


Three years ago, I blogged about this chart from The Economist:

That was three years ago!

Oh, it is ok in other countries but not here in the US?

Here's the full list of food crops for which you can find GMO varieties: Corn, soybeans, cotton (for oil), canola (also a source of oil), squash, and papaya. You could also include sugar beets, which aren't eaten directly, but refined into sugar. There's also GMO alfalfa, but that goes to feed animals, not for sprouts that people eat. That leaves quite a lot of your garden untouched.
GMO versions of tomatoes, potatoes, and rice have been created and approved by government regulators, but they aren't commercially available.
So, a recap.  GM crops are grown in many countries. In the US, too.  But, we have a problem with GM wheat.  Really?  Is GM bad?

The GMO story has become mired in the eco-wrecking narrative of industrial agriculture, and that is too bad for those who understand the real risks of climate change and discern our desperate need for innovation. And while the blue-sky hype of a genetically secured food supply has not become a reality, there have been a few breakthroughs. Even as climate change has increased the prevalence of many plant diseases, the new science can take credit for genetic inoculations that saved Hawaii’s papaya business. It’s also led to flood-resistant rice, created by Pamela Ronald of the University of California–Davis.
Confused enough?  Welcome to my club!  Do you now see why I bullshit, a lot?

So, can we do anything constructive?
GMO agriculture relies on the relatively new science of bioinformatics (a mixture of bio- and information science), which means that DNA sequences look a lot more like software code than a vegetable garden. And if Monsanto is the Microsoft of food supply—raking in the rent on bites instead of bytes—perhaps the time has come for the agricultural equivalent of Linux, the open-source operating system that made computer programming a communal effort.
Imagine if we made this a ballot issue, and we voters have to cast a yes/no.  Aren't you convinced by now that most of our votes will not be based on any scientific understanding and, instead, an overwhelming majority of us will rely on good ol' bullshit?

It is a surprise that we have come this far with democratized bullshit. Let us see how much more we can extend it!


Ramesh said...

It is hereby conclusively declared that Prof Sriram Khé 's blog posts have no resemblance, connection , association, etc etc with the output that emanates from a certain portion of the bovine anatomy :):)

Yeah - much bovine flatulence on GM. Man has been genetically modifying crops from the day he discovered that he could farm them.

Sriram Khé said...

So you say ... I wonder if, through this post, I have pissed off another good friend who is a committed environment person ... will check with her after a day or two--to make sure she has cooled down, just in case ;)

It is not that I am a fan of GM and want everything to be genetically modified. But, it does bother me that very quickly trenches are dug and fortified. Why we cannot have sane, logical, discussions instead,right? Environmentalists do it, the GOP does it, all those single-issue groups do it ... democracy is awfully messy :(

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