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Old 02-10-2009, 09:07 PM
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The case for GM. No, not that GM....

The Green Monster
Could Frankenfoods be good for the environment?
By James E. McWilliams
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009, at 6:58 AM ET
I'm sitting at my desk examining a $10.95 jar of South River Miso. The stuff is delicious, marked by a light, lemony tang. The packaging, by contrast, is a heavy-handed assurance of purity. The company is eager to tell me that the product I've purchased is certified organic, aged for three weeks in wood (sustainably harvested?), unpasteurized, made with "deep well water," handcrafted, and—the designation that most piques my interest—GMO free.

GMO refers to "genetically modified organisms." A genetically modified crop results from the laboratory insertion of a gene from one organism into the DNA sequence of another in order to confer an advantageous trait such as insect resistance, drought tolerance, or herbicide resistance. Today almost 90 percent of soy crops and 80 percent of corn crops in the United States sprout from genetically engineered seeds. Forty-five million acres of land worldwide contain genetically engineered crops. From the perspective of commercial agriculture, the technology has been seamlessly assimilated into traditional farming routines.

From the perspective of my miso jar, however, it's evident that not all consumers share the enthusiasm. It's as likely as not that you know GMOs by their stock term of derision: Frankenfoods. The moniker reflects a broad spectrum of concerns: Some anti-biotech activists argue that these organisms will contaminate their wild cousins with GM pollen and drive native plants extinct. Others suggest that they will foster the growth of "superweeds"—plants that develop a resistance to the herbicides many GMOs are engineered to tolerate. And yet others fear that genetic alterations will trigger allergic reactions in unsuspecting consumers. Whether or not these concerns collectively warrant a ban on GMOs—as many (most?) environmentalists would like to see—is a hotly debated topic. The upshot to these potential pitfalls, however, is beyond dispute: A lot of people find this technology to be creepy.

Whatever the specific cause of discontent over GM crops, popular resistance came to a head in 2000, when the National Organic Program solicited public input on the issue of whether they should be included. In response, sustainable-food activists deluged officials with a rainforest's worth of letters—275,000, to be exact—beating the measure into oblivion. Today, in the same spirit, environmentalists instinctively deem GMOs the antithesis of environmental responsibility.

Many scientists, and even a few organic farmers, now believe the 2000 rejection was a fatal rush to judgment. Most recently, Pamela Ronald, a plant pathologist and chair of the Plant Genomics Program at the University of California-Davis, has declared herself one such critic. In Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, she argues that we should, in fact, be actively merging genetic engineering and organic farming to achieve a sustainable future for food production. Her research—which she conducts alongside her husband, an organic farmer—explores genetically engineered crops that, instead of serving the rapacity of agribusiness, foster the fundamentals of sustainability. Their endeavor, counterintuitive as it seems, points to an emerging green biotech frontier—a hidden realm of opportunity to feed the world's impending 9 billion a diet produced in an environmentally responsible way.

To appreciate how "responsible genetic modification" isn't an oxymoron, consider grass-fed beef. Cows that eat grass are commonly touted as the sustainable alternative to feedlot beef, a resource-intensive form of production that stuffs cows with a steady diet of grain fortified with antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids, and appetite enhancers that eventually pass through the animals into the soil and water. One overlooked drawback to grass-fed beef, however, is the fact that grass-fed cows emit four times more methane—a greenhouse gas that's more than 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide—as regular, feedlot cows. That's because grass contains lignin, a substance that triggers a cow's digestive system to secrete a methane-producing enzyme. An Australian biotech company called Gramina has recently produced a genetically modified grass with lower amounts of lignin. Lower amounts of lignin mean less methane, less methane means curbed global warming emissions, and curbed emissions means environmentalists can eat their beef without hanging up their green stripes.

Another area where sustainable agriculture and genetic modification could productively overlap involves nitrogen fertilizer. A plant's failure to absorb all the nutrients from the fertilizer leads to the harmful accumulation of nitrogen in the soil. From there it leaches into rivers and oceans to precipitate dead zones so choked with algae that other marine life collapses. In light of this problem, Syngenta and other biotech companies are in the process of genetically engineering crops such as potatoes, rice, and wheat to improve their nitrogen uptake efficiency in an effort to diminish the negative consequences of nitrogen fertilization. Early results suggest that rice farmers in Southeast Asia and potato farmers in Africa might one day have the option of planting crops that mitigate the harmful effects of this long-vilified source of agricultural pollution.

Animals, of course, are just as modifiable as plants. Livestock farmers have been genetically tinkering with their beasts for centuries through the hit-or-miss process of selective breeding. They've done so to enhance their animals' health, increase their weight, and refine their fat content. Breeding animals to reduce environmental impact, however, hasn't been a viable option with the clunky techniques of conventional breeding. But such is not the case with genetic engineering.

Case in point: Canadian scientists have recently pioneered the "enviropig," a genetically modified porker altered to diminish the notoriously high phosphorous level of pig manure by 60 percent. Like nitrogen, phosphorous runoff is a serious pollutant with widespread downstream consequences. But with the relatively basic insertion of a gene (from E. coli bacteria) that produces a digestive enzyme called phytase, scientists have provided farmers with yet another tool for lessening their heavy impact on the environment.

When commercial farmers hear about GM grass, increased nitrogen uptake, and cleaner pigs, they're excited. And when they hear about other products in the works—genetically modified sugar beets that require less water and have higher yields than cane sugar; a dust made from genetically modified ferns to remove heavy metals from the soil; genetically modified and edible cotton seeds that require minimal pesticide use—they're also excited. And they're excited not only because these products have the potential to streamline production, but also because GM technology allows them to play a meaningful role in reducing their carbon footprint.

However, with the exception of the modified sugar beets, the GMOs mentioned in this article are not currently on the market. The cutting-room floors of research laboratories all over the world, in fact, are littered with successful examples of genetically engineered products that have enormous potential to further the goals of sustainable agriculture. Demand for these products remains high among farmers—it almost always does—but food producers fear the bad publicity that might come from anti-GMO invective.

Given the potential of these products to reduce the environmental impact of farming, it's ironic that traditional advocates for sustainable agriculture have led a successful campaign to blacklist GMOs irrespective of their applications. At the very least, they might treat them as legitimate ethical and scientific matters deserving of a fair public hearing. Such a hearing, I would venture, would not only please farmers who were truly concerned about sustainability, but it would provide the rest of us—those of us who do not grow food for the world but only think about it—a more accurate source of scientific information than the back of a miso jar.

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  #2  
Old 02-10-2009, 09:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Botnst View Post
The Green Monster
Could Frankenfoods be good for the environment?
By James E. McWilliams
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009, at 6:58 AM ET
I'm sitting at my desk examining a $10.95 jar of South River Miso. The stuff is delicious, marked by a light, lemony tang. The packaging, by contrast, is a heavy-handed assurance of purity. The company is eager to tell me that the product I've purchased is certified organic, aged for three weeks in wood (sustainably harvested?), unpasteurized, made with "deep well water," handcrafted, and—the designation that most piques my interest—GMO free.

GMO refers to "genetically modified organisms." A genetically modified crop results from the laboratory insertion of a gene from one organism into the DNA sequence of another in order to confer an advantageous trait such as insect resistance, drought tolerance, or herbicide resistance. Today almost 90 percent of soy crops and 80 percent of corn crops in the United States sprout from genetically engineered seeds. Forty-five million acres of land worldwide contain genetically engineered crops. From the perspective of commercial agriculture, the technology has been seamlessly assimilated into traditional farming routines.

From the perspective of my miso jar, however, it's evident that not all consumers share the enthusiasm. It's as likely as not that you know GMOs by their stock term of derision: Frankenfoods. The moniker reflects a broad spectrum of concerns: Some anti-biotech activists argue that these organisms will contaminate their wild cousins with GM pollen and drive native plants extinct. Others suggest that they will foster the growth of "superweeds"—plants that develop a resistance to the herbicides many GMOs are engineered to tolerate. And yet others fear that genetic alterations will trigger allergic reactions in unsuspecting consumers. Whether or not these concerns collectively warrant a ban on GMOs—as many (most?) environmentalists would like to see—is a hotly debated topic. The upshot to these potential pitfalls, however, is beyond dispute: A lot of people find this technology to be creepy.

Whatever the specific cause of discontent over GM crops, popular resistance came to a head in 2000, when the National Organic Program solicited public input on the issue of whether they should be included. In response, sustainable-food activists deluged officials with a rainforest's worth of letters—275,000, to be exact—beating the measure into oblivion. Today, in the same spirit, environmentalists instinctively deem GMOs the antithesis of environmental responsibility.

Many scientists, and even a few organic farmers, now believe the 2000 rejection was a fatal rush to judgment. Most recently, Pamela Ronald, a plant pathologist and chair of the Plant Genomics Program at the University of California-Davis, has declared herself one such critic. In Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, she argues that we should, in fact, be actively merging genetic engineering and organic farming to achieve a sustainable future for food production. Her research—which she conducts alongside her husband, an organic farmer—explores genetically engineered crops that, instead of serving the rapacity of agribusiness, foster the fundamentals of sustainability. Their endeavor, counterintuitive as it seems, points to an emerging green biotech frontier—a hidden realm of opportunity to feed the world's impending 9 billion a diet produced in an environmentally responsible way.

To appreciate how "responsible genetic modification" isn't an oxymoron, consider grass-fed beef. Cows that eat grass are commonly touted as the sustainable alternative to feedlot beef, a resource-intensive form of production that stuffs cows with a steady diet of grain fortified with antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids, and appetite enhancers that eventually pass through the animals into the soil and water. One overlooked drawback to grass-fed beef, however, is the fact that grass-fed cows emit four times more methane—a greenhouse gas that's more than 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide—as regular, feedlot cows. That's because grass contains lignin, a substance that triggers a cow's digestive system to secrete a methane-producing enzyme. An Australian biotech company called Gramina has recently produced a genetically modified grass with lower amounts of lignin. Lower amounts of lignin mean less methane, less methane means curbed global warming emissions, and curbed emissions means environmentalists can eat their beef without hanging up their green stripes.

Another area where sustainable agriculture and genetic modification could productively overlap involves nitrogen fertilizer. A plant's failure to absorb all the nutrients from the fertilizer leads to the harmful accumulation of nitrogen in the soil. From there it leaches into rivers and oceans to precipitate dead zones so choked with algae that other marine life collapses. In light of this problem, Syngenta and other biotech companies are in the process of genetically engineering crops such as potatoes, rice, and wheat to improve their nitrogen uptake efficiency in an effort to diminish the negative consequences of nitrogen fertilization. Early results suggest that rice farmers in Southeast Asia and potato farmers in Africa might one day have the option of planting crops that mitigate the harmful effects of this long-vilified source of agricultural pollution.

Animals, of course, are just as modifiable as plants. Livestock farmers have been genetically tinkering with their beasts for centuries through the hit-or-miss process of selective breeding. They've done so to enhance their animals' health, increase their weight, and refine their fat content. Breeding animals to reduce environmental impact, however, hasn't been a viable option with the clunky techniques of conventional breeding. But such is not the case with genetic engineering.

Case in point: Canadian scientists have recently pioneered the "enviropig," a genetically modified porker altered to diminish the notoriously high phosphorous level of pig manure by 60 percent. Like nitrogen, phosphorous runoff is a serious pollutant with widespread downstream consequences. But with the relatively basic insertion of a gene (from E. coli bacteria) that produces a digestive enzyme called phytase, scientists have provided farmers with yet another tool for lessening their heavy impact on the environment.

When commercial farmers hear about GM grass, increased nitrogen uptake, and cleaner pigs, they're excited. And when they hear about other products in the works—genetically modified sugar beets that require less water and have higher yields than cane sugar; a dust made from genetically modified ferns to remove heavy metals from the soil; genetically modified and edible cotton seeds that require minimal pesticide use—they're also excited. And they're excited not only because these products have the potential to streamline production, but also because GM technology allows them to play a meaningful role in reducing their carbon footprint.

However, with the exception of the modified sugar beets, the GMOs mentioned in this article are not currently on the market. The cutting-room floors of research laboratories all over the world, in fact, are littered with successful examples of genetically engineered products that have enormous potential to further the goals of sustainable agriculture. Demand for these products remains high among farmers—it almost always does—but food producers fear the bad publicity that might come from anti-GMO invective.

Given the potential of these products to reduce the environmental impact of farming, it's ironic that traditional advocates for sustainable agriculture have led a successful campaign to blacklist GMOs irrespective of their applications. At the very least, they might treat them as legitimate ethical and scientific matters deserving of a fair public hearing. Such a hearing, I would venture, would not only please farmers who were truly concerned about sustainability, but it would provide the rest of us—those of us who do not grow food for the world but only think about it—a more accurate source of scientific information than the back of a miso jar.
another wonderful piece of disinformation.

the real purpose of gm foods is to allow monsanto and others to control the seed markets.

additionally, gm crops require - you guessed it - fertilizers and pesticides from... yes monsanto and others.

and yes, these gm plants will quickly intermingle with non-altered species.

but if the bottom line is good for monsanto and others, well, who cares.

does mr. mcwilliams seem to be a shill? maybe
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  #3  
Old 02-11-2009, 12:00 AM
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Hey, you got something against people making a profit?
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  #4  
Old 02-11-2009, 07:48 AM
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It's a hugely debated topic in our industry. We don't carry any GMO seed since that's not our market, just OP and some tried and true hybrids. In fact we do make a point in our advertising and display signs that we don't carry any GMO's.

That said, I tend to agree with my father (who got a degree in Botany before getting his MBA) that it's way too early to completely discount or endorse the technology. On the Big Ag side there is tremendous pressure to produce more, for the U.S. and the world, while using less pesticides, less water, less fertilizer, on less acreage. The technology potentially exists to do all of those things. More hand labor is one possible solution but the average produce customer isn't going to pay $7.50 for a head of lettuce. What's the alternative?

It's no skin off my back. GMO's have already such a negative connotation that increased use bodes well for those of us that cater to the home gardener and those that decide they don't want any foods that contain GMO's so they'll try to grow their own instead. I just wonder, on the large scale, how production will be able to keep up with the increasing demand with those restrictions and pressures.

In Monsanto's case, they must be pretty peeved. It took them so long to roll out Roundup Ready corn and soybeans that the patent on Roundup ended (about 5 years ago now maybe?) and there are hundreds of sources for generic Glyphosate.
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Old 02-11-2009, 08:03 AM
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Like anything that man touches, I'm concerned that not ALL ASPECTS of what could POSSIBLY GO WRONG have been considered...

And...as we have seen from history...man is not anywhere on the same plain as God would allow him to think he is...

I see just ONE oversight rearing its ugly head and you could have, in literally weeks, a world-wide, devistating crop failure that could be the death of millions, if not a billion or two...

But...I get to play "Chicken Little" so little on here...

BTW: I thought GMO was something related to "Good Morning Others!" or something a bit inane...

Happy hunting...
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  #6  
Old 02-11-2009, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by mgburg View Post
Like anything that man touches, I'm concerned that not ALL ASPECTS of what could POSSIBLY GO WRONG have been considered...

And...as we have seen from history...man is not anywhere on the same plain as God would allow him to think he is...

I see just ONE oversight rearing its ugly head and you could have, in literally weeks, a world-wide, devistating crop failure that could be the death of millions, if not a billion or two...

But...I get to play "Chicken Little" so little on here...

BTW: I thought GMO was something related to "Good Morning Others!" or something a bit inane...

Happy hunting...
Scotts already ran into some issues with their Roundup Ready bentgrass for golf course use. If the weeds, and other grasses, start showing resistance (not unlike bacteria in the medical field) and you suddenly don't have a means of controlling them then you can have some real big problems. Figure 7+ years for new pesticide technology to make it to the EPA level for testing and registration and then it's on to the individual states for the same. And precede that by years of research and millions of dollars. If they're lucky the chemical companies can get a product from concept to the market in less than 10 years. Even if it's fast-tracked in half, 5 years of growing unchecked is a precariously long period.
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  #7  
Old 02-11-2009, 01:08 PM
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The methodology that raises my concern is incorporation of foreign genomes into organisms that are likely to interbreed with wild populations. Like the Frankensalmon escapees that, suppsoedly sterile, managed to breed with wild salmon.

At first blush it sounds great -- the frankensalmon grow at a phenomenal rate on low quality food and poor living conditions. It maybe good, I dunno. But on the other hand, wild salmon are already under tremendous pressure from a wide variety of factors. Nobody knows how the foreign genes will affect the fitness of the wild population.

Concerning health of GM food sources? I have seen no credible evidence of any direct negative impact to human health.
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Old 02-11-2009, 06:14 PM
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Originally Posted by SwampYankee View Post
Scotts already ran into some issues with their Roundup Ready bentgrass for golf course use. If the weeds, and other grasses, start showing resistance (not unlike bacteria in the medical field) and you suddenly don't have a means of controlling them then you can have some real big problems. Figure 7+ years for new pesticide technology to make it to the EPA level for testing and registration and then it's on to the individual states for the same. And precede that by years of research and millions of dollars. If they're lucky the chemical companies can get a product from concept to the market in less than 10 years. Even if it's fast-tracked in half, 5 years of growing unchecked is a precariously long period.
Roundup Ready means what...exactly? That if YOU use RU on your turf, then anything RUR will grow where RU was used and nothing else? Sorta' like planting grass that is RU-proof in an area already cleared w/RU?
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Old 02-11-2009, 07:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Botnst View Post
The methodology that raises my concern is incorporation of foreign genomes into organisms that are likely to interbreed with wild populations. Like the Frankensalmon escapees that, suppsoedly sterile, managed to breed with wild salmon.

At first blush it sounds great -- the frankensalmon grow at a phenomenal rate on low quality food and poor living conditions. It maybe good, I dunno. But on the other hand, wild salmon are already under tremendous pressure from a wide variety of factors. Nobody knows how the foreign genes will affect the fitness of the wild population.

Concerning health of GM food sources? I have seen no credible evidence of any direct negative impact to human health.
what about non human health?
there was something a few years ago about corn affecting migrating butterflies? don't laugh, butterflies are an important part of the food chain etc.
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Old 02-11-2009, 08:01 PM
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what about non human health?
there was something a few years ago about corn affecting migrating butterflies? don't laugh, butterflies are an important part of the food chain etc.
Yep, the supposition was that a GM strain of corn that produced a chemical to protect it from a corn pest would release pollen that would accumulate on milkweed leaves that grown in turn rows. Since monarch butterfly larvae feed voraciously on milkweed, the fear was that the larvae would accumulate enough of the corn pollen incidental to feeding on milkweeds that it would poison the monrach caterpillars.

It's a reasonable hypothesis and even better, it is scientifically falsifiable. I recall two separate series of experiments that demonstrated that the pollen did indeed accumulate the chemical and that there was sufficient concentration that a lethal does could be ingested. They did controlled lab experiments and were able to get poisoned caterpillars. Next they ran the experiemnt in filds by placing virgin caterpillars on milkweed deep in cornfields, in turnrows and some distance removed from the cornfields. No fatalities were found among the experimental population.

However, there are lots of species out there. Discounting one species among thousands does not mean that no species is affected.

B
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Old 02-11-2009, 09:27 PM
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Yep, the supposition was that a GM strain of corn that produced a chemical to protect it from a corn pest would release pollen that would accumulate on milkweed leaves that grown in turn rows. Since monarch butterfly larvae feed voraciously on milkweed, the fear was that the larvae would accumulate enough of the corn pollen incidental to feeding on milkweeds that it would poison the monrach caterpillars.

It's a reasonable hypothesis and even better, it is scientifically falsifiable. I recall two separate series of experiments that demonstrated that the pollen did indeed accumulate the chemical and that there was sufficient concentration that a lethal does could be ingested. They did controlled lab experiments and were able to get poisoned caterpillars. Next they ran the experiemnt in filds by placing virgin caterpillars on milkweed deep in cornfields, in turnrows and some distance removed from the cornfields. No fatalities were found among the experimental population.

However, there are lots of species out there. Discounting one species among thousands does not mean that no species is affected.

B
uh, the way i remember it, the butterflies didn't react so innocuously. i'll check.
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Old 02-11-2009, 09:27 PM
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Upon actually reading the OP, I'll admit, he does raise some interesting questions. It could be argued that the sort of cross-breeding and shaping of plant species that various people like Burbank have done is similar to artificially introducing new genes. And if the former is acceptable why not the latter? But there might be sort of safeguarding effect when done by natural selection, who knows, but then again all sorts of species have sprung up on their own that we find harmful.

It's a tough one. I would feel a lot better about it if big industry wasn't so devoted to extracting profit from every struggling farmer in the world with this stuff. Not sure if the patent rights lapse after some period like they do with other products. All sorts of horror stories out there of small farmers in India drinking pesticide because of slow ruination of career and life by the higher costs and indebtedness that comes with modern farming methods.
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Old 02-11-2009, 10:00 PM
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Roundup Ready means what...exactly? That if YOU use RU on your turf, then anything RUR will grow where RU was used and nothing else? Sorta' like planting grass that is RU-proof in an area already cleared w/RU?
Yes. Theorhetically tolerant up to a point, X% dilution per given area. However higher tolerances, even complete resisitance, has shown up in some fields. The scary thing with glyphosate (A.I. in Roundup) resistance is it it was often used as a last resort herbicide because it was non-selective, that is it generally killed whatever vegetation it was applied to.

In the case of RUR bentgrass it was intended for use on putting greens and RU could be used to control all other weeds and non-bentgrasses, mainly Poa annua and Poa trivialis which are grasses that can be especially problematic in bentgrass stands.
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Old 02-11-2009, 10:04 PM
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Not sure if the patent rights lapse after some period like they do with other products.
Plant patents run for 20 years from the application date.
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Old 02-11-2009, 10:14 PM
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Originally Posted by cmac2012 View Post
Upon actually reading the OP, I'll admit, he does raise some interesting questions. It could be argued that the sort of cross-breeding and shaping of plant species that various people like Burbank have done is similar to artificially introducing new genes. And if the former is acceptable why not the latter? But there might be sort of safeguarding effect when done by natural selection, who knows, but then again all sorts of species have sprung up on their own that we find harmful.

It's a tough one. I would feel a lot better about it if big industry wasn't so devoted to extracting profit from every struggling farmer in the world with this stuff. Not sure if the patent rights lapse after some period like they do with other products. All sorts of horror stories out there of small farmers in India drinking pesticide because of slow ruination of career and life by the higher costs and indebtedness that comes with modern farming methods.
The methods of plant breeding, whether scientific or traditional, did not introduce exogenous genes into the host genome. They simply rearranged the genome through crossbreeding and selection within the species (except in some rare cases, across species).

This new method allows genetic combinations that are completely exotic, pulling genes from animals into plants and so forth. This is entirely new and the ramifications are staggering. On the plus side is the OP. Also it would be cool to introduce gills into humans, wouldn't it? Or how about photosynthesis?

But it is also easy to imagine a malevolent act -- engineering unstoppable diseases for example. Not to mention the frankenfish and so forth.

If history is a guide, the technology will become widely incorporated into our society, like it or not. History also reminds us that if evil can be done intentionally, it will.

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