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View Diary: GMOs: What we can all agree on (230 comments)

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  •  I completely agree with your diary; in fact, (16+ / 0-)

    I wrote in one comment thread this week that I could support a law requiring labeling of the form "Gene XYZZY from Butterfly genus Butterflius has been added to this plant, under the control of the YZZYX promoter, so that the gene is expressed only in roots." (and then something about the nature of the gene product, etc.)  Details about the gene and its expression, in non-scientese and scientese both, could be available on a website, and reachable via a QR code next to the GM designation. I mean, how hard is that???

    I did not support the CA legislation b/c it seemed largely to be suggesting labeling equivalent to "The Bogeyman Is In This Container!!!" Part of the argument was that seeing GM on a label could allow consumers to protect themselves. Given that (as that previous diarist so very well pointed out) GM is an almost information-free label, because it describes a technology that has been used, not a change that has been made, the only "value" of a simple "GM" label would be in scaring people. Unless you know specifically what change has been made, you know nothing about whether it might be a problem.

    As a biochemist by training, who teaches molecular cell biology, I would be remiss not to point out that the interactions inside a cell are as complex as an ecosystem - perhaps more so - so just saying "we took out a toxin, no problem" is insufficient, without a lot of cell biology and plant physiology to check on whether it is in fact a problem or not. Perhaps the plant's cells respond to low levels of that toxin by turning on another gene for a toxin that's worse, for example. Really exhaustive tests are needed for everything one tries, no matter how innocuous it may sound. That said, I am not at all "anti-GMO" - I'm more anti-oversimplification and anti-boogeyman-scares.  

    We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
    Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

    by pixxer on Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 04:20:43 PM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Natural hybrids are much more dangerous (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pixxer

      in that regard (e.g., turning off a toxin, which, btw probably happens even more by epigenetic than genetic mechanisms) - so I assume that you advocate "really exhaustive testing" for them?    

      What does that mean, in fairly exact terms?

      •  I'm intrigued by your statement that natural (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kevskos, Catte Nappe

        hybrids are probably more dangerous. Data?

        If that be true, yes, clearly exhaustive testing would be in order. Anything we've eaten successfully for millenia gets a pass. Carl Sagan, and others in the Skeptics (what is their official name?) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

        I think that there is a parallel here - the technology of transforming cells, though simple enough to be a high school biology exercise in some earlier forms, is also new enough to be still "extraordinary" in many of its applications. I think it is not inappropriate to require more aggressive testing of the fruits of this newer technology to find out what surprises we get.

        We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
        Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

        by pixxer on Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 06:59:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You stated the turning off a single gene was (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pixxer, beauchapeau, Catte Nappe

          potentially dangerous and required extensive testing.

          A natural hybrid is going to have far more than one gene disrupted - either by genetic recombination or epigenetic mechanisms.

          Basically, there's going to be a whole lot of compensating going on!  And we know virtually nothing about it.

        •  Crop Plants Are Polyploid, Massively Shuffled DNA (4+ / 0-)

          Most crop plants have 3x, 4x, 8x the number of chromosomes at some point followed by generations of deletions and recombination.

          Want to do safety testing of every new variety of sorghum, citrus, or blueberry? Hey, I'm in, let's spend as much on food safety as we do on the Air Force.  I'm all for it, because there would be work in it for me.

          There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

          by bernardpliers on Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 07:10:16 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Here's a New York Times article (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pixxer, Catte Nappe

          that amplifies on your premise that plants can upregulate toxins

          About 99.9 percent of the chemicals humans ingest are natural. The amounts of synthetic pesticide residues in plant food are insignificant compared to the amount of natural pesticides produced by plants themselves. Of all dietary pesticides that humans eat, 99.99 percent are natural: they are chemicals produced by plants to defend themselves against fungi, insects, and other animal predators.

          We have estimated that on average Americans ingest roughly 5,000 to 10,000 different natural pesticides and their breakdown products. Americans eat about 1,500 mg of natural pesticides per person per day, which is about 10,000 times more than the 0.09 mg they consume of synthetic pesticide residues.

          The logical follow through of this is that if plants are stressed by insects, they are going to produce lots of natural pesticides; if they are not (for example, if they are sprayed by synthetic pesticides) they won't.  Thus the use of synthetic pesticides can actually reduce the overall levels of pesticides that are eaten .  That's a rather counter intuitive idea to most people . . .
          •  The Case of The Poison Potato (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pixxer, Roadbed Guy, Catte Nappe

            http://boingboing.net/...

            This was the 1960s

            Lenape was genetically predisposed towards producing an extraordinarily high amount of solanine, no matter what happened to it during growth and harvest. The average Russet potato, for instance, contained about 8 mg of solanine for every 100 g of potato. Lenape, on the other hand, was closer to 30 mg of toxin for every 100 g of food. That made it nicely resistant to a lot of agricultural pests. But it also explained why some of the people who were the first to eat Lenapes — most of them breeders and other professionals in the agriculture industry — ended up with severe nausea, like a fast-acting stomach bug.

            There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

            by bernardpliers on Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 08:05:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The debate goes on (and on and on and on) (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Roadbed Guy

              The potato story is from nearly 50 years ago. It was retold as an example in an article 20 years ago, on the debate over GMOs and labeling. The article could have been written yesterday. Not a thing being said that hasn't been said umpteen times in the recent diaries on the subject (and vice versa)

              "Conventional plant breeding can markedly change the vitamin, nutrient and flavor content of fruit and vegetables," he said. "But biotechnology is going to be able to do that much more dramatically." Still, Benbrook believes that there is "persuasive technology and scientific arguments that support" FDA's regulatory approach. He calls the prospect of a biotechnology label on produce or other foods a "threatening scarlet letter."
              "When you buy processed foods the ingredients are always on the label and they are not labeled just because they may be hazardous," said Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund in New York. "People have all sorts of reasons to know what is in their food. And many of the reasons have to do with religious or ethical beliefs."
              http://articles.latimes.com/...

              “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

              by Catte Nappe on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 09:40:11 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Other Food Plant Toxins (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Roadbed Guy, Catte Nappe

            Psoralens (carcinogens) - celery, carrots, figs

            Solanine (toxic alkaloid) - potatoes, not to mention the other alkaloids from other members of the deadly nightshade family (tomato, eggplant)

            Canavanine (amino acid analog) - cumulative insecticidal  toxin concentrated in alfalfa sprouts

            Bean Toxins, especially fava beans
                Tyramine which is dangerous to people on MAO
                    inhibiters
                Isouramil, Divince - can crash the red blood cell count
                    of geneticall predisposed people

            Corn (fungal aflotoxin) - causes liver cancer

            Oxalic Acid - abundant in green vegetables, cause kidney stones and kidney failure.  Must also be soaked out of root crops like taro.

            Cyanide - root crops like casava must be soaked to avoid poisoning.  Also used to be present in high levels in apricots, and is still at high levels in ornamental apricots.

            And don't forget the dangerous drug interactions, like grapefruit juice which interferes with the metabolism of many common drugs.

            Numerous dangerous food allergies are overwhelmingly caused by plants.  Few people go into anaphylactic shock while eating a nice New York strip steak.  

            Also, many familiar plants have concentrated cyanide or neurotoxins in their seeds (how do we know it will stay there?)

            There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

            by bernardpliers on Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 09:05:53 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The L-canavanine in alfalfa is increased in GMO (0+ / 0-)

              varieties - it's specifically added to increase insect resistance. A case in which the GMO variety is made worse than the natural one.

              •  I'd Need To See A Citation On That (0+ / 0-)

                The toxicity of canavanine has been known for 40 years even though it never made it to the radar screens of sprout lovers.

                There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

                by bernardpliers on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 03:32:49 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Here's one (0+ / 1-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Hidden by:
                  bernardpliers

                  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/...

                  Assessment of the results demonstrated that, with the exception of three compositional constituents (ash, canavanine, and ferulic acid), there were no statisitically significant differences in 44 of the 47 constituents statistically compared.
                  While the USDA goes on to claim that there is no health risk from the increase in canavanine, the claim cannot be substantiated via the kind of short-term studies done to date. The only way to determine the health effect is to wait until embryos affected by this new product grow up, develop hormonally-influenced cancers, and turn out to have a higher incidence of highly proliferative cancers due to an activated DMX receptor. And chances are the number of people who fall into all 3 categories will be small enough that population studies will barely show a blip - so, in all likelihood, some indeterminate number of people will die unnecessarily from having been the child of a person who ate a product whose only "benefit" is increases in the sale of a certain herbicide.

                  It's a risk people should be able to decide whether or not to take with their children's wellbeing.

                  •  Your Own Citation Says It's Lower Not Higher (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    mikidee
                    The mean level of canavanine, an anti-nutri
                    ent, was significantly lower (p<0.05)
                    in
                    KK179 forage than the conventional control in
                    the combined-site analysis (Table VI-1).
                    The absolute difference in magnitude was 16.9
                    4 ppm, which is a relative difference of -
                    29.6%.
                    The part about it being engineered to have a higher canavanine content is something you cut and pasted from someone's site and apparently a hoax.

                    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

                    by bernardpliers on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 06:46:26 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  The Rest Of Your Word Salad Is Just Trolling (0+ / 0-)

                    ....rising to the level of conspiracy theory, because alfalfa sprouts have always been toxic, and you're trying to give the impression that we haven't known this for at least 40 years.

                    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

                    by bernardpliers on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 08:39:16 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

          •  Serious Question (0+ / 0-)
            ...if plants are stressed by insects, they are going to produce lots of natural pesticides...
            Not intended as snark: To your knowledge, how many of these natural pesticides produced by plants under predation are chlorinated hydrocarbons?

            Aside from that, we garden organically (large veg garden, plus small fruits, and apples and pears), and use pesticides that are approved for usage under organic certification, so it's at least encouraging that we may be consuming less pesticides as a result of using (somewhat benign) pesticides.

            Good information...

            "Treat others as you would like them to treat you." -St. Luke 6: 31 (NEB) Christians are given a tough assignment here: Love the people you don't even like...

            by paz3 on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 10:09:08 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's an interesting question (0+ / 0-)

              While naturally occurring chlorinated hydrocarbons are ubiquitous and surprisingly abundant in nature (for example see Natural organic chlorine compounds or the  Wikipedia blurb on the topic ) I have never really associated the production of these compounds with plants.  But according to part of the Wikipedia entry, it definitely appears that they could be made by plants . .. .  for example, plants make all of the following (in bold):

              Although rare compared to non-halogenated organic compounds, many organochlorine compounds have been isolated from natural sources ranging from bacteria to humans.[1][2] Chlorinated organic compounds are found in nearly every class of biomolecules including alkaloids, terpenes, amino acids, flavonoids, steroids, and fatty acids.[1][3] Organochlorides, including dioxins, are produced in the high temperature environment of forest fires, and dioxins have been found in the preserved ashes of lightning-ignited fires that predate synthetic dioxins.[4] In addition, a variety of simple chlorinated hydrocarbons including dichloromethane, chloroform, and carbon tetrachloride have been isolated from marine algae.[5] A majority of the chloromethane in the environment is produced naturally by biological decomposition, forest fires, and volcanoes.[6] The natural organochloride epibatidine, an alkaloid isolated from tree frogs, has potent analgesic effects and has stimulated research into new pain medication.
              in any event, that makes it quite explicit to stay away from the tree frogs and algae!
        •  here is a link.... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pixxer, Roadbed Guy

          http://books.google.com/...

          It is on toxins in domesticated vs wild plants.  Back breeding to wild plants for desirable traits like insect resistance can introduce unforeseen problems easily.

          You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

          by murrayewv on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 02:53:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  reality. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Anne Elk, mikidee

        the genes of EVERYTHING we eat has been extensively and massively modified.  Wheat, Rice, Corn, Barley, even exotic grains like Quinoa all started as basically grass seeds.

        Broccolli, Cauliflour, all Lettuce and Cabbage types, Kale, Spinach, and Brussel Sprouts all share a common ancestor as recent at 10,000 years ago.

        Pork, Cattle, Chickens, Sheep, Goats and horses are considerably different from their wild cousins.  Dogs vs Wolves and Cats vs. Wildcats are nothing compared to the difference between Wheat and Corn and their wild ancestors.

        the only real difference between this stuff and GM crops, is with GM Crops we have some idea what happens, as compared to the black box of traditional breeding and hybrids.  This is how anti-science anti-GM types really are: "We know what we are doing now, so it MUST be more certain to cause disaster" -- its Pre-Asimov Robots, only with food.

        We have no desire to offend you -- unless you are a twit!

        by ScrewySquirrel on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 01:19:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  GMOs have never been tested ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... and never will be because FDA has declared them safe. It's too late for testing anyway now that this crap is loose because there's no way to get it back. You say you're not anti-GMO ,but rather anti-boogeyman-scares. Where are you on the right to choose what you put in your mouth?

    •  Yup (2+ / 1-)
      Recommended by:
      Involuntary Exile, atana
      Hidden by:
      bernardpliers

      There's an awful lot that goes on within cells in response to what those cells encounter. A spokesman from the FDA testified in VT that a change of a single amino acid couldn't cause any health effects, so VT shouldn't bother to pursue labeling. (He really said that in actual testimony.) I was dumbfounded.

      So, apparently, he's never heard of phenylketonuria?

      A little digging brought up some interesting tidbits re: GMO alfalfa, which replaces L-arginine with L-canavanine. This kills the insects that eat alfalfa, but it also has a known effect in humans - specifically worsening of lupus and, in susceptible individuals, induction of lupus, according to real medical studies, not the anti-vaxer-style pseudo science: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/...

      In addition, it has not been studied to determine whether ingesting L-canavanine while pregnant can lead to absorption thereof into developing fetuses, but the implications could be dire if it does - because when it gets into human embryonic kidney cells, L-canavanine activates a particular receptor called the "dmx receptor," while the similar, but harmless amino acid L-arginine does not.  In humans, the dmx receptor plays a significant role in estrogen-sensitive cancer cell proliferation (PDF) http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/64/4/1522.full.pdf.

      So that's one tiny replacement of one amino acid for another in one crop. The replacement does cause issues with some susceptible people, and could potentially worsen some of the most common cancers in anyone exposed in utero, though the latter has never been studied and is not certain.

      The lack of long-term studies before releasing modified strains of food products into the field is essentially Russian roulette - most of the time, there won't be a round in the chamber, but there's always that one time...

      Labeling would at least let people choose whether or not to play the game. Many will simply not care, and will buy whatever is cheapest or most convenient, regardless of risks, but those who want to take a more cautious approach should be allowed the option.

      •  Phenylketonuria a different thing (0+ / 0-)

        to what the official was saying. PKU is caused by a mutation in a gene that results in a change in an amino acid in an enzyme that injures its function. The official was talking about a change in an ingested protein. I don't know if you are being intentionally misleading, but the official is generally correct.

        Voting is the means by which the public is distracted from the realities of power and its exercise.

        by Anne Elk on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 01:52:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I know that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          coquiero

          It's one example of an instance in which adding one amino acid to a food product had severe health impacts.

          The introduction of aspartame without labeling caused a huge black eye for the FDA, which is why I was stunned that the FDA's rep claimed a single amino acid change couldn't have a health effect. In people with PKU, it had very, very serious effects, which is why aspartame-containing products were eventually given warning labels.

          The mechanism of introduction into the food is secondary to the health effect. If it had been added to a food product by modifying an underlying grain to include it, it would have the exact same effect on PKU sufferers.

          •  HR For Cutting And Posting What Seems To Be A Hoax (0+ / 0-)

            http://www.aphis.usda.gov/...

            Canavanine levels were testing in the Monsanto alfalfa and are reported to be lower.  And I can't find anyone  besides that two sites that cutted and pasted the same thing you did.

            There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

            by bernardpliers on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 10:30:44 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  What are you talking about? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              coquiero

              The link I provided is from the USDA.

              And since your comment is a response to the PKU portion of the thread, are you claiming that PKU isn't affected by phenylalanine in food?

              •  Or are you saying (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                coquiero

                That the Journal of Arthritis & Rheumatism is a hoax publication? Or that the Journal of Cancer research is a hoax publication?

                I gave my citations, and copied nothing from any web sites. Where are your citations for the claim that I'm pasting from hoax sites?

              •  Have You Fallen For The Old AGW Denier Trick ? (0+ / 0-)

                Of citing a paper and then claiming it proves the opposite of what it really says.

                From the USDA link.

                The mean level of canavanine, an anti-nutri
                ent, was significantly lower (p<0.05)
                in
                KK179 forage than the conventional control in
                the combined-site analysis (Table VI-1).
                The absolute difference in magnitude was 16.9
                4 ppm, which is a relative difference of -
                29.6%.
                Plus you're claiming that Monsanto increased the level of something that is known as a human toxin for decades.

                There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

                by bernardpliers on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 06:49:03 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I respect you (0+ / 0-)

                  And have enjoyed your posts for several years. I am feeling very uncomfortable with the tone you are using in response to my comments here.

                  I snagged the wrong link. If I have time in the next few days, I'll try to dig up the right one. There is a company (apparently not monsanto) that was working on a self-protecting version of alfalfa that changed the ratio of l-canavanine. But even if the stuff never hit the market, the fact that a change in an amino acid can cause serious harm to human health is still true.

                  That is the point I am making: We know that changes in amino acids can cause severe, even deadly health effects, therefore claims to the contrary by the FDA are false.

                  The fact that it is possible for GMOs to be detrimental to human health, combined with the lack of longitudinal studies to determine if there are unexpected health effects, is the reason I favor allowing the consumer to make their own choices as to which products to buy via labeling.

                  You may disagree on labeling, but going the name-calling route isn't the most effective way to change my mind.

          •  A blanket claim is probably not warranted (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            coquiero
            which is why I was stunned that the FDA's rep claimed a single amino acid change couldn't have a health effect.
            considering that there are any number of counter examples - for example, a single amino acid change is responsible for sickle cell anemia.  And there are many more examples.

            But as far as in food products (as compared to determining biochemical functions of a living cell, which like sickle cell anemia is what you are referring to) are concerned, that claim is accurate.  At least I have never seen a counter example.

      •  Hmmm That Alfalfa Smells Like Bullshit (0+ / 0-)

        Yeah, alfalfa sprouts have always been 1% canavanine, and their toxicity has been known at least 40 years.

        There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

        by bernardpliers on Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 03:49:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The alfalfa study you linked (0+ / 0-)

        is from the early 80s, well before GMO alfalfa (manuscript received in 1983, accepted in 1984, and published in 1985 - published online in 2005).

        Just wanted to make it clear it was not a study of GMO alfalfa.

        Out with the gloomage - in with the plumage!

        by mikidee on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 08:28:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  My guess is that lawyers couldn't figure out (0+ / 0-)

      how to write a law requiring that sort of labeling information.
      A law that says: put such-and-such text, verbatim, on the label of every product containing GMOs, is understandable to the court system. A law requiring useful scientific information would not be understandable.

      And it would be abused by the manufacturers, who would put on the label whatever "information" they thought would sell their product. They already do this with the content labeling laws, e.g. calling MSG "amino acids".

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