« The Classico Skeptico | Main | Reasons to doubt reincarnation »

October 24, 2005

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

None of your arguments are going to convince the anti-GM crowd, because most of them are Greenie True Believers, and by definition consider all human concerns irrelevant. All that matters to them is the integrity of "nature". Therefore any GM arguments presented to them are propaganda.

And to me, all Greenie arguments are propaganda.

First, I'd like to object to your tarbrushing use of the term "anti-GM crowd". There are some anti-GM lunatics such as Rifkin (whom I've despised for 30 years plus), but to lump all opponents in with him is as appropriate as lumping all skeptics in with the Forteans. Allow me to suggest instead that you apply the neutrality principle the wiki folks endorse: state who specifically is making a claim. Or else you could use terms like "extreme anti-GM activists" versus "moderate GM critics".

You wrote: "They do have the right to save and replant seed – just not seed developed at substantial cost by someone else, and sold under a contract that forbids such saving of seeds."

I don't know where you get the notion you have the expertise to second-guess the development of commonlaw and statute law. But it is not uncommon for either or both to declare certain sorts of contracts unenforceable on a variety of grounds. If you can't think of exceptions, then you've demonstrated you don't know enough to argue this.

You write "Who or what is preventing this from happening now?", referring to my suggestion that public research by public agricultural universities is a better route.

And the answer is that it's a matter of public policy whether the money is spent or not on that purpose. I suggest it is time for us to consider that choice; however, I'd also expect companies such as Monsanto to fund opposition to such policies. Unfortunately, capitalism does profit from regulatory capture and other ways of manipulating government against the public interest.

I wrote: "And companies like Monsanto are attempting to disable traditional farming technologies such as saving seed" and you replied: "First, that’s bullshit. Terminator technology has never been used in any commercially available transgenic plant."

Sorry, but you're moving the goalposts. My statement did not state where they were in the process. It's an obvious intent, and it's considered such a threat (for a variety of reasons) that even mainstream organizations have been opposing it for general use. I can see a good application for GURT in pharmacological product production, where you don't want all sorts of genes released willy-nilly, and have a very few specialist contract growers.

And finally, as I wrote before, the purpose of patents and other government granted monopolies is to further the public interest. If there is a threat to the public interest due to some patent or other monopoly producing too onerous a burden, we should do something about it.

On the tu quoque argument, I plead guilty. I was wrong.

On the other hand, right below that you lump me in with the anti-GM crowd, with no evidence. I do not appreciate the implication that I'm an anti-GM luddite.

I said (and you quoted):

…the ridiculous notion that because a seed was created with one technology, genetic engineering, it is fundamentally different from seed created by careful breeding.

And you followed up with:

This objection is pretty funny. The anti-GM crowd insist GM organisms are radically different from those created by selective breeding – they’re “Frankenfoods”, remember? So which is it – are they different or not?

They're not different, and I never said they were. I have never called GM foods Frankenfoods. You are conflating a political argument, made in several different ways in the replies to your last post, with a single position, the anti-GM one, that you want to attack.

One aspect of capitalism is that there is a powerful structural incentive for participants to enhance profits by working at the edge of, and on the wrong side of, legal and ethical codes of conduct. Additionally, there is no incentive to minimize negative effects that have no immediate impact on the bottom line. Agricultural conglomerates have proven themselves capable of antisocial behavior many times (think ADM and price-fixing). Government oversight is nescessary, but often inadequate (and the trends do not look good). GM foods do harbor the potential for widespread ecological damage. The estimation of these risks may be an intractable problem; we may not be able to predict them with any level of certainty. Add to all this the increasing tendency of corporations to use copyrights and patents to muscle consumers and small players into playing the game their way.

I believe all this indicates two main dangers from entrusting these businesses with the development of GM crops and control and monitoring thereof. The first is technological, the second is commercial.

The first is that they will not consider, or give adequate weight to, potential ecological downsides from their products. Only when something affects profits will they act, and that would almost certainly be too late for containment. If government is not able or willing to conduct (and fund) controls, regulations and inspections, there may be no good institutional solution to this problem.

The second problem is that the large agricultural concerns will use technology and IP law to structure the market so that farmers and consumers have no hope of having any input in the process, and the world's food supply will be 'managed' by a couple of untrustworthy conglomerates, secretly cooperating to some degree behind the scenes.

The corporation is one the fundamental bases of a capitalist economy. But there's no reason you should trust them further than you could throw them. Think of them as a class of bright high-schoolers constantly trying to test the limits of what they can get away with.

I have no problem with GM food - in actuality I think it has tremendous potential - but I am weary of just about anything Monsanto does. Considering their history, I'd prefer to err on the side of caution. That's not saying I think any action they take should automatically be discounted, its just that I believe we should give very careful and thorough scrutiny before giving approval.

https://www.ijoeh.com/pfds/IJOEH_1104_Patel.pdf

'Farmers should have the right to save and replant their seed from year to year, period.'

It should be remembered that almost all (non-GM)crops are f1 hybrids. These have been in use for more than 70 years. So farmers have long chosen to grow crops whose seeds cannot be saved and replanted. Why therefore is this considered a problem for GM crops?

Mike Hubden

Re: First, I'd like to object to your tarbrushing use of the term "anti-GM crowd".

Fair point. Actually I tried to distinguish between the “anti-GM crowd” (ie the extremists) and the “Commenters” (people like yourself who have reasonable concerns), but I guess I didn’t make this distinction well enough. I apologize if I seemed to lump you and others in with the extremists – I’ll try to express myself better in future. Perhaps “anti-GM extremists”?

Re: You wrote: "They do have the right to save and replant seed – just not seed developed at substantial cost by someone else, and sold under a contract that forbids such saving of seeds."

I don't know where you get the notion you have the expertise to second-guess the development of commonlaw and statute law.

I think you misunderstood my point. I was just saying that the advent of GM has not prevented farmers from saving seed: if they could save seed before GM they could still save those same seeds now. Whether or not they are prohibited from saving Monsanto’s seed is up to the courts.

Re: You write "Who or what is preventing this from happening now?", referring to my suggestion that public research by public agricultural universities is a better route.

And the answer is that it's a matter of public policy whether the money is spent or not on that purpose. I suggest it is time for us to consider that choice; however, I'd also expect companies such as Monsanto to fund opposition to such policies. Unfortunately, capitalism does profit from regulatory capture and other ways of manipulating government against the public interest.

I have no problem with this. I would add again that I would also expect the anti-GM extremists to oppose these publicly financed projects too.

Re: I wrote: "And companies like Monsanto are attempting to disable traditional farming technologies such as saving seed" and you replied: "First, that’s bullshit. Terminator technology has never been used in any commercially available transgenic plant."

Sorry, but you're moving the goalposts. My statement did not state where they were in the process. It's an obvious intent, and it's considered such a threat (for a variety of reasons) that even mainstream organizations have been opposing it for general use. I can see a good application for GURT in pharmacological product production, where you don't want all sorts of genes released willy-nilly, and have a very few specialist contract growers.

You said “companies like Monsanto are attempting to disable traditional farming…” – the word “are” indicating present tense. My point was that it’s not being used. The anti-GM extremists throw this one in occasionally, though, implying it is being used.

Again, as I wrote, an advantage of terminator technology is that it prevents GM traits from spreading to non-GM – one of the main objections to GM, so I'm not sure it's a valid objection in any case.

Re: And finally, as I wrote before, the purpose of patents and other government granted monopolies is to further the public interest. If there is a threat to the public interest due to some patent or other monopoly producing too onerous a burden, we should do something about it.

OK, but here I would put a strong burden of proof upon those claiming the patents are against public interest, before agreeing that those patents should be overridden. I certainly don’t see that yet in this pig patent case, nor do I really agree that case has been made generally.

Matthew:

Fair point again. I realize you never used the phrase “Frankenfoods” – I was referring to a general argument that is made. Apologies for lumping you in with the extremists.

Let’s get back to what I think you were saying, and where I disagree with this. I am saying that if a company has identified a use for a particular gene, and has developed a novel way of using that gene (for example by artificially engineering it), then it is not ridiculous that they should be able to obtain a patent on what they have created. This would initially seem to be the case with the proposed pig patents, although obviously it will be up to the courts to decide.

Mike Nilsen:

Re: The first is that (corporations) will not consider, or give adequate weight to, potential ecological downsides from their products.

Agreed. I am not against regulation by governments to protect the environment. But I think the anti-GM extremists are not the bests ones to consider these issues honestly either.

Skeptico:
In most cases here you have done an admirable job of trying to understand your critics. But the connection is not yet noise-free. For example, you will recall that I objected to your statement in the earlier post that


The true (short) version is that Schmeiser stole the seeds.

on the grounds that Schmeiser was actually sued for infringing Monsanto's Canadian patent.


Above, you say


But even if Monsanto did break any laws, this would not mean that Schmeiser somehow magically didn’t steal the seeds anymore.

Now, I realize that "stealing" is a figure of speech commonly used as shorthand for infringement of copyright or patent. In many instances, this use is not misleading and thus unobjectionable. But a large part of this dispute is precisely about whether what Percy Schmeiser did ought to be punishable as a matter of public policy. As one commenter noted above, many contract provisions are considered injurious to some public interest, and for that reason are unenforceable (think indentured servitude). Monsanto's technology contracts with farmers might not be a good model for the future -- and that issue is distinct from whether GM crops are dangerous. Many people believe that patenting organisms is a bad thing generally. You are not one of them, as you made clear in your response to Matthew above. Let me suggest that you extend that clarity by avoiding misleading terms such as "stealing" in connection with Percy Schmeiser's offense -- especially since your post is all about the use of deceptive language by anti-GM activists.

jre:

Thanks for your comments.

IMO Schmeiser did far more than just violate a patent when he replanted the seeds and sprayed his crops with Roundup – I really think that denotes a degree of deliberate dishonesty that is pretty close to theft. However, I agree the language may be inflammatory and counter-productive and so in the interests of more light and less heat I agree not to use words like stealing when I refer to Schmeiser. I will just say I don’t regard him as the innocent farmer beaten up by Monsanto, as he is often portrayed.

Since you started this article off with my quote, I feel compelled to reply. The point that I was trying to make was simply that you can't just dismiss any well earned distrust of the corporations involved in GM by labeling it as anti-corporation / anti-capitalism.

For the record, I support the enhancement of the worlds food supply with GM technology like golden rice, but I don't trust Monsanto or any other corporation any farther that I could spit a rat. I earned my distrust of Monsanto the old fashioned way, by working for them and being invited to enable a little historical sales data editing in their datawarehouse. The numbers were accurate, but they were not the same as the higher numbers that they had been reporting for the previous years. Perhaps I am to harsh to judge the corporation by my experience of their willingness to deliberately missrepresent facts.

If believing that a corporation's loyalties lie with creating profits for its shareholders and not altruistically with the general public good makes me "anti-corporation" then I guess I am stuck with that label.

I am not against regulation by governments to protect the environment. But I think the anti-GM extremists are not the bests ones to consider these issues honestly either.
I would say that extremists of any stripe are not the best ones to consider these issues honestly. The voices of tree hugging eco-freaks and Monsanto shills with stock options should both be taken with large grains of salt in these discussions, representing as they do the extreme ends of the spectrum.

I agree that there is a lot of unscientific woo-woo crapola presented by the hardcore anti-GM crowd in the support of their quixotic cause, but that does not mean that Monsanto or any other corporation should be blindly trusted when they disseminate their own propaganda about the safety of their products. Does Agent Orange ring any bells?

Cheers,

Naked Ape

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search site