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For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease

Most readers are aware of the benefits of using vaccines to boost the immune system and prevent infectious disease. Many readers will not be aware of a very different disease prevention tool: supplementing…

In places like Indonesia, where white rice is a staple food, vitamin deficiency is a serious problem – especially for children. Shreyans Bhansali

Most readers are aware of the benefits of using vaccines to boost the immune system and prevent infectious disease. Many readers will not be aware of a very different disease prevention tool: supplementing vitamins in crops through genetic modification (GM).

Anti-science opposition to both is rife; to save lives, that opposition has to stop.

The disease-prevention benefits of supplemental vitamin A were accidentally discovered in 1986 by public health scientists. They were working to improve nutrition in the villages of Aceh, Indonesia, where families are heavily dependent on rice as their main source of nutrition.

These scientists discovered that simple supplementation of infant diets with capsules containing beta-carotene (a natural source of vitamin A) reduced childhood death rates by 24%.

White rice is a very poor source of vitamin A, so the people of Aceh (like millions of poorer people in large regions of the world) suffered from vitamin A deficiency. This impaired proper development of their biological defences against infection.

We now better understand vitamin A deficiency as a disease of poverty and poor diet, responsible for near two million preventable deaths annually. It is mostly children under the age of five and women who are affected.

Many other studies carried out in several Asian, African and Latin American countries reveal the health benefits of beta-carotene supplementation in the diets of people subsisting on vitamin A-deficient staple foods.

Global map showing regions with vitamin A deficiency. Wikimedia Commons

Rejecting science

Small wonder then that scientists internationally were outraged at the recent wanton sabotage of field trials to evaluate new varieties of rice called Golden Rice. This rice is genetically modified to contain nutritionally beneficial levels of beta-carotene.

In an editorial in the journal Science last week, prominent scientific leaders, including three Nobel prize winners, expressed their dismay and outrage at unethical anti-scientific efforts to prevent introduction of Golden Rice to smallholder farmers in the Philippines:

If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.

Trenchant opposition to vaccines, and opposition to genetically modified crops, are examples of the disturbing and strong anti-scientific sentiment in many modern countries. They share some common features.

Both movements flourish among those who reject mainstream science. They rest on misuse and misinterpretation of badly designed experiments, such as those taken to falsely indicate that mercury preservatives in vaccines cause autism.

They include false detection of proteins from GM plants in tissues of pregnant women using invalid protein measurements.

They flourish in news media, which report ill-founded comments. Examples include British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous 1998 press conference about the measles vaccine, and the anti-GM Safe Food Foundation’s press releases about CSIRO’s genetically modified wheat.

These would not pass muster in the professional scientific literature.

Golden rice can save lives. IRRI Images

Selective ‘evidence’

Conspiracy theory abounds in both movements. Anti-GM extremists think support for GM crops results from money by Monsanto. Anti-vaccine true believers say support for vaccines among public health professionals is fuelled by money from manufacturer Merck.

In that sense, both the anti-vaccine and anti-GM extremists are anti-science. Where they part company is in the willingness of anti-GM extremists to actively sabotage and destroy legal scientific experiments designed to address exactly the questions to which activists demand answers.

Even anti-GM activists who profess to respect the scientific method pick and choose which scientific-sounding claims to accept, depending on whether they are compatible with their own personal cultural beliefs and social affiliations.

The hundreds of studies unpinning GM crop safety are ignored. The few studies raising questions about GM crops, almost invariably of questionable quality, are the sole focus of activist attention.

Jessa Latona, the young woman convicted of sabotaging the CSIRO GM wheat trials said that she is

a huge fan of what the CSIRO does in many areas, and particularly on climate change and … yes … but I believe that not all science is equal.

This cultural bias about which science is acceptable is at the root of now considerable harm being caused by unscientific rejection of GM crops and vaccines. Nutrient fortified crops and vaccines can save lives if they are given a fair opportunity.

Some clinics, such as this one in Haiti, provide vitamin A capsules to children, but they can’t cater to the whole developing world. Bread for the World

Long-term effects

Anti-scientific opposition to vaccines is promoting the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough in developed countries such as the USA and United Kingdom, but anti-scientific opposition to GM crops is largely hurting developing countries.

It is denying them much needed opportunities for improvements in health and human welfare, including by reducing risky pesticide use.

Some may say that the movements cause little harm, and that a precautionary approach is needed to prevent harm.

But the history of the anti-vaccine movement, spelt out marvellously in several books by paediatrician Paul Offit and journalist Seth Mnookin, underlies the fallacy of this attitude.

As Paul Offit says in relation to people against vaccination:

doing nothing is doing something.

Doing nothing about vitamin and micronutrient-fortified staple foods in the face of widespread deficiencies in the staple diets of many developing countries is condemning many people to disease-impoverished and tragically shortened lives.

Join the conversation

188 Comments sorted by

  1. Suzanne Crowley

    Artist / Project Officer

    To equate the anti-immunisation position with GM production is a highly provocative statement to no apparent positive end.

    One of the major arguments against GM is not whether it is "good" or "bad" for humans, it is the fact that multi-national companies seek to own plant types and profit from this. In addition decisions to use GM products are frequently imposed on the farming and related communities and consumer communities without consultation.

    It never fails to astound me that because there is no evidence there is no issue. I guess playing in asbestos didn't have any health issues until we discovered the evidence???

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    1. Dylan Horne

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Suzanne Crowley

      To equate 'commercial GM production' with 'scientific GM research' is even worse.

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    2. Elen Shute

      PhD student

      In reply to Suzanne Crowley

      I was about to make a very similar comment. Vaccines against once-common diseases have a demonstrated track record of saving countless lives over many decades. Arguing against this is like claiming the earth is flat.

      GM foods, on the other hand, lacks this track record, and there are many legitimate concerns about their possible socio-economic and environmental impacts, not to mention the risk of reduced overall food security if we end up with monocultures of proprietary strains at the expense of crop genetic diversity.

      The fact that there is an anti-science movement that opposes both is irrelevant to whether the science itself is sound. It is also irrelevant to determining whether GM food is good public policy. You can be a scientist without agreeing that all science should be implemented.

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Elen Shute

      There's obviously no scientific problem with GM food, but there may, indeed, be economic/political problems with the production/control/distribution of GM products by corporations.

      I think there may well be a case to answer under the latter concern, and a sober examination of that issue should not be swept aside by a perfectly reasonably dismissal of the 'scientific' case against, say, the safety of GM foods.

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    4. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      In the case of 'golden rice' I thought it was being made freely available to growers in poorer countries who would be able to reuse the seed as they wished.

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    5. Rachel Jane

      PhD candidate

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      I think you're right: http://www.goldenrice.org/Content3-Why/why3_FAQ.php#Donation

      What has Syngenta donated?
      Syngenta has produced many Golden Rice transgenic events and has identified and selected for donation those with high carotenoid levels and good agronomic characteristics. Seed from these plants and performance data were donated to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. In the summer of 2004 Syngenta also conducted field trials of the first three selected Golden Rice events together with…

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    6. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      That is not consistent with my reading of the license. As I understand it, domestic use does not attract a license payment but if the rice mixes with exports, then the exporting country may become liable for IP payment.
      That distinction may be unimportant if the country does not export or if the license holder does not enforce its claim. Nevertheless, the rice isn't completely free for use as far as I can tell.

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    7. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      See Rachel and Jack's coments below for more detail but, broadly, you're right. However, a single swallow doesn't exactly make a spring.

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    8. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Suzanne Crowley

      Dear Suzanne:

      There is abundant evidence on the safety, environmental benefits and benefits to farmers of GM crops. GM crops have been planted for 16 years, now on some170 million hectares annually planted (10% of the world’s cropland) by more than 12 million farmers. Every major scientific organization in the world has agreed that the commercialized GM crops are safe for food and the environment. The European Commission, for example, based on their own research, at a cost of more than 300…

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    9. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Elen Shute

      Elen, as noted above, there is an extremely strong scientific consenus on the safety of GM crops, even in Europe, and track record of more than 16 years, dating back with safety studies at least 25 years.

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    10. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      So Felix, would you be comfortable with GM crops like virus resistant papayas on the "Big Island" of Hawaii, which were developed by Cornell University and made available essentially for free to growers?

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    11. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Suzanne Crowley

      This article does not equate the anti-immunisation with the anti-GM position. It points out some similarities in the pseudoscientific behavour of the two anti-technology groups, and documents how they form coalitions -- see the link to the Alliance for Health Freedom Australia (AHFA), supported by natural remedy marketer Dr Mercola:

      http://gmopundit.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/australian-coalition-of-woo-pull-their.html

      Thus its easy to link the two-anti categories-- they joined themselves together…

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    12. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to David Tribe

      Hi David,
      "the pseudoscientific behavour of the two anti-technology groups"
      I don't think you're helping your case here re: offending the scientifically-literate people who have reservations to GM technology, and are getting increasingly annoyed that these concerns are not being seriously addressed.
      Your comment above is blatantly calling me, and other scientifically-literate people who share my concerns, "pseudoscientific" and "anti-technology" - there's no other way that a reasonable person could read it.
      Therefore can you please:
      (a) explain specifically in what way I'm being pseudoscientific (to help you out here, my background is in physics but I have a working knowledge of both GM technology and ecology) and anti-technology (LEDs, phase-change materials and dataloggers are some of my favourites but I am especially excited by emerging PV technologies)
      Or (b) explain how I read your comment wrong.
      Cheers.

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    13. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      We said:
      Selective ‘evidence’
      Conspiracy theory abounds in both movements. Anti-GM extremists think support for GM crops results from money by Monsanto. Anti-vaccine true believers say support for vaccines among public health professionals is fuelled by money from manufacturer Merck.

      *In that sense*, both the anti-vaccine and anti-GM extremists are anti-science. Where they part company is in the willingness of anti-GM extremists to actively sabotage and destroy legal scientific experiments designed…

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    14. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to David Tribe

      David,

      I am pleased to hear you don't consider me "anti-science" - that would indeed be a blow to my professional credibility. Plus my friends would need to find a new go-to nerd. But you haven't answered my question - I am sceptical of GM technologies, so where do I fit in your view? Do you accept that a proportion of GM-sceptics (possibly even the majority - has anyone tried to find out?) who share my views?
      "And why is there no condemnation of these groups by the principled GM skeptics?"
      To be honest, if I had to deconstruct every interest group whose views might align to some extent with mine, but for reasons that I don't support, I'd never have time for anything else. These people seems to have a lot of time on their hands. Case in point - check out my blog.

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    15. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna,
      I don't really have an opinion about your views, nor do I think people who are sceptical about GMs are necessarily anti-science.

      If you see yourself as a GM sceptic who is distinct from the anti-science pattern we describe that's wonderful. I'd describe myself as a sceptic about both positions and agnostic about whether GM technology is of value until there is evidence, as proactive at allowing free choice to use technology when there is credible evidence it is beneficial and safe, and…

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  2. Bob Phelps

    Director at Gene Ethics

    Pro-GM warriors Roush and Tribe again promote the fallacy that science is incontestable but that is the hallmark of scientific inquiry. Science is always a work in progress http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_science Conflating public concerns over genetically manipulated crops and vaccines is cheap PR that does them no credit. Robust public and expert discourse on scientific findings, technologies and their commercial products is essential if we are to make our democracy work well and achieve good public policy.

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    1. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bob Phelps

      A predictable comment from professional anti-GM campaigner Bob Phelps.

      This is some of the same logic used by climate change deniers and skeptics. We shouldn't rush to take any action because the scientific analysis might change.

      Like climate change, you'd have to be living under a rock or willfully ignoring the literature and media not to accept that there has been a robust discourse for decades. Like IPCC reports, the results are in, such as in the European government documents I cited above.

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    2. Bob Phelps

      Director at Gene Ethics

      In reply to Richard Roush

      There is a wide diversity of professional opinion among reputable scientists on the safety of GM crops and foods, reflecting the robust methods and values of scientific inquiry where all data is refutable with new and better evidence, insights and understandings

      GM industry claims, that some scientists, commentators, and journalists promote, falsely assert there is a “scientific consensus” on GM safety and that discussion is "over". But science and society do not proceed on the basis of a winner…

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    3. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bob Phelps

      Bob, given that you’ve been a professional campaigner against GM for more than 25 years, we can hardly imagine that you will change your views (in contrast to Mark Lynas), so your claims come as no surprise.

      While it is true that some heretical scientific ideas become mainstream (like climate change), it is characteristic of such ideas that they gain more scientists as supporters over time, not fewer. So it has been with GM crops, with many scientists (including me, in writing to the US EPA) and regulatory agencies skeptical in the 1980’s and 1990s, but no longer, as documented earlier in this Conversation. Ian Plimer is a very reputable geologist, but would you have him determine climate change policy? (google him, folks).

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  3. Bob Phelps

    Director at Gene Ethics

    As the UN's special rapporteur on the right to food, Prof. Olivier de Schutter asserts, there is enough food for all people in the world but it is traded to where it is most profitable, not where it’s most needed. Leading R&D group HarvestPlus aims to ‘biofortify’ rice, cassava, bananas & sweet potato with Vitamin A. But all these staples – 90% of the diet in some communities - are deficient in many essential micronutrients, not just Vitamin A. HarvestPlus admits: "Fruits, vegetables and animal products…

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    1. John Newton

      Author Journalist

      In reply to Bob Phelps

      I was very amused to hear Richard Roush arguing the case for the 'golden banana' – a banana with added beta carotene which converts into Vitamin A transplanted from – wait for it – another banana that already has beta carotene. Here's an interesting idea.

      Why not just grow the banana with the beta carotene where it's needed? Oh, because it's not as interesting.

      And here's another little problem. this kind of reductive science which plucks one micro-nutrient from an environment of thousands of other micro-nutrients is not necessarily going to have the same beneficial effect as the original.

      But hey, it;s more fun to blast genes from one place to another.

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    2. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to John Newton

      You have made a few major assumptions. These include that the banana variety sourcing the genes is satisfactory for the area where it is needed, and that the consumer will eat it. ie general agronomic issues eg day length sensitivity - if any; cold/heat tolerance, water logging tolerance, disease resistance, productivity etc etc; as well as taste and compatibility to the local cuisine.

      Just try making your bread out of any one of the 3 ancestors of bread wheat, or even out of recent recreated…

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    3. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bob Phelps

      Yes, let them eat cake!

      It's amazing that no one in international development and aid agencies didn't fix these problems years ago, it's just about small easily solvable issues like poverty, distribution, and injustice!

      The facts are that increasing urbanisation is making it harder for the poor to access fruits and vegetables. No one is arguing that GM is the only, preferable or final solution to these problems, only that GM can help and improve millions of lives in the nearer term…

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    4. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Newton

      The facts are that vitamin A pills, independent of micro-nutrients, can do the job. They're just too expensive and hard to distribute. Vit A bananas and rice can be grown locally.

      It is actually James Dale who eloquently argues for GM bananas.

      For example, see http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3841115.htm from about 34:34 min, but especially from
      37:54

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    5. John Newton

      Author Journalist

      In reply to John Holmes

      Firstly GMO is not merely an extension of existing breeding systems. nowhere in traditional breeding is a gene exteacted from one species and forcibly inserted in another: that is one of the great lies of the biotech industry.

      Secondly my local baker sells loaves made from kamut, einkorn and spelt, three of the pre-hybrid wheat varieties. Doesn't seem to have any problems with them at all.

      and i really don't get the point of your celery example. Yes, that particular variety caused problems. I have book, Genetic roulette, which outlines dozens of cases of adverse effects from genetic modification. With references. Get hold of a copy.

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    6. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to John Newton

      In reply to John Newton

      Perhaps I used a wrong example re the hexaploid we refer to as bread wheat. Udon noodles may be better. Got to get the right formula that they nicely slide down the throat when enjoying them. Good little earner if you can grow and market the right varieties.

      Re genes from other sources, I understand that some novel flower colors and patterns in tulips are due to the presence of genetic material originating from viruses. Do we ban these as well?

      I do not…

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    7. Bob Phelps

      Director at Gene Ethics

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Do not sneer Rick, at our concerns about corporate control of the global food supply. There is plenty of food but it is traded for speculative profit, not to where it's needed. 2.3 million Australians are food insecure, 45 million Americans are on Food Stamps, and 800 million Indians now have their food government subsidised. The food system is broken, globalisation is making things worse, and solutions are urgently needed. As Simran Sethi showed in her talk that you chaired, the loss of cultivars…

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    8. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bob Phelps

      Bob, “sneer”? Jack Heinemann, does this meet your “intemperate language” test?

      Bob, look to Australia. Are farmers most concerned about control of seeds? No, they’re concerned about control at the level of sales, eg, milk prices, Coles, Woolworths, Cargill, ADM, etc. And so it is globally. Monsanto is not behind food insecure Australians, Food Stamps, or the Indian poor; no point invoking them as the bogeyman.

      I invite people of diverse interests to give lectures in my faculty; I don’t agree with all of them.

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    9. John Newton

      Author Journalist

      In reply to David Tribe

      Excuse the belated reply - hope you're still reading. I've bookmarked that review you mention, and had a look at only one section - that on Arpad Pusztai. Another example of a furious campaign to discredit a report of negative findings about GM - and the messenger. Please explain this

      In 1999, dismissed from the Rowett Institute after 35 years, Arpad Pusztai sent his paper on the GM potato to The Lancet, which sent it to six scientists for peer review. The paper passed their scrutiny, and was…

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  4. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    "One of the major arguments against GM is not whether it is "good" or "bad" for humans, it is the fact that multi-national companies seek to own plant types and profit from this."

    It has been recognised for a long time, long before the advent of recombinant DNA and modern molecular biotechnology, even before the discovery of DNA itself, that novel varieties of plants and animals that have been engineered through human labour can represent a form of intellectual property that deserves to be protected…

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    1. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Luke Weston

      The historic types of IP instruments applied to agriculture and which cover the products of breeding including the use of mutagenesis have little in common with the IP instruments being applied to GM. It is in my view naïve or misleading to imply that because they have similar sounding names they have a long history of use in agriculture.

      The IP instrument applied to GM is the process patent. The strictest kind of IP instrument prior to the introduction of process patents in agriculture protected…

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  5. Madeleine Love

    logged in via Twitter

    "The disease-prevention benefits of supplemental vitamin A were accidentally discovered in 1986 by public health scientists. "

    Surely Tribe and Roush aren't meaning to frame a sentence the way that line actually reads?

    Drop into this study from 1934 - "Vitamin A Deficiency in Children - Part I"
    Archives of Disease in Childhood; HMM Mackay; Dated April 23, 1934
    http://adc.bmj.com/content/9/50/65.full.pdf

    As a result of all the animal studies in vitamin A over the early decades of the 20th…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Madeleine Love

      Mad,
      Note there is a word limit and qualifying words were difficult to fit in, and you will see by 1986 the Sumatra study linked to, "450 villages in northern Sumatra were randomly assigned to either participate in a vitamin A supplementation scheme (n = 229) or serve for 1 year as a control (n = 221). 25 939 preschool children were examined at baseline and again 11 to 13 months later." the new finding refers to the population of young children in Aceh.

      The abstract linked to indeed acknowledges…

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  6. Madeleine Love

    logged in via Twitter

    "These scientists discovered that simple supplementation of infant diets with capsules containing beta-carotene (a natural source of vitamin A) reduced childhood death rates by 24%."

    There are wildly varying savings in death rates from Vitamin A, ranging from zero through to ~50%, seemingly dependent on whether the children had been immunized for measles and whether particular epidemics went through the study populations during the trial period. See Latham reference in post below.

    Jones et al attributed potential saving of lives from vitamin A at no more than 3% of all deaths. "How many child deaths can we prevent this year?" Lancet 2003; 362: 65–71 http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/pdfs/lancet_child_survival_prevent_deaths.pdf

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  7. John Rutherford

    Worker

    Modifying the genetics of anything is screwing with nature.And nature and the universe have been here for billions of years.We have been here for a couple of thousand years I see the knowledge and ability to be able to do Genetic modifications to anything as being liken to a teenager being given a gun.He knows that it might cause harm if used and could even have unforeseen consequences.But individually he feels it gives him power and control. We know the young are slow to learn

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    1. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to John Rutherford

      "Modifying the genetics of anything is screwing with nature."
      I think this reaction is actually at the bottom of a lot of discomfort with GM crops. It's the 'yuk factor' of thinking that someone might have mucked about with my food in ways I don't understand.
      As it happens I have a fair bit of familiarity with the technology and consequently feel pretty comfortable with it, probably more so than if I did not have the relevant background. I am probably also more conscious than most of the public…

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    2. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to John Rutherford

      I would suggest the story of the Garden of Eden does encapsulate some of your concerns. We are not god's with complete understanding. Yet associated with that story is the concept that we are also thinking creative beings who should be stewards of the Earth and as such should go carefully.

      Consider also the fire culture as implemented by the Aboriginals here in Australia.

      Bit of die off if we are to go back to the time when humans did not significantly impact the environment. No more dogs or any domesticated animals either.

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    3. John Rutherford

      Worker

      In reply to Peter Campbell

      It is the long term consequences that concern most people and the unforseen. Do you think any of the Co execs have their families used as guinea pigs over 40 or so yrs.No just take the money and run

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    4. John Rutherford

      Worker

      In reply to John Holmes

      A lot of people innately know that some things are best left alone.It is not a fear but a knowingness that it is at it`s best as provided by nature.It is about our basic food supply 1st .

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    5. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to John Rutherford

      John, we've been screwing with nature to grow food for at least 10,000 years, one of the most dramatic examples being corn, which was intensively selected for at least 5000 years and looks nothing like its wild ancestor, teosinte.

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  8. Madeleine Love

    logged in via Twitter

    "We now better understand vitamin A deficiency as a disease of poverty and poor diet"

    Some people 'now' better understood that back in 1934. Quoting from HMM Mackay again from the Archives of Diseases of Childhood, (see 2 posts below)

    "Xerophthamia and keratomalacia appear only to have been recorded in
    children living on extremely ill-balanced diets, or in breast-fed babies whose
    mothers were on such diets. So that in human beings a diet sufficiently
    lacking in vitamin A to cause xerophthalmia…

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  9. Madeleine Love

    logged in via Twitter

    "Trenchant opposition to vaccines, and opposition to genetically modified crops, are examples of the disturbing and strong anti-scientific sentiment in many modern countries. "

    What an interesting attempt at analogy to draw in this particular case, since it seems that immunisation for measles is the major way to eliminate most vitamin-A related deaths in the current state of world health where the extreme conditions of xerophthalmia and keratomalacia are reported to be extremely rare.

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Madeleine Love

      If you look at the medical literature , its not just measles that is prevented by vitamin supplementation. Gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases are also prevented. Additionally, vitamin A is needed to prevent a compromised immune system, and thus is very compatible with ensuring vaccines for measles and other diseases can maximally effective.

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  10. Madeleine Love

    logged in via Twitter

    "Where they part company is in the willingness of anti-GM extremists to actively sabotage and destroy legal scientific experiments..."

    Interesting tack... farmers wishing to protect their crops from the genetic outflow from golden rice are now being called 'anti-GM extremists'. The developing world is fully awake to the PR antics of the GM industry and their golden rice regulatory Trojan Horse. Further, vitamin A seems to be barely a problem in the Philippines according to this 2010 comment…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Madeleine Love

      Mad,
      People who vandalise legal public health related research, such as the Philippine Golden Rice vandals, and the criminal Greenpeace employees involved in destroying the CSIRO wheat trial in Australia, are misguided extremists.

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    2. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to David Tribe

      People who contaminate public and private lands with impunity, such as the biotech vandals, and demolish their victims' non-GM status, are misguided extremists.

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  11. Madeleine Love

    logged in via Twitter

    "The hundreds of studies unpinning GM crop safety are ignored. "

    I'd be really interested to know which 'hundreds of studies' the authors think underpin GM crop safety. Because if they happen to be referring to the studies in the grossly overhyped list on the GENERA database I assure you they are not being ignored, and have these comments already prepared, beginning

    "Promoters of GM food and crops tend to cite this list as an enormous collection of studies demonstrating the human food safety…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Madeleine Love

      Madeleine
      Here another source to support the hundreds of studies assessment
      REVIEW ARTICLE
      An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety
      Research
      Crit Rev Biotechnol, Early Online: 1–12
      ! 2013 Informa Healthcare USA, Inc. DOI: 10.3109/07388551.2013.823595
      Alessandro Nicolia, Alberto Manzo, Fabio Veronesi, and Daniele Rosellini

      Table 1. Classification of 1783 scientific records on GE crop safety published between 2002 and 2012.
      Topic No. of papers
      General literature (GE gen) 166
      Interaction of GE crops with the environment (GE env) 847
      Biodiversity 579
      Gene flow 268
      Gf – Wild relatives 113
      Gf – Coexistence 96
      Gf – Horizontal gene transfer in soil 59
      Interaction of GE crops with humans and animals (GE food&feed) 770
      Substantial equivalence 46
      Non-targeted approaches to equivalence assessment 107
      GE food/feed consumption 312
      Traceability 305

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  12. Lisa Hodgson

    Director

    I think Rick Roush showed his hand tonight on #qanda by referencing monsanto's generosity. Two words that wouldn't normally meet in the same sentence. I am in no way anti science. What I am against is abuse of the scientific method as is so common when it comes to GMO research. Here's a scientific view on golden rice. "Conclusion

    In conclusion, the ‘golden rice’ project was a useless application, a drain on public finance and a threat to health and biodiversity. It is being promoted in order to…

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    1. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Lisa, the fact is that Monsanto and other GM companies have given GM technology away where the applications are for subsistence farming rather than commercial ag.

      Further challenging the factual accuracy of Lisa's post, Monsanto and the others are not financially bankrupt. Check their stock prices.

      CaMV is broadly accepted as safe, and of course most of us unwittingly regularly eat it in cauliflower; it is from cauliflower mosaic virus.

      Like the IPCC for climate change, it is not the number…

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  13. Stephen Prowse

    Research Advisor at Wound CRC

    I also do not think it is useful to conflate arguments about vaccination and GM products. Having said that, the authors seem to be making an indirect comment about increasing trends to make policy based on ideology and belief rather than information. Is this not anti-science but non-science? Maybe nonsense might be a better description.

    As with all developments, the focus needs to be on the product, not the technology. All new products have risks and benefits. In an ideal world, their introduction into society should be based on an assessment of the risks and benefits. We do not seem to do this very well with the shrillest voices and deepest pockets usually winning. Vaccines and GM products should be regarding in no different light to any other new product. GM crops do present social and agronomic issues that are no different from any other new crop developed by genetic selection through conventional plant breeding.

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  14. David Oakenfull

    food scientist

    The authors accuse those opposing the introduction of GM foods of 'rejecting science'. But what's the quality of this science? Do we have truly independent studies? Unfortunately, it's impossible to be sure that genetically modified crops actually perform as advertised because the science may have been corrupted.

    As the Scientific American noted a few years ago (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research), independent scientists are required to ask the big seed corporations for permission before publishing research on GM crops. Consequently it's likely that only those studies that the seed corporations have approved that ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal.

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    1. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to David Oakenfull

      Agreed. Products sold in the public domain, should be available for R&D with out restrictions. Otherwise I cannot quote/reference or use as a basis for my benefit with appropriate references any copyrighted publication in my papers/articles etc with out the permission of the copyright holder.

      Companies and copyright holders must also acknowledge that their ownership exists as that privilege has been granted and respected by the community as part of a social contract with that community. Works both ways.

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    2. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Oakenfull

      I've published several papers on GM crops in leading peer reviewed journals and never asked for nor was required to seek permission from anybody. The results, especially on how to delay resistance to Bt in insects, and how we took the implications to agencies like the US EPA, were not popular with at least some of the companies.

      There is no doubt that companies have done themselves no favors over this issue, and I have told them so directly. That said, for 8 years, I worked in the same department as Elson Shields, the entomologist at Cornell University who led these claims, and frankly feel that Elson has exaggerated the problems.

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  15. Kirsten Larsen

    Manager, Food Systems Research and Partnerships at University of Melbourne

    Hmmm, challenge is that it's very difficult to separate 'science' from 'power' and 'money' and pesky cultural factors like 'self-determination'. Here's another view on the supposedly 'wanton sabotage' of Golden Rice field trials, from the Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development . . (full response at http://masipag.org/2013/09/masipag-upholds-farmers-action-against-the-golden-rice-field-trials/)

    "Worse, Golden Rice promoters label the farmers who asserted their right to health and balanced…

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    1. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Kirsten Larsen

      Kirsten has quoted an anti-GM activist group involved in the raid.

      How about an independent source?

      "Contrary to reports circulated by outlets such as the New York Times to New Scientist, the Aug. 9 attack of a genetically modified rice field in the Philippines was not carried out by 400 angry farmers, but rather a group of 50 anti-GMO activists."

      see http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/conservation-and-development/the-real-story-of-the-anti-gmo-activists-attack-in-philippines/ including photos.

      This supports the statement in the Science editorial we cite,
      "Billed as an uprising of farmers, the destruction was actually carried out by protesters trucked in overnight
      in a dozen jeepneys."

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    2. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Kirsten Larsen

      A petition mostly among scientists in support of Golden Rice at change.org now has drawn nearly 6100 supporters.

      You can see all the comments from the petition signers https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxXxn0qh5nntVERJVzRWWjM0bEU/edit?usp=sharing

      You can also see the list of all 6099 signatures at https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxXxn0qh5nntc0ZyNHhnZnB4VUE/edit?usp=sharing

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  16. Lorna Jarrett

    Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

    Your problem is this: it's clear to an intelligent audience that there is more than one way of enhancing dietary beta-carotene (or reducing pesticide use in fibre production, or whatever the raison-d'etre for the product is), and on the face of it, GM rice (or Bt cotton or whatever) isn't likely to be the cheapest, simplest, most acceptable to the target market, energy efficient, soil and water-conserving, sustainable and ecologically benign.

    By resorting to ad hominen attacks rather than addressing this plethora of valid concerns, you're raising the suspicion that you don't have any responses to these valid concerns.

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    1. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Not sure where you are coming from here?

      I would suggest that you cannot sell more expensive or less effective systems to farmers over the medium to long term. Seen many try this, but they tend not to last. There is just too much economic pressure not to take the most efficient option. Also consider the impact of other nations agricultural subsidies on Australian farmers.

      When we changed our tillage systems from multiple full cut cultivations passes to a single pass systems, wind and water…

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    2. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to John Holmes

      Hi John,

      "I would suggest that you cannot sell more expensive or less effective systems to farmers over the medium to long term".

      I'm not a farmer (although I come from a farming background) and I don't live in the USA but I understand that where GM crops have become established there it has become difficult for farmers to exercise choice, for a number of reasons. If GM products are actually reliably superior to (all the many) other options, in all soils, climates, disease contexts etc. then there would be no need to aggressively push GM - or to label dissenters as "unscientific".

      I'm not sure who you're referring to by destructive Imperialism.

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    3. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna,
      Are you aware of the several studies showing biofortification (eg Golden Rice) may be the most cost effective remedy for addressing vitamin A deficiency? An GM is not necessarily hugely expensive. Its the excessive regulatory demands that make the costs pile up.

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    4. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Hi Lorna

      Thanks

      Rae Fry's note further down encapsulates some of what I refer to. We must have good community accountability in the system to ensure that minimal harm is done, yet at the same time you make your claim, it must be demonstrated. Can be a bit of a problem when we are in a post-modern world mind set.

      My wife runs a small NGO in Kolkata. Considering the last 3000 or so years of history of the sub continent, I feel it can be summarized as one Imperium after another. The…

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    5. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to John Holmes

      Thanks John.
      I found Rae's comment very interesting - and very telling. Could it be that the majority of those opposed to GM are concerned with the ecological and political aspects of GM, rather than the technology itself at a molecular level?
      Physicists are as guilty as anyone of thinking they understand "how the world works" - at the expense of the big, untidy things like sociology and politics that we can't express in formulae.
      I suspect that until GM researchers have the same problem. They're so excited about their particular technology and using it to solve problems that they don't step back to look at the wider context. This could be why we keep getting these "pseudo-science" comments - they haven't yet grasped the idea that what we're concerned about is not what they think we're concerned about.

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  17. Vacunas Autismo

    logged in via Facebook

    Distrust of corporate propaganda is twisted into "anti-scientific sentiment. Well done, shills.

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  18. Jack Heinemann

    Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

    Hunger and malnutrition are serious issues. This article does no credit to the seriousness of the issue by contriving and connecting different topics to attempt to promote a specific technological solution to a problem that has outlived many attempts at technological solutions.

    As other commentators have noted, malnutrition and hunger are being used to frighten people from asking serious and legitimate questions about how they want their food produced without offering sustainable solutions to either hunger and malnutrition in general or to vitamin A deficiency in particular.

    Malnutrition and hunger have been with human society since it first evolved about 50,000 years ago. GM has been with us for about 20 years. Resistance to GM, whether that resistance be based on social or scientific reasons, has not prevented us from solving the problem.

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      "malnutrition and hunger are being used to frighten people from asking serious and legitimate questions"

      That's how you see it Jack. I just see them as serious issues which deserve open minded evidence based consideration and new approaches to remedies may contribute to continuing the progress we have already made.

      " without offering sustainable solutions to either hunger and malnutrition in general or to vitamin A deficiency in particular."

      This is an assumption, not a fact. It can be tested…

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  19. Jack Heinemann

    Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

    Part 1
    Maldistribution of wealth is the major cause of malnutrition (including Vit A deficiency) and hunger. The so-called “GM opposition” has not stood in the way of addressing the causes of poverty.

    Meanwhile, science-based ecological farming methods show a far greater potential to address the underlying causes of poverty. This is especially so for poor farmers in Africa and the smallholder farming communities most vulnerable to malnutrition and hunger because of food distribution issues…

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  20. Jack Heinemann

    Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

    Part 2
    Poor soil and water management are the key limitations to yield and crop diversity. The so-called “GM opposition” has not prevented efforts to apply science-based ecological methods to improving soil and water conditions in poor countries.

    Plants will not produce the nutrients that are in short supply if they have poor and dessicated soil to grow in. We are still confined by basic soil science facts. Soil is the source of the micronutrients plant need and extract. They need these to thrive…

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    1. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Hello Jack

      Re trace elements (TE). Have you visited Western Australia and seen how some of the best soils ever to be seen in an 'Hour Glass' are farmed? (Description of some WA soils from the mid 1800's.)

      Agreed nutrient deficiencies can be the difference between a good crop or no crop. Grew up on a new land farm. Yet once identified, fixing deficiencies can be fairly easy and relatively low in cost. Sure we use soil tests/plant tissue tests to check for problems. For Cu we used to…

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    2. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      It's good to hear your enthusiasm for these issues, which I share. But what I don't understand is if your arguments are so cogent, why you need to attempt to suppress and effectively ban or force into stagnation by delay,alternative approaches to the ones you favour. Can't we work out the merits by seeing how they compare in action and learn from practical experience.

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  21. Jack Heinemann

    Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

    Part 3
    Substituting a monoculture of rice for a biofortified monoculture of rice raises interesting environmental risk issues. For example, what other crop pests or pathogen vectors are limited by dietary sources of beta-carotene? How much more vulnerable would such a monoculture of rice be?

    In contrast, science-based ecological agriculture applied to smallholder farmers would be able to use mixed cropping and within crop diversity to generate several options for farmers. This approach minimises the risk of farmers to become dependent on expensive and damaging chemical pesticides, because no single plant type is grown as a monoculture.
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13593-013-0147-8

    It is not the so-called ‘GM opposition’ that is holding back public research and investment in poverty busting ecological agricultural research and implementation in poor countries. Much the opposite I suspect.

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Susceptibility to pests can be worked out in field tests. This is exactly the type of information being threatened by vandalism carried out by anti-GM extremists which this article deplores.

      I am all in favour of poverty busting agricultural research and openminded about what should be tackled. Also I'd like to see the barriers to such work minimised.

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  22. Lise Trimble

    educator

    Roush and Tribe are quick to label disagreement with their way of thinking as ‘anti’ something. If you disagree you must be ‘anti’.

    Fascinating how they accuse others of selective use of the literature. In alluding to the CSIRO dsRNA wheat risk assessments (http://bit.ly/17AtmZs), they forget to tell their readers that it was subsequently published following full anonymous peer-review in the top journal Environment International (free here: http://bit.ly/14i7pyG). That the environmental risk assessment…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lise Trimble

      Lise,
      You mention the Environmental International Review by Heinemann and colleagues. Our comments were directed at statements in press releases and an associated non-peer reviewed internet report, later corrected, by a revised report in the light of valid criticism.

      The claims were made using a totally unrealistic DNA search sequence that exaggerated possible problems by several orders of magnitude.

      These non-peer reviewed reports made claims not appearing in the peer reviewed report that you mention.

      I feel comfortable commenting outside peer review on exaggerated claims that have not passed through the peer-review process.

      Are you saying that expression of scientific opinion is not allowed in public debate?

      By the way, why do you say "interesting" and "fascinating". The sarcasm is palpable but its not clear why you bring it to this forum.

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    2. Lise Trimble

      educator

      In reply to David Tribe

      David, you have made misleading statements on the context, purpose and finding of Heinemann's report. Perhaps we would be more convinced if you and Roush demonstrated competence on the matter in the international peer-reviewed scientific literature, rather than only speaking on the topic of dsRNA in blogs or in the media.

      First, you mislead readers by saying that the reports were not peer reviewed when you know that they were. The peer review was done just like the Office of Gene Technology does…

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    3. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lise Trimble

      Lise:

      I may get around to the rest of your post later if I can find time, but I am an experienced molecular geneticist in high level peer review journals and have been for more than a decade. See below. Reviewing dsRNA is not rocket science.

      ffrench-Constant, R. H., D. P. Mortlock, C. D. Schaffer, R. J. MacIntyre, and R.T. Roush. 1991. Molecular cloning and transformation of cyclodiene resistance in Drosophila: An invertebrate gamma-aminobutyric acid subtype A receptor locus. Proc. Nat…

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    4. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lise Trimble

      Lise
      http://gmopundit.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/gmo-wheat-and-shouting-fire-in-crowded.html

      The non peer reviewed claims I referred to (see link) preceded in time the real peer-vetted publication you refer to. It is not misleading to state the truth that they were internet reports with errors made prior to the final peer-reviewed study in which the original claims I am referring to were conspicuously missing.

      The omitted claims include claims concerning similarity to human sequences based…

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  23. Jeremy Tager

    Extispicist

    Conflation of anti-immunisation and anti-GM is pretty intellectually cheap. And to conflate opposition to certain technologies with anti-science sentiment is even worse.. Add to that the reality that solving VAD is a political and distribution problem (and not a very expensive one). Annual vitamin A injections are estimated to cost around 8 cents a year. Farmers with irrigated rice fields can be taught to grow leafy vegetables - obviating any need for intervention. But so-called golden rice has become…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Jeremy.

      You seem to imply Golden rice is more costly than capsules of vitamin but don't give sources for your claims. Economic studies show that it would perhaps more effective in improving and saving lives than capsules. It also would not need ongoing funding and thus be sustainable.
      See
      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X0700191X
      Genetic Engineering for the Poor: Golden Rice and Public Health in India
      Alexander J. Stein
      University of Hohenheim (490b), Stuttgart…

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    2. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Aside from title he gives himself, Jeremy is a former professional anti-GM activist from Greenpeace.

      Think about this folks. Injections for just 8 cents a year? 8 cents wouldn't cover the labor costs of lining the kids and mothers up to inject them!

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  24. Rae Fry

    logged in via Twitter

    I have great respect for agronomists and anti-anti-vaccination advocates. But like some others here, and Rod Lamberts in another piece on The Conversation today,* I don’t think it’s helpful to label the opposition as “anti-science”.

    Years ago, when I was a science journalist for ABC Radio, I did an interview series with the lay panellists of a consensus conference (or ‘citizens’ jury’) on GM foods, organised by the Australian Consumers’ Association.

    The panellists had no scientific training…

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    1. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Rae Fry

      Rae, as part of a 20 year effort to engage and listen, I was also at the Consensus conference. I found it very frustrating, because so much of the event was stage managed, and the conversations one way. We also need non-scientists to be reciprocally willing to engage and listen the scientists. It does take both sides to have a conversation.

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    2. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Rae Fry

      Rae,

      Perhaps you should tell Rod to not use the term anti-science in his heading. He's endorsing its use there.

      I understand where you are coming from though. I don't like being labelled Pro-GM and would prefer to be GMO agnostic in my statement . Public communication in the media often forces black and white terms to be used. People need to know your basic message quickly. There is not a lot of room for nuance. And you should ask yourself who is the intended audience for this article?

      The challenge in journalism is to get the readers to engage with the topic, and calling a spade a human-designed agricultural lever doesn't help.

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    3. Rae Fry

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Sorry I did not remember your name from the consensus conference! It was quite a long time ago :)
      Very interesting to me that you remembered the event so differently. I was with the panellists in all this lead up sessions and I really felt there was genuine communication and learning. Curious to know whether you have ever had any two way conversations that you feel have allowed both scientists and non scientists to genuinely listen and engage, especially on a topic with some controversy attached? If so, what kind of event, how did it work and what do you think were the factors that made it successful? I work in public health now and I there are so many issues where we need that kind of engagement (with policy makers as well as citizens). Do you think these kinds of online discussions make a difference? (Are we talking to anybody but the people who already agree with us and the people that never will? Cheeky question).

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    4. Rae Fry

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Tribe

      Derek,

      You are right, the media (especially the traditional media) has conventions that make nuance quite difficult.

      So - who was the intended audience for your article? Did you think much about your choice of the term "anti-science"? I'd be interested to hear the thinking behind it. Has it achieved the reaction you were after? (Certainly got some engagement/attention for the issues?)

      I would also be interested to hear your views on the question I put to Richard above, I.e. what kinds of forums, discussions, events have you been a part of that you feel have helped both sides of a controversial issue listen to and engage with the other? I am usually a bit of a lurker on social media and I'm still trying to decide whether these kinds of conversations help - what do you think?

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    5. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Rae Fry

      Rae
      We were approached to write the article, and "anti-science" was a term given to us in that brief.

      Quite possibly it was intended to ensure "newsworthiness" by the editorial staff.

      The key event that triggered the brief to us was sabotage of rice field trials in the Philippines by activists, and a response by 11 scientific leaders. Yesterday a similar sabotage event occurred with GM papaya fields in Hawaii. The term "anti-science" is a very mild way of describing such actions. There is…

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    6. Rae Fry

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Tribe

      David,

      Thanks for the context on your brief and your intended audience - all makes more sense to me now.

      I guess I'm still not convinced that anti-GM and anti-vaccine activists are primarily driven by an anti-science sentiment - they may well be anti-science but I'm not sure that's at the heart of it.

      Sad news about the further crop destruction. Thank you to you and Richard for the time and effort you have put in to responding to the many comments on your article. It's been an interesting read.

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    7. Simon Batterbury

      Associate Professor at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Rae Fry

      I am an academic driven by concern for agrarian societies in some of the poorest countries of the world, and I have spent long periods working in a few, notable Burkina FAso. I am unconvinced by pro-GM arguments (I have to take GM pharm to survive - no choice in that, but also not happy). The possible health effects of GM foods are the least important.If these emerge, we will soon know - and lawsuits will shut down the industry. Environmental concerns and the really, really unpleasant capitalist…

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    8. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Simon Batterbury

      Dear Simon,
      like you I deplore the polarisation of this discussion and see your civilised and very welcome comments as an opportunity for a real conversation that has long been delayed by the red herrings of alleged lack of safety of genetically modified crops and the falsehood that they are not evaluated carefully. It is a pity that is taken so many unnecessary extra years of hard efforts to communicate the science before the public in general starts getting the message of exactly how much evidence…

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  25. Melody Butler

    logged in via Twitter

    It’s a shame that those, deeply rooted in pseudoscience and misinformation, can have such a strong influence over the advancement of science and our community. They lack the lack and experience of witnessing the people in third world country desperate for vaccines and for healthy food. Anti-GMOs and Anti-vaccination advocates are lucky to have the option to opt out of such opportunities and not face the fire consequences. Ah, the luxury of ignorance!

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    1. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Melody Butler

      Melody, I wonder if you can explain how your comments above apply to me. To help you out, here's a bit of information about me:
      - I have one pure science degree, one applied science degree (with a major in soil science) and two science education degrees.
      - I have travelled and worked with NGOs in rural India, Indonesia and North Africa.
      - I have been vaccinated against more diseases than I can remember (some were a travel requirement, some - like rabies - a precaution.
      - I am broadly opposed to GM crops for the reasons that Rae Fry eloquently set out above - only unlike the panelists she describes, I started out deeply rooted in both scientific discipline knowledge and process.
      Looking forward to your reply.

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  26. MADGE Australia Inc

    logged in via Twitter

    I did a really long post on this article detailing the scientists that have concerns about GM. It seems to have disappeared. Can someone find it and repost it or do I have to type it all out again?

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    1. Lisa Hodgson

      Director

      In reply to MADGE Australia Inc

      Here it is MADGE, it was posted on the other thread:

      "To change anti-science activists' minds, go beyond science"

      "What this article fails to notice is that lots of people raising issues with GM are...........SCIENTISTS.

      The biotech/GM industry smears them because, of course, all of them are rubbish at science. Including Dr Arpad Pustzai (biochemist and nutritionist) who won a tender to test GM potatoes. He thought they'd be fine and that the Rowett Research Institute where he worked would…

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    2. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Dear MADGE

      Mae Wan Ho has odd ideas even about Darwinian evolution.
      Huber is not supported by his colleagues http://www.apsnet.org/members/outreach/ppb/positionstatements/Pages/FebruaryLetter.aspx

      I’ve already replied to the Philippine farmers claim and to Suzuki.

      Chapela ? Chapela was tenured on a research record that would never have gotten me across the line at Berkeley. As a former employee of the University of California (2003-06 before I moved back to Australia), I can assure you…

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    3. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      “Being found guilty of a crime is not persecution”??? Jack, you need to go back and look at the details of Ernesto Bustamante’s case. He refuted an unsubstantiated claim of illegal transgenic maize in the Peruvian valley of Barranca, was found guilty of defamation, received a one-year suspended PRISON sentence and could not leave Lima without the court's permission. An official study in Peru later found no evidence of transgenic maize crops in the valley of Barranca (http://www.scidev.net/en/latin-america-and-caribbean/news/gm-report-adds-twist-to-peruvian-defamation-case.html

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    4. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      ""Anti-science", "anti-GM", "pro-GM", "shill", "ideologue" are not words used to win an argument by reason or evidence. They are words that manipulate on the emotional level."

      Thoroughly agree Jack, that's what the article is- about - the influence of emotion and cultural persuasion on the opinions and influence of vocal anti-technology sectors in the community. We were commissioned to write about exactly that topic, not the science of GM crops and vaccines, but the intolerant social behaviour…

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    5. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to David Tribe

      Hi David,

      "not words used to win an argument by reason or evidence. They are words that manipulate on the emotional level."

      This is so true. What about words like:
      "anti-technology extremists"
      "intolerant social behaviour"
      "reflexively"
      "perverse"
      "curtails freedom"?

      And another thing - you have repeatedly complained about the existing level of regulation. Do you understand that by calling for even less regulation of GM industries, you are providing ammunition to the scientifically…

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    6. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna,
      Perhaps then, Lorna, if you don't like our choice of words, you could explain where they are wrongly chosen in terms of accuracy. And if they are accurate, why are they not able to be said in public discussion? How would you refer to those who adopt the policy advocacy positions we criticise? And how can we criticise -- without confusing the reader -- what we think causes bad consequences without making critical comments?

      In terms of regulation, the question is which is the best policy…

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    7. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      "I may not like what you say about GM, but even if your language is intemperate, I wouldn’t seek to have you given a criminal conviction"

      How generous of you Rick, since it appears as if you are the one that uses 'intemperate' language. You have invoked such language in the media, referring to scientists as "anti-GM campaigners". You use labels this way in the article above. Your responses to some of those posting below your article occasionally include personal characterisations of them. So I…

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    8. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to David Tribe

      David,
      "Why don't you respect my position on this?"
      I might well ask my students why they don't always show the degree of respect that I might feel entitled to - but I worked out years back how pointless that is. As a teacher I have to earn the respect of my students by being polite and non-confrontational under all circumstances, even when my adolescent students' incomplete hormonal and frontal-lobe development make this quite a challenge.
      "That's not my ethical problem, it's the ethical problem…

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    9. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack,

      Bustamante's conviction was overturned on appeal; published in Nature. Surprised you missed it.

      Peruvian Biologist's Defamation Conviction Overturned

      - Lucas Laursen, Nature, January 12, 2011

      A defamation case that hinges on a dispute over the presence of genetic modification in Peruvian maize crops, and that has attracted international attention, has moved back to square one — with a twist.

      Biologist Ernesto Bustamante Donayre was last April found guilty of defamation — a…

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    10. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna,
      As a teacher of many decades of experience, I find your advice about teaching is very sound. I don’t see a policy commentary as involving a teacher-student relationship though. Your comments involve several assumptions about my arguments and premises I don’t necessarily accept as accurate or fair, and your belief that any language that could be misconstrued as being offensive must be avoided would seem to me to be a recipe for silence about any even mildly contentious issue.

      You seem…

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    11. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack

      Is there any GM crop that you can support? Can you name one? How about virus-resistant GM papayas developed by Cornell University and grown by small landholders in Hawaii?

      I'm often described as a pro-GM campaigner (or other titles), so what's the opposite?

      I note that you have been linked to the Safe Food Foundation
      (safefoodfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/SFF-media-release-SCIENTISTS-WARN-ON-CSIRO-GM-WHEAT-THREAT1.pdf), whose website is dominated by claims against GM.

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    12. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Rick
      Is your response to my pointing out that you use personal insults or intemperate characterisations of people (including me) who disagree with you to now try and understand my point of view, or find some post hoc justification for the language you use?

      Since you asked I'll try to make my point of view clear to you: I don’t buy into the pro and anti language because it isn’t how I see the issue. Those who use this language are 'playing the man and not the ball'.

      I am a genetic engineer…

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    13. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Richard Roush

      "Huber is not supported by his colleagues."

      Good one Richard. Was it your intention to obscure from readers, the fact that Dow, DuPont, BASF, Syngenta, Monsanto and Bayer all contribute to the coffers of the APS?

      Oh and Monsanto is a member of APS' Integrated Plant Disease Management Committee

      and

      Syngenta is a member of APS' Crop Loss Assessment and Risk Evaluation (CLARE) Committee

      and

      Monsanto is a member of APS' Plant Pathogen and Disease Detection Committee

      I could go on but I guess you get the message. It's called "transparency" an ethos valued by the team at TC.

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    14. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      To sustain your conspiracy theory, you’ll need to indict all or nearly all of the plant pathologists and weed scientists in the US, not just the President of their Plant Path society writing on their behalf. Start with people n his own university, www.btny.purdue.edu/weedscience

      The simple fact is that Huber’s made lots of claims, but has offered no evidence! Some of these claims are sensational (including a previously unknown fungal organism the size of a virus that causes diseases in both plants and animals, the likes of which have never before been seen!), but are without support in the scientific community.

      If you feel differently, why not bring us some facts instead of unsubstantiated implications of corruption?

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    15. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Rick
      Review your media statements. I'll not help you repeat insults and accusations. I would expect a Dean of a department at Melbourne to understand the difference between scientific criticism and these things.

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    16. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      "Chapela was tenured on a research record that would never have gotten me across the line at Berkeley. As a former employee of the University of California (2003-06 before I moved back to Australia), I can assure you that no Prof in the UC can lose his job over any comments they make, at least not about GM."

      It is easy to be an 'armchair tenure committee member', issuing judgment from afar. But as I recall, the UC Berkeley Senate found deep flaws in the process conducted by the university of the…

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    17. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack

      “repeat insults and accusations. …. to understand the difference between scientific criticism and these things”???

      To me, it is much more troubling and insulting for someone to claim that “Expert scientists warn that genetically modified wheat may cause Glycogen Storage Disease IV, resulting in an enlarged liver, cirrhosis of the liver, and failure to thrive. Children born with this disease usually die at about the age of 5.”

      http://safefoodfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/SFF-media-release-SCIENTISTS-WARN-ON-CSIRO-GM-WHEAT-THREAT1.pdf

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    18. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack, the fact is, Chapela didn’t lose his job. As noted in the Nature article, there was one member who should have excused himself from the review committee, and the faculty senate overturned the decision. The system was painful, but it worked.

      I’ve served on promotion committees for Associate Professor in the UC, including during the period of Chapela’s troubles. Have you?
      I think that qualifies me as something more than an “'armchair tenure committee member', issuing judgment from…

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    19. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack, I'll ask again a question you didn't answer directly.

      Is there any GM crop that you can support? Can you name one? How about virus-resistant GM papayas developed by Cornell University and grown by small landholders in Hawaii?

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    20. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Richard, if you’ve failed to learn from a previous omission it’s called “undisclosed conflicts of interest.” Universities, dependent on industry funding, but obscuring this fact when publicly smearing a colleague, have zero credibility.

      This is yet another successful strategy of biotech corporations to establish monopoly, not only over the common biological heritage and Congress, but of academia. While the biotech industry feigns concerns for the environment, it is among the foulest air polluters…

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    21. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Shirley:
      I'm just a simple academic, Shirley, your message is a bit obtuse. Can you spell out more clearly what you are trying to tell us?

      You have not demonstrated that biotech industry causes air pollution. Bayer, Dupont, Dow, and BASF all have chemical production separate from their Biotech. Monsanto even in your list (http://www.peri.umass.edu/toxic100/), in contrast, is about 86.

      I encourage people to read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto; though I would add a few more points, it explodes a number of myths and indeed doesn't support your claims.

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    22. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Say Jack, I’ve been meaning to ask you about your “Evaluation of risks from creation of novel RNA molecules in genetically engineered wheat plants and recommendations for risk assessment from 28 August 2012” released via Safe Food.

      Why doesn’t it cite “Regina et al 2006 High-amylose wheat generated by RNA interference improves indices of large-bowel health in rats” (PNAS: 103: 3546–3551) ?

      Doesn’t this paper provide the information that you said you couldn’t find ? (You wrote “The…

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    23. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Richard Roush

      I am a simple messenger who recognises obfuscations when they emerge therefore I endeavour to quash fallacious arguments with facts, albeit to the best of my knowledge. What do you do Sir?

      “You have not demonstrated that biotech industry causes air pollution.”

      Rebuttal (limited examples PERI)

      1) Bayer CropScience:

      Total release of hazardous emissions to air: 527,352 pounds
      Total release of hazardous waste for incineration/off-site disposal: 2,133,495 pounds.

      Mega Criminal Corporation…

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    24. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Shirley:
      The examples you cite are all from agchem companies that have since branched into biotech as science made this a viable and more environmentally friendly alternative to persistent pesticides. Just what toxic wastes do you think emerge from seeds and plants? Soybean processing? That’s part of the food industry.

      The fungicide Benlate (benomyl)? Dropped by Dupont in 2001. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benomyl This website also explains the lawsuits. I knew people directly…

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    25. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      “Regina et al 2006 High-amylose wheat generated by RNA interference improves indices of large-bowel health in rats” (PNAS: 103: 3546–3551) ? Doesn’t this paper provide the information that you said you couldn’t find?"

      You tell me Richard. It might. But I still have some questions.
      1. If CSIRO published in 2006 the actual sequences used in the wheat approved for trial by the regulator doing the risk evaluation – Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) – then why did OGTR consider the sequences…

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    26. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Richard, I did answer your question directly. I said that your characterising the issue as pro and anti was to me a nonsense. It see it as a way to build a platform for ad hominem attacks rather than genuine development of the scientific argument.

      Those serious about risk assessment know that it is done on a case by case basis. I don’t do ‘hypothetical’ risk assessments. The reason for this is that GMOs don’t exist in a vacuum. They have a context. Specific to each is the biology of the organism…

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    27. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Richard,
      I think that Lise Trimble has already fully revealed the mistakes of your arguments on my work in this very thread (comment 225892). But I’ll also address them.
      Readers including fellow scientists have already noted beneath your article with David that you frequently avoid the scientific issues and attempt to use labels and innuendo (i.e., ad hominem) to undermine opinions you don’t agree with while ignoring any similar defect in opinions you do agree with. That pattern repeats in your…

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    28. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Benomyl (on behalf of the eyeless children):

      “Benomyl rapidly degrades to carbendizim (MBC) which is also of toxicological concern. MBC is the primary metabolite of thiophanate methyl, another fungicide, and is also registered as an active ingredient.

      Effects associated with both benomyl and MBC include liver toxicity, developmental toxicity (such as fetal eye and brain malformations and increased mortality), and reproductive (testicular) effects.

      “Both benomyl and MBC are also considered…

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  27. MADGE Australia Inc

    logged in via Twitter

    I realised that I'd published my comment on how many people concerned about GM are scientists on the Rod Lambert Conversation piece on GM. It is a mirror image to this one in its misinformation and sleight of hand.

    Apparently GM is being developed to ease the lot of the poor and malnourished and anti-science activists are all that is standing in the way of this remarkable transformation of the world.

    Perhaps we should see what the poor of the world think about their saviours. 30 groups from…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to MADGE Australia Inc

      "Apparently GM is being developed to ease the lot of the poor and malnourished and anti-science activists are all that is standing in the way of this remarkable transformation of the world."

      MADGE: This is your perception and is misleading hyperbole. Why not try and be accurate.

      These extreme caricatures of the position of those who support access to the technology as a farmer choice issue correspond to no rational or accurate summary of any real serious policy position. It is a comment about a cartoon character.

      "Farmers were among those who uprooted the GM golden rice crops in the Philippines.

      MADGE: Do you have any evidence that real farmers rather than out of town extremists were involved.

      "Are they all deluded or can they spot dangerous technology, corporate greed and neo-colonial control when they see it? ""

      MADGE Good question but why say all? Who claims that, except you, for rhetorical reasons.?

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  28. Lisa Hodgson

    Director

    As the Guardian reports Pro GM scientists work hard at discrediting anything and anyone that might question the safety of GMOs. Obviously ignoring Seralini and his team of scientists' work IS anti science. Real, independent, pro-science scientists wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. Pro-science scientists would be very concerned about their results and would be working hard at replicating their study. Pro-science scientists would be applying the precautionary principle. "Study linking GM maize to cancer must be taken seriously by regulators"
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/28/study-gm-maize-cancer

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Scientists routinely use falsification as a tool to improve their knowledge all the time. Its called the scientific method. Deploying conspiracy theories as a response to scientific criticism is, ipso facto, an anti-science activity. The claim that the claims of Professor Seralini are being ignored is false. Ignoring the scientific criticism of those experiments is not a valid scientific response.

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    2. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Lisa, in defense of your point, you've posted a document that is a year old. Seralini's paper was certainly not ignored; it was reviewed and severely criticised and rubbished by regulatory agencies around the globe. Further, Seralini was criticised for seeking to get publicity for the story by media embargoes that were to prevent scientific comment!

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    3. Lisa Hodgson

      Director

      In reply to David Tribe

      The scientific criticism has not been ignored, it has also been criticised. http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/51-2012/14217-scientists-response-to-critics-of-seralinis-study

      Scientists criticising the criticism of other scientists! Are you suggesting that the initial critics are infallible as opposed to those that responded?

      Moreover, scientific criticism is not falsification. Proper falsification would be achieved by repeating the study and gathering the required evidence to demonstrate that Seralinis findings were false/invalid. There has not been enough time since Seralinis conclusions for this to have occurred; no falsification has been achieved. Have any of Seralinis critiques begun this process or are we now supposed to accept scientific bluster as evidence for falsification?

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    4. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      No, Lisa we should not accept bluster, nor should we take notice of rhetorical handwaving.The first consideration in any experiment is an analysis of the trivial reasons and errors in experimental design. This should occur before the experiment is done, and certainly before it is published. If these flaws still exist the findings become compromised even if the work is published.
      It is the actual criticisms we should be looking at.
      Here is one set
      https://theconversation.com/genetically-modified-corn-and-cancer-what-does-the-evidence-really-say-9746
      Let's talk about these, and examine if they carry some weight. Note that it is bad practice to merely dismiss them because of the author's supposed affiliation with Monsanto, an approach taken by Professor Seralini. We need to grapple with the scientific argument. So tell me where does Ashley get it wrong?

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    5. Lisa Hodgson

      Director

      In reply to David Tribe

      David could you please clarify what you mean by "an analysis of the trivial reasons"? Re the article you linked to, I have already posted a comment there. Interesting that you have outed the author

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    6. Lisa Hodgson

      Director

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Oops cont. Interesting that you have outed the author Ashley Ng as affiliated with Monsanto. No such affiliation was mentioned in his disclosure, and he further writes : "Firstly, let me state clearly that I have no affiliation with the GMO industry" Did he lie about that? Are the Editors of The Conversation aware of this undisclosed conflict?

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    7. Lisa Hodgson

      Director

      In reply to David Tribe

      Oh David, I am seriously embarrassed for you to be linking to a program like that. It was pure propaganda. I particularly like the part where the host says Suzuki was still using his pro global warming *talky points from the 1990s and that global warming has stopped since 1998! This is the same host that accused Suzuki of being anti science! LOL.

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    8. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      " Note that it is bad practice to merely dismiss them because of the author's supposed affiliation with Monsanto, an approach taken by Professor Seralini. "

      Yes Professor Seralini characterises and dismisses the critics of his study as linked to Monsanto, and this is a mistake. A mistake you make too. Ashley Ng is *supposed* to be linked to Monsanto only in the minds of the anti-GM extremists who look for every opportunity to see this conspiracy. That's exactly the anti-science behaviour we have highlighted in our article.

      Apparently I am outing the man. I know nothing about him apart from what I read on The Conversation, and I take his statement about lack of conflict of interest at face value. I don't jump to to conclusions that people are lying very easily.

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    9. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Lisa
      Im only responding to further comments on Seralini related matters further if they actually relate to the experiments and their interpretation.

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    10. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lisa Hodgson

      Lisa,
      May I ask what you are a director of ?

      Seralini's paper sought to falsify the large body of work that has already tested the food safety of Roundup and GM corn (maize), soy, and so on. Rejections of his claims and questions about methods, data, and analysis came more swiftly and broadly than just about any paper ever published, even for cold fusion. Further, one cannot conduct an experiment that may falsify another if the first experiment is not clearly described. Regulators and others…

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    11. Lisa Hodgson

      Director

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Hi Richard,

      "May I ask what you are a director of ?"
      Certainly.

      "Seralini's paper sought to falsify the large body of work that has already tested the food safety of Roundup and GM corn (maize), soy, and so on."

      This is incorrect, Seralini discussed several gaps in the literature and sought to fill in those gaps. Namely inconclusive evidence of long term and multigenerational safety (Snell et al 2011). Further research was recommended because of 'metabolic modification'. No studies have included detailed follow up of test animals, no studies had tested the toxicity of the whole Roundup mixture, no studies had investigated the safety of NK603.

      This renders your statement "Further, one cannot conduct an experiment that may falsify another if the first experiment is not clearly described. Regulators and others argued that the first experiment was, in fact, not clearly described." and the criticism by regulators as completely irrelevant.

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  29. David Tribe

    Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

    Some commenters dislike the anti-science label for the set of behavours behind extreme rejection of vaccine, mainstream medicine, and application of modern genetics to farming.
    http://www.khon2.com/2013/09/27/100-papaya-trees-slashed-in-puna/

    There has just been another criminal vandalism of GM crops, this time in Hawaii. The mentality and mindset described in our article is the fuel that drives wrongful and hateful harm to farmers livelihoods. It would be a step towards democratic and civilised debate and productive policy decisions if the rational GM sceptics made efforts to discourage such actions. A start would be forthright leadership in the form of unambiguous public statements that it is wrong. Or even some frank acknowledgement that it is a problem to be discussed.

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  30. MADGE Australia Inc

    logged in via Twitter

    Proponents of GM ignore and dismiss peer reviewed evidence of harm from GM. They ignore the increased use of pesticides on GM crops and the emergence of superweeds and super pests. They ignore the opposition from farmers, especially those in the majority world. They ignore the reports of birth defects, cancers and illnesses from communities near GM farms in South America. They ignore the much better alternatives as outlined by the Agriculture at a Crossroads IAASTD report and the work of Olivier…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to MADGE Australia Inc

      Don’t be shy MADGE.
      Why not also share with Conversation readers that In addition to (as pointed out in our article) teaming up with the full spectrum of anti-science compatriots of “Dr Mercola” at AHFA (eg anti-fluoride, anti-mainstream medicine, anti-vaccine),

      that you also actively promote one of the most outrageous anti-science websites on the internet as if provides reasonable commentary on Golden Rice, as shown in this Tweet of yours:

      https://twitter.com/MADGEAustralia/status/384479413930168321

      The be exact I am referring to your promotion of The “Health Ranger”,as a source of advice, to wit:
      http://www.naturalnews.com/042244_golden_rice_medical_fraud_GMO_regulations.html

      Anti-science, pseudoscience, whatever you care to call it call it, this is precisely the type of harmful extremely unscientific conspiracy theory that our article took pains to highlight .

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    2. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to MADGE Australia Inc

      For the record about harmful effects of conspiracy theories.

      Here are two links documenting how conspiracy theories are used in an attempt to justify the criminal sabotage of golden rice field trials in the Philippines by a group involved in the sabotage.
      http://masipag.org/2013/09/masipag-upholds-farmers-action-against-the-golden-rice-field-trials/

      http://bicol.da.gov.ph/News/2013/Aug10a.html

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    3. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to David Tribe

      David
      I've only checked the first link...how is this a conspiracy? It is a clear and articulate statement of why golden rice isn't wanted, and the reasons why it is dangerous to farmers...

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    4. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Jeremy

      Selective reading. The second link clearly discredits the first.

      here's more that I posted earlier

      "Contrary to reports circulated by outlets such as the New York Times to New Scientist, the Aug. 9 attack of a genetically modified rice field in the Philippines was not carried out by 400 angry farmers, but rather a group of 50 anti-GMO activists."
      see http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/conservation-and-development/the-real-story-of-the-anti-gmo-activists-attack-in-philippines/ including photos.
      This supports the statement in the Science editorial we cite,
      "Billed as an uprising of farmers, the destruction was actually carried out by protesters trucked in overnight
      in a dozen jeepneys."

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    5. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Rick, your response has nothing to do with what I asked. I wanted to know what part of the farmers' statement is conspiracy theory as David has asserted?

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    6. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Jeremy,

      I didn't say it was a conspiracy, I said conspiracy theories are used to justify the criminal sabotage. The conspiracy theory correponds closely to Vandana Shiva's Trojan Horse claim:

      http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/GEessays/goldenricehoax.html

      which is echoed in the statement made by the sabotage group I linked to
      QUOTE
      Rice is life for Filipinos. But it is also a huge market that corporations are itching to put their hands to. It is no secret that companies such as Syngenta and other…

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    7. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to David Tribe

      David, I'm afraid I don 't see a conspiracy theory here. Corporate interest in commercialising GM rice is known. The obligation to maximise profits (ie you don 't give anything away for free) is indisputable. The likelihood of contamination is well documented. The strategy of using a rice with putative health benefits and giving it away is certainly not a long bow for those corporate interests. The involvement of organisation such the Gates Foundation doesn't seem at all surprising in light of…

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    8. MADGE Australia Inc

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Tribe

      Are you seriously saying that a tweet explaining how GM companies are using golden rice for their own corporate ends magically destroys all the evidence of the failure and misery of GM worldwide?

      That a tweet suddenly makes superpests and superweeds and cancers and birth defects and bankrupted farmers and ruined lives disappear?

      I think you need to have a really integrated look at what the technology you are promoting is doing to people, land, water, food security and life itself.

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    9. MADGE Australia Inc

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Tribe

      You can research conspiracy theories if you wish. I prefer to listen to science and what is going on on the ground.

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    10. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to MADGE Australia Inc

      MADGE
      Let's try to get one thing clear here. Why or how are GM companies using golden rice for their corporate ends?

      Golden rice is for the poor, who are not a great market. People who have money don't need Golden Rice; they can buy vegetables or supplements.
      What do the corporates get out making golden rice available to the poor? Perhaps good PR, but nothing more.

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    11. Bob Phelps

      Director at Gene Ethics

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Yes, Rick, rapacious corporations use PR. But we want a fair and sustainable food system that feeds everyone well and promotes good health, so let's work together for that. Discussion of feeding 10 billion, in your session of the Festival of Ideas, shows it's time to move on. Simran Sethi and Gary Egger's analysis shows the global food system is corrupt and broken, far outclassing the advocates of GM magic and biofuels.

      GM's a dud C20 idea that does not work except as a research tool. Just 3 single gene traits commercialised and a raft of false promises. Complex multi-gene traits - drought and salt tolerance, Nitrogen fixation in grains, and 'better' nutrition - will be nigh impossible to achieve using GM. And these tech fixes will not get at the root causes of hunger, obesity, diabetes and the rest.

      Let's all move on!

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    12. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Bob Phelps

      Bob, your Genethics and the Girl Scouts also use PR.

      GM hasn’t solved acne either. GM was never expected to solve all of the world’s problems, Bob, but the undeniable facts that a more than 170 million ha are being grown, more than 10% of the world’s cultivatable land, because farmers want them, and there are reducing both the costs and environmental impacts of agriculture, as I cited earlier from the European Commission.

      Another point on which you are wrong on the facts: Drought tolerant…

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    13. MADGE Australia Inc

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Here is an article that outlines the multiple failures and stupidities of the golden rice project
      http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/15023-golden-rice-myths :

      1) Golden rice (GR) has been engineered into the Japonica subspecies of rice BUT the countries which have Vit A deficiencies do not grow this rice. Instead they grow the Indica subspecies. The Japonica has been GMed because its easier to manipulate!

      2) They are trying to backcross the GR rice into the Indica but to date…

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    14. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      "the undeniable facts that a more than 170 million ha are being grown, more than 10% of the world’s cultivatable land"

      Rick, you accuse others of 'selective' reading (eg comment 229843) and skirting peer review when their opinions do not mesh with your own, but then use 'facts' such as these when they support your opinions. What is your source of the 170 million ha? ISAAA, the industry funded PR organisation that puts out these figures annually without any blind peer review of their numbers? And they are contested.
      If not, then what is your source?

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    15. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack:

      I was down this path over a decade ago with Bob Phelps. Yes, my stats are from ISAAA. They’re consistent with what I have seen and heard first-hand in visits to major GM countries like the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, China, and India, and minor ones like South Africa and the Philippines. What’s your source(s) and estimate(s)?

      Quoting from their website, “ISAAA is a not-for-profit international organization that shares the benefits of crop biotechnology to various stakeholders…

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    16. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Rick
      I am not the one making a claim here. You are. You are saying that the claimed 170 million ha in GM production is an undeniable fact. Yet you go on to write about who funds ISAAA in reply to me, rather than provide evidence for your claim that the fact is undeniable. The point is that you appear to me to pick and choose your data to suit, just as you accuse others of doing. It appears that you like the idea that 170 million ha are in GM so you choose to not challenge that source of information. Yet when others disagree, you get very critical about the source of their information.

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    17. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack, you're splitting hairs. Are you arguing that it is not 170 million ha?

      The key point is that whatever the area of GM crops, it's huge. Are you denying that?

      You challenged ISAAA's estimate, which is broadly accepted as the best one going, without an alternative estimate.

      Then after an attack on the man (ISAAA) not the ball, as you have put it before, you dodged the question as to whether two leading organisations regularly opposing GM, never supporting it, are transparent in their funding. I should add Greenpeace to the list.

      If you are going to deny ISAAA's number, what's yours?

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    18. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack, on further thought, you are making claims here. You're clearly implying that ISAAA is biased, despite its independent board and diverse non-industry funding, and implicitly claiming that something significantly less than 170M hectares of GM are being planted.

      What's your number then, and sources?

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    19. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Rick, you called it an undeniable fact. I'm just enjoying showing your readers how you pick and choose the sources of your facts to suit, pick and choose when peer review is important and when it is not, and then accuse others of doing the same when they use literature or 'facts' that you don't like.
      There is not a shred of research I do that would equip me to know the number of hectares in GM plants. I don't pretend to know. That is why I don't call it an undeniable fact.

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    20. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack
      "I'm just enjoying showing your readers how you pick and choose the sources of your facts to suit, pick and choose when peer review is important and when it is not, and then accuse others of doing the same when they use literature or 'facts' that you don't like"

      So where did you show this exactly Jack? Where are the alternatives to the ISAAA data that Rick has supposedly ignored? For routine economic data are peer-reviewed scientific journals a necessary source of benchmark data, and if you don't know the evidence about this, how can you reasonably imply that increasing level of GM crop adoption in dispute?

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    21. Richard Roush

      Professor; Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Jack Heinemann

      Jack, what a load of b.... There is only one reliable source of data on this of which I am aware, nor have you suggested an alternative despite requests, so I'm hardly picking and choosing. These are just stats like estimating total crop sizes.

      You want to imply that these stats are unreliable, but freely admit that "don't pretend to know".

      I'm enjoying the fact that you've provided no evidence that you are in favor of any GM crop nor any standard that would meet your approval, but object to the label "anti-GM".

      I'm also enjoying the fact that you are not prepared to demand the same level of transparency from Genethics or Safe Food that ISAAA already provides, but apparently see no double standard in implying that ISAAA is biased. Why should we believe differently for Genethics or Safe Food? You apparently can't answer.

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    22. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to MADGE Australia Inc

      ”…….Efforts to lift completely the shadow of death cast by vitamin A deficiency………….in some places still entail a struggle against intractable opposition. The victims who continue to suffer under the shadow are mainly the children.”

      MADGE:
      Did you contact the people actually invoved in the project to check the GM Watch article for full disclosure and accuracy. Rick Roush and I did. with this result.

      We contacted A Dubock at the Golden Rice project itself and he has kindly provided this advice…

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    23. Jack Heinemann

      Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at University of Canterbury

      In reply to Richard Roush

      You continue to evade the point that your standards of evidence gathering differ based on the source. I don’t think we should ‘believe’ anyone. I think we should apply skepticism to all sources, seek evidence rather than obstruct the search for evidence (see my posts on dsRNA for example in this thread), and use science-based rather than ad hominem expletives to argue the issue.

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    24. MADGE Australia Inc

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Tribe

      So GM work being done for "humanitarian' reasons does not need peer-review?

      There appears to be nothing to show that there is any GM golden rice that is effective and safe and ready to be planted right now.

      Vitamin A deficiency is falling in the Philippines due to food fortification.

      We could reduce poverty worldwide by supporting local agriculture and getting rid of the predatory industrial food and agriculture system that is privatising water, seed, land etc in its search for profits.

      This would also reduce the use of fossil fuel and help restore biodiversity and health to land, water, people and the economy.

      For further details on the above look at the IAASTD report on how to feed the world "Agriculture at a Crossroads" and La Via Campesina and google aggro-ecological agriculture. Olivier De Schutter has written some magnificent articles on this too.

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    25. Bob Phelps

      Director at Gene Ethics

      In reply to Richard Roush

      Industry-aligned reporting group ISAAA inflates its industry-generated data. For instance, it counts trait-hectares i.e. a hectare of GM crop with dual-stacked traits is counted as two hectares; six gene Smartstax would be six hectares for every one grown, etc. ISAAA’s reporting of “mega-countries” - those that grow over 50,000 hectares of GM crops - is also meaningless PR as mega denotes a million units. ISAAA does not disclose the criteria used to categorise GM crop countries as industrial or developing. For instance, Argentina and Brazil are counted as developing, to pump up the numbers of farmers in 'developing' countries. And while claiming 28 countries are growing GM crops, ISAAA never mentions the 167 countries and 67 dependent territories that are still GM-free. So, ISAAA's picture of a hugely successful GM story is biased, inflated and phony.

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  31. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    Was placing VAD and GMOs on the same page a strategy to elicit sympathy? Fact is the major biotech players (DuPont, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Syngenta, Monsanto) are inextricably linked to the pesticide industry

    Several of the “Big Six” are the “scientists” who knowingly gave the world persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that contaminated humans, animals and in fact, the entire planet with impunity while the taxpayer picked up the tab for remediation. Now the “Big Six” have tipped in around $23 million…

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    1. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Why stop your analysis by restricting your remarks and speculations to possible ways agricultural biotechnology companies may influence public perceptions Shirley?

      To approach this topic without bias, inclusion the full range of commercial influences is even more more informative. Other organisations have a self-interested stake in the issue too. They include food marketers who trade on a anti-technology brand eg Berri Fruit juices, Kailis Organic, internet "natural remedy" marketer Mercola…

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    2. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to David Tribe

      And so you resort to comparing sustenance for all human life (fresh meat, fish, fruit, grains and vegetables) to “multi-billion dollar PR influence -- outside the biotech industry sector.” We are talking here about the erosion of people’s right to food diversity but you remain incapable of guaranteeing access to food that's free from GM technology.

      Further whenever independent scientists publish the truth about the effects of GMOs, the GMO industry leaps to attack them, defending GMOs with…

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    3. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Shirley,
      A pity you don't want to engage with the topic of the psychological and cultural patterns that drive opinion formation about new technology.

      But there a whole scholastic community out there that do.
      Recent examples

      https://theconversation.com/right-left-wrong-people-reject-science-because-18789
      Right, left, wrong: people reject science because …

      http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/10/03/antivaccine-antigmo-agwdenial/
      Antivaccine quackery, anti-GMO pseudoscience, and climate…

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    4. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to David Tribe

      Good show David evading the entire contents of my two posts. However, what you will find if you peruse the article “Right, left, wrong: people reject science because …” is that I endorsed herd vaccination and the tenets of A/climate change.

      In addition to that post, I provided to Dr Lewandowsky the following links, five of which are published in the British and European Journals of Criminology:

      Crime, Bio-Agriculture and the Exploitation of Hunger, Cheap Capitalism: A Sociological Study of…

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    5. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Shirley,

      If you type Tribe D at Pubmed you will find my more recent papers. You have actually mistakenly found some papers (eg in 1955 when I was 8 years old) by the late Derek Tribe, although I would hesitate to describe his work and the years before 1999 as the dinosaur era.

      It would be helpful for you to not suppose that I advocate "psychoanalysis of the masses because they are scientifically illiterate" when I don't say that.

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  32. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    Here's a wonderful example of the sort of "crank magnetism" Tribe alludes to in this piece.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151797845958521&set=pcb.538311892920824&type=1&relevant_count=7&ref=nf

    Here at "March Against Monsanto" in Adelaide on October 12 2013, we see anti-chemtrails activist Jessica Smith giving a speech about... chemtrails.

    In this photo you can't clearly make out what's printed on Jessica's black shirt, so here's a clearer photo of it.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151797845923521&set=pcb.538311892920824&type=1&relevant_count=6&ref=nf

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  33. David Tribe

    Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

    On behalf of the two authors to this piece, I'd like to thank all people taking the chance to comment on this piece for their persistent support for the need to broaden the discussion away from merely the technical aspects of safety, nutrition, and agronomy. That was the intent of the authors. Besides wanting to anchor our starting point in factual accuracy, we did indeed hope to delve into what leads people to have such strong opinions on this topic, and welcome any continuation of that discussion…

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    1. Simon Batterbury

      Associate Professor at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Tribe

      Where I lived in the Sahel, it was widely known that a lot of vitamin A and C came from baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) which grow widely in this environment and are seen in most villages. https://biblio.ugent.be/input/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=990801&fileOId=1017910 . These are used in the sauce eaten with millet. It is one of many suitable leafy plants. I was given a lecture about this by a woman in a Niger village, who also pointed out a 'weed' used to treat type 2 diabetes. Tirned…

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    2. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to Simon Batterbury

      Simon, two points to add to this. The cost of vit a supplements is around 8 cents per year per person and there is an existing distribution system, which is not true of rice. I'm yet to hear a pro golden rice person explain how a medical rice will be distributed so that it reaches those in need, how needed doses will be ensured, how consistency in concentrations will be ensured in the cultivation of golden rice and how contamination of export crops and neighbouring crops will be ensured.

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    3. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Simon Batterbury

      Dear Simon,
      Your remarks about African farmers are very helpful and interesting. But Golden Rice is not an initiative that is directly relevant to them. It is proposed as a local initiative where rice is a staple and where there is substantial and widespread vitamin A deficiency because of heavy reliance on rice. Indeed, as you said before,the African farmers you are working with may well be households that cannot at the moment benefit from better seeds for a variety of reasons. That is understood…

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    4. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to David Tribe

      Dear David, that really doesn't answer my queries at all. I'm very aware that some farmers with VAD may grow golden rice. They may eat it. That's not a medical delivery system - not even close. It doesn't answer the questions of dosage. It doesn't answer the question of how you deals with those who aren't rice farmers with VAD. It doesn't answer the question of what rice farmers who sell rice into markets do in order to protect their rice from contamination (noting that starvation from lost markets…

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    5. John Holmes

      Agronomist - semi retired consultant

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Not seeing too much discussion here of the problems of the bottom caste street peoples in big cities who have no access to land to grow leafy vegetables for Vit A, Whose incomes are well below the officially recognized (yet very low) poverty levels. There is considerable disquiet amongst some urban poor re the increasing prices of such. (NGO worker with widows, slum in urban Kolkata, Sept 2013).

      I would suggest that to expect that there is a magic bullet which will solve all of the problems…

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    6. David Tribe

      Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Simon Batterbury

      Simon,
      This came in my Twitter feed via Alex Stein at IFPRI,
      I'm sure you would find it interesting

      Do lower yielding farmers benefit from Bt corn? Evidence from instrumental variable quantile regressions
      Highlights
      • We use instrumental quantile regression (IVQR) to assess the impacts of Bt corn adoption.
      • The increases in yield due to Bt technology are larger in the lower part of yield distribution.
      • Bt corn could be a “pro-poor” technology.
      Abstract
      There have been serious questions…

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  34. David Tribe

    Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

    26 Oct 2013 Steve Novella has just tackled the same human behaviour issue that Tribe and Roush did, but presented it from the Skeptic's perspective:
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/golden-rice-a-touchstone/

    Golden Rice – A Touchstone
    Psychologists have documented a human tendency to pick a belief and then defend it at all costs. We all do this to varying degrees, and the more emotionally invested we are in a belief, the more extreme we are in our defense.

    In fact, a skeptical…

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  35. David Tribe

    Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

    Dan Kahan at Yale University is making somie interesing comments that extend the theme discussed here and at other articles we have written at the Conversation
    Resisting (watching) pollution of the science communication environment in real time: genetically modified foods in the US, part 2
    http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2012/10/14/resisting-watching-pollution-of-the-science-communication-en.html
    A key snippet
    Antagonistic cultural meanings are thus a form of pollution in the science communication…

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  36. David Tribe

    Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at University of Melbourne

    It's interesting that an analogous theme to this GMO?Vaccine article was recently explored by Clive Hamilton who discussed "denial" of climate science and vaccination at The Conversation:

    https://theconversation.com/climate-and-vaccine-deniers-are-the-same-beyond-persuasion-22258

    Clive's excursion provides further illustration of how cultural pre-conventions and beliefs "freezes" opinion and stultifies open minded consideration of factual evidence. Clive did not venture into the GMO topics…

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