"The Real GM Food Scandal"

The biggest biotech scandal of all? The enormous delays in introducing new, beneficial crops to farmers worldwide, says the current cover story in British Prospect magazine.

The piece outlines the sad fate of Swiss biologist Ingo Potrykus' "golden rice"--the much-ballyhooed genetically engineered rice that was going to prevent "1-2m deaths a year, and...save up to 500,000 children a year from going blind." Bureaucratic delays and European bio-tech skepticism have kept the rice, which was announced on the cover of Time in 2000 as the next big thing, from being widely distributed. Current timelines still say it may be at least another 5 years before anyone starts benefiting from one of the coolest humanitarian innovations in recent memory.

The scientific way of ensuring that crops are safe is to test the product, not the process. Perversely, regulations in the US as well as Europe require the opposite. The result is that it takes much longer and costs at least ten times as much to bring a new GM crop to market as an equivalent conventionally bred crop. As Potrykus has pointed out, no scientist or scientific institution in the public domain has the funding or the motivation to go through such an expensive and drawn-out procedure. Only large companies or the most richly funded charities can and the only projects companies are likely to back are those that make big profits. Producing rice that saves the lives or the eyesight of millions of the poorest peasants offers no great financial rewards.

The kicker:

In delaying cultivation, the anti-GM lobbies have exacted a heavy price. Their opposition has undermined agrobusiness in Europe and has driven abroad much research into plant biotechnology—an area in which Britain formerly excelled. Over-regulation may well cause the costs of the technology to remain higher than they need be. Above all, delay has caused the needless loss of millions of lives in the developing world. These lobbies and their friends in the organic movement have much to answer for.

Check out a new study on the global health effects of biotech crops.

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  • Guy Montag||

    Ah, golden rice. I suspect this is really being blocked by the saffron lobby.

  • Minion of URKOBOLD||

    YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY A SHILL FOR BIG TANDOORI.

  • ||

    It's new and we don't understand it! Therefore, we'll outlaw it. Science be damned! Luddites.

  • Lurker Kurt||

    ...was going to prevent "1-2m deaths a year, and...save up to 500,000 children a year from going blind."

    By my back of the envelope calculations, 7 million people have died because of the anti-GM lobbies.

    Is this the first holocaust of the 21st Century?

  • ||

    Well, since people are the biggest threat to the planet, letting millions of them die can only be a good thing. I mean what if we let those kids grow up. First thing they'll all want cars and you know what that means. Right, All Al All the time GoreTV.

  • VM||

    "First thing they'll all want cars and you know what that means"

    in their car, they're safest of all?

    or CAR WASH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (surprisingly, that is not Highnumber washing the car...)

  • Russ 2000||

    If this guy was really doing something useful, he'd invent rice that prevents 1-2m births per year.

  • Surely someone has mis-spelled||

    GM crops should now be growing in areas where no crops can grow: drought-resistant crops in arid soil and salt-resistant crops in soil of high salinity.

    Which will force some farmers to switch crops. And God forbid they switch to something that might make money - like marijuana.

  • ||

    What does General Motors know about food?

  • Deaf Scout||

    geneitic Mod you idiot

  • ||

    Lulz!

  • robc||

    ProLib,

    Has to be more than they know about cars.

  • ||

    Blood on their hands.

    This should be Exhibit A next time you see some nanny spouting off on the Precautionary Principle. Ask it why it hates poor brown children and wants them to go blind and die.

  • ||

    If this rice is really going to save tens of millions of people, I would sure hope we're damn positive it's safe.

  • ||

    If GM foods are "bad, m'kay?", and GM (the auto manufacturer) has a "famous mark", then can GM sue for tarnishment?

    I agree with Mr. Dean--the bibertarian response on GM foods is criminal. We're talking lives here and lots of 'em. And the scaremongering on this issue has frightened countries that would otherwise be first in line to benefit from GM crops. Due care is one thing, Chicken Little is another.

  • Smug Moose||

    hay guyz - not to worry. the GM rice is a hybrid.

  • ||

    Here:

    http://www.freerice.com/

  • Timothy||

    From now on when I start to feel bad about myself I can say, "well, at least I didn't starve 7 million peasants" which will be a nice change of pace from, "Well, at least I didn't gas 6 million Jews."

  • ||

    It's rare when you can put a number on lost opportunity. No matter how many people they kill, regulators will never be held accountable. It will be the same when we remove profit incentives from healthcare. People will be standing on a mountain of bodies patting each other on the back.

  • Joshua Holmes||

    Golden rice does not contain Vitamin A. Only animal products contain Vitamin A. Vegetable and fruit products contain beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A. However, the body can only manufacture Vitamin A from beta-carotene if there is sufficient dietary fat. The people who are supposed to be saved by golden rice eat very low dietary fat anyway, because of its expense. Hence the golden rice isn't likely to do much for them anyway.

    The solution to malnutrition isn't state-backed agribusiness, it's liberty. In many cases, this means reversing the abuses of the "Green" Revolution, by returning to people the millions of acres stolen by governments to turn into monoculture farms. In other countries, it means long-overdue land reform, taking the land from the governing class that they do not justly own, which is most or all of it.

  • carrick||

    . . . by returning to people the millions of acres stolen by governments to turn into monoculture farms

  • carrick||

    Gee, part of my post disappeared into the ether.

    You started out interesting Joshua. Too bad you turned off into oblivion.

  • Paul||

    If this guy was really doing something useful, he'd invent rice that prevents 1-2m births per year.

    Starvation already takes care of that. Mr. Ehrlich is quite pleased about that.

  • Balloon Maker||

    Billy Joel looks like shit

  • BIG TREE||

    AND BALLOON MAKER IS GETTING LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGEEEEERRRRR!

    [HOPS OFF]

  • Guy Montag||

    hay guyz - not to worry. the GM rice is a hybrid.

    You would think GM has a monopoly on hybrids or something!

    I only drive MOPAR hybrids and I don't rice 'em either.

  • harry||

    I hate hyperbolic statements like these.

    If absolutely everyone completely switched from white rice to golden rice that could happen, then again it might not. Especially when obvious stuff that has been proven safe, like iodized salt have not reached all corners.

    If everyone bought a Thighmaster, 2 million people lives would be saved from deaths associated with heart disease, falls, and suicide.

  • Guy Montag||

    If everyone bought a Thighmaster, 2 million people lives would be saved from deaths associated with heart disease, falls, and suicide.

    And that chick from "Three's Company" could get another round of hotness surgery.

  • ||

    Y'all's some gullible people.

  • Ellie||

    If everyone bought a Thighmaster, 2 million people lives would be saved from deaths associated with heart disease, falls, and suicide.

    Because fat people hate life! Oh, the lols! Please. I love my meaty thighs. I would kill myself if I woke up one day and realized I owned a Thighmaster, though.

  • Joshua Holmes||

    You started out interesting Joshua. Too bad you turned off into oblivion.

    What part was wrong?

  • Syloson of Samos||

    The scientific way of ensuring that crops are safe is to test the product, not the process.

    Can you explain why the latter approach is wrong?

  • ||

    Joshua Holmes, I suspect this part is where many people around here believe you went off the rails:

    In other countries, it means long-overdue land reform, taking the land from the governing class that they do not justly own, which is most or all of it.

    Sounds an awful lot like socialist land/wealth redistribution programs (think Mugabe or Chavez)

  • Brian White||

    It ought to tell you something that Reason is using TIME magazine (!!) as an authority here. And for what? Rice that contains Beta-Carotene? Maybe all those deaths supposedly resulting from Vitamin A shortage could be prevented by distributing some One-A-Days.

    Joshua, you "turned off into oblivion" when you suggested (gasp) "land reform" and distributed property instead of slavish propagandization for large corporations. That's what Reason prefers...

  • adrian||

    Zimbabwe's Head of Agriculture now posts on reason.com! Welcome Jo ShuaHol Mes

    who will we hear from next?!

  • Syloson of Samos||

    KMW, etc.,

    I will note that the author of the article also lays part of the blame with large agribusiness outfits.

  • Brian White||

    Is the notion that Government taken land off-limits for a return to privatization a particularly Libertarian one, ChicagoTom?

    But - hey, throw out "socialist", "Mugabe", and "Chavez" and call it a day.

  • ||

    OK, I take it back. There appear to be quite a few non-gullible people, with actual critical reasoning skills, on this thread.

    Props to you, because knowing you as I do, you are very much on board with the political agenda being pushed here, and you called bullshit anyway.

  • ||

    ChicagoTom,

    In other countries, it means long-overdue land reform, taking the land from the governing class that they do not justly own, which is most or all of it.

    Sounds an awful lot like Hernando de Soto, too.

  • Joshua Holmes||

    Sounds an awful lot like socialist land/wealth redistribution programs (think Mugabe or Chavez)

    They're right on land/wealth redistributions. Think back to Locke: how do you come to justly acquire property? You mix your labor with it. How did the landed gentry in many Third World countries come to own their land? By conquest and state privilege. I hope none of the libertarians here seriously thinks that the land distribution in, say, Bolivia was the result of anything resembling Second Treatise on Government. And if it wasn't, shouldn't it be? Isn't that what "right" means?

  • adrian||

    they are right on? are you kidding? i'm not taking the bait.

    Drink!

  • Syloson of Samos||

    BTW, it is a fairly interesting article. Folks should read it if they get a chance.

  • carrick||

    . . . by returning to people the millions of acres stolen by governments to turn into monoculture farms


    Joshua, I'm sorry you couldn't put two consective posts together to find the complete thought that I failed to get into a single post.

  • ||

    this means reversing the abuses of the "Green" Revolution, by returning to people the millions of acres stolen by governments to turn into monoculture farms.

    I'm a little unclear how reversing dramatic increases in productivity by returning to stoop labor is going to solve hunger.

    I thought it was pretty much accepted that hunger isn't a production problem, its a distribution problem. That seems to mean that monkeying around with how production is organized isn't going to solve the problem.

  • Russ 2000||

    How did the landed gentry in many Third World countries come to own their land? By conquest and state privilege.

    I'm no expert, but even if the former landed gentry in Zimbabwe acquired the land by conquest and state privelege, they put their own labor into it once it was acquired. Mugabe isn't doing that - he re-acquired the land by state privelege and no (useful) labor is going into it.

  • ||

    Russ2000,

    Sure. Now, compare that to El Salvador. When do you think the last time a member of the 9 Families got soil under his nails?

  • Russ 2000||

    joe,

    I'm not disagreeing with you, merely pointing out that Mugabe did the same thing his predecessors did only worse.

  • Joshua Holmes||

    I'm a little unclear how reversing dramatic increases in productivity by returning to stoop labor is going to solve hunger.

    You don't solve hunger by stuffing a bit of basically unusuable Vitamin A precursor in rice, that's for sure.

    Moreover, the "dramatic increases in productivity" have come at the expense of the liberty of millions. It has destroyed much food variety by replacing combinations of crops with grains. It has introduced substantially more pollution to many areas by increasing fertilizer and pesticide run-off, poisoning water tables and wrecking the health of other industries (e.g., fishing).

    Also, while calories consumed increased, they're junk calories - grains - and not vegetable or animal calories, which are actual human food. As a result, junk calories replaced nutritious ones.

    But, you know, if the trains are running on time...

  • Episiarch||

    Also, while calories consumed increased, they're junk calories - grains - and not vegetable or animal calories, which are actual human food. As a result, junk calories replaced nutritious ones.

    This is fucking priceless. Joshua, please go to some third world hellhole and smack a bowl of rice out of some starving guy's hand and explain to him that they are only "junk" calories.

  • Channeling Jello Biafra||

    you'll work harder with a gun in your back
    for a bowl of rice a day...

  • ||

    Serves you right for trying to make subtle point.

    Only libertarians care about hungry people, Mr. Holmes. And on the right kind of libertarians.

    Everyone else wants to starve people.

  • Brian White||

    Back in the day, the "Sagebrush Revolution" got lots of favorable Reason coverage - you could look it up. Central to the complaints of those "revolutionaries" was that the ownership of large tracts of land by the Federal Government (upwards of 80% of the total area of several western states) inhibits the efficient and effective economic development by the state residents.

    James Watt - Land Reformer!!

    For the effects of more "monkeying around" with production you might review the Irish famine. Irish peasants were forced to grow the high-energy/high-yield potatoes on their tiny plots while the large agricultural tracts raised grain and animals for export. No doubt a TIME magazine cover could have been scored by an inventor of "Golden Potatoes", and no doubt a sensible suggestion to distribute more land to the starving peasants instead would have been ridiculed in Reason as well.

  • ||

    "They're (Magube and Chavez) right on land/wealth redistributions"
    Joshua,
    Are you serious? I can tell you that Chavez has expropriated, er, "redistributed" agricultural land here in Venezuela and set price controls on basic dietary products. Since then, agricultural production in VZ has dramatically dropped, national food manufacturers are shutting down, imports are (naturally) at an all time high, and there are massive food shortages.
    I havent found milk in the grocery store for the last month!

  • ||

    Is the notion that Government taken land off-limits for a return to privatization a particularly Libertarian one, ChicagoTom?

    Brian White,

    why exactly is this addressed to me? All I did was answer Joshua Holmes question about why some people around here consider what he said took a turn toward oblivian -- as did you.

    I neither endorsed or attacked a point of view.

    Maybe you can master the art of reading comprehension before spouting off next time?

  • Brian White||

    ChicagoTom, you characterized "taking the land from the governing class that they do not justly own" , as sounding like a "socialist land/wealth redistribution program". So my question was well-based in reading comprehension.

    Your claim that you "neither endorsed or attacked a point of view" is believable only if it is possible you hold Hugo Chavez or Robert Mugabe as positive examples. If that is so, then sorry.

  • Russ 2000||

    only if it is possible you hold Hugo Chavez or Robert Mugabe as positive examples.

    I don't know what Tom thought, but Joshua said "they had it right" so it was Joshua who considered those two "positive examples".

    And I don't see how one could call this favorable coverage of the Sagebrush Rebellion:

    http://www.reason.com/news/printer/29700.html

  • Joshua Holmes||

    Are you serious? I can tell you that Chavez has expropriated, er, "redistributed" agricultural land here in Venezuela and set price controls on basic dietary products.

    I said he was right on land/wealth distribution. I didn't say he was right on anything else. Did you goofs forget how to read?

    No one should be surprised Chavez is screwing up: that's what governments do, by and large. But it applies to state-funded agricultural revolutions as much as it does screwball Latin American dictators.

  • Joshua Holmes||

    This is fucking priceless. Joshua, please go to some third world hellhole and smack a bowl of rice out of some starving guy's hand and explain to him that they are only "junk" calories.

    False dichotomy. Why don't we serve him some of the vegetables and meats he got to eat when he had his own land, and see whether he prefers a varied diet or a rice diet?

    Fucktard.

  • ||

    ChicagoTom, you characterized "taking the land from the governing class that they do not justly own" , as sounding like a "socialist land/wealth redistribution program".

    Well it does in fact sound like that. And it is exactly the association many commenters on this blog will make when reading words like "taking land from the governing class ...".
    Pointing out that fact is neither an endorsement nor an critique. It is a depiction of the line of thought of most the libertarian commenters around here. The whole point of my comment was to inform Joshua what he said that was offensive to some around here (since he asked) -- it was not to confirm or deny the validity of his or anyone else's beliefs.

    Your claim that you "neither endorsed or attacked a point of view" is believable only if it is possible you hold Hugo Chavez or Robert Mugabe as positive examples. If that is so, then sorry.

    It's believable because a plain reading of the words I typed contained neither an endorsement nor an attack of a particular point of view. There was no judgment being passed.

    But - hey, throw out "socialist", "Mugabe", and "Chavez" and call it a day.

    This snark indicates that you are reading more into my comment then what was there, hence your reading comprehension is failing you. You seem to be seeing agendas and political opinions where none exist.

  • Brian White||

    What I know is that a sensible libertarian suggestion - that private ownership of wealth-producing property is good and likely to result in less starvation got treated like a commie conspiracy by Reasonoids more eager to defend Monsanto's marketing campaigns than the widespread ownership of private property.

    Next, they can defend the Dutch Patroons, and curse America for dishonored Spanish Land Grants.

  • ||

    Everyone else wants to starve people.

    I wouldn't say "everyone else" or "wants".

    I would say "the left" is "willing" to starve people to protect their agenda.

  • ||

    Joshua corking is referring to this article:

    http://www.agbioforum.org/v9n3/v9n3a02-brookes.htm

  • ||

    GM crops have contributed to a significant reduction in the global environmental impact of production agriculture (Table 5). Since 1996, the use of pesticides was reduced by 224 million kg of active ingredient (a 6.9% reduction) and the overall environmental impact associated with pesticide use on these crops was reduced by 15.3%.

    I can see why the left hates GM products...this is terrible news.

  • ||

    GM technology has had a very positive impact on farm income derived from a combination of enhanced productivity and efficiency gains (Table 1). In 2005, the direct global farm income benefit from GM crops was $5 billion. If the additional income arising from second crop soybeans in Argentina is considered, this income gain rises to $5.6 billion. This is equivalent to having added between 3.6% and 4.0% to the value of global production of the four main crops of soybeans, maize, canola, and cotton, which is a substantial impact. Since 1996, farm incomes have increased by $24.2 billion, or $27 billion inclusive of second crop soybean gains in Argentina.

    Poor farmers are disappearing from the world (by getting rich)...THIS IS HORRIBLE!!!! Capitalism must be stopped!

  • ||

    In addition to the reduction in the number of herbicide applications, there has been a shift from conventional tillage to reduced- or no-till. This has had a marked effect on tractor fuel consumption due to energy-intensive cultivation methods being replaced with no- or reduced-tillage and herbicide-based weed control systems.

    This is a travesty of epic proportions!!!...farmers are moving away from their tried and true traditional methods of tilling (which destroys the environment)....Culture is being lost to technology!!

  • Brian White||

    Joshua, no doubt productivity gains are also the result of pesticide use - and I'm guessing you cite pesticide use as a good thing when you're talking to Sierra Clubbers.

    I love that 15.3% reduction in "overall environmental impact" associated with less pesticide use. What sales brochure did this stuff come out of, I wonder?

  • Les||

    What I know is that a sensible libertarian suggestion - that private ownership of wealth-producing property is good and likely to result in less starvation got treated like a commie conspiracy by Reasonoids more eager to defend Monsanto's marketing campaigns than the widespread ownership of private property.

    Could you provide a link for this? I can understand if the proposal to have the government transfer ownership of private property from one group to another would be frowned upon, but I'll understand more once I know which suggestion you're talking about.

  • Syloson of Samos||

    Brian White,

    If I recall correctly a lot of public Western land was put up for sale at the time (in the early 1980s) but there were few buyers.

  • ||

    Is that Robert Anton Wilson on the cover of Time? Awesome.

  • ||

    "Why don't we serve him some of the vegetables and meats he got to eat when he had his own land, and see whether he prefers a varied diet or a rice diet?"

    That assumes that he 'had' his own land before and that when he did he ate a varied diet. Both are often false.

    Joe, a little ironic that you chastise people for lack of critical thinking skills when all you do here on this thread is label others as gullible.

  • ||

    I'll have golden rice and private property, thanks.

  • ||

    "I said he was right on land/wealth distribution. I didn't say he was right on anything else. Did you goofs forget how to read?"
    Joshua, Since You think I misunderstood what you meant, please clarify what you meant by "right on land/wealth distribution".
    As I said, Chavez' land "redistribution" is failing. Expropriated land that once provided tomatoes, cantaloupe, onions, corn, etc... now lies idle. As for wealth distribution, Chavez social programs, while have helped some, have opened the flood gates for corruption. Venezuela is now the most corrupt country in Latin America.
    I fail to see how you think any of this is right on.

  • fyodor||

    I don't think there is any satisfactory solution, libertarian or otherwise, for long stolen land (in private hands) other than to let some dead dogs lie. Land reform, like affirmative action, seems like a case of two wrongs trying to make a right. Maybe there just has to be a statute of limitations on such matters.

    So joe, I googled "9 families" + "el salvador" and came up with nothing, but sounds like you're complaining about large land owners who are not directly involved in the farming of the lands? What's wrong with that, as long as they're hiring folks who make productive use of the land?

  • ||

    fyodor,

    The problem is two-fold: first, they are the heirs of the plantation owners who were granted the land by the Spanish crown, so their ownership claims are basically the same as the guy who buys a stolen care radio.

    Second, as predictably happens whenever wealth is so concentrated, they run armies of death squads to keep the order in place.

  • meg||

    thank you joshua holmes! i know this is an old post but i just stumbled upon it and was getting angrier and angrier as i read stuff like "7 million people have died because of the anti-GM lobbies" etc... then you took the words out of my mouth with your responses. bravo. there is no agenda behind anti-GM lobbies, the only reason people are up in arms is precisely because they care about the long-term health and lives of our people and our planet.

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