Past Time for Genetically Enhanced Wheat

GMO WheatGodfreyAmericans and much of the rest of the world have been safely and healthfully eating foods made from ingredients derived from modern biotech corn and soybean varieties for more than a decade. An insightful op-ed in today's New York Times argues that it is way past time for researchers to develop and farmers to plant enhanced biotech wheat varieties. Like corn and soy, genetically enhanced wheat would resist insects and herbicides. As Oklahoma State University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk and physician Henry Miller of Stanford University's Hoover Institution point out:

Today, it’s easy to see why corn and soybean farmers made the switch. Crop yields have increased and farmers have been able to reduce their use of chemical insecticides and shift to less toxic herbicides to control weeds. They’ve also made more money. Over the same period, the amount of land planted in wheat has dropped by about 20 percent, and although yields have increased, productivity growth has been lower than for the crops genetically engineered with molecular techniques....

The scientific consensus is that existing genetically engineered crops are as safe as the non-genetically engineered hybrid plants that are a mainstay of our diet. The government should be encouraging and promoting these technologies.

Besides endowing wheat with now-standard enhancements, researchers can also add drought resistance characteristics. For example, Egyptian researchers reported ten years ago that they had dramatically increased drought resistance in wheat by adding a specific gene from barley to wheat:

The researchers, at Cairo's Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI), say their technique reduces the number of irrigations needed from eight to one, and that the wheat could be cultivated with rainfall alone in some desert areas.

The Times op-ed concludes:

Given the importance of wheat and the confluence of tightening water supplies, drought, a growing world population and competition from other crops, we need to regain the lost momentum. To do that, we need to acquire more technological ingenuity and to end unscientific, excessive and discriminatory government regulation.

Yes indeed.

For more background, see my article, "The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops."

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Just make sure you guard your quadro-triticale well.

  • ||

    I have never questioned the orders or the intelligence of any commenter on this blog. Until now.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Quadrotriticale is not wheat, Fist. Of course, I wouldn't expect you or Episiarch to know about such things, but quadrotriticale is a rather--

  • ||

    Well, ProL, er...FoE called you a...a tin-plated, overbearing, swaggering dictator with delusions of godhood.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Take it easy, lad. Everybody's entitled to an opinion.

  • ||

    He also compared your mom with a Denebian slime devil.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Forget it. It's not worth fighting for. We're big enough to take a few insults. Now, drink your drink.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I said you both should be hauled away as garbage.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Laddie, don't you think you should rephrase that?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    No, I'm good.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yeah but I know someone who once ate genetically modified corn and then later died. COINCIDENCE?

  • ||

    GMO corn magnetically attracts cars.

  • ||

    If they genetically engineered wheat to be gluten-free, would pseudoscientistic types have to love it or hate it?

  • Killaz||

    Destroy mother nature with frankencrops so you can finally enjoy the pleasure of a good hefeweizen? How selfish if you!

  • ||

    Hate always takes precedence over love, nicole. You should know that.

  • Tonio||

    The anti-GMO alarmists would hate it. People with legitimate reasons for gluten-avoidance (people with Crohn's etc) would be ecstatic. Those who avoid gluten because it's the trendy thing to do would probably split since they are trendy about both causes and their own lifestyles.

    But I think that killing the gluten would also kill a lot of the useful properties of wheat, ie the ability to make wonderful thick stretchy dough for deep dish pizza. So you'd basically take wheat and suck all the wh

  • Tonio||

    ...and suck all the wheatiness out of it.

  • ||

    Gluten free wheat flour would be a sad sad thing. I've made some decent bread out of Kamut flour which seems to be tolerated better by people with mild wheat allergies, but is not recommended for celiac sufferers*

    *This could of course be Kamut propaganda.

  • ||

    If they genetically engineered wheat to be gluten-free

    I am pretty sure the part of wheat people eat is gluten.

    Maybe it would make good hay but it would not make any bread.

  • Killaz||

    You're just a tool of Big Greater Good, Bailey.

  • RBS||

    They’ve also made more money.

    I think I see the problem.

  • sarcasmic||

    Just read something in the paper about how GMO crops will likely result in no more Monarch butterflies.

    The butterflies feed exclusively in milkweed. Farmers plant Roundup resistant crops, spray the fields with Roundup, and all the milkweed dies. With no food, the Monarchs die as well.

    That's what you get for eating only one food, dumbass butterflies.

  • RBS||

    Oh No! Change! Bring me my fainting couch.

  • ||

    Pandas are similarly specialized: they only eat bamboo.

  • Killaz||

    But they have telekinetic powers to bring bamboo limbs to them from thousands of miles away.

  • ||

    Increased crop yields result in fewer acres under cultivation.

    Fewer acres under cultivation means more areas for wild habitat, including milkweed.

    Monarch butterfly populations should increase.

  • sarcasmic||

    Tell that to the corn farmers who keep increasing production in order to keep up with ethanol mandates.

  • Killaz||

    All of the monarchs I ever see in my hikes are in fields of wild growing wheat that are very prevalent here anywhere where land is not in use so I think you are right.

  • ||

    There are actually projects to get people to plant milkweed in their yard and to get cities to plant it in center medians and other public properties along monarch migration paths.

    As a kid we'd go to Natural Bridges State Park to see the migration. It was memorable. It'd be disappointing if that experience weren't available for future generations.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I've got milkweed in my yard. And, seasonally, monarchs. Yet I am not a farmer. Well, except for my banana crop, which grows despite my benign neglect.

  • Killaz||

    When I was a leaf smoker, I tried almost every wild growing plant that I came across to test its effects. Found a few interesting buzzes though nothing quite like pot but easily rivaling tobacco which I also plucked and cured for my amusement.

    Now that I brew I look at wild grains the same way.

  • playa manhattan||

    Did you smoke banana peels?

  • ||

    You want me to talk about it? Fine, I'll tell you all about that fateful summer, the Summer of the Monarchs. I was a mere eight years old, practically a caterpillar by butterfly standards. My parents' private jet crashed in New Jersey's fabled Pine Barrens minutes after takeoff from Newark Airport. Miraculously, I survived. My parents were not so fortunate. When I came to, I was surrounded by the most enchanting monarch butterflies. In time, they took me in as one of their own. They became my foster parents. These were the halcyon days. I'd play with my butterfly brethren. I learned the mysterious secrets of their ancient ways, supping as their own young do on a steady diet of milkweed, thus assuring my toxicity to this day. Then, one fateful morning in September -- I remember because it was right around my birthday -- I was ecstatic by autumn's approach because it meant the leaves of the trees would be orange enough for me to build even more convincing monarch wings. I awoke and looked for my monarch family, but I couldn't find them. I searched for days, but no sign of them. It was like losing my parents all over again, only much quieter.

  • Killaz||

    Almost everything I know about monarchs comes from that show, so I could be wrong about a few things.

  • ||

    How did Monarch butterflies exist before there were any man made crop fields for the milkweed habitat?

    I am calling bullshit.

  • Brett L||

    NYT let that through? Man, they have the strangest editorial board in the world.

  • Matrix||

    Several FB friends constantly post anti-GMO and anti-Monsanto stuff. Now, Monsanto does come across as a bunch of SOBs quite often, and they do a whole lot of crony capitalism and lobbying for protectionism. Even several of the libertarian groups on Facebook get a lot of posts from people hating on GMOs. Despite no real scientific evidence to show they are dangerous, people want to keep up the fearmongering campaign.

    Face it, all farmed food is genetically modified, whether through selective breeding or actual genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is just the short-cut to what farmers have been doing for thousands of years.

  • Curtisls87||

    Your second paragraph strikes home. I ask my anti-GMO friends when they last ate a purple carrot, or a banana with seeds. Most of the time it leaves them speechless.

  • ||

    You can keep saying that we've been modifying food for thousands of years until you're blue in the face, and it won't mean anything to them. They are animists. GMO is a totem, and is supernaturally evil. These people aren't rational or intelligent, they cower in fear at the sun. They're morons.

  • DRM||

    But it's not just genetically modified from "selective breeding". It's genetically modified by people subjecting plants to artificial ionizing radiation and mutagenic chemicals, then breeding from the results.

    Seriously. That's been being done to crops since at least the 1950s. There is not an "organic" grain product in the whole damn world that isn't the result of subjecting plants to crude, uncontrolled, artificially-induced random mutation at some point in the last six decades.

    So even if there were some magic evil caused by humans changing plant DNA, or some advantage to eating food that's only been subject to "natural" processes to thousands of years, there's still no advantage to avoiding "GMOs", because all the "non-GMOs" have been artificailly transformed.

  • rts||

    Total ban on GM food production mulled in Russia

    A group of Russian MPs have prepared a bill severely restricting imports of genetically modified agricultural produce, and completely banning its domestic production.

    The initiative is backed by Evgeny Fyodorov of the parliamentary majority United Russia and a group called Russian Sovereignty, which unites MPs from various parties and parliamentary factions.
  • Matrix||

    And when their people start dying of starvation because there's not enough food to go around, who will get blamed? THOSE CRUMMY GREEDY CAPITALISTS, OF COURSE!!!

  • ||

    Which, in turn, is exactly why the government needs more control.

  • Christophe||

    Taking the inverse of Russia's policy initiatives would give you a pretty decent country.

  • Aloysious||

    Ronald: Love this article. I use all your articles in this vein to beat progs I know over the head with facts. They hate it, and I love it. This probably makes me a bad person, but I don't care.

  • ||

    Have to give the NY Times credit for not being suckered into the anti-GMO hysteria.

    Although this probably just prooves to progressives that the NY Times is an evil right-wing corporate establishment rag.

  • Lady Bertrum||

    They want scientific cred so they can argue in favor of global climate change. They're pro-science unlike those idiot denialist.

  • wareagle||

    The scientific consensus is that existing genetically engineered

    does anything else need to be said?

  • sarcasmic||

    Who needs stupid shit like the scientific method when you can decide science with a vote?

  • ||

    Would be the easiest way to make a warp drive. Just have every one vote against the limiting speed of light.

  • Sigivald||

    Of course, there's a world of difference between a "consensus" based on models that don't predict and nothing more, and a "consensus" based on actual experimental testing.

    A "consensus" argument is bad when it's based on a consensus of opinions and nothing better.

    A "consensus" of experimental results is pretty much how actual science works.

  • AdamJ||

    Again, the enviros hate people. Anything that allows more people to exist mid be bad. Hence the anti-GMO hysteria.

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