Natural Resources

Yielding to Ideology Over Science

Why don't environmentalists celebrate modern farming on Earth Day?

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One might think that environmentalists would celebrate the accomplishments of modern farming on Earth Day. After all, the biggest way humanity disturbs the natural world is in how we produce food. Agriculture uses up more land and water than any other human activity. To the extent that we want to preserve biodiversity and protect natural areas, boosting agricultural productivity is the most vital thing that we can do.

Since 1960 global crop yields have more than doubled, with the benefit that the area of land devoted to producing food has not increased very much. If farmers were still producing food at 1960 levels of productivity, agriculture would have had to expand from 38 percent of the earth's land to 82 percent to feed the world's current population. This enormous increase in yields is the result of applying more artificial fertilizers, breeding higher yielding crops, a wider use of pesticides and herbicides, and expanding irrigation. More recently, advances in modern biotechnology have also contributed to boosting yields. However, last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new report, Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, by its senior scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman that tries to make the case that modern crop biotechnology should be largely abandoned because it has failed to increase agricultural yields.

Failure to Yield begins by noting that, in the United States, 90 percent of soybeans and 63 percent of the corn crop are biotech varieties. Genes have been inserted in these varieties (called transgenic or genetically engineered by the report) to confer pest and herbicide resistance on the crops. The UCS study distinguishes between intrinsic yield, the highest yield possible under ideal conditions, and operational yield, the yield obtainable in the field taking into account factors like pests and environmental stresses. The study then asserts, "No currently available transgenic varieties enhance the intrinsic yield of any crops."

In addition, Gurian-Sherman claims that biotech crops have only marginally increased operational yields for corn (largely through insect resistance traits) and not at all for soybeans in the United States.

First, keep in mind that farmers are not stupid, and especially not poor farmers in developing countries. The UCS report acknowledges that American farmers have widely adopted biotech crops in the past 13 years. Why? "The fact that the herbicide-tolerant soybeans have been so widely adopted suggests that factors such as lower energy costs and convenience of GE soybeans also influence farmer choices." Indeed. Surely saving fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases should be viewed by a UCS advocacy scientist as an environmental good. And what does Gurian-Sherman mean by "convenience"? Later, he admits that biotech herbicide resistant crops save costs and time for farmers. Herbicide resistance is also a key technology for expanding soil-saving no-till agriculture which, according to a report in 2003, saved 1 billion tons of topsoil from eroding annually. In addition, no-till farming significantly reduces the run-off of fertilizers into streams and rivers.

The UCS report correctly observes, "It is also important to keep in mind where increased food production is most needed—in developing countries, especially in Africa, rather than in the developed world." Which is exactly what is happening with biotech crops in poor countries. Currently, 13.3 million farmers around the world are planting biotech crops. Notably, 90 percent of the world's biotech farmers, that is, 12.3 million, are small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries like China, India, and South Africa. Gurian-Sherman is right that biotech contributions to yields in developed countries are relatively modest. Farmers here already have access and can afford modern agricultural technologies so improvements are going to be at the margins. Nevertheless, it is instructive to compare the rate of increase in corn yields between the biotech-friendly U.S. and biotech-hostile France and Italy over the past ten years. University of Georgia crop scientist Wayne Parrott notes, "In marked contrast to yield increases in the U.S., yields in France and Italy have leveled off."

The yield story is very different in poor countries. For example, a 2006 study found that biotech insect resistant cotton varieties boosted the yields for India's cotton farmers by 45 to 63 percent. Amusingly, some anti-biotech activists counter that these are not really yield increases, merely the prevention of crop losses. Of course, another way to look at it is that these are increases in operational yields. Whether due to yield increase or crop loss prevention, in 2008 this success led to nearly 70 percent of India's cotton fields being planted with biotech varieties. Similarly, biotech insect resistant corn varieties increased yields (or prevented losses) by 24 percent in the Philippines.

The UCS report also declares, "We must not simply produce more food at the expense of clean air, water, soil, and a stable climate, which future generations will also require." Biotech varieties are already helping farmers to achieve those environmental benefits.

Gurian-Sherman notes that crops typically use only 30 to 50 percent of nitrogen fertilizers they receive. Nitrogen fertilizer contributes to water pollution and is the primary source of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Agriculture contributes up to 12 percent of man-made global warming emissions. So one would think that a new biotech variety of rice created by Arcadia Biosciences, which needs 50 to 60 percent less nitrogen fertilizer than conventional varieties, would be welcomed by the UCS. But it isn't. The really good news is that research into transferring this same set of fertilizer-thrifty genes into other crops is moving rapidly forward.

Another promising area of research involves using genetic engineering to transfer the C4 photosynthetic pathway into rice, which currently uses the less efficient C3 pathway. This could boost rice yields tremendously, perhaps as much 50 percent, while reducing water use. In addition, researchers are pursuing all manner of other ways to boost crop production including salt, heat, and drought tolerance, along with viral, fungal, and bacterial disease resistance. All of these biotech techniques could improve crop productivity and thus reduce agriculture's toll on land, water, and air resources.

"To the extent to which groups like UCS have advocated prohibitive and disproportional regulations, they are responsible for the lack of even greater achievements in operational yield and perhaps even in intrinsic yield," notes Parrott. "In fact UCS is on the record as opposing engineered stress tolerance in crops. Such a stance by UCS is untenable and contradictory—yield losses caused by adverse growing conditions defeats the purpose of having a higher intrinsic yield—that is why it is so important to increase operational yield, and increasing operational yield is done with resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses—i.e., adverse growing conditions."

Increasing crop yields to meet humanity's growing demand for healthful food while protecting the natural world will require deploying the full scientific armamentarium. This includes advances in crop breeding, improvements in cultivation practices, the safer deployment of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides—and, yes, genetic engineering. It is odd that while the UCS accepts the scientific consensus on man-made global warming, it refuses to accept the scientific consensus on the safety, usefulness, and environmental benefits of biotech crops.

"In the end, after helping prevent scientific advances with genetically modified crops," notes Parrott, "the UCS is not in a good position to be calling genetically modified crops a failure because their scientific advances have not been greater."

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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60 responses to “Yielding to Ideology Over Science

  1. Union of Concerned Scientists

    Fucking unions.

  2. New at Reason: Ron Bailey Wonders Why Environmentalists Don’t Celebrate Modern Agriculture on Earth Day

    Because they subscribe to the notion of “humans should all be dead, you first”.

  3. Union of Concerned Scientists

    Ah, the freaks who swore that SDI could not possibly work, no way, no how.

  4. Because environMentals like most leftists are scared of facts. They hurt them in their sensitive places.

  5. “Because they subscribe to the notion of “humans should all be dead, you first”.

    Yeah History Channel has a new series about what would happen to the earth if humans just disappeared. It includes interviews with one scientest after another whose apparent glee at the thought of a mass die off of humanity is downright creepy.

  6. I love it when people get things backward, being dyslexic and all. So just because it does not increase potential yield, it is bad. What it does is increase operational yield and costs. You can hardly ever change the plant that has been cultivated for thousands of years into a new superproducer. This is like saying Cannabis is stronger today, no it is reaching its genetic potential, but the yield is genetically set. you can only grow to potential. did that make sense, damn i am stoned lol

    1. hahah funny

  7. From those right-wing shills over at Slate:

    Only recently have conservationists begun to grasp what a debacle it was to enact climate change legislation in Europe without first putting in place global deforestation treaties. EU policies promoting a market for biofuels triggered the destruction of Indonesian rain forests in favor of palm plantations. Meanwhile, the forestry industry has argued that their monoculture plantations in Asia, Africa, and South America deserve credit as carbon sinks, but the data show that these biological deserts are actually spewing out carbon dioxide.

    Link

  8. “So why do so many environmental activists refuse to acknowledge these facts?”

    Luddites is Luddites.

    Environmentalists want us to live in sod houses without fuel for heat or cooking.

  9. Don’t forget about computer controlled spraying of fertilizer. Every square inch of a field is analyzed and is only sprayed if it needs it. This is going to cut down on the use of fertilizer dramatically.

  10. ” However, last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new report, Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, by its senior scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman that tries to make the case that modern crop biotechnology should be largely abandoned because it has failed to increase agricultural yields.”

    The Union of Concened Scientists has failed to demonsrate that it is any of their business whether Agribusisness companies continue to create and market bio-engineered crops or whether farmers continue to use them or not.

  11. Luddites is Luddites.

    QFT! If our ancestors were as afraid of the new, the experimental, humanity would still consist of 10,000 hunter gatherers in the Great Rift Valley.

  12. When I was in law school I did an internship at DOJ. One of the cases we were defending involved removal of juniper trees in a oak hard wood forest in Indiana. The juniper trees are an invasive species. They provide little food or habitat for the local fauna. A species of endangered bat lived in these forests. The department of interior had started a juniper erradication program to keep the junipers from crowding out the oaks and helping the endangered bat.

    Great idea right? Not to the Sierra Club who were suing to stop the juniper erradication. They didn’t care that the junipers were an invasive species that was wiping out the oak trees and the local animals. All they cared about was that someone was cutting down a tree and had to be stopped. They were total ignorant pricks about the whole thing.

    That experience put an end to any faith I had in environmental groups of any kind.

  13. I’m no till planting plenty of Round Up Ready GMO soybeans this summer, freeing up my time to concentrate on growing grass fed beef, bringing along a new crop of Syrah grapes, and building a winery. Plus the beans (legumes) will provide fertilizer for the following crop. (wheat)

    I see no contradiction. Would the hippies rather have me toiling on a tractor or diversifying into other more profitable ventures?

  14. did that make sense,

    No, SpongePaul, it didn’t.

    Would the hippies rather have me toiling on a tractor or diversifying into other more profitable ventures?

    Who said anything about a tractor?

  15. Union of Concerned Scientists – that would be the group with that idiotic nuclear war countdown clock that purports to show we have perpetually been 5 minutes away from a nuclear war every day for the last 50 years.

  16. watch out for the Round Up resistant pigweed.

  17. I want a tractor!

  18. Yeah History Channel has a new series about what would happen to the earth if humans just disappeared. It includes interviews with one scientest after another whose apparent glee at the thought of a mass die off of humanity is downright creepy.

    New Scientist had a whole cover story like that a couple of years ago. That’s when I realized for the second or third time that they suck.

    Union of Concerned Scientists

    More like the Union of Stupid Jerks!

  19. “Because they subscribe to the notion of “humans should all be dead, you first”.

    Yeah History Channel has a new series about what would happen to the earth if humans just disappeared. It includes interviews with one scientest after another whose apparent glee at the thought of a mass die off of humanity is downright creepy.

    Most of the scientist I know would get all bubbly over a chance to do this on camera. It’s fun, a mystery to puzzle over and maybe solve a few pieces.

    It has nothing to do with wanted to see the end of people, because that would mean trouble getting their grant reapproved.

  20. “Most of the scientist I know would get all bubbly over a chance to do this on camera. It’s fun, a mystery to puzzle over and maybe solve a few pieces.”

    I don’t know these guys personally so maybe that is it. But, it didn’t look that way. They seemed genuinly happy about the prospect of all the interesting things that would happen if there were no more humanity.

  21. Nice link, Sugarfree.

    I liked this best:

    Even scientists have grown bored with question of habitat loss, tweaking their grant proposals to emphasize the climate angle no matter how tenuous the connection. Saving the Amazon is so 1980s.

    Yep, get a farmer in another NPR human interest story to declare in his best folksy drawl: Yep, thangs sure are a’difrn’t since I uh’got in’th farmin’ bidness…

    Conclusion: CLIMATE CHANGE!

  22. This is somewhat tangential re environmentalists:

    Prior to their mass slaughter, there were an estimated 60 million American bison roaming the within the boundaries of the present say USA

    According to the FDA, on January 1, 2008 the total number of U.S. cattle was 96.7 million head.

    Prior to their mass slaughter, there were an estimated 60 million American bison roaming the within the boundaries of the present say USA.

    Did those bison cause environmental havoc? Absolutely. The herds were so large it could take days for one of them to cross a river. Imagine the water quality after days upon days of bison continuously shitting in the river. A parallel would be caribou migrating across the Thelon river up in Canada (north of the Arctic Circle) that render the normally pristine river water undrinkable due to high concentrations of e-coli bacteria.

    After the bison had crossed / contaminated the river, how ling do you think it took for the river to right itself? Keep in mind that these herds migrated year round throughout a good chunk of the USA.

    Now granted, 93 million head of cattle is 58% greater than 60 million bison, but also keep in mind that there is waste management of cattle crap these days.

    Just sayin’.

  23. Reason needs to throw a banquet for these “consarned scientist” folks featuring non-genetically-modified food. Hard, wormy little apples. Grass seed instead of corn or wheat. Dried West Texas jackrabbit filets.

    You get the idea.

  24. This is not difficult to explain, and it’s not any of the explanations given above.

    The reason is food psychology. People are adapted to be very sensitive to what they eat, so any possibility that a food is tainted produces an aversion. This makes it easy to create cultural taboos, even to foods that the person has never eaten. For instance, the aversion to pork for some religions, can be so strong that the individual will become nauseous if they think they’ve eaten pork. It’s a psychosomatic reaction.

    Because food taboos are so strong, it works a lot better to attract attention, and thus money, to an organization’s coffers. That is, they can raise a lot more money by campaigning against genetically engineered foods than they can by campaigning against strip mining. People are much more easily manipulated by appealing to food psychology than by appealing to some intangible environmental characteristic like “diversity”.

    The environmental groups who are anti-GMO probably KNOW there aren’t any health problems, or any other problems for that matter, with them. But it is such a big fundraiser for them that they aren’t going to admit that. It’s like immigration for the GOP. Half of them are pro-immigration, but they get so much mileage out of being anti-immigration politically that they won’t shift their position. It’s too big of a fundraiser.

  25. When I was in law school I did an internship at DOJ. One of the cases we were defending involved removal of juniper trees in a oak hard wood forest in Indiana. The juniper trees are an invasive species. They provide little food or habitat for the local fauna. A species of endangered bat lived in these forests. The department of interior had started a juniper erradication program to keep the junipers from crowding out the oaks and helping the endangered bat.

    Great idea right? Not to the Sierra Club who were suing to stop the juniper erradication. They didn’t care that the junipers were an invasive species that was wiping out the oak trees and the local animals. All they cared about was that someone was cutting down a tree and had to be stopped. They were total ignorant pricks about the whole thing.

    San Clemente Island. 19880s I believe. Goats. Endangered plant species. Same ol’ story when the US Navy wanted to kill the invasive species (goats).

    Belle Isle, Detroit. 2000s. Fallow deer. Same ol’ story.

  26. Side comment. I fucking hate junipers. They are the ugliest trees on the planet.

  27. Kind of on topic. Here’s one environmentalists who, to his credit, understands the stupid ironies of the environmental movement:

    Q: More irony…You were in Paris, where you were shortlisted for this really big prize for environmental photography, the Prix Pictet. You were in Dubai…

    A: It was ridiculous: 900 wealthy people from all over the world flew to Dubai and stayed in a five-star hotel, ate top-quality food imported from all over the world, and talked about what we could do to save the world. It was truly an exercise in irony and denial and hypocrisy.

    Whole thing here.

  28. On Clipperton Island, guano miners brought pigs to a virtually barren island. The pigs ate crabs, and the vegetation, native and introduced, flourished. The invasive fauna (the pigs) were removed, for environmental reasons. Since then, the crabs have denuded almost all of the grasses and low-growing vegetation, leaving only the introduced/invasive high-growing fauna in a seemingly inevitably losing battle with wind erosion.

  29. “Because they subscribe to the notion of ‘humans should all be dead, you first’.”

    When everyone else kicks off, I figure they’ll say “Wow, that actually worked?”

  30. in a seemingly inevitably losing battle with wind erosion.

    Because of changing wind patterns due to global warming.

    You can’t win.

  31. Reason needs to throw a banquet for these “consarned scientist” folks featuring non-genetically-modified food. Hard, wormy little apples. Grass seed instead of corn or wheat. Dried West Texas jackrabbit filets.

    You bring the guns, beloved boyfriend shall supply the ammo.

  32. It was ridiculous: 900 wealthy people from all over the world flew to Dubai and stayed in a five-star hotel, ate top-quality food imported from all over the world, and talked about what we could do to save the world. It was truly an exercise in irony and denial and hypocrisy.

    To be honest, this is nothing but an ad hominem argument.

  33. I was going to say something about Bailey shilling for Big Corn, but I decided it sounded vaguely prurient.

    And thank you Tony for proving that the left is indeed irony deficient.

  34. All of these environmental issues are intended to reduce the amount of energy and food and stuff that people produce, in an effort to stress the populace and eventually reduce population substantially. It is a long-term shared vision of greens that is finally starting to come out, as some of them are starting to say it publically. The MSM has not talked about this, and probably won’t, for quite a while.

    They want to depopulate the planet, and they are well on their way to sucess.

  35. Well, Ron Bailey’s pretty good at failing to acknowledge things himself:
    http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936
    http://climatetoday.org/?p=1467

    In his latest bit of pro-agribusiness shillery, Bailey writes that “[i]f farmers were still producing food at 1960 levels of productivity, agriculture would have had to expand from 38 percent of the earth’s land to 82 percent to feed the world’s current population.”

    That comparison uses faulty logic. It ignores the fact that the “1960 levels of productivity” he refers to reflected a model of large-scale agribusiness that not only was less efficient in terms of output per acre than the smaller-scale, more soil-intensive alternatives available at the time; but it was specifically designed to sacrifice output per acre in return for output per man-hour. The methods described in those two links above, on the other hand, do just the opposite.

  36. They want to depopulate the planet, and they are well on their way to sucess.

    .. pored over all of the entries of this thread and the last one nails it ..

    .. think about it for a second .. the whacko environmentalists* feel that mankind is a sort of parasite on Gaia and, as such, needs to be removed .. this is an even more fundamental belief than “rich vs. poor” in that rich people as well as poor people need to do their duty and die off as quickly as possible so that Gaia can get back to Her regular business of keeping the planet at an average daily temperature of 72.5 degrees F to preserve the glaciers and polar bears and such..

    .. think about the outcome if Jim Jones had been forced to drink the Kool-Aide first ..

    .. Hobbit

  37. .. crap, I forgot my asterisk ..

    *not all environmentalists are whackos .. I was referring to that subset of environmentaists who are …

    .. Hobbit

  38. .. and I misspelled envir

    .. aw, fuck it

    .. Hobbit

  39. I think the overwhelming use of corn in place of other crops is slowly and subtly damaging humanity as a race, and it’s not helping the environment, either. I have no problem with genetically modified crops and such, but I think it would be an unambiguous good thing if we returned to more local food economies grown in multicultures, instead of the unhealthy monocultures we grow most crops in.

    Plus it kind of scares me that a privately held company like Cargill has so much control over what I eat. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t avoid Cargill even if you wanted to, and everything you eat has their stamp on it even if you don’t know it.

  40. I have been farming in Ontario Canada since the early 70’s and the improvements in yield and soil conservation through bio-tech and no till have not only reduced our use of pesticides by a huge amount our trips across the fields have been cut in half. Isn’t it typical that the Union of Concern Scientists get it 100% wrong!

  41. I work at a small town newspaper in rural Minnesota. Just a few days ago, I interviewed a farmer who pointed out the political impact of farming’s success.

    Today, it only takes about two percent of the population to feed themselves and the other 98 percent. That means there are a lot of ignorant city people out there making decisions about how farmers should use their land.

    The farmer I talked to said he spends more and more time defending his land against both environmentalists – who don’t want him to use it at all- and developers who want to build expensive houses on it for commuting yuppies.

    And of course, politicians usually take the environmentalists’ or developers’ sides.

    “If 60 percent of the population was still involved in ag, we’d have the votes to protect our land,” the farmer said. “We’re victims of our own success.”

  42. I am true outlier on this topic.

    Grains and starches are not healthy, over the long run, for human consumption. They keep us alive and “flourishing” long enough to procreate and then develop the “diseases of modernity.” Your genes don’t care about you!

    So, I agree with this article as in I don’t have a problem with GM foods (given the alternatives), but I think articles like this are missing the bigger picture. GM agriculture v. non-GM agriculture is the wrong paradigm!

    We should be thinking how to feed billions, in an environmentally-friendly way, whilst feeding them mostly green, leafy vegetables and lean meats.

  43. “Well, Ron Bailey’s pretty good at failing to acknowledge things himself:
    http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936
    http://climatetoday.org/?p=1467

    Of course, only 105 out of 119 studies cited by the UM study were actually organic. Gee, Kev, you wouldn’t be shilling for the organiks, would you??

    The author asks “So why do so many environmental activists refuse to acknowledge these facts?”

    I’ve been a biotecher for 25 years now, and the reason for this is not nearly as complex as one might think. People like Kevin, UCS, Greenpeace, that Oxborough chic from the UK, Jeffrey “magic carpet” Smith etc, etc, simply don’t like or trust industry. This anti-corporate, anti-global obsession is so deep- seated that these organization have spent the last 20 years searching for evidence to justify their original position, Monarch butterlies, Starlink, Indian suicides….you name it.
    This yield thing is another red herring. Those of us who actully do this for a living are ususally quite amused by this. Bt and RR weren’t desgined to increase intrinsic yield, but to lower inputs and protect the crop. Period. And that’s what they do.

  44. The farmer I talked to said he spends more and more time defending his land against both environmentalists – who don’t want him to use it at all- and developers who want to build expensive houses on it for commuting yuppies.

    Well, the environmentalists can lobby to get restrictive laws passed which could conceiveably put the farmer out of business.

    But the developers can only build expensive houses for commuting yuppies if they buy the land from the farmer.

    So which one leaves the farmer with no choices?

  45. And thank you Tony for proving that the left is indeed irony deficient.

    Environmentalists being hypocrites isn’t irony. And just because they’re hypocrites doesn’t make them wrong.

    And by the way, farmers are the biggest welfare queens in the US.

  46. I wonder how many actual scientists are members of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    I used to get the crap in the mail all the time. Anyone can join if they write them a check.

    Which is all well and good. They are an advocacy group that says what its members want said.

    But noone should confuse their output with actual science.

  47. “So which one leaves the farmer with no choices?”

    Good point. Here’s the background I left out for space reasons: the county commissioners sat in an office at the courthouse, drew a circle on a map, and decided to rezone everything in that circle for possible development. Part of the circle overlapped the farmer’s land.

    The farmer was grandfathered in, but if were to sell the land – even to his own children upon his retirement – the farm land would immediately become part of the rezoned area.

    The farmer brought the county commissioners in to tour the affected land, and pointed out how development would damage wetlands areas leading into the local river. He finally got enough of them to relent, but several weren’t convinced. They still believed the best use for that farmer’s land was for housing.

    It was clever – and valid – of the farmer to use the environmental argument to preserve his land, but what if he hadn’t succeeded? When environmentalists and developers have the backing of politicians, the decreasing number of farmers are stuck in defense mode.

  48. Assuming eminent domain isn’t an issue, I really don’t have a problem with farmers getting bought out by developers – or enviros, assuming they are paying for the property.

    The market decides what the most efficient use of the land is, if it’s in close proximity to a city and the land value is rising, then eventually the farmer will get an offer high enough that he’s going to be willing to sell.

    That’s all there is to it.
    The only issue I see is with politicians in the cities exerting eminent domain to take the land forcibly.

  49. “Assuming eminent domain isn’t an issue, I really don’t have a problem with farmers getting bought out by developers – or enviros, assuming they are paying for the property.”

    I agree. But it doesn’t need to get all the way to eminent domain seizures for an interested party – with the help of politicians and bureaucrats – to limit how farmers can use their land. Simply drawing a circle on a map and getting a few politicians to vote on a rezoning might be enough to “encourage” farmers to sell.

    Farmers associations in rural areas have some pull, but their numbers are decreasing as more young people move to the cities for jobs. If a farm is close enough to a city for people to commute, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be rezoned at some point.

  50. “So why do so many environmental activists refuse to acknowledge these facts?”

    Because that would mean acknowledging that freedom works and that markets work and that we don’t need an over-class of ideologues to plan our lives and future for us, which is the basic assumption of all Progressivism, of which environmentalism is just the latest flavor.

    When there’s no power for them in it, the left isn’t interested.

  51. Here’s an important fact about GM crops: first world farmers don’t want the kind of modifications that third world farmers do, and vice versa. (Mr Bailey’s excellent-as-usual article mentions this, but I want to highlight it. BTW, I live on a farm in Australia.)

    Modern first world farmers generally use pesticides (they cost a lot but prevent massive crop losses). For them, seed companies aim to produce varieties which require fewer pesticide treatments, or tolerate cheaper pesticides (hence “Roundup Ready”).

    Third world farmers cannot afford pesticides and lose massive amounts of production to pests. So people try to develop varieties which have in-built pest resistance, even if they don’t yield as well in ideal conditions.

    The result is that varieties which first world farmers like are practically useless in the third world, and vice versa.

    Another important fact is that seed breeders still produce new varieties using conventional techniques to get better yield, weather resistance, etc. Monsanto has tried producing GM wheat by starting the latest mass-market non-GM seed. But it takes 2-3 years to grow a seed sample into enough seed to sell commercially, so their GM wheat is 2-3 years behind the conventional breeds in production improvements — and those improvements outweigh the benefits from the GM (at least, for first-world farmers).

  52. Union of Concerned Scientists – that would be the group with that idiotic nuclear war countdown clock that purports to show we have perpetually been 5 minutes away from a nuclear war every day for the last 50 years.

    They demonstrate that competency in one field does not lead to competency in other fields.

  53. Loren’s comment reminds me of Lincoln’s anecdote about the Jesuit who, accused of killing six men and a dog, triumphantly produced the dog in court.

    And his description of anti-corporate people like me strikes me as a mirror-image of Bailey: Bailey’s PRO-corporate, PRO-chemical, PRO-biotech obsession is so deep-seated that he’s allowed himself to become an automatic regurgitator of talking points: an agribusiness groupie.

    At the very least, I’ve made an effort to directly address the arguments raised by Bailey, Borlaug et al against organic farming–which is more than I can say for Bailey’s approach from the other side.

    And Loren’s characterization of us as a bunch of pseudo-religious Kool-Aid drinkers who JUST WANT TO BELIEVE is a bit ironic, considering the tone of this very thread. Just about every single comment here reflects the same wish to be told, yet again, exactly what one wants to believe: yet another reaffirmation that those ignorant tree-hugging hippies are utterly irrational–and hate humanity, to boot.

    You can pick up exactly the same tone and the same reflexive response at Daily Kos when liberarianism is mentioned, and the inevitable comments about “pot-smoking Republicans” show up (in an interval I like to call a markosecond). Both instances display exactly the same degree of ignorance and desire to have one’s prejudices confirmed.

  54. Let’s be clear about something, Kevin, I DO this work for a living every day. So, I don’t need to be told anything and I’m not a groupie, I’M THE BAND. And contrary to what anti-GM folks might think, the height of the bar we set for ourselves in this industry is something about which you know very little. Inside these walls, what I “believe” means nothing. The quality of what I produce and what I can prove means everything.
    And BTW, since we’re accused of killing “six men and a dog”, I assume you can produce the bodies in court;)

  55. “So why do so many environmental activists refuse to acknowledge these facts?”

    I do acknowledge these facts. We should be massively investing in and utilizing GM crops.

    Now, can you acknowledge the facts concerning climate change in return?

  56. Now, can you acknowledge the facts concerning climate change in return?

    Sure, as long as you acknowledge the facts of the TTAPS study, one of the most important scientific studies in human history.

  57. This piece is weak. I don’t know if Mr. Bailey or this site’s editors are responsible for the link to a Wired Magazine article on GE lawns – claiming to be a citation of actual research on no-till crops and soil conservation. Ditto for the link to UCS’ on-record opposition to stress-tolerant engineering, which actually points to their position on weakening regulation of GE crops in general. For those who don’t know, these are two very distinct issues. Errors like this make “Reason” seem like a street-corner pamphlet for true believers only, where references are employed only to give the false appearance of robust research. For someone looking to find a well-supported defense of GE crops, this article is a huge disappointment.

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