Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Clover It

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  • Kyle Matthews,

    If the 10-15 years passes and the variety proves to be a disappointment, can these institutions afford to throw all that work away?

    You could say that of any science.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6162 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Little aside..but linked:

    Had this email from a friend who has close links with "the 'old DSIR" Grasslands.

    "I didn't hear any claims that the GM clover fixed less nitrogen. So I think that was probably a red herring. I was just trying to point out how important clover has been to NZ - 'like forever', whether the public realised it or not. I don't think many people realise just how much research Grasslands has been doing for decades to improve our pasture - it is an unsung success, going on in the background. Apparently NZ farmers were much keener uptakers than Old World farmers overseas, in that they were always keen to plough under their pasture and resow if Grasslands put out a new variety that was better, which they frequently did. Folk spent years collecting pasture seeds overseas to try to breed new varieties here with better characteristics than ours, like to add in extra drought resistance or rust resistance or pest resistance or anything else."

    She also told me of doing high school holiday work testing for tanins in clover(!) years ago at Grasslands. So it has been going on for a while.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1493 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Thanks, Bart (despite patronising dismissiveness ;)), but I'm confused about your dismissal of the genie metaphor.

    Yeah sorry about the tone. I find it really really hard to answer some of these objections with facts without appearing dismissive. It's easier in person where arm waving and expression can soften what is otherwise a bald hard statement.

    Anyway the genie thing.

    There is this myth going around that once a GM crop gets out it could never be recalled. But we don't make triffids, they don't go walkies in the night. So if by some weird unforseen circumstance something bad happened in the field that had never shown up during greenhouse trial and had never shown up during field testing and had never been thought of by the very smart and knowledgeable people whose job it is to try and think of all the bad things .... then should such a bad thing occur then really it IS possible to destroy a crop.

    And yes I know that pollen could spread the genes but really we know that and that why we do the testing and it isn't true that pollen from The GM crop will rampantly fertilise everything in sight - that just isn't real.

    So yes I really think the Genie thing is wrong. If something bad happens then really all we do is kill off the plants and try something better.

    I say that knowing full well that there will be people who won't believe me .. sorry.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Yeah sorry about the tone.

    Not at all. I was jokingly quoting you.

    Thanks for the clarification, but don't we already have introduced flora that we effectively can't get rid of?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    GM crops in the US have reduced environmental damage of monocultures not as is claimed increased it.

    How?

    Ok so if you want to go to the source you should look up ISAAA. Which has links to lots of interesting (well to me) reports on this kind of stuff.

    So the use of herbicide resistant soybean in particular but also the other big row GM crops in the US has resulted in a pretty dramatic change in farming practices. The big thing is the reduction in tilling which destroys soil architecture causes soil erosion etc etc.

    But also less pesticide use and less herbicide use (overall and a switch from really toxic ones to roundup) which has consequences for runoff etc.

    And also less tractor trips up and down the rows!

    It's estimated that from 1996 to 2007 the reduction in fuel use is equivalent to 7090 million kg of CO2 emissions.

    Reduction in tilling results in less carbon lost from the soil an estimated 3570 million kg of soil carbon sequestered in 2007 alone - that's equivalent to taking 6.3 million cars from the road!!!!!

    {insert lots of excited arm waving here to emphasise how much I think this is a good thing}

    In just the tilling alone you could argue that GM crops are a pretty damn successful piece of technology for alleviating global warming. No not the silver bullet we need but a piece of the puzzle.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Thanks for the clarification, but don't we already have introduced flora that we effectively can't get rid of?

    True but we are smarter now. Most of those problems come from a time when we thought it was OK to bring gorse from Britain to NZ. We do actually know a bit more now about ecology and are more careful when we do things like this.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I'll accept that, but I feel it won't always apply. We'll have GM'ed insects, bacteria, and even humans soon enough, and you won't be able to undo those things.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    Er, what? No GM method is acceptable unless "all concerns about genetic engineering are irrational"? What does that even mean?

    Easy.

    Various people have various concerns about all genetically modified organisms.

    Any one of those concerns, if valid, makes the use of any GMO unacceptable.

    Therefore all such concerns must be invalid for any GMO to be OK.

    The logic is unshakable.

    [you probably feel that there are no valid reasons why all GMO are bad, regardless of specific details. I probably agree with you]

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    We'll have GM'ed insects, bacteria, and even humans soon enough, and you won't be able to undo those things.

    True enough, though there may be some legal recourse. I remember hearing Colin Tudge being interviewed a few years back, where he looked forward to the day when a young man whose temperament led to his choosing to study philosophy might sue his parents for subjecting him to the kind of genetic manipulation that gave him the physique to be a champion basketball player.

    The message was that we may well presume to manipulate something that we don't fully understand the consequences of. While the term junk DNA doesn't seem to be used much of late, it seems an expression born of a dangerous arrogance.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3421 posts Report Reply

  • John Fouhy,

    The message was that we may well presume to manipulate something that we don't fully understand the consequences of

    Welcome to science!

    (let me know when you find a topic we fully understand)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    True but we are smarter now.

    Which "we" counts. I'm not bothered by what scientists like Bart do - it's the commercial and political interests that shape how their work is driven and implemented that concern me most.

    That's hardly a novel sentiment, and it's being played out again today in catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil damage caused by prioritising commerce and profit over prudent risk management and science.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16586 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    I'll accept that, but I feel it won't always apply. We'll have GM'ed insects, bacteria, and even humans soon enough, and you won't be able to undo those things.

    That's a rather sweeping statement, and somewhat inaccurate. Genetically modified bacteria have been around for a veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery long time by this point (insomuch as genetic modification *means* anything to bacteria, who are genetically promiscuous little buggers) and we have yet to lose control of them and destroy the environment. For instance, most of the world's insulin supply has been produced, for the last thirty years, by genetically modified bacteria.

    In fact, antibiotic resistant bacteria - which have engineered *themselves* quite nicely, often via gene transfer between very distantly related species - are much, much more of a concern than any human-created variety.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    we have yet to lose control of them and destroy the environment.

    I'm not against GM, per se. I'm just asking for appropriate risk management, that's all.

    The cost (both environmental and economic) - even if not the likelihood - of unforseen unwelcome consequences could be extremely high, and I wonder whether commercial interests give that appropriate priority.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Michael Stevens and Samuel Scott:

    >Along with an embrace of quackery, sorry, i mean 'alternative' medicine.

    What is the context for a claim like that? What medicines? Homeopathy? Osteopathy? Acupuncture?

    The Greens opposed joining with Australia in regulating dietary supplements, because herbs etc are "valuable tools in maintaining health", but pharmaceutical drugs are dangerous and bad. Like vaccines.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 809 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    3410 wrote:

    I'll accept that, but I feel it won't always apply. We'll have GM'ed insects, bacteria, and even humans soon enough, and you won't be able to undo those things.

    Actually, we already have GM'ed humans. Gene therapy for curing blindness caused by mutated RPE65 genes is currently in human clinical trials.

    Highly technical paper available at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    I am as comfortable with using genetic manipulation to cut carbon emissions as I am for using it to cure blindness. Which is to say thoroughly comfortable providing both are done in a good, ethical investigation science kind of way.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 859 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    I'll put one up for the Greens here.

    1. I don't think cow burps and farts are causing global warming all that much. It's all the bloody fossil fuels.

    2. Ag Research has been looking for excuses to introduce GE and GMO to NZ for ages. Now their have their trojan. Bully for them, maybe the rest of us can think a little bit about what it means in the longer term.

    3. There has been quiet a bit of research done on food that cows could consume that would also reduce burps. No GM as far as I remember. What happened to that?

    4. Are our consumers (outside of the USA - 'cause noone tells them anything) happy to eat / drink our produce if it consumes GM? Where is the research on that?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1615 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    1. I don't think cow burps and farts are causing global warming all that much. It's all the bloody fossil fuels.

    If you're going to look at it on a national level -- and that's what Kyoto does -- they're 38.7% of our total emissions. Really not trivial if our responsibility to curb our greenhouse emissions means anything.

    2. Ag Research has been looking for excuses to introduce GE and GMO to NZ for ages. Now their have their trojan. Bully for them, maybe the rest of us can think a little bit about what it means in the longer term.

    We have 10-15 years. And surely "thinking about it" is incompatible with ruling it out on announcement?

    3. There has been quiet a bit of research done on food that cows could consume that would also reduce burps. No GM as far as I remember. What happened to that?

    My understanding is that none of the alternatives grow well enough as pasture.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18802 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Ah, going through the comments has been just tremendously informative. Thanks everyone.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7352 posts Report Reply

  • Just thinking,

    I voted Green largely for their Social Policy - Sue Bradford et al.

    I'm not particularly against GE. Good old GE Free Nelson had to answer their diabetics questions "Do we have to leave?"

    GE Clover is a solution to what? The 'problem' being fixed is clover, but there is no problem with clover.

    Is there an issues of food production and projected production?
    There is a problem with food distribution, certainly, but not production.

    This goes to standards of living and for us wasted resources. Look at consumption rates rather than production rates against requirements & production isn't an issue.

    Maximising production, is short termed and short sighted, so too the choices of what is produced.

    This is where we should start, not trying to prolong an acknowledged failed product line.

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1147 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    GE Clover is a solution to what? The 'problem' being fixed is clover, but there is no problem with clover.

    Well, there is when grazing animals eat it, in terms of the emission of methane via animal flatulence. And it's a big problem.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18802 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    There is no reason to believe that transferring genes using GM is any more or less safe than classical breeding as has been carried out for about 10000 years. None.

    GM is still done in plants with the naturally occurring virus and bacteria, in a way that allows the wild versions to neatly pick that same gene back out in the field and distribute it to other species, right?

    That's how the roundup-ready gene spread to various weeds in the US and Australia. So we used to have a cheap, safe spray that killed fast growing weeds, and now some places don't, coincidently just as Roundup was coming out from under patent protections.

    So there is a difference, and quite a major one, eh.

    GM crops have been in the ground commercially worldwide since 1995. There have been no disasters. None. Yes rapeseed ain’t the best thing ever made resistant to one herbicide but it still isn’t even close to being a disaster.

    There's a bit of land in the states won't grow shit after one of the early crops shed so much anti-bacterial crap into the soil to kill it all. Small scale but quite real. One might suggest the insecticides incorporated into various crops haven't been too friendly on the bees either, as problematic as studying that is proving.

    There's farmers throughout Canada and the United States have had their land confiscated by the courts for Monsanto because they were found to be growing patented crops, after saving their own seed contaminated by wind-blown pollen.
    Farmers buying Monsanto seed are locked in forever, as you can't ever get 100% of last year's seed out of the next crop, so they own it all no matter your contract, and any fool can guess how the pricing works on that.
    It's put a lot of small scale seed producers out of business too, impossible to cover themselves against that risk.
    All an issue of legislation than science, but still a real problem.



    As to putting tannins in white clover, it's called red clover, and they don't use it much any more because cattle don't like the taste of the tannins, and won't eat as much in a day with any diet that includes them. Those test tubes might work just like a cow's stomach, but they're not attached to a real cow, eh.

    You can also cure clover bloat with a little oil in their drinking water, or various pasture mixes, but it's more profitable to run pure rye grass irrigated and fertilised (at least according to the literature, as carefully investigated by the fertiliser companies).

    Since Nov 2006 • 383 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Farmers buying Monsanto seed are locked in forever, as you can't ever get 100% of last year's seed out of the next crop, so they own it all no matter your contract, and any fool can guess how the pricing works on that.

    I don't quite get you you mean by this, but the idea that many modern farmers use seed -- GM or otherwise -- saved from their previous year's crop is a myth. New Zealand farmers buy commercial seed every season. I'm stretching my memory here, but I think the seeds are generally second-generation hybrids.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18802 posts Report Reply

  • James W,

    I vote Green mostly for their social policy too. It's interesting when you tell people you voted Green they automatically assume you're a tree-hugging, pot-smoking hippie. I think their name and health/environment-at-all-costs agenda actually stops them from getting beyond 8% support. If there was a true liberal party with enough support without that stuff I would vote for them.

    Since Jul 2008 • 124 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Which "we" counts. I'm not bothered by what scientists like Bart do

    Thank you for your confidence in me Sacha but I am only as smart as my colleagues allow me to be.

    The way to make sure that people you don't trust aren't the ones doing all this work is to make sure the ones you do trust can do the work. If you trust the NZ science community (and I do) then why the hell do we create such a restrictive environment for them to try and do their work. We have rules that prevent us doing work on lab strains of E. coli that have been used safely for 40 years!

    appropriate risk management

    me too.

    But at the moment we have inappropriate risk management. We have a system that demands that we prove beyond all doubt that we will never do any harm. Since that is impossible to prove we can't do the work we need to do in order to make real progress. Yes we can do some work but it is ridiculously expensive (a waste of tax dollars) and we can't ever get it to the point where it is able to make it into the field - which of course is the point of the rules.

    Stupid analogy time - because every person has the potential to become a homicidal maniac (since we don't really understand what triggers that behaviour) then applying the same logic as we apply to GM you would argue that every person should be in jail, to prevent the possibility of them becoming homicidal.

    That's called inappropriate risk management and that's what we have now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • RBentley,

    As an agricultural journalist who knows a bit about AgResearch and the people involved I invite you to look at the language used in the press release. Some of you are talking as if this is reality rather than just a possibility. "Understanding how switches MAY work....". "IF we can alter this...." ".,.IF REALISED...." "Another benefit MAY be...."

    You need to look at the timing of the release - just before the National Agricultural Fieldays in Hamilton and just as CEO Andrew West announces that he is going to head the research arm of a commercial company. It is just a teaser with not a lot of substance, and while in the fullness of time it MAY result in something useful we are a long way from that yet.

    Meantime, there are a number of practical things that farmers can do right now to reduce methane production but you don't hear anyone trumpeting those because they are techniques that are not new and can't be patented and there is no way for anyone to clip the ticket.

    Hamilton • Since Jul 2008 • 8 posts Report Reply

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