Posts by Bart Janssen

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  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to st ephen,

    Profit might be another one

    Not our fault. Your government has insisted all research in NZ must demonstrate a profit for a NZ business.

    But most of us just want to make better food. More nutritious. Less damage to the environment. Less land used to grow the same food.

    Farm animals that produce healthier food with less damage to the environment.

    Better medicines made using better safer methods.

    These sound like slogans but they are the actual motivations of the scientists. Most of us could give a rats arse about profits.

    There's something about science that isn't complex but also isn't communicated well.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Up Front: P.A. Story, in reply to nzlemming,

    stones

    His stones are missing too?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to Sacha,

    That’s more responsible language than the absolutes you have been using

    I consciously use absolute language when discussing this in the public. I would never use such absolutes in scientific discussions. The reason is because of the language being used by opponents of science.

    Contamination and pollution are just two words you've used to describe events that 99.99% of the population would never notice and the last person out of 10000 would only notice because you'd told them.

    There is some amazingly emotive language used. And there is also a real lack of understanding of the language scientists use when discussing probability and risk assessment. When a scientist has said a "small risk" it has been jumped on by opponents and presented in terms that would make a Wellywood executive think disaster movie here I come. The public don't understand that p=0.001 means absolutely certain and leap on the tiny chance of uncertainty. When a scientist says I don't know for sure, they mean they can't think of any possible reason anything bad could happen but they know there are things they don't know. The opponents act like lawyers on a TV drama and say "ah hah" so you think a disaster is possible then...

    So I make no apology for using absolute language. It conveys the level of certainty that a lay person is expecting. And no it isn't really absolute, but for real world application, as opposed to paranoid fantasy, it is certain. Much much more certain than I am about my chicken fried rice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to Sacha,

    This seems to work really well

    and you’d think science might learn from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    Really, we have. Also bacteria are different to plants and animals with rather more generations to evolve weird shit than any plant or animal.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to st ephen,

    kiwifruit?

    Meh kiwifruit is small potatoes in term of crop land. It's also not what I would call a modern crop, it essentially is a wild species still, almost no inbreeding at all. It's more a case of moving a wild plant from one part of the world to another. Even so it would be a consideration in deciding whether to make kiwifruit herbicide resistant.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to Sacha,

    If an existing organic farmer’s crop is rendered un-organic by contamination from a GM neighbour, it’s pretty clear to all but the most one-eyed defender of agriscience that there is a victim. And that you are holding them responsible rather than the polluter.

    Ah I see your point. Setting aside the word "polluter" since this hardly qualifies as pollution by most folks understanding.

    The question is why do organic farmers consider GM to not be organic? Really that is a very serious question and one for which I have never heard a good answer. As far as I can tell GM is not organic because they say so. And for no other reason. Which is their right I guess.

    The Canadian case that Joe linked to was a group of organic farmers complaining about the possibility of being sued by Monsanto for accidental contamination. The only time Monsanto sues is if a farmer actively cultivates the contaminating seed, in which case blaming the victim is appropriate.

    They weren't trying to sue Monsanto for losses incurred by loss of organic status. As far as I'm aware nobody has tried to do that. Mostly because it's very hard to show any loss. If the crop is rendered un-organic (and I haven't heard of anyone having had that done) then they sell the crop as "normal". To sue they would have to show they lost income as a result. I just haven't heard of anyone doing that, but I don't circulate in circles where I would hear such cases.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to Steve Reeves,

    Haven’t there been instances of the trait “herbicide resistance” moving from your crop (where you want the resistance) into (related?) non-crops (“weeds”) where you don’t want it?

    And can this cause problems—for example having to escalate the use or “strength” or amount of herbicides?

    Yup this is an issue. Oilseed rape is very closely related to several weed species. And yes there has been transfer of roundup resistance to weeds documented. The weed species are very very closely related to oilseed and that is the issue here.

    It is a pain in the arse for growers because they have to switch back to herbicides that are nastier than roundup. It's probably one of the best arguments for not making oilseed rape herbicide resistant. It is however a very limited problem and simply puts the growers back into the position they were before GM. Except that it is not a widespread problem so for the vast majority of growers using roundup resistant oilseed rape there is no problem at all. Note the only people who care about those weeds are the oilseed rape growers, nobody else wants to control those weeds.

    Think of it along the lines of a product improvement that only lasted 20 years.

    A bigger problem is the development of roundup resistance naturally in weed species. What that is doing is making roundup not quite as good as it used to be and hence making roundup resistant plants not as good as they used to be.

    The solution is to stack resistance genes, two or three different ones at a time. This applies to herbicide resistance and pest resistance. This seems to work really well.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to Sacha,

    Sorry Sasha but you raised several points in one short comment that deserve addressing.

    Once there’s evidence of harm in the wild it’s way too late.

    That's a claim that is often made. But there really is no evidence to back it up. It is made as if these GM corn will sneakily spread throughout the wilds destroying great swathes of ... well it sounds scary but it just doesn't work that way.

    ALL of our modern crops are completely useless competitors in the wild. They all require careful watering and fertilisers and pest control. And even the more robust ones waste ridiculously too much of their energy producing fruit or seeds or stuff we humans want. they simply don't survive in the wild and to pretend that a GM change is going to make them compete against wild plants is the stuff of wellywood.

    By far the more dangerous risk is from the wild plants invading our precious food producing land. All those heirloom crops are much much tougher than our GM varieties.

    If something "escapes" there is no reasonable reason to believe it will do anything other than die. And even if it doesn't die then going our and killing the escapees is not going to be all that hard.

    “As far as we know” is just not good enough if you want to claim perfect absence of risk of harm.

    I don't claim perfect absence of harm. But I also don't believe anyone should be looking for perfect absence of harm. What we have always done and should always continue to do is optimise benefit versus harm. It's why we have modern medicine benefit outweighs harm. That is the rational reasonable discussion.

    Absolutely try and consider all possible harm. Absolutely monitor and assess after you release to see if there is unexpected harm. But zero harm? If you want zero harm we may as well all stop breathing now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to Sacha,

    And it’s certainly not organic farmers who are responsible for GM gene transfer into their crops – that’s victim blaming of the first order.

    No that isn't what I said. Monsanto has never sued anyone for accidentally having GM crops on their fields. However they sued the arse off people who actively selected for the GM seed and collected and then specifically planted it the next year (because it produced better yields!).

    In my view entirely reasonable protection of their IP, but we don't want this to become a copyright thread do we.

    So show me a "victim"?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Science: it's complicated, in reply to Sacha,

    I think you’re missing the point of the precautionary principle. Once there’s evidence of harm in the wild it’s way too late.

    No I understand the precautionary principle very well.

    But how about we state it a slightly different way. If we abandon technology then a vast proportion of the world's population dies.

    Now it's all very well to demand no risk from introducing a technology providing you also apply that standard to never using a technology.

    I view proponents of the precautionary principle as luddites. That isn't meant as an insult but it is meant as a description of their narrow view of technology.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3952 posts Report Reply

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