Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Clover It

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  • Jimmy Southgate,

    Yes, I am being facetious.

    That's a relief. Unless you're being facetious now, and weren't earlier.

    Wellingtown • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    What 3410 said - and the Greens need to be clearer about this. The precautionary principle means it's up to the promoters of GE to prove their case, not its opponents. Politically, it would be nice if that were true.

    if this was achieved without a GM method, but with similar benefits, would you then support it? Then we're down to considering the actual risk of one method over another.

    As far as I know the insurance industry still refuses to insure GE. What does that tell you about their assessment of the risks in a technology that once released into the wild can not be put back in the bottle? I'm open to the argument that some methods might have less risk - but let's see those figures shall we, not just triumphal labcoat wearers and opportunistic politicians?

    If we all ate a bit less meat and if every farm in the world (no matter how huge) embraced some of the ideals of poly-organic farming (or whatever you want to call it) then we wouldn't need GE solutions.

    This country's intensive dairying is already causing us real problems. In the ECan debacle, we have seen that the stakes are high enough for the national political representatives of commercial farming to abrogate local body democracy to defend unsustainable practices.

    Something that might shave 10-15% of emissions in 17 years time is little more than window-dressing at this stage, and in the meantime Kyoto and a weakened ETS ensures the rest of us are subsidising famers and agribusiness to ignore their problem.

    Technology might seem an easy and appealing answer, but it's not going to solve unsustainable living, commercial greed or political conniving.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Jim Cathcart,

    It's pleasing to see that Nandor has made some progress towards accepting that technology can contribute to sustainability. I am saying this because of a disturbing lecture he gave at AIT in 2008 where he flatly rejected the notion that the corporate sector could drive (or be part of) a solution towards sustainability. What was of even more concern was that the audience hung on every word of his anti-corporate, anti-technology message.

    Since Nov 2006 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    the corporate sector could drive (or be part of) a solution towards sustainability

    That I agree with, if the incentives are aligned - and what's standing in the way is the boldness sadly lacking in any of our political leaders, despite their claims.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    And more so of the various wheat varieties in which scientists have been inducing mutations (in the hope that they'll be beneficial) since the early 1960s. The mutations are generated through the application of radiation or toxic chemicals.

    If by "beneficial" you mean "cheaper to produce".

    Have you eaten any bread lately? It sucks.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Technology might seem an easy and appealing answer, but it's not going to solve unsustainable living, commercial greed or political conniving.

    Agricultural technology has, however, allowed the development of civilisation and generally avoided mass starvation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis,

    But yes. I do not understand the fundamental opposition to this kind of GE - which is no different in the end result from traditional cross-breeding or grafting. I vote Green and this drives me batfuck.

    But the result is different. Traditionally breeding techniques are do not have the same level of precision with respect to which genes are included, ergo the set of genes that is transferred is different, and may require multiple generations to breed out the undesired genes, if this is possible at all.

    I don't have a problem with using GE to figure out which genes are of interest, and then using traditional methods used actually produce the hybrid.

    They love evidence, except when they don't.

    How about you show me evidence that we have the ethical capacity to deal with the risks of GE contamination. e.g. evidence that a multinational would behave materially different to the way DuPont acted in the aftermath of the Bhopal disaster.

    I'm not saying that every single GE organism is a potential disaster waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world, but in the light of the potential impact of such an occurrence, I'll take precaution over potential profits any day.

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Agricultural technology has, however, allowed the development of civilisation and generally avoided mass starvation.

    Yep. Sanitation engineering has been handy too.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Ah, the pleasures of arguing about specialised knowledge that goes beyond the heads of all of us. Ultimately, the debate becomes an appeal to authority.

    Which frustrates the fuck out of me. Because science does have limits (by definition, we don't know everything). We have to deal in reasonable probabilities, and those who ask for perfect knowledge will always be able to claim the right to veto action, and delay for decades until such perfect knowledge is available. Sound familiar?

    There is a need to uncouple society from a purely instrumentalist view of our environment, and for scientists to show a bit more humility about the limits of their knowledge. People who refuse to admit a middle-ground between absolute knowledge and pure doubt annoy the hell out of me.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    What Sacha said:

    This country's intensive dairying is already causing us real problems. In the ECan debacle, we have seen that the stakes are high enough for the national political representatives of commercial farming to abrogate local body democracy to defend unsustainable practices.

    While I think many Greens retain a horror of GM that dates from a time when it wasn't well understood, my anti-GM feelings are because many applications of GM technology worsen poor land-management issues, and end up causing ecological harm.

    I'm not against the anti-flatulence clover in itself, but I am against turning ever more land over to unsustainable dairying. I really don't think it's the way of the future. Or, it's the way of a future in which we run out of drinkable freshwater, the ground is full of pesticides and nitrates, our native plants and animals only exist in reserves or museums, and there's not enough food to go round. Can't we work on growing and improving food that thrives in the environments we already have, without huge amounts of added water?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Yeah, also what Grace said.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    We have to deal in reasonable probabilities

    Fine with that. However, given the scale of the consequences of most GE decisions and the lack of 'case law' (ie: real world evidence or equivalents for the impact of novel technology), don't you think perhaps a criminal standard of certainty is more appropriate than a civil one? It's pretty much the same principle as making pretty damn sure someone is guilty before you sentence them to life in prison.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Or, it's the way of a future in which we run out of drinkable freshwater, the ground is full of pesticides and nitrates, our native plants and animals only exist in reserves or museums, and there's not enough food to go round. Can't we work on growing and improving food that thrives in the environments we already have, without huge amounts of added water?

    The development of crop varieties that fix their own nitrogen from the air and effectively provide their own fertiliser is being pursued in various places. That would be an amazing innovation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    It's pretty much the same principle as making pretty damn sure someone is guilty before you sentence them to life in prison.

    We already have a judicial process -- via ERMA, whose processes can be appealed to the High Court -- guided by very robust laws on permission for the development of novel organisms. It's not like none of this exists.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    While I think many Greens retain a horror of GM that dates from a time when it wasn't well understood, my anti-GM feelings are because many applications of GM technology worsen poor land-management issues, and end up causing ecological harm.

    That's true, but the big agricultural monocultures in the US aren't actually a consequence of GM. There were specific government decisions there, in the 1970s and 80s, to favour an overwhelming focus on soy and corn crops that can be made into very cheap food products. That's more the problem.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Slightly off-topic, but only slightly since we're talking about the climate change deniers and comparing them to anti-GE campaigners - one of the recent New Scientists I read had a good article on the psychology of denialism. Worth hunting down if you can find it.

    Might be on-line, but I don't have time to hunt down the link.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    As a biologist I don't really understand why the Greens are opposed to genetic engineering but not chemical genetics (where you force mutations) or top-down proteomics (where you look for mutation markers in the wild and then combine mutations to breed new strains). Both of these other technologies are subject to the same (rather silly) criticisms as GE ('a corporation might do something evil!, 'we can't put the genie back in the bottle!'). It also seems strange that there's opposition to modifying the DNA of existing organisms but little or none to synthetic biology which involves the creation of completely new ones.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    There were specific government decisions there, in the 1970s and 80s, to favour an overwhelming focus on soy and corn crops that can be made into very cheap food products. That's more the problem.

    Substitute soy and corn for dairy, and very cheap for export, and you have New Zealand's agriculture policies of the last 20 years.

    I've been heartened to see the shift in public consciousness towards agriculture in the last two years, and I think that the Greens have had a fair bit to do with that. A move to a more holistic system considering all the inputs and outputs and their true costs will happen sooner or later. The only question is what we spend before we level that ledger.

    For that reason simply throwing technologies at these problems won't make them go away - it might lessen their impacts but I fail to see how it can change things fundamentally.

    Neither WOO!!! Science!!!, nor woo-science, please.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    While I think many Greens retain a horror of GM that dates from a time when it wasn't well understood, my anti-GM feelings are because many applications of GM technology worsen poor land-management issues, and end up causing ecological harm.

    That's true, but the big agricultural monocultures in the US aren't actually a consequence of GM. There were specific government decisions there, in the 1970s and 80s, to favour an overwhelming focus on soy and corn crops that can be made into very cheap food products. That's more the problem.

    Sure, of course, but such things as pesticide-resistant crops take monoculture to a whole new level. And that pesticide-heavy monoculture is at least partly responsible for the decline in honeybees, which has potentially-catastrophic effects for many food crops.

    As I said, I don't think GM is inherently evil, but it allows bad choices to have more far-reaching implications. I think the further our technology develops, the more responsibility we have to use it sensibly and conservatively.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    The development of crop varieties that fix their own nitrogen from the air and effectively provide their own fertiliser is being pursued in various places. That would be an amazing innovation.

    You reckon? All legumes - beans, peas, lentils, etc. - already do this to some degree without benefit of genetic assistance. Lupins are renowned for the high levels of nitrogen they produce, and are being increasingly grown as substitutes for soy beans. You probably already knew this, but to describe potential genetically engineered developments of such crops as amazing seems a bit like the flip side of the irrational caution that you criticise.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Both of these other technologies are subject to the same (rather silly) criticisms as GE ('a corporation might do something evil!, 'we can't put the genie back in the bottle!').

    Could you explain why those criticisms are rather silly?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I should note that if a decision was made to release, say, RoundUp-ready rapeseed in New Zealand, I'd be marching (not that I'm expecting that to ever happen). The Canadians are learning what a problem the promiscuous nature of that brassica is.

    Spontaneous gene flow between brassicas happens all the time in the wild, but it's way more of a problem if you're passing on an artificial characteristic you don't want to see in wild plants. And it would have been predictable behaviour had they had a decent process in north America.

    But if our scientists do nail their efforts to create a variation of pinus radiata that gives up its lignin more readily -- and thus requires far less dirty processing before use -- then I'm all for that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    Have you eaten any bread lately? It sucks.

    I would imagine this might depend on how hungry you are, Yes? In a sentence, you just illustrated all the problems I have with the Green movement.


    Until the Green party fronts up with some tangible, real world solutions to how we feed, cloth, employ, and allow to prosper seven-ten billion human beings on a planet that isn't overheating you are left with the uncomfortable feeling that we are dealing with movement that would rather allow to come to pass a Malthusian catastrophe that would make Pol Pot's Year Zero look like a vicar's tea party than adopt technology that would prevent it.

    The thing the Greens can't seem to quite grasp is technology and science got us to where we are today, and like it or not we can't let go of that particular tiger's tail.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2213 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I would imagine this might depend on how hungry you are, Yes?

    And you'd probably drink your own piss if you were thirsty enough. Which proves what?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Dairy poster-children the Crafars trample a Taranaki pa site this time.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

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