Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Clover It

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  • Sacha,

    like it or not we can't let go of that particular tiger's tail

    True. Probably not such a good idea to yank it though, right?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Have you eaten any bread lately? It sucks.

    Compared to what? My impression is that we have access to tastier and more nutritious bread, in much greater variety, than we did when I was a lad. Gluten free, even.

    And the manufacturers have to tell us what's in their products too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

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

    The point is bitching about how your bread tastes is an incredibly stupid and offensive argument against GM when over 25,000 people a day die of starvation.

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

  • 3410,

    My impression is that we have access to tastier and more nutritious bread, in much greater variety, than we did when I was a lad. Gluten free, even.

    My impression differs but, hey, maybe it's just me. Hard to describe, but for one thing, it never tastes like it's been leavened properly. Also, has no texture, and doesn't toast right.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    The point is bitching about how your bread tastes is an incredibly stupid and offensive argument against GM when over 25,000 people a day die of starvation.

    Hang on; I'll need a while to take on all the implications of that.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis,

    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.

    You forgot to include unlimited GDP growth.

    So, you are saying that the solution to all our problems is GE ? And that if we don't go down this path then we are DOOMED !!! In other words: There Is No Alternative.

    Now, where have I heard that before, and how did that turn out?

    Wow - GE as a silver bullet against all the world's ills, I never would have thought of that one.

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    My impression differs but, hey, maybe it's just me. Hard to describe, but for one thing, it never tastes like it's been leavened properly. Also, has no texture, and doesn't toast right.

    Which is right. As I'm sure you know, proper breadmaking involves leaving it to rise and then stretching the flour, yeast and water mixture, producing sugars (glutens). It takes a while, and is effort intensive. Most commercial bakers, large and small, tend to make bread which is hardly leavened at all.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • jeremy gray,

    (Disclaimer - I am a trained geneticist, but also an ex-greenpeace employee)

    I think it will be interesting to see how these kinds of conflicts where GM leads to an environmental benefit, pan out in the next few years. The non-corporate sector are catching up in GM and we are likely to see more and more "good" GMOs coming through the pipelines. A more evidence and science based green movement (sorry biodynamics) would be a great outcome (Though to be fair, most green organisations are more "wait and see" than completely anti GM).

    I have seen no scientific evidence that GM is bad per se, almost all the claims have been debunked or never published. More at issue for me is the way it is gone about - Years and Years of public funding of science all over the world, then a couple of years done by eg Monsanto and they get all the benefits. There is also a lack of transparency - science is traditionally very open and peer reviewed, while GM data are jealously guarded. It would be nice to see something similar to the Genok biosaftey assesment tool (no idea why that is https) being made compulsory and open to the public - it basically asks for a suite of data proving that you have only changed what you wanted to.

    As to this specific example, I think it is too early to say. I don't know how clover is traditionally seeded, but imagine that clover would rapidly spread and be hard to contain. It is pretty necessary to make sure the altered tannins don't kill bees, alter gut microbiology or do anything else unexpected. The argument that it is not transgenic because the gene comes from a similar species is pretty bunk, the techniques are exactly the same either way - see this essay. I think if it works, this clover will be a Good Thing, but given it is still 15 years off, probably didn't deserve the top story of 3 news last night.

    point chev • Since Apr 2008 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Now, where have I heard that before, and how did that turn out?

    While it might be relevant here, the story that Margaret Thatcher's main achievement during her brief career as a research chemist was to discover a way to get more air into ice cream appears to be an urban myth.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    (Disclaimer - I am a trained geneticist, but also an ex-greenpeace employee)

    Awesome disclaimer!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Russell:

    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.

    and Joe Wylie

    You reckon? All legumes - beans, peas, lentils, etc. - already do this to some degree without benefit of genetic assistance

    Quite.

    This country's farms have been built on clover purely for the reason it DOES fix nitrogen from the air. The problem with clover that doesn't if I get the drift with the new stuff is that it may produce less. Then Joe Farmer will need to dump even more "nasty artificial nitrogen" - usually urea - into the ground to replace the "naturally acquired stuff".

    Piss on it.

    Hmmm......more urea....more run off....less farting....more milk...decisions decisions decisions...

    Edit: _ Quick search reveals no mention of less nitrogen fixing in mentioned type of clover but it might be worth asking someone who knows if hte clovers we use on the farm fix more nitrogen or not.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1589 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    The point is bitching about how your bread tastes is an incredibly stupid and offensive argument against GM when over 25,000 people a day die of starvation.

    I think you've made two or three extra links there. About as many as "GE made my bread taste bad".

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Reid,

    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 mean like clover?

    Edit: whoops, thanks Ross

    South Africa • Since Nov 2006 • 80 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    About as many as "GE made my bread taste bad".

    Okay, in light of insufficient evidence, I retract the allegation (but might reconsider laying against chicken).

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    Nice analysis Jeremy, disclaimers and all ;-)

    The National Geographic has a very comprehensive (long) item on the future of world food, including the use of GM, and reflecting on the "green revolotion", I think everybody should read it. By far the best, most balanced article I've read on the subject.

    For those without the time or inclination to read the whole thing, here are some excerpts:

    "Thomas Robert Malthus, the namesake of such terms as "Malthusian collapse" and "Malthusian curse," was a mild-mannered mathematician, a clergyman—and, his critics would say, the ultimate glass-half-empty kind of guy. When a few Enlightenment philosophers, giddy from the success of the French Revolution, began predicting the continued unfettered improvement of the human condition, Malthus cut them off at the knees. Human population, he observed, increases at a geometric rate, doubling about every 25 years if unchecked, while agricultural production increases arithmetically—much more slowly. Therein lay a biological trap that humanity could never escape."

    "So what is a hot, crowded, and hungry world to do?"

    "That's the question von Braun and his colleagues at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research are wrestling with right now. This is the group of world-renowned agricultural research centers that helped more than double the world's average yields of corn, rice, and wheat between the mid-1950s and the mid-1990s, an achievement so staggering it was dubbed the green revolution. Yet with world population spiraling toward nine billion by mid-century, these experts now say we need a repeat performance, doubling current food production by 2030."

    "In other words, we need another green revolution. And we need it in half the time."

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Thanks for the link Grace. Might I also add a plug for Colin Tudge's So Shall We Reap (How everyone who is liable to be born in the next ten thousand years could eat very well indeed; and why, in practice, our immediate descendants are likely to be in serious trouble).
    Like the National Geographic piece it's a rather better researched and visionary overview of the issues than the usual tediously ill-informed luddite vs. tech-worship pseudo-debate.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Okay, in light of insufficient evidence, I retract the allegation (but might reconsider laying against chicken).

    Chicken's interesting. It used to be tasty but rare and expensive. Then it become common but bland for decades. And now, free-range birds are not quite so rare and expensive.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This country's farms have been built on clover purely for the reason it DOES fix nitrogen from the air. The problem with clover that doesn't if I get the drift with the new stuff is that it may produce less. Then Joe Farmer will need to dump even more "nasty artificial nitrogen" - usually urea - into the ground to replace the "naturally acquired stuff".

    Piss on it.

    Hmmm......more urea....more run off....less farting....more milk...decisions decisions decisions..

    I was thinking of crops like corn, but that's interesting. Thanks.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    I’m not certain I want to enter into this discussion but it is my field of science. In other words I have spent the last 23 years of my life doing exactly the science being discussed. I’ve never been paid by a big corporation either, sadly.

    My apologies for the tone. I know what is below sounds patronising and in some places dismissive. Forgive me for that please.

    So here goes

    There is no reason to believe that transferring a gene from clover to clover is any more or less safe than transferring a gene from any other organism to clover. None.

    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 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.

    GM is worldwide not just in the US.

    Ruminants burp methane, you can leave your fart jokes at home.

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

    GM crops are grown by millions, yes I said millions, about 14 million last year, of small holders. Not as is claimed only by large corporations.

    Most of the research done towards GM crops is being done outside large corporations and none of the researchers that I have ever met are rich (unless you describe having a house and mortgage like everyone else as rich).

    There are no “superweeds” there is only some resistance to roundup which is one herbicide. Admittedly roundup is the safest herbicide I know of so some resistance to roundup isn’t great but it is not anything like the disaster described.

    Genies are mythological.

    Insurance companies don’t insure liability that they can’t estimate with certainty. Since there has never been a GM disaster they can’t insure for or against one. It would be like trying to get an insurance company to insure against your dog giving birth to a cow.

    Beneficial means people don’t starve and the food they eat can be produced without damaging the environment, it has nothing to do with being cheaper and often is not cheaper. Your bread tastes bad because it is made badly, good bakeries make good bread with modern grains. And I seriously doubt there are many bakers who could make bread you’d be willing to eat with the ancestral grains.

    If you want GM crops developed by ethically sound organizations then how about actually letting us (your government owned and managed scientists) do the work. At the moment the law and attitudes in NZ means simply that most of the work will be done overseas and by those very multinationals that you hate.

    Don’t be too proud of ERMA. Essentially ERMA is so restrictive that doing the experiments you need to do to develop a GM crop is too expensive or simply not possible in New Zealand. That may suit the Greens politically but it just means that the discoveries will end up being sold overseas, probably to the same multinationals that the Greens hate so much, because we can’t develop them in NZ.

    GM cannot solve all our problems, neither can efficient solar power, nor any other one technology. But GM can and will create crops that are better for the environment and better for us than currently exist. We can choose to be engaged in that science and allow our ethics to have some input or we can ban it in NZ at let the rest of the world make those decisions for us.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Thanks Bart. I wondered if you'd choose to sit this one out, but I'm glad you didn't.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

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

    I'm sure you're not suggesting that any unforseen problems with GMOs can be undone (once released), so are you saying that there will not be any such problems or that they can reasonably be dealt with?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • David Hood,

    Soylent Green is Plankton!
    (by which I mean there is a lot further down the food chain humans could eat if they had to, it just would be very fun).

    My impression on the opposition to GE is that it links to both anti-corporatism (due to the history of GE and Monsanto), and some Linnaeusian notions on the inviolateness of taxonomies (despite what we now know about naturally occurring horizontal gene transfer).

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

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

    How?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    Soylent Green is Plankton!

    Soylent Green was said to be plankton, but was recycled humans. ;-)

    A lot of people eat spirulina, which is processed algae. It's full of vitamins, but one cannot live by vitamins alone.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • Dylan Mordaunt,

    I learned a lot by tracking down common claims about GM in the 90s -- they would come around again and again, even if they'd been debunked. You see exactly the same thing, if generally from different people, with climate science.

    I'd be interested to know what the global experience is with unmodified clover crops, let alone GM clover?

    If you want GM crops developed by ethically sound organizations then how about actually letting us (your government owned and managed scientists) do the work.

    Bart, I wonder whether there are enough resources available for this? If the 10-15 years passes and the variety proves to be a disappointment, can these institutions afford to throw all that work away? There seem to have already been a few instances in NZ where considerable amounts of work in molecular 'engineering' (particularly translational medicine) have 'gone to waste', for instance some of Genesis Biotech's early work.

    What would the process for ethical approval be like for a project of this sort? If it's anything like the healthcare field I'd imagine the process is more rigorous than much of lawmaking seems to be.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2007 • 20 posts Report Reply

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