Why Are Greens Seduced by Anti-Biotech Charlatans?

To understand just how mainstream anti-GMO sentiment is within environmentalism, check out this event held several weeks ago at Audubon’s educational center in Greenwich, Connecticut. The promo:

Two films and speakers about genetically engineered seeds; the history & future of farming; and why leading scientists think GMOs threaten human health and sustainabile food production systems.

I really wanted to attend this, so I could learn who those leadings scientists were. But I had tickets to a Rangers game that night. Also, I’m not sure I would have had the stomach to sit through a double feature on GMO paranoia and misinformation, especially with one of the movies being Jeffrey Smith’s Genetic Roulette. It’s pretty amazing that someone as disreputable as Smith has been legitimized by popular talk show hosts and celebrity environmentalists like David Suzuki and Jane Goodall.

Goodall, as you probably have heard, is under fire for apparently plagiarizing portions of her new book, Seeds of Hope (which has now been postponed). For science-based fans of Goodall, the news gets worse. Michael Moynihan points out in the Daily Beast:

One of the more troubling aspects of Seeds of Hope is Goodall’s embrace of dubious science on genetically modified organisms (GMO). On the website of the Jane Goodall Foundation, readers are told—correctly—that “there isscientific consensus” that climate change is being driven by human activity. But Goodall has little time for scientific consensus on the issue of GMO crops, dedicating the book to those who “dare speak out” against scientific consensus. Indeed, her chapter on the subject is riddled with unsupportable claims backed by dubious studies.

Many of the claims in Seeds of Hope can also be found in Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, a book by “consumer advocate” Jeffrey Smith. Goodall generously blurbed the book (“If you care about your health and that of your children, buy this book, become aware of the potential problems, and take action”) and in Seeds of Hope cites a “study” on GMO conducted by Smith’s “think tank,” the Institute for Responsible Technology.

Like Goodall, Smith isn’t a genetic scientist. According to New Yorker writer Michael Specter, he “has no experience in genetics or agriculture, and has no scientific degree from any institution” but did study “business at the Maharishi International University, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”

With that background and his blatant GMO nuttiness, Smith is easy to ridicule. But what does it say about people like Goodall who endorse such a charlatan? What does it say about a highly regarded environmental educational center that promotes Smith as a credible source on genetically modified foods?

Mark Hoofnagle is unsparing in what he thinks it says:

It makes environmentalists look like idiots, as it distracts from actual threats to the environment with invented threats and irrational fears of biotech…I’m irritated with the anti-GMO movement because it’s an embarrassment. It’s Luddism, and ignorance masquerading as environmentalism. It’s bad biology. It’s the progressive equivalent of creationism or global warming denial. It’s classic anti-science, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

Ah, but most greens and foodies not only tolerate anti-GMO craziness, they wink at it. Why is that?

61 Responses to “Why Are Greens Seduced by Anti-Biotech Charlatans?”

  1. “Ah, but most greens and foodies not only tolerate anti-GMO craziness, they wink at it. Why is that?”

    Ummm … because it isn’t sustainable? It violates natural ecosystem energy and nutrient cycling and only works because it’s being subsidized by non-renewable inputs?

    According to the FAO, virtually all of the yield advances achieved by modern agriculture have been a result of 1) increased energy inputs, 2) increased fertilizer inputs, 3) increased irrigation, and 4) increased pesticide application.

    GMO’s are merely the framework through which all of those real inputs work their magic. Without fertilizers, fossil fuels, irrigation, and pesticides, GMO crops would be useless,

    and since virtually all of our energy comes from fossil fuels, which by definition are not sustainable and likely near Peak today,

    and since groundwater the world over is under severe overconsumption,

    and since Peak Phosphorus seems to be a real threat,

    and while there may be ways of addressing these shortages if we move in certain directions, but we aren’t,

    and because GMO’s provide a great tool used by agribusiness to kick people off their traditional lands and turn them into corporate slaves, all the while committing agricultural holocaust across the landscape (have a gander at South America in Google Earth),

    I think it’s pretty obvious why the environmental movement doesn’t like GMO’s.

  2. Chris Kelly says:

    Without fertilisers, fossil fuels, irrigation and pesticides organic crops would fail. There fixed it for you.

  3. Kevin Folta says:

    Mark, what is sustainable? What violates a natural ecosystem more than growing crops that never grew here and “naturally” don’t belong here (assuming you are in N. America)? Nothing you eat outside of some canola, strawberries, blueberries, sunflower and a handful of others are even from here.

    Your comments on inputs is correct, but not an issue strictly applied to GMO crops. Water, phosphorus, fuel, labor, etc… the same points apply to hybrids- they’d be “useless” too. The difference is that you can use lower amounts of pesticides on Bt crops and more innocuous herbicides on RR crops.

    In the laboratory it has been elegantly shown in model and crop plants that we CAN create transgenic plants with more tolerance to drought, cold, heat, and pests. We CAN create plants less dependent on fertilzer. These attributes could save fuel by expanding planting ranges and limit pesticide/fungicide/nematicide/etc usage, while increasing nutrient contents and flavors. Low-input transgenics can be part of a sound solution to limit environmental insults from farming.

    Alas, these solutions sit in the refrigerator because anti-science interests have generated fear and misinformation so thick that well-meaning academic, government and small company scientists can’t commercialize them. That leaves the field (literally) open to only big multinationals.

    I’d be interested in hearing your low-input ag solutions. Remember that other “environmentally friendly” production systems need much more input in other ways. Immensely more labor, planting of cover crops (meaning a separate set of labor/fuel) and a different set of pesticides that are poison to the earth (look up the MSDS on rotenone).

    To me, the real solution is continuing to invest in understanding low-input production techniques, and those should include traditional breeding for low-input-tolerant varieties coupled to transgenic crops that can mitigate challenges and deliver better products.

    To do that we need science and reason to dictate scientific policy and decisions. Not activists.

    The collateral damage is that the conservation and environmental movements look like nut-jobs fighting good science. That discredits an important movement that I’m part of. That’s why I’m taking the time to respond. Thanks.

  4. chrispydog says:

    The other great anti-science position of the green movement is it’s stance on nuclear power, which is once again, irrational and not supported by the objective facts. There’s a common pattern of near ‘religious belief’ in certain ‘wholesome’ technologies (sun, wind, organic farming) that are lauded above the ‘evil’ others, despite the fact that renewable energy, on it’s own, will not come anywhere near replacing fossil fuels. We need clear thinking, not religious fanaticism, but the environmental movement easily leans to the latter.,

  5. JonFrum says:

    No,they don’t wink at it. They fervently believe it. It’s like saying the Pope winks at the Virgin Birth. Anti-GMO craziness isn’t something that ‘greens and foodies’ observe from the outside – the greens and foodies ARE the crazies.

    Beyond that rhetorical flourish, it is more accurate to say that the greens and foodies are among the crazies. Sadly, the leftist craziness of the foodie/greenie crowd has morphed into a form of populism that has been swallowed whole by many on the right as well.

    If you want examples, go to any gardening forum, or try Youtube gardening videos. The crankiness of the gardening world has reached epic proportions, with your average American gardener scared witless of GMOs, pesticides, plastics and ‘chemicals.’ Evangelical Christians and Obama birthers march in lock step with Howard Zinn/Noam Chomsky fans on this topic. Good God. .

  6. I was thinking this exact same thing yesterday when I saw otherwise sane people flogging “news” from sites they’d totally mock if they realized how crackpottery they are.

    If Alex Jones and David Icke are on your list of “must reads” and align with your understanding, you really need to rethink your grasp of assessing quality source materials.

    Seriously. I cannot figure out why educated liberals check their brains at the door on this. And I can’t figure out what to do about it.

    I hate to source this for you, but I need to substantiate my claims:



  7. Chuck Currie says:

    Charlatans and enviromentalism – ha, who would have guessed?

  8. jh says:

    David Suzuki…sheesh. The Darth Vadar of science.

  9. Taunya says:

    I have friends who are rabidly anti-gmo – but aside from having learned what gmo really means in my biology courses at university, I’ve no idea where to point these friends to give them a dose of reality. How can I *try* to help educate them? They have all these places to go and get their “facts” but I’m not sure how to re-educate them.
    Maybe scientists need some sort of “truth-checker” like what was popular during the election, or a snopes that clarifies what are charlatan claims versus actual research and proven answers.

  10. Ok, you have a big list of problems with GMOs. A quick question for you: which of those go away if your latest online petition actually worked, and there was a worldwide ban on GMOs starting tomorrow?

    Not. One.

  11. That simply isn’t true. It appears that I will have to point out that organic crops have been growing for around 3 billion years without external application of fertilizers, fossil fuels, irrigation and pesticides.

  12. GRLCowan says:

    “There’s a common pattern of near ‘religious belief’ in … sun, wind … despite …” — No. Not *despite* renewable energies’ inability in practice to replace fossil fuels, but *because* of this.

    Paid public servants collectively net billions of dollars a day from fossil fuels. If a cold-blooded individual among them wanted to protect this income, how would he do so? Forthrightly? Or by slipping money to some granolas in return for their service, whenever nuclear energy has advantage X over fossil fuel energy, of saying -X?

    The similarity of anti-GMO sentiment makes me think it, too, may be acting, but I don’t know enough about it to know where the cash flow is that anti-GMO lobbying presumably is protecting.

  13. If you want 3 billion year old agriculture, you’re welcome to that. Or you can look at what organic and without fossil fuel means today.



    And it is true that you can avoid fossil fuels like the Amish, but it’s easier to use GMO crops with their equipment: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7742471.stm

  14. Tom Scharf says:

    Try feeding today’s population with ag techology from the 1600’s. Good luck.

  15. harrywr2 says:

    Not to worry…once the patents run out on various GMO seed….they will just be marketed as ‘miracle organic seeds’.

    All good decent left leaning people get themselves wound up over corporate ownership of what could reasonably be considered to be an ‘essential good’.

    Monsanto, Big Pharma…same basic philosophical disagreement. What is a reasonable return on private research investment especially when the result of that investment creates an essential good.

  16. I agree. That’s the problem. When fossil fuels and groundwater run out, however, that is indeed what we will be attempting to do — and it won’t work.

    The unfortunate predicament we now face is that globally we are investing pitifully little effort into developing alternative sources of energy to carry the burden.of our demand when fossil fuels run out.

    Instead of focusing on:

    – powering down our consumption,
    – eating less meat,
    – talking about how we can effect non-chaotic economic contraction rather than growth,
    – sustaining and rehabilitating ecosystems so that we could maybe come close to restoring global NPP to levels where is was before humanity took over the world,
    – using our remaining fossil fuels to develop renewable energy infrastructure,

    we instead seem to be patting our backs over:

    – how we can pull more and more natural gas and coal out of the ground (the fact that we have reached the point where we can’t pull more oil out of the ground seems to be conveniently ignored by this blog),
    – how we can use these fossil fuels to artificially stimulate agricultural production which enables us to consume more, eat more, and justifies further population growth and ecological degradation (the argument seems to go that it doesn’t matter if those fish populations crash from overfishing — we’ll just farm other fish instead!),
    – how we can offset groundwater declines by building desalination plants instead, which unfortunately are almost overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuels…
    – how we can lift the third world out of poverty by providing access to fossil fuels,
    – how iPads and Treknology and whirlygig gadgets are going to save the world from overpopulation (try eating one, or heating your house with one, or fuelling your car with one).

    Quite simply, we are focussing on the wrong things. While GMO’s will certainly be a necessary part of future agriculture, the fact that they are being used by media propaganda to try to convince everyone that technology will save us simply as a result of market supply and demand dynamics doing their thing, and that we can therefore continue on with Business-as-Usual consumption patterns, and even to support further economic growth, is a very ominous sign that we are really, fundamentally, no smarter than yeast on a collective basis. The eternal truism seems to be making itself apparent that when an animal population is presented with a source of complex carbon molecules, that population WILL grow to take advantage of that source of energy. Whether that population survives or crashes all depends on whether that source of carbon is sustainable or not, and in the case of modern humanity, the answer to that is a definite NO.

  17. You exhibit polarized thinking at its finest.

  18. JonFrum says:

    In other words, you can come up with no rational response. Thank you.

  19. FosterBoondoggle says:

    Compared with scepticism about AGW, GMOs and vaccines, it’s much harder to tag opposition to nuclear power as anti-scientific. Particularly after both Fukushima – which has left a 20 km radius exclusion zone around the site and displaced 150,000+ people (wikipedia) – and the Chernobyl disaster which spread substantial radiation over a huge and now depopulated area of the Ukraine, it’s hardly luddite to suggest that we don’t have good enough control of the technology to feel secure that it’s the right way to go.

    There are 23 of the same Mark I design GE reactors that failed at Fukushima in use in the US. Presumably the tsunami risk is lower for most of them, but we now also know that it’s very difficult to anticipate all possible failure modes, and very expensive to protect against all the ones we can think of. GE’s response after Fukushima was straight out of Dr. Strangelove. From the NYTimes:

    Michael Tetuan, a spokesman for G.E.’s water and power division, staunchly defended the technology this week, calling it “the industry’s workhorse with a proven track record of safety and reliability for more than 40 years.” Mr. Tetuan said there are currently 32 Mark 1 boiling water reactors operating safely around the globe. “There has never been a breach of a Mark 1 containment system,” he said.

  20. Ena Valikov says:



    Happy Easter! Gonna go enjoy the sunshine. Hugs!

  21. Ena Valikov says:

    How about going to medical school, practicing some nutrition and getting a degree in biochemistry? FIRST.

  22. No, that’s not it at all. Read down the comments for my more lengthy treatment of this topic. Or if you prefer, I can copy and paste it here.

  23. Ena Valikov says:

    We need medical scientists if you are going to be discussing benefits and safety to millions, in this debate.
    Glad to at least see Mark BS, MS, MD, phD etc alphabet in this debate.

  24. What online petition?

    Of course, they don’t go away. The problem with GMO worship, however, is that it is being used by the media and the powers that be to provide an excuse for the masses to continue consuming consuming consuming, to delude themselves into believing that Treknology is going to save the world, and that we don’t need to make radical changes to the way we do things … yesterday.

  25. “All good decent left leaning people get themselves wound up over corporate ownership of what could reasonably be considered to be an ‘essential good'”

    How much of America’s farmland do YOU own?

  26. Ena Valikov says:

    Hi Mark, dear.

    Lets crack open a safety assurance study.
    Results of a 90-day safety assurance study with rats fed grain

    from corn rootworm-protected corn

    B. Hammond a,*, J. Lemen a, R. Dudek a, D. Ward a, C. Jiang a, M. Nemeth a, J. Burns b

    a Monsanto Company, 800 North Lindbergh Blvd., St Louis, MO 63167, United States

    b Covance Laboratories, Inc., 9200 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA 22182-1699, United States

    Received 1 June 2005; accepted 22 June 2005


    The results of a 90-day rat feeding study with YieldGard (YieldGard Rootworm Corn is a registered trademark of Monsanto

    Technology, LLC.) Rootworm corn (MON 863) grain that is protected against feeding damage caused by corn rootworm larvae are

    presented. Corn rootworm-protection was accomplished through the introduction of a cry3Bb1 coding sequence into the corn genome

    for in planta production of a modified Cry3Bb1 protein from Bacillus thuringiensis. Grain from MON 863 and its near isogenic

    control were separately formulated into rodent diets at levels of 11% and 33% (w/w) by Purina Mills, Inc. Additionally, six groups of

    rats were fed diets containing grain from different conventional (non-biotechnology-derived) reference varieties. The responses of

    rats fed diets containing MON 863 were compared to those of rats fed grain from conventional corn varieties. All diets were nutritionally

    balanced and conformed to Purina Mills, Inc. specifications for Certified LabDiet 5002. There were a total of 400 rats in the

    study divided into 10 groups of 20 rats/sex/group. Overall health, body weight gain, food consumption, clinical pathology parameters

    (hematology, blood chemistry, urinalysis), organ weights, gross and microscopic appearance of tissues were comparable

    between groups fed diets containing MON 863 and conventional corn varieties. This study complements extensive agronomic, compositional

    and farm animal feeding studies with MON 863 grain, confirming that it is as safe and nutritious as existing conventional

    corn varieties.

    Table 1

    Experimental design

    Groupa Animals/sex State corn


    Dietary level

    (% w/w)

    1. Control 20 Hawaii 11

    2. Control 20 Hawaii 33

    3. MON 863 20 Hawaii 11

    4. MON 863 20 Hawaii 33

    5. Reference A 20 Illinois 33

    6. Reference B 20 Illinois 33

    7. Reference C 20 Hawaiib 33

    8. Reference D 20 Hawaiib 33

    9. Reference E 20 Hawaiib 33

    10. Reference F 20 Illinois 33

    a Control and reference grain are from conventional varieties that

    are not biotechnology-derived.

    b Grown in the same geographical location, but different from the

    locality where MON 863 and its control were grown.

    Table 3

    Hematology mean values ± SD in female rats following 90 days of exposure to MON 863 grain in the diet

    Parameter N 11% Control 33% Control 11% MON 863 33% MON 863 N Reference population

    mean ± 2SD

    WBC (103/ll) 9–10 6.78 ± 1.71 5.64 ± 1.52 8.20 ± 1.59 6.78 ± 2.20 58 6.43 ± 3.56

    NEU (103/ll) 9–10 0.80 ± 0.26 0.66 ± 0.24 0.83 ± 0.41 0.77 ± 0.25 58 0.65 ± 0.58

    Baso (103/ll) 9–10 0.00 ± 0.00 0.00 ± 0.00 0.00 ± 0.00 0.01 ± 0.03 58 0.00 ± 0.00

    LYM (103/ll) 9–10 5.69 ± 1.52 4.73 ± 1.39 7.06 ± 1.32 5.74 ± 1.98 58 5.52 ± 3.28

    RBC (106/ll) 9–10 8.64 ± 0.28 8.35 ± 0.63 8.65 ± 0.33 8.60 ± 0.18 58 8.53 ± 0.73

    HGB (g/dl) 9–10 16.3 ± 0.3 16.1 ± 0.5 16.4 ± 0.5 16.3 ± 0.5 58 16.2 ± 1.07

    HCT (%) 9–10 45.8 ± 1.1 45.6 ± 1.4 46.3 ± 2.0 45.8 ± 1.7 58 46.1 ± 3.6

    Retic count 9–10 0.09 ± 0.04 0.09 ± 0.05 0.06 ± 0.04 0.04 ± 0.03 58 0.07 ± 0.08

    MCV (fl) 9–10 53.1 ± 1.26 54.8 ± 3.88 53.5 ± 2.29 53.2 ± 1.93 58 54.1 ± 4.38

    MCH (pg) 9–10 18.9 ± 0.45 19.4 ± 1.14 19.0 ± 0.74 18.9 ± 0.56 58 19.0 ± 1.34

    MCHC (g/dl) 9–10 35.6 ± 0.23 35.4 ± 0.53 35.5 ± 0.46 35.6 ± 0.47 58 35.2 ± 0.96

    PLT (103/ll) 9–10 1099 ± 288 1016 ± 140 1026 ± 337 991 ± 119 58 1047 ± 298

    PT (s) 8–10 14.9 ± 0.42 15.3 ± 0.29 15.4 ± 0.20* 15.0 ± 0.45 56 14.7 ± 0.80

    APTT (s) 8–10 17.0 ± 1.91 15.8 ± 1.57 17.2 ± 1.22 16.5 ± 1.10a 56 20.0 ± 4.80

    Statistically significant differences *P < 0.05.

    a Statistically significant difference from reference population mean only, P < 0.01

    Table 7

    Summary incidence microscopic findings in high dose (33%) male and female rats following 90 days of exposure to MON 863 grain in the diet

    Tissue Microscopic finding Males Females

    Control, N = 20 MON 863, N = 20 Control, N = 20 MON 863, N = 20

    Adrenal, cortex Vacuolization 20 20 15 15

    Heart Cardiomyopathy 11 6 7 7

    Kidney Focal chronic inflammation 7 11 7 6

    Focal tubular regeneration 8 14 2 3

    Tubular mineralization 0 0 9 2*

    Liver Vacuolization 17 20 18 20

    Congestion 1 1 3 3

    Foci of chronic inflammation 17 17 19 18

    Bile duct, inflammation, chronic 6 10 5 6

    Bile duct hyperplasia 6 5 2 2

    Hemorrhage 0 2 2 0

    Necrosis (minimal) 0 3 1 0

    Rectum Parasitism 1 3 6 2

    Spleen Pigment, increased 18 20 19 20

    Stomach Dilation, glandular 1 4 1 2

    Thyroid Cyst, ultimobranchial 7 8 5 9

    Statistically significant difference *P < 0.05.

    3.2.3. Urine chemistry

    There were no statistically significant differences in

    urinalysis parameters between the male and female

    33% MON 863 group and the 33% control group (data

    not shown).
    I believe, if $ doesn’t exchange hands, it is even legal to email it.
    Would you like a copy?

  27. Your point being? I never said it was dangerous to eat GMO’s. Though the pesticides typically used in their production seem to have adverse effects that aren’t well documented, for obvious reasons. However, that’s not the genetic modifications causing the problems, it’s the pesticides.

  28. Ena Valikov says:

    Maybe, just maybe we are inching closer to giving modular GEN IVs a closer look, since they don’t need to be in earthquake/ tsunami prone coasts,,,,being they use molten salt rather than water????????????

  29. Ena Valikov says:

    Sorry, Mark C.

    This was addressed to a different Mark, but I am not sure he is on Discover. I’ll go ping him on his blog.

    ——>Mark Hoofnagle is unsparing in what he thinks it says:

    It makes environmentalists look like idiots, as it distracts from actual threats to the environment with invented threats and irrational fears of biotech…I’m irritated with the anti-GMO movement because it’s an embarrassment. It’s Luddism, and ignorance masquerading as environmentalism. It’s bad biology. It’s the progressive equivalent of creationism or global warming denial. It’s classic anti-science, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

    Sorry for the confusion

  30. Braeden Cowbrough says:

    Enlighten me as to the level of radioactivity in those areas now? Or number of deaths at Fukushima?

  31. Braeden Cowbrough says:

    Mostly organic foods. You increase fear in gmo, organic sales increase drastically.

  32. Braeden Cowbrough says:

    Okay first, although degrees and doctorates lend credibility, don’t ever attribute it to being correct…

  33. Braeden Cowbrough says:

    You are fucking retarded… You lose credibility outright when you say the 3 billion year comment. First off, plants haven’t even been around for a third of that, and as for agriculture, the earliest forms of it we can say is that of ants farming exclusively a monoculture of fungus… A monoculture. We also have human agriculture… Circa 50000 years maximum?

  34. Braeden Cowbrough says:

    None. I

  35. mhollis says:

    We have been modifying crops for millennia. And we have been using artificial fertilizers for all of recorded history. The Indians taught the Plymouth Plantation settlers in Massachusetts how to plant maize with a fish underneath each pit they dug for three corn kernels. And maize itself was modified by indigenous people here in America until yields would be worth the labor of planting.

    Domesticated rice, wheat, barley all are the result of genetic manipulation, which is what hybridization is all about. Twiddling a bit (that could be changed by cosmic rays) in a lab is the same thing.

    I don’t have a doctorate in agriculture, but I helped my grandfather plant hybrid crops and harvest them, as well as plan Black Angus crosses to make better steaks on steers. And if you’re against this kind of science, you would rather all dogs be wolves — which is what they were originally before we modified them genetically.

  36. Karl Haro von Mogel says:

    I co-run a group blog on plant genetics at http://www.biofortified.org/blog run by scientists, and we’re going to soon be taking on a project that will build a fact-checker exactly like what you describe. You can follow our twitter feed @franknfoode for updates, but in the meantime we have a lot of info on the blog!

  37. Chris Kelly says:

    Organic crops not just pre-dating humans but pre-dating the existence of land plants! Wow, just Wow.

  38. OK, if you’d like to be a prude, 2 billion years. That’s when eukaryotes arrived which presumably then began eating live algae somewhere between then and 1 billion years ago. And if you define “plant” to be anything that makes complex carbon molecules out of sunlight, then they’ve been around for 3 billion years. And I presume that right from near the beginning there were bacteria-like heterotrophs feeding off dead plants (just like us!), so then technically, I am correct in my 3 billion year comment.

    And if you don’t like my use of the word “crop” and its association with agriculture, then I’ll change it to “photosynthetic-based autotroph prey”. Hope that makes you feel better.

    Sorry guys, but if the best response you can provide is to attack my use of the number “3” vs. “2” in my flippant, half-joking remark attempting to drive home the point that animals have been eating plants long before our 50 year experiment with this highly abnormal and unsustainable form of “agriculture” that’s merely allowing us to extend ourselves even deeper into ecological overshoot, and then finish it off by calling me a fucking retard without any further technical discussion, well that’s basically an admission that I am correct and you got nothing else to say.

    Please, if you disagree with my arguments then address them logically with sound reasoning and references.

    A specific request: Braeden, can you please detail the cycling of nutrients and energy through an ant farm and compare / contrast this with modern agriculture? i.e., in each case, where do the nutrients come from and where do they end up?

  39. How much of Canada’s farmland do you own?

  40. While certain countries may be pooh-poohing nuclear, no one’s stopping it from taking off on a global scale. Yet it’s still diminishing in energy production. Nuclear has huge technical and financial problems that have nothing to do with imaginary religious anti-nuke fanatics.

    The reason solar is growing at phenomenal rates and wind energy at somewhat less fast rates is because they have inherently better economics. The feed-in tariffs help of course, which are justified because they attempt to internalize the external costs associated with fossil fuel use. Plus, the fact that they don’t produce radioactive waste is a bonus.

    Your characterization of the supposedly evil vs. non-evil energy categories created by enviro fanatics speaks more to how you yourself have framed the energy issue. There are many environmentalists who support nuclear, many who do not, and many like myself who see it as a potential component of a wider shift to non-fossil based energy that could, if done properly, greatly alleviate our energy shortages. There are serious drawbacks, challenges, and risks associate with nuclear, however, especially in a post-Peak Oil world that will be experiencing social decline, that you don’t get from bolting some solar panels on your roof.

    However, practically, I’m not counting on nuclear being too prominent in the future as the time scales are just too short. We need the energy now but It will take decades to roll them out with the bugs worked out on any scale that could make a dent in the energy shortage and climate change. Plus, nuclear doesn’t provide liquid fuels. We will have lots of coal to produce electricity for quite a while.

  41. chrispydog says:

    We have some 20 trillion dollars worth of known hydrocarbon deposits, but will easily go over our 2 degrees Celsius if we even burn a fraction of that. So no, we really don’t ‘have lots of coal to produce electricity’ if we do what we do now ie pollute the atmosphere with its by-products. Herein lies the problem, it’s the coal we need to replace, and solar and wind cannot be scaled to that task. They can help at the margin, but belief in their ability to ‘save us’ is a religious belief, and a dangerous one at that.

  42. Chris Kelly says:

    Oh, you were driving home a point that as plants and animals pre-date modern agriculture and this is evidence that organic production systems require no fertilisers, fossil fuels, irrigation, or pesticides and that they will satisfy our production needs!

    While driving home your point you must have had your eyes closed and driven straight off mount logic.

  43. Keith Kloor says:


    You can’t clog up comment threads with such long lists that mean nothing. In the future, when you want to convey a gish gallop of citations, just post them on a tumbl or something like that and link to that.

  44. FosterBoondoggle says:

    @google-866987debfa076752fa2baea3a096a25:disqus – I don’t know and it’s pretty much irrelevant to my point, unless you’re claiming that the town of Pripyat in the Ukraine is ready to be reoccupied any day now, and that the Japanese government is completely wasting their money in trying to clean the topsoil of Cs-137 (halflife 30 years), and that concern about these unintended and widespread radioactive releases is based on unscientific ignorance.

    @facebook-100000285424506:disqus – Maybe. I have no idea. Again, irrelevant to my point, which is that there’s nothing unscientific about opposition to nuclear power as it’s constituted right now, given that there’ve been two major uncontrolled releases of large amounts of radiation in past reactor accidents – one just a year ago – and that the sites of those disasters are still not fully controlled. There was a power failure at Fukushima just a couple of weeks ago, which led to concerns about new releases, and every few years we hear about the potential collapse of the “sarcophagus” at Chernobyl.

  45. No, the point I was driving home was to challenge your assertion that without pesticides, fertilizers, fossil fuels and irrigation, organic crops would fail. That is complete nonsense and you know it. Of course they do not require fertilizers, fossil fuels, irrigation and pesticides because they`ve been getting by just fine without us for billions of years (take your pick — 1, 2 or 3 billion).

    Now, on the other hand, if you were being sarcastic and using that statement to suggest that organic crops are not capable of supporting humanity then I would tend to agree with you. And since I have pointed out that those artificial boosts to productivity (fossil fuels, irrigation, and fertilizers) are not sustainable then we will be forced to return to some kind of organic agriculture if we do not immediately power down our economies, accept a lower standard of living, and aggressively develop renewable energy. Since we are doing nothing of the sort, quite the opposite actually, I view this worship of GMOs as somehow offering an opportunity to save humanity from starvation to be quite absurd and misguided.

  46. I agree that burning all that coal is a very bad idea, but when it comes down to it, we will burn it if the alternative is starvation.

    Solar could easily be scaled to the task of replacing fossil fuels. Its only issues are intermittancy and the fact that it produces electricity rather than liquid fuels (but so does nuclear…). Its benefits are that it produces no radioactive waste and it can be scaled anywhere from very large to very small. It can be put in someone`s backyard in Timbuktu.

    Solar is growing at phenomenal rates, but it is still too small to be making much of a difference to the overall energy picture.

    Solar`s drawbacks could be alleviated if we pursued something like ammonia fuel. You can drive cars with it (with a little help from some more flammable fuels as well), and it can be produced intermittently using electricity, H2 from hydrolysis, and atmospheric N2.

  47. chrispydog says:

    Thank you for proving my point with this: “Solar could “easily“ be scaled to the task of replacing fossil fuels.” Since the evidence is clear it cannot power a modern economy if just for the simple reason that daytime power cannot be stored at scale, and the intermittent nature of it requires massive back-up systems, usually more hydrocarbons. Germany now imports power to stabilise their grid, and the irony is it’s from nuclear powered countries. Their massive solar subsidy is now being scaled back because it costs the earth and does not produce a reliable and balanced output for their national grid. These problems are inherent in any intermittent power source, like solar and wind.

    Don’t get me wrong, we need solar, and wind, but the really heavy lifting must be nuclear, a subject the green movement just cannot deal with, despite the risk we will cook this planet by tinkering around at the margins with renewables.

  48. Ena Valikov says:

    Sorry, Keith. I don’t have time to start a tumbler acct. As it is posting here is taking too much of my time– it is the beginning of the month, time for me to spend a day doing accounting and paying my bills.

    See the full response http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2013/03/29/anti-gmo-writers-show-profound-ignorance-of-basic-biology-and-now-jane-goodall-has-joined-their-ranks/

    (3.2.3. Urine chemistry (data not shown).

    Medicine 101:
    Kidney disease is Silent until it is very Advanced.
    The earliest signs are polydypsea and polyuria which leads to production of dilute urine ( low specific gravity) +/- other changes: presence of protein, glucose ( Fanconi’s), blood or casts.


    It takes destruction of greater than 60-75% of the kidney cells (nephrons) before there are ANY clinical signs, and before blood tests can detect it
    BUN/creatinine are not elevated until approximately ¾ of the kidney tissue is not viable and it is too late

    1Are you able to determine that the 20 female rats( out of 40), similar to the males, for whom BUN and creatinine are reported are not suffering from Stage I/II renal disease?

    2Are you happy with an experimental design in which 80
    animals are experimental and 320 are reference/control…which raises
    statistical risks of false negative findings?

    3 Are these statistics, in which standard deviations
    are reported for a range of rats (8-10, 9-10), rather than a specific number of rats

    4 Are you satisfied with scientific integrity of this
    paper, reporting findings for 58/120 reference rats ( and a similar fraction of experimental rats, but in NO case for all the rats)?

    5 Does it bother you at all that laboratory findings are
    missing for more than half the rats?

    6 Does it bother you that there is no baseline nor any
    way to evaluate metabolic trends?

  49. David Young says:

    An often overlooked aspect of the Green movement is its religious aspects. It has links to paganism and has emotional and irrational dogmas. The most irrational is the belief in the “natural.” Bertrand Russell was excellent in ridiculing this dogma. Basically, people tend to think things that have been around a long time are natural, newer things are not and thus suspect. Thus Rouseau believed that bridges were natural but railroads were not. It is a fundamentally irrational distinction. Thus, Goodall no doubt thinks jet airplanes are fine, even though what could be more unnatural than flying through the air at 38,000 feet in an aluminum tube?

    I like to jokingly compare this religion to that of General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove who was obcessed with the “purity of our prescious bodily fluids.” You know of course that floridation was the Commie plot that was destroying that purity. Goodall is probably fine with floridation, because its been around for a long time.

  50. Ena Valikov says:

    These are light water reactors, not molten salt reactors.
    You could oppose light water reactors, but you haven’t even taken a look at molten salt reactors–completely different technology.

    I might oppose Agrobacterium transformation and ballistics engineering of crops, but have no reason to oppose marker assisted selection, which has nowhere near the same risks..

  51. Ena Valikov says:

    Rebuttal 3.0: MD/ PhD who sold his soul and the world of medicine/ science to the highest bidder.

  52. jh says:

    Nice work Keith! No need to wade into this mess….:)

  53. Chris Kelly says:

    “if you were being sarcastic and using that statement to suggest that
    organic crops are not capable of supporting humanity then I would tend
    to agree with you”

    Sarcasm! absolutely not, simply the fact that just like conventional cropping, organic cropping would fail, (fail to provide for our needs) without these inputs. I repeat, “without fertilisers, fossil fuels, irrigation and pesticides organic crops would fail”. The ability to produce food sustainably is what we are talking about and organic farming is every much as dependent on the aforementioned inputs as conventional farming. You were claiming that these inputs are required by GM cropping and not organic and this of course is a steaming pile of bullshit.

  54. Jennifer1000 says:

    I believe that scientists suffer from the very “religious fervor” they accuse environmentalists of because I see them focusing in a very small aspect of the issue in order to build the case they feel in their hearts to be true. I see no discussion here of some of the larger impacts of GMO crops. For instance:

    The increased pesticide use that GMO crops engender. Those pesticides not only end up on the crops but also eventually end up in the water supply.

    GMOs encourage unsustainable farming methods, from soil depletion to feeding cows corn instead of grass. The feeding of corn to cows alone causes massive damage to the environment and human health. Nearly half of all corn grown is fed to cattle. Not only is grain fed cattle is less nutritious but it is the driving force behind antibiotic resistant organisms. Grain fed cattle are kept in cramped quarters that breed disease, which is then combated with massive antibiotic use. Something like 4/5 of all antibiotics are used farming. Additionally, because the focus of grain fed cattle is size and speed to market, they are also regularly injected with hormones. Remember that all of these hormones and antibiotics eventually end up the water supply.

    The reason that GM crops are being pushed so hard is because they can be patented. Once seeds have been patented and have corrupted other crops through natural cross pollination, large corporations can then stop individuals and small farmers from growing their own crops without paying royalties or fines to large agribusinesses for “patent infringement”.

    Additionally, these large, powerful agribusinesses engaged in GMOs, like Monsanto, destroy the environment is other ways like lobbying the government for contracts to indiscriminately carpet bomb Central and South America with their herbicides, destroying the land and water of the populations living on the land (in the name of the war on drugs). Research Plan Colombia and coca eradication in general.

  55. Jennifer1000 says:

    “…The problem, say the 83 individuals and groups named as plaintiffs in the case, who claim to represent more than 300,000 farmers including many in California, is that Monsanto’s transgenic plants (sometimes called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) are contaminating organic crops, introducing the unwanted genetic material into their fields. In an ironic turn, the company has often responded by suing farmers for patent infringement, even if those farmers were desperate to keep that material out of the crops and, in fact, if their crops would lose their value because of the Monsanto genes…”


  56. Jennifer1000 says:

    “…U.S. farmers are using more hazardous pesticides to fight weeds and insects due largely to heavy adoption of genetically modified crop technologies that are sparking a rise of “superweeds” and hard-to-kill insects, according to a newly released study…”


  57. This article, paid for by Monsanto. Telling you what to eat since 1901.

  58. One day, a long time ago, some food scientist decided it would be a great idea to change the protein content in wheat. Hybrid after hybrid, fast forward to now, in 2013…one in every 30 people (estimate) has some manner of detectable wheat sensitivity. Some are life threatening. The estimated occurrence prior to this was 1 in thousands. So, we are suspicious and really don’t give a crap about how much money bio tech wants to make. We have not evolved as a species with regard to how we assimilate and digest food from pretty much caveman days. Yet every year are faced with “inventions” in “food science” that are meant to allegedly “help” humanity. They help the bottom line of the companies that invent them and they create food products that are further and further from the natural state we need them to be. So, forgive us if we seem idiotic to you. We’ve been screwed.

  59. FosterBoondoggle says:

    There is no genetically engineered wheat in the food chain, unless you include traditional breeding techniques in that category.

    And the Samoans, Inuit, Masai would be very surprised to hear that we have not evolved in our dietary adaptations since “caveman days”. (They’ve all evolved various specialized dietary adaptations.) See here for example, concerning genetic changes in Europeans, among others, related to starch and lactose digestion: http://genetics.thetech.org/original_news/news62

  60. anonymouse says:

    Thank you. There’s a real shortage of ‘common’ sense when it come to agriculture. I appreciate you efforts.

  61. anonymouse says:

    ‘Organic’ production does not proscribe the use of fossil fuels, pesticides, or fertilizers. It does require the use of organic inputs, but not all organic inputs are ‘safer’ or ‘cleaner’ than their engineered counterparts, they’re just manufactured differently. (And a tractor is a tractor is a tractor, and I don’t know of any that run on clean energy)

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