Genetically Modified AG Saves Lives. Imagine That.

Bt cotton now helps to avoid several million cases of pesticide poisoning in India every year, which also entails sizeable health cost savings.

This is not the sort of news you’re liable to hear about in anti-GMO quarters, where the concerns of the small farmer are righteously defended.

22 Responses to “Genetically Modified AG Saves Lives. Imagine That.”

  1. Mary says:

    I was just reading about another GMO that benefits small holders. A bean in Brazil that should reduce waste in a major way–another key in sustainability.
    Note–this has nothing to do with Big Bad Ag–it’s developed by the Brazilian government. I keep trying to point out that there are lots of public projects out there, and this is just one. And I keep asking the foodies if they really intend to withhold this technology from the developing world–even if those folks develop it themselves for their needs. Nobody answers me, I can’t figure it out….

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Mary, which foodies are you asking? Ones you know at your local co-op or greenmarket, ore are these the pundit foodies? Just curious.

  3. bluegrue says:

    Any idea, whether or not they corrected for deliberate self poisoning? In 1990 the WHO estimated 3 million deaths from pesticide poisoning globally, two thirds of which were suicides.

  4. Mary says:

    Keith: I’ve taken them all on at different times. I live in a very crunchy place with very vocal foodies (near Cambridge MA). I’ve gone to local talks, have been in CSAs, etc.
    But I also addressed it in bigger name/bigger traffic places like Marion Nestle’s blog, Grist, NYT comments, Guardian comments, etc. But I don’t have much of a platform personally, I’m afraid. 
    This is one of my favorite questions: “Which technologies are you qualified to withhold from farmers?” The blank stare I get in reply is often amusing in person. In blog comment sections I get major poutrage about how they aren’t doing that….

  5. Gaythia says:

    None of this should be approached simplistically.
    In the American south, pigweed has apparently already evolved the ability to evade Round-up, in Round-Up ready GMO cotton:
    Widespread use of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) modified crops negatively affects non target species:
    And both the corn ear worm and the cotton bollworm might be expected to exhibit “Darwin in action” qualities to overcome the effects of Bt if widespread mono-cropping is employed.
    And, wouldn’t you know it I just found evidence in India of just that:
    Monsanto disclosed that cotton pest–pink bollworm–has developed resistance to its much-touted Bt cotton variety in Gujarat.
    The company has reported to the regulator, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), that pink bollworm has developed resistance to its genetically modified (GM) cotton variety, Bollgard I, in Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagarh and Rajkot districts in Gujarat.
    Evolution is a mighty process!

  6. Keith Kloor says:


    You’re doing what Philpott, and other anti-GMO types are fond of doing: spotlighting.

    None of what you point out may be wrong, but as you also say, “none of this should be approached simplistically.” 

  7. Gaythia says:

    So who said I was anti-GMO?
    More like anti mono-cropping, pro diversity.

  8. Mary says:

    @Gaythia: also, none of those issues are specific to GMOs, resistance could come from any conventional breeding and herbicide/pesticide situations as well–including the use of Bt by organic farmers.
    You have also really misread that Science paper. It says Bt-cotton is largely better for biodiversity.
    “A meta-analysis of 42 field experiments indicates that nontarget invertebrates are generally more abundant in Bt cotton and Bt maize fields than in nontransgenic fields managed with insecticides.”
    Or are you suggesting that no breeding improvements should ever be done because biology is just gonna get you anyway?

  9. Gaythia says:

    The problem with GMO crops  lies in their implementation as promoted by certain large multinational corporations. 
    The significant negative issues represented by both Bt crops and “Round-Up Ready” crops is based in the near universal way that they have been utilized, without regard for basic principles of evolutionary adaptation, or the importance of maintaining biodiversity.
    Not to mention apparent efforts by said corporations to squash alternative methods of cultivation, not directly dependent on them.
    Yet another lesson in how corporate focus on short term  profit-making does not yield long term social good. 

  10. Mary says:

    @Gaythia: well, then, if you hate the business model that’s fine. Stop blaming the technology. It’s like working against access to computers because you hate Microsoft. <p>
    Can you explain to me how the publicly-developed Brazilian beans fit in your frame of reference? Are you ok with them then–they are not of the large multi-national demons. Is it ok for Brazil to develop and for small holder farmers to grow them?

  11. Gaythia says:

    @ Mary, you are of course conveniently dropping out the next sentence:

    ” However, in comparison with insecticide-free control fields, certain nontarget taxa are less abundant in Bt fields.”
    But I do not believe
    IMHO, Bt GMO crops might have been a reasonable approach some of the time, if carefully and guardedly utilized.  But now, given the monocultures used, pigweed, cotton bollworms (and in the northern US corn belt, corn earworms) have proven themselves to be more adaptive than Monsanto gave them credit for.
    The worst possible case would seem to me to be farmers dependent on ineffective corporate seed and then spraying pesticides/herbicides additionally in an effort to save their crop.

  12. Gaythia says:

    @Mary @10  I would even think that it would be ok for properly regulated corporations to develop GMO methods.
    I am not blaming the technology, which I actually agree can be quite useful.
    Living in the arid west, my favorite long term proposal is looking at developing perennial grain crops.
    The primary differences in impact between me sprinkling Bt on my veggie garden and GMO developed Bt crops are  scale and transmittability.  But both of these are important and need to be taken into consideration.

  13. Mary says:

    @Gaythia: yes, it is true if you sprinkle Bt all over the place you can hit more non-target species than if you wait for it to come and eat the specific item in question. But in general I don’t see a lot of people worried about that–and of course there are Bt sprayings for mosquitoes all the time that most people support. So you’ll be able to keep doing that.

  14. Gaythia says:

    @bluestem and Keith, I think bluestem may be onto something here:
    “The farmer suicides started in 1997. That’s when the corporate seed control started,” Vandana Shiva told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “And it’s directly related to indebtedness, and indebtedness created by two factors linked to globalization.”
    “The combination is unpayable debt, and it’s the day the farmer is going to lose his land for chemicals and seeds, that is the day the farmer drinks pesticide,” Shiva said. “And it’s totally related to a negative economy, of an agriculture that costs more in production than the farmer can ever earn.”

  15. Gaythia says:

    I meant @bluegrue @3

  16. Tom Fuller says:

    Gaythia, what you see is both poignant and compelling. Are there groups that explicitly frame their arguments by saying they are not against the technology per se, but against the business models currently exploiting it?

    Are there any companies you would offer as a positive example of how GMs are being used? 

  17. Gaythia says:

    @Tom Fuller: Well in the first place I don’t think that our corporatist system is all that close to a “let the best idea win” free market.
    So, while I think that there are a number of small companies trying to come to market with excellent ideas in many areas, it is very hard to do so.
    Perhaps, now that Monsanto’s efforts have been shown to have the deficinencies that others predicted that they would, even Monsanto would be open to improved methods.  Or, they could just get caught up in an escalating cycle of seed and pesticide/herbicide updates.
    Golden rice is being promoted as an NGO project, I believe:
    Perennial grains I have only heard of in a university research context, which is not to say that there might be private efforts also.
    I think that society in general and also the science community are having a hard tine framing issues in ways that are not us/them polarizations.
    For this issue, publicizing positive possibilities, rather than berating opponents of GMO’s as ignorant of science, would seem to me to be the way to go.  Get them to see that others disagree with what they really disagree with, before backing them into a corner having to defeat the whole technology. On the other side, would this suit environmental organizations and their fundraising efforts either?  Maybe not.

  18. Mary says:

    @Gaythia: as you might expect, the suicide problem is much more complicated than saying you can blame a single point for that. “None of this should be approached simplistically” one might say.
    You might be interested in this report from IFPRI:
    Shiva is not exactly a reliable source of information I’m afraid.
    It’s also been sad to see the very promising (and Nobel-winning) strategy of microlending leading to so much suicide. Which has nothing to do with Bt.

  19. Gaythia says:

    @Mary the only point on which I think we disagree is the propensity you seem to have to reduce my arguments to more simplistic ones in order for you to have someone to joust against.
    Or, in other words, I believe we are largely in agreement.

  20. Mary says:

    @Gaythia: Huh. I don’t think GMOs have unique properties that cause resistance, that a dislike of multinationals is a reason to spread misinformation, that GMOs cause farmers to commit suicide, nor that Shiva is an even remotely respectable source of information. Because that’s what I saw.
    I have to disagree with you, I’m afraid.

  21. Gaythia says:

    I agree with you that GMO’s don’t have unique properties that cause resistance.  As I tried to say above, the problem is monocultures.  Earlier methods of hybridization or even preferential seed saving could certainly cause the same sort of problems.  And of course, GMO techniques do offer the possibility of more rapidly being able to make genetic modifications that could overcome resistance or other issues.
    I don’t dislike multinationals per se, I think that many contributions by many multinationals has been quite positive. I do think that governmental regulation of excesses is important.
    Indian farmers are struggling with many issues that cause deep indebtedness, the purchase of GMO seed is just one of these stresses.  There are many sources that discuss the problem of suicide in India.  I don’t think discrediting one source is significant.
    Again, I remain convinced that the only point on which I think we disagree is the propensity you seem to have to reduce my arguments to more simplistic ones in order for you to have someone to joust against.

  22. Eli Rabett says:

    Does this account for Ken Cuccinelli?

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