Monday, July 30, 2012

Ireland and GMO potatoes (Did they actually make that argument?

So a few posts into going through the GMO Myths and Truths paper and what do I see?  Is this a post of a GMO proponent saying just what the paper's been warning about?

Scientists say the plants have been designed to improve resistance to blight.  They argue that the type of genetic modification used is akin to conventional breeding. (BBC News)

Sure seems like it.  The scientists are saying exactly what the paper said they were saying.  Well, except that's not a quote and it's not a cited statement.  There are quotes in the article from both the scientists working on the project and by people opposed the the 2 hectare field test, but this isn't one of them.

So that makes it a statement by the author, who in standard journalistic form is just reporting the facts and opinions of the partisans in this story.  Half of the article is comments from anti-GMO proponents, so the article itself isn't pro-GMO.

So the line in the article doesn't count for a GMO proponent claiming that GMO is just the same thing as standard breeding.  I looked up all the available documents on the Irish EPA's decision to approve this trial (and there are quite a few) and found no trace of this statement among them either.

What I did find was a pretty solid summary of what this variety of GMO is. They are taking a gene from a separate breed of potato that is being tested for blight resistance.  This is cisgenics, not transgenics.  Although that still seems to be objectionable to the anti-GMO partisans here.  It isn't "the same as breeding" but it's more akin to mixing genes from a Chihuahua and a Great Dane than it is to putting fish genes in a strawberry.  This is a pairing that COULD happen naturally.  The major difference is that instead of getting all of the wild potatoes genes, possibly cancelling out traits that we bread into domestic potatoes, they get the one gene that codes for the specific protein desired in blight resistance.

Granted, epigenetic effects could give rise to other traits we didn't want.  This variety could even fail to reduce the onset of potato blight in the wild.  But this is why they are conducting a non-commercial test of the strain.  No one will be eating the potatoes from these tests.  Hell, by the EPA regulations on this test is banning all commercial production on and around the site for 4-6 years (page 3, section 3.5.3) just to make sure that nothing is left there from the original trial but the ground cover grass to be put in place after the test site is herbicided out of existence.

Conclusions on this?  I can't see that this is a GMO proponent saying that GMO is identical to conventional breeding.  What I see is an editorial comment from a science journalist that may be a misrepresentation of the concept of cisgenic modification.

Friday, July 27, 2012

GMO Myths and Truths: Muddying the waters with imprecise terms

This post will cover the "Muddying the waters" subsection of chapter one in GMO Myths and Truths.  This subsection is mostly tied to section 1.1 and may have been better suited to just be a part of it.  It basically covers the same ground and with the same level of verifiability.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

GMO Myths and Truths: The genetic engineering technique (1.1)

So here we are.  The first section of GMO Myths and Truths.  This will probably be the shortest section review as this one has no cited papers backing it up.  That isn't immediately a negative to it as it seems to be arguing definitions.  As the section header states...
Myth: Genetic engineering is just an extension of natural breeding Truth: Genetic engineering is different from natural breeding and poses special risks

Friday, July 20, 2012

Only wrong if a Obama says it

So apparently, every right-wing media outlet in this country got a severe case of "failed primary school reading comprehension" this week.  The president gave another speech, as politician are wont to do during a campaign.  During this speech he made a point that pretty much no one with two neurons to rub together for sparks denies, no man is an island.  If you grew up in a human society, there were things that you benefited from that you did not construct, devise, pay for, or implement yourself.  In fact, those things were paid for by all of us.  Things like schools teaching us knowledge and skills, roads to move ourselves and supplies on, police to protect us from criminals, fire departments to keep us from waking up on fire, etc.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

GMO Myths and Truths: The paper at a glance

This will be my first post on the paper GMO Myths and Truths by Earth Open Source.  This is more about my first impressions on the topic and putting my bias out in the open, and less about the actual contents of the paper, which I will get into in the next post.

Where to begin?

So I've thought for a while... I have this blog and I don't really do anything with it.  I used to rant about politics, religion, and the like on it more, but when I finally joined the hive mind that is Facebook, most of my rants moved there.  However, I've started to feel like all I do on FB is comment on politics or social issues.  So to clear that up from people's status feeds, I think I'll start blogging it again.  I can make better responses in blogs anyway, FB status posts don't let me fisk or reference link other pages.

As for a regular subject to blog about for a while, I've decided to delve into The "GMO Myths and Truths" paper that I caught sight of a few weeks back.  Quick back story on that, a friend of one of my aunt's started posting anti-GMO links, which got my aunt posting them, which got me long-windedly commenting on them, which resulted in her posting a page that linked to this paper as a counter argument ("Scientists even say they're dangerous").  It's a huge paper and what little I've read of it hasn't impressed me much.

That being said, as a skeptic, I feel like I should educate myself on this.  It's being touted as the end-all argument against GMO food production around the crowds that are against that sort of thing.  I'm not part of that crowd myself (I like to joke that I wish some brand would sell a non-organic, all GMO product so I could buy it), but neither am I part of any group that stands to financially benefit one way or the other from public opinion on the subject.  Hell, I'm not even a biologist or a geneticist, but the benefit of the information age is that I can probably find some who can explain what the hell some of this stuff means.

Damning for the paper, the way I got to it was through a few pages that were a little on the tin foil hat side of credulity.  Not to shoot the messenger or anything; I just feel like a review of it from the skeptical blogosphere needs to happen, even if it is by a dreadfully bored software engineer who's decided his boredom is enough to warrant reading the paper's 123 pages and 650 cited sources in order to make heads or tails of it.

Fun times ahead.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Wow, I still have this thing? Looks like its time to sweep up the broken links and ancient formats and get this sucker running again.