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.

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