Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Another GMO deception

Alas, the publishers of The GMO Deception had bad timing in one respect. One of the essays in the book, by Indrani Barpujari and Birendra Brau, alleges that suicides of farmers in India are caused by the widespread adoption of cotton that expresses the insecticide Bt. The basic idea is that the seeds are much more expensive than traditional seeds, driving the farmers into debt. (The essay was first published in 2007, and no attempt is made in the volume to bring the information up to date, a highly annoying feature of this book I mentioned in my first post about it.)

Now Michael Specter in the New Yorker gives this a massive, compelling debunking. It turns out that yeah, the seeds cost more, but the farmers save more than that on pesticides. And they also avoid exposing themselves and their families to sprayed insecticides. Although agriculture in India is economically stressed, it has nothing to do with GMO crops.

As I posted to Pharyngula:

It’s unfortunate that the discussion of GMO crops has been polluted, as it were, by tendentious hogwash on the part of opponents as well as proponents. It makes it very difficult to have a reasoned discussion of the issues because if you take a critical stance on some particular, you get lumped in with the anti-GMO crazies, whereas if you have anything nice to say about any particular application of GM you get lumped in with the rapacious capitalists.
I hope we can avoid that here. Every technology — every technology — has unintended ill effects. Take for example the automobile. It is a scientific fact that internal combustion engines work, and get you from point A to point B faster than horses. They can be made more or less safe, and more or less polluting, and there may be ways to make the other social externalities (e.g. urban sprawl and obesity and highways that slice through communities and all that stuff) less bad. But the costs and benefits of automobile-related policy and regulation are properly subject to debate, the possible costs now including the devastation of the planetary ecology and human civilization. And the automobile manufacturers obviously cannot be taken at face value when they make claims. The same goes for GMO crops and Monsanto.

Unfortunately, The GMO Deception is often tendentious and fails to contribute to the prospects for such a reasoned discussion. People just get dug in and then there's no possibility of movement.

To Be Continued.

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