I don’t believe a position that is “anti-GMO” is a tenable one, because most insulin that is synthesised today is derived from a genetically modified organism, usually from E.Coli or yeast (S. cerevisiae). Being anti-GMO in principle would mean protesting medicine for diabetics.

I understand having objections to particular GM crops, say BT corn; I also understand having objections to the industry monopolies possessed by unscrupulous agribusiness firms like like Monsanto. Further, I think it is perfectly reasonable to have objections to unsustainable farming practices that deplete soil and eat up forests, or predatory business practices that take up tracts of indigenous land.

What I don’t understand is being against fruits and vegetables that have received the transgenic equivalent of a vaccination: like the Ringspot-resistant Papaya, or the Sharka-resistant Plum.

It’s the lack of clarity and specificity in this conversation that I find maddening: I think complex questions deserve complex answers, and those aren’t to be found in a consumer boycott, or a sign that reads “hell no GMO.” If you are protesting GM crops, but can’t tell me the names of five, then why are do you feel entitled to speak on behalf of people who work in agriculture and horticulture?


If you want to learn about the wide variety of crops available, check out the Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment’s Global GM Crop Database.


Bill Nye Explains Why He Changed His Mind About GMOs

Bill Nye made waves last March when he changed his views on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) following a visit with Monsanto. Previously he had expressed major concerns about the safety of GMOs. 

For how Bill Nye feels about extraterrestrial life watch the full interview here. 

Sign the petition: Keep GMO salmon out of the U.S.

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I just signed a petition urging the FDA to keep GMO salmon out of the US. I think you should, too.

AquaBounty, the company creating the first-ever genetically modified salmon for human consumption, is playing fast and loose with environmental regulations, and we may end up paying the price.The FDA is still considering approval of the company’s dangerous GMO salmon. This could have huge ramifications if we don’t speak up to prevent it.

Coming from that rural-centred background, it’s frustrating to me to see agricultural justice activism co-opted by urban-dwellers who hysterically yell about getting cancer from everything, when they have no connection to, or idea about how food is produced, or who produces it, or even who needs it most. It’s easy for the perpetual consumer to say “hell no GMO!” and talk about the purity of the natural world, or an ethic of noninterference, but I dare them tell the kid halfway around the globe with nutritional deficiencies that amino-acid enriched sweet potatoes should be banned, because they are “unnatural.”

This shouldn’t be about drawing artificial lines between manmade and natural: we gave up the right to complain about that when we domesticated animals and started farming during the Neolithic Revolution, 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. Nothing about the way we live now is “natural,” but paradoxically, that sort of means everything we do is, because we too are evolving biological organisms, and technology–as well as being masters of our own genetic destinies–is a part of our evolutionary trajectory. If there is anything I learned in studying anthropology, it’s that this nature/culture divide is a false dichotomy.

With that in mind, one of my goals here at BiodiverSeed is to change the conversation about GMOs: let’s make it about scientific ethics, about not using poor people as guinea pigs, about food justice, about affordable land access, about protection of biodiversity, and about protecting open-source genetics, instead of debunked studies about GMO corn causing tumours in rats. Let’s centre an agricultural and food justice movement first and foremost on the needs of the people who produce our food, and around the people in the world who need more food.

We can change the conversation if we make a point of being critical, scientifically-literate, and open-minded. We started “playing God” when we invented agriculture, surgery, vaccines, and 3-D printed organs. We’re not about to stop with our food; so let’s make sure that food is healthy and accessible, and doesn’t continue to destroy the integrity of our biomes as we produce it.

Check out what I found while skinning a bag of potatoes at the Fry Shop!  Does this studly spud remind you of anyone?

Maybe a certain blogger?

It’s me!  It looks just like me!

I’m sure the boys in the White House Science Lab would have you believe this agricultural abnormality is nothing to worry about, but my tater twin here is no doubt part of a plan to replace all of mankind with high carb clones!  Who could be behind such a ssssinister ssscheme?  The answer lies in all those extra s’s!  Ssssssee you next time, Weirdateers!

New ‘Hybrid’ Tomatoes

Part of a Series: #Marketing with Plants

Talking about new products in the horticultural and agricultural worlds is a bit like a game of telephone: a concept is set loose in the world, and then by some perverse combination of marketing, bad journalism, and re-shares on social media, a merely grafted tomato plant becomes some sort of miraculous new 'hybrid.’ It’s kind of like the Science News Cycle.

The worst manifestation of this 'trickle-down discourse’ is the GMO conversation, where “drinking a shot glass full of glyphosate herbicide might land you in the hospital,” turns into “GMO crops will give your children autism.”

But this general confusion about food production and plant life manifests in more banal ways: as it has with the 'Pomato,’ a.k.a. 'Ketchup nFries,’ a.k.a. ’TomTato,’ a.k.a. ’Tomoffel’ a.k.a. ’DoubleUP Potato Tom’ tomato/potato plant, and the ’Black and White’ tomato.

Hybrid tomatoes do, of course, exist. They are usually bred for traits like disease resistance, size, uniformity, and shelf life. A true hybrid will often be annotated with F1 (Filial 1 hybrid) or F2 (Filial 2 hybrid): direct from the supplier, these seeds will produce uniform offspring, but seeds that are self-harvested thereafter will not produce true-to-type. That is the big difference between hybrid and heirloom seeds: hybrids will perform well for one season, and heirlooms will perform in perpetuity. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. [x]

The two greenhouse novelties above, however, are mere grafts, resulting in what would properly be called a “chimera” (because the resulting organism retains two genetically distinct tissues). Grafting is a practice that has been used in horticulture for at least 2000 years. What’s more, these are grafts you can do at home with a little research, instead of shelling out 5x the price of a normal tomato at a nursery.

The 'Pomato’ is usually a graft between a cherry tomato, and a potato plant. These plants are both a part of the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family, which also includes tobacco, eggplant, pepino dulce, ground cherries, tomatillos, petunias, peppers, and deadly nightshade. Their botanical closeness means that certain cultivars will have compatible tissues, and can therefore share nutrients and water if their vascular tissues are joined.

The 'Black and White’ tomato is a graft between the famous anthocyanin-abundant Indigo Rose tomato, and a White Cherry tomato. Grafting tomatoes is an excellent strategy for saving space, imparting disease resistance, or increasing vigour: one that I would recommend every home gardener try.

More: In Defense of Grafting Tomatoes

When you harvest seeds from these grafted plants (unless the tomato itself is planted from hybrid seed), they will be true to the original type that was planted before the graft took place. The plant is still genetically the same as it was before the graft.

Even in the case of what was formerly called a “graft hybrid”–where the grafted tissues blend together–genetically distinct reproductive cells are maintained, so the resulting plant is now correctly-termed a graft-chimaera, rather than a graft-hybrid.

There is no doubt that these are exciting and novel products, but they certainly aren’t miraculous: with a little practice, you could be making them for free!

#tomatoes #potatoes #garden science #DIY

A Plea for Culinary Modernism

by Rachel Laudan in Jacobin

As an historian I cannot accept the account of the past implied by Culinary Luddism, a past sharply divided between good and bad, between the sunny rural days of yore and the gray industrial present. My enthusiasm for Luddite kitchen wisdom does not carry over to their history, any more than my response to a stirring political speech inclines me to accept the orator as scholar.

The Luddites’ fable of disaster, of a fall from grace, smacks more of wishful thinking than of digging through archives. It gains credence not from scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow versus fast: artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated and fatty. History shows, I believe, that the Luddites have things back to front.

That food should be fresh and natural has become an article of faith. It comes as something of a shock to realize that this is a latter-day creed. For our ancestors, natural was something quite nasty. Natural often tasted bad.

Fresh meat was rank and tough; fresh milk warm and unmistakably a bodily excretion; fresh fruits (dates and grapes being rare exceptions outside the tropics) were inedibly sour, fresh vegetables bitter. Even today, natural can be a shock when we actually encounter it. When Jacques Pepin offered free-­range chickens to friends, they found “the flesh tough and the flavor too strong,” prompting him to wonder whether they would really like things the way they naturally used to be. Natural was unreliable. Fresh fish began to stink. Fresh milk soured, eggs went rotten.

Everywhere seasons of plenty were followed by seasons of hunger when the days were short. The weather turned cold, or the rain did not fall. Hens stopped laying eggs, cows went dry, fruits and vegetables were not to be found, fish could not be caught in the stormy seas.

Natural was usually indigestible. Grains, which supplied from fifty to ninety percent of the calories in most societies have to be threshed, ground, and cooked to make them edible. Other plants, including the roots and fibers that were the life support of the societies that did not eat grains, are often downright poisonous. Without careful processing green potatoes, stinging taro, and cassava bitter with prussic acid are not just indigestible, but toxic.

Nor did our ancestors’ physiological theories dispose them to the natural. Until about two hundred years ago, from China to Europe, and in Mesoamerica, too, everyone believed that the fires in the belly cooked foodstuffs and turned them into nutrients. That was what digestion was. Cooking foods in effect pre-digested them and made them easier to assimilate. Given a choice, no one would burden the stomach with raw, unprocessed foods.

So to make food tasty, safe, digestible and healthy, our forebears bred, ground, soaked, leached, curdled, fermented, and cooked naturally occurring plants and animals until they were literally beaten into submission.

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*This was a very good piece! If it had gotten into the ecological side of these historical changes, it would have perhaps been better.

I encounter a lot of this ‘luddism’ in the permaculture movement, and struggle with trying to articulate a permacultural praxis that is modern, technological, and accessible.

Whenever I write about GM crops, science advocates criticise my anti-patent stance (which I actually take from reading the works of a futurist!) and my cautious-about-genetic-drift stance; meanwhile, organic advocates vehemently criticise my refusal to condemn genetic engineering wholesale. There is little room for a cautious optimism in that debate. I think there is a third potential position: one where genetic engineering is decentralised, open-source, and accessible.

I’ve been obsessed with biospheres and space travel for as long as I can remember. When I am writing about things like agroforestry, it’s not about returning to an idyllic past: it’s about engineering a better future on this world and others. I think many of the problems of modern agriculture can be better understood as scientific, not neccessarily moral.