mardi 13 octobre 2015

53- GMO, why not?


And if GMOs were an important part of the solution to solve the huge problems that humanity has to solve in order to feed in the centuries to come?
The question may disturb, I conceive, given the virulence of the current debate, but I think it needs to be asked, and it seems essential to me, to study the problem with a different look.

Before getting into the thick of things, I would like to ask you: do you know what is a GMO? The answer is simple, in principle it is an organism that has modified by biotechnology. And so? Actually biotechnology, seeks to add or remove a specific characteristic of the organism to which they are interested. A simple example to understand: to improve the income of farmers (a so topical subject), a scientist may decide that cows must also produce wool. In nature, this characteristic would be very difficult and very slow to obtain. So he should take the sheep wool gene and should introduce it into the genome of the cow. It's simple to say, but probably difficult. But ultimately, you would have a cow, exactly the same as the starting cow, but with long and curly hair, and which should be periodically mowed. No other characteristics would have been changed. The cow would continue to graze grass and to ruminate, to bellow, to produce the same milk as before, with the same flavor and nutritional characteristics, and produce the same tender meat and with the same taste.
One could also imagine a cat without claws, to cease to damage your furniture. Similarly, one could, to finish on a silly example, to make purr a horse, which would have a very limited value, it must be said. But you would have a horse identical in all respects but, as the only point of difference, would begin to purr when you scratch its neck.
When talking about GMO plants, it is exactly the same.
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That being said, it's important to try first to understand why the debate on GMOs took this virulence, this fight to death character. If we don't analyze this point, the debate will never move forward.
At the start of mass denial which we see, there are two facts that have nothing to do with each other, and which one has not even anything to do with GMOs.

The first point, which crystallized public opinion against Monsanto, is the creation of GMOs resistant to a specific herbicide, glyphosate, of which Monsanto is the creator and of which it has the patent. It is sure that, from a commercial point of view, the idea was great. I sell seeds of my property, of crops on which the only herbicide to use is mine. Double benefit. Without speaking about ethics, at least debatable, the simple agronomic and physiological aspect was saying Monsanto was wrong, even before the release of the first resistant seed: glyphosate has always had shortcomings of efficiency, so the exclusive use of this product would sooner or later result in a flora inversion phenomenon (a plant becomes resistant to the herbicide, is left with a free hand with the disappearance of its competition, by the action of the herbicide, and multiplies in a completely uncontrolled way). The other consequence of the previous remark is that some sensitive herbs tend to become tolerant or resistant to the product. This phenomenon is well known, since from the commercial launch of the product, there are more than 30 years, Monsanto was distributing a recognition catalog of highly sensitive, little sensitive or resistant weeds, with doses of product to be used in each case. This catalog, which still exists, has also evolved with the appearance of resistances and efficiency losses. The consequence is that the farmer, to get the same result when he observes inefficiencies, with the time, must gradually increase doses of herbicide. Flagrant cases were observed, particularly in South America, with dosages of 3 to 5 times the normal dose, and adverse environmental consequences.

I have never been opposed to GMOs, considering that I lacked sufficient reliable information to be able to form my own opinion. By cons I've always found aberrant this orientation chosen by Monsanto and other companies.
That said, it must be recognized that farmers saw it as a benefit, since they have agreed to pay for seeds at high prices. Otherwise, farmers in the few countries which have decided to allow certain GMO crops would not sow each year more surface to currently reach over 180 million hectares. In fact, improved weed control allowed them, at least in the first few years to significantly increase yields per hectare. You can read in this regard, my article on herbicides

 The second point, which has nothing to do with GMOs is the obligation to buy the seeds at the seed grower, because it's impossible to reuse seeds from one year to the next. Here it is something else. Breeding new varieties is a long and costly process that national governments have generally left in the hands of private companies. These, desiring (surprise, surprise!) to get a gain of the expensive research work they performed, use a special technique well-known of geneticists, the F1 hybrid. It is a much older technique than GMOs, since invented in 1908 by Shull. It consists in controlling the pollination of a crop to ensure a descence with known characteristics. How many students seeking to earn some money during their vacation went to work the fields to castrate corn? Enormously, and for decades. Why do we castrate corn? To prevent pollen from a variety of pollinate the same variety, so that the pollination is done in a controlled manner with a selected variety. The advantage of the technique? The product will be a seed corn, totally normal, giving yellow grains. But if you sow grains from this crop, normally self-pollinated during the ordinary cycle of the plant, so from second generation, so only 25% of them will give the same variety, the remaining 75% giving a different corn. For example, if the pollinator is a black grain corn, only 25% of the second generation will give yellow grains, 25% will give black grains and the remaining 50% will give in between.
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Yes my dear readers, those of you who have, perhaps for several years, worked to corn castration, did not prepare fields for food, but for seed multiplication. It is a way to protect against piracy of varieties, and to get a return on the investment in research. And those of you who have done it before 1996, have worked on conventional plants, non-GMO. This is indeed the year of the first commercial planting of GMO crops.

Obviously, it is debatable that some countries prohibit seed recovery from year to year, or sale of non-certified seeds, so not coming from a seed grower. We are of course speaking of ordinary seeds, not F1 hybrids. Even if the intention is theoretically good, to want to guarantee consistent quality of seeds (something that tends to be lost over time), one can not help but wonder what part of commercialism is hidden behind such a decision. It tends to make disappear old varieties, commercially less attractive, and whose market of gardeners and small farmers is limited, in favor of more recent varieties, protected, whose rights are paid, thus more profitable. It is a loss of biological diversity within the same group of plants. That is also the risk of disappearances of characters, always within the same group of plants, which are currently considered irrelevant.

This point was picked up by GMO's because of course, GMO seed varieties owners, Monsanto among others, use this technique to protect the rights of their seeds. And this is one more argument against the GMOs, although, again, it has no connection.

Now let's look at the types of GMOs. Because it is a technology with much wider possibilities than only a questionable herbicide resistance. It is very damaging that amalgam was made between the technology and its ethics, at the instigation of dishonest groups and lobbies, whose intentions are primarily ideological.

The future of humanity, to more or less long term, goes through an easy access to a quality and balanced diet for all people, wherever they are, with an environmental impact as low as possible.
So he spends more than ever by improving capabilities to produce high quality foods, nutritious, undemanding water or drought-resistant, undemanding pesticides as tolerant or resistant to one or more pests (pests and diseases), and very productive, to produce more without the need for more farmland.
Biotechnology applied to agriculture, so GMOs can provide solutions to all these problems, but ideology has taken over humanism, intolerance on intelligence. Never mind if thousands of people die as long as the ideology is respected. Currently, this is the situation: we prefer to let thousands of people die, or they become seriously ill, under an extremist environmentalism, rather than admit that all is not so bad in biotechnology.

You really think I exaggerate?
So ask the people of Southeast Asia or Africa if they would not agree with the authorization, finally, after 15 years of successful experiments, of golden rice, GMO rice enriched with beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, therefore likely to avoid serious deficiencies in this vital vitamin in the human body, which causes blindness to 1 million children per year, of which about 250,000 will die (FAO data). Don't you think it's worth?
Or the GMO rice can grow without flooding period, and produces 40% more grain, while producing 30 times less methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, due to the disappearance of the flood stage?
Also ask the people of Sahel what they think of GMO crops resistant to drought and therefore simply likely to prevent them from starving.
Or GMOs resistant to flooding, especially thought for people living in monsoons sensitive areas, which are regularly found with their crop destroyed by heavy rains?
And what about GMOs resistant to certain insects or certain viruses, and able to produce as much with much fewer pesticides?
Or GMOs capable of producing a much higher amount of bioethanol, allowing considering more serenely the post-oil era?
There are many examples, that have nothing to do with herbicides, and which are agricultural products that can solve the serious food problems faced every day by many parts of the world, or that offer sustainable solutions to the future of humanity.
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It is easy to criticize and oppose, when comfortably living in a rich country and in excellent conditions of comfort and food security. But try, just for a moment, to put yourself in the place of those who really need it. I don't believe that the Cuban government may be suspected of trying to make the fortune of large Western multinationals. Yet it is betting on GMOs, with a very extensive scientific research program, funded by the state, and about to succeed on GMO crops, available without rights. Other countries, big or small, have chosen to invest in biotechnology with public funds, to seek to solve specific problems of their own regions. These include, for example, China, India, Brazil, United States, Indonesia, Philippines and Bangladesh. This research is done by universities, public research centers, private organizations or companies in cofinancing.

Really, GMO crops are insults to Nature?
Who is insulting nature in this case? All anti-GMO groups that are systematically destroying experimental fields, those used to see in full-scale, if the laboratory results are transferable to the field. These tests are essential because they allow to measure in the practice, not in theory, what are the real capacities of these varieties, which are the environmental risks and what are the real benefits of each case. Through this method, many GMO varieties were rejected by their authors because of insufficient or poor results, while lab results had been very encouraging.

GMOs are the most studied living organisms in the history of mankind. The risks are extremely low, much less so than the risks against which they provide solutions. Zero risk does not exist in nature.
Hybrid and natural mutations that have occurred since the dawn of time in nature, have changed the environment and food of all living beings, much more serious and profoundly than what a GMO could cause. Why? Simply because when you create a GMO variety, you change a single gene, but in the case of a crossing or a mutation, an entire set of genes are affected, that can cause major changes to environment, with consequences difficult to measure.

I reiterate my strong ethic reluctance to herbicide resistant GMOs, not for their relevance, but for the abuses they cause, and therefore (but not directly) for health and environment risks that these abuses induce.
I even allow myself to doubt of the long-term interests of GMOs resistant to insects or diseases, because of the risk of developing resistance by insects and diseases against which we want to fight.
But I repeat my total support for the principle of GMOs, which aims to provide solutions to the major nutritional problems of humanity.

Because let's think for a moment. Let's go back to the golden rice. Populations under this option are poor, living in sensitive areas with difficult climate and limited possibilities of dietary diversity, at least in the short term. Rice is the absolute basis of their diet. If it is denied access to the golden rice, which corrects their daily vitamin A deficiency, what should they do to avoid blindness to their children? Diversify their crops, vary their diets, or enrich it with nutritional supplements. How, and with what resources? These are the populations among the poorest, least educated and most forgotten of the world. They are unable to pass alone that step. Thanks to the golden rice, we could solve this problem almost immediately and easily.
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But reticence are such, and opponents, Greenpeace, or the famous Indian activist Vandana Shiva first, are so radicalized that they condemn, with their actions, millions of children to a certain blindness or death. Since the beginning of the blocking, blind and dead persons are counted by millions. In my home, in my language and my culture, it's called the non-assistance to persons in danger, an abandonment of responsibility, and even a crime against humanity. Except that this crime is committed in the name of the common good and of a lounge environmentalism, fighting for a fragilized environment, but not for people who are suffering. The good to whom are we talking about? No the one who needs it anyway. He is the victim of an ideology that does not even know, promoted by people of whom he does not suspect the existence, living thousands of miles away in living conditions to which he could not even dream.
Perhaps it would be good to be remembered from time to time that the human being is also an important element of the environment, a natural being that we must also preserve when in a precarious situation.
When it came to fighting against the Ebola virus, everyone was mobilized. More than 11,000 people died in less than two years (FAO data). Nearly 500,000 people died (and 2 million children have become blind), during the same period of time, of deficiency of vitamin A. But we don't do anything. Why? Because it is not contagious, and it's not going to happen here. The TV does not speak about it because nobody cares of it. And we can continue quietly to oppose GMOs, so warm and safe in front of our full plate, under the pretext of a lounge ideology, an ideology of well-fed people.

And that's just one example. Many other GMOs are under study or in development, that would provide sustainable solutions to serious food problems. But environmental groups prefer to see people dying (it occurs very far from home, and in fact we don't see it so much...), rather than change, even slightly, their ideological position.
Note that I totally agree with many actions of the environmentalist movements that led in recent years to very positive evolutions. The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century had led to many abuses, many excesses, and it was important that someone show to all of society the wall to which it was rushing. But in this case, this is pure and hard, mulish ideology. It is the stubborn refusal to recognize that science is right, and that the ideology, in this case at least, was mistaken.

No, believe me, GMOs are an extremely promising way forward, probably the line of research that can bring more sustainable and "elegant" solutions to solve all the serious food and environmental problems that the world will face in the decades to come.
Who is the more ecologist? The one who seeks to use seeds that will limit the use of pesticides, fertilizers and soil and water resources, or the one that persists, for purely ideological reasons, in wanting to ban them, resulting in a growing pollution and an over-use of resources?
All that for allegedly egalitarian, allegedly social, allegedly environmentalists ideas. This is an excellent way to get a place in the political spectrum, abusing the credulity of the public on behalf of a falsified ideal.

Monsanto is used as a screen and scapegoat to conceal a reality that has nothing to do with the official discourse. Monsanto is high as a symbol of GMOs, is demonized and presented as having a near monopoly on biotechnology, while only represents 7% of the research activities in this sector. It's only the first company that believed in biotechnologies, and that did a commercial development, with the blessing of national authorities.
Let's be serious. Again, you are told anything. And unfortunately you believe it, and our dear politics are more concerned to maintain their very comfortable and very profitable armchairs, than of the future of humanity.
How long will it take for us to regret? I don't know, but future generations will have difficulties to solve food problems, and social and political stability problems that inevitably will arise, if things do not change quickly.

GMOs are not a danger to the planet. Science demonstrates it every day a little more. Only charlatans say otherwise.
They can bring almost immediate solutions to urgent food problems.
They can bring ecological and sustainable solutions to serious environmental problems.
They can address serious food crises.
GMOs are a necessity for the future of humanity. Let's be smart enough to realize that the political interests of the opponents are bigger than the risks they brandish as a shield.

If you share my opinion, or if I managed to make you think about the benefits of biotechnology, if your opposition to GMOs is no longer quite so radical that before you started reading this article, if your humanity is still higher than your political convictions, then I invite you to sign the petition Avaaz I recently received and that I signed.
This is to put pressure on Greenpeace to reduce its anti-GMO radical position, and to leave finally authorize the golden rice for areas in need.
Do it and share the petition, it will be as effective as giving money to good causes. Your mere participation can save many lives and prevent many children of blindness.

You may also visit two websites, one defending the golden rice
and the other speaking about golden rice, and about people defending it and why

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