Recent GMO research and the (ongoing) controversy

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been controversial for some time. In a recent set of articles, Keith Kloor has been arguing that the concerns over GMOs in food production are overblown (see here and here). In particular, Kloor and others argue that some of the initial reports of massive suicides among farmers in India are incorrect; these are claimed by Vandana Shiva and others to be connected to the changes in livelihoods that ensue when GMOs are introduced and big corporations start running the supply chain.

I don’t aim to settle the debate, which is often positioned (like most debates) by opponents that disagree about how to frame the issue to begin with.  I had initially planned to do my graduate work on GMOs since, for several years, I worked in custom agriculture and have probably sprayed more chemicals (by several orders of magnitude) than most people.

Anyhow, I’d like to point out two new publications on the topic. One, a book, the other an article.

(1) The book is by Emily Eaton and is titled: Growing resistance: Canadian farmers and the politics of genetically modified wheat. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

“In 2004 Canadian farmers led an international coalition to a major victory for the anti-GM movement by defeating the b836bbe16d65d27b2e1f575a1352e73ca7f6bdf0introduction of Monsanto’s genetically modified wheat. Canadian farmers’ strong opposition to GM wheat marked a stark contrast to previous producer acceptance of other genetically modified crops. By 2005, for example, GM canola accounted for 78% of all canola grown nationally. So why did farmers stand up for wheat?

In Growing Resistance, Emily Eaton reveals the motivating factors behind farmer opposition to GM wheat. She illustrates wheat’s cultural, historical, and political significance on the Canadian prairies as well as its role in crop rotation, seed saving practices, and the economic livelihoods of prairie farmers.

Through interviews with producers, industry organizations, and biochemical companies, Eaton demonstrates how the inclusion of producer interests was integral to the coalition’s success in voicing concerns about environmental implications, international market opposition to GMOs, and the lack of transparency and democracy in Canadian biotech policy and regulation.

Growing Resistance is a fascinating study of successful coalition building, of the need to balance local and global concerns in activist movements, and of the powerful forces vying for control of food production.”

(2) UPDATE JUNE 12: The piece below seems to not be by scientists at all. So take it with as much salt as required.

The second piece is an article in the journal Entropy, it is on the active ingredient (glyphosate) in Round-Up Ready crops – such as the version of wheat rejected by Canadian farmers. If you click the link above you can get a free copy of the article. It is open access. Here is the abstract:

Abstract: Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is the most popular herbicide used worldwide. The industry asserts it is minimally toxic to humans, but here we argue otherwise. Residues are found in the main foods of the Western diet, comprised primarily of sugar, corn, soy and wheat. Glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics. Thus, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is the “textbook example” of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins.


  1. […] to my earlier post on GMOs. Filed Under: Uncategorized « Voting for MOOCs: environment, science […]

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