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The 10 Minor Realizations That Flipped My Thinking About GMOs

 Heirloom_Tomatoes.jpg

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Low Fat Dairy and Its Discontents

I’m not exactly sure what inspired Allison Aubrey to report on two research papers from last year as breaking news, but I’m glad she did, and glad her story has gained some legs.

New research suggests we may want to look anew.

Consider the findings of two recent studies that conclude the consumption of whole-fat dairy is linked to reduced body fat.

In one paper, published by Swedish researchers in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, middle-aged men who consumed high-fat milk, butter and cream were significantly less likely to become obese over a period of 12 years compared with men who never or rarely ate high-fat dairy.

Yep, that’s right. The butter and whole-milk eaters did better at keeping the pounds off.

“I would say it’s counterintuitive,” says Greg Miller, executive vice president of the National Dairy Council.

The second study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, is a meta-analysis of 16 observational studies. There has been a hypothesis that high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity and heart disease risk, but the reviewers concluded that the evidence does not support this hypothesis. In fact, the reviewers found that in most of the studies, high-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of obesity.

The reason I’m glad, is that this goes to a long running pet peeve of mine. All too often, the conventional wisdom in nutrition is unsupported by the data. Sometimes, it’s in direct contradiction.

When I first started becoming interested in nutrition, I came across a study headed by a Harvard study from 2005 that followed a group of 12,829 US children, aged 9 to 14 years from 1996 through 1999. The purpose of the study was to “assess the associations between milk, calcium from foods and beverages, dairy fat, and weight change over time.” Data was collected by surveys returned by mail. After looking at the data, these were their conclusions:

Children who drank the most milk gained more weight, but the added calories appeared responsible. Contrary to our hypotheses, dietary calcium and skim and 1% milk were associated with weight gain, but dairy fat was not. Drinking large amounts of milk may provide excess energy to some children.

At the time, it seemed interesting and counterintuitive and was duly filed away to some empty dendrites I had lying around. Not long after, in 2006, came news that New York City was removing whole milk from the public school cafeterias in order to combat childhood obesity. Low fat chocolate milk would be allowed, but whole milk would be banished. The report also mentioned that Los Angeles had done the same in 2000. It was reported that some states had made the same change or were considering it.

I had to wonder; had the nutritionist for a school system with 1.1 million students have missed the Harvard study? Was there other research that contradicted the 2005 study? Had anyone bothered to collect any data in Los Angeles to measure the impact of the change made in 2000? In 2006, those answers to those questions weren’t as easy to find for an amateur with a short attention span like myself. I was reduced to stewing on the fact that a very large public health intervention had been made in contradiction of the only research I could find on the issue. A huge pet peeve of mine is the willingness, especially in nutrition to undertake public policy interventions in the absence of any evidence that they will achieve the desired outcome. (I’m looking at you restaurant calorie postings.)

The one other thing I found on the issue at the time, was that hog farmers have been using skim to fatten hogs since your grandfather was in short pants. The observation that skim milk was particularly fattening was borne out by the research at the time. From the Station Bulletin, Oregon State Agricultural College – November 1930 [pdf]:

Skim milk. This is not only the very best supplement for growing pigs, but is of almost equal value for fattening purposes. Though very low in dry-matter content, milk furnishes a complete protein, which fact accounts in a large measure for the excellent returns. Milk renders the ration more palatable, inducing greater consumption and consequently greater daily gains. Also milk is a good source of minerals.

Granted, they weren’t comparing it to whole milk, but still … not a promising observation for Hansel and Gretel.

Sometime in 2011, I did finally follow up and gather all the relevant research I could find. The nearly dozen and a half papers I gathered at the time were nearly an exact match to those that the Kratz paper looked at.

METHODS: We have conducted a systematic literature review of observational studies on the relationship between dairy fat and high-fat dairy foods, obesity, and cardiometabolic disease. We have integrated these findings with data from controlled studies showing effects of several minor dairy fatty acids on adiposity and cardiometabolic risk factors, and data on how bovine feeding practices influence the composition of dairy fat.

RESULTS: In 11 of 16 studies, high-fat dairy intake was inversely associated with measures of adiposity. Studies examining the relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and metabolic health reported either an inverse or no association. Studies investigating the connection between high-fat dairy intake and diabetes or cardiovascular disease incidence were inconsistent. We discuss factors that may have contributed to the variability between studies, including differences in the potential for residual confounding; the types of high-fat dairy foods consumed; and bovine feeding practices (pasture- vs. grain-based) known to influence the composition of dairy fat.

CONCLUSIONS: The observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, and suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk. Although not conclusive, these findings may provide a rationale for future research into the bioactive properties of dairy fat and the impact of bovine feeding practices on the health effects of dairy fat.

The literature gathered was from 1999 to 2011. As to my earlier question about what research had been available at the time the New York school district was making the decision to eliminate whole milk from their cafeterias, seven of the studies considered were available at the time. None of them supported the idea that removing whole milk from students diets would be helpful in combatting obesity. The clear majority suggested the opposite.

I had drawn the same conclusions looking at the same literature as Kratz and company did. But, I also wondered about the studies that did show a correlation between dairy fat consumption, adiposity and metabolic health. The paper’s authors noticed the same geographic pattern that I had.

Examining Table 1, it is clear that location has a major influence on the studies’ outcomes. Of the nine studies that were conducted in Europe, eight found that dairy fat intake
is inversely associated with adiposity. Of the seven that were conducted in the United States, three found an inverse association, while four did not. Three factors stand out as possible explanations for this discrepancy.

The first is the high potential for residual and unmeasured confounding in US cohorts. Since the 1980s, there has been a public health campaign in the United States to lower the consumption of SFA-rich foods such as animal fats. As a result, dairy fat is perceived as unhealthy in the United States, and one would expect its consumption to be associated with other behaviors that are perceived as unhealthy. Indeed, Liu et al. reported that US women in the highest quintile of high-fat dairy intake were 62 % more likely to be current smokers than women in the lowest quintile, whereas women in the highest quintile of low-fat dairy intake were 62 % less likely to smoke than the lowest quintile.

Similarly, dietary fiber intake was 21 % lower in the highest quintile of high-fat dairy intake compared to the lowest. Comparable trends were reported by Margolis et al., including substantially higher physical activity and income level in the top quintile of low-fat dairy intake, and substantially lower physical activity and income level in the top quintile of high-fat dairy intake [35]. This demonstrates the cultural stigma attached to dairy fat consumption in the United States, and casts doubt upon the ability of observational studies to fully adjust for the unhealthy lifestyle patterns that associate with dairy fat consumption in this environment.

Or as I would put it: Pizza and Cheeseburgers.
So it was unsurprising, when I learned later that week that, “that an astonishing 13% of the U.S. population consumed pizza on any given day”. More disturbing:

For this large population — more than 1 out of 8 Americans — who consumed pizza in a particular day:

  • Pizza accounted for 25% (among kids) and 29% (among adults) of daily food energy intake. More than a quarter of all calorie intake was pizza.
  • Pizza accounted for 33% (among kids) and 39% (among adults) of daily saturated fat intake. Compared with foods in general, pizza is much heavier in saturated fat.
  • Pizza accounted for 33% (among kids) and 38% (among adults) of sodium intake. Compared with foods in general, pizza is much heavier in sodium.

In recent years, USDA’s dairy checkoff program has spent many millions of dollars to increase pizza consumption among U.S. children and adults. Using the federal government’s taxation powers, the checkoff program collects a mandatory assessment of 15 cents on every hundredweight of milk that is sold for use as fluid milk or dairy products. The total mandatory assessment in 2011 was $104 million for fluid milk and $98 million for other dairy products, according to the most recent annual USDA Report to Congress. These expenditures are many times greater than federal spending on promoting fruits and vegetables, whole grains, or any of the other foods for which the Dietary Guidelines recommend increased consumption.

I love it when a plan comes together. But, not always.

Sources:
The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean
Allison Aubrey | The Salt/NPR | 12 February 2014

High dairy fat intake related to less central obesity: a male cohort study with 12 years’ follow-up.
Holmberg S, Thelin A. | Scandinavian Journal of Primary Heathcare | June 2013

The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease.
M Kratz, T Baars, S Guyenet | The European Journal of Nutrition | February 2013 | [pdf]

Milk, dairy fat, dietary calcium, and weight gain: a longitudinal study of adolescents.
Berkey CS, Rockett HR, Willett WC, Colditz GA. | Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine | June 2005

In New York Schools, Whole Milk Is Cast From the Menu
David Herszenhorn | The New York Times | 2 February 2006

Fattening Pigs for Market [pdf]
Agricultural Experiment Station | Oregon State Agricultural College | Station Bulletin | November 1930

USDA reports on pizza consumption and on dairy checkoff program initiatives to increase pizza demand
Parke Wilde | US Food Policy | 7 February 2014

Incentivizing Work in SNAP with Vegetables

Farmer's Market photo farmersmarket_zps618c3199.jpg
Louise Putnam | Missouri State Archives

Against the backdrop of the foolish pearl clutching that has greeted the CBO report that shows Obamacare will give people the freedom to choose to work less, I stumbled across a piece by Reihan Salam on Representatives Nikki Tsongas (D-MA) and Tom Petri’s (R-WI) push for a commission to improve co-coordination between federal and state anti-poverty programs. Petri is particularly interested in dealing with the disincentives to work that are built into many programs, sometimes in the aggregate.

For instance, consider the scenario of a single mother with two children making $17,000 a year living in Wisconsin in 2009 who claims all available deductions and participated in all eligible benefit programs. If this single mother were to work extra hours or receive a raise so that her earnings increase to $21,000, she would only see $540 of that $4,000 in new earnings—she would have lost $3,460 in benefits. That amounts to almost an 88 percent effective tax rate, leaving the hard-working parent and her children little to show for the extra effort. Even more shocking is that if this mother received a raise or worked more to raise her earnings another $1,000 to $22,000, she would actually have less in disposable income than she had when earning $21,000.

How can this be?

It all comes back to benefit phaseout schedules. For instance, SNAP benefits for a single mother in some states gradually diminish as income rise and eventually stop when earnings reach $23,000 annually, leading to over 100 percent in effective taxation at some point—meaning that you lose more than you bring in.

Reihan points to Oren Cass’ Flex Fund idea as one way of dealing with the issue. There is a lot for liberals and conservatives to like in Cass’ ideas. The biggest obstacle the idea faces is that it is a broad omnibus reform. Those are really, really hard to do. I’d like to suggest a small bore solution to a program that I’ve thought a lot about and have some experience with.

I’m going to lay the case for a tiered phase out of SNAP benefits as participants income rises. The three tiers would be the current basket of goods covered by SNAP, the WIC basket of goods or perhaps the WIC basket and finally fresh produce as covered in the new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program. But first, let’s look at the case for whitelisting SNAP benefits in the first place.

I’ve long thought that the basket of goods covered by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) should whitelisted. That is, SNAP should pay for foods that provide sustenance. It should not pay for things like soda and cookies. Another reform would be to forgo the whitelist for recipients but require a mandatory basket of goods for participating retailers must carry and keep in inventory. Using the already existing WIC package would be a simple way to do this.  Another popular idea would be to simply exclude sugary beverages.

Whitelisting SNAP would accomplish a number of important things:

  • It would end a large indirect federal subsidy to junk food manufacturers
  • It would increase the indirect federal subsidy to non-junk food producers
  • It would improve the eating habits of a substantial number of Americans by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption that is too low and decreasing sugar consumption that far to high. There is a reasonable expectation that this would lower medical costs. Those are medical costs which are most likely being picked up by the taxpayer.
  • It would serve as a strong public health message that diet matters and that junk food is not just empty calories
  • It would nearly end the problem of food deserts over night. If corner stores needed to carrying a certain basket of goods to certify for SNAP, store in low income neighborhoods would start stocking fresh produce and whole grain bread and cereal over night. Problem solved. I’ve worked with corner stores to achieve WIC status. They respond to incentives and WIC participation changes their product mix for the better.
  • It would insulate SNAP politically. A program that only pays for nutritious food is much harder to attack politically and would be less vulnerable to budget cuts.

The idea faces a few obstacles. First, anti-hunger groups won’t lobby for a change like this. They argue that it is demeaning to recipients that they couldn’t shop like everyone else.That it is stigmatizing to have pay for some items with their EBT card and for other by other means. They point out that SNAP participants eat about as well as everyone else. They argue that cheaper foods provide cheaper calories.

These arguments are easily dealt with.

There are lots of everyday necessities that you can’t pay for with your EBT card: aspirin, dish soap, tooth paste, sandwich bags. Shifting soda and potato chips into that category doesn’t make the check out any more demeaning than buying tuna and cold medicine in the same transaction. I’ve been on SNAP and I found room for a little ice cream here and there, but I would have traded that in a second for dish soap, tooth paste or double coupons for fresh produce. SNAP is by nature paternalistic. If we want a less paternalistic program, we would do a straight cash transfer. Given our cognitive biases against budgeting and the fact that a lot of SNAP spending is intended for kids, compartmentalizing an in kind transfer for food makes more sense. Now with the federal government on the hook for a lot more low income health care spending, it makes even more sense to exclude junk food. In fact, given what we’ve learned about behavioral psychology, done right, a SNAP whitelist could have a significant positive effect on participant’s food choices. That’s a topic for another day. Read More…

Sherman and Fugh-Berman Respond

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On January 14th I published a critique of an editorial by Thomas Sherman and Adriane Fugh-Berman on the Hasting Center for Bioethics blog. A few days later they were moved to respond.

The issue at hand was the retraction of the notorious Séralini rat study.

Sherman and Fugh-Berman held that the retraction was the result of industry pressure and that the retraction didn’t cite reasons that fell within accepted guidelines for retraction [pdf]. I quote them at length to avoid misrepresenting them.

According to the Committee on Publication Ethics, a group that advises medical editors and publishers on ethical issues, particularly, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct:

Journal editors should consider retracting a publication if:

  • they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)
  • the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)
  • it constitutes plagiarism
  • it reports unethical research

There are hundreds of studies that should be permanently removed from the scientific literature, but the Séralini study is not one of them. The FCT retraction announcement very clearly states: “Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data” – and then goes on to say, incredibly, that the study is being withdrawn because the journal’s own review of the primary data show that the results are inconclusive.

Inconclusive? Until a hypothesis is proven, all results are inconclusive.

It would have been perfectly appropriate for the journal to have written an editorial expressing its concerns. Instead, it seems the editors may have succumbed to industry pressure to do the wrong thing.

. . . The retraction of the Séralini study is a black mark on medical publishing, a blow to science, and a win for corporate bullies.

My response was three fold. I agreed that the retraction had a political element, but that it did not seem to be in response to industry pressure.

Second, Sherman and Fugh-Berman had ignored Séralini’s own ethical lapses. The two that I pointed out were his unusual and manipulative press embargo on the study and his decision to allow the rats to die from massive tumors rather than euthanize them. I did not bring up the conflict of interest that the funding of the study represented. This was a conflict of interest not stated in the paper. Séralini wrote in his book that he funneled industry money through CERES to obscure the funding sources for this study. He failed to disclose any conflicts of interest in the paper. That seems like a major no-no to me.

Third, Sherman and Fugh-Berman had thrown around a lot of innuendo about conflicts of interest. While conflicts of interest raise red flags and call for heightened scrutiny, they do not justify jumping to conclusions. Instead, they should be seen as presenting a hypothesis which should be tested. Sherman and Fugh-Berman say, “The quality of Séralini’s work aside, the process by which his paper was retracted reeks of industry pressure.” But how can you judge whether the retraction can be confidently attributed to industry pressure if you put the quality of Séralini’s work aside?

Read More…

Contemporary Selective Breeding. Plant Edition.

vegetables

In an effort to address the naivete and sentimentality that people have about agriculture, we continue our look at contemporary selective breeding. After looking at the state of the art of dairy cow breeding, I thought we’d take a look at some recent articles about the state of the art in non-GMO plant breeding.

In Scientific American, Ferris Jabr takes a long and careful look at a new breed of plant um, breeders. Clocking in at nearly 5000 words, it’s thorough and lively primer on the subject of selective breeding. You’ll be doing yourself a favor to read the whole thing.

The story starts with the arrival of some seeds from habaneros that mutated in such away that they produced little to no capsaicin. Michael Mazourek started crossing them with other plants to try to create a pepper that had a habenero’s subtle, smoky flavor without the brutal and distracting heat. By running the genome of the plant and isolating the alleles responsible for the traits he was seeking he was able to skip step of waiting for plants to produce fruit to test if they were expressing those traits.

Mazourek belongs to a new generation of plant breeders who combine traditional farming with rapid genetic analysis to create more flavorful, colorful, shapely and nutritious fruits and vegetables. These modern plant breeders are not genetic engineers; in most cases they do not directly manipulate plant DNA in the lab. Rather, they sequence the genomes of many different kinds of plants to build databases that link various versions of genes—known as alleles—to distinct traits. Then, they peek inside juvenile plants to examine the alleles that are already there before choosing which ones to grow in the field and how best to mate one plant with another. In some cases breeders can even analyze the genetic profiles of individual seeds and subsequently select which to sow and which to disregard, saving them a great deal of time and labor.

Plant breeders have, of course, always used the best tools available to them. But in the last 10 years or so they have been able to approach their work in completely new ways in part because genetic sequencing technology is becoming so fast and cheap. “There’s been a radical change in the tools we use,” says Jim Myers of Oregon State University, who has been a plant breeder for more than 20 years and recently created an eggplant-purple tomato. “What is most exciting to me, and what I never thought I would be doing, is going in and looking at candidate genes for traits. As the price of sequencing continues to drop, it will become more and more routine to do sequences for every individual population of plants you’re working with.”

. . . In part to circumvent the controversy surrounding GMOs, fruit and vegetable breeders at both universities and private companies have been turning to an alternative way of modifying the food we eat: a sophisticated approach known as marker-assisted breeding that marries traditional plant breeding with rapidly improving tools for isolating and examining alleles and other sequences of DNA that serve as “markers” for specific traits. Although these tools are not brand-new, they are becoming faster, cheaper and more useful all the time. “The impact of genomics on plant breeding is almost beyond my comprehension,” says Shelley Jansky, a potato breeder who works for both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “To give an example: I had a grad student here five years ago who spent three years trying to identify DNA sequences associated with disease resistance. After hundreds of hours in the lab he ended up with 18 genetic markers. Now I have grad students who can get 8,000 markers for each of 200 individual plants within a matter of weeks. Progress has been exponential in last five years.”

. . . Mills can look for these markers in cantaloupe seeds before deciding which ones to plant thanks to a group of cooperative and largely autonomous robots, some of which are housed in Monsanto’s molecular breeding lab at its vegetable research and development headquarters in Woodland, Calif. First, a machine known as a seed chipper shaves off a small piece of a seed for DNA analysis, leaving the rest of the kernel unharmed and suitable for sowing in a greenhouse or field. Another robot extracts the DNA from that tiny bit of seed and adds the necessary molecules and enzymes to chemically glue fluorescent tags to the relevant genetic sequences, if they are there. Yet another machine amplifies the number of these glowing tags in order to measure the light they emit and determine whether a gene is present. Monsanto’s seed chippers can run 24 hours a day and the whole system can deliver results to breeders within two weeks.

This example from the article is striking in that it shows Monsanto actively helping out local (east coast) vegetable farmers.

Fresh broccoli consumed the same day it was harvested is completely different from typical supermarket fare, Bjorkman says—it’s tender, with a mellow vegetative flavor, a hint of honeysuckle and no sharp aftertaste. Trucking broccoli from California to other parts of the country requires storing the vegetable on ice in the dark for days. With no light, photosynthesis halts, which means that cells stop making sugars. Rapidly dropping temperatures rupture cell walls, irrevocably weakening the plant’s structure and diminishing its firmness. When the broccoli is thawed, various enzymes and molecules that escaped their cells bump into one another and trigger a sequence of chemical reactions, some of which degrade both nutritional and flavorful compounds. Giving farmers in the east broccoli they can grow and sell locally solves all these problems. In a separate effort to boost the nutritional value of broccoli, Monsanto released Beneforte broccoli, which has been bred to contain extra high levels of glucoraphanin, a compound that some evidence indicates may fight bacteria and cancer. You can find the florets at some Whole Foods and States Bros.

It’s telling that there seem to be no safety concerns for the random mutation not previously existing in nature in those habaneros that Michael Mazourek was sent. It’s a novel gene that hasn’t been field tested for environmental concerns, it hasn’t undergone composition analysis, or testing for allergens. If breeders using genetic engineering to move one single gene to express a well understood protein into a crop all those things and a decade of testing would be necessary. Go figure.

A recent piece by Nova was about genetic engineering, but again, I thought the most interesting part was it’s portrayal of how specific and directed contemporary breeding is.

De Jong produced the plants in the same old, laborious way that his father did before him. He collected pollen from a plant that produces potatoes that fry as potato chips should and then sprinkled the pollen on the flower of a potato plant that resists viruses. If the resulting potatoes bear their parents’ finest features—and none of the bad ones—De Jong will bury them in the ground next year and test their mettle against a common potato virus. If they survive—and are good for frying and eating—he and his team will repeat this for 13 years to ensure that problematic genes did not creep in during the initial cross.

Each year, the chance of failure is high. Potatoes that resist viruses, for example, often have genes that make them taste bitter. Others turn an unappetizing shade of brown when fried. If anything like that happens, De Jong will have to start from scratch. Tedious as it is, he loves the work. Kicking up dirt in the furrows that cascade along the hillsides of upstate New York, he says, “I’m never stressed in the potato fields.”

De Jong has some serious cred in the agriculture world. Not only was his father a potato breeder, he’s also descended from a long line of farmers. The potato farmers he works with appreciate this deeply, along with his commitment to the age-old craft of producing new potato varieties through selective breeding. They even advocated on his behalf during his hiring and when he was up for tenure at Cornell, a school with a long history of agriculture research. “All of our farmers like Walter,” says Melanie Wickham, the executive secretary of the Empire State Growers organization in Stanley, New York. Often, he’s in the fields in a big hat, she says. Other times “you’ll see him in the grocery store, looking over the potatoes.”

De Jong has been working with farmers long enough to know that our food supply is never more than a step ahead of devastating insect infestations and disease. Selective breeders like De Jong work hard to develop resistant crops, but farmers still have to turn to chemical pesticides, some of which are toxic to human health and the environment. De Jong enjoys dabbing pollen from plant-to-plant the old-fashioned way, but he knows that selective breeding can only do so much.
seedlings

So while De Jong still devotes most of his time to honing his craft, he has recently begun to experiment in an entirely different way, with genetic engineering. To him, genetic engineering represents a far more exact way to produce new varieties, rather than simply scrambling the potato genome’s 39,000 genes the way traditional breeding does. By inserting a specific fungus-defeating gene into a tasty potato, for example, De Jong knows he could offer farmers a product that requires fewer pesticides.

“We want to make food production truly sustainable,” De Jong says, “and right now I cannot pretend that it is.”

. . . I first encountered De Jong on April 4, when he sat on a panel about GMOs in New York City hosted by the advocacy groups GMO Free NY and the Wagner Food Policy Alliance. The modest awkwardness that endears him to farmers didn’t charm the audience. As De Jong explained how scientists create GMOs, they began to murmur, lost amidst De Jong’s scientific jargon and meandering delivery.

De Jong did, however, liven up during a discussion in which Jean Halloran, a member of the panel from the Consumer’s Union, suggested that farmers in the developing world could ditch pesticides, not use GMOs, and increase yields. “We favor a knowledge-based approach rather than a chemical-based approach to increasing production,” Halloran had said.

De Jong did not find this solution realistic and asked, “Do you want to be the African farmer who has to apply insecticide every week—really nasty stuff—without protective equipment?” The question hung in the air for a second, and the panelist beside him repeated the no-chemical mantra.

Weeks later, De Jong tells me the panel opened his eyes. He was shocked at how people who don’t live near farms feel entitled to advise farmers, especially on environmental matters. “There is a romantic notion of environmentalism, and then there is actual environmentalism,” De Jong says. “Farmers are very conscious of the environment. They want to hand off their operation to their kids and their kids’ kids, so they maintain the land the best they can while doing what they need to do in order to sell their harvest,” he says. “My guess is that the majority of people who are anti-GM live in cities and have no idea what stewardship of the land entails.”

“I find it so tragic that, by and large, crop biotechnologists and farmers want to reduce their pesticide use, and yet the method we think is most sustainable and environmentally friendly has been dismissed out of hand.” He pauses as he recalls the event and says, “There is no scientific justification for it—it is just as if there is a high priest who decided, ‘Thou shalt not be GMO.’ ”

DeJong is very clear about the traits his potatoes are going to end up with. He’s going to get to where wants to go. What he doesn’t understand is why he shouldn’t just skip to the good part.

P.S. Wired has an interesting piece on the vegetables that Monsanto has developed using these techniques. I’ve been using those BellaFina peppers for some time with out realizing they were a Monsanto product. They are great. Cheap and convenient. I used one pepper at a time, mostly in my morning eggs.

Sources:
Creating Tastier and Healthier Fruits and Veggies with a Modern Alternative to GMOs
Ferris Jabr | Scientific American | 24 January 2014

GMOs May Feed the World Using Fewer Pesticides
Amy Maxmen | PBS | 24 July 2013

Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie
Ben Paynter | Wired | 21 January 2014