Kevin Folta: thoughts from a “Shill For Monsanto”

Since the anti-GMO activists have no science-based arguments they typically resort to ad-hom attacks or anti-corporation rhetoric. University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta is weary of this nonsense

(…) As an academic research scientist active at the public interface, I enjoy communicating about complex science topics. With regard to transgenic (GMO) crops, if you read my blogs, comments left online, or listen to audiences in public discussions, you’ll see that they ultimately reach a common point.

Someone always indicates that Monsanto is my employer. Like clockwork.

I’m still waiting for the check. Actually, I never worked for them, consulted for them, or received a dime from them. As a university scientist my funding is all public record, so this may be verified.

Here is why the throw-away “you work for Monsanto” or “shill for Monsanto” comment harms the anti-GMO movement:

1. It immediately says that you are willing to fabricate information in the absence of evidence.

2. It says that you are finished with the conversation, that nothing I communicate is valid in your opinion.

3. It shows that you are willing to try to influence other like-minded people with disinformation.

4. It shows disdain for the peer-review process and scientific method.

5. (least importantly) It disrespects a scientist’s real position as a public liaison, volunteering time to explain science. We’re used to that from dealing with climate change deniers and Creationists, no big deal.

Do read the whole thing.

Propaganda Agent Against Agricultural Progress

“Agent Orange Corn” is the worst sort of propoganda:

If your friend was drinking too many glasses of Jack and Coke, what would you do? Take away the Coke?

That’s the crazy logic behind the smear campaign against a crop that anti-biotech activists have mislabeled “Agent Orange corn.” What they’re really trying to do is ban a safe product that you probably used on your lawn this spring.

These professional protestors would like you to think that farmers are about to cover their cornfields with Agent Orange, the infamous defoliant from the Vietnam War.

The reality is utterly different. Agent Orange won’t touch my crops or your food, now or ever.

Researchers have developed a new variety of biotech corn that carries a natural resistance to a herbicide whose abbreviated name is “2,4-D.” It promises to become an increasingly useful tool for crop protection, especially as weeds develop greater resistance to other herbicides, such as glyphosate, also known as Roundup.

Before the rise of Roundup, in fact, 2,4-D was the American farmer’s herbicide of choice. When I was growing up, we used it on our farm. Its comeback brings to mind the familiar adage: everything old is new again.

It remains the most commonly used herbicide in the world—registered in more than 60 countries – controlling unwanted broadleaf weeds around the globe. It’s a key ingredient of the weed and feed that homeowners spread in their yards and recreational gardeners put between their vegetable rows.

It was also one part of the cocktail that went into Agent Orange. But if Agent Orange was a Jack and Coke, then 2,4-D was the Coke. The other major component was the Jack Daniels–it was the ingredient that made Agent Orange a potential threat to human health.

A corn plant that carries a natural resistance to 2,4-D is nothing to fear–but the scaremongering enemies of biotechnology, in their ceaseless campaign of misinformation, have let their anti-scientific political agenda trump the truth. They’ve decided to defame this innovation by dubbing it “Agent Orange corn.”

I’ll give them credit for one thing: The term has a nice ring to it. An English professor would note the assonance, which is a fancy literary word for a repeated vowel sound, in this case the “o” in “orange” and “corn.”

Yet it’s a piece of propaganda–a catchy phrase whose slickness aims to cover up a lie.

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Read the whole thing.

Kevin Folta: What is “Genetically Modified”? and the Frankenfood Paradox

University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta is a remarkable resource for science-based information on agriculture and (surprise!) plant science, which includes genetics. The personal-time-generosity of scientists like Kevin really facilitates understanding at least the key issues in these policy debates.

One excellent example of bad policy is the misguided California GMO labeling referendum. For background, in the captioned post Kevin provides a “keeper reference” that outlines the six methods by which plants come to exhibit new traits: What is “Genetically Modified”? and the Frankenfood Paradox. I just want to reference this excerpt: 

Jennifer Mo @noteasy2begreen asked for a concise reference for what Genetic Modification really means. To me, it means, well, modifying genetics.  It is when something is added to the genome, that is DNA added (or deleted or changed) in a cells genetic material.

This is not the definition used in popular discussions.  Genetic Modification in the common vernacular means a gene (or genes, usually a couple) that are added to an organism to confer a valued trait.  This requires a lab and recombinant DNA technology.

But this is what I call the Frankenfood Paradox.  Transgenic modification in the lab is the least invasive genetically, it is the most well understood, yet it is the one most shunned by those that oppose biotech.

Here is a table that might help.  Click to enlarge.

 

 
Here are the ways that plants are genetically altered.  Note that all of them are acceptable to most people, despite having no idea what the heck is being changed, and the huge number of genes affected. 

Here is the paradox!  What you will find is that transgenic technologies are much more understood, predictable, traceable and safe.  Fewer genes are moved and we know what the genes do. We can determine where genes land in the genome and where/if/when/how much they are expressed. However, these  are not allowed in organic cultivation and people want to label them. The acceptable methods move or alter tons more genes in random ways that cant be traced or even remotely understood.

(…) 

Please check out Kevin’s post and associated comments. Kevin has a popular magazine article in preparation — stay tuned. Among Kevin’s science outreach efforts is the offer to make a personal appearance in “Getting Science to the Public“. Excerpt:

To paraphrase the late Carl Sagan, while our society is increasingly dependent on science and technology, we know very little about science and technology. The reasons are many. In today’s society anti-scientific rhetoric swirls around us on such important topics as stem cell research, climate change, GMO-food safety, and many others. Understanding science is difficult. 

But scientists are part of the problem. We are taught to do science and communicate with scientists, not necessarily with the public at large. To combat this I have participated in many lectures and debates on topics of interest.

(…) 

If you are interested in hearing about bringing a scientific perspective to your group’s discussion please contact me. I’m particularly interested presenting to Sunday Morning Science church groups, anti-GMO interests and those seeking the real evidence on climate change.