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Economic Sense

RSS By: Matt Bogard, AgWeb.com

Matt's primary interest is in the biotech industry and ag policy.

Is GMO Free the Next Ford Pinto

Jul 10, 2010
By Matt Bogard
Does corporate greed put our lives and environment at risk? Some believe so, and as this naïve college student in the 1970’s points out, (see video via YouTube) the Ford Pinto is a prime example. However, as Milton keenly corrects him, risk is just one more tradeoff that we make in our everyday lives.  Sometimes it is between risk vs. convenience (an easier to use product that comes with more risk)  or risk vs. value ( a riskier but more affordable product).  Profit maximizing companies try to produce goods and services that match as closely as possible consumer preferences, including preferences related to risk. Now it is true that if a firm is grossly negligent, they should be liable. But as Friedman points out, producing a product that simply factors in consumer’s risk preferences is not the same thing as negligence.
In agriculture we see that many people voluntarily take risks that may seem absurd to others- for example consuming medium or rare ground beef, raw milk (where legal) , or even organic vegetables where it has been found that  ‘the  use of animal wastes for fertilization of produce plants increased the risk of E. coli contamination in and semi-organic  produce significantly.’  (organic produce was found to make E.coli contamination 13 times more likely with a 95% confidence interval)  It’s not just organic, but conventional non-GMO foods also have increased health risks.  Foods made with GMO-free corn have been shown to have increased levels of fusarium infestation and higher levels of the toxin fumonisin.  
Besides personal risks, there are also environmental risks related to food choices. When Kroger (and other retailers) decided to remove all milk containing Monsanto’s green technology rbST ( recombinant bovine somatotropin) they immediately increased their carbon footprint in their dairy supply chain, noting that the use of rbST in the dairy industry has resulted in the equivalent of removing  ‘400,000 family cars from the road or planting 300 million trees.’ Biotech (GMO) crops in general have lead to reduced fossil fuel use, reduced carbon footprint, and reduced use of toxic chemicals. In general, the decision to buy GMO free or organic has attached with it, environmental risks.
Of course consumers should be given choices. At least with the Ford Pinto, to my knowledge, it was not marketed as the world’s safest and most environmentally friendly car. But, unlike the Pinto, many food products, especially non-GMO lines, are marketed as or at least give many the impression of having reduced personal and environmental risk. This could be misleading.
As Conko, Miller and Kersh point out:
‘Companies that insist upon farmers’ using production techniques that involve foreseeable harms to the environment and humans may be held legally accountable for that decision. If agricultural processors and food companies manage to avoid legal liability for their insistence on nonbiotech crops, they will be ‘guilty’ at least of externalizing their environmental costs onto the farmers, the environment and society at large.’
 
Which leads me to ask, is GMO free going to be the next Ford Pinto?
References:

The environmental impact of recombinant bovine
somatotropin (rbST) use in dairy production
Judith L. Capper*, Euridice Castan˜ eda-Gutie´ rrez*†, Roger A. Cady‡, and Dale E. Bauman*§
9668–9673  PNAS  July 15, 2008  vol. 105  no. 28
Avik Mukherjeea, Dorinda Spehb and Francisco Diez-Gonzaleza.  Association of farm management practices with risk of Escherichia coli contamination in pre-harvest produce grown in Minnesota and Wisconsin. International Journal of Food Microbiology. Volume 120, Issue 3, 15 December 2007, Pages 296-302
Comparison of Fumonisin Concentrations in Kernels of Transgenic Bt Maize Hybrids and Nontransgenic Hybrids. Munkvold, G.P. et al . Plant Disease 83, 130-138 1999.
“Why Spurning Biotech Food Has Become a Liability.’ Miller, Henry I, Conko, Gregory, & Drew L. Kershe. Nature Biotechnology Volume 24 Number 9 September 2006.
Milton Friedman on Self-Interest and the Profit Motive 2of2. Posted by 'sidewinder'.  YouTube.
GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-
2007. Brookes & Barfoot PG Economics
Genetically Engineered Crops: Has Adoption Reduced Pesticide Use?Agricultural Outlook ERS/USDA Aug 2000
 
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COMMENTS (14 Comments)

Matt Bogard - Woodburn, KY
Studies and Related to GMO Food Safety:Compiled by Wayne Parrot, October, 2005 (http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/gen_safety.html)

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Soybeans

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Potatoes

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Tomatoes

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Corn

Esther Badosa, Carmen Moreno and Emilio Montesinos (2004) Lack of detection of ampicillin resistance gene transfer from Bt176 transgenic corn to culturable bacteria under field conditions. , Institute of Food and Agricultural Technology, CIDSAV-CeRTA, University of Girona, Avda. Lluis Santaló, s/n, Girona 17071, Spain
Click here to view the document (PDF).

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Cotton

Berberich SA, Ream JE, Jackson TL et al. (1996) Safety assessment of insect-protected cotton: the composition of the cottonseed is equivalent to conventional cottonseed. J Agric Food Chem 41:365-371

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Nida KL, Kolacz KH, Buehler RE et al. (1996) Glyphosate-tolerant cotton: genetic characterization and protein expression. J Agric Food Chem 44:1960-1966

Sims SR, Berberich SA, Nida DL et al. (1996) Analysis of expressed proteins in fiber fractions from insect-protected and glyphosate-tolerant cotton varieties. Crop Sci 36:1212-1216

Sugar Beets

B`hme, H. and K. Aulrich. 1999. Inhaltsstoffe und Verdaulichkeit von transgenen Zuckerrben bzw. Krnermais im Vergleich zu den isogenen Sorten beim Schwein. (Ingredients and digestibility of transgenic sugar beets and corn in comparision to the isogenic varieties in the case of pigs). VDLUFA Conference Proceedings 1999, 111th VDLUFA Conference, 13-17 September 1999, Halle/Saale.
8:51 AM Sep 9th
 
Anonymous
This is the stupidest, most dishonest article I've ever read. How can GMOs- foods that are genetically modified and include a BACTERIAL component be safer to eat than organic food? GMOs WERE NEVER EVEN TESTED FOR SAFETY! HELLO WHAT ARE YOU ON MARS??? You're an idiot- keep munching on those GMOs buddy- let's see how you feel a few years down the line.
5:26 PM Jul 30th
 

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