Let’s Not Get Too Crazy About #GMOs and Neil deGrasse Tyson

I admire and respect Neil deGrasse Tyson a great deal. We need more people like him telling all the science deniers that science is a real thing. It’s why I found his comments about GMOs and people who oppose them of interest.

Mother Jones is one outlet reporting on an undated interview he gave that’s making the rounds today on social media(1). In his characteristic and straight-forward way, he excoriates people who express concerns about GMOs.

I’d love to hear more from him on GMOs.

I’d like to hear his thoughts on some important distinctions between GMOs and plant and animal breeding. I believe he would acknowledge those distinctions. It would seem to be perfectly within his character, in fact, to find out that he already is addressing those distinctions even as this post gets written.

First, I’d like to know what he thinks about the distinctions between genetically modifying an organism and breeding plants and animals for desired characteristics over generations.

I don’t know if GMOs include watermelons bred to grow without seeds or long stem roses, but here’s how the The Non-GMO Project defines GMOs.

GMOs are “…plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.” (2)

Dr. Tyson didn’t discuss this in the video.

Then there’s this. I’d really love to get his thoughts on this one.

“Over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced.” (2)

I’m really concerned about all this use of herbicides. I consider it to be just as troubling. I look at this increased herbicide use, and I think I see it as the root cause and real reason GMOs exist at all.

Monsanto makes RoundUp. Monsanto makes “RoundUp Ready” seeds. Plants genetically modified – not bred, not even engineered, but modified – to be “RoundUp Ready” means big money to Monsanto. By controlling the seed supply and the chemicals sprayed on them, they can drive agriculture in directions that don’t look good except for them and their shareholders.

How so?

The plants grown from Monsanto seeds and sprayed with Monsanto RoundUp either don’t produce seeds that can be stored and replanted year after year or, when they do, farmers who store and plant them risk lawsuits(3).

So, seeds that can be bathed in poison, can’t be replanted, and can legally be obtained only from one company are why we have GMOs. Monsanto doesn’t make money if they can’t trap and force farmers into buying their patented seeds year after year and the herbicides to spray on them.

And after all of that, there’s the environment. I really am anxious to hear what Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say about all that extra poison being sprayed into fields and that leaches into ground water and into our environment because……well……..it’s poisonous.

Yes, I want food to be labeled. I want to know if it contains unnatural genetic modifications

Yes, I want to know from that bit of information that it’s very, very likely to have been bathed in toxic herbicides as a result of just being a GMO crop.

No, I don’t want to eat that food.

Yes, I want to punish farmers, food companies, and retailers who deal in such food by NOT spending my money with them.

Yes, I especially want to draw attention to and to punish Monsanto for their attempts at literally controlling the world food supply.

Yes, I also want to protect farmers. Real farmers, not BigAg, but farmers who want to do what farmers have been doing since farming started in the Fertile Crescent – saving seeds to plant again year after year.

Yes, I believe there are ways to feed the human race without GMOs. Notice I’m not saying without scientific measures, or without controlled breeding, or without even some level of plant and animal engineering. What I am saying is this. Modifying organisms so they can be drowned in poison without full disclosure is wrong and dangerous.

The discussion about GMOs must include the motives behind the science. Questions need to be answered about who actually benefits. People deserve to know the dangers to us and to our environment.

I look forward to hearing more from people like Dr. deGrasse Tyson about all of that.



(1) Neil deGrasse Tyson Tells GMO Critics to “Chill Out”, Mother Jones, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/07/neil-degrasse-tyson-on-gmo

(2) GMO FACTS, The Non-GMO Project, http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/

(3) Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds?, Monsanto, http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/why-does-monsanto-sue-farmers-who-save-seeds.aspx

Poison Alphabet Soup: #TPP, #TTIP, #ISDS

TPP Why So SecretImagine a dystopian future in which foreign corporations sue for and win millions and even billions of our tax dollars in damages while exercising incredible and corrupting influence over our elected leaders to change, overturn, or create laws that benefit companies at the expense of our safety and our liberties.

Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it?

Not to those paying attention to the alphabet soup of the TPP, TTIP, and ISDS.

A Recipe for Poison

The people paying attention to international trade agreements being negotiated are warning us that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are going to do more damage to our economy than any trade agreements before them. That includes NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which most people now credit (blame) for having put the final nails into the coffin of good-paying, middle class jobs in heavy industry and manufacturing in America.

The people paying attention to the TPP and TTIP are warning us about the decision-making vehicle in these agreements called investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS.

ISDS, they tell us, puts all of the power about what is and isn’t legal into the hands of “investors” – the private, big money interests and the people running multinational corporations. The TPP and the TTIP with their respective ISDS provisions will mean that we citizens and the government officials we elect to represent us will be all but powerless to stop corporations from all but the most overtly heinous acts. That’s how ISDS is currently designed to work.

Corporations vs Democracy

Noted author and Guardian contributor, George Monbiot, calls the TTIP a “full frontal assault on democracy.” He warns us about, “…the remarkable ability it <TTIP  and ISDS> would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens.”

These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.

You don’t believe it? Here’s what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

Jim Hightower offers a thorough and plain language assessment of what is known about the risks of the TPP in his August Lowdown, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not about free trade. It’s a corporate coup d’etat–against us!” In this blog, Jim explains….

TPP is a “trade deal” that mostly does not deal with trade. In fact, of the 29 chapters in this document, only five cover traditional trade matters!

The other two dozen chapters amount to a devilish “partnership” for corporate protectionism. They create sweeping new “rights” and escape hatches to protect multinational corporations from accountability to our governments… and to us.

The issues left to corporations to govern over include food safety and GMOs, fracking, jobs, drug prices, and internet freedoms.

EU Says…

The EU, to its credit, spelled out in their November 26th fact sheet, “Investment Protection and Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement in EU agreements”, what they see as the case for reforming investor protections as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The entire document is very much worth the read. There are some encouraging signs in it which I’ll get to in a minute. It must be noted, however, that they reveal the fallacy of their basic underlying premise immediately in the opening paragraph of the executive summary:

Investment protection provisions, including investor-state dispute settlement are 
important for investment flows. They have generally worked well. However, the 
system needs improvements. These relate to finding a better balance between 
the right of states to regulate and the need to protect investors, as well as 
to making sure the arbitration system itself is above reproach e.g. transparency, 
arbitrator appointments and costs of the proceedings. (Emphasis added)

Since when do investors need “protection” from “the rights of states?”

I’m thinking that the answer to that question must be something like, “When the country in which the investor has a financial interest decides that corporate operations are no longer desirable and might even be detrimental to that country’s people and their well-being, and when said country decides to terminate or suspend such operations which then puts investor returns and corporate profits at some risk.”

In other words, when profits are more important than people.

That said, and if the EU is to be believed, the document goes into some detail about how they want to protect the sovereignty of nations, allow citizens and NGOs to have a voice, and how they plan to incorporate financial disincentives to keep frivolous cases from being brought before tribunals comprised of people both parties must approve.

This last point is of particular interest and concern to those watching the Obama administration and the US Trade Representatives: who will sit on the TPP tribunal that decides what corporations can and cannot do in a participating nation?

Which brings us to this question. Where’s the Obama administration’s fact sheet on the TPP, and WHY ALL THE SECRECY???

Could it be that the president and the 600 or so corporations working on the TPP really are concerned about a backlash if Americans were to fully understand the TPP?

What Can We As Citizens Do About It?


Here’s a short list of resources and ACTIONS you can take right now!

1. Template email you can send to lead TPP negotiator, Stan McCoy (smccoy@ustr.eop.gov), and his team at The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (correspondence@ustr.eop.gov), as well as a list of Organizations and Resources About #TPP to inform and educate yourself and others

2. Public Citizen’s petitions to release the TPP draft text, have Congress reject fast tracking, as well as a sample script for calling your representative to voice your concerns directly

3. Citizens Trade Campaign’s long list of actions you can support in opposition to TPP and fast tracking

4. Public Knowledge’s letter to the president you can send demanding openness in the TPP’s IP (intellectual property) chapter

5. Followers of CoffeePartyUSA can encourage that organization to take a stand on the TPP at http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/tpp_petition

6. Help to #GetMoneyOut of politics by becoming a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the American Anti-Corruption Act

As always, please feel free to add to this list in the Comments, and please share this and everything else you can find about the TPP, TTIP, and ISDS on social media.

We can still influence DC if enough of us speak up, speak out, and take action!


UPDATE 12/9/2013

I still vehemently oppose him and will never vote for him, but today I will thank my Congressman, Republican Tim Murphy, for opposing fast tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). His reasoning is wrong – we have far more to be concerned about from the big money and corporate takeover of this treaty and our government in general than we do from foreign countries breaking trade rules – but at least he’s on the correct side of the fast track issue for now.

Murphy on TPP Fast Track

My 3 #GMO Biggies



Here are my 3 big issues with GMOs.

1. Who Wants FrankenFood?
Splicing herbicide-resistant strands of bacteria into the genes of vegetable seeds sounds just a little too “Dr. Frankenstein Moves to the Island of Dr. Moreau” doesn’t it?

Kidding aside, crossing species just to make the crops able to endure greater and greater amounts of pesticides sounds like the kind of thing that needs LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of testing before we even think about eating it or feeding it to the animals we eat.


2. Blowing Smoke
Sure, all that GMO work makes crops “Round-Up Ready”, and that makes ’em tough enough to endure massive amounts of herbicides and pesticides.

Know what isn’t? Everything else in the environment, including you and me.

Do we really want more and more pesticides in the soil and streams? And what happens as weeds and pests evolve to become more resistant to Round-Up?

Isn’t anyone else reminded of the 40s and 50s when some people thought it was ok to fight polio by spraying DDT all over the place? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmslbUoPLEQ)


3. Quit Hiding It
If there are no safety concerns, why can’t GMO be on the label? Why can’t we know what’s in the box, in the can, in the butcher’s case, or in the produce section?

The argument that it increases costs to producers is specious. In case we need reminding, brands change their packaging and labeling all the time.

Hell, this is their next “new and improved” marketing opportunity!! (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/10/would-gmo-labeling-jack-food-prices)


Given how pervasive GMOs are now in some crops like canola, corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and others, it’s hard to imagine how we “go back” to pre-GMO times. All I want to know is where they are and where they are not when I go to the grocery store. Is that asking too much?


(Thanks to GMO Inside (@GMOInside, https://www.facebook.com/GmoInsidehttp://gmoinside.org/) for the image from their Facebook page today.)