By Grant Jacobs 23/11/2017 23


It’s time to move regulation of genetic modification forward. The current set-up is temporary and unsound. We use a risk-based approach for almost everything because that’s what makes sense. But New Zealand takes an arbitrary approach to genetic modification. So we ‘ban’ a technique that evidence shows there is no special risk in using. That poor logic plays to a vocal minority, rather than the science or public views of biotechnology. It also puts other country’s regulatory issues ahead of opportunities for NZ. Furthermore, real risk management isn’t just regulations. It’s good farm management practices and education.

Central to this article is a list of bullet points about regulation of genetic modification. Each is short, but I hope they will help move the discussion forward.

Since I started this Bob Brockie has written an opinion piece, Every obstacle put in the way of GE research in NZ. His article is worth reading, as it lightly sketches out NZ’s past in GM regulation. It might help to read some of my background on the current legislation mess; this article might provide a useful starting point.

Below is a list of some thoughts on the situation. I expect some things to be missing, and others to need refinement. But it’s a start for discussion. It’s worth noting that few problems are science-based ones. To make things easy I’ve referred to crops, but the same thinking applies to animals.

The list: thoughts on regulating gene-edited varieties

  • ‘GMO’ has little scientific meaning. People have different ideas about what it means, and it carries emotive baggage. Instead, use specific terms appropriate to each application.
  • They’re new varieties, call them that. They’re basically the parent plant with one feature tweaked.
  • The key to making these new varieties is being able to ‘read’ genomes, and work out what particular genes do. Editing technologies are ‘just’ tools to make ‘whatever’.
  • Risks, if any, align with the traits of the varieties and their use. The EPA noted this. Focusing on editing technologies distracts from actual risks. It can miss risks entirely.
  • There’s much more to these new varieties than herbicide tolerance. The regulations should reflect the many different types of applications.
  • The concern about transferring genes between species (transgenesis) is culture-based, not science-based. This wants education, not regulation.
  • Some applications do not add new genes, but only alter or remove existing ones. An example is the proposal that might end NZ’s wilding pine problem.
  • Don’t conflate big business practices and crop safety. GE empowers small groups. Encouraging support of smaller players and charity efforts may help.
  • GE varieties do not endanger organic farming. Allow both. The diversity may mitigate market risks.
  • Tackle risks with education about agricultural practices and sound farm management.
  • Some worry about “unexpected risks” from using GE. The outcome of editing are in the plants made, and can be assessed there. Speculative what-ifs are unhelpful. Blocking technology on that basis abuses ‘the’ precautionary approach.
  • Regulations always conflict with other nation’s rules. Create opportunities for NZ; worry about other nations later.
  • The current approach was a temporary compromise to respond quickly to a court ruling. It’s been two years now. The court ruling itself has problems. The focus must shift to something less negative, less defensive and look forwards.

Are education and agricultural practices the key?

My current thinking is that we need to get away from this idea that the only way to tackling problems is regulation. That’s only one tool in the toolbox.

It seems to me that risk mitigation for new crop varieties comes down to education in agricultural practices, and in sound farm management. If you accept this, legislation targeting GM varieties could be removed or scaled back.

There’s nothing offensive in suggesting education as part of the solution. This is the ordinary stuff of any business learning how to do their thing. For example, some small businesses might take courses intellectual property (IP) management. The government might step in, thinking it’s worthwhile laying out courses for free on the basis that it’ll mitigate the risk of NZ businesses losing their IP. As we introduce crops needing new management, we could do similar?

Another thought might be to for a few years limit gene edited varieties to varieties of plants whose management is well understood in NZ. Basically, varieties of crops we already grow.

Next: Lessons from views on gene therapy and enhancement

This list above is long and there is more I could add. One might be that discussion of regulations too often focuses on potential (often speculative) risks) without also considering benefits.

I’d like to look to observations made by the authors of the survey covered in my previous post. Their comments consider gene therapy and enhancement, but apply more widely. Public views of biotechnology in other areas might help us to see general patterns that could be useful in thinking how to move regulation of genetic modification forward.*

In the meantime you are welcome to write your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to suggest points that are not in my list; I will probably add a few of my own!

Other articles on Code for life

To find other’s writing on this topic, return to the Sciblogs homepage, click the magnifying glass symbol at the top-right, enter ‘GMO’, and press return.

Kumara are transgenic (Transgenes occur in nature too.)

Genetic modification now accepted by most New Zealanders (A survey indicates New Zealanders now accept GM food as safe.)

GMOs and the plants we eat: neither are “natural” (An essay on food.)

Green Party GM policy and discussion about GE or GMOs (The Green Party should revise their stance on GM.)

In a demon-haunted world (Not about GM, but unfortunately relevant. A tribute to Sagan, sorely needed in these times.)

Is GM corn really different to non-GM corn? (Reporting other’s objections to one controversy.)

Séralini GMO maize and Roundup study republished with no scientific peer review (One of the ‘unorthodox’ researchers opposing GMOs re-publishes a retracted paper with no fresh peer-review.)

Christmas trees weedy and not (The proposed project that the court case shut down – despite EPA approval, and that it didn’t involve introducing new genes. Wilding pines are a curse in New Zealand.)

Carrots for my neighbour (A short story of sorts.)

New Zealand political spokesperson for GE and more endorses homeopathy for Ebola (What can we say. Some people are… interesting. He re-asserted this claim in his valedictory speech.)

Changing the GMO regulations – the ministry options (The options that set the current legislation.)

Gene editing and GMOs in NZ, part one (A short series; parts two and three are linked at the start.)

GMOs and legislation: useful suggestions for New Zealand in British report (A summary of a large UK report. Not a short read!)

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on GMO legislation (Lighter take on the previous article.)

Footnotes

My follow-on piece might not come out for a few days. I’d rather like to get back to some lighter writing—where I can have a little more fun with the writing itself—and to get back to gene therapy.

* Originally I intended to include this in this article but now will defer this to a later piece. There is potential to write a piece on each of the points in the list… One I will almost certainly write on public and scientist views on transgenes.

Featured image

Prof. Higgins and colleagues examining pod borer resistant cowpea lines in a field trial in Ghana. Taken from CSIRO article, Insect protected cowpeas. Image ©CSIRO. Image credit: Mumuni Abudulai. (For copyright permissions, see CSIRO copyright page.)

The cowpea project is publicly-funded. It  intends that the seeds be made available for free, possibly by next year. Farmers can store and plant saved seed. Political moves may delay this. Others argue delaying projects like this can have financial impacts.


23 Responses to “Regulating GMOs: time to move forward”

  • Somewhere high on that list needs to be a conversation about values.
    From the conversations I’ve had it’s pretty clear a lot of the opposition to GE centres around the perception of what is or is not natural and a strong belief that natural is good. Essentially people are expressing a set of core values that place a high value on nature and the natural world and they see GE as opposed to those values. Within that framework it is all too easy to reject any data that favours GE and support any data that opposes GE.
    It’s the same response we see in climate change deniers. In both cases people are being asked to accept the opinion of scientists on a subject they don’t have the expertise to truly understand (eg only a tiny fraction of people understand the maths behind climate change modelling) so they default to a stance that fits with their core values. Which is totally reasonable and human.
    Unless you can have a discussion about common values between those practicing GE and those opposed to the technology then they will always remain opposed, understandably so.
    So I’d put pretty high up on the list the discussion about the values of those proposing the use of GE. From my experience the vast majority of people working with GE are strong believers in maintaining the natural world, for many of us it’s the reason we do GE. We don’t want to make huge amounts of money, we do want to preserve the environment, we really care about most of the same things as those opposed. But because we are scientists and live in a world of data and facts we often forget that sometimes it is less about the facts and more about our values that allow others to trust us.

  • Hi Bart,

    Thanks for the thoughts. Perhaps more later when I’ve more time, but a couple of quick thoughts (I do like procrastinating 😀 LOL Being able to type fast is a mixed blessing…) Written off-the-cuff – my apologies in advance for generalisations!

    I agree about the need to look to values.* I’ve written on the ‘natural’ aspect (e.g. GMOs and the plants we eat: neither are “natural”), and, of course, the thinking persists! Encouraged by people selling stuff, e.g. ‘The Heath Ranger’, etc.

    Essentially all of the agricultural species (plants & animals) we use aren’t ‘natural’. (And, I guess you could say, neither are our pets for that matter, and probably a fair number of garden plants.)

    Some arguments create an (artificial) line where some man-driven breeding methods are declared “natural”, but newer ones aren’t.* My read is that part of the latter side of things uses memes following from cultural representations of scientists, species, and an certain amount of understandable worrying about things not directly in people’s control. (And a few people just not thinking properly – there’s always that, too. Life’s like that.)

    I’d like to write about some of this later, as I think I can see fairly clearly where at least some of this conflict is coming from but I haven’t yet seen many articles about it.

    It’s not an easy to shift cultural thinking unfortunately, but governments can at least look to what is sound and good for people despite minority views. You’re never going to please every last person!

    More generally and related to all this, it’s a pity too many people insist on taking oppositional stances. I mentioned it briefly recent when writing about ‘vaccine battles’, but the same problem is experienced for other things.

    It seems to me that in most of these things the ultimate objective is actually shared between the “sides”, but too often I see people trying to make out that the other “side” “doesn’t care”. (Or is stupid, “just wrong”, or “attacking” them when they aren’t, etc.) It seems deeply unhelpful, and often is being used in political ways to try “dismiss” views they don’t like by smearing others through straw man arguments and similar. It’s further not helped by people misrepresenting what others have written e.g. selectively lifting stuff out of context and/or making claims about the other, rather than looking to the wider message said, and to asking questions first to make sure they have it right. Asking is perhaps a key: rather than “oppose”, ask.

    As a side note (yes, more procrastination…!), one criticism I have of the court case that led to the current legislation is that adversarial approach it used was unlikely to ever resolve the matter properly or fairly. Just my humble non-lawyer opinion and all that. I’ve mentioned some of this in an earlier post, see the section Use and independence of the advisor experts in https://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2014/06/02/gene-editing-and-gmos-in-nz-part-two-is-the-law-out-of-date/

    OK, I’m getting back to the day’s jobs! More later, perhaps – thanks for the thoughts.

    —-
    * I’m writing about what most people say; a smaller group of people point to ‘safety’ – there are different flaws in those arguments but I’m out of time for that now.

    • I know what your saying and I’m well aware that a lot of what is said is simply wrong.

      BUT

      You can’t convince people that what they’ve read (where-ever they may have read it) or what they’ve been told is wrong unless they trust that you value the same things they do.

      That’s the conversation that is needed most.

      We can dump fact after fact and data sets up the wazoo but unless people actually trust that we care about, and want to protect, the same things they do (mostly anyway) then they’ll never accept our data, why should they?

      • Bart – I agree,* which is why I’m left very confused as to why you write “BUT”.

        There are, however, at least one (possibly two) sticking points re values. I didn’t spell out specifics as I don’t want to introduce them at this point. I have a thought to writing a few posts later, taking one point at time, which I often find better than trying to tackle too much at once. This post is a little different it that it’s just trying to open discussion by noting key points that will have to addressed in revising the temporary legislation.

        (*I’m not keen on sweeping generalisations, though; they invariably break down.)

  • Bart: “Somewhere high on that list needs to be a conversation about values”. I agree.

    Conversation is a better word than communication in this context & the difference is relevant to the “inclusiveness” point in my post: communication can be one-way but conversation cannot. You can’t converse without giving the other person a chance to speak. And if you actually listen to what they’re saying, you have a chance of understanding their perspective.

    Bart: “Unless you can have a discussion about common values between those practicing GE and those opposed to the technology then they will always remain opposed, understandably so.”

    Again, & for the same reasons, I endorse the “discussion” proposal. Here’s the thing though: if you’re not actually thinking about the views of others, you’re going to incorrectly classify some people, myself included, as “those opposed to the technology”. There is a world of difference between having no regulation/assessment of GMOs to complete prohibition. I’m opposed to the former for reasons explained under the “diversity” point in my post. But I’m not in the latter camp either: you’d have to be an idiot, right?

    So my pleas are these: don’t assume that people asking for case-by-case assessments are prohibitionists; leave your baggage, ego & preconceptions at the door and *listen* to what we’re actually saying; and (in my dreams) clearly signal this switch by swapping #scicomm for #sciconv.

    • Hi John, I said and meant conversation and discussion very specifically because all sides need to listen.

      As for “those opposed” yeah there really are some “opposed”, and adamantly so. And some will always be for various reasons. But I really do believe that many of the important values are shared between the scientists wanted to use these tools and those who want to protect the natural values (however they might define them). the problem is allowing the conversation to happen without getting bogged down.

      It can be done but takes effort and will from all involved.

  • Thanks Bart.

    I’m very heartened by your comments and I agree that effort & will are paramount. I’m up for it, and would welcome constructive engagement, in the open, without pre-conceptions and without personal sledging.

    How about these as starting principles:

    1. we all agree that GMOs are different to other organisms
    2. we all agree that current & potential GMOs are incredibly diverse
    3. we all agree that, because of #2, blanket all-or-nothing rules are bad

    are we all on board so far?

    • 1. we all agree that GMOs are different to other organisms

      Actually, I think this would cause things to derail at the start. GMO’s are not in any way “different”, or certainly no more different than various organisms are from each other now.

    • Hi John

      As Ashton noted, your perspective that GMOs are different to other organisms is not something biologists would agree with. As we’ve come to understand more about how organisms evolved we’ve realised that genomes are not stable. All species are subject to mutation and transfer of genes from other organisms.

      For some applications, GE allows changes that are unlikely in nature, but for some applications there is literally no way to tell if the change was a “natural” or GE event.

      To some degree that is one of the major frustrations biologists have with the current regulatory structure. By adopting the principle that GE creates something inherently different, we have created a situation where the focus is on a methodology rather than on the outcome. Whereas from a biologists perspective there really is very little difference between an interspecies hybrid such a wheat and a GE crop, except that for a hybrid cross we generally have no idea exactly what is happening.

      The key for biologists is assessing the actual outcome of the change, no matter what methodology is used to make the change. By all means establish a regulatory structure that assess outcomes and determines the potential for harm of the end product and tests for harm but that should be independent of the technology used to make the change. One of the big reasons for that is technology changes much faster than legislation – it’s like creating R rating on movies based on whether they were recorded on betamax or not.

      However, I’m also aware that for some people the idea of people making deliberate precise changes to a life form is something to be cautious about, even though humans have been doing that for thousands of years. It’s a technology that for some people is inherently unnerving. That’s one of the places where we actually need discussion about values and why some people feel that way. Not with idea that they are wrong to have that feeling but to actually understand what they feel.

      I would really hate to enter into a discussion with rules in place about what either of us “know”. Rules about behaviour and honesty sure – but in my experience deciding what you know beforehand is likely to be less than helpful. If I was going to suggest any rules it would about things like slippery slope arguments or straw man arguments and an acceptance that analogies are used to try and clarify but may also be flawed.

  • 1. we all agree that GMOs are different to other organisms

    As the others have said, what makes them different is just what they are, not how they got that way. (There’s a longer answer, but this will do for now.)

    A few thoughts to add that might help –

    It’s better to think in terms of traits – the properties of the plants and what they do. There’s a long answer to this, too, but the relevant bit is that it’s the properties/traits that defines what they do or don’t, not what breeding techniques were used. (Worth noting that the EPA put this in their information for developing what is the current legislation – I quoted it in the older article I wrote covering the then up-coming legislation.)

    It’s also worth remembering a point I made that these new varieties are small variants of the parent plant; they’re basically the same plant with just one or two traits tweaked. They’re not different in the way that different species are.

    Since we now can read genomes and (sometimes!) understand what gene variations we want, rather than take the approach of generating (massive) numbers of variations then select the ones we think we might want, we can just get on with it and make the gene variations wanted from the get go. GE is just a tool that gets us there in a different way.

  • My reason for suggesting some basic points of (potential) agreement was to start a conversation a bit further along the track than ground rules about honest/reasoned engagement which I strongly support.

    It seems I fell at the first hurdle, which is no bad thing for a conversation. Ashton suggests that GMOs are not in any way different to other organisms. Bart says biologists would not agree GMOs are different and makes some interesting points about regulation. Grant agrees that GMOs are different but only because of what they are, not how they got that way.

    I still hope that we might all agree that GMOs are different to other organisms: by design and by construction to take the most obvious and well-documented examples. This proposition carries no implications at all about regulatory policy: it’s just something I hope we might agree on as a starting point.

    One reason I’m concerned about this is the implications for s2A of the HSNO act of denying that GMOs are different to any other organism. If there is no difference, then the practical effect would be to delete 1(b), and 2(a) & 2(b).

  • Hi John

    I get the idea around design and construction. However, if I take a pear tree and subject it to Co60 irradiation to induce mutations that might confer disease resistance and then select disease resistant trees. Then I am designing a disease resistant pear tree and I’m using technology to construct it. Highly random unpredictable technology, the use of which poses significant risks to the workers involved, but nevertheless technology for design of the new organism.

    If design and technology are your criteria you’d argue that the pear would be automatically covered by the act and restricted.

    Nashi pears went through exactly that procedure. Because of the way the Act was focused on technology we don’t even consider the possibility the Nashi pears could be a hazard of any kind. We don’t measure the genetic changes in Nashi. Nor any of the random sports that form the basis of much of horticulture, most of which almost certainly involve transposons moving chunks of DNA around randomly.

    If we worked out exactly what change gave Nashi its disease resistance and then made exactly that change in another pear using GE, all of which is possible, then it would be automatically restricted under the Act without any consideration of safety. In fact because of the way the Act would restrict such a plant we wouldn’t even bother starting such a project.

    Nobody is arguing with the purpose of the Act
    “The purpose of this Act is to protect the environment, and the health and safety of people and communities, by preventing or managing the adverse effects of hazardous substances and new organisms.”

    What we are saying GE technology per se does not confer hazard. The outcome of any given genetic alteration might confer hazard, regardless of how you make that change – cobolt 60 irradiation or chemical mutagenesis or interspecific hybridisation or leaving a bag of seed near a nuclear test site or just plain old breeding or GE. But only GE is specifically covered by the Act.

    But again that is talking data – the real problem is that for some people GE feels different – it feels somehow less natural than centuries of selection breeding. In some ways the very fact that we can control and define so much of the process makes it more foreign. The very real fact that it requires a huge amount of time and effort to learn all the things required to understand and do GE makes it less approachable. Something I find a little odd since we don’t have the same reaction to solar power despite the fact very few people can explain the physics and chemistry that goes into a solar panel (don’t ask me either, I’m a biologist :)).

    We ended up with this Act because two decades ago the public were concerned we were rushing into a technology the public wasn’t sure about. We probably could have written the Act better then but we certainly can write a better Act now.

  • Grant agrees that GMOs are different but only because of what they are, not how they got that way.

    You’ve mangled what I wrote by prepending words I didn’t write 🙁

    I was saying that whatever differences they have are the same differences that all plants have — their traits or properties — and not how they were made.

    My description is in fact what the others said: all I did recap before adding some additional points.

    If there is a difference it is that I chose to recap in a more general way, to include all of the different ways that new varieties can be derived, not just from GE but by any means. A reason is that this applies to any way that you might make new varieties. It points to that trying to differentiate on what techniques (GE, mutagenesis, etc) where used in making the plant is not actually what makes them different. (Ergo having me out to say “GMOs are different” doesn’t make sense – but those are your words, not mine!)

  • I still hope that we might all agree that GMOs are different to other organisms: by design and by construction to take the most obvious and well-documented examples. This proposition carries no implications at all about regulatory policy: it’s just something I hope we might agree on as a starting point.

    You look to be pointing toward the “in the lab” sense. That plays back to a point I wrote earlier about cultural memes. This point isn’t founded on risks (or hazards), but cultural thinking – e.g. that some people think it ‘unnatural’. (‘Out there’ there is also ‘we can’t trust scientists’, or (for a few) some rather unlikely conspiracy ideas :-/ )

    It’s also worth noting that some non-GE efforts have elements of “design” and “construction”, too, and they’re accepted.

    Presumably you see them being “different” as setting a ‘risk category’? (I believe you’ve presented this to me before.) The question that goes before this is “where is the risk, if any”. (It’s not the techniques per se; there’s a bullet point on this in my article.)

    Deeper questions include, is it actual risks at play, or concerns coming from cultural ideas people have about the new technologies? (I don’t mean to trivialise anything, by the way.)

    I agree with Bart’s point that,

    the real problem is that for some people GE feels different – it feels somehow less natural than centuries of selection breeding

    This is something I mean to tackle in a later post, but I can’t tackle it soon. I might add a footnote or whatever as this is one I should have put on the list. It kind-of does and doesn’t relate to the legislation itself, though; more to general public views and whatnot. One point worth noting in passing is that earlier plant breeding techniques now considered just fine drew serious consternation in their day. Ditto for other biological things, and also non-biological innovations too. As you’ll know the history of new technologies is like that, unfortunately! The ‘trick’, I suppose, is trying to recognise when it’s memes driving how they’re treated, over-riding a level-headed look at the new thing.

    (While I remember: more on covering for risk/hazard itself some other time as it relates to one of the errors/misattributions in your blog post.)

    Bart gives a nice worked example in his reply above with Nashi pears. It’s what I was addressing in my previous comment,

    Since we now can read genomes and (sometimes!) understand what gene variations we want, rather than take the approach of generating (massive) numbers of variations then select the ones we think we might want, we can just get on with it and make the gene variations wanted from the get go. GE is just a tool that gets us there in a different way.

  • Thanks Bart.

    I see your point and will reflect on it. These are important policy issues that I care about – that’s why I keep hanging around here like a bad smell. I am deeply grateful to you for engaging with me.

    More generally, design and construction were not a suggested basis for legal/policy discrimination – rather to make the more basic point that GMOs are actually different to other organisms in these ways. Another is their current and potential diversity: plants, insects, animals, bacteria, fungi.

    This leads me to two questions:

    1. Isn’t it true that the broad and evolving suite of GE technologies are a massive step change in the range of organisms humans can create? Surely the ability to read genomes, edit genes & create new organisms is a huge advance. That’s why I keep calling it a General Purpose Technology (GPT).

    2. If so, what is the rationale for changing our legal/regulatory regime for the specific purpose of eliminating any references to these technologies? Isn’t #1 all the more reason for special references in legislation? It doesn’t usually take long for disruptive new technologies to be picked out in policy/regulation/law: exhibit 1: the internet.

    • Disclosure – I’m not a scientist. Far from it, my background is HR Management with all its own trips and pratfalls…

      Picking up on this point:
      “More generally, design and construction were not a suggested basis for legal/policy discrimination – rather to make the more basic point that GMOs are actually different to other organisms in these ways. ”

      This seems to me to be a parallel of IVF. IS an artificially fertilised fetus different to a sexually fertilised fetus? Agreed, there are some moral and practical issues eg the practical requirement to fertilise multiple eggs to achieve a reasonable certainty of a viable fetus. But, does the technology of fertilisation ( a feat of GMO in its most basic form) make the resulting child “different”?

      Does it matter how the genetic mutation is achieved if the outcome is a completely “normal” organism ie one that would fall within the expected range of outcomes?

      • Good question Ashton.

        To my mind, the difference is that IVF is an artificial way to create a normal human, whereas GMOs are different to other organisms by design. You can sow a plant seed or cultivate a cutting and end up with more or less the same plant: no need for a GMO, unless you want some other attribute such as tolerance of herbicide.

        • This kind of depends on how you define “normal”. For example, IVF can be used to choose for (or more commonly, against) particular hereditary traits. I’d argue that that choice is a 2nd order genetic engineering decision. Specific fetus are selected for their genetically determined outcome.

          Normal would surely be the acceptance of whatever outcome occurred. A selected fetus is therefore different by design. IVF achieves this by selecting and “wasting”. Genetic intervention (whether you call it engineering or whatever) achieves this less wastefully (a moral rather than biological issue I suspect) and by first order selection.

          This is an important point and has been raised by others here – the issue should not be the technology, but rather the outcome.

          “more or less the same plant” is also interesting – what defines “more or less”? Is a navel orange “more or less” an orange, or is it something else since it was genetically modified from its parent material and provided a specific attribute? Is this “normal”? Is this more of a problem given the plant is sterile and requires human intervention to reproduce?

          Gaaaaah!!!! Too many questions…

  • John,

    rather to make the more basic point that GMOs are actually different to other organisms in these ways

    But you haven’t done that; & hence can’t really move to what you suggest are “further questions”. Or do you mean you accept that also didn’t pan out, so you’re trying something else? You also say you’re not writing about policy, but then swing right back to just that.

    You seem to have missed my reply to you. I suggest going back to it as it deals with some of this. (I’ve edited it to fixed not ending a blockquote properly.) e.g.

    Presumably you see them being “different” as setting a ‘risk category’? (I believe you’ve presented this to me before.) The question that goes before this is “where is the risk, if any”. (It’s not the techniques per se; there’s a bullet point on this in my article.)

    Deeper questions include, is it actual risks at play, or concerns coming from cultural ideas people have about the new technologies? (I don’t mean to trivialise anything, by the way.)

    I agree with Bart’s point that,

    If what you’re trying to make them “different” with isn’t related to risk in the plants, then it’s moot. The legislation is about mitigating risk (real or perceived – in this case mostly perceived, and so it’s holding back good applications through being applied in a sweeping dismissive, manner).

    You mention increased applications. That GE offers wider opportunities isn’t itself a reason to set regulations restraining it! Any sensible country that saw wide application of some technology and low, manageable risk, would set wheels to get on and use it, fund some of the local players (like the Australians do for GE crops, for example). The key thing is risk, not wide application itself – the latter only is relevant after you establish there is some risk. If there is none for a particular application, you should be able to get on with it. Currently this is being stonewalled under sweeping rules.

    You also need to remember that legislation and regulations are not the only tools. My article mentions this. Some things really are better dealt other ways. Certainly “magic dates” and sweeping legislation that isn’t aligned with the actual risks, if any, isn’t very sensible. All that does is stymie for little good reason.

    Back to your earlier point, pointing at “design” or “construction” should be letting you consider it’s about cultural memes, e.g.

    You look to be pointing toward the “in the lab” sense. That plays back to a point I wrote earlier about cultural memes. This point isn’t founded on risks (or hazards), but cultural thinking – e.g. that some people think it ‘unnatural’.

    In using “design” and “construction” what you’ve done is set your argument on the notion that “it’s unnatural”. That points to education, not legislation. (See my bullet points for this, too.)

    for the specific purpose of eliminating any references to these technologies

    This is lifted out of context. (You did similar in your blog.) No-one is suggesting an uncontrolled free-for-all. I think Bart mentioned this earlier. That we don’t need legislation that names or singles out GE as an “exceptional case”, is that’s not the same as saying there is no risk mitigation at all. You’ll note my article relates to this at several different points. Bart will no doubt give real world examples! 🙂 (I’m going to use that as an excuse to go back to other writing! 😀 )

    If GE crops (etc) have no special risks beyond what is already covered there’s no sound reason to single it out. Thence GE varieties can then be treated as other new varieties are. Given they’re not fundamentally different to them (the earlier discussion) that makes sense.

    • Grant
      I chose not to respond to your 3.40pm comment because of its tone. Didn’t see your 5.50pm comment, perhaps because I was drafting mine. Reluctant to respond to your 9.38pm comment because of its tone. As I indicated at the outset, I’m happy to discuss unless it gets personal.

  • Hi John,

    “Tone policing” is almost always unwelcome anywhere, but doubly so when it’s presented when there is no “tone” to “police”!

    It’s invariably a straight-forward attempt to dismiss without looking at the points made (that’s just what tone policing tries to do), and it’s a pretty bizarre claim given how polite and generous I’ve been to you.

    My guess is that you’re a bit annoyed with yourself, and have reacted by trying to throw it back at me. We’ve all been there sometime (me too), but it usually just means you need to look at your own points more critically rather than rail at the other person.

    re the 3.40pm comment: of course people aren’t usually happy when their message is misrepresented, why would they be? Your reply “overlooks” that, but even then there is not the “tone” you imply.

    As for your latest post, I’m getting the impression you are now finding most of those in sci comm don’t share your views on ‘GMOs’, and so are now tilting at them too!

    I’d agree some styles aren’t helpful, but making stereotypes and sweeping generalisations as your post does is too readily used to dismiss the points made, and to overlook the how different people actually operate and think. (Also: thinking I haven’t seen and covered obvious sci comm issues before is a bit of an assumption right? Y’know, grandmothers and eggs, etc. 😉 )

    As for myself, I have the fortunate position of being independent of the universities and those developing ‘GMOs’ while having the scientific background to be able to read the primary literature. This leaves me in a very good position to be contributing to this discussion.

    Contrary to what you might think I do explore other’s points of view and where they are coming from. I also prefer to work from substantive stuff (which helps to keep a neutral position). Being oppositional to me, as you have for a very long time, doesn’t really help nor contribute much.

    My impression from your earlier blog post, your taunting on Twitter (childish stuff IMHO), are reactions to me directing my article to politicians on Twitter. I’d be surprised if they actually read those tweets, but tagging them is a way to point to that it’s a political issue that wants addressing. More importantly, it has you trying to attack and dismiss the person (me, that is) rather than engage with the points made.

    Finally, I may find time to address your earlier blog post, but it’s very low priority.