Should we ban plant hybrids as well? Hybrid poison grass that kills Texas cattle not genetically modified

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    Jul 17, 2012 11:28 PM GMT
    Genetic modification is a tool like any other as this shows.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/gmo-food-hybrid-poison-grass-that-kills-texas-cattle-not-genetically-modified

    Reports that GMO grass suddenly started producing cyanide and killed almost an entire herd of cattle in Texas are only partially true. CBS News reported June 23, 2012 that rancher Jerry Abel of Elgin, near Austin, Texas had been growing Tifton 85, a GMO version of Bermuda grass, for 15 years when the grass suddenly started emitting poisonous cyanide. However, Tifton 85 is not GMO grass, but a hybrid.

    According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service, Tifton 85 is a hybrid between an African Bermuda grass and Tifton 68, a different hybrid produced in Tifton, Georgia(*). Tifton 85 is highly digestible and has good protein content, something that first drew Mr. Abel to the grass. Hybridization has been practiced by farmers as long as plants have been grown, and is not the same as GMO at all. (Story continues below.)

    According to local station KEYE, Abel first knew something was wrong when the cows started bellowing. He thought he was about to witness a calving but instead saw his unfortunate animals staggering around, obviously dying. Others in the area have also since tested their grass and found the same results—the grass has started venting cyanide.

    True: Cattle died after eating grass that suddenly started venting cyanide [Update: the animals died of prussic acid or hydrogen cyanide poisoning.]
    False: The grass was genetically modified
    Texas is starting to recover from a long drought and this may be a factor in the sudden self-poisoning of the grass. The USDA has dispatched scientists to find out what went wrong.

    According to the Animal Health Library, Bermuda grass is high in hydrocyanic acid, which may be concentrated during times of drought. Those fighting the GMO food good fight will need to find another cause, because the only thing in this story that's been genetically modified are the facts.

    Update June 24, 2012 at 6:49 p.m.:

    Dr. Larry Redmon of the Texas AgriLife Extension has confirmed, by way of this blog post, that the animals in question died of prussic acid poisoning--prussic acid is also known as hydrogen cyanide (HCN).

    One of these, Tifton 68, is a stargrass, a species that has potential for generating HCN, but hasn't apparently done so since the time the University of Florida starting using it for grazing in Ona, Florida in 1972.
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    Jul 17, 2012 11:49 PM GMT
    WhyWhySee saidFallacy Alert:
    This is not an argument for genetic modification, and GMOs are not banned. It shows that hybridization can be dangerous (no shit!), but it doesn't show that GMOs are safe.

    There is little evidence to show that GMOs are dangerous, but there is also little evidence to show that they are not dangerous - even less evidence to show that they are beneficial in any way.


    As noted, it's a tool like anything else... it can be used to make dangerous things but there are many who say vilify Monsanto despite the fact they've also been instrumental to being able to feed millions if not tens or hundreds of millions of more people.
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    Jul 18, 2012 12:01 AM GMT
    WhyWhySee saidThe issue that people have with Monsanto has little to do with the science, and much more to do with control. We do not need them, they do not increase yield or decrease inputs.
    Besides, higher yields cause population increase, which requires more yield. The very best thing that anyone can do for the world would be to stop increasing yield. Get the population growth under control.
    We are not exempt from the law of the Universe, but the harder we fight it the harder it's going to hit us.


    You must have mistaken us for rabbits. Higher levels of wealth equate to lower birth rates - not starving the people who exist.

    As for Monsanto, many of their products do increase yields and decrease the need for as much in pesticides.
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    Jul 18, 2012 12:06 AM GMT
    WhyWhySee said
    riddler78 said
    WhyWhySee saidThe issue that people have with Monsanto has little to do with the science, and much more to do with control. We do not need them, they do not increase yield or decrease inputs.
    Besides, higher yields cause population increase, which requires more yield. The very best thing that anyone can do for the world would be to stop increasing yield. Get the population growth under control.
    We are not exempt from the law of the Universe, but the harder we fight it the harder it's going to hit us.


    You must have mistaken us for rabbits. Higher levels of wealth equate to lower birth rates - not starving the people who exist.

    As for Monsanto, many of their products do increase yields and decrease the need for as much in pesticides.

    We are rabbits. Don't fool yourself.


    Then why don't we see the highest population growth in the developed world and instead in the developing world where food as a percentage of overall income is highest? Sorry, if facts matter, you'd recognize that Malthus's ideas died long ago for good reason.
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    Jul 18, 2012 12:07 AM GMT
    WhyWhySee saidDo you know what peasant farmers do when they buy GE seed (a major upfront cost that they didn't used to have, because they used to save it), but the crop fails anyway?

    They commit suicide.


    While there are some unfortunate cases, there are many more where this has driven increased crops and growth. There's also a reason that in developed countries it's only cost efficient to farm in scale - and that's a good thing. ie there are fewer fewer people required to grow greater amounts of food.
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    Jul 18, 2012 1:01 AM GMT
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8789279.stm

    With the world's food security facing a looming "perfect storm", GM food crops need to be part of the solution, argues Professor Jonathan Jones. In this week's Green Room, he wonders why there is such a fuss about biotechnology when it can help deliver a sustainable global food system.

    A billion humans do not have enough to eat.

    Water resources are limited, energy costs are rising, the cultivatable land is already mostly cultivated, and climate change could hit productive areas hard. We need a sustainable intensification of agriculture to increase production by 50% by 2030 - but how?

    Food security requires solutions to many diverse problems. In the US or Europe, improved seeds could increase yields by 10% or more, reduce pesticide use and give "more crop per drop".

    However, improved seeds can only help impoverished African farmers if they also have reliable water supply, roads to take crops to market, and (probably most important) fertiliser.

    Better farming methods are also part of the solution; these require investment in technology and people.

    Fortunately, after 25 years of "food complacency", policymakers are taking the issue seriously again.

    I want to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture while maintaining food supply.

    [...]

    The cost of this regulation - demanded by green campaigners - has bolstered the monopoly of the multinationals. This is a massive own-goal and has postponed the benefits to the environment and to us all.

    Some fear GM food is bad for health. There are no data that support this view.

    In the US, where many processed foods contain ingredients derived from GM maize or soy, in the most litigious society in history, nobody has sued for a GM health problem.

    Some fear GM is bad for the environment. But in agriculture, idealism does not solve problems. Farmers need "least bad" solutions; they do not have the luxury of insisting on utopian solutions.

    It is less bad to control weeds with a rapidly inactivated herbicide after the crop germinates, than to apply more persistent chemicals beforehand.

    It is less bad to have the plant make its own insecticidal protein, than to spray insecticides.

    It is better to maximise the productivity of arable land via all kinds of sustainable intensification, than to require more land under the plough because of reduced yields.

    Some say GM is high risk, but they cannot tell you what the risk is. Some say GM is causing deforestation in Brazil, even though if yields were less, more deforestation would be required to meet Chinese and European demand for animal feed.

    Some say we do not need GM blight resistant potatoes to solve the £3.5bn per year problem of potato blight, because blight resistant varieties have been bred. But if these varieties are so wonderful, how come farmers spend £500 per hectare on spraying to protect blight sensitive varieties?