Shorewalker’s flotsam, February 2014

This is an experiment in occasional linkage to insights that might outlast the daily news cycle. If you find any of it interesting, let us know in the comments.

  • Clock Tower, Freetown, Sierra Leone, October 2009, by Flick user Matt Stephenson

    Clock Tower, Freetown, Sierra Leone, October 2009, by Flickr user Matt Stephenson (licence)

    Five reasons why 2013 was the best year In human history (Think Progress) – Summary: Even in many poor countries we have fewer early deaths, growing life expectancies, declining extreme poverty, rising happiness, fewer wars, less violent crime, big drops in unwarranted discrimination of all sorts. “721 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day) in 2010 than in 1981, according to a new World Bank study.”

  • Massive review reveals consensus on GMO safety (Real Clear Science) – “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.” From a systematic review of 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012. Opponents of GM food increasingly looks like the left’s version of global warming sceptics.
  • The growing Australian medical tourism market (ABC) – Rising numbers of the Southeast Asians middle class coming to Australia for advanced treatments such as robotic surgery, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments and cancer care.
  • Apple passes Microsoft (Ben Evans) – Technology analyst Benedict Evans notes that “… in Q4 2013 the number of computers sold by Apple was larger than the number of Windows PC sold globally. If you add Windows Phone to the mix they’re more or less exactly equal.” Just five years ago Apple’s OSs weren’t shipping on a tenth as many devices as Windows. (Actually Evans is probably a couple of quarters early in calling the “passing” point, but whatever.) Of course, Android passed them both sometime in the past two years. And then there’s this company, both weird and relentless …
  • Why the Winter Olympics are in Sochi (The Economist) – “Sochi was chosen mainly because it is a favourite playground of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. He spends much time at his Sochi residence and intends the games to be seen as proof of his mastery over nature and a symbol of his international legitimacy. Yet the choice is, ironically, entirely apt in one respect. Since Soviet times Sochi has had a reputation as a brash and seedy resort, a hotspot for holiday sex and a place where black-marketers and underground entrepreneurs from across the Soviet Union spent their not-always-honestly-earned roubles.”
  • Yes, you can do experiments to see whether evolution is true (ScienceBlogs) – Researchers at Michigan State University have been watching E. coli evolve the ability to eat citrate, among other things. “After 33,127 generations Lenski and his students noticed something strange in one of the colonies …”
  • Paul Hogan’s Oscar speech (Youtube) – Since the Oscars are coming … Hogan never won, but he did give a speech, and it was a beaut. Has there ever been a more easygoing, less anxious and angst-ridden comedian than Hoges in ordinary-bloke mode? And can someone please resurrect his style?
  • Felix Salmon reckons news has a great future in a social world (Reuters)  –Latest in a fine series. “We’re at an excitingly early stage in working out how to best produce and provide news in a social world. There are lots of business models that might work; there are also editorial models that look like they work until they don’t. But if you look at the news business as a whole, rather than at individual companies, it’s almost impossible not to be incredibly optimistic.” I need to re-read this the next time I’m down to lecture to journalism students.
  • Alan Greenspan

    Alan Greenspan by Flickr user tl8745a (licence)

    Alan Greenspan says asset price bubbles are hard to spot (Harvard Business Review) – Read it all for some profound thoughts about finance, including the problems with letting financial firms be corporations. And the mere fact that you don’t like him doesn’t mean he’s wrong:
    “You can spot a bubble. They’re obvious in every respect. But it is impossible for the majority of participants in the market to call the date when it blows …
    “Every day for most of the period from, let’s say late 1980s, basically, through the end of my term, I would get almost every week people predicting that the world was coming to an end. That the economy was going to crash. ‘There are imbalances. There’s too much debt. There’s too much speculation.’ After a while you begin to say that this stuff is random …
    “When [Eugene] Fama and [Robert] Shiller got the Nobel, in the New York Times, they have Fama saying about Shiller’s forecast of a decline in housing prices, ‘Aw yeah, he’s been saying that for years.’ … Even if you believe it, you shouldn’t say that. I mean it’s un-nice in the extreme. But the problem is it’s true.”
    Having half-expected every year since 1999 that house prices would start declining – and having been wrong almost every time – I see Greenspan’s point. My first year involved in financial markets was 1987, at the end of which Greenspan and his global colleagues staged a highly effective post-bubble monetary easing. No wonder he thought bubbles were best handled after they burst.

  • Life as a video game: the strategy guide (Oliver Emberton) – “Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things. Later in the game money comes into play, but your top priority should always be mastering where your time goes.”
  • The shortlist for the Sony World Photography Awards is out – Just click. It is well known that the world’s three most photogenic non-human creatures are tree frogs, orangutangs and praying mantises, but this year’s shortlist shows wildebeest have their moments too.
  • Joshua Gans and Stephen King are re-releasing Finishing the Job for free (Core Economics) – Exploration of Australian policy issues in health, housing, education and transport by two of our finest public policy thinkers. As far as I can recall, the issues discussed are mostly unresolved since the book’s original release, so you’ll get a bargain.
  • Alain de Bouton explains The Philosophers’ Mail (The Spectator) A tabloid website written by philosophers, and far weirder than that description makes it sound. Perhaps not his best idea ever, but certainly, um, different. “If we are going to be interested en masse in the poor international test scores, we need to take our fragilities on board and therefore get serious, very serious, about trying to make important news not just ‘important’, but also beguiling – almost as tempting to hear about as Taylor [Swift]’s legs.” Actual website here.
  • Turn away from comparison by turning off Facebook (Daily Dish) – I long ago tired of claims that social media is something unprecedented. Teenage kids used to spend hours on the phone before the Internet came along; Victorian-era diary entries consist in large part of entries shorter than 146 characters. But I do wonder whether Facebook can encourage an unhealthy fixation on measuring ourselves against others. “Facebook … plays into some very unpleasant human social characteristics, foremost the temptation to evaluate one’s own worth based on a comparison with others: what they have, what they do, where they holiday, etc. It is a profoundly unspiritual experience.”
  • Photography is fine (xkcd)
    I hate when people take photos of their meal instead of eating it, because there's nothing I love more than the sound of other people chewing.

About David Walker

David Walker runs editorial consultancy Shorewalker DMS (, editing and advising business and government on reports and other editorial content. David has previously edited Acuity magazine and the award-winning INTHEBLACK business magazine, been chief operating officer of online publisher WorkDay Media, held policy and communications roles at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Business Council of Australia and run the website for online finance start-up eChoice. He has qualifications in law and corporate finance. He has written on economics, business and public policy from Melbourne, Adelaide and the Canberra Press Gallery.
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65 Responses to Shorewalker’s flotsam, February 2014

  1. Sancho says:

    Why, yes. GMO opponents are the Left’s version of global warming skeptics.

    The obvious and undeniable difference, however, is that opposition to GMO food hasn’t become the default, mainstream position of the entire Left. We don’t have Bill Shorten denouncing the whole field of genetic science and promising to have the government divert research away from farming and crop development, nor has there been a massive proliferation of Left-leaning think tanks funded by organic food co-ops that scream about a global conspiracy of geneticists.

    Even the Greens only go as far as demanding robust scientific evidence in favour of GMO safety, instead of shouting from the rooftops that crop scientists are fascist liars.

    And when the geneticists and climatologists get together to compare death threats, I’m quietly confident that the latter will have a lot more material for discussion.

    So, please, enough of this both-sides-are-just-as-bad nonsense.

    • David Walker says:

      FYI, Sancho, I’m not in the both-sides-are-just-as-bad camp either. As Nick notes below, the limitations on the atmosphere as a carbon sink are a bigger problem than the choice of which methods we allow in manipulating plant genes. (Though given the extent of the habitat destruction problem, I wouldn’t underplay the importance of finding ways to produce the planet’s food requirements in the smallest possible space, either.)

  2. Mel says:

    Sorry, Sancho, but the Greens have a reactionary stance on GMOs that is not comparable to the Coalition stance on global warming. The heart of many Liberals may not be in it, but they still do have a $2.9 billion Direct Action Plan.

    The Greens have a policy on GMO that is disingenuous, calling for a moratorium on gmos and banning the patenting of gmos, which would of course destroy the industry. The policy also buys into the childish scare story about the terminator gene and other Greens documents dishonestly claim that “[c]rop yields have not increased, but the use of pesticides on our food has”. greens GMO

    I quit my Greens membership a few years back over various policies issues including the borderline hysterical anti-GMO sentiment of much of the membership and other Luddite thinking such as opposition to the Lucas Heights Reactor.

    • Sancho says:

      That’ll be the direct action plan supported by a Prime Minister who states that climate change is “crap”, and which relies heavily on carbon geosequestration – a process that has as much scientific and engineering merit as asking Tinkerbell to fix the atmosphere with fairy dust.

      Right-wing blogs, think tanks and editorials all take the direct action of accusing climatologists of fascism, communism, and being hot for genocide, and from volcanoes to urban heat islands to orbit wobbles, there is not a single brainfart that the Right will refuse to accept as a complete explanation for climate change, as long as it contradicts the actual science.

      So, perhaps the Greens’ anodyne policy statements really do belie the frothing extremism of a hippy minority, but that minority doesn’t come even close to representing the mainstream Left in the way that paranoid maniacs are embraced by the Right and have become the new normal in conservative politics.

      As with climate change, a data point is not a trend.

      • Mel says:

        It is more than a data point and it isn’t just the Greens. The academic left still fetes the fraudulent old windbag Vandana Shiva, who pops up at universities all over the globe to warn of the evils of GMO.

        In Ozblogistan Larvatus Prodeo only ever published anti-GMO articles. John Quiggin has adopted what I’d call a lukewarmer position on GM and I was booted off his forum for too vigorously remonstrating with the anti-GM groupies who populate and rule his comment pages.

        BTW, carbon sequestration is no longer a new technology. Note the carbon counter for Canada’s CCS project here.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      I’m not anti GMO, but refusing to patent GMOs would not kill the industry.

  3. Mel says:

    Also, Thanks David for an interesting collection of links :)

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks for some great links David.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    One other thing about GMOs. As with concerns about fossil fuels, the scares about running out of them are silly – as we run out of them, they’ll get more expensive and we’ll substitute away. However the limitations on the earth as a sink are a much bigger problem. Likewise on GMOs, harm in ingesting them seems entirely manageable – if you’re mixing tomato genes with fish genes, then unless there’s something in the science suggesting that you may generate a poison, I’d be pretty relaxed. Firms don’t like killing their consumers – or even making them sick.

    When externalities come into it, it’s not so simple. It’s quite plausible I would have thought for genetic engineering to produce some virulent strain of crop or to play a role in the evolution of some biota that could rampage through the countryside and cause a lot of damage. Trouble is, if it happens it will be a black swan, perhaps I should say black cane toad. it will be both hard to anticipate, and hard to regulate against without very intrusive and possibly ineffectual rules and regulations.

    • Mel says:

      “It’s quite plausible I would have thought for genetic engineering to produce some virulent strain of crop or to play a role in the evolution of some biota that could rampage through the countryside and cause a lot of damage. ”

      Very unlikely, as you note. It is perhaps worth pointing out that we all already have large numbers of superweeds that wreak havoc- including gorse, spiny rush and bridal creeper that infest my part of central Victoria. Most of our exotic superweeds were brought here by gardeners. Cracking down on the nursery industry, which is also undoubtedly responsible for the recent arrival of myrtle rust, makes more sense than demonising the Monsanto.

      The possibility of triffid like GM crops going berserk in a black swan event could also be dealt with by way of terminator genes but the Greens policy bans them.

  6. The dismissal of the potential costs of genes resistant to Glyphosate- ’roundup’ ,spreading to weed members of the brassicas( ‘cabbage tribe) is a bit too casual for me. Firstly brassicas cross hybridise at the drop of a hat , at considerable distances. Many of the weed species of the tribe are toxic to cattle.
    Glyphosate is the safest/lowest residue weed killer weedkiller ever developed and it is essential to low/no till cropping which is it self essential to maintaing soil health and minimizing erosion and carbon loss. Canola is one of the main GMO crops and it is a brasscia.

    • Mel says:

      John’s comment links in with very neatly with Nick’s post on profundification and questioning the experts on everything, from a position a limited knowledge and this case undoubtedly ideologically skewed blinkers. The likelihood that the gene inserted into canola will spread into related is vanishingly small. John also fails to acknowledge that many brassica, like wild turnip, are already resistant to various herbicides and that no-one, including ag departments, farmers and Big Ag with reputation and profits on the line are dismissing the potential costs. See here for example (pdf).

      It might be a good idea if ag departments, farmers, ag companies and ag scientists were left to sort these things out without ill-informed, ideologically charged busybodies sticking there beaks in to things they don’t understand.

      • Mel ,have you had a bad day?

        From New Scientist:

        ….Meredith Schafer of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville reported at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Austin, Texas, this week, that she had found “escaped” canola plants in North Dakota that were resistant both to glyphosate, sold by Monsanto as Roundup, and to glufosinate, sold by Bayer Cropscience as LibertyLink.

        As in Canada a decade ago, the discovery is a good demonstration that genes do get about in the wild. Neither company would have engineered resistance against a rival weedkiller into their own plants, so the only explanation is that the extra gene was acquired “naturally”.

        Several scenarios could explain how this happened, says Schafer, who conducted the project with her superviser, Cynthia Sagers. “It could have happened if one farmer planted glyphosate-resistant canola, and his neighbour planted glufosinate-resistant canola, for example.” Canola plants escaped as weeds from one field could have been fertilised by pollen from the other, leading to a doubly resistant weed.

        Schafer made the discovery during a comprehensive survey of North Dakota, a US hub of GM canola production, to find out how widespread GM canola weeds had become. She found canola at 288 out of 631 sampling sites on roadsides throughout the state, and of this, 80 per cent was genetically engineered, with resistance to one or other of the two weedkillers. She found two plants, just 0.7 per cent of the total, with double resistance.

        And in another New scientist report, the wide adoption of resistant canola (and poor cropping practices) has also had the effect of encouraging resistance all be it by a more indirect way.

        “This is a serious problem. “Glyphosate is as important to world food production as penicillin is to human health,” says Stephen Powles, a plant scientist at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

        In 1996, Monsanto began selling crop varieties genetically modified to contain a gene for glyphosate resistance. This enabled farmers to spray glyphosate – lethal to plants yet non-toxic to animals – on their fields to kill weeds without damaging the crops, even during the growing season.
        Today nearly 100 million hectares worldwide are planted with glyphosate-resistant crops. In much of the south-eastern US, as well as Brazil and Argentina, farmers grow glyphosate-resistant corn, soybeans and cotton year after year and have come to rely almost exclusively on this herbicide. This has encouraged at least nine species of weed to evolve their own glyphosate resistance, to the point where some farmers can no longer control weed infestations.”

        • And Mel, I am a keen veggie Gardner this is standard seed savers advice re Brassicas:

          All vegetables and varieties in this large species will cross with each other. Separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens. Plants to be left for seed production should be mulched in the fall or carefully dug, trimmed and stored for the winter in humid area with temperatures between 35-40° F. Flowering plants can reach 4′ in height and need at least 2′ spacing for good seed production.

        • Mel says:


          none of that invalidates what I’ve said or invalidates gmo. In fact it may strengthen my case since it may be better if gmos had terminator genes, something that isn’t possible because of the scare campaign whipped by the anti-gmo lobby.

          For a somewhat more balanced perspective on herbicide resistance and gmos you might like to read this. But again, I’d argue that it would be best to let the key stakeholders sought through the issues without interference from ideologically charged but ill-informed busybodies.

          You might also want to ask yourself whether the analogous problem of antibiotic resistant superbugs is best dealt with by persons with expertise and the key stakeholders without interference and scaremongering from the alternative medicine nuts.

        • Mel “ill-informed, ideologically charged busybodies”. I am a liberal conservative , by definition I don’t do ideology . I grow veggies and know a few well informed professional farmers . (As for terminator genes , that I think enters into the ‘patent’ issues that Nicholas alluded to and I haven’t got time/energy to go into the issues of IP as the means of green-fielding monopolies)

          As for we should all ‘let the experts get on with it’, christ! That is a red rag for every, preserve our bodily fluids, green, fluoride, nutter for miles.
          And “The likelihood that the gene inserted into canola will spread into related is vanishingly small” is not born out by the science, No?

        • Gummo Trotsky says:

          For some reason the phrase ‘multiply resistant staphylococcus aureus’ comes to mind.

  7. Gummo Trotsky says:

    FWIW – you can find the original article on GMOs here [pdf].

  8. Nicholas Gruen says:


    If you want to turn up in order to raise the temperature, please lurk, don’t comment.

  9. Mel says:

    JR Walker:

    And “The likelihood that the gene inserted into canola will spread into related is vanishingly small” is not born out by the science, No?

    Nope. Your argument was transfer to different species. The case you mention only involves canola. Meanwhile weeds are developing resistance to herbicides in conventional crops as they always have done and this isn’t making headlines because gmo isn’t involved. That isn’t rational and screws up the public’s perception of the issue.

    BTW I am generally a greeny and I spend a great deal of time making my 10 acres of country Vic a happy place for native plants and beasties. I’m concerned that GMO will eventually prove itself important and necessary and the Right will use this to discredit the whole Green movement. I’m thinking Golden Rice, which should be due for release later this year or next year, might be the game changer.

  10. Gummo Trotsky says:

    This paper from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator [pdf] makes it quite clear that canola is able to hybridise with a couple of other Brassica species and also three species outside the Brassica genus. Also that such hybridisations have been found in the field.

    Makes the assertion that the likelihood that genes inserted into canola will spread into related species is vanishingly small look a bit too glib for my liking.

  11. Mel says:


    Makes the assertion that the likelihood that genes inserted into canola will spread into related species is vanishingly small look a bit too glib for my liking.

    What is glib is disproportional focus on GMO. What is lacking in truth is John Walker’s claim that the issue has been dismissed; the OGTR document you highlight is but piece of evidence to the contrary.

    The document you link to and other OGTR documents state the major concern is wild radish, buchan weed and charlock interspecies gene transfer but this is considered unlikely to be a problem as there are no documented cases of stable gene transfer from canola to these three species. Where hybridisation has occurred, the f1’s have all had poor growth and poor seed set and quickly died out.

    Since hundreds of million of hectares of canola have been grown with exposure to these weeds over many decades without any documented stable hybrid populations occurring, I think vanishingly small is a perfectly accurate description.

    The other point that John Walker has overlooked is that many brassica food plants have the exact same parent species, hence his observation they cross easily is no more unexpected than a Doberman crossing with a Pit Bull.

    Meanwhile, Professor Google tells me that wild radish and several other troublesome weeds in the brassica family are already resistant to one or more herbicides. Because development of herbicide resistance wasn’t linked to anything sexy, like gene transfer from GM Roundup Ready Canola, these tales of woe never made it into the GM disaster pron mags that inflame John and Gummo’s fevered minds.

    Disaster pron is such a capricious suitor ;)

    • Mel you are punching shadows.
      GMO is not flawless- might at times have some drawbacks, is not ideology. And it might at times be used to manipulate more than just genes .

      • Mel says:

        Nothing in life is flawless; we are both old enough to know that. Even the organic food industry has its problems, for instance for instance the organic fungicide “bordeux” is being phased out in Europe because the copper in the mixture has been poisoning the soil and ground water.

        And you recall deaths caused by organic sprouts in Germany several years back ….

        But of course the organic industry (which now turns over $US30 billion in the US alone) is the blue eyed boy so these black marks are quickly forgiven and forgotten.

  12. @ David Walker do you know what the legal situation re a farmer who saves her own seeds and sells her crop to a ‘organic’ brand, who’s non GMO crop is planted next to a neighbors cross-pollinating GMO crop, would be?

    • Mel says:


      This pending court case deals with a similar issue. Apparently the whole GM world is waiting on the outcome, since there hasn’t been a similar case elsewhere.

      • Interesting
        This is from the Ipkats

        “Looking at the reverse view – a farmer, I’ll call him John, owns a certified-organic farm, and actively opts not to buy Roundup Ready seeds.. But unbeknown to him, his crop is contaminated with Roundup Ready crops due to cross-pollination from a neighbouring farm that uses Roundup Ready seeds. Is John infringing Monsanto’s patents if he plants seeds from his harvested crops, which contain Roundup Ready technology? Monsanto’s previous litigation wins suggest that John would be considered an infringer, even though his actions were unintentional. [Thankfully, in light of widespread, unintentional cross-contamination of crops in farms neighbouring those that are licensed for Roundup Ready crops, Monsanto claims that its current strategy is to pursue only those farms that discover their crops have been contaminated and subsequently intentionally plant the Roundup resistant crops instead of not-Roundup-Ready seeds from uncontaminated sections of their crop. This was not always the case in the past.] In addition, if the contamination of John’s farm causes him to lose his organic certification, should Monsanto be responsible for the loss? This exact question is under consideration in lawsuit filed by an organic cotton farmer in Texas, as described by the Texas Observer here. ”

        The odd thing about the contaminated wheat case is that, as far as I know, all cultivated wheat hold their seeds tight until threshing, I.e a unlikely weed, and wheat seeds are unlikely to last years and years dormant, so in the case of GMO in non GMO fields of wheat, where did the contamination come from is a real question.

        • Mel says:

          Incorrect, John. Wild and self-sustaining populations of conventional wheat is not uncommon, especially along railway tracks and rural roadsides.

          I’ve seen them myself dozens of times, as one of my hobbies is looking for remnant native plants on roadsides in farming areas. It is also well documented in the literature. The wheat escapees are not, however, considered an invasive exotic weed problem as they don’t spread much and rely on favourable conditions, like the extra water along roadside ditches.

        • According to the reports no GMO wheat has been grown in the US for about a decade-GMO wheat is not approved by the FDA.

          “Along railway tracks and rural roadsides” Wouldn’t these colonies likely originate in spillage from transporters? How long lived and wide spread are these wild colonies? Surely a bad drought lasting a few years would knock most out?

          What is the chances of it surviving in the fields for a decade?

    • David Walker says:

      My first reaction is that the organic farmer would probably have a straightforward nuisance claim, but it looks like the Marsh case cited by Mel may tell us more. There appears to be obiter in the Schmeiser case suggesting that the organic farmer is not breaching the GMO patent because in these situations (unlike most patent cases) intent has to be relevant. But I don’t know the current Australian law and I am not an IP law expert.

  13. Mel
    From what I have read, GMOs are not a health issue and they are not on evidence a big threat to the environment. However they do involve IP monopoly issues and are, I think, contributing to a ever narrowing of the range of varieties of crops grown.

  14. Mel says:

    However they do involve IP monopoly issues and are, I think, contributing to a ever narrowing of the range of varieties of crops grown.

    Again this is a fantasy concern. A few companies, including the much demonised Monsanto, have the lion’s share of the seed market because they produce seeds that most farmers want to buy. This was also teh case in teh days before GM. Nothing has changed. Nonetheless dozens of smaller seed companies still provide alternative seed for those who want it. In the US alone you have over 150 companies that provide their own corn seed and soybean seed, for example. Moreover, there are dozens of global seed bank initiatives and richer countries like Oz have companies like Digger’s Club that specialise in providing hundreds of heirloom seeds.

    If you are seriously concerned that one day you’ll turn up to the supermarket and find nothing but GM Canola in the cooking oil section, I’d suggest you think a little more carefully about where you source your information.

    • “have the lion’s share of the seed market because they produce seeds that most farmers want to buy” , they would say that.

      As it stands Monsanto can use its patent rights to sue farmers whose crops have be cross pollinated by GMO crops(they don’t do it anymore, but they still have the right to do so), this doesn’t seem right to me.

      • Mel says:


        As it stands Monsanto can use its patent rights to sue farmers whose crops have be cross pollinated by GMO crops(they don’t do it anymore, but they still have the right to do so), this doesn’t seem right to me.

        Don’t be a fool, John. We both know this isn’t true. This particular lie is presumably based on a willful misreading of the Schmeiser case in Canada.

        they would say that.

        How is Monsanto, for instance, forcing Indian farmers to buy the much more expensive Bt Cotton seeds when they could just as easily buy traditional seeds? (in fact many Indian farmers buy Bt stealth seeds, but that is another story).

        Every single claim you’ve made so far on this thread has been deceptive.

        • desipis says:

          Mel, a quick read of the wikipedia page suggests to me that if a farmer’s crop become cross pollinated with GMO (and he is aware of it) he can still sell the harvested crop, but cannot replant any seeds from it without a licence from Monsanto (as to do so would be ‘using’ the patented invention). This could effectively force any farmer next to a GMO farm to get their seeds from a third party rather than self manage their own seed supply. This suggests to me that a farmer planting GMO crops is causing economic harm on their neighbours who don’t and should be liable for any claims of nuisance arise from such issues.

        • The claim that Monsanto can- if they wish to- sue farmers for accidental contamination of their own crop comes from the IPKat, a well respected intellectual property reporting blog.

        • David Walker says:

          Mel, please be careful throwing around words like “deceptive”.

          On the other side of the ledger … despisis, a quick read of the Schmeiser Wikipedia page suggests to me that the decision was not about accidental contamination at all:

          The case drew worldwide attention and is widely misunderstood to concern what happens when farmers’ fields are accidentally contaminated with patented seed … The court record shows, however, that it was not just a few seeds from a passing truck, but that Mr Schmeiser was growing a crop of 95–98% pure Roundup Ready plants, a commercial level of purity far higher than one would expect from inadvertent or accidental presence. The judge could not account for how a few wayward seeds or pollen grains could come to dominate hundreds of acres without Mr Schmeiser’s active participation, saying ‘. . .none of the suggested sources could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality evident from the results of tests on Schmeiser’s crop’ …

          I have no idea whether the Wikipedia account is accurate and only heard about it for the first time a few minutes ago. However, the Talk page suggests the article may be a reasonably straight account.

  15. Mel says:


    The Schmeiser case doesn’t have such an implication at all. Schmeiser’s crop was 95–98% Roundup Ready GM Canola and involved deliberate acts undertaken by Schmeiser.

    Contra John’s claim, farmers have not and almost certainly never will be dragged before the courts because of incidental contamination of their non-GM Canola with GM Canola.

    The currently pending Steve Marsh case mentioned above will hopefully sought out if GM farmers are liable for incidental contamination of neighbour’s non-GM crops.

  16. John walker says:

    I said that farmers can be sued ,over reusing contaminated seed. As far as I understand from the ipkats , currently only deliberate selection and use of modified seed is being persued. However that is a not because the HMO company does not have the legal option on non deliberate replanting of seeds .

    • John walker says:

      Sorry typing on a iPhone is hard

      • Mel says:

        I said that farmers can be sued ,over reusing contaminated seed.

        Could you link to the case that establishes this precedent or a corroborating opinion of a senior patent attorney with a reputation to protect. The IPKat article you linked to earlier is written by a “layman and non-patent specialist” (IpKats own words) and clearly gets elementary facts wrong.

  17. John walker says:

    I will ask the ipkats for more info, will get back later.

  18. Regarding prosecution of farmers ,for exactly what– waiting on response. It has been a big week in the EU re copyright news.

    A fair bit of research has made me belatedly realise that, just like copyright, when it comes to patents and GM, much depends on interpretation and definitive statements are often misleading.
    I apologize for any inadvertently misleading statements.

    The GM and patents story, does seem to be a good example of something that is common in the narratives of environmental history; multiple opposed, but viable, “stories about stories”.

    For example, in 2009 Scientific American reported that the GM crop companies were using their patents to block the sale of seeds for independent scientific research. One interpretation of this story was – they are preventing research into reverse engineering of the IP involved in GM crops, another interpretation of the story was that- they are filtering out unfavorable research into, in the field, behavior of these GM crops.

    That 2009 Scientific American report is still in wide circulation and mostly it is without updates. In some stories of this story, the story ends in 2009.
    Where a story finishes can often be what determines whether it is a, rise of or fall of, story.

    But even when updated, the story can still be told in opposite ways; since 2009 the companies have greatly liberalized their approach to independent research projects. Some interpret this change as -the system has worked well ,others interpret this change as- the companies only changed their policy, because they were caught, they did it for PR reasons.

    I think it is a mistake to always see a preference for one or another version of a ‘story about stories’ as being ideological in its basis. It might just come down to sanguine vs melancholic.

  19. Mel says:

    Nick Gruen:

    You can’t patent dress designs or recipes but there are new ones turning up every day.

    A new GM food product costs circa US$200 million and takes 10 years to develop and is therefore GM is comparable to Big Pharma rather than recipes and dresses, I would think.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Some does, some doesn’t. I was simply making the point that it should not be presumed that we need an intervention. It’s need should be demonstrated.

  20. Mel says:


    I think it is a mistake to always see a preference for one or another version of a ‘story about stories’ as being ideological in its basis.

    The word ideology doesn’t mean what you think it means, John. Every post and comment on this blog is ideological.

  21. I have been reading up on the history of the famous (and contentious) Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser case.
    Its only one case involving GM patents -there have been at the minimum at least 100+ court cases over the years- but closer reading of it does help ,a bit.
    The Wikipedia

    The 2004 Canadian High court judgement

    And the reasoning of the first Canadian court judgement

    In 1998 Mr Schmeiser had a canola crop that was about %95-98 Roundup resistant, too high a level to be accidental.

    The advantage of Roundup ready crops is that you can spray roundup on the crop and kill the weeds but not kill the crop. Schmeisser argued that because he had not used roundup on the crop he had not ‘used’ the roundup resistant gene. This was rejected by the High court:

    “Infringement in this case therefore does not require use of the gene or cell in isolation. Infringement also does not require that the appellants have used Roundup herbicide as an aid to cultivation. First, this argument fails to account for the stand-by or insurance utility of the properties of the patented genes and cells. Second, the appellants did not provide sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of use.”

    It is not clear whether the claim to have not used Roundup was tested/proved, or was simply rejected in principle as a defense. However the court did rule that because Schmeiser had not profited from the gene- he had not used roundup on the crop-he did not have to pay damages or Monsantos legal costs. He did of course still have to pay his own legal bills.

    It seems that, in Canadian law, simply having a crop with a significant level of GM in it, is sufficient to be a infringement of the patent, regardless of lack of evidence of ‘use’.

    The Schmieser case was a public relations debacle for the Company and a recent court statement suggests that Monsanto these days has adopted a more common sense approach : ” … the cases Monsanto brings are cases in which it has come to learn that the farmer is not purchasing any Roundup Ready seed, but is spraying his fields with Roundup, and the plants are surviving…” However it is not clear whether this is a irreversible undertaking or if it also applies to other GM companies- Monsanto is not the only GM company in the world.

    Monsanto has also stated that it will not pursue cases where the level of GM is %1 or less.
    Natural cross pollination of non GM crops, by GM crops (of the same species) does occur, as do wind blown spillage’s from grain carriers on country roads.
    It is not clear is what would be the case where the level of any GM in a seed savers crop was %5.1, %16.9 or %43.5, or what? And what will be the situation where the benifit of the GM is that the farmer can do less is not clear; the BT toxin GM means you do not need to spray pesticides – testing for the BT gene could, I guess, mean doing a ‘LD 50’ test- collect a representative sample of a crops leaves and feed them to enough caterpillars and count how many die, or send the seeds to a lab for testing.
    Would a farmer who does not use pesticides, anyway, who’s crop turns out to have a untended %25 of BT GM, be required to pay a license fee? According to the Wiki entry for the Schmeiser case :

    “The appellate court also discussed a possible intermediate scenario, in which a farmer is aware of contamination of his crop by genetically modified seed, but tolerates its presence and takes no action to increase its abundance in his crop. The court held that whether such a case would constitute patent infringement remains an open question.

    The legal situation re GM patents, cross-pollination and seed saver farmers rights, does seem to be as clear as mud.

    • john Walker says:

      The actual judgement on “a possible intermediate scenario,” are

      However, it seems to me arguable that the patented Monsanto gene falls into a novel category. It is a patented invention found within a living plant that may, without human intervention, produce progeny containing the same invention. It is undisputed that a plant containing the Monsanto gene may come fortuitously onto the property of a person who has no reason to be aware of the presence of the characteristic created by the patented gene. It is also reasonable to suppose that the person could become aware that the plant has that characteristic but may tolerate the continued presence of the plant without doing anything to cause or promote the propagation of the plant or its progeny (by saving and planting the seeds, for example). In my view, it is an open question whether Monsanto could, in such circumstances, obtain a remedy for infringement on the basis that the intention of the alleged infringer is irrelevant. However, that question does not need to be resolved in this case.

      GM crops and new genes for attributes other than Roundup resistance , are increasing in numbers (least outside the EU) and quite a few food plants are open pollinated.
      Questions as to do you have to pay a license fee if, %10, %20 or what percentage, of your seed saver crop, inadvertently contains a beneficial GM gene,such as the gene for the insect killer BT, are likely to come up at some point.

    • Mel says:

      The widely reported US Supreme court Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association v. Monsanto case set the inadvertent contamination bar at 1% at or below which Monsanto cannot sue. I’m surprised the IP Kats haven’t referred you to that case which was upheld by SCOTUS one month ago. This, combined with the clear inaccuracies and misrepresentations in their previous articles on GMO, suggest to me that IP Kats are an inferior source of information.

  22. john Walker says:

    ” Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not ‘take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes…”
    “”Monsanto never has and has committed it never will sue if our patented seed or traits are found in a farmer’s field as a result of inadvertent means,” said Kyle McClain, the Monsanto’s chief litigation counsel, according to Reuters. ”

    What is a , trace and what is, inadvertent, is a open question.

    • Mel says:

      Nope, what is trace and what is inadvertent are easily resolved by the application of common sense and moderate intellect. Certainly the USDC had no trouble dismissing the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association case against Monsanto as a:

      … transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists.

      Inadvertent simply means unplanned and as the aforementioned and affirmed court case says:

      And, while we grant that the phrase “trace amounts” is susceptible of differing interpretations, the notion that plaintiffs, who are actively attempting to avoid the use of transgenic seed, may nevertheless find themselves unknowingly utilizing it in significant quantities strains credulity.

      And before you ask, John, the meaning of strains credulity is not open to question.

      The real question of interest is why so many otherwise thoughtful people get their knickers in a knot about Monsanto and GM.

      • john Walker says:

        There is an obvious gray area that you seem unable to see. The reasons for judgement in the Schmieser case mentions it, in passing.

        There are three kinds of people: those who believe in the law of the excluded middle, and those who don’t.

        • Mel says:

          The USDC dismissed OSGTA’s claim that they need legal protection because of a supposed “gray area” as “… transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists”. No one has made any type of coherent argument to the contrary, as far as I can tell.

          No gray area exists outside the fuzzy gray matter of those who overestimate their own talents or are simply making mischief, hence the terse words of the USDC and SCOTUS at the appeal.

          Let’s not forget that your first post on this thread sought to make an issue of observably false claims about brassica hybridisation with weeds and in particular, canola hybridisation.

  23. john Walker says:

    you are really missing the gray patent law area that is neither involves farmers who want to exclude GM altogether or Farmers who want to use it without payment.

  24. john Walker says:

    Very generally in IP ,unless covered by some sort of exemption, any unauthorized reproduction/use is provably infringing. In some jurisdictions such as the US, statutory damages can mean that small infringements can attract large penalties.
    It is also not uncommon for patent holders in the pharmaceutical sector to use their patent rights to control who can purchase a drug for research purposes.

    The fact that Monsanto (and other GM companies?) do not use these rights/powers excesively is good. However the legal powers exist regardless of whether or not they are used, at the moment.

    Whether IP is the right way to pay for the work of making GMs is a legit question.
    In the area I know better: copyright, the spread of cheap replicators to billions of individuals( desktops, ipads and smartphones) and the spread of fast interconnectedness has created a complicated mess. A mess that governments have struggled, unsuccessfully, face up to, let alone sort out, for more than a decade. The fights over GM vs anti GM look very similar to the fights over copyright,( the GM fights are better mannered ).

    GM is self-replicating IP and it is capable of dissemination without deliberate intention. The question that the Canadian court mentioned in passing: is the person that becomes ” aware that the plant has that characteristic but may tolerate the continued presence of the plant without doing anything to cause or promote the propagation of the plant or its progeny”, infringing, is open and potentially messy for all.

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