TEDx talk: How the organic movement became anti-GMO


Rob Saik, professional agrologist, certified agriculture consultant and founder of Agri-Trend, spoke at TEDx Red Deer, Alberta on GMOs.

“Do you believe that agriculture can feed 9 billion people?” he asked. “The real question is will agriculture be allowed to feed 9 billion people?”

“I believe the anti-science movement is the biggest threat to global food security today. The voices of science are being drowned out by the voices of fear and paranoia,” he said.

Saik believe that the technology to feed people already exists. He urged the audience to celebrate the accomplishments of fertilizer, pesticides and genetic engineering in boosting agricultural production while also providing more sustainable ways of farming.

For example, Bt crops have lowered pesticide use, he said, while adoption of GMOs in Brazil has helped relieve pressure to tear down rainforests by increasing yields on land already converted to agriculture.

He asked the provocative question, “Could the future of food production be genetically modified organic food production?” saying that the ideology of the organic movement could be met with GM technology. “When did the organic movement become the anti-GMO movement?” he said.

Watch full, original video: Pushing Boundaries in Agriculture

  • Wackes Seppi

    « Could the future of food
    production be genetically modified organic food production? »

    The answer is a straight « no ».

    Even if we assume that one day – most
    probably in the quite distant future – the gurus who rule on
    « organic » will realize that GM is a good thing for the
    farmers who grow « organic ».

    « Organic » means paying an
    important toll to pests and diseases. Although this might arguably
    change with « biopesticides » and supersophisticated
    machinery (I can dream of a robot that would « handpick »
    one by one the weeds…).

    « Organic » also means that
    soils will be depleted over time. There is no miracle: each ton of,
    say, wheat, will take away nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc.
    Which can only be brought back by organic manure with NPK, etc. from
    another field.

    • If the solution was this simple, it would be executed. Unfortunately, manure has to be created by cows. Cows are the single biggest contributor to green house gases, through methane release. Turning conventional farms into organic ones on a mass scale would create a global warming catastrophe. Beyond that, GMO ag is mostly no till, while organic requires tilling, which releases more gasses. Plus organic requires use of much more mechanical weeding and other machines, requiring huge energy inputs. Those central facts make it less sustainable by far compared to most conventional ag operations. The ag story is complicate. Best to steer away from romantic notions and talk to real farmers about how the world works.

      • JoeFarmer

        Right on all counts.

        But don’t forget that hog and poultry manure are used in crop production, too.

        That doesn’t change the fact that ag animals are not at all efficient in turning their food into fertilizer.

        Which makes organic production all the more unsustainable. Organic crop producers source their manure from “conventional” herds and flocks. But somehow, the waste from a hog fed GM grain is OK to use in organic production.

        Kind of like money laundering…

        • Interesting point, never thought of that!

          • JoeFarmer

            Jon, it’s all about nutrient removal.

            Doesn’t matter what crop you grow, you’re going to remove nutrients with what you send to the farmers market or evil Cargill’s terminal.

            What gets removed has to be replaced. Otherwise you are mining the soil.

            And a lot of these organic operations are just surface “miners”. And we know how unpopular mining coal is these days. Same damn thing.

        • hyperzombie

          Yeah I don’t get it. It is perfectly fine to feed plants products from GMO fed animals, but it is not OK to feed animals GMOs.

          • JoeFarmer

            Which is why the whole organic thing is a gigantic sham.

          • hyperzombie

            I 110% agree with 98% of your comment.
            One positive to Organic is that it makes wealthy city hipsters a bit poorer, that is always a good thing. they can afford as many skinny jeans.

        • Laura Christine

          There isn’t enough poop in the world to replace our fertilization needs. It does need to be put somewhere though, and it turns out that it’s super convenient to haul it out to the field and dump it.

        • Pyro411

          Silly question from someone who is not a farmer, where on the quality list is Human Manure? — if we process that to supplement Cow/Hog/Poultry manure if it’s good nutritionally for our crops.

          Just a bit of out of the box thinking, it’d help 2 pain points, waste management and crop production if it’s a viable option in the near / semi distant future.

          — Yes I know I know there’s going to be a group of people rioting & boycotting food grown on our own poop.

          • nightwolf

            Cows/Hogs/Poultry don’t consume meat like we do. Therefore, their manure can be used and unfortunately, our’s can’t. Human manure is the very bottom, of the bottom, of the list.

          • Marie Horton Pintar

            Actually, they do. And have for ages. Where do you think the dead ones go?

          • Monkeypaws

            FYI, pigs and chickens are both omnivorous, and quite enjoy their meat protein.

          • Alex T

            Human sewers also contain far more than our manure. Oils, metals, paints, drugs, cleaning products, on and on. If it can’t be removed and it accumulates, it may be akin to salting the soil rather than feeding it.

            There is also the question of disease. Already most of the food-borne illnesses we see are from crops fertilized with animal manure. By spraying human manure on crops, any bacterial or viral residue is likely to be more infectious and more damaging.

          • JoeFarmer

            Have you ever heard of Milorganite? That’s a popular fertilizer produced by Milwaukee’s sewage treatment operation. That product name was coined many years ago as a catchy name for MILwaukee ORganic NITrogEn. That was back in 1925, so you haven’t thought out of the box at all.

            In other words, sludge from municipal waste treatment plants is frequently used as fertilizer all over the U.S., and I imagine we’re not the only country doing it.

      • elkoz

        John – Although I agree that organic is a load of
        “sustainable” horsepucky (no pun intended) right out the playbook of green nationalism promoted by the world’s first green government – Nazi Germany – where the precautionary principle and sustainable development originated. However, I can’t believe what I’m reading,
        especially from someone with your intellect. There is no global warming at all right now, and there absolutely is no warming catastrophe being cause by man let alone cow manure, and I don’t care how many cows there are. Otherwise we would have to conclude wiping out all those millions of buffalo in the American west was a good thing.

        • Jim Magdelania

          hey look, an anti science person!!! please, tell us more about consensus oh wise all knowing one!

        • Bryan

          Wow. Thanks Elkoz. You just reminded me that we are indeed on the internet

        • David Temper

          You just went full Godwin

  • Conspiracy Bob

    I have seen how Montsanto treats their customers, private farmers, and I know what kind of harm their agricultural chemicals cause. Done cautiously and ethically, no, there’s nothing wrong with GMO technology per se, but the way they do it, is unconscionable.

    • hyperzombie

      That is Hilarious,,,90% plus and growing of farmers that have access to GMOs buy them, Wow that is some horrible customer relations….LOL;

    • JoeFarmer

      You haven’t seen squat, bub.

      Monsanto competes for farmers’ business, along with everyone else.

      And if you have a beef with ag chemicals, Monsanto is a minor player. Syngenta, Dow and Bayer are much bigger.

      So is Sumitomo Chemical from Japan. And FMC from the U.S.

      I’ll bet you didn’t know the world’s biggest glyphosate producer is China, did you?

      There are only two U.S. glyphosate manufacturers. Can you tell me who they are?

      Didn’t think so.

    • Jim Magdelania

      dude, you’re so fucking adorable!! can you make up some more shit to entertain the rest of us with your cuteness??

  • Wacky hobo

    I think both conventional all organic agriculture needs to throw dogmatic believes aside and try to find a way, which most likely, is somewhere in between. It’s is unfortunate how polarized this debate has become (IMO).
    Agroecology + GM = winner–i think.
    Considering modern advancement in mechanics, drowns and GM/bioinformatics, poly-cropping and integrated crop management like beetle banks and so on. But of course societal changes need to happen as well like our meat addiction needs to be reduced.

  • Jan Kristian Burghardt

    terra preta + microbial soil life ==> no need for fertilizer… ask farmers cultivating with this method
    some countries in this world like mine (austria) are chaning their agricultural habbits.
    (studys show that’s -25% in yield, but also -70% in total costs for fertilzier, herbizides etc) {even better yield when combining mineral with organic fertilizers and an active soil life}

    more and more producers are using organic products with symbiosis of soil life (mykhorizza, nitrificating bacteria etc.) ==> no salt buildups in soil
    they start using beneficial organisms against pests

    and yes i know what i am talking about, currently i am doing my masters degree in technology of food and biotechnology, specialising in safety of the food chain and agriculture


    • MDBritt

      This is good news Jan. If the cost savings are truly there than I am sure that we will see farmers adopt these methods. The problem that I have is when a small group of people, declaring themselves enlightened, decide what everyone else should do whether they consent or not.

      • Jan Kristian Burghardt

        there are plenty of studies all over the world proving this.. one just needs to look them up.. with basic knowledge of plant – microbial life symbiosis its pretty obvious why its so…

        here just one of the research that is being done in

    • hyperzombie

      terra preta

      So are you suggesting that we burn down vast areas of forests to make terra preta soils? How many billions of acres of forests will it take to fertilize the mid west?

      • Jan Kristian Burghardt

        no you missunderstand the concept of terra preta

        you can create black soil without any coal if your country doesnt have such superior forrest laws like austria (for every cut down tree, there must be planted a new one per law) – for example out of organic kitchen waste, effective microbial life and some porous substrate like for example leonardite

        and the terra preta concept is not about fertilizing, but more about enhancing inert soil with benefical microbial life..

        it is used as an inoculant for soil providing life and stabilzing ph

        • hyperzombie

          (for every cut down tree, there must be planted a new one per law)

          Canada has a superior law, you must plant 2.

          for example out of organic kitchen waste, effective microbial life and some porous substrate like for example leonardite

          Ok, Once you have collected all of it, how are you going to fertilize more than a few 1000 acres? The USA has Millions of acres.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            ours hasnt been updated since 1964 and we are dealing pretty good with it ;)

            austria is a small country, we tend to have more small farmers with good quality goods then few with lots of bad quality but good quantity.. and we are willing to pay more.

            if you want to think this bigger..:
            for example: state programs like the ones with production of bio gas out of organic waste are a good example that there shouldnt be a problem to industrialize the production of tons of black soil out of waste… its just a matter of the peoples choice and will..

            biotech companies could start to produce large fermenters for big batches of biologial active fertilizers…

            gardenschools and other companies could start to produce beneficial animals for fighting and preventing pests.. so that they wont be so much use for pestizides and more..

            we are just looking for ways for substantial farming and healthy food, and we tend to not fuck up our nature by implementing strict environmental laws for our food industry

          • Lorraine Rees

            Have you seen how much food we waste? A fair portion of that could be composted but we’re too lazy. That is saying a lot considering that it wouldn’t be that difficult to do.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            yeah you are right, the numbers are quite embarassing.. it gets even worse if considering that the majority of thrown away food is still eatable…

            in austria, the state garbage disposal collects the organic garbage and produces compost in big factories which you can buy for almost free

          • JoeFarmer

            Tell me what you know about crop production and nutrient removal.

    • ForGMOEducation

      Is there a reason that plants bred using GMO technology cannot be used in alternate agricultural methods? The only reason seems to be that people won’t pay more for the product anymore because it could not be certified organic.

      • Jan Kristian Burghardt

        there obviously isnt ;) [saying as a biotechnologist]
        but here in austria we arent in need for replacing our natural hybridized crops with gmos..
        it works very well, we have an pretty sustainable agriculture and the trend in austria is in the direction of biologicaly grown food without additives of mineral fertilizers., pesticides and hormones or taste enhancers or artifical aromas (its called BIO-Food here in austria, and its reglemented by LAW!)

        we dont want all that nasty stuff in our food ;)

        • ForGMOEducation

          Since we are both biotechnologists, I have a question. What do you think of the fact that 95% of studies on GMOs conclude that they are safe? I don’t see how you can call GMOs “nasty stuff” when the vast majority of studies conclude safety.
          You may brag about your country, but we both know the potential for GMOs as important tools for dealing with malnutrition and hunger in countries not as fortunate as yours. Also, I do not believe the United States is wrong for using GMO technology since it’s safe.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            i talked about pesticides, hormones etc
            we dont want that nasty stuff in our food ;)

            i dont blame gmos for beeing unsafe, i have a problem with the uncontrolled usage of herbizides and pesticides on gmos made to sustain an attack with these. its pretty nonsense to use a herbizide (therefore you need a herbizide ready desgined gmo) when it causes more growth of other superweeds…. (its a proven fact..) thats just logic..

            we are getting rid of some problems with gmos (thats right) but if you look at it from the other side… i dont see any benefit from it when you compare the better yield with the fact that in some decades nothing will grow on these soils anymore..

            you know.. there is a reason why austria is one of the healthies countries in the world…

          • ForGMOEducation

            I’m assuming that you already know that all plants already contain plant hormones as well as dozens of natural pesticides in them.
            The use of pesticides and herbicides in GMO agriculture are highly controlled. For example, glyphosate tolerant plants have 16oz of glyphosate per acre sprayed on them while the plants are young. The reproductive structures that produce the parts of the crop that we eat have not even started forming at this stage. The half life of glyphosate is about 47 days in the field, and plants that have been genetically modified with glyphosate resistance all have multiple month lifespans. Therefore, not only is a small volume sprayed and not even on the structures eaten by humans and animals, but glyphosate has time to break down before crops are harvested. Glyphosate cannot build up in the soil unless you have some way of preventing its’ degradation. I’m also assuming you know that the first “superweeds” appeared long before the first GMO was created. Anytime any pesticide or herbicide is used (no matter what type of agriculture is used), there is potential for resistant plants to appear.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            all nothing new ;) but nowadays the numbers of these are rising, thats a matter of fact too ;)

            i never said anything about how glyphosat builds up in the soil or plant ..

            i just said and showed how it reacts with soil microbes.. thats the other side of this which needs to be considered

            austrians want an sustainable agriculture with fertile soil and products (plants + animals) wich are grown biologicaly without the usage of pesticides, herbicides ,mineral fertilizer, hormons and all other kinds of additives
            and it works very well for us without the whole bunch of products ;) so why should we change

          • ForGMOEducation

            If you were not talking about glyphosate building up in the soil, then what herbicide or pesticide were you referring to? Bt? I assume the one you were referring to had at least something to do with GMOs, but maybe I was incorrect.

            Where exactly did you show how glyphosate “reacts” with soil microbes? Maybe I missed it. Wouldn’t we notice health of plants decline if essential soil microbes were being killed off? Glyphosate resistant crops have been grown for 20 years now, and no farmer has reported this.
            Is the farming you practice applicable to all areas or just yours? To me, it just seems like you are typing words that sound positive, but you have not explained how any of what you are saying is possible. For example, how does your type of farming not need any pesticides at all (natural or otherwise)? Also, I’m not trying to convince you to change anything. People will do as they wish.
            The winky faces don’t do quite as good of a job as real punctuation either, so maybe just stick with regular old periods and commas.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            check out the link i gave you in the first question about the references or google it for yourself

            again: i am not talking about a build up of anykind of substance and therefore toxic interactions with accumulation in soil (because of the buildup), thats a big difference or didnt you learn it in ecotoxicology ? i am talking about direct interactions

            the buildup is associated with fertilizers, especially nitrogen (like i mentioned in one of the first posts)

            i showed you the links.. even minimal amounts of gylphosat for example kill mykhorizza and nitrificating bacteria
            (“Glyphosate herbicide affects belowground interactions between earthworms and symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi in a model ecosystem”) and wider the interaction with our composting bacteria

            Wouldn’t we notice health of plants decline if essential soil microbes were being killed off?
            no they wouldnt, i dont know the english word for it but they are not “eusymbiotic” but mutualistic
            they profit from each other, but they are not necessary bound to each other and can live without the symbiotic partner

            its not my farming, its the general tendency for farming in austria, numbers rising fast (like i said in the beginning, our agriculture behaviour is changing)

            and i dont farm personally, i was studiyng food&biotechnology at the life science university of vienna and now i am combining it with an agricultural master degree, so i am in touch with farmers and not personally farming

            for every natural pest there is an natural living antagonist which can be breed in advance and used like pesticides.. preventive or curative

            sure there will be some kind of losses, but it seems that the system works for us, because theres more and more bio food in austria and its getting cheaper. so it obviously makes a good profit and our farmers will stick to it.

            i have relatives in the whole world, half of my family is living in the us and they and i say.. you can taste the difference!
            it may be placebo effect, but i would always prefer to eat an biologicaly grown vegetable because of the better taste.. and the guaranteed fact that this kind of piece which you are eating wasnt sprayed or something else.

          • JoeFarmer

            Please provide some links to scientific research to support your claims.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            i did reply with links to research in an other posted question from ForGMOEduction

            its 2pm here, i need to get some sleep. good night

          • JoeFarmer

            OK. Once you sleep on it, maybe you can provide some scientific support for your claims.

            I’m am very impressed with your English skills. I wish I were able to communicate as well as you do in a foreign language.

          • ForGMOEducation

            I’m not replying to you in order to “Google things for myself.” I’ve already read many studies on glyphosate safety. I want to find out what you know, or I wouldn’t be talking to you. You say that a higher yield isn’t important. However, shouldn’t we be maximizing yields in order to use as little land as possible for farming? That way, we can leave as much land as we can in its natural state. The best thing for the ecosystem is to leave it alone. Sure, permaculture sounds like a good idea at first, but creating a fake ecosystem isn’t better than leaving the land alone. Farming is never better than leaving land alone no matter what kind of farming it is. If you really cared about the environment, you would realize this.
            Farming is a practice that introduces species that are not native to an area (and if they are native they are domesticated versions and changed genetically due to this). Just the act of planting the crops changes the soil biology every time. Hopefully, now you can see this from a different perspective.
            Also, I refuse to believe anyone that tells me organic and non-organic foods taste any different because I have tried them myself. There is no difference in taste.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            i provided links to research that show that a cmobination of biological fertilizer with supplement of mineral fertilizer yields the best (you asked me “Also, why doesn’t your link have any current references? The most recent link on there is from 1997.” these were just the very first papers from the google search biological vs mineral fertilizer yield peer study paper, gylphosat interaction with mykorizza peer study paper, glyphosat intercation with nitrificating bacteria peer study paper )

            sure it changes them everytime, but thats another form of natural adaption to ecological signals.i dont talk about organic, i talk about biological grown. big difference

            nothing against agriculture and monocultures, if everything is done substaintaly and ensures an intact ecological system

            2pm over here. good night ;)

          • ForGMOEducation

            I’m sorry, but I just can’t accept that you say the way the environment is changed by “biologically grown” agriculture is okay because its “natural adaptation to ecological signals” but then say it’s not okay for any other form of agriculture to change the environment in any way. You will need to provide data to support those statements, or there is absolutely no way that I am believing them.

          • hyperzombie

            I have a funny supposition that Jan is not doing his masters in “technology of food and biotechnology, specialising in safety of the food chain and agriculture” as claimed

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            bachelor of science in food and biotechnology and 2 ongoing masterstudies

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            last one before i turn off the pc :)

            you said ” Farming is a practice that introduces species that are not native to an area . Just the act of planting the crops changes the soil biology every time. ” i replied with yes thats the “natural adaptation to ecological signals” – its the nature of living things to adapt to new cicurumstances, like the living soil adapts.. for example different kind of mycorrhiza species depending on what kind of plant (root symbiosis) is grown.

            and its not really a change.. its more like a reset back to the initial state, where soil is full of positive organisms

            so sure the plant will adapt of living in inert soil, but it wont be “better” than in living soil
            so we try to provide living soil, therfore one must reduce usage of herbicides, pesticides. (for better yields, and less diseases – the symbiosis does strenghten the immun system and defense against pathogens too)

            i wanted to say that biological active fertilizer provides this form of benefical life

            i will look up some more actual data and post it here but it will take some days cause tomorrow i am going on ski vaccation :)

          • hyperzombie

            I think you need to look up Hydroponics, they don’t even use soil and plants do just fine.

          • Jan Kristian Burghardt

            i am growing hydroponic chillies with biological fertilizer from general hydroponics on their aqua farm systems which are one of the most efficiant systems in the world, they kind of created the bioponics movement

          • hyperzombie

            Well if you know that crops can be grown even without soil, why keep blabbing about sterilized soils…

          • ForGMOEducation

            So, going by your logic, I can plant whatever I want wherever I want and the ecosystem is okay with it as long as I don’t use pesticides and herbicides? Somehow, I don’t think that’s the case. The damage caused by invasive species comes to mind as to why this isn’t actually a good idea.

          • hyperzombie

            there is a reason why austria is one of the healthies countries in the world…

            Not even in the top ten and tied with Canada for 14th….

    • ForGMOEducation

      Also, why doesn’t your link have any current references? The most recent link on there is from 1997.

  • Marcus Green

    Take a look at the work Pierre Rahbi is doing https://www.ashoka.org/fellow/pierre-rabhi

  • Melody Record

    The problem with Genetic Engineering is that whoever owns the GENE for the food owns the food. Then if those “owned genes” cross-pollinate then that food is no longer “free”…even if raised by another person.
    The entire food supply could be owned and humans would be forced into a form of slavery.,,where we are born into a world owned by corporations and artificial technologies rather than the Beautiful Genius of Mother Nature.
    We CAN…but SHOULD WE?
    The Genie won’t go back into the bottle once it is released.
    It is a big deal…big $$$ !!