There is no serious evidence that GMOs are harmful

by on May 25, 2012 at 7:09 am in Food and Drink, Law | Permalink

If the California initiative passes, “we will be on our way to getting GE-tainted foods out of our nation’s food supply for good,” Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, wrote in an letter in March seeking donations for the California ballot initiative. “If a company like Kellogg’s has to print a label stating that their famous Corn Flakes have been genetically engineered, it will be the kiss of death for their iconic brand in California — the eighth-largest economy in the world — and everywhere else.”

Here is much more.  Why not require labels warning customers of all sorts of phantom harms?  “Warning: this product contains dihydrogen monoxide!”

Brian Gaerity May 25, 2012 at 7:28 am

What’s wrong with information transparency? We don’t need a “warning label,” just more specificity in the ingredients list. I don’t have a problem with genetically modified food, but there’s nothing wrong (and no additional cost to businesses) with making that information explicit.

Btw, “water” is included in food labels, where appropriate.

Rahul May 25, 2012 at 11:29 am

What fraction of people would stop eating Corn Flakes if such a label were added? The organic eaters market is niche and captive; I suspect this label would be preaching to the choir.

The people we should really be concerned about having access to GM crops probably lie in Africa and Asia.

I wonder if Californians not eating GM corns would drop prices for, say, Somalians? Maybe the World Food Program should indeed lobby for educating Americans about the “dangers” of GM crops?

Brian Donohue May 25, 2012 at 2:12 pm

isn’t it more like preaching to the atheists?

Brian Donohue May 25, 2012 at 2:13 pm

which is to say, equally pointless, but for the opposite reason.

mulp May 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Right, the way to fight poverty in Africa is for African farmers to pay all their profits to US agribusinesses just like US farmers do. Then the African farms can be preserved by the USDA providing crop subsidies and especially subsidized crop insurance when the African climate does not conform the required Monsanto Indiana standard for corn, the required Kansas standard for wheat, the required Texas irrigated standard for rice.

If crops are to be engineered, they need to be engineered for the climate, and in Africa, the natural crops are often not those produced in the US farm belt.

Further, US agriculture depends on the fruits of big government central planning which were embraced by Lincoln as an Illinois lawyer with railroad clients: a vast network of rail lines connected to industrial centers and river and ocean ports. The US farmers can obtain the tons of guano and phosphate rock and other fertilizers and machinery by rail and ship their crops to the city markets by rail. As much land was granted to the railroads as was granted to homesteaders to create the western farms (the west including much of what we call the Midwest).

And the GMOs are designed for the Earl Butz farm as specialized factory model, instead of feeding in iron ore, coal, and lime and pumping out steel, the model for GMOs is you feed in GMO seed, fertilizer, water and out comes field corn, and both steel and corn must now feed into a factory to be converted into consumer products, a rolling mill for steel, and a refinery for corn, which then output rolled steel in sheets and bar and HFCS, corn oil, corn starch, and hundreds of other organic chemicals, and these feed into more factories to produce Chevys and Coke and Pringles.

Tyler calls those who call for an economy where food comes from farms, instead of a chain of factories, “snobs”, but where does all the investment in food factories and railroads come from in Africa to support the GMO food model, much less the Earl Butz farming as factory or mine model? Chicago is not associated with stockyards because of natural advantages, but by the design of central planners of which Lincoln was part, which ensured all rail from East to West flowed through Chicago so Chicago would control the primary lever of US economic growth. Raw food flowed into Chicago and finished goods flowed from Chicago to the farms. Chicago had the stockyards, meat packers and grain mills, and the farm equipment and ports for guano and phosphate rock.

Railroads are attractive because the owners controls all the capital and can charge for its use, the rails: depots, and the rolling stock. Monsanto isn’t going to build the roads and supply the trucks to move inputs from ports to farm and the outputs from farm to port just to make its GMO crops viable, because they will not recover their investment when the road is used up the other ten months of the year by other users – anyone with a truck or bus would be a free rider on the Monsanto highway. New England tried the toll road capitalist model for building year round roads – highways and all went bankrupt – the South used the socialist government run roads model. Railroads, on the other hand, could with government assistance connect everything at a profit – railroads were built just to take city dwellers to mountain resorts to escape the summer heat, but at other times of the year spurs allowed the rail to carry timber and stone and farm goods.

You go through the list of GMO crops, and everyone requires a huge capital investment in infrastructure and factories to exist before hand. GMO cotton is designed for mechanical processing while the natural African cotton is very different and can’t be fed into the machine. GMO corn is inedible and must be processed in a refinery, or fed to cattle along with all sorts of other chemical inputs, but the cattle can’t be raised in Africa because of endemic African animal diseases. GMO wheat can’t be processed by the traditional manual methods, which aren’t common in Africa anyway. GMO soybeans are designed for factory input, not for the table. GMO rapeseed (canola) is a factory input. GMO rice is not widely used because growing it would require water works that require massive central planning.

Think about it. How much of what you eat comes from a farm without going through a factory that fundamentally transforms it from its original state? The greens, onions, and fresh garden tomato salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar, the new red potatoes, steamed broccoli crowns, and the wine? Which of those are GMO?

If you are in the Congo, the best food by Tyler standards would be flown in from multiple continents, and those who ate local foods would be food snobs for eating Chikwanga or Kwanga, made from cassava, cooked and stored in banana leaves, Fufu, sticky dough-like dish made of cassava flour, Palm wine made from the sap of a wild palm tree, is fermented by natural yeasts. On the other hand, flying cassava, palm, grasshoppers and caterpillars, and goat, et al to the US East coast would be the way to eat great cheap ethnic meal from a Congolese food truck, far cheaper than a meal of local grown foods of fresh fruits and veggies.

When Tyler rates his meals by GMO content, with higher GMO content and quality adding significantly to his enjoyment, then I will believe GMO crops are beneficial and need to be promoted as superior to the indigenous crops globally.

Nyongesa May 25, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Plenty of Africans doing GM crop research with an focus on producing relevant crops. The ones that I know neither work for multinationals or give a hoot about them. It’s basically a newish technology with allot of promise, and like any other such, it will be adopted and applied by many the world over in whatever way makes sense to them. The larger point as always, is why Westerners struggle so hard not see everything as about them.

F May 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Not sure I understand the drift of this long comment, but I take it you’re skeptical about the value to Africa of Genetically Modified crops and favor indigenous crops instead. Using cassava to prove your point doesn’t help your argument: cassava was imported to the African continent.

DonM May 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Golden rice. Genetically engineered to provide vitamin A to poor people.

Harun May 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Frankenfoods! Ban them!

Ban Carrots! They weren’t orange until the Dutch grew mutants!

wagnert in atlanta May 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Who wrote your history book, anyway? Lincoln embraced government central planning? On whose authority? GMO corn is inedible? Who says? Chicago was a principal port for Peruvian guano? The Welland Canal around Niagara Falls wasn’t accessible to ocean-going ships until 1932. GMO wheat can’t be processed by traditional manual methods? Why not? Cattle can’t be raised in Africa? Tell that to the Maasai, who have been raising (and stealing) cattle for centuries. The only way you can hold these opinions is if you make up your own facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan would not approve.

Farmer Bob May 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Mulp,

You have problems, but it’s not GMO crops.

wrparks May 29, 2012 at 7:32 am

“GMO cotton is designed for mechanical processing while the natural African cotton is very different and can’t be fed into the machine.”

GMO cotton can be picked and cleaned by hand just as easily as regular cotton.

“GMO corn is inedible”

You may want to let frito-lay know that. It is standard, hard, commodity corn. Nothing special. Certainly not sweet, but quite edible either whole or in separated fractions.

GMO wheat can’t be processed by the traditional manual methods”

GMO wheat doesn’t exist commercially. What GMO wheat I have seen however looks and harvests just like traditional free threshing wheats and mills just like regular wheat.

dan1111 May 25, 2012 at 11:35 am

There is something wrong with mandating that companies do things for no good reason. Every one of these regulations does have a cost. It may seem insignificant: “All they have to do is put a couple of extra words on the box!” But when you go through all of the scenarios it would apply to, the costs are often greater than they first appear to be. A small company may buy standard ingredients without knowing the exact source. They would then have to verify whether or not everything in their supply chain was GM.

In this case, the indirect costs of bad publicity would likely be huge. By mandating labeling (even just informational labeling) government would be seen as aligning with the anti-GM crowd. It would lend credibility to their position, creating a powerful perception that GM food is dangerous. Note that this is exactly what the guy quoted above is counting on.

Dick King May 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm

The regs will take a bit of space, of course, but there won’t be any problem with verification.

California passed a proposition that required every store selling anything that contained any of a long list of substances publish a note saying that the store sold items known to the state to cause cancer. So, instead of going through thousands of items, essentially every store has such a sign, they’re available with all of the other routine signage at stores selling such things, and they’ve become completely useless.

That’s what’ll happen here.

-dk

Anna Keppa May 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm

What’s wrong with “information transparency” is that it’s being FORCED onto business based upon entirely IRRATIONAL fears by poeple like you. And if the intent is to kill the cornflake business by scaring people away from cornflakes, then there is a HUGE additional cost to business, commonly known as “lost business”.

njoriole May 26, 2012 at 10:54 pm

“…but there’s nothing wrong (and no additional cost to businesses)…” And you know this how? Anytime additional regulations are imposed on business, it adds to the costs. This is really pretty basic, don;t you think?

Sigivald May 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Because people assume a mandated warning is there because of a real risk.

“Information transparency” assumes that the “information” is real and meaningful.

Steve Schwarz May 25, 2012 at 8:18 am

isn’t this a part of your “Great Stagnation” theory? (See also Roger Pielke on this subject: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2012/05/uk-gm-wheat-war-not-really-about.html). Things that would have been perceived as progress a generation or two ago are now rejected based upon reasoning that, to me at least, seems more quasi-religions than logical. It’s not just GM foods: vaccinations, nuclear power, fracking, and even, still, fluoridation. This can’t be good for technological or economic progress.

Up until 800 or so years ago the Islamic world was at the least one of the world’s most advanced civilizations. Certainly they were far ahead of Christendom. Then they took a wrong turn and today they are a technological and economic backwater. Could the same thing be happening to us?

Jerry May 25, 2012 at 10:49 am

on the fracking front tell that to the people that suddenly have methane in their water supply.

Zachary May 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

No one “suddenly” has methane in their water supply. They could always light their water on fire – they just never thought to try it.

TmC May 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

In the cases the EPA investigated the methane was present before the fracking.

Silas Barta May 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Cool, but how did they go back in time to turn on the tap and try lighting the water? Whatever technique they used for that would do a lot more for our problems than a fracking ban!

prognostication May 25, 2012 at 9:00 pm

True-ish, but not the whole story. First, the gas companies have paid fairly subtantial settlements but not admitted guilt in at least two cases I’m aware of where a number of plaintiffs claimed methane contamination of their drinking water as a result of fracking operations. Second, the EPA Region 8 study released in December concluded that there was evidence for hazardous chemical contamination of groundwater from fracking activity in Wyoming, although methane specifically was not one of the major concerns. Levels in drinking water wells did not exceed federal standards, but several chemicals were present that would not be expected to be present under natural conditions, and deep water well testing conducted concurrently showed extensive contamination, which EPA concluded put local drinking water supplies at risk.

JeffC May 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm

the EPA contaminated their own test wells …

prognostication May 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm

^^^
[citation needed]

Rahul May 25, 2012 at 11:21 am

Not being sarcastic, but why is Methane in water a problem? The gas itself is odorless. (Does it impart taste? I am not sure)

Anyways, it’s solubility seems quite low. e.g. 1 kg of water at 20 C can hold only 25 mg methane. Compare that with, say, CO2. 1 kg of water can hold 2 gm of CO2.

i.e. Methane is 1/80 as much soluble as CO2. Can one even perceive this?

Yancey Ward May 25, 2012 at 12:13 pm

There is a difference between water with dissolved methane and water that comes into your house with methane bubbles.

prognostication May 25, 2012 at 9:08 pm

There are documented cases of houses exploding due to methane buildup. So that’s one low-p but very high risk circumstance.

joeftansey May 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

This is a realistic suggestion. The number of people who have been the victims of methane-contaminated water is very small.

A May 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Since fracking began, I’ve noticed beans now often seem to contain an unusual amount of methane. Has anyone investigated whether there’s a link?

Nic Steenekamp May 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Not much only a fart(h)ings worth

Anna Keppa May 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

That is not true!! Even EPA head Browner has said that there are no known cases of that. And the guy kicked out of the EPA for wanting to “crucify” companies just lost a law suit he started in texas for making such a baseless assertion.

Brett May 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm

One of the best arguments I’ve read as to why we have anti-GMO rejectionism is because we’ve gotten rich enough in the Developed Nations so that food prices and availability are no longer a big issue for the average voter/consumer. GMO crops might make food cheaper, but food is already pretty cheap to us. That means that we can afford to start getting picky, to giving in to minor paranoias and panics about “contamination”. The perceived benefits of the new technology aren’t obvious and large enough to overrule that, so it gets regarded with suspicion.

If you want proof of that, just look at how GMO foods are regarded in continental Europe, versus the use of GMOs in medical research. Nobody is protesting the use of GMOs in medical research and production, either in Europe or the US.

DarrenM May 25, 2012 at 6:35 pm

People can be picky about different things, though. We don’t need one person’s foibles to be universalized.

Nyongesa May 25, 2012 at 7:21 pm

That’s seems to be the heart of it. One of the great frustrations of course, is that too poor people in developing countries, food costs are a major issue.

John S. May 25, 2012 at 8:21 am

Evidence? We don’t need no stinking evidence. We know GMO food is bad because … well, just because. And just look at the big corporations that are involved.

That ought to tell you something.

swede10 May 26, 2012 at 10:53 pm

So right! My firmly held beliefs are evidence enough, and while we’re at it, let’s get creation into the science textbooks.

B Dubya May 27, 2012 at 12:28 am

That isn’t coming from Christians, sport.
This GMO stull is coming from your cousins the progressive, self loathing luddites.
It appears that the condition called “hipsterism” may very well be fatal.

Micha Elyi May 27, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Christians, especially the Catholic ones, invented science. Much of what the “progressives” think they know just ain’t so. And for many young progs, watching Bill Maher on the boob toob and repeating Monty Python skits from memory is considered time better spent in college than studying.

Alas, even some with professorship gigs at colleges get into the game of spreading ignornace – I’ve seen psychology and anthropology profs tout the usual sort of pop culture “what everybody knows” misinformation* to their classes, stuff that if they bothered to run past their collegues in the history or classics departments would be swiftly exposed as false.

*e.g. Medieval church scholars believed the world was flat and Heliocentrism challenged Man’s important central place in the universe. I have personally seen both of these historical fictions taught as fact by professors at more than one college or university.

mjw May 25, 2012 at 8:23 am

Right, except mass development of herbicide-resistant weeds. But that’s just yet another negative externality and barrier to entry that favors big entrenched businesses at the expense of small players (organic farmers). I wonder what would happen if we discovered that a byproduct of organic farming was destruction of GMOs? Who would be up in arms in that case?

Joe T. May 25, 2012 at 8:40 am

Exactly, mjw. So why was this post even written? Maybe taking the viewpoint that the label implies the eating is harmful. But any second thought says this is an effective, and perhaps the best, way to push back against the externalities you mentioned. So after that second thought, why wasn’t all this more important information mentioned (or the post simply not written)? Instead, it becomes this oh-so-clever ridicule, requiring that we conveniently wear blinders so we can snicker at stupid Californians. Oh well.

Cliff May 25, 2012 at 11:45 am

Maybe if the labels were for ingredients proven to cause the development of herbicide-resistant weeds.

Dangerman May 25, 2012 at 10:26 am

Except that organic farmers don’t care about herbicide-resistant weeds, because they don’t use that herbicide (e.g. Roundup).

So what’s the problem exactly?

Floccina May 25, 2012 at 10:28 am

Right, except mass development of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Why are people who against the use of herbicides so concerned with herbicide-resistant weeds?

John Ellis May 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Saying GMO is fine for human consumption is like saying the electricity from Fukushima is safe for use in the home, true but beside the point.

Organic farmers and (everyone else) should be concerned about herbicide resistant weeds. A.) they are harder to kill in any method, resistant pig weed is so strong it’ll stop a combine B.) 2,4-D which is what they use now for the resistant weeds is half strength agent orange. It isn’t something I want in my water supply.

Anna Keppa May 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm

“Saying GMO is fine for human consumption is like saying the electricity from Fukushima is safe for use in the home, true but beside the point.”

Idiocy!! GMO food is either safe for human consumption, or it is not.

The electricity from Fukushima is safe for use in the home, and is no different than electricty from , say, HIroshima prefecture. The point is, electricity is electricity, and there’s no argument that it is radioactive coming from one place rather than another, or whether generated by fission, coal or natural gas.

And by the way: there has never been a confirmed case of anyone dying from trace pesticides in drinking water. Never, not even at Love Canal. You could look it up.

wrparks May 29, 2012 at 8:04 am

“they are harder to kill in any method”

Hogwash (funny because they are pigweeds). Conventional tillage will kill them just fine if you get timing right. The rise of the pigweed has nothing to do with GMO’s. Pigweeds in the south were a developing problem before GMO’s came around because of cultural practices like turkey litter fertilizer and the use of 2,4 D to wipe out cocklebur in the previous decade created prime conditions for pigweeds to emerge.

“2,4-D which is what they use now for the resistant weeds is half strength agent orange”
That is amusing. Half strength agent orange because agent orange was 50% 2, 4 D 50% 2, 4, 5, T.

Of course, the 2, 4, 5, T was later found to be contaminated with 2,3,7,8 tetraclorodibenzodioxin (dioxin) which is why it was so toxic. So, yea, guilt by association makes total sense.

Sigivald May 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm

they are harder to kill in any method, resistant pig weed is so strong it’ll stop a combine

I call bullshit. Stop a combine? Really?

Citation, please?

(A John Deere 1570 has 200 horsepower to spare for harvesting, at the engine.

I am just not seeing it as real likely that even “resistant” pigweed will stop that, unless you let it grow so tall and rank it’s more of a hedge than some weeds… and if that’s the case, I’m betting non-”resistant” pigweed does the same thing.)

Anna Keppa May 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I’m reminded of the Simpsons, where Lisa refuses to watch something violent on TV with Bart.

Says Bart: “Look Lisa, how can you become desensitized to violence if you don’t *watch* the violence?”

Similarly, people who worry about the development of herbicide-resistant weeds ought to be picketing hospitals for using antibiotics, because we all know that the use of anti-biotics saving millions of lives has led to antibiotic-resistant bacteria!!

So STOP IT! with these attempts to grow food, save lives, and find cheap energy!
Just starve, freeze and die!

BenK May 25, 2012 at 8:24 am

There is a great reason to have specific crops – whether it is a specific breed, strain, cultivar, or clone – to be included in label laws. The reason has nothing to do with ‘harm.’ Whenever a substantial number of people feel strongly about some label, then honesty laws require a firm basis for enforcement.

The reason is that customers want to know about that specific ingredient. I do want to know about water (added saline) content in my pork or turkey – it changes the weight and quality. It changes what the product is worth to me. Similarly, some people want to know if the steer was black angus, others want to know if the milk came from Jersey cows, or if the chicken is a Rhode Island Red. This is a legitimate desire; it is up to the breeder to convince the public, to make that ‘brand’ promise valuable rather than detrimental.

chuck martel May 25, 2012 at 10:35 am

Next time you’re in the meat market ask them to prove that the steak came from an Angus steer. They won’t even try. And what is an Angus steer? All western cattle are Bos taurus, what percentage of Angus qualifies one as being of that breed? Are there Elizabeth Warren steers out there claiming to be Angus when, in fact, they’re mostly cross-bred Holsteins? The only way that I’d ever get to know for sure if the roast is coming from the cow I think it is would be to knock it in the head myself.

foosion May 25, 2012 at 8:29 am

Where’s the evidence that it’s safe?

Curt F. May 25, 2012 at 8:35 am

The hundreds of millions of people who have eaten genetically enhanced corn and have lived to tell about it?

Andrew' May 25, 2012 at 8:43 am

How long?

Ignacio May 25, 2012 at 8:52 am

decades (seriously)

celestus May 25, 2012 at 9:02 am

The fact that nearly every food people eat has been influenced by genetic engineering? Chickens didn’t always lay as many eggs. Cows didn’t always yield as much milk (in fact, cows apparently yield 4x as much milk as they did only 70 years ago- some of that is antibiotics and the like but a lot is genetics). Almonds used to be poisonous.

Brian Donohue May 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Keep going. Genetic engineering enjoys an august place in the pantheon of human achievement going back thousands of years.

Wild maize, for example- not very filling:

http://sparkleberrysprings.com/v-web/b2/?p=298

Marcos May 25, 2012 at 10:42 am

They’ve eaten what kind of GMO? The original article and your post make iot sound like there is just one variety of it.

By the way, those hundreds of millions of people have also developped disieases with different probbilities than earlier generations, that didn’t consume GMOs. If you are going to argue things over the general population, you’d better prove causality.

Rahul May 25, 2012 at 11:37 am

Have you factored in the famine death probabilities?

How much more food can we produce by non-GM methods and what fraction of the world population is currently undernourished?

Nyongesa May 25, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Bingo, the threat of Famine,and food security is a huge problem for hundreds of millions of people. What are the risk thresholds for governments in East Africa who have famine stricken populations. Why are these same governments being threatened by the EU to lose export markets for unrelated non-GM crops based on an extremely low probability of cross-contamination of an already not proven to be dangerous crop.

Marcos May 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Well, I didn’t factor anything in, because I didn’t do the study. Also, you can’t take its results for anything because the methodology is garbage. If running an study with the intent of acually finding anything, it may be good to factor famine in, but if you choose so, you’d be measuring something completely different.

But, anyway, keep in mind that the most used GMO out there do not have a bigger productivity (per area) than the non-GMO versions of the same plants.

Cliff May 25, 2012 at 11:47 am

What would be the mechanism for it to be unsafe? Should we prove the safeness of irradiated food as well?

joeftansey May 25, 2012 at 12:53 pm

It’s always “well nothing shows up NOW but if you eat it for 20 years I’m sure you’ll have cancer”.

But these percolating peccadilloes don’t have a name or show up on any sort of test.

SEEMZ LEGIT

Andrew' May 26, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Those aren’t genetic engineering. You are talking about breeding.

Andrew' May 25, 2012 at 8:44 am

Have we really looked. Absence of evidence indeed isn’t evidence. I have no interest in BEING the market discipline.

dead serious May 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

This doesn’t sound like the Andrew-prime I’m used to. You’re usually on the other side of these kinds of debates.

Do you feel the same way about fracking, for example?

Dan Weber May 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Absence of evidence is absolutely evidence of absence.

It’s true that absence of proof is not proof of absence. But if we’re just talking evidence, then if you look for something and cannot find it, that definitely counts as evidence that it doesn’t exist.

JWatts May 25, 2012 at 2:40 pm

“Absence of evidence indeed isn’t evidence.”

Yes, it is actually.

Andrew' May 26, 2012 at 10:21 pm

No it isn’t. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. Consider aging. What evidence is there that you are older today than yesterday other than you have a feeling you age like you think everyone else does. And yet, what evidence is there that harm has been done?

Andrew' May 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Some people believe monoculture itself is harm being done.

Also, broaden your definition of “harm.” What if we end up with a single species of corn, it’s patented, and it supposedly provides all our nutrition, and no other corn is allowed because it might infringe on the patent, has harm been done? Don’t you think the owners of life would love this situation? Is starting down such a path harm being done?

Also, what if the geniuses who decided we needed neurotoxins for pesticides just decide to build their expression straight into the plants.

Also, we now know that plant RNAs go straight to the bloodstream intact. What do they do? Noone knows. I’m not presenting outlandish speculations here, just speculations.

On fracking, if it causes harm, I try to take positions, not sides.

Luckily fracking only harms some neighbors. With food like corn, it plausibly could take one generation to destroy humanity. Everyone eats, what if everyone smoked and what if smoking caused genetic mutations? Are there really free markets in these type things? I’m part of the market. The disappointed consumers get the glory, the cautious are also important. Don’t forget that a lot of work is done to make sure no harm is done. If the condition really is “no harm is done” it is not really “everything is always fine.” It’s “a lot of stuff failed and some stuff worked.” This also includes the opposition forces in the ecology. Everyone forgets this.
Usually the opposition forces are ignoramuses, but sometimes I’m not 100% sure and recently when it comes to our increasingly monolithic food market I’m approaching a desire to be 100% sure. This is the opposite of turning my libertarian card as the main problem is the government.

Andrew' May 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Oh, another great example is smoking. Everyone thinks now it harms everyone. It does some people almost no harm. A cigarette does almost no harm. It is thousands of them accumulated over, yes, decades. The body is also great fixing harm so you end up with a “no statistically significant net harm.” This doesn’t mean we should treat this as “no harm” nor does it mean we should ban something because it harms some people.

I also wonder if some people didn’t make it through the agricultural industrialization filter. Obviously more benefitted because we have billions more now (though how robust is it if the economist says we need to increase yields and reduce prices?), but do we know noone was harmed since we only measure the aggregated (survivorship bias) numbers? If we have already bred humans to survive on grains (though I think we haven’t increased life-spans miraculously) then a few tweaks of their genome might not show up in aggregate data (have they done real human testing?). This doesn’t prove that there will never be a disastrous modification.

Consider the obvious extreme. What if they engineered the plant to express arsenic. Not so good. However yields might be fantastic. The companies would deny any health problems that a few doctors present to eccentric journals. Weak signals are ignored for decades. Have we seen this scenario somewhere before?

Here “NIH study finds two pesticides associated with Parkinson’s disease”
http://www.nih.gov/news/health/feb2011/niehs-11.htm

As in, only this past year we know that pesticides can correlate to Parkinson’s. What if someone engineers a pesticide that we don’t yet know about? This is evidence that it could happen, if not evidence that it’s a miracle that it hasn’t already. We are more lucky than brilliant.

And again, this includes what I assume are Herculean efforts already put forth to try to make sure no harm is done.

MarkySparky May 25, 2012 at 8:45 am

Given the current state of the scientific evidence, belief that GMO foods are riskier than their non-GMO counterparts is on par with belief in telekinetic spoon bending. People have shown time and again that they are irrational about their health, see: nutraceuticals, antivaccination rallies, pink slime fiasco, anti-fluoridation campaigns, fad diets, etc, etc.

It is depressing. It is completely unsurprising.

Marcos May 25, 2012 at 10:46 am

You mean, consuming an organism that creates some kind of poison that people never used to eat is inherently safe?

Again, what kind of GMO are you talking about? Grouping everything in the label GMO food nears propaganda.

Brett May 25, 2012 at 4:22 pm

People tend to get more concerned about that stuff when food availability and cost is no longer a big issue. If food were drastically more expensive, I question whether people would be raising hackles about whether or not their food includes GMOs.

Andrew' May 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm

“You mean, consuming an organism that creates some kind of poison that people never used to eat is inherently safe?”

No, not inherently safe, it happens by magic. It isn’t worth understanding how it really happens because if you want to do that you are a nut, a crank, or both.

AndrewL May 25, 2012 at 8:52 am

The problem with GMO corn is that there is no real way to contain it. and then you have problems like this: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805#gotopage3

Its not so much that GMO could be harmful to people, it’s harmful to the who industry. Who wants 1 corporation controlling ALL of the seeds?

Mathias Schwartz Kirkegaard May 25, 2012 at 9:06 am

Open Source GMO = good
Patents on GMO = bad

I want a label that tells me, if I’m supporting patents on seeds or not.

Ignacio May 25, 2012 at 8:55 am

Actually, I think that the effort to label foods as containing GMO may backfire for the supporters of the initiative. Once people realize that almost everything they eat and have been eating for a long time contains GMO, they may stop caring about their presence.

It may be like those warnings about aspartame causing cancer in mice. The first time you read it, you are concerned, but later you stop worrying.

jk May 25, 2012 at 9:02 am

This debate is about mandatory labeling. Tyler is right that requiring labels for phantom harms is not reasonable. In the GM case mandatory labeling would incur high costs and have zero public health benefits. In 2010 the European Commission published a compendium in which results from over 500 independent research groups over the last 25 years could not find any evidence that GMOs are associated with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms (http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/10/1688&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en). Or check any regulatory agency or science academy in the world. And there is a large literature showing that GM crops have contributed to more desirable environmental and socioeconomic outcomes, but that’s a different topic.

Nothing prevents a company from voluntarily labeling their products “GM-free” (however they define it) so that consumers who value this trait can pay for it.

In Europe the anti-GM movement driven largely by Green and supported by left but also conservative parties has for years been hysterical. English Green Party member Jenny Jones has announced that on Sunday May 27 she will march with protestors to vandalize a GM wheat experiment at Rothamsted Research. Find the scientists’ appeal here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9scGtf5E3I&feature=plcp and more here http://www.scoop.it/t/battle-of-the-gm-wheat-field

Peter H May 25, 2012 at 11:42 am

“Nothing prevents a company from voluntarily labeling their products “GM-free” (however they define it) so that consumers who value this trait can pay for it.”

Actually, truth in labeling laws have been used to prevent this in similar cases, particularly with growth hormones in milk. Some natural dairies were promoting themselves to be growth hormone free, but they were sued by a consortium of dairies which use growth hormones, whose claim rested on the fact that lab tests could find no chemical difference whatsoever in the milk, and that therefore the labeling was falsely implying the presence of something in their competitors products which didn’t exist. I think the labels now read something like “milk from cows which have not been given growth hormones” or something like that.

jk May 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm

You are right. “however they define it” should read: “however the regulatory agency defines it”. Mandatory labeling requirements in Germany are not very systematic, there are exemptions (GM microorganisms producing enzymes used in cheese, meat from animals fed with imported GM soybean, etc) as well as mixing thresholds (to keep separation costs from exploding). It has been estimated that 60-70% of foods derive from production processes that involve GMOs in one form or another. Yet you rarely see products labeled as containing GM on supermarket shelves. Maybe a “shock therapy” along the lines of Ignacio’s suggestion would help increase consumer confidence (though I wouldn’t bet on it).

Dan Weber May 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm

They can saw that they don’t use growth hormones, but they have to follow that up with there being no health difference.

From a freedom of speech perspective it’s horrible. But the end result is stuff like this: http://xkcd.com/641/

JWatts May 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

“Actually, truth in labeling laws have been used to prevent this in similar cases, particularly with growth hormones in milk.”

The XKCD comic http://xkcd.com/641/ occurred to me when I read it. And it makes a very good point.

maguro May 25, 2012 at 9:06 am

In any case, selective breeding = genetic modification. Seems like a lot fuss over nothing.

John Mansfield May 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

No, that’s not what genetic modification is.

DB May 27, 2012 at 12:19 am

Genetic modification is accomplished by taking a gene from one species or a chemical like bT (an insecticide) and inserting it into the germ of the seed of the plant you wish to grow (corn, cotton, soybean, canola, etc). It is NOTHING like selective breeding. It is untested on the human race over a long period of time, so the claims Monsanto and others make about it not being harmful are not true. We do know that livestock all over the world that are fed GMO crops suffer infertility and premature death. That is fact; check the numbers in India. They are at least having an honest debate about all the factors surrounding the introduction of GMO’s into their ag and food systems.

Meanwhile, in the good ol’ USA, 1 in 88 children born here are on the autism spectrum by age 4, with that number at 1 in 54 for boys. How anyone can seriously argue that there aren’t major health risks associated with genetically modified food saturating our systems is beyond me. Wake up and look around. Everyone is sick. The only people truly getting well again are the ones who have ditched the mainline doctors, drugs and food system and are seeking to source their foods as close to the grower as possible, while loading up on nutritional supplements to replace the nutrient density that’s been lost the last 35-50 years to Big Ag/Big Food production.

The same Congress scum that want to push GMO’s on us with no label warnings are the same crowd trying to shut down the nutritional supplement industry. That is not an accident.

mike May 27, 2012 at 6:18 am

Autism rates are related to the increased awareness and changes in the clinical definition of autism. The incentive to label your child autsitic, or ADHD, to gain educational or mnetary benefits doesn’t hurt the reporting rate either. You can believe scientists, or you can believe Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield.

“The only people truly getting well again are the ones who have ditched the mainline doctors, drugs and food system and are seeking to source their foods as close to the grower as possible, ”

Like the German farm that killled more people last year than the Fukushima reactor meltodwn? http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/10/e-coli-bean-sprouts-blamed
Or the increasing cases of measles?

The good old days weren’t all that good and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.

DB May 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Nice try with the organic farm makes people sick meme. Convenient to blame manure for the e.coli outbreak, but it’s important to follow through all the way to the end of the investigation to discover that the sprout seeds were infected with the e.coli before they ever left Egypt. The farm in question had excellent sanitation protoccols and every investigative body involved noted repeatedly there was never e.coli H157:7 bacteria found on-farm.

Usually when these outbreaks occur, some massive factory farm has adulterated the water supply and contaminated the organic farm. Of course, it’s never intentional. Never. Of course.

DB May 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Here’s the link to the article so you won’t have to my word for it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Germany_E._coli_O104:H4_outbreak

Allan May 25, 2012 at 9:54 am

I really am confused.

If GM foods are safe, why not label them? I would be more comfortable with companies labeling their food non-GM, as it is less coercive.

I don’t buy the argument that GM foods wil not be available if there are labels. The real argument for non-GM foods is that they are better and, therefore, command a premium price. On the other hand, the argument for GM foods is that they are a safe alternative to non-GM foods and should be discounted.

Let the market decide (but don’t necessarilly make GM labeling mandatory, simply make non-GM labeling permissable).

Dufflepud May 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Allan, the argument from organic natural folks as I understand it (one of my clients supports the Just Label It campaign, which is petitioning for a label nationally) is that a label will result in mass flight from GM-containing foods. I don’t have the link, but I’m fairly sure this happened when labels took hold in Europe. Then again, the OCA imagines a stand alone sentence that says “This food contains genetically modified ingredients,” but it wouldn’t have to take that shape. It’s also possible to add “GM” in front of specific ingredients, which I imagine would scare folks less.

Regarding this sentence: “Let the market decide (but don’t necessarilly make GM labeling mandatory, simply make non-GM labeling permissable).”

That’s already possible. The Non-GMO Project (http://www.nongmoproject.org/) offers a non-GMO verification program that places a seal on products certifying that they’re GMO-free. Alternatively, the USDA Organic label also indicates a product as GMO-free.

Anna Keppa May 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm

They are not being labeled as information, but as a warning. Go to the top of the thread, where the intent is to make cornflake mfrs suffer.

By all means, if non-GM makers want to label their foods such, go for it! That’s what the Organic Food stores do.

They get greater profits from the dubious claim that organics are “healthier” (even “Consumer Reports” has pooh-poohed that claim as being unsubstantiated).

But they’re not being forced to label.

So you’re not confused. Your instincts are sound.

f1b0nacc1 May 27, 2012 at 2:42 am

Part of the problem with labelling is that many products are made with ingredients from a variety of sources. Using ‘wheat’ for instance that comes from a GM field, a non-GM field, etc. could potentially cause a major headache for a manufacturer (bigger for smaller manufacturers, who don’t always have as tight a control over their suppliers), leading to regulatory compliance issues which can get very expensive. General Foods doesn’t have a big problem here, but smaller companies do, and they are often the source of resistance to mandatory labelling laws.

There is also the reluctance to have your product singled out as somehow ‘unnatural’, which is unlikely to improve product acceptance. This is in fact part of the explicit strategy of the Organic Food crowd (see the comments in the source of this thread for an excellent example), who openly admit that they are using labelling as a wedge to help kill GM products as a whole. What cannot be justified through regulation can instead be accomplished through fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Finally (and really this is the primary objection) there is the issue of whether GM products are different in any fundamental way from other food products. Some of the ill-informed comments in this thread suggest to me that the anti-GM folks don’t seem to understand basic biology very well, and hence does not realize that GM products are simply the result of the same sorts of modifications which produced almost all of the foods we eat today. Once we start singling out a specific type of food product, where does this end? Do we next regulate out of existence all foods not produced by methods acceptable to these nitwits? Remember, it isn’t hard to find exactly that sort of mentality openly on parade in Europe, and among some of the more radical greenies here in the US.

cjc May 25, 2012 at 9:59 am

Perhaps organic foods should be required to have a label along the lines of “WARNING: eating organic foods may cause smugness and ass-hattery”

msgkings May 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Boom. Outstanding.

Brian Donohue May 25, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Heh. Remember the German lettuce poisoning last year? Turns out, it was an organic farming issue. Awkward.

Brett May 25, 2012 at 5:08 pm

I’d also add that they need a label saying, “WARNING: This product was cultivated in cow shit.”

Bill May 25, 2012 at 10:11 am

What an overstated headline:

“There is no serious evidence that GMOs are harmful.”

Are you serious: Can you honestly say that no GMO could categorically not be harmful?????

Abondon scientific investigation and simply pronounce that there is no evidence that GMOs are harmful OR require evidence that a specific GMO is not harmful.

You choose. But, I bet that you cannot rely on Tyler’s statement that NO GMO is or could be harmful.

What happened to evidence based discussion and analysis???

TallDave May 25, 2012 at 10:30 am

Poor reasoning. Obviously someone could splice in, say, the cyanide-producing gene from wild almonds and produce a deadly GMO version of wheat, but there’s never been any serious evidence that commercially produced GMO food is harmful — quite the opposite in fact, see for instance golden rice.

Anyways lots of natural foods can be harmful, and they generally don’t require labelling to that effect.

maguro May 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

If you’re going to dispute his statement that there’s no evidence that GMOs are harmful, howzabout providing some evidence that GMOs are harmful?

For instance, we know that organic bean sprouts can be harmful, because they killed 30 people in Germany last year. Got anything like that against GMOs?

Mike May 25, 2012 at 10:40 am

If you like evidence-based discussion, why not require evidence that a specific GMO (or any) is harmful? Your standard of proving something isn’t harmful is impossible to meet if, over decades, the harm hasn’t been found yet and you still need more proof.

Certainly, a GMO could be harmful in a hypothetical sense, but we could also hypothetically be living in the Matrix. Without some kind of evidence to back that up, it will remain a hypothesis and not a valid evidence-based conclusion.

Dufflepud May 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Mike, my understanding of the organic position is that although no clear, causal link exist between GMOs and rising (I haven’t actually confirmed this) rates of cancer and allergies, organic advocates assert such a relationship. They suggest that some combination of GMOs and increased pesticide use have led to all of this. I’m skeptical but admittedly haven’t looked at much serious work on the issue.

different mike May 27, 2012 at 6:34 am

I understand that there is a causal link between starbucks coffee and autism. if you check the rates, I think you will find only very rare cases of autsim prior to Starbucks expansion in the US. QED: ban Starbucks.

Cancer rates are rising because fewing people are dying at 20 in farm accidents, mill accidents, car accidents, and the lot. Everyone has to die. If you limit one cause, the portion of other causes will increase.

For example: My grandpa was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 85. His doctor said that most everyone man who is screened at 90 has indications of prostate cancer. Not enough to operate, not enough to cause issues, but it is there.

guiowen May 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm

“Can you honestly say that no GMO could categorically not be harmful?????”
With the double negative, it’s impossible to decipher this question.

MikeVA May 25, 2012 at 10:14 am

Nature evolved an incredibly complicated system. People always think they understand the effects of their tinkering, until evidence shows they don’t (same thing with financial models, but that’s a different story). Companies should not be allowed to tinker – we’re going to cause irreversible damage – I don’t know how, but we will (whether it’s developing a monoculture, and then having something happen to that monoculture, or whatever).

I have never seen a presentation with a spreadsheet in it, where there wasn’t an error in the spreadsheet. And people think we understand the effects of GMOs?

IVV May 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

What does “irreversible damage” look like?

Once defined, have we not caused “irreversible damage” using non-GMO technologies? Or stuff like overhunting, or stripping the “Fertile Crescent” of nutrients through millennia of agriculture?

Of course we’re going to change things, and of course we’re going to change things in ways we cannot expect or desire. If companies shouldn’t be allowed to tinker, then other organizations shouldn’t be allowed to stop it. Who knows what irreversible damage maintaining the status quo in agriculture will cause? None of us are smart enough to know, one way or the other.

oh no May 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm

IVV: In principle, I understand what you are saying. But in practice, the concern regarding GMOs is very specific: that they could reek havoc on the existing ecosystem in very specific ways, based on concrete theories of how it would happen if it were to happen. The evidence so far is that so far it has not happened. But everyone agrees it could happen in theory. So rather than banning GMOS outright, it is reasonable to label the products, and let the population decide to buy them or not.

IVV May 25, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I agree, I’m all for labeling.

Perhaps the day will come when we start listing ingredients by species, tribe, and varietal. I’d honestly enjoy having that information available. Furthermore, being able to track this sort of information would be very helpful to business, food safety, epidemiology, and food science–not only to track sources of potential problems, but to track sources of developments that might result in greater efficiency of food production. Better information availability for better science!

Label away. Heck, nothing’s stopping non-GMO users to label for that right now. If you want to avoid GMOs, I think you should be allowed to. Me? Pass the frankenfood, it’s delicious and nutritious.

A great example of the problems and lack of rationality around GMOs can be seen in Eduardo Kac’s project “GFP Bunny” in which a rabbit is spliced with a jellyfish gene for green fluorescent protein. It was a rabbit that glowed green under blue light. Otherwise, it was a rabbit. No poisons, no odd behaviors, nothing. Whether you think this is okay, or it is horrendously barbaric, it’s important to step back and ask yourself: why?

Floccina May 25, 2012 at 10:23 am

Here is much more. Why not require labels warning customers of all sorts of phantom harms? “Warning: this product contains dihydrogen monoxide!”

Or this box contains chemicals. This food is chemicals.

Brian Donohue May 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Some of the atoms included were probably in someone’s butt at some point.

The more you know…

Nyongesa May 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm

:-)

TallDave May 25, 2012 at 10:25 am

Sure, it’s all fun and games until some vengeful DHMO-fueled Frankenflakes rise up from their long night of bondage and start covering people in milk and devouring them.

msgkings May 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Thread winner.

Joe May 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

What’s the problem? They’re just requiring labelling. Do consumers suddenly not have the right to know what exactly they are buying and then make a free choice based on that information.

And I’m not so sure that the fear of genetically modified food is entirely irrational. Ever heard of unintended consequences?

I live in Japan and since the events of last year, am very happy that all fresh produce is labelled with the prefecture of origin. We’re told that food from near Fukushima is mostly safe and I believe it probably is, but people do have the right to avoid food from the region if that’s their choice.

Dufflepud May 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm

The argument against it, however, is a reductio ad absurdum. If we can prove harm then, certainly, we should label, but as it is, we might as well also label foods that were produced within, say, 50 miles of a Superfund site. Or that came from poorly paid farmers in Costa Rica.

figleaf May 25, 2012 at 11:01 am

Hey, if there’s no problem with GMO foods (I don’t think there is by the way) then what possible problem could the GMO industry have with labeling their products as such?

Heck, if it’s superior then why aren’t they doing what… um… people who fetishize markets and economics claim would work best: marketing it?

Also, if you think it’s so evil and nasty to force GMO producers to distinguish their products from real food, why don’t you and Alex recommend that the GMO crowd just invoke the (draconian, jack-boot-ish) Federal laws that make it somewhere between difficult and illegal to differentiate between sources of commodity agriculture products like corn, soy, wheat, etc.?

Also, “There is no serious evidence that GMOs are harmful.” Seriously? That’s what they used to say about benzine, thyroid irradiation, tobacco, morphine and heroin (speaking of brand names!), trans-fats, etc. There’s never any serious evidence that something’s harmful until there is.

Also, “There is no serious evidence that GMOs are harmful.” Seriously? And who’s telling us this? Research funded by the FDA and Dept. of Agriculture? I thought you guys always assume the government can do no right.

And finally, can you define “harmful?” If by harmful you mean “no direct, measurable health impact when ingested” then that’s likely to remain true. If by harmful you mean has an impact on adjacent species through cross-breeding and through selectively resistance to, say, Roundup or Bacillus thuringiensis then your assertion is probably false.

When I want to buy GMO foods I’d like to know from the label. When I want to buy non-GMO foods I also want to know from the label. What the heck is your problem with requiring that kind of transparency?

Silly.

figleaf

Cliff May 25, 2012 at 11:56 am

The problem is a government-mandated label which implied a health concern. According to your logic the whole box should be covered with every imaginable property of everything inside.

rpl May 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

A question for figleaf (and all the other people arguing “what’s wrong with a little transparency?”):

Are you generally in favor of printing true but misleading information on the labels of consumer products? That is what we’re talking about here. Many people will interpret the GMO label as an admission that something is wrong with the product, despite the fact that all the scientific evidence suggests that the product is not harmful in any way. Are you advocating that we practice this sort of deception (for that is precisely what it is) generally, or just in cases where it lines up with your personal agenda?

Anthony May 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

Ronnie Cummins is kidding himself (herself?) and his contributors. California is already covered with warning labels, thanks to Prop 65 and other regulations not shared with the rest of the country. People don’t pay attention.

In a similar bit of labeling against phantom (literally!) harms, California requires disclosure of whether anyone has died on a property as part of the disclosures for a real estate sale.

lemmy caution May 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Chinese people consider a death on a property to be unlucky:

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1121253–for-chinese-buyers-hongza-rings-death-knell-for-property-prices

There are a lot of chinese-americans in california.

JasonL May 25, 2012 at 11:22 am

The consumer information angle seems thin simply on the grounds that you can choose to label your goods as organic and GMO free and convey the information that way.

Tony May 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Call me paranoid, but I think the main promoter of the “GMO foods are harmful” argument are actually the agricultural companies themselves. It’s an effort to steer the “debate” into a fake-debate that they already know that they can win. This deflects attention from the real problem, which is that patent law and terminator technology gives agricultural companies the power to starve entire nations at a whim, by witholding seeds that those countries will become dependent on for their very survival.

The argument that farmers can “choose” not to grow GMOs is false. They ARE more efficient, which drives down prices and forces non-GMO producers out of the market immediately. It’s either go GMO or go out of business. Creative destruction and all that.

The problem is not safety, it’s the unreasonable concentration of power in a few, unaccountable hands.

Anon. May 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Yeah that is a bit paranoid dude.

JWE May 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm

When and where has this happened?

DB May 27, 2012 at 12:31 am

It’s happening now, all over North America. A farmer can choose to plant, grow and save seeds from a crop that is not GMO. If, however, wind drift or insects pollinate his plants with the GMO seed across the road that his neighbor planted, Monsanto will sue the farmer who chose not to buy the patented seed. They have teams of “researchers” combing the countryside, trespassing onto private property and taking samples of crops to test for “theft”. If that isn’t power concentrated in a few hands, what is? You can lose your family farm for a “crime” you had no intention of committing?

“The Future of Food” would be a excellent documentary to watch to gain insight into this issue. Lots of people are talking out of their hats here; education, NOT industry and government-generated propaganda is what’s needed.

Will May 25, 2012 at 12:33 pm

People eat potentially deadly food all the time. Raw cassava will kill you. Overly mature potatoes can too. Even cherry pits are full of poison. Raw milk causes uremic poisoning to this day. Someone else already mentioned almonds.

“Natural” food is not somehow magically pure and safe. A great many things people eat require careful processing and handling to keep it safe. Throwing GMO products into the mix doesn’t make your meal deadly any more than grabbing a bowl of tapioca at the cafeteria does.

And you know where trichinosis is found? Organic, free-range pig farms. It’s been wiped out in “factory farms,” but it remains in operations that don’t use antimicrobials and let the pigs run around outside: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18407758

mpowell May 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

The sad thing about this debate is that there are actually quite a lot of legitimate concerns and outright problems with our food supply, both from a perspective of health and sustainability/risk mitigation. But complaining about genetically engineered products as a general principle? That’s insane. It’s especially amusing to think that the biggest problem with a product like Corn Flakes is the GE-quality of it’s raw ingredients. Ha! But I think it will be a long time, if ever, that we actually make progress on the real problems that exist, especially with regards to the incentive structures of this industry. The science is still not capable of fully explaining how our bodies handle different types of foods and really explaining in a systematic way the consequences of various diets. And even if we get an answer, it looks like it’s going to be pretty damn complicated.

Ray Lopez May 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Well said. Even water constantly injected under the skin of a lab rat will develop a cancerous tumor at the point of injection (from the friction). And you can get a heart attack from drinking too much water…that is, drinking too much dihydrogen monoxide (H20). But given the state of ignorance in the USA and elsewhere (pace China’s Shanghai and Singapore) you cannot expect less, sadly.

Mark Thorson May 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I only want food raised by white people. Don’t I have a right as a consumer to know whether food was raised by white people or not? If there’s no problem with food raised by non-white people, what possible problem could they have labelling their products as such?

Nature evolved an incredibly complicated system. How do we know that food raised by non-white people is safe for white people to eat? There’s never any serious evidence that something’s harmful until there is. What the heck is your problem with requiring that kind of transparency?

JWatts May 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm

+2 Thread winner

Harun May 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Safeway Supermarkets today issued an apology as the public’s rage grows after finding out Safeway allowed produce from Hispanic farmers to be sold in the white farmer food area of their stores. Safeway initially claimed that the Hispanic farmers were actually White Hispanics but growing outrage forced them to recant. Other supermarket chains are redoubling their white certification efforts, demanding family histories for 3 generations back from suppliers. One Oklahoma farmer surnamed Warren complained that just because she was only 1/32nd Cherokee, Wegmans cut her off the approved white farmer list. Food industry groups are planning a certification authority that would inspect all white foods and have a small KKK mark printed on all approved foods to allow consumers the peace of mind that they are buying true white foods.

John David Galt May 25, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Requiring this kind of “transparency” would be going overboard, but allowing it would be a step in the right direction. I really doubt either proposal would kill off GM foods — I’m Californian and I never set foot in the “organic” section of a store — but if it did, then they deserve to be killed off.

While we’re at it, let’s also allow the market to test beef for mad-cow — a real safety improvement that the FDA has been banning for 20 years now, on the stupid theory that consumer confidence is more important to preserve than human life.

wagnert in atlanta May 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm

The USDA says there is no test for BSE in living animals or muscle tissue from dead ones. (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Bovine_Spongiform_Encephalopathy_Mad_Cow_Disease/index.asp) Microscopic analysis of brain tissue is the only certain test and takes a week to do. There are quick tests which take 36 to 48 hours but are apparently less accurate. I am betting that even the quick tests would add fifty or sixty dollars to the price of each carcass, as well as mandating the carcass be held until the test was finished. Since the prion that causes BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is found only in nerve tissue, tonsils and small intestine and the USDA forbids marketing these parts of a cow, testing for a disease which has appeared in cattle only twice in the USA (I believe) and which has caused only one death in the USA, and that of a person who was believed to have contracted it in Britain would seem extremely expensive and essentially pointless.

mike May 27, 2012 at 6:47 am

Speaking as someone who can’t donate blood because, as a child and military dependant I lived in Europe until July of 1980, I would be happy if they developed a test for Mad Cow disease in human blood.

After 32 years, if I had Mad Cow disease, I figure it would presented by now.

I guess they really don’t need blood donors.

Tangurena May 26, 2012 at 8:54 am

Perrow’s book “Normal Accidents” documents a couple cases where GMO products did cause serious injury to humans.
http://www.amazon.com/Normal-Accidents-Living-High-Risk-Technologies/dp/0691004129

His argument is that every technology has a lower limit on how “safe” one can make the technology, and that this small irreducible number is what he calls “normal accidents”. Some technologies are so risky that even this floor is too dangerous. We have been making petroleum refineries for over 100 years. If you think we understand them enough to prevent them from bursting into flames by now, you’d be wrong. We’ve been making dams for over 2000 years. If you think we understand them enough to prevent them from failing by now, you’d be wrong.

Robbl May 26, 2012 at 10:10 am

What is rational?

They used to make cars without safety belts

Rational people used to smoke cigarettes

In the future is it unlikely that people will think that our consumption of fossil fuels for energy was rational

Distrust of mostly industry funded “safety” research is not irrational

After all, industry and government research had proven that the reactor core damage at 3 mile island was not a “credible” posibility

Corporate and government disingenuousness is a fact of life. I personally am not concerned with GMOs, but I understand I could be wrong. I understand why some people are concerned…

Ray Lopez May 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Rational means “free to choose”. It does not mean prohibition. Drinking alcohol is not that rational (even the health benefits are debatable) but people should be allowed to do that, if they want and it hurts nobody much. Same with weed. As for distrust of safety research, the problem IMO is the government has laws on the books that discourage comparative advertising. You cannot say “My brand is 35% better than Brand X” because the laws don’t give you a ‘safe harbor’ to do so, and further the laws as they exist force companies to prove the statement is true, rather than a ‘good faith’ belief it’s true. Strict liability in other words. Change these laws and the private sector will fill in the gap caused by the USDA and by industry sponsored food inspectors.

Iowa Jim May 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

California — the eighth-largest economy in the world

And dropping just about annually on that list, thanks to the attitude that produces initiatives like this.

Rich K May 26, 2012 at 4:29 pm

As long as I can get my organic Hemlock with which I deal with some of the pests in this world, like some of the commenters here, Im good. Kidding, Enjoy your cowcrap cultured salad but avoid the yellow snow,even though its ORGANIC.

Bastiat Fan May 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm

So apparently this is where Luddites go to gibber and caper and forecast doom?

Harun May 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Taiwan has plenty of brands screaming they don’t use GM ingredients.

Funny, Asians are supposed to be smarter than Americans in the area of science, but they are the first people to believe food scare stories.

FR May 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm

This Cummings guy says: ““If a company like Kellogg’s has to print a label stating that their famous Corn Flakes have been genetically engineered, it will be the kiss of death for their iconic brand in California — the eighth-largest economy in the world — and everywhere else.””

IOW- he wants to use a ballot initiative in California to make decisions for me (in NY.)

This isn’t a question about GMOs at all- it’s about power.

deepelemblues May 26, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Hey, if you don’t beat your wife, you should have no problem with being forced to tell everyone you meet “And by the way, just so you can make an informed decision about my character, I don’t beat my wife,” right?

elkh1 May 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Yeah, that pesky dihydrogen monoxide. Remember a California Congress woman proposed to ban foam cups which contained mostly dihydrogen monoxide?

m May 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm

There’s lots of assumptions and inaccuracies in this comment. To hit just a few.
Monsanto and other agribusinesses are quite aware that africa has a different climate and they will also be very aware of what varieties will grow best in Africa. Corn is grown all over the world, this isn’t rocket science. And to boot, they might actually test it out before selling it…
GM crops don’t require huge investments in infrastructure – if you can grow corn or soy now, you can grow the GM version. US varieties of cotton are adapted to machinery because farmers like using machinery – and were using machinery before GMOs existed. Btw, The genes introduced have no effect on cotton’s being farmed by machinery or not, that was done by traditional old-school breeding.
GMO corn is inedible to you… (actually not true now that there is GM sweet corn meant for direct consumption). But all non-sweet corn grown is just like this, its called dent corn and its hard and dry. That’s how its been for a long long time, much longer than GM varieties have been around. Dent corn is used as feed for many many types of animals, not just beef. Similarly the soybeans – very few soybeans are meant to be consumed directly (edamame) – most is meant for processing and has been for again a long time.
With very few exceptions, GM varieties are processed just like non-GM varieties. Just because a food is processed here in the US doesn’t mean it can’t be useful elsewhere.
As for your list of food (which of those are GMO?) – I’d guess none, but I’m not sure of the point. I’m not aware of GM varieties of any of those plants – GM tomatoes haven’t been sold in some time.
In general GM crops are superior because they produce higher yields and hence higher profits for the farmer. Not all their profits go to the business that produced the seed. Farmers aren’t stupid – if they didn’t make a larger profit using those seeds, you can be sure they wouldn’t use them.

Harun May 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I want labeling on all foods to state if they were “holistically” grown using proper biodynamic preparations as per the Waldorf system.

/sarc

ToHayekWithYou May 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm

The Luddites who think this is a good idea will not stop until we are all dead. We already have millions dying in Africa from the lack of DDT and in Asia from the lack of genetically engineered rice. There are huge markets and potential profits for these things so we wouldn’t have to subsidize jack squat and could actually create jobs but we have what are basically just scientifically illiterate food Nazis standing in the way. Requiring labeling to say a product may contain GMO’s is the exact equivalent of labeling it to say it might contain evil spirits. It is irrelevant and tells you exactly nothing of significance.

Unfortunately a lot of our crops are grown in CA and they are some of the most backwards people on earth when it comes to their regulatory environment. They are barbarians really who fear anything they do not understand. It is a scandal that people have to die so some Prius driving hippie can feel good about himself but that is exactly what is happening. These people are dangerous and it is time we stopped catering to them and started shaming them. They are worried to death about mythical problems like global warming which has claimed exactly zero lives but could not give a sh!t when it comes to actual human lives that are being lost every day because of their own ignorance and anti-scientific bigotry.

If these sorts had been in charge throughout history we would still be waiting on the permits to build the pyramids and if that day ever came it would be festooned with warnings about how rock is hard and the spirits of the dead may or may not still be inhabiting the structure.

Klepto! May 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Seems to me, in this day and age of modern communication, it’s damnedly silly to require every last detail of processing information needs to go on the package in the store. If these frankenfoodophobes are so bent on “making sure we know what we’re eating,” there’s a little thing called the INTERNET, and companies can post relevant data on their websites for all to see. The companies whose focus is on doing business with Luddites can go on and print “GM FREE!” on their packaging if they want to, but we won’t have to pay for it, if we don’t want to. Let the sanctimonious twits starve themselves of advanced nutrition, and the rest of us — who have to live in the real world — still have affordable, safe, technologically-advanced meals.

Farmer Bob May 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

People, do we really want the state of California deciding how things have to be for the rest of the country. California is just about the most screwed up state in the Union, with heavy debt, high taxes, and a record of doing stupid things going back decades. They want gasoline, electricity and money from other states, so not to have to produce these products inside their state. Well, I hope that the food companies just say no, we are not going to change any packaging. When their grocery shelves go bare, then they might sing a new tune. Cut off their fuel and electricity and maybe they will get off their high horse and join the real world.

msq May 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm

typical liberals, don’t want GM food, so nobody can have GM food
They don’t care who has to starve as long as they can feel like they kept
someone safe, whether they wanted the help or not.

Andrew' May 26, 2012 at 10:57 pm

“Since the first commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants in 1996,”

Oopsie! That’s not quite decadeS.

Andrew' May 26, 2012 at 11:00 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_organism#Testing

“In February 2009, after scientists warned the U.S. Environmental protection Agency (EPA) “that industry influence had made independent analyses of transgenic crops impossible,””

2009? Impossible? Oopsie, maybe we don’t really have evidence.

DB May 27, 2012 at 12:40 am

There is no evidence available from US sources. You have to look abroad; India keeps the best records. Crop yields are lower on GMO seed; herbicide applications are higher in order to deal with the weeds that have grown resistant; livetock that eat the GMO crops suffer from very high infertility rates and their offspring show more birth defects than in areas where GMO’s aren’t fed.

It is pure, unadulterated propaganda to claim the world won’t feed everyone w/o GMO crops. Every positive claim Monsanto and our goverment agencies make about their performance is a lie. Ask them for the evidence to back up their claims and they won’t show it to you b/c it doesn’t exist.

Walter Sobchak May 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I say we build a wall around California, and then bomb them into submission.

Michael McNeil May 27, 2012 at 2:21 am

Right, except mass development of herbicide-resistant weeds.

There’s a biological cost to resistance, so unless the large bulk of a plant’s (weed’s) range is covered with herbicide-generating GMO crops, or herbicide is applied throughout that range, the weeds will not have an incentive to develop full-blown resistance. Thus, farmers intelligently counter trends towards resistance by weeds that might infest their fields by leaving areas outside the in-use fields untreated with herbicide or unplanted with herbicide-generating GMO crops, as well as maintaining large areas outside the agricultural zone so the weeds can flourish in those areas with encountering the herbicide (either in GMO crops or otherwise), and so resistance will not develop, or at least not very strongly.

Dulcimer108 May 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Suppose that a spiritually enlightened person told you that GMO was poisonous and dangerous, and a real threat to your well being. Would that make you think twice about eating anything that had GMO ingredients, or using any product, like shampoo, that had GMO ingredients and had contact with your skin? In order to heed the enlightened man’s warning, you would have to believe that he had the ability to tap into universal truths.

The enlightened saint, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi issued this warning repeatedly and I would trust his insights over that of an un-enlightened scientist or academic any day.

Regardless of your point of view on this matter, what’s the harm of GMO labeling as long as there’s a segment of the population that would find that information useful.

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