by Tyler Cowen
on October 3, 2012 at 10:42 am
in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Law
Read their reasons here.
For the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.
So, is the irony that Dole foods and Clorox oppose GMO labellings, or that there is a trade association for natural products?
Looks like another example of “factions” (see Federalist #10)
Without factions those currently in power retain all the power. The only way for people to get it back short of murdering public figures is to form a faction and vote as a block.
“Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction …”
The fact that canning, processing, milling, pressing, smoking, etc. forbids the use of “natural” does seem particularly egregious and silly. The list of exemptions also seems to miss the point. An animal fed or injected with GM material is ok as long as the animal itself hasn’t been genetically modified? I doubt that’s what the “all natural” loving consumers had in mind.
Re-reading the text of the law, it seems exemptions are made if your product is certified organic. The link suggests that there is no way to make apple sauce, olive oil, etc. and label it “natural” given the definition of “processed” which includes milling, pressing, canning, etc. I’m not sure that’s true. It sounds like if you can get your food certified Organic, then you can label it “natural” even if it’s been milled, canned, or pressed.
In short, it sort of forces foods to get organic certification in order to be labeled natural.
which also makes no sense since organic olive oil is twice the price of conventional, and given that we have no indication that “organic” pesticides like rotenone are any less carcinogenic than synthetic pesticides, and that there is no federal USDA testing for the amount of organic pesticide residues on organic produce to compare to the amounts they publish for synthetic pesticides on conventional produce. THAT is what we should be voting on, but of course we’re morons.
they DO test for pesticides on organic food =)
“The report pointed to numerous shortcomings at the agriculture department’s National Organic Program, which regulates the industry, including poor oversight of some organic operations overseas and a lack of urgency in cracking down on marketers of bogus organic products.”
awesome!!! from the same article
“The inspector general’s report focused largely on conditions at the organic program at the end of the Bush administration, from 2006 through 2008. It said that in several cases officials had taken up to 32 months to act against producers or processors that had sold conventional products claiming they were organic — even as those products remained on the market. In one case, the report said, officials failed entirely to take action against an operator that, for two years, sold nonorganic mint under an organic label.”
there’s no benefit from labeling when labeling has no meaning at all =)
sorry I wasn’t being clear. Organic certification does not allow synthetic pesticides (which is what was being tested for and violated in those spot tests in the article), but it *does* allow the use of “organic” pesticides like rotenone, which may or may not be equally carcinogenic. The point, however, is that while the USDA does random tests every year or two to monitor the amount of conventional pesticide residues on conventional produce (to give us an idea of how much of each kind makes it onto our food, and how that varies by food type), there is no similar test for the amount of organic pesticide residues that make it onto our certified organic produce. I’m guessing this is because of the operating assumption that those organic pesticides are “safe” despite the lack of any evidence for that. There may be an argument that we are evolutionarily better equipped to deal with pesticides derived from toxic plant components than those from a chemistry lab, but it could just as easily be the case the isolating and concentrating toxic plants is not any safer than chemistry lab pesticides.
I haven’t seen any data suggesting rotenone is a carcinogen, and there is some data suggesting it is an anti-carcinogen.
Too bad it may cause Parkinson’s disease.
“Natural” currently has no meaning as best I can tell. When I pick up a jar of Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread, the label notes that it contains 90% peanuts. The rest of the “peanut butter” consists of palm oil, molasses, sugar and salt. To me, natural peanut butter would contain nothing but ground peanuts. At the very least, palm oil and molasses are not natural products insofar as they do not exist in nature without significant human manipulation. Perhaps sugar and salt are “natural” in a way that palm oil and molasses are not, but there is certainly nothing natural about their presence in peanut butter. But, as this example shows, “natural” is context sensitive and hard to define. There is bound to be some arbitrary line-drawing. If, however, that arbitrary line-drawing gives the term “natural” real meaning, I say go for it.
Using your peanut butter example, the following is possible:
1. Peanuts grown without any chemicals or pesticides are ground into peanut butter. Nothing else is added. The product cannot use the word natural because the peanuts were ground, which is a form of processing.
2. Peanuts grown with chemicals and pesticides are ground into peanut butter mixed with palm oil, molasses, sugar, and salt is allowed to use the word “natural” because the product was certified organic after they proved that they only use pesticides on the “allowed” list like Rotenone.
My reading of the law would suggest that’s a possible outcome (of course, in case 1, if they got an organic certification, they could use the word natural).
I agree that at some point, there is bound to be some arbitrary line-drawing, but that doesn’t mean all any arbitrary line-drawing is acceptable. If it’s too arbitrary (and counter-intuitive) it may actually add more confusion than clarification.
This law very well may be a step in the right direction, and a world with it may be better than a world without it, but it does warrant a deeper look.
As you discuss the word “natural”, aren’t you basically arguing “natural” has no meaning?
The proposal would perhaps be better to simply prohibit the word “natural” when it comes to food as no one will sell “natural” food, like a peck of apples which include bugs and bruises, over and under ripe, mutant and deformed, etc.
As consumers, natural foods would be unnatural to buy in the supermarket. Unless marked down because they are picked over and dropped and otherwise rejected.
Worries about additives in peanut butter are misplaced. The risky part is the peanuts themselves. Peanut butter is made from the lowest grades of peanuts legally considered edible. Segregation 3 peanuts have excessive levels of aflatoxins (powerful carcinogens from mold) and cannot be sold for human consumption, but they may be cleaned up and submitted for regrading. If these peanuts pass the second time around, they are used to make peanut oil and peanut butter. Peanut buttter is the “brown slime” of the peanut world.
Man, sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
Better idea than prop 37: Just give a check to all the trial lawyers. It would be quicker, more efficient, and would spread the pain to all residents of California equally, rather than just hurt mainly small retailers. In addition, announced that all food may be genetically engineer unless stated otherwise, seeing that if prop 37 passes everything will be slapped with the label “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering,” (probably even local organic where relative costs of checking up on this thing would be immense) once trial payouts start to be made public.
The GMO laws were themselves big checks to lawyers at Monsanto and to the lawyers of any farmer who is trying to fight Monsanto taking the farmer’s crop by court order.
No matter what the bill would say, this group would be against it. What I don’t understand is why libertarians are so against letting the consumer make an informed choice concerning their food when they are gung ho for it on things like healthcare (see Regina Herzlinger and her Market Driven Healthcare, for example), which are much more complicated for a consumer to make an informed decision.
What I don’t understand is why libertarians are so against letting the government create an arbitrary definition for a word that is not necessarily consistent with the common meaning of that word and then using the threat of physical force to punish anyone who uses the word in any way contrary to such arbitrary definition.
the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
yes, consumers have the right to be informed. problems start with the definition of natural and organic. USDA standards are not good enough?
Having read the prop 37 official statement, I find it interesting that the first “GE” food is not listed as a common “GE” food: the Flavr Savr tomato.
But that’s because the Flavr Savr was heavily marketed and the demand outstripped the supply as consumers looked for tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes because they were picked ripe. Unfortunately, growers, processors, and retailers found the cost to be too high from the waste because even though these ripe tomatoes were very firm, they still bruised, so handling them cost too much or there was too much waste.
The rest of the “common” GE products are either virtually unused or government subsidized or given away free.
Obviously corn, soybeans, canola, etc are heavily government subsidized and food consumers do not set the price, but rather the government subsidies favor quantity produced over food quality, so the corn, et al, are not sold to consumers, but only to refineries. Where the government is not intervening in the market, for example for sweet corn and popcorn, there are no GMOs. The farmers must focus on the consumer preferences and often use many varieties to entice sales and to extend the harvest season.
The GMO squash and zucchini have very little market because the many varieties available are cheaper and multiple sourced and offer more opportunities for sales as well as multiple ways to fight diseases that occur most often due to monoculture production.
GMO potatoes were designed only for one purpose, french fries, because that is the only uniform monoculture big ag market. McDonald’s decided not to accept GMO potatoes because no one was marketing the food consumer benefits of GMO potatoes – for McDonald’s, the cost of GMO potatoes was too high compared to its existing well tuned potatoes supply chain. And that sets the standard for the fast food industry.
The only successful GMO consumer food is papayas grown in Hawaii. When Hawaii suffered a virus outbreak in its papaya, a GMO was engineered, and then the growers association contracted for the GMO to be cost free to growers. The growers association is one of the government sanctioned private groups able to tax all farmers to fund itself.
GMOs are only viable if corporations are granted special government control over the market at the disadvantage to farmers and consumers. This special consideration is far greater than brand name and plant variety law. Brand names do not block the sale of equivalent products under a different name. And plant hybrid laws are very limited and serve to increase the options for farmers – no cross for a disease or other trait prohibits a different cross to accomplish the same thing – multiple ways exist to insert the desirable genes. GMO patents cover the gene in a plant no matter how it got there. If cross pollination inserts a GMO gene into your crop, Monsanto has won a high court verdict which gives it property rights over your crop, even if you purposely sought to avoid all contact with Monsanto and your contact was “act of god”.
It is this misuse of corporate power granted by government that has created such opposition to GMOs from farmers and individuals.
Prop 37 is basically a Tea Party attack on crony capitalism and big government taking the liberty of individuals.
Well done for all your hard work in providing this high quality blog.Thanks for the information.
We are having a special sale on adult diapers; I find they are very handy for making sure my brain doesn’t fall out.
I think that people deserve to know when they’re buying GMO food and it should be labeled as such. Thanks for posting this helpful article!
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