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Why did Prop 37 Fail?
November 15, 2012 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Why did Prop 37, the GMO labeling bill, fail? Ernest Miller of KCET argues that it wasn't money, but message.

Proposition 37, a Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative was a Californian ballot measure which was recently defeated 53.1% to 46.9%. There's no denying that the "No" campaign outspent the "Yes" campaign by approximately five to one, but is that the only reason that it failed?

Arguments for and against the bill in the California Official Voter Guide show the opposition portraying the bill as a flawed and costly measure that would raise grocery prices without meaningfully providing the consumer protections that the bill ostensibly was written to put in place. Meanwhile, supporters asserted that the bill would create accurate labels for food and improve the ability of consumers to make informed decisions about their health.

Proponents of the bill stressed the "right to know" about the contents of food sold in stores, but KCET argues (same as first link) that in the absence of a compelling and well-publicized case for a need to know, voters prioritized their pocketbooks over that knowledge.
posted by Scientist (154 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
a compelling and well-publicized case for a need to know

corporate control of the food supply
CORPORATE CONTROL OF THE FOOD SUPPLY
CORPORATE CONTROL OF THE FOOD SUPPLY

Not grocery stores. But everything, from the genetics of the plant upwards.
posted by DU at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


Actually as a voter on this I prioritized the state's pocketbook over that knowledge. I didn't see any of the ads, but going through the proposition it didn't look like there was a good consideration for the added cost of this regulation. That and I had just on the same ballot basically been forced to vote yes on a crappy resolution to try to save the budget. I think there was more that just this issue going into it.

(plus I grew up on a farm and sort of assume that unless I go seek out organic stuff that it is going to be GM.)

But, there is a point here, some people were going at it from a oh gods get that GM stuff out of my food, whereas they should have been pushing the more reasonable point that DU brings up.
posted by Feantari at 10:36 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


While I'm generally extremely skeptical to transnationals like Monsanto, I actually feel like this was the right decision. There's no reasonable "right to know", because the term "genetically modified" has no meaning that's relevant to the consumer. Some genetically modified food may or may not be harmful, but it's extremely unlikely that GM food is completely and only harmful (or harmless, for that matter), or has any health effects at all, as a whole.

It's as if you singled out, say, growing food using artificial fertilizer (something we know has negative environmental effects, at least), and arbitrarily required manufacturers to label that food. It's meaningless.

The solution here is probably the same as with artificial fertilizer: Voluntarily label the products that don't use it.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:36 AM on November 15, 2012 [38 favorites]


DU: I am totally on board with that, but I am not sure that this legislation would have had a meaningful effect in that arena. For me one of the better paragraphs in the KCET article is this one:
A simple label does little to inform the consumer about the variety of issues at stake. Furthermore, many of these issues are not exclusive to GMOs (our industrial farms have been monocropping and abusing pesticides for decades with or without GMOs), but are related to the socio-economic-legal regime that shapes our modern farming industry. The solution to most of these issues is not in stigmatizing all GMOs, but addressing the particular issues and abuses themselves.
GMOs are an extension of corporate food control to be sure, but I'm not totally certain that a one-size-fits-all label (especially one which has loopholes to allow things like meat and dairy to go unlabeled) is an effective solution. Like the "USDA Organic" label, I worry that if not implemented carefully it might create the appearance of information while actually being deceptive at least some of the time. Meaningless blanket-labeling of GMOs might allow agribusiness to just say "See! Problem solved!" without actually having to change their behavior significantly.

I am in favor of anything that helps put control of the food supply back in the hands of consumers, but I for one (though I don't live in California) would be happy to try and hold out for better legislation.
posted by Scientist at 10:39 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


> CORPORATE CONTROL OF THE FOOD SUPPLY

Highlighting the multitude of problems with allowing a corporation to patent a specific plant and control its planting and harvesting to the point of suing farmers who end up with windblown seeds on their lands would have been a fine idea. Shame that Prop 37 (in addition to being poorly written to begin with) went with a scattershot of fear-mongering and bad science.

Like the article says: "Unfortunately, leading the public to demand "patent law reform now!" (the real solution to the dangers of Big Ag) is not quite as easy or popular as encouraging people's vague fears of genetic engineering."
posted by Panjandrum at 10:40 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


This was a proposition that would have done nothing but allow those privileged enough to afford food made entirely from purebred grain to sit back, snack on their artisinal popcorn, read the label declaring it free from GMO corn, then gloat at the unwashed masses who are not able to afford such things.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 10:44 AM on November 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


the term "genetically modified" has no meaning that's relevant to the consumer

Exactly. I want to be an informed consumer. A label that tells me merely that a product contains something "genetically modified" does not make me an informed consumer. It tells me nothing upon which I can base any reasonable decisionmaking process.
posted by The World Famous at 10:50 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


in the absence of a compelling and well-publicized case for a need to know, voters prioritized their pocketbooks over that knowledge.

No matter how good the case, voters are going to vote with their pocketbooks.

The bad guys got the suckers to believe Prop 37 would cost them at least $400 extra per year on groceries. It's that simple. It was the money. I did not see a single TV ad in favor of Prop 37.

This was a proposition that would have done nothing but allow those privileged enough to afford food made entirely from purebred grain to sit back, snack on their artisinal popcorn, read the label declaring it free from GMO corn, then gloat at the unwashed masses who are not able to afford such things.

Yeah, that was the total point of it.

If anything, Prop 37 was great for showing me all the shitty companies to avoid now. Everyone who contributed to beat it is OUT. (Sorry, kids.)

I for one (though I don't live in California) would be happy to try and hold out for better legislation.

Keep holding your breath. People don't care. That's fine. It just means we have to work harder (and the general populace suffers, but fuck em. They voted.)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:53 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


$50 million vs. $8 million. That's why Prop 37 lost. I'm not sure how anyone could be "concerned" about Citizen's United decision and then turn around and say here, "oh it wasn't the money that decided it." (I am that lone nut who likes the Citizen's United decision.)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:55 AM on November 15, 2012


CORPORATE CONTROL OF THE FOOD SUPPLY

Not grocery stores. But everything, from the genetics of the plant upwards.


There are better ways to do this than yelling "FRAKENFOOD" and hiding in the corner.
posted by Talez at 10:55 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


GM labeling is mandatory throughout Europe. In France, growing GM food is banned.

The basic argument seems to be: We don't know if this stuff is harmful or not since it is not something humans have ever ingested in history. So, lets keep studying it. And lets track it with labels. It is prudent.

I was honestly surprised the proposition lost.
How does having labels hurt you?
Is it because you all believed the ads that grocery prices would skyrocket?
posted by vacapinta at 10:57 AM on November 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


I feel like if Monsanto is telling me that grocery prices will skyrocket if this bill passes, then they're probably right. Because they are a bunch of vicious corporate assholes with as much money and power as a medium-sized nation and they have it in their power to make damn sure that grocery prices go up if they don't get the legislation they want. I would not at all put it past them and their ilk to literally punish consumers for passing a bill that made it a tiny bit harder for them to have their way.
posted by Scientist at 11:00 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't think I saw any ads either way about prop 37. I voted no because proposition 65 labeling is a joke and I saw no reason that prop 37 labeling would be any different.
posted by ckape at 11:02 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I voted for 37, not out of great opposition to GMOs, but for two reasons: I do think that drawing attention to GMO and industrial food production is worthwhile, and I recognized it as incrementalism; and because of the massive amount of money spent on misleading advertisements by Monsanto and Archers Daniel Midland, et al. I didn't think it was a great law, and absent that barrage of bullshit, I probably would have voted against it. But instead, I wanted them to waste their money and still lose, since I generally try to vote against lying corporations at the ballot box.
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The basic argument seems to be: We don't know if this stuff is harmful or not since it is not something humans have ever ingested in history. So, lets keep studying it. And lets track it with labels. It is prudent.

That's why France banned things like the Tangelo, right? And high yield strains of modern staple crops that were developed by painstakingly breeding in favoured genes since the 60s? I'm not sure how doing gene modification by farmer assisted plant sex instead of gene recombination is any different.

If anything GMO is safer because you aren't working completely in the dark and trying to fumble your way through the breeding process.
posted by Talez at 11:04 AM on November 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


We don't know if this stuff is harmful or not since it is not something humans have ever ingested in history.

Define "this stuff" in a way that cogently explains why all genetic modifications are alike. "GMO" is an illusory category that bears no relationship to the types of harm that can result from eating things unsuitable for human consumption.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:05 AM on November 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


Are GM foods bad?

I don't think most people voting think they're bad. At least not uniformly and in any significant way.

Give people some evidence that they're harmful and the vote will change. "I don't know" is not a reason for most people to go out of their way to change things.
posted by inturnaround at 11:06 AM on November 15, 2012


I would not at all put it past them and their ilk to literally punish consumers for passing a bill that made it a tiny bit harder for them to have their way.

Monsanto was in favor of labeling GM foods in the UK.
Why?
Because it had already passed in Europe. They knew it was inevitable in the UK and so they created lots of ads about how they were happy that their wonderful GM food would be labeled. They like to be on the winning side, not matter what it takes.
posted by vacapinta at 11:07 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


"That's why France banned things like the Tangelo, right? And high yield strains of modern staple crops that were developed by painstakingly breeding in favoured genes since the 60s? I'm not sure how doing gene modification by farmer assisted plant sex instead of gene recombination is any different."

Because there are more likely to be unintended consequences, and because of the way the international intellectual property rights regime is currently constituted.

(I'm also still annoyed some six years out about an international politics class project I had to work on that was nominally cross-disciplinary, where we had to go and meet with an agriculture prof about the diplomatic and policy implications of GMO on the International Space Station, and he went off on tirades about know-nothing hippies and how anyone without a degree in this shouldn't be talking about it at all, and basically didn't answer any of our questions about whether EU proscriptions would impact the food supply for the ISS. He was a massive, hubristic dick, and it made that project much more of a dog's breakfast than it already was.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:08 AM on November 15, 2012


Because there are more likely to be unintended consequences, and because of the way the international intellectual property rights regime is currently constituted.

That's the fault of the shitty IP system not GMOs. I'm not sure how sticking a label on a jar of peanut butter solves that either.
posted by Talez at 11:10 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, as a vegetarian, I eat soy all the goddamn day, and that shit is all GMO to the teats.
posted by klangklangston at 11:10 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Californian ballot measure which was recently defeated 53.1% to 46.9%

Have all the votes been counted yet? Last I was to lead to believe* the votes were not counted yet.

The simple answer is an augmented reality cell phone app that scans the barcode and tells you why what you wanted to buy sucks.

The Boycott SOPA app was a 1st stab. App store

From their page on the topic:
We are working on a new app that actually works. It will allow you to make your own communities to boycott companies that oppose your ideals, and see profiles of products and how they align with your values.
. We're implementing a second version of the app right now, which will support multiple boycotts, a contact the company feature, and has a more sophisticated search functionality so accuracy will be improved.

Now it was supposed to be out in Sept. If they don't - someone else should.

*as in I read it on the Internet and they can't put anything on the Internet if its not true due to the Internet being all high tech.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:11 AM on November 15, 2012


"That's the fault of the shitty IP system not GMOs. I'm not sure how sticking a label on a jar of peanut butter solves that either."

Well, it's two complaints, not one, and while neither is solved by a label, both are improved by more attention.

GMO's a mixed bag, and there are legitimate complaints about some of it, but most of them rely on a bit of nuance and thinking about complex systems, e.g. golden rice monocultures outselling other local crops that had a more balanced impact on sustainable agriculture but also inarguably saving lives, or the way that GMOs and tariffs continue to disadvantage developing states' agriculture. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, and all of it deserves careful consideration, weighing costs to benefits. But there are enough very powerful bodies that have huge incentives to distort that consideration, and I think that the defeat of 37 is part of that.
posted by klangklangston at 11:16 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how doing gene modification by farmer assisted plant sex instead of gene recombination is any different.

Its massively different. Are you suggesting that in a complex ecosystem, slow gradual changes over the course of many generations by selective breeding are equivalent to just splicing something in from a completely different line or species in a matter of days?

When all this stuff was first promoted by Monsanto 15 years ago, Europe made a fuss and won concessions from the corporates such as labelling and banning, and insistence on lots of safety checks. Meanwhile in the US it was introduced straight into the food supply pretty much without any debate or awareness at all. An interesting difference, that I put down to the US basically being a business-run society.
posted by memebake at 11:19 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


And high yield strains of modern staple crops that were developed by painstakingly breeding in favoured genes since the 60s? I'm not sure how doing gene modification by farmer assisted plant sex instead of gene recombination is any different.

Then one should spend some time looking at the book wheat belly and einkorn.

http://www.growseed.org/einkorn.html - Conclusions. Data show a lack of toxicity of T. monococcum gliadin in an in vitro organ culture system, suggesting new dietary opportunities for celiac patients to safely eat einkorn.

http://www.einkorn.com/did-wheat-hybridization-lead-to-celiac-disease
/http://www.einkorn.com/toxicity-of-einkorn-gluten/

http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/2012/02/it-aint-rhight/ - Much of what is being passed off as wheat is really goatgrass.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:24 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Baseless fear of GMO foods isn't too far afield from baseless fears of vaccinations. Labeling a food as a GMO food encourages fear of science and technology. As people have said above, it's not useful information that you can process and analyze. It's nothing.
posted by xmutex at 11:25 AM on November 15, 2012 [22 favorites]


GM labeling is mandatory throughout Europe. In France, growing GM food is banned.

So what? That tells us nothing as to whether the labeling is good or even useful.

Has a few commenters have already stated, a label saying, "this food contains GM ingredients" is as useless as one that states, "this food was made using chemistry". It conveys no meaningful information.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:26 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


And a rabbit trail for the people who have DNA testing machines at their disposal.

Contraceptive corn is based on research on the rare condition, immune infertility, in which a woman makes antibodies that attack sperm.

So did that DNA make it into open fields? If so, to get a human reaction does one need to keep eating the corn or is it a 1 time exposure and the reaction is for a lifetime?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:29 AM on November 15, 2012


Selective breeding to enhance normal crop yields is a world apart from inserting genes that make the plant able to survive being drenched in RoundUp and pesticide. I'm less concerned with the plant having genes artificially inserted than the fact that it's been totally covered in stuff that's been found to cause "severe adverse health effects including mammary tumors and kidney and liver damage, leading to premature death."
posted by mullingitover at 11:30 AM on November 15, 2012


Yeah, I didn't vote for this proposition because it was shittily written with nonsensical exemptions and applications (labeled GM meat in dog food but not in people food?), and too many loopholes that would probably render the labeling pointless. I might vote for a better written proposition for labeling GMO food, though I'm still not sure about the consumer's "right to know" given the vagueness involved in just slapping something with a "genetically modified" label. Genetically modified how? By who? I don't understand what meaningful information the label would impart, other than a vague sense that GM food is unnatural and might be bad for you.

I feel like I end up voting against a lot of propositions I would otherwise support because they're terribly written or have some kind of budget loophole that I'm afraid is going to turn into a budget black hole ten years down the line. California's proposition system is kind of a nightmare in practice, frequently letting citizens vote for things they're invariably ill informed about. I'm a young voter, and when I talk to my friends and peers about voting, they often express anxiety and ambivalence about voting because they just don't understand the propositions. We tend to get a hunted, guilty look and mutter about how we need to read up on the propositions, and who knows how many of us get around to doing that reading up or even voting on the propositions at all.
posted by yasaman at 11:31 AM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Two words: Proposition Sixty-Five

Proposition 65 certainly created a lot of warning labels, and moved a lot of money around via the court system, but is there any data out there that would suggest that proposition 65 has done anything to prevent cancer? You'd think with 49 control cohorts out there you'd be able to see something.

One could argue that Prop. 65 was a terribly designed law, but after a while it's the boy who cried wolf.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:33 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


because proposition 65 labeling is a joke

No kidding. Ends up that every single building you enter in the State of California may cause cancer.
posted by hwyengr at 11:33 AM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


So what I'm hearing is, one big wealthy Western country has completely banned GM food, and in another it is highly available and unlabelled, and this situation has existed for decades.

You'd think there would be a veritable butt-load of studies confirming or rejecting the dangers of "GM" food on such large cohorts by now.
posted by Jimbob at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


> Baseless fear of GMO foods isn't too far afield from baseless fears of vaccinations.

Or climate-change skepticism, to use a different example in the analogy.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:38 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


So did that DNA make it into open fields? If so, to get a human reaction does one need to keep eating the corn or is it a 1 time exposure and the reaction is for a lifetime?

And this is the problem with scientific reporting. The idea with producing antibodies in corn is that you grind up the corn and extract and purify the antibodies. Eating the corn doesn't do anything in much the same way that lots of people eat beef and still got smallpox, but Jenner's milkmaids didn't.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:38 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm less concerned with the plant having genes artificially inserted than the fact that it's been totally covered in stuff that's been found to cause "severe adverse health effects including mammary tumors and kidney and liver damage, leading to premature death."

So make THAT ARGUMENT instead of joining the ranks of deliberately obfuscatory, overwrought hand-wringers that drop this sort ("Selective breeding to enhance normal crop yields is a world apart from inserting genes") of question-begging and call it an argument.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:39 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well Jimbob, the GM thing is hardly the only difference between France and the USA. There would be a hell of a lot of confounding variables to account for in a study like that.
posted by Scientist at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'd think there would be a veritable butt-load of studies confirming or rejecting

I'm not sure how much a butt-load is in your world butt when the studies need to have someone paying for them and where is the money going to come from for loading of butts?

And how long to plan on running the study? Be aware of things like For example, Swedish scientists recently conducted investigations examining whether nutrition affected the death rate associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes and whether these effects were passed from parents to their children and grandchildren

Grandchildren Think about that. What grandma ate effects the granddaughter. How exactly do you structure that study? Who will pay for it?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:42 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not a Californian, but my sibs are, and to hear them talk, there's a weariness about the proposition system that may be a factor. Basically, they feel that bad propositions have caused ton of problems, and are hard to overturn, so absent a very clear beneficial outcome, they say no. This one didn't pass that test for them.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:49 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


The idea with producing antibodies in corn is that you grind up the corn and extract and purify the antibodies

And yet - was there testing done on the corn to see if eating it would get one to the same point as the grind and extract method?

The human sterile corn meme is testable - see if the genes are 'in the wild'. And if 'grind and extract' is far different than 'just eat corn' - this too can be tested.

But who's going to do that testing?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:49 AM on November 15, 2012


You'd think there would be a veritable butt-load of studies confirming or rejecting the dangers of "GM" food on such large cohorts by now.

Except that, because of cross-contamination, we'll probably never be able to do real, actual, control-based, empirical science that will get through a courtroom. The demon is already unleashed for some modified forms of life, because nature is so difficult to control. You'll see this in labeling on some food products, which basically admit there's no way to guarantee it wasn't made with GMO ingredients.

It's not just GMO, either. We're basically playing Russian roulette with the cocktail of man-made chemicals floating around in our environment. Chemical companies love this fact, because their lawyers can use it to sow uncertainty about the health effects of a specific and particularly profitable, if dangerous product, and thus absolve themselves from liability.

We don't really understand what this mix of products does to our bodies, let alone understand the biology of epigenetics that affects germ cells (sperm and egg) that can adversely impact the next generation of human beings. But our legal and social systems demand that corporate progress must march onwards, unimpeded. Good luck, everyone.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:56 AM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


klangklangston: I'm not sure what you mean by "golden rice monocultures". The point of the Golden Rice project is to take a particular trait (expression of biologically available vitamin A precursors), breed it into the varieties of rice grown locally in a region, give the seed away (or sell at local market rates for rice seed) and let farmers grow it the way they've been growing rice for centuries. If they grow rice in monocultures now then that wouldn't change but I'm not sure why you would link Golden Rice with monocultures as if it is somehow related.

I would also like to note that while everyone gets upset about patents and "owning life" it's far more complicated than just dubious multinational agribusiness companies doing bad things. There are also cases like the Zaigler Pluot which is also patented (the trees are sold and orchards can't just grow new trees without paying for them). Zaigler painstakingly breeds very popular stone fruit and I'm not sure how you incentivize that kind of work without something like patents.
posted by R343L at 11:59 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every year since moving to California, I pore over the various government, newspaper, and NGO websites to try and get a full scope of what the various initiatives mean. Inevitably, there are a few that I refuse to vote on, because I can't form a definitive opinion on the subject. Prop 37 was one of these cases.

On the one hand, most arguments I've heard against GMOs have been full of superstitious, anti-science claptrap. Some of them don't even make any sense. (if you think GMOs are the product of an unproven technology, isn't it a GOOD thing if they can't reproduce?) By labeling GMOs, we'd basically be empowering people to discriminate against a potentially beneficial technology.

On the other hand, I'm suspicious of the corporations funding the opposition. No, I'm not concerned that Monsanto is EVIL BIG BROTHER CORPORATION THAT WANTS TO EAR YOUR BABY, but I'm not convinced that my well-being is foremost in their list of priorities. Also, it's not like Prop 37 would ban GMOs; it would just provide more information to consumers -- and what could be wrong with that?

So yeah. Didn't vote on it. I would have been okay with either outcome, really.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:00 PM on November 15, 2012


I voted yes on 37, but with serious reservations. Echoing CKape and Kid Charlemagne, I was quite apprehensive that the end result would be something like the Proposition 65 labeling fiasco. For the non-Californian MeFites, Prop 65 ostensibly requires that items which contain cancer-causing substances be clearly labeled so consumers can choose in an informed way not to buy them.

The end result is that store which sell for example dishes with leaded glazes put up a general warning on the aisle where they are for sale saying that "Things sold here contain substances known by the state of California to cause cancer." Not very helpful, needless to say. If the individual plate had a sticker saying "the glaze on this plate contains lead, which causes cancer," that would be kind of useful. But due to either a poorly written law, or perhaps poor enforcement, we get the useless generic warnings instead.

My worry about 37 is that we would have ended up with a sign on the door at Safeway saying "products for sale in here contain GMOs." Not very useful for the consumer who wants to avoid them.

Personally, I am opposed to GMOs but not for the largely bullshit health reasons cited by lots of airhead hippies. I worry instead about unintended consequences (jumping genes infecting other species, unexpected effects on natural systems, etc), and more concretely about strange and pointless economic effects: we already overproduce milk in this country, and GMO cows produce even more of it per cow, which is kind of unnecessary and transforms the cow in an uncomfortable way into something like a machine. It's easier to just scare people by telling them that GMOs give you cancer, but it's probably not true...
posted by jackbrown at 12:03 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF MONSANTO
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:03 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter is defending Monsanto now??? I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue.
posted by Big_B at 12:06 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


This was my first time voting on California propositions (new citizen) and this about sums it up for me:

I feel like I end up voting against a lot of propositions I would otherwise support because they're terribly written or have some kind of budget loophole that I'm afraid is going to turn into a budget black hole ten years down the line.
posted by yasaman at 11:31 AM on November 15 [+] [!]


I spent about 6 hours reading up on these things. I have a master's degree, am fluent in English and bullshit legalese, am politically aware and really want to make California better for everyone even at my own expense (literally expense) sometimes. But if it wasn't clear to me how it was going to work or what the benefits would really be I voted no. And Prop 37 got my no vote because it was a mess of a proposition which is saying something because the whole proposition system is a shitshow.
posted by marylynn at 12:06 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's not really a relevant study, Rough Ashlar, seeing as how it was correlating availability, not type or quality, of food during a specific period of a grandparent's life with health outcomes in subsequent generations. It does nothing to specifically address fears over transgenic crops.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:07 PM on November 15, 2012


I'm not sure how much a butt-load is in your world butt when the studies need to have someone paying for them and where is the money going to come from for loading of butts?

I get money for my boring butt-studies. Lots of scientists do. Why would studies into the health effects of GMOs be so difficult to fund?

Well Jimbob, the GM thing is hardly the only difference between France and the USA. There would be a hell of a lot of confounding variables to account for in a study like that.

I do studies with confounding variables all the time. Very hard not to, in ecology. It's what statistics is for. Sorry, not a good enough excuse.

because of cross-contamination, we'll probably never be able to do real, actual, control-based, empirical science that will get through a courtroom. The demon is already unleashed for some modified forms of life, because nature is so difficult to control.

Hang on, the aim of science is to go through courtrooms now? And now it's something too complicated and mysterious and beyond science to even study and answer questions about? Wow. Creepy.
posted by Jimbob at 12:13 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I eat soy all the goddamn day, and that shit is all GMO to the teats.

I'm no botanist, but if your soy has teats, it's probably GMO.
posted by condour75 at 12:14 PM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also one reason there aren't as many studies on health effects of transgenic crops is because most current ones aren't intended to be different than the non-transgenic version. If they aren't immediately toxic or allergenic (both of these are actually tested) and the genes in question aren't thought to cause problems, then there's no point in testing. How is adding expression of Cry proteins (Bt traits) going to harm people when it's been known for 80 years that you can literally eat Bt toxins by the spoonful without harm? How is a slightly tweeked EPSPS pathway (how glyphosate tolerance works) in plants going to harm us when we eat myriad plants all with different forms of these genes and none of them are known to have any effect? Contrariwise, if we think targeted, single gene changes might have weird, unexpected long-term health effects that aren't present in the studies that do get done (contrary to popular belief multi-year and multi-generational studies are done on animals), then we'd also expect that every chemical or radiation mutated plant created this century would need similar testing since far more genes are changed.
posted by R343L at 12:15 PM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


By "no point in testing" I mean few tests on humans are going to be done because it seems likely to be a dead-end and long-term, human studies on large populations are expensive to run and hard to design well. Plenty of studies on animals have been done and they rarely show issues (when they do, other similar studies don't replicate it and no plausible mechanisms are provided).
posted by R343L at 12:20 PM on November 15, 2012


So there's this thing that you hear all the damned time from free-marketers.

It goes something like, "Regulation is unnecessary, because the consumers will decide! If a business sells a damaging or substandard product, why not just let the magic of the marketplace put them out of business?"

The answer is because these businesses will do everything possible to make sure that the consumer does not have the necessary information to make these choices, and the only thing that can compel them to provide that information to the consumer is government regulation.

That's why I voted yes.

I don't think that GMO crops are any different nutrition/health/science-wise.
I hate Monsanto, but no more than any other giant scumsucking corporation seeking short term gain at the expense of long-term viability.

I even agree that people who choose not to buy GMO crops are probably wrong and basing their decision on incomplete data or misleading scare tactics. Sure.

I don't see anything wrong with GMO crops!

But the thing is, capitalism can only function in an effective, non-abusive way with full information ... and if we're going to talk about how awful misleading scare tactics are, get back to me when we've outlawed diet pill advertisements, beer advertisements, cosmetic advertisements, deodorant advertisements, etc, etc, etc.

It can't be okay to exploit irrational fears in order to enrich corporate profit constantly but to cry "Oh noooo!" the minute fully informed consumers might buy less of your shit.
posted by Myca at 12:20 PM on November 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


Baseless fear of GMO foods isn't too far afield from baseless fears of vaccinations.

I don't know enough of the facts to make a comment on GMO foods personally. But a friend of mine from high school is an avid facebook user. His newsfeed consists almost solely of 5 topics:

1) Ron Paul
2) 9/11 Truther stuff
3) Anti-vaccine stuff
4) Anti-GMO foods
5) SomeEcards about bacon

These are now all lumped together in my head as "indicative of teh crazy."
posted by phunniemee at 12:20 PM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Which is really unfortunate considering how much I like bacon.
posted by phunniemee at 12:21 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


then we'd also expect that every chemical or radiation mutated plant created this century would need similar testing since far more genes are changed.

From the rest of your reply, you must know that this is a false equivalence. A random mutation is not going to end up achieving ubiquity in the food supply. Inserting a functional gene into something and growing a million copies of that is completely different from a random mutation that ends up putting a stop codon in the middle of a gene of a plant that then goes and dies or reproduces far less successfully.
posted by Jpfed at 12:22 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


A random mutation is not going to end up achieving ubiquity in the food supply is intended to read "is not nearly as likely to end up achieving ubiquity in the food supply".
posted by Jpfed at 12:23 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hang on, the aim of science is to go through courtrooms now?

Isn't this a discussion about a law regarding product warning labeling? If you have decided to move the goalposts, that's fine. But here's how science actually works, though: empiricism requires two things that can be reliably measured and compared. Good luck and cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:24 PM on November 15, 2012


Actually as a voter on this I prioritized the state's pocketbook over that knowledge.

I presume this means there is some unbiased source of costs for the gummint. How much do those sources say this would have cost the state of California?

But the thing is, capitalism can only function in an effective, non-abusive way with full information

If radical free-marketers have any integrity whatsoever (and I'm still looking for evidence that they are motivated by anything other than greed), they would insist that the only regulations be truth in labeling and advertising, since that can only enhance competition and consumer choice. But, oddly, they seem to oppose such regulations at every turn.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:24 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The value of current independent studies is considered by some to be problematic because, due to restrictive end-user agreements, independent researchers cannot obtain GM plants to study.
posted by memebake at 12:30 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, oddly, they seem to oppose such regulations at every turn.

Unsurprisingly, what "free marketers" have actually called for here (see Tyler Cowen of GMU and MarginalRevolution.com) is allowing the market to determine whether certain products are labeled or not, in a manner akin to kosher certification labeling, etc. I have not yet heard any convincing argument for why this isn't a perfectly fine solution other than various incarnations of the usual desire of fringe-belief types to use the state to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

Moreover, as long as we're discussing acceptable levels of paternalism here, it seems perfectly fine to me for the government not to label products in a way that is short on information (because "GMO" is not a category that describes potential harms) and long on scare-mongering.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:33 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unsurprisingly, what "free marketers" have actually called for here (see Tyler Cowen of GMU and MarginalRevolution.com) is allowing the market to determine whether certain products are labeled or not, in a manner akin to kosher certification labeling, etc.

Yes, because before regulations requiring labeling in food and medicine, all was well. The ahistorical nature of such arguments, and the utter reliance on ignorance to pass them along is just another example of the lack of integrity.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:42 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would I have been able to vote in this, I would have voted no. Not because I don't see issues with GMO food (although I probably think the issues have less to do with health and more with patents, unfair business practices, and lack of independent control/study). But because people have seen labeling bills fail catastrophically, especially here.

Anyone living in California will recognize this: WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. It's as meaningless as it gets. People ignore these things because they don't actually mean anything, except "I don't want some lawyer to milk me for failing to put this label on stuff". The very same thing would have happened for food: Everything in California would come with a GMO label, because nobody can be sure that their crop/breed is actually GMO free. (I know there was an even better story where the protected contaminating seed was carried over from a neighboring field, but I can't find it).

I haven't seen the ads, but I bet that at least some people were thinking of Prop 65 when they said no to this one. The information gain from warning labels of this kind is precisely zero.
posted by dlg at 12:42 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I ended up voting on a lot of propositions in a way that made me feel odd. I voted against GMO labeling? I voted against a law banning human trafficking? How could I do that?

Because they were poorly written and would have done more harm than good. And it took a lot of research and thinking to come to those conclusions. But man, the cognitive dissonance was huge.

(P.S. Can we talk about why Prop 34 lost? Because that one broke my damn heart.)
posted by elsietheeel at 12:43 PM on November 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I have no problems eating GMO foods. Organic is good too. Generally, as a consumer, if I have some extra money to spend I'll buy an organic apple as a treat. Typically, if I am low on money, I'll buy the best deal, and I usually just assume if it doesn't say organic that it's GMO.

I think non-GMO foods voluntarily labeling that they're non-GMO is best.
posted by Malice at 12:44 PM on November 15, 2012


Selective breeding to enhance normal crop yields is a world apart from inserting genes that make the plant able to survive being drenched in RoundUp and pesticide.

Please articulate the difference and why it matters.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:46 PM on November 15, 2012


I made my decision after reading these from the Secretary of State:

http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2012/general/pdf/37-title-summ-analysis.pdf

http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2012/general/pdf/37-arg-rebuttals.pdf

An item that caught my eye early was the provision "(3) allows individuals to sue food manufacturers who violate the measure’s labeling provisions."

The other item was "In addition, the measure prohibits the use of terms such as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” and “all natural” in the labeling and advertising of GE foods."

Just following the money, I came to see the proposition as a group of food manufacturers seeking to use State law to beat their competitors over the head with a stick, by utilizing the irrational fear of a sizeable group of customers.

If you want to advertise your non-GMO-ness, print it on your own package. See if that gets you any more customers. If that fails, don't try to use State law to strengthen your market position.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:46 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jpfed: But that's just the point. We don't know what those random mutations did. They aren't necessarily ones that would affect the plant's reproductive success. Moreover, the genes we intentionally chose from those mutated ancestors are in some sense just like modern transgenic ones, albeit painfully created and selected for. We no more know what those traits do either. Consider the genes that cause cereal plant dwarfing (not done thru mutagenesis as far as I know) or the traits that make ruby grapefruits red (mutation breeding). They are ubiquitous in our food supply. They've never been tested in the way some think are necessary for modern biotech crops. Why is that different? I really don't think it's a false equivalence. We have no reason to think a gene for dwarfing or for red grapefruit are going to harm us any more than we think Bt traits will. But only one trait results in demands for more testing.
posted by R343L at 12:46 PM on November 15, 2012


On October 8, 2010, KCET announced that it could not reach an agreement to remain with PBS and would become an independent television service as of January 1, 2011. In a letter to viewers, board chairman Gordon Bava said that PBS wanted KCET to pay $7 million for its programming — more than double what KOCE was paying.[5]

On March 30, 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that KCET was in negotiations to sell the studio to the Church of Scientology, with KCET relocating to a smaller location following the sale, in light of KCET's sharp decreases in ratings and pledges following dismembership from PBS.[6] The sale of the property, which was sold for $45 million,[7] closed on April 25, 2011, with part of the proceeds going towards KCET's leasing of the studios[7] until new facilities are found.[8][9] KCET relocated to a new complex in a high-rise state-of-the art building, The Pointe, in April 2012, located in Burbank.[7]

At the end of Fiscal 2011, contributions and grants to KCET decreased even further, down 41 percent from the previous year to $22.3 million.[7] [my emphasis]
A major non-commercial television station makes an absolutely enormous blunder which plunges it into a fiscal crisis of the first magnitude, then takes an editorial stance which is almost certain to further alienate its viewer-donors, but is extremely pleasing to certain very wealthy corporate interests.

Any guesses as to where its biggest corporate sponsorships and 'enhanced underwriting' deals are likely to come from?
posted by jamjam at 12:48 PM on November 15, 2012


As a scientist who works with a lot of people dealing with Bt resistance, this bill struck me as being more panic than substance.

First, corporations already control our food supply. It's not just factory farms, it's the companies that sell fertilizer (which we really need, since our soils are pretty dead in many places) and pesticides (which we need for high yield in a monoculture system), the companies that buy and distribute the produce, the companies that make loans to farmers, and so on. Transgenic crops just jump out because Monsanto is evil.

Second, pretty much all of our food crops are genetically modified from their wild ancestors. The only difference is that now we can do it in a lab with science rather than a farmer diligently cross-breeding his plants out in the field. I feel like there's an interesting cultural commentary here, stretching back through our perceptions of "mad scientists" and Cold War nuclear fears, but I'm not the one to make it.

Third, transgenic crops - or at least, Bt crops - are actually pretty good for the environment because they reduce the use of broad spectrum, highly toxic, long-lasting pesticides. Cross-pollination with wild plants is an issue that has to be addressed, yes, but it's vastly preferable to tainting our groundwater and soil with poison. Bt toxin is also incredibly specific, limited to just a few closely-related insect groups, and won't affect humans - partially because we lack the receptors for the toxins, and partly because our stomachs are acidic while insect stomachs are alkaline, making the chemistry different. I do agree that Roundup-ready crops are bad, though.

Pesticide residues in food probably do more damage to people than transgenic plants do. Labeling products just means consumers can vote with their wallets to increase broad-spectrum pesticide use because they're scared of Frankenfoods or something.
posted by Noms_Tiem at 12:50 PM on November 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


Please stop with this "GMO is not a meaningful term" guff - or at least give evidence to this point of view rather than stating it ex cathedra.

All human words have ambiguities around the edges but the concept of a "genetically modified organism" is quite well-defined as words go. Here's a perfectly good definition from the Human Genome Project: "GM is a special set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of organisms such as animals, plants, or bacteria. Biotechnology, a more general term, refers to using organisms or their components, such as enzymes, to make products that include wine, cheese, beer, and yogurt."

It is clear that, for example, selective breeding over generations with no other techniques involved does not result in a "genetically modified organism" but that transgenics are.

Yes, there are some grey areas but this is true of almost every concept in any human language. The vast majority of organisms are either "clearly GMO" or "clearly not GMO", and the reason laws are long-winded and case law important is entirely to clarify the grey areas in human speech.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:52 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, because before regulations requiring labeling in food and medicine, all was well. The ahistorical nature of such arguments, and the utter reliance on ignorance to pass them along is just another example of the lack of integrity.

I don't know whether your point-missing is deliberate or unintentional.

"WARNING:CIGARETTES ARE KNOWN TO CAUSE CANCER" is a high-value warning.

"WARNING: DO NOT DOUBLE UP ON WARFARIN IF YOU MISS A DOSE" is a high-value warning.

"WARNING: SOME GENES WERE MODIFIED" gives the consumer absolutely no information about the characteristics of the product and if required by law implies (falsely) that the government endorses the idea that there is something wrong with this product (and implies that the idea that GMO foods have some essential commonality is valid even though said idea is totally wrong).

By contrast, allowing companies to label their products GMO-free in response to consumer demand serves the interests of (1) the crystal-clutching set; (2) the merchants who can make an extra margin off the crystal-clutching set; and (3) those that refuse to subsidize the former in their own buying choices.

One need not be Milton Friedman to see the problem here. Then again, if you're more committed to getting one over on your ideological opponents than developing sensible policies - a recurring problem in American politics - I suppose the opportunity to get Jenny McCarthy on the phone and chastise the eeeebuulll deregulators is irresistible.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:52 PM on November 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I presume this means there is some unbiased source of costs for the gummint. How much do those sources say this would have cost the state of California?

Yup, the non partisan California Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the fiscal impacts of each proposition and puts that information in the CA Voter Guide. Here is what they wrote for prop 37.

I voted no. When I was a teen I discovered a 'Warning! Food here may cause cancer!' sign hidden behind a bush in front of a Polly's Pies. I had a brief SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE moment, but later found out that every chain restaurant in ca that makes stuff with fake sugar has one of these sign. The signs are staggeringly useless in their ubiquity. If 37 had passed people would not be more aware of GM foods, they would see how prevalent they are and become perfectly complacent.
posted by Garm at 12:53 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Science fear-mongering.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:56 PM on November 15, 2012


I'm a Californian and I voted no on this. The KCET article is good.

It's a badly written law with good intent, but it's still a badly written law.

Yes, often no law is better than a badly written law.

Besides not addressing descriptive and informative GMO labeling, it doesn't address other important food labeling information like use of anti-biotics, growth hormones, pesticides, etc.

We have Prop. 65 in California and it's a joke. Completely useless to making informed decisions.

Lastly, the undercurrent of "science is scary" and "genetic engineering is pure evil" is the wrong direction to head, especially in light of the problems with under-vaccination in California due to similar fear mongering.
posted by Argyle at 1:04 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I am a consumer who doesn't care about the calorie content of the food I eat, then the calorie content on the current mandatory labels is of no use to me. However, if I am a consumer who does care, then that is useful information to me. With legislation to enforce labeling comes two benefits to consumers who care: a quantifiable measure of what is being legislated, which is a step towards making that information useful, and pressure on the food companies to respond to the marketplace if it is useful information to them.

Consider cars: safety wasn't always legislated, and auto manufacturers insisted they were making the cars as safe as they could. Once certain safety measures and testing were legislated -- which the automakers strongly opposed, not unlike Monsanto et al today -- the consumers who cared had the quantifiable measure of how to select a safer car, which allowed those consumers to apply market pressure in a way that led to safer cars. Are post-legislation new cars more expensive? Yes. Are used cars post-legislation much safer than used cars pre-legislation? Yes. Are pre-legislation used cars less expensive than post-legislation used cars? Yes, but of course they're older, too, and there are many older, unsafe cars that draw a price premium over safer cars because of other desirable factors. Are car manufacturers still making profits? Depends on the company and the year, but that's normal for any sort of business.

The end result, then, is that you can walk into a car dealership and take two approaches:

1. You can not care about safety, and not read the test results, but be assured that your car at least has a collapsible steering column (to avoid chest impalement) and safety glass (to avoid your being sliced open) and safety belts (to avoid flying forward into the steering column or through the windshield.) That's arguably a good thing.

2. You can care about safety, and read the test results, and select a car that you believe will be more likely to protect you in an accident...or select a car that is less likely, but good enough, and cheaper.

Either way, we're better off, and we'd all be better off in a similar way with food if we simply made this information public through legislation and let the market decide. If people really don't care, then it won't make a difference, and if people care, then hiding the information was just thwarting the market anyway.
posted by davejay at 1:12 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and the key, then, isn't to argue "should have legislation" vs "should not", but to argue about making legislated information as useful and accurate as possible (versus passing a law that mandates useless labels.) If the label being proposed is useless, fight for a label that isn't, and if the label being proposed doesn't fix *everything*, get one label passed and then fight for the next one.
posted by davejay at 1:14 PM on November 15, 2012


What GMO cows, jackbrown? I work for a large, public research agency, and I work almost exclusively with dairy cattle. I am not aware of any U.S. dairies that are selling milk from cloned cows.
posted by wintermind at 1:15 PM on November 15, 2012


I'm not a Californian, but my sibs are, and to hear them talk, there's a weariness about the proposition system that may be a factor. Basically, they feel that bad propositions have caused ton of problems, and are hard to overturn, so absent a very clear beneficial outcome, they say no. This one didn't pass that test for them.

This. This is why I voted 'no' on Prop 37. Half the other propositions on the ballot were there to explicitly undo some of the carnage caused by previous years' poorly thought-out propositions.
posted by nave at 1:23 PM on November 15, 2012


lupus_yonderboy: " "GM is a special set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of organisms such as animals, plants, or bacteria."

Does this mean that all beef and milk needs to be labeled as GMO, because the cow's parents had sex?

lupus_yonderboy: "It is clear that, for example, selective breeding over generations with no other techniques involved does not result in a "genetically modified organism" "

Actually, that's not clear at all. Why does the technique matter if the outcome is the same?
posted by schmod at 1:26 PM on November 15, 2012


New proposal:

Any product that has a pH of less than 7 must now be labeled with
*** "DANGER: CONTAINS ACID" ***
posted by schmod at 1:27 PM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


The quality of the arguments in this thread confirms this is one of the best sites for discussion of timely topics.
posted by noway at 1:28 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agreed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:29 PM on November 15, 2012


I'm usually not a one to make "let the free market sort it out" arguments, and I'm not really proposing that as a solution here. Nevertheless, if there is, in fact, a viable customer base of people who will choose non-GMO food over GMO food, you'd think there would already be a thriving food industry advertising the fact that it is non-GMO and putting prominent labels on products announcing that fact.

What benefit, if any, is there in labeling GMO food a such with some small, difficult-to-find label over labeling non-GMO food with a prominent advertising label to attract customers who will not consider buying anything else?
posted by The World Famous at 1:34 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I felt it would have done better sold as a simple "right to know" and "food labelling so you can make your own decisions" issue. Instead, I saw a lot of OMG FRANKENFOOD and HAM MIGHT HAVE HUMAN GENES ARE YOU A CANNIBAL crap. Honestly, that almost turned me off it, and I know many science literate people who voted against it because if the fear mongering hype. I don't have to be scared of GM to want to know about it.
posted by freebird at 1:35 PM on November 15, 2012


Schmod: Why does the technique matter if the outcome is the same?

Are you suggesting that in a complex ecosystem, slow gradual changes over the course of many generations by selective breeding are equivalent to just splicing something in from a completely different line or species in a matter of days?
posted by memebake at 1:37 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


We will eat the shit Monsanto wants us to eat and LIKE it!

Do I think GMO is all bad? No.
Do I think things need to be labeled as such? Yes.
Do I think we need to have consumer education? Yes.
Do I think there needs to be accountability? Hell yes.

I am not aware of any U.S. dairies that are selling milk from cloned cows.

Frankly, wintermind, I'd rather drink milk from cloned cows fed primarily grass with some grains than from cows that are fed full of antibiotics and hormones, and eat chicken shit, sawdust, plastic pellets, candy, and animal proteins from rendered dogs, cats or other offal.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:37 PM on November 15, 2012


The World Famous: Nevertheless, if there is, in fact, a viable customer base of people who will choose non-GMO food over GMO food, you'd think there would already be a thriving food industry advertising the fact that it is non-GMO and putting prominent labels on products announcing that fact.

In the UK we have that - on packaging and often voluntarily on restaurant menus.
posted by memebake at 1:39 PM on November 15, 2012


In the UK we have that - on packaging and often voluntarily on restaurant menus.

So why require a label saying that food contains GMO ingredients if there's already a market incentive to prominently advertise food that does not contain them?

If there's a viable market segment that will chose non-GMO over GMO, then let the non-GMO food producers make more money by voluntarily labeling their food. Those of us who insist on never eating anything GMO (since those are the only people helped by a label that merely alerts to the presence of GMO) can watch out for the non-GMO label and just buy those foods.

If there really are people who would use a simple "this product contains GMO" label when deciding what to buy, I see no reason why they would not be equally well served by voluntary advertising of the absence of GMO. Otherwise, the GMO label is exactly as useful as telling all Californians that every car and building they enter may contain materials that cause cancer.
posted by The World Famous at 1:47 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The respective political polarization is weird.
There are plenty of people who hate communism and would regard public ownership of the food supply with suspicion.
And there are plenty of people who hate corporatism and regard the private ownership of the food supply with suspicion.

...I don't know where the hell this is on the spectrum. Private companies own the genetics of the organism which is scary, but then the government regulation is regarded with suspicion too.

Miller's argument seems pretty accurate, because I have no idea whats going on.

I want the right to know...ah, but it will cost me....but then I won't know...but then it costs more to know....but then there's ignorance of danger, which is bad...but then *rubs fingers together in "money" gesture* ... I don't know what it is I don't know. Which is a problem, yeah.

The Prop seems to need one of those serious major league humorless assholes that champion such causes so well.

Not that people who champion such things are, it's just that the guys who would really otherwise aggravate the hell out of you like Ralph Nader or Upton Sinclair seem to do it so well.
'Listen to me! Telepathy is the future not radio! We need more enemas and raw vegetables! The meat packers don't care about public health!'
'Upton, you're nuts.'
'Oh yeah? What about this human finger in your hamburger? AHA!'
'eww...well, ok... yeah, got me there, we should get on that.'
posted by Smedleyman at 1:49 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is a thriving industry of providing labeled non-GMO options. There's organic obviously, but the Non-GMO Project (supported Prop 37 btw) offers a certification and labeling program being heavily adopted by certain sectors of the food market. Whole Foods is getting basically all their house brands certified, for example, and Nature's Paths (mostly cereals) uses them extensively. Of course the latter company also fear-mongers about GMOs including promoting execrable movies like Genetic Roulette so it's not to my mind a good thing. I actually find it hard to find products that don't have non-GMO project labels on them (I find a lot of what the Non-GMO Project claims on their website to be incredibly misleading if not outright false so prefer not to support them).
posted by R343L at 1:50 PM on November 15, 2012


There is a thriving industry of providing labeled non-GMO options.

It seems to me that it would have been far better to spend all the advertising money from the Proposition on a series of quick PSAs to just tell people to "Look for the Non-GMO label if you don't want GMO!"

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why I should prefer to have everything with GMO have a label rather than just assuming that everything without a label has GMO and that only food labeled "Non-GMO" is actually non-GMO.
posted by The World Famous at 2:00 PM on November 15, 2012



"WARNING:CIGARETTES ARE KNOWN TO CAUSE CANCER" is a high-value warning.

"WARNING: DO NOT DOUBLE UP ON WARFARIN IF YOU MISS A DOSE" is a high-value warning.


WORD: DIS HEAH SHIT BE FUCKIN' YOU UP
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 2:05 PM on November 15, 2012


mullingitover: I'm less concerned with the plant having genes artificially inserted than the fact that it's been totally covered in stuff that's been found to cause "severe adverse health effects including mammary tumors and kidney and liver damage, leading to premature death."

There was a pretty good takedown of the French GMO-corn-causes-cancer-in-mice study in this thread, titled How to Manipulate Science Reporting.

Especially note the excellent comments by Blasdelb.
posted by purpleclover at 2:13 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the UK we have that - on packaging and often voluntarily on restaurant menus.

I was amused on a trip to England to go in a pub and see the prominent sign "We Do Not Serve GMO Foods" What they did serve was high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie, high cholesterol... with alcohol. So that's alright then! Cheers mate.
posted by binturong at 2:26 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would vote yes to the labels because I go out of my way to eat GM food. Science rules!
posted by Drinky Die at 2:28 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


And yet - was there testing done on the corn to see if eating it would get one to the same point as the grind and extract method?

The effect of trypsin on IgG is well established, if that's what you're asking.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:31 PM on November 15, 2012


I voted for it largely because the arguments that were presented to me against it seemed like they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes.

For example, I got a flyer in the mail that tried tried to portray it as full of confusing contradictions and omissions by giving a list of examples of things that are covered by the bill and things that are exempt from the labeling. Like: "A frozen pizza from your grocery store: YES. The exact same pizza delivered to you by a pizzeria: EXEMPT". Well... yeah. The pizzeria doesn't have to label its wares with ingredient lists like the grocery store does either. So that's just consistency with existing labeling laws there, and trying to make a big thing about it makes it seem like you think I'm stupid. Trying to fob me off with obviously phony stuff like this makes me suspect that your real reasons for caring about the issue enough to print up these flyers are ones you're keeping to yourself.
posted by baf at 2:37 PM on November 15, 2012


I eat soy all the goddamn day, and that shit is all GMO to the teats.

I'm no botanist, but if your soy has teats, it's probably GMO.


Where else would soy milk come from?
posted by Drinky Die at 2:37 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I worked a summer at a soy milk ranch. All day milking those soy plants, until your hands and back got so sore you wondered if you'd ever done anything else. The stench of soy manure in the air. The idle 'pa-pa-pa-kooo' noises the soy made, mocking your rote labor. Gallons of milk gathered in hemp barrels, sloshing back and forth for what seemed like just slightly too long for a liquid that wasn't supposed to be alive anymore. Never again.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:01 PM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Smedleyman: "The respective political polarization is weird.
There are plenty of people who hate communism and would regard public ownership of the food supply with suspicion.
And there are plenty of people who hate corporatism and regard the private ownership of the food supply with suspicion.

...I don't know where the hell this is on the spectrum. Private companies own the genetics of the organism which is scary, but then the government regulation is regarded with suspicion too.

Miller's argument seems pretty accurate, because I have no idea whats going on.

I want the right to know...ah, but it will cost me....but then I won't know...but then it costs more to know....but then there's ignorance of danger, which is bad...but then *rubs fingers together in "money" gesture* ... I don't know what it is I don't know. Which is a problem, yeah.

The Prop seems to need one of those serious major league humorless assholes that champion such causes so well.

Not that people who champion such things are, it's just that the guys who would really otherwise aggravate the hell out of you like Ralph Nader or Upton Sinclair seem to do it so well.
'Listen to me! Telepathy is the future not radio! We need more enemas and raw vegetables! The meat packers don't care about public health!'
'Upton, you're nuts.'
'Oh yeah? What about this human finger in your hamburger? AHA!'
'eww...well, ok... yeah, got me there, we should get on that.'
"

Ooooooooooh, dual meat burger!...Oh, what?
posted by Samizdata at 3:12 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yup, the non partisan California Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the fiscal impacts of each proposition and puts that information in the CA Voter Guide. Here is what they wrote for prop 37.

Hmm, a few thousand up to a million, huh? Seems pretty cheap.

Of course, the devil's in the details and from what I gather on the thread (I haven't read the prop) it sounds like a pretty flawed and gerrymandered bill. I'm not opposed to the idea of labeling as long as it can be done in a clear and straightforward manner, with clear rules and back-up guidance for consumers who want to know more. The main reasons I think producers oppose this in principle are that 1) they never like to be told what to do, and 2) the big, mainstream producers can only lose business to the smaller producers, at least initially.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:26 PM on November 15, 2012


How does one gerrymander a bill?
posted by onya at 3:31 PM on November 15, 2012


For the life of me, I cannot figure out why I should prefer to have everything with GMO have a label rather than just assuming that everything without a label has GMO and that only food labeled "Non-GMO" is actually non-GMO.

That works, too! The problem is that without a government mandate, it's as meaningless as "natural" and "certified organic." Sure some private enterprise can set up a certification program, and then educate the public, etc., etc., but meanwhile I'm big food and I can just put out two versions of my products, one saying GMO-free and you and I can argue in court about exactly what that means when you come to sue me for mislabeling.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:31 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


How does one gerrymander a bill?

Use your imagination and your, um, metaphorination?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:32 PM on November 15, 2012


That works, too! The problem is that without a government mandate, it's as meaningless as "natural" and "certified organic."

California Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq. should do the trick already, along with other consumer protection laws, common law remedies for fraud, statutory provisions regarding truth in advertising, etc.

meanwhile I'm big food and I can just put out two versions of my products, one saying GMO-free and you and I can argue in court about exactly what that means when you come to sue me for mislabeling.

I'm right there with you on the general inefficiency of consumer class actions to change companies' advertising practices. But if this particular hypothetical were actually a big problem, those companies would be doing that already, wouldn't they?

Not to mention that a well-placed, effectively-litigated class action can, in fact, have a huge effect on an industry.
posted by The World Famous at 3:43 PM on November 15, 2012


The basic argument seems to be: We don't know if this stuff is harmful or not since it is not something humans have ever ingested in history. So, lets keep studying it. And lets track it with labels. It is prudent.

I'd like to believe this is prudent.

However, in the UK there is a very well known problem with iodine deficiency largely because food purists resist adding it as a supplement to table salt like the rest of the world does.

So they chose a possible 10pt IQ drop in their offspring over 'scary' additives.
posted by srboisvert at 4:00 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


But on the bright side: Goiters!
posted by The World Famous at 4:06 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that if you're eating food that is processed enough to require a nutritional label, you're fucked and the planet is fucked.

Okay, not quite. But this seemed like lazy, consumer-culture style activism to me, and as a California voter, I voted no. Just assume that everything you buy in a commercial supermarket that isn't an organic vegetable is harmful to you and the planet in some way. The back-patting party for eating Annie's Organic non-GMO frozen dinners must end.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:27 PM on November 15, 2012


I don't know where you live, BlueHorse, but odds are good that there is a local dairy that will be happy to sell you milk from cows on pasture for a modest markup over the price of milk form confinement systems. The free market at work and all. But -- and this is just a suggestion -- you might want to critically evaluate any source that tells you that dairy cows eat plastic pellets or sawdust.
posted by wintermind at 4:30 PM on November 15, 2012


"klangklangston: I'm not sure what you mean by "golden rice monocultures". The point of the Golden Rice project is to take a particular trait (expression of biologically available vitamin A precursors), breed it into the varieties of rice grown locally in a region, give the seed away (or sell at local market rates for rice seed) and let farmers grow it the way they've been growing rice for centuries. If they grow rice in monocultures now then that wouldn't change but I'm not sure why you would link Golden Rice with monocultures as if it is somehow related."

So, this is what I remember from my IR class years ago, as well as a former girlfriend who went to Thailand as part of a sustainable agriculture NGO program:

Basically, the golden rice that was provided around Chaing Mai was heartier than the local precursor, and also was worth more money. Which is generally good. But what ended up happening was that where multiple varieties of rice used to be rotated through in order to keep the soil from being as depleted, it became just one kind. And where other crops used to be planted that supplemented the rice, those fields were torn out and supplanted by the golden rice, and that came with a bevy of fertilizers and pesticides too.

So what the NGO was doing was providing seed money, no pun intended, for other crops that could be grown simultaneously with the rice, and also training and resources for moving out of the straight crop-growing and into a more integrated economic option.

It's like any other technology — GMOs can be economically disruptive. But, similarly, that's not an argument against GMOs in total, just a reason to be prudent with them.

I would also like to note that while everyone gets upset about patents and "owning life" it's far more complicated than just dubious multinational agribusiness companies doing bad things. There are also cases like the Zaigler Pluot which is also patented (the trees are sold and orchards can't just grow new trees without paying for them). Zaigler painstakingly breeds very popular stone fruit and I'm not sure how you incentivize that kind of work without something like patents."

Well, how did we incentivize it before patents? By letting those fruits succeed in the marketplace.
posted by klangklangston at 4:39 PM on November 15, 2012


you'd think there would already be a thriving food industry advertising the fact that it is non-GMO and putting prominent labels on products announcing that fact.

Yeah, you'd think. Until you learn that companies like Monsanto fight tooth and nail to prevent exactly that kind of labeling, too. In Pennsylvania in 2008, for just one example, the agriculture commissioner actually banned farmers who don't use BGH in their products from announcing that fact to consumers, until the governor stepped in and overruled him. Monsanto was leading the way:

BGH manufacturer Monsanto has fought hard against BGH-free labels. It's appealed to the Federal Trade Commission and even sued individual dairies using these labels...Monsanto's Michael Doane said milk drinkers are being duped: "Misleading labels actually damage the reputation of all dairy products by suggesting there's good milk or bad milk and that's really not true."

So much for letting informed consumers decide. It's great to hear "there is a thriving industry of providing labeled non-GMO options" in California but it's probably naive to think that Monsanto isn't constantly looking for ways to undermine farmers' right to label their products "non-GMO," and would jump at the chance to make it illegal nationwide in a heartbeat. Monsanto and other companies have done exactly that in state after state on other issues, and it seems a sure thing they are right now actively working to block independent farmers from being able to label their products "non-GMO" on a farm near you.
posted by mediareport at 4:48 PM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know where you live, BlueHorse, but odds are good that there is a local dairy that will be happy to sell you milk from cows on pasture for a modest markup over the price of milk form confinement systems. The free market at work and all. But -- and this is just a suggestion -- you might want to critically evaluate any source that tells you that dairy cows eat plastic pellets or sawdust.

Yes! A lot of these labelling mechanisms actually punish small producers.

As long as we rely on the industrial food system, we're collectively missing the point.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:56 PM on November 15, 2012


Selective breeding to enhance normal crop yields is a world apart from inserting genes that make the plant able to survive being drenched in RoundUp and pesticide.

Please articulate the difference and why it matters.


All right, I'll have a crack. This should be pretty obvious and it surprises me to find people that think otherwise.

1) In doing so, there is already a large spread of glyphosate resistant weeds, and accidental cross-breeding - which impacts the ability of people to grow non GMO crops, whether they like it or not, and is resulting in a "herbicide arms race" as more and more weeds grow resistant.

2) It feeds a model that discourages seed-hoarding and is based on Monsanto IP model that many people are uncomfortable with.

3) There are still investigations wrt to the impact of many pesticides on Colony Collapse Disorder.

I do not think GMO is an unalloyed evil, but let's not kid ourselves here about what it is and what it isn't. Comparisons to selective breeding are just silly; comparisons to anti-vac is just silly (no one is dying from eating non-GMO foods, and people eating non-GMO foods do not pose a public health risk).

Gosh. I think - whether they're crazy or not - people should have a right to know what goes into their food, and I'm genuinely surprised to see so many Americans - who are typically quite big on freedom and all that jazz - coming down on the "the state/corporation knows best, you're too stupid to be trusted with information" side of this debate - merits of the actual bill in question aside.
posted by smoke at 5:25 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that if you're eating food that is processed enough to require a nutritional label, you're fucked and the planet is fucked.

Shit, my organic rice and black beans have nutritional labels. What am I gonna eat now?
posted by Drinky Die at 5:28 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a weak "yes" on 37. I thought the statutory text was poorly written; the enforcement scheme was murky, among other issues. I also had the same, oh, god, Prop 65 redux reaction. But I eventually ended up at "yes," in part because I decided that the ballot materials and future regulations would clarify the statutory text, and because I didn't like Monsanto's opposition.

I am saddened by the defeat of Prop 34 and the passage of Prop 35.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:37 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think - whether they're crazy or not - people should have a right to know what goes into their food

I agree with you in concept, sure. But the fact is that a label that says "GMO" does not tell you what goes into your food. It's just too vague and broad to be a meaningful label for decisionmaking by any consumer other than one who has decided categorically not to eat food with any GMO ingredient. For the rest of us, a label that says "this product contains GMO ingredients" is just not helpful at all.
posted by The World Famous at 5:44 PM on November 15, 2012


I get money for my boring butt-studies. Lots of scientists do. Why would studies into the health effects of GMOs be so difficult to fund?

Because the corporations developing GMO crops put a lot of money into lobbying to make sure that this is not a funding priority.

I think non-GMO foods voluntarily labeling that they're non-GMO is best.

The problem with this is that the corporations developing GMO crops put a lot of money into suing small producers who label that their products are somehow different from those of the big producer: Monsanto is pretty notorious for suing smaller milk distributors over rBGH labeling, for example. (And I would guess that part of why this Prop 65 is so weak is because of industry lobbying sabotaging the original goals?)

I have no opinion about the wording of this particular legislation that was proposed and whether it was good or bad, but the argument for government legislation of labeling is that the power and money imbalance here is so large that the "market" cannot just decide to do labeling on its own if that's what consumers desire.

Regardless of how you feel about the potential health risks attributed to GMO foods, I think increased labeling of the supply chain in general is a good thing. Consumers should have a right to say, "I'm not buying this product because fuck you Monsanto is why," just as they should have a right to say, "I'm not buying this product because I find the labor practices [IP policies, lobbying, etc.] of the company to be morally repugnant," or, "I'm not buying this product because I'm worried that it will be unhealthy for me," or "I'm not buying this product because I don't like the country it was produced in." I may not agree with everyone's reasons for not supporting a product, but I think that increased knowledge of our supply chains is an unqualified good.

Unfortunately, it seems that with the current power that large corporations are able to exert on markets, we need government regulation to attain this. (Though certainly I'm more in favor of well-written regulations.)
posted by eviemath at 5:56 PM on November 15, 2012


(On postview: others already made my points; apologies for reiterating rather than contributing anything new to the discussion.)
posted by eviemath at 5:59 PM on November 15, 2012


But the fact is that a label that says "GMO" does not tell you what goes into your food.

In theory this may be true. In practice it means the food contains one of three things:

1. GMO rice
2. GMO soy
3. GMO wheat

All three engineered for the purpose of using round-up. If we had some kind of gallimaufry of GMO foodstuff, engineered for different purposes, this would be an issue. Currently, not really an issue though.
posted by smoke at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's interesting how many otherwise smart, progressive, educated Californians were taken in by Prop 37. To be sure there are a ton of problems inherent in mega-farms and Monsanto and such, but "GMO = bad" is beyond simplistic.

Essentially this was the "Free Mumia!" of food issues.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:32 PM on November 15, 2012


Essentially this was the "Free Mumia!" of food issues.

... the point of contention is whether GMO techniques versus some other source are lethally contaminating the US food supply, and the debate is going on in the context of highly polarized racial tensions, with an adjudicating system that is demonstrably biased against the side that is being accused of being the killer (namely, GMO foods)? ... nope, not really getting the analogy. Maybe we can stick to the already probably sufficiently inflammatory but at least related anti-vaccination movement analogy? Tell you what, you stick to debunking concern over GMO foods on the basis of science, and I'll stick to being potentially concerned about them on the basis of science, politics, and financial influence, and I will (continue to) avoid calling them "frankenfoods"? ('Cause yeah, that's a silly, inflammatory, and anti-science tactic, when I think there's enough to debate about on real issues.)
posted by eviemath at 8:13 PM on November 15, 2012


klangklangston: Golden Rice hasn't been released yet. There aren't even many transgenic rice plants on the market (I think China tried some Bt rice for a while but I'm not sure it's legal anymore). So it couldn't have been Golden Rice though it does sound like some pretty awful tech transfer whatever it was (it might have just been a Green Revolution rice variety if those weren't common in that region yet). As for patents, we've had them since the start of the US and plant patents specifically for a century. What incentive does Zaigler have to spend decades making the pluot if as soon as he sells a tree, orchards can just take cuttings and clone it a bunch?

smoke: There are no transgenic wheats or rice crops on the market in the US. Perhaps you were thinking of corn?

eviemath: "lethally contaminating the US food supply". So, uh, who has died from eating an introduced crop variety in, say, the last twenty years?
posted by R343L at 8:25 PM on November 15, 2012


Wintermind:

Plastic feed pellets are sold by under the trade name Ruff Tabs. Would you consider Columbia University or the Fort Scot Tribune to be adequate sources for information on crap being fed to cattle? According to the University of Florida's guidelines for organic dairy production: "Dairy cattle under 9 months of age are allowed 20% of their feed from nonorganic sources. Plastic pellets, urea, manure, mammalian or poultry slaughter by-products are not allowed." Corporate farmed milk and beef cattle eat crap. The newest thing is to feed beef cattle is cement. Let's hear it for weight gain.

But we digress away from GMO foods.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:27 PM on November 15, 2012


(To be clear, there *are* legal transgenic rice varieties in the US, but as far as I know they are hardly grown due to export concerns which is also why there isn't transgenic wheat either.)
posted by R343L at 8:29 PM on November 15, 2012


eviemath: "lethally contaminating the US food supply". So, uh, who has died from eating an introduced crop variety in, say, the last twenty years?

My point was that calling this the "'Free Mumia!'" of food issues was a poor analogy.
posted by eviemath at 8:55 PM on November 15, 2012


How Mitt Romney Helped Monsanto Take Over the World
posted by homunculus at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


(For context: Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Abu-Jamal was a journalist who had been involved in the Black Panthers and black nationalism; Faulkner was an officer of a police department which had become one of the most consistently racist and violent toward blacks departments in the country around that time. drjimmy11's comment compared GMO opponents to Abu-Jamal supports, and I was flailing for an interpretation: GMO foods as Abu-Jamal? Who knows. It didn't make a lot of sense to me.)
posted by eviemath at 9:03 PM on November 15, 2012


eviemath: Ah, I didn't get that exactly. Sorry. Anyway, it's one of the more frustrating parts of certain anti-GMO groups is claims about "lethal" problems with GMOs with absolutely no evidence. I suppose if one believes that there is absolutely no evidence that Mumia might have been convicted unfairly, then the comparison might make sense. Maybe?
posted by R343L at 9:28 PM on November 15, 2012


So why require a label saying that food contains GMO ingredients if there's already a market incentive to prominently advertise food that does not contain them?

For the same reason that we put calorie and ingredient info on foods: there is now a market incentive to prominently advertise food that is low-calorie, or doesn't contain trans-fats, but there wouldn't be if consumers had remained ignorant of their food's qualities. Remember, nowadays the idea of knowing the calorie content of the foods we eat seems straightforward and harmless, but there was a time that people really didn't know much about such things, and really didn't care. Removing ignorance in the population (about any topic, really) enables them to make better choices, and to bring that market pressure to bear. After all, we really do care more about the health of our country's population than we do about maximizing profits by maximizing ignorance, don't we? I hope we do.
posted by davejay at 9:44 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


How Mitt Romney Helped Monsanto Take Over the World

To me, Prop 37 was not a health nor a labeling issue. It was an economic issue. As smoke, a GMO label would mean basically 1 of 3 items. And all of them traced back to Roundup

The sole purpose of GMOs is not to produce more or better food, it's to produce patentable food so that one company can monopolize the market, like Monsanto.

What's ironic about Prop 37 is that the referendum itself became a label. Just by noting which companies contributed for or against it, we can assume those companies either use or don't use GMO corn.

Supported Prop 37:
Dr. Bronner's
Nature's Path
Lundberg
Nutiva
Organic Valley
Amy's
Eden
Baby's Only
Straus
Uncle Matt's

Opposed Prop 37:
Monsanto
PepsiCo
Izze Soda
Naked Juice
Honest Tea
Odwalla
Simply Orange
Coca-Cola
Conagra
Fresh Meadow
Alexia
LightLife
Kashi
MorningStar
Gardenburger
Kelloggs
Cascadian Farm
Larabar
General Mills
Muir Glen
Santa Cruz Organic
R.W. Knudsen
Smucker
Horizon
Silk
Dean Foods
posted by mrgrimm at 9:59 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, what we are saying is that GMO is the Leonard Peltier of food issues? I just want to make sure I get the right analogy. Bay of Pigs, maybe? Iran-Contra? Abscam?
posted by The World Famous at 10:30 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Golden Rice hasn't been released yet. There aren't even many transgenic rice plants on the market (I think China tried some Bt rice for a while but I'm not sure it's legal anymore). So it couldn't have been Golden Rice though it does sound like some pretty awful tech transfer whatever it was (it might have just been a Green Revolution rice variety if those weren't common in that region yet). As for patents, we've had them since the start of the US and plant patents specifically for a century. What incentive does Zaigler have to spend decades making the pluot if as soon as he sells a tree, orchards can just take cuttings and clone it a bunch? "

You're right, I must have been misremembering and I apologize. Green Revolution sounds familiar, but (given that I just misremembered the other) I wouldn't want to bet on it at the moment. But yeah, that's why I made the broad technology analogy — globalization and agricultural technology, including GMOs, raise a lot of the same issues that we've been dealing with since the Industrial Revolution, and I think that means that we should be able to have a fairly reasonable discussion about the trade-offs. I think that woo and greed are competing distortions in that discussion.

(Everyone likes cell phones; battery waste is a huge environmental problem, especially in developing nations.)

As far as pluots go, wouldn't the hypothetical patentless Zaigler either just control the distribution of the trees or price the loss of control into the trees he sells?
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 PM on November 15, 2012


Please articulate the difference and why it matters.

All right, I'll have a crack. This should be pretty obvious and it surprises me to find people that think otherwise.

1) In doing so, there is already a large spread of glyphosate resistant weeds, and accidental cross-breeding - which impacts the ability of people to grow non GMO crops, whether they like it or not, and is resulting in a "herbicide arms race" as more and more weeds grow resistant.

2) It feeds a model that discourages seed-hoarding and is based on Monsanto IP model that many people are uncomfortable with.

3) There are still investigations wrt to the impact of many pesticides on Colony Collapse Disorder.

I do not think GMO is an unalloyed evil, but let's not kid ourselves here about what it is and what it isn't. Comparisons to selective breeding are just silly; comparisons to anti-vac is just silly (no one is dying from eating non-GMO foods, and people eating non-GMO foods do not pose a public health risk).


Thanks for that - it's a good start to help slow people like me understand this. I wasn't aware of the apparent significant goal of genetic modification being to develop pesticide and herbicide-resistant plants, I thought it was primarily about boosting yield, reducing 'imperfections', making products prettier etc. It does make sense that, if you can develop a plant that is indestructible, you can be pretty indiscriminate in your methods of controlling pests and weeds in the crop and I can see how this creates serious long-term issues for the local environment.

I still don't quite get why using engineering to do the genetic work is so much more terrible than using agriculture to do it - farmers have been genetically engineering plants and animal pretty much since agriculture started haven't they? Isn't the biggest difference that the process of change is so much more rapid that there are risks in not knowing enough about how the new breed will act (ie concern about unintended consequences) before it ends up in widespread production and can't reasonably be eliminated if there are negative unintended consequences?

I'm not trying to be a smartarse here, I'm genuinely interested in learning more about the topic, but it's pretty hard to separate the wheat from the GM wheat, because there's so much published that it's impossible for us slower ones to know what to trust. Any recommended readings for the average person?
posted by dg at 11:04 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


dg: yeah, the rate of change versus ability of a complex system to react issue is I think one of the main (pro-scientific rather than anti-scientific) concerns with GMO processes versus more traditional breeding processes. More specifically: with more traditional breeding processes, you're limited in terms of what new traits you can introduce. They more or less have to be traits that are already present in some similar enough organism so that you can do cross-breeding or splicing (eg. in the case of fruit trees) or something like that, or maybe traits that a virus or (maaaaybe) a parasite already messes with, in which case probably somewhere in the real world it's already happened and so we'd have an inkling if there were going to be serious negative consequences. GMO techniques allow you to add traits that are entirely untested in any similar organisms.

It's kind of cool, from a purely technical perspective; especially if, say, you grew up reading Anne McCaffrey's Pern books and always wanted your own fire lizard:P But the long term effects to ecosystems and organisms in ecosystems are still untested, so whether you think it's a cool thing in reality or not might depend on how much stock you put in the Precautionary Principle; how you feel about this sort of experimentation being done in vivo on live human beings who haven't given informed consent; how you feel about the trustworthiness of the source of the research if you are not scientifically literate enough to evaluate the risks for yourself or do not have access to the relevant data; or your own analysis of the risks if you are scientifically literate enough in the areas of molecular biology, ecology, and all the sub-fields thereof, and do have access to all the relevant data.
posted by eviemath at 11:49 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


mediareports' comment about how Monsanto ban farmers for labelling their products non-GMO, got me thinking back to the 1990s and another labelling war...

A quick bit of background: In the UK, the 'organic' label is monitored and awarded by a non-governmental group called The Soil Association. But in the USA, the label 'organic' is controlled by the USDA who set a government standard.

The USDA's initial proposal for 'organic' in 1997 allowed for factory farming (eg cows raised in confined spaces), sewage sludge, genetic engineering, and irradiation in organic food production. Crucuially, there was also a clause that no-one else could set a higher organic standard.

After public outcry they revised the proposal in 2000 to remove some of the objectionable stuff. But the clause about no-one else being able to set a higher organic standard remains.

So, in the USA, a non-governmental group cannot launch a stronger organic standard and call it 'organic plus' or whatever. I wonder why that is?
posted by memebake at 5:22 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


No matter how good the case, voters are going to vote with their pocketbooks.

Well, on the other hand, we (California) also voted to voluntarily pay higher taxes in order to fix our schools' financial problems.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:29 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


memebake: "The USDA's initial proposal for 'organic' in 1997 allowed for factory farming (eg cows raised in confined spaces), sewage sludge, genetic engineering, and irradiation in organic food production. Crucuially, there was also a clause that no-one else could set a higher organic standard."

We can have a big discussion about ethical food production practices, but I think that the USDA was correct here. Maybe they should have a label for food that isn't produced in factory farms or with sewage sludge*, but it really does fall outside of most accepted definitions of the term 'organic,' which specifically refers to pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Are those practices bad, and should consumers be aware of them? Absolutely. However, I believe that companies are seemingly allowed to advertise that their products have specific additional eco-friendly features above and beyond the organic certification.

Also, somehow, people got the idea that 'Organic' should equate to 'Ethical' or 'environmentally-friendly'. That's a false equivalency, and isn't part of the definition. There are organic farming practices that are every bit as harmful as the 'conventional' practices that they replaced.

memebake: "So, in the USA, a non-governmental group cannot launch a stronger organic standard and call it 'organic plus' or whatever. I wonder why that is?"

Because it would be arbitrary and misleading to consumers. It would be abused in a heartbeat.

That said, Eden's protest/rant about the USDA standards seems really strange. If 'USDA Organic' foods only need to meet a minimum standard, why wouldn't they just use it anyway, and advertise their additional eco-friendly qualities? Methinks this is PR-speak for "our products don't actually meet the USDA standard."

However, I maintain that "genetic modification" is a bullshit phrase best left inside scare-quotes. It's a massive blanket-definition that covers far too many practices.
posted by schmod at 6:36 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


memebake: "Are you suggesting that in a complex ecosystem, slow gradual changes over the course of many generations by selective breeding are equivalent to just splicing something in from a completely different line or species in a matter of days?"

So, wait. Randomly changing hundreds of genetic markers in an uncontrolled fashion is better than than selectively changing just one or two?

Should we stop breeding mules or growing lemons, because they're not genetically pure, and come are "spliced" together from two different species?
posted by schmod at 6:39 AM on November 16, 2012


mrgrimm: While you're making that list, I think it's disingenous to leave out Dr. Mercola, the largest financial supporter of the proposition. If it's condemnatory (to some) that Monsanto or Coca-Cola gave to the No campaign, then the purveyor of untested health cures, breast cancer screening devices that don't work and anti-vaccine agitator should be noted. In some ways I'm glad the Yes campaign didn't have more money. The campaign itself was spreading false ideas about GMO harms (can't they stick to overuse of pesticides which while not solely a problem with transgenic crops is at least a real problem?) even encouraging showings of the Genetic Roulette movie. The film claims that GMOs cause irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, autism, etc. all without any evidence. If the campaign had had more money, that kind of misinformation would have spread further. Major allies like the Non-GMO Project, Nature's Path and Nutiva were also repeatedly spreading that kind of misinfo over the last weeks of the campaign.

And, actually, a whole bunch of the sellers that supported the "No" side actually do have non-GMO products. Morningstar has an organic line (though there's conventional line contains GMO soy which I think is even labeled). Others that I'm pretty sure offer non-GMO products are:

Izze Soda
Naked Juice
Honest Tea
Odwalla
Simply Orange
Kashi
Kelloggs
Cascadian Farm
General Mills
Muir Glen
Santa Cruz Organic
R.W. Knudsen
Dean Foods

Some of these I'm pretty sure only sell non-GMO (either because they are organic or the conventional products aren't made with ingredients that are commonly transgenic). Whole Foods actually issued a statement in support of the proposition but was very wishy-washy about parts of it because I'm pretty sure they realized that the way the law was worded could drag in companies honestly trying not to sell GMOs (or honestly just unaware).
posted by R343L at 8:09 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


there's conventional line contains GMO soy which I think is even labeled

I'm pretty sure only sell non-GMO

To be clear, I don't have any problem with GMO foods, but isn't this the problem the proponents were trying to address, this lack of knowledge for those who do care? I suppose it's like the word "organic" (or is there now a universally enforced meaning for that?).

because I'm pretty sure they realized that the way the law was worded could drag in companies honestly trying not to sell GMOs (or honestly just unaware).

Isn't this part of the problem of government by proposition? There really isn't any deliberative body where the suggestions for amendment can be discussed to determine the impact, so the proposals become a hodge-podge of stuff with no consideration of the whole by representatives of all the constituencies. Perhaps we could elect representatives who could take on such a task.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2012


I said "pretty sure" because I don't have the labels in front of me. If I read the labels it would be obvious because the list of things made from GMOs is pretty limited (since corn, soy, cotton and a couple fruits and vegetables are basically all there is). Even most of the additives say what they came from (e.g. "soy lecithin") so if they don't explicitly say non-GMO or organic than obviously there's likely GMO origin. Organic is of course supposed to be GMO free. The point being is that if you do care, a minor amount of knowledge is all you need even without explicit labels (never mind the possibility that manufacturers might have just added "may contain" labels).
posted by R343L at 9:40 AM on November 16, 2012


Schmod: Why does the technique matter if the outcome is the same?

Memebake: Are you suggesting that in a complex ecosystem, slow gradual changes over the course of many generations by selective breeding are equivalent to just splicing something in from a completely different line or species in a matter of days?

Schmod: So, wait. Randomly changing hundreds of genetic markers in an uncontrolled fashion is better than than selectively changing just one or two?
Should we stop breeding mules or growing lemons, because they're not genetically pure, and come are "spliced" together from two different species?


In general, I'd say breeding different varieties together is better yes, because it introduces gentle change within broadly known parameters. Hundreds of genetic markers change, but only within the scope of a wider gene pool.

Mules and Lemons are a bit stranger, admittedly, but are still the result of combining vaguely similar species.

Taking a gene from a bacteria and sticking it into corn is very different - its something that would take millions of years of convergent evolution to occur naturally. In the particular instance of bt-corn, nothing particularly disastrous has happened, but in general I would charactise this blunt messing with ecosystems as similar to the simplistic approach that gives us invasive species.
posted by memebake at 9:55 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is enough evidence available showing that GMO foods pose significant health risks it is just that this type of data is routinely suppressed by both the GE cartel and their apostles in goverment departments. For instance, the infamous tryptophan disaster of 1989/90 that killed several people and injured thousands was most probably caused by GE tryptophan, and the U.S. FDA knew about it but remained silent about it to this day because of politics (see L Tryptophan: The Truth About The FDA Tryptophan Recall Of 1989). Right on the heels of that incident GMO foods were introduced in the U.S. on a large scale...
posted by Raxopulus at 7:37 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Welcome to Mefi, Rolf. You have an interesting site there and I think we will all keep the dangers of government coverups of the benefits of supplements in mind.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:32 PM on November 17, 2012


if they don't explicitly say non-GMO or organic than obviously there's likely GMO origin.

I don't think that's obvious at all to most consumers. That was the whole point of 37 (to me).
posted by mrgrimm at 12:19 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


"So, in the USA, a non-governmental group cannot launch a stronger organic standard and call it 'organic plus' or whatever. I wonder why that is?"

Because it would be arbitrary and misleading to consumers. It would be abused in a heartbeat.


Australia has separate but obviously closely related Standards (legally protected) for both organic and biodynamic. The Standard requires:

  • practices stipulated in the Standard be applied to the land for no less than three years before any products can be labelled organic or biodynamic;
  • the almost absolute restriction of pesticides and fertilisers produced from synthetic chemicals;
  • a complete ban on the use of genetically modified products;
  • operators have a farm biodiversity and landscape management plan as part of their organic management plan; and
  • the use of organic and biodynamic livestock feed for livestock products labelled ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’.


    http://www.foodprocessing.com.au/news/36135-Australian-Standard-for-organic-and-biodynamic-products-published

  • posted by wilful at 3:43 PM on November 19, 2012


    One reason I brought up how easy it is to figure out what is likely contains genetically engineered ingredients is because the people who seem to actually be interested in labels (and willing to pay for them) could easily educate themselves. But people who are willing only to say "yes" to a phone poll, but not interested in even the tiny amount of education it takes to figure it out are not, in my opinion, actually interested in knowing their food contains genetically engineered ingredients. In reality, the polls showing people "want to know" are probably not very useful for assessing public desire because people generally approve of getting more information regardless of the topic. It doesn't tell us if those people are willing to pay for it or even make an effort to understand the meaning of the desired information.

    There's just great deal of ignorance on the topic of genetics and food (about half of Americans when polled think only GE tomatoes contain genes). A generic "may contain GE" label does nothing to help those people. They are clearly aware of the term but are still painfully ignorant as to what it means. All the money that was spent on this campaign should have been spent on education. Of course, a scientifically accurate education campaign would result in the anti-GMO people being upset they couldn't scare-monger about health risks ... and the agri-business companies upset that people might finally demand real regulation of agricultural practices.

    As an aside, there are in fact other organic standards. Oregon Tilth and CCOF both provide organic certifications that are different than the USDA standard and I've seen products labeled with them. Now, if the labeling implied somehow that products labeled only as USDA Organic weren't "organic" then that would probably get them in trouble. That would be misleading customers.
    posted by R343L at 10:41 PM on November 20, 2012


    Ah, the temptation to play devil's advocate is too strong for me, with such a comment that: (i) indicates strongly held feelings/beliefs on the topic, (ii) dismisses uninformed people, but (iii) contains many assumptions and little direct data.


    One reason I brought up how easy it is to figure out what is likely contains genetically engineered ingredients is because the people who seem to actually be interested in labels (and willing to pay for them) could easily educate themselves

    In what way is this easy? Can you specifically demonstrate the ease of finding this information, to support your claim?

    I'll grant you that if I make the assumption that anything not labeled with some standard that specifically prohibits GMO ingredients from the finite list of food crops that have GMO versions likely contains GMO ingredients, and the list of potential standards that I have to check is finite, then this is a finite job. Is a list of all food labeling standards available on the internet through some relatively obvious list of internet search terms? Which search terms did you use? I know roughly what actual biotech methods are referred to by "GMO" (and do know where to look to supplement the gaps in my knowledge based on the fact that last I looked into/read/took classes on the specific scientific techniques involved was about a decade ago), but I'm not sure I'd know where to start looking for available standards if such a list weren't available on the internet via a search with some obvious search terms.

    I guess my second thought would be to call the FDA. My third thought would be to call my local state university cooperative extension, but I have some special background that not all folks have where I'm familiar with the idea and missions of cooperative extensions (and the state universities I'd think to call are land grant universities whose cooperative extensions would have some focus/expertise in agricultural issues). This is starting to get into "not easy" territory.

    The assumption that "not labeled specifically non-GMO = GMO" is also not necessarily a good one. For example, I know quite a few local farmers in my area who grow non-GMO crops, but haven't had their produce certified any particular thing because the obstacles in the certification process are onerous for small, local farmers. There is an inherent political point to the GMO labeling in that it puts the onus, and thus the extra work and effort, on farmers who grow GMO crops; and yes, that's a political goal of the legislation beyond just making more information available. I've heard claims that GMO crops are ubiquitous in processed foods in the US. I'd be interested in seeing actual data breaking down GMO content of not-otherwise-labeled produce, however, and whether or not this differs from GMO content in processed foods. Do you have easy access to such data?

    As well, not all of the produce nor ingredients in processed foods that you can purchase in the US comes from the US. I would certainly have a harder time "easily" looking into the GMO labeling regimes in all of the countries around the world that my produce or ingredients in my processed foods might have come from. Not all of them have FDAs with extensive, informative web sites. While there are still a finite number of countries in the world, each of which no doubt has a finite number of labeling standards, this is starting to become a larger, more complex problem. Can you demonstrate the ease of finding this diverse information for the various national and regional sources of food that I might come across in a US grocery store?


    Moving on to your next statement:

    But people who are willing only to say "yes" to a phone poll, but not interested in even the tiny amount of education it takes to figure it out are not, in my opinion, actually interested in knowing their food contains genetically engineered ingredients.... It doesn't tell us if those people are willing to pay for it or even make an effort to understand the meaning of the desired information.

    Why do you assume that the only people interested in the GMO content of their food are internet-savvy and internet-enabled? You seem to indicate that you are uninterested in the needs or desires of people who do not have the education or resources to (a) research and (b) understand the science behind GMO procedures. Taking this seemingly rather rather shockingly patronizing attitude in stride, let's focus on those folks who might have the background to understand the science behind GMO procedures.

    This could include older folks who had a solid science education (that Cold War was good for something!), but are not particularly internet savvy, or may not have the background for finding the research into the policy and labeling areas so easy. Do you have data indicating that the overlap between science savvy, political/policy savvy, and internet savvy is almost total?

    This may also include people who in theory have the educational abilities to do all the digging and research you claim is so easy, but may not have the time or current financial resources for it. Do you have the economic breakdown of people who have expressed interest in the GMO content of their food (or even those who meet your additional criteria of theoretical willingness and ability to understand the science behind it)? Is the assumption that all or almost all such people have copious time and financial resources to carry out this research factually validated?


    Another major assumption in your comment seems to be that food labeling and transparent food supply chains are a luxury that we should expect to pay extra for, rather than a basic function of government that we should expect as a default when we live in a civilized, nominally democratic society where we pay taxes for common provision of basic services; let alone a necessity for the proper functioning of capitalism, that we might expect a government that is nominally committed to a capitalist economic system to provide. Why are only wealthy or upper-middle-class people allowed to be concerned about the content of their food? I mean, if you claim that the current state of affairs is that people with more money have the means to be more discriminating in their food selection, and poor people have few options, I wouldn't argue. That's a descriptive statement, not a normative statement, however. (And, in keeping with my overall comment here, we should probably provide some hard data to back that up.) You seem to be claiming, instead, that:

    (1) The only people interested in GMO labeling are wealthy or upper-middle class. My anecdata/personal experience indicates otherwise. Have you any actual data to support this claim?

    (2) The only people who deserve to be interested in GMO labeling are wealthy or upper-middle class people who have the means to pay for obtaining such information. I think it's clear that I disagree on this point of moral/ethical opinion, if this is indeed the viewpoint you meant to take. (Yes, I'm exaggerating a little to make a point. I realize that we don't label every single molecular component of food, and that you're argument is that GMO origin is not a distinction that biochemically distinguishes produce sufficiently to justify the social cost of labeling on biochemical or health basis. Of course, we label food origins for many reasons, so that consumers can make choices based on political practices of the country-of-origin, business practices of the producer-of-origin, etc., as well as food safety/health-related issues; and these other issues are a significant factor in some people's opposition to GMO crops.)

    ----------

    Conclusion/executive summary: I strongly dislike the term "frankenfoods" as well, but maybe we could talk about people's concerns surrounding GMO without going too far in the other direction, dismissing all opposition because of our strong emotional reaction to the anti-science fringe, or our cultural stereotypes about who makes up the opposition? This might be a good start: does anyone have time to write up or dig up a link to a clear, scientifically accurate explanation of the actual bioengineering techniques used in producing crops that are considered "GMO"?
    posted by eviemath at 1:29 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    (Sorry for picking on your post specifically, R343L, it was merely the most recent.)
    posted by eviemath at 2:00 AM on November 21, 2012


    DOJ Mysteriously Quits Monsanto Antitrust Investigation
    posted by homunculus at 2:19 PM on December 2, 2012


    anti science

    Vs what?

    Some of them don't even make any sense. (if you think GMOs are the product of an unproven technology, isn't it a GOOD thing if they can't reproduce?)

    Perhaps no one has explained things to you.

    If one has genes that make a seed unviable without chemical input X - where is the science showing those genes are not transferable into other plants in the ecosphere?


    That's not really a relevant study, Rough Ashlar, seeing as how it was correlating availability, not type or quality, of food during a specific period of a grandparent's life with health outcomes in subsequent generations. It does nothing to specifically address fears over transgenic crops.

    I'd say it is a very relevant bit of historical information. If what one eats take 3 generations to show an effect then the testing done to date with transgenic crops is not up to snuff.

    Right now the votes for Prop 37 to label genetically engineered foods are still being counted. On Tuesday morning, Dec 4th, Prop 37 hit 6,004,628 votes on the California Secretary of State’s website, but this tally was quickly reversed within an hour of being publicized by Food Democracy Now!
    Join us in standing up for open and transparent elections, it’s important that all votes be counted and any possible malfeasance is properly investigated by California election officials. Count all the ballots, be open and transparent, because we have the Right to Know! If you live in California, please call the Secretary of State's Elections Division staff at (916) 657-2166 to tell them you expect Secretary Debra Bowen to continue to update the vote count until the election is certified on Dec 14th.
    posted by rough ashlar at 10:33 AM on December 8, 2012


    These researchers will install web cameras in the cages of four groups of rats.

    Group 1 will be fed a diet high in GM soybeans and corn.
    Group 2 will be fed a diet low in GM soybeans and corn.
    Group 3 will be fed a diet with no GMOs.
    Group 4 will be fed a diet with standard rat feed.

    posted by rough ashlar at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2012


    Why the payments to the Chinese families in the golden rice case - could it be the lack of ethics of the GMO testers?
    Very young children suffering from varying degrees of Vitamin A deficiency have been fed on an unauthorised and untested GM variety. According to the Nuremberg Code, which underpins modern medical ethics, there are three principles which have been breached (13). First, children under the age of ten do not have the legal capacity to give informed consent prior to being used in these experiments. Second, it has in no case been demonstrated by Tufts University or the other participants that the results desired could not be obtained by other means of study. And third, the studies were not preceded by animal experiments which might have shown up hazards for the trial subjects.

    David VS Monsanto for the video watchers.
    posted by rough ashlar at 5:03 PM on December 12, 2012


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