"I'm *not* anti-science... I'm for *responsible* science."
September 22, 2013 1:00 AM   Subscribe

Seriously impressive fourteen-year-old Rachel Parent debates Monsanto investor Kevin O'Leary about genetically modified foods. Parent, who is the founder of the anti-GMO organization Kids Right To Know, takes on O'Leary (best known for playing the antagonist in shows like Shark Tank) in an unexpectedly solid debate, countering him point-by-point and cutting him off when he attempts, in his typical Mr. Wonderful way, to condescend to her.
posted by Rory Marinich (352 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Shark Tank, incidentally, is a damn good show, and Kevin is one of the reasons why it's as good as it is. Which doesn't make him look any better here, but it's worth pointing out anyway. And season 5 premiered tonight!)
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:02 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I knew about the premiere already.

And she was pretty damn awesome the way she handled him. I was far too busy trying to get laid at 14 to have done ANYTHING like that.
posted by Samizdata at 1:19 AM on September 22, 2013


(And I am NOT an anti-GMO person, BTW.)
posted by Samizdata at 1:21 AM on September 22, 2013


I am very DEFINITELY an anti-GMO person, and I'm delighted to have this young lady on my side. Thank you, Rachel Parent.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:54 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


She's totally fucking awesome, BTW.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:56 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not as hardline anti-GMO as she is, but good lord O'Leary is a prick; I mean, manipulating a debate with logical fallacy is sort of par for the course these days, but I'm grossed out by how quickly he went to 'oh so you're in favor of letting children in Asia die?'
posted by maus at 2:07 AM on September 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


More information is a good thing, of course. An informed public should know what's in its food. Hiding ingredients on the basis that opponents are anti-science is dishonest, at best, and it's been a historically convenient way for corporations to get away with all kinds of shady shit to turn a buck despite the problems, all in the name of "progress": whether that is genetically-modified foods, nuclear energy, climate change denialism, etc.

But I'm really surprised that a free-market ideologue like O'Leary would be against informed consumers deciding what they want to eat, pushing foods with ingredients of unknown provenance into the marketplace, regardless of issues around safety or environmental effects.

As an investor ("shark"), he is very likely someone who has sued companies that have withheld information that adversely affect the value of his investments. He seems to be for letting the market decide, up until a product parts ways with his own political sensibilities.

The best way to deal with ideologues is turn their arguments against them: Of course we need labeling laws, because a free market operates efficiently when buyers have all the information needed to make a rational choice. GM and non-GM food can be valued fairly and correctly in a free market where buyers are informed. "This is basic macroeconomics, Kevin, why haven't you done your homework?"

That said, when he is beaten in a debate, he usually just turns up the smarm and gets dismissive. Here, he knew he had to pretty restrained, or he'd look like he was picking on a teenager. Beyond the rice issue and calling her a shill in the closing seconds, everyone got to say what they wanted.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:26 AM on September 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


40 years from now she can look around at a messed up planet and say " I told you so". That condescending prick will be dead and buried.
Hardly fair.
posted by qinn at 3:13 AM on September 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


Labeling GMO ingredients implies there is a reason for them to be labeled.

There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful in any way.

There's no point in arguing though - anti-GMO is religion, not science. And we all know that convincing someone their religion is wrong is near impossible.
posted by autobahn at 3:22 AM on September 22, 2013 [57 favorites]


Yep, like anti-fracking..

Kevin O'Leary still an unctuous knob-end though
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:24 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Shark Tank, incidentally, is a damn good show, and Kevin is one of the reasons why it's as good as it is. Which doesn't make him look any better here, but it's worth pointing out anyway. And season 5 premiered tonight!)

Huh?

Kevin O'Leary is a vile vulgarian of disgraceful dis-ingenuousness , a cancerous blight as it were, on the Mother Corp(CBC, as its known in the great deaf mute giant of a country). The very worst we have to offer in this this country, non hard time punishable type offenders speaking wise.

And, a compulsive liar about his 'substantial' business achievements.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 3:34 AM on September 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


Wait, just like how not all organic food is the same, is all GM food the same? I mean, aren't there various levels and techniques of genetic modification (which I can see a little bit of on the Wiki page)? I'm a layman, but I kind of see the list of some of the big businesses endorsing 522, and think of the benefit they get in being able to slap an either/or label on some of their rivals.
posted by FJT at 3:41 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Labeling GMO ingredients implies there is a reason for them to be labeled.

There is a reason for labeling. People should be aware that the foods they are about to eat were manipulated at the most base level to maximize profit.

And since that is the case, the consumer should also know that there may be repercussions that are unknown. The focus was on maximizing profit, not making the most nutritious food possible...so buyer beware.

There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful in any way.

There's no point in arguing though - anti-GMO is religion, not science. And we all know that convincing someone their religion is wrong is near impossible.


I never really thought about GMO before, but your flippant answer kinda made me think about it. I now realize that when someone says "there is no evidence that maximizing profit will be harmful in any way", they are saying it because it would mean stacks on stacks on stacks for them, rather than because they are making a better product.

I'm loving it! (Copyright McDonald's)
posted by hal_c_on at 4:10 AM on September 22, 2013 [33 favorites]


He tries to label her a lobbyist, shill, and extremist, and he keeps trying to back her into some "kill all the babies!" corner she doesn't belong in. It's like an audition tape for Fox News.
posted by pracowity at 4:12 AM on September 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


Rachel's resilience, commitment and sheer awesomeness in the face of this tired cynicism is refreshing and inspiring, and we need about a million like her. Too bad she's probably also against cloning.
posted by kinnakeet at 4:15 AM on September 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


Labeling GMO ingredients implies there is a reason for them to be labeled.

There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful in any way.


These two sentences are not related. Harmful ingredients are not the only ingredients that need to be listed on labels.
posted by dogwalker at 4:17 AM on September 22, 2013 [50 favorites]


anti-GMO is religion, not science.

This is an absurd statement, and exists only to belittle and condescend to those with legitimate concerns about GMO. It's a perfect example of how people wrap themselves in SCIENCE! in just the same depressingly smug way that some people wrap themselves in The Flag, or, indeed, in Religion.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:19 AM on September 22, 2013 [78 favorites]


Perhaps, as in the famous XKCD comic I've simply found a way to feel superior to both sides, but I've found that I hold a position unpopular with both sides.

I love the concept of genetically modifying foods. Projects like golden rice seem like truly excellent idea, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with GMO from a philosophic, scientific, or any other standpoint.

Except from a corporations and safety standpoint. While I don't object to GMO in principle, I am concerned with for profit corporations and their tendency to cut safety corners in the name of quicker profits. There's also some concerning rent seeking aspects to Monsanto et al's approach to GMO crops. Buy their seeds, buy their fertilizers/insecticides/pesticides, and keep buying those forever because the concept of seed grain has been invalidated even more thoroughly than any hybrid crop ever did.

I think GMO's are both necessary and desirable for the future. And I think the way they're being brought about is worrying at best and dangerous at worst.

I find that most anti-GMO people don't appear to have given the matter much thought at all (see entries under the jerks who destroyed the first golden rice test crop), but I find that I reluctantly side with them because the Monsantos of the world are truly vile. But I worry that siding with the kneejerk anti-GMO people will harm the good projects (again, see golden rice).
posted by sotonohito at 4:39 AM on September 22, 2013 [149 favorites]


Avoid investors, executives, excess administration, etc. when the technology gets potentially dangerous. Would you trust a company running an nuclear power plant?

In this case, we should eliminate patents on organisms, software, business methods, etc. Ideally, properly fund genetic engineering research at both universities and more applied non-profit labs, but if we don't do that, someone else will.

All these problems will solve themselves if only people who actually give a shit about anything besides money are earning a paycheck creating the GMOs.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:57 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Labeling GMO ingredients implies there is a reason for them to be labeled.

------

*John pulls up to local burger joint drive-though and looks over the menu*

Burger joint: How can I help you today?

John: I was thinking of getting the bacon-cheddar burger. What kind of bacon comes on that, turkey or pork?

Burger joint: Why do you want to know?

John: I'm sorry?

Burger joint: Why should I tell you? Frankly, your demand to know implies that there's something harmful about either turkey or pork, and that's ridiculous.

John: Look, I don't want to argue. Just tell me which kind of bacon it is so I can order.

Burger joint: Are you one of those religious people that don't eat pork? That's silly.

John: What? No...I mean, what does that matter?

Burger joint: I don't recognize that as a good enough reason to tell you.

John: Why should I have to justify my question? I just want to know.

Burger joint: They're both animals, and all things considered, pretty similar genetically. Why do you care? You haven't given me a compelling reason yet. Lots of people eat both, and they are healthy. Just order it, you'll be fine.

John: I'm not saying I won't be fine, but why can't you just tell me?

Burger joint: Because you might have some irrational reason for not wanting to order it if you knew what it was. What if I said it was turkey, but you don't eat birds because you think they're pretty? Then we'd be out of a sale, because of your irrational sentimentality.

John: And you - the one selling the product - get to decide what a good reason is?

Burger joint: Yes. And you're not doing a good enough job convincing me I should tell you.

*John drives off in frustration.*

-----

At least John can go to another burger place....
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:59 AM on September 22, 2013 [169 favorites]


Have we really gotten so far from being able to discuss things like grownups that children become such seemingly effective mouthpieces? When did we stop valuing the perspectives of people with the deep kinds of knowledge of things that show opinions to be the shallow meaningless fluff of the ignorant that they are?

This seems like it is just a function of that strange kind of science reporting where journalists, lacking any real education in science themselves, ignore real scientists to find children operating on a level they can understand. My facebook feed is full of this shit, and 'discovery' or contraption always inevitably boils down to nothing of real value with some middle school science teacher or well connected parent pulling the strings, but that doesn't matter because neither the journalists nor the audience have any background to know any better. The only way to learn science is do do science, which even grade school kids are perfectly capable of doing, but it is a strange kind of crankery that presents what they accomplish as having value it does not have.

Just how plainly this girl has nothing of value to contribute to this debate is astonishing,
"Golden rice was scrapped because it didn't work"
Is probably not even a lie, she undoubtedly honestly believes this to be the case lacking the context or judgement to assess that Vandana Shiva, whose argument she is borrowing, is a bullshit artist who has lied to her. Golden Rice is currently used and currently effective, it has also been tested by the non-profit IRRI in combination with dozens of world governments. I'm not saying this to be insulting or dismissive of her passion as a young person, but she simply lacks the understanding to have anything to contribute, which is a perfectly natural thing for a 14 year old.

Guangwen Tang, Jian Qin, Gregory G Dolnikowski, Robert M Russell, and Michael A Grusak. 2009. Golden Rice is an effective source of vitamin A Am. J. Clin. Nutrition. 89(6)1776-1783

Roukayatou Zimmermann, Matin Qaim. 2004. Potential health benefits of Golden Rice: a Philippine case study. Food Policy 29(2)147–168

Alexander J Stein1, H.P.S. Sachdev2 & Matin Qaim. 2006. Potential impact and cost-effectiveness of Golden Rice. Nature Biotechnology 241200-1201.
"You know that GMOs don't actually have higher yields either"
It is incredibly depressing that the reason this girl has an audience is the sheer number of people who are so fundamentally disconnected from the systems that feed them that they have no more understanding of these words than she does.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:12 AM on September 22, 2013 [204 favorites]


The theater of this is really what gets me, the fact that we as a society are using 14 year olds to debate our middle school understandings of something as important as the food security of millions and complex as molecular genetics is obscene. It turns the millions who die annually from Vitamin A deficiency into yet another prop on a stage whimsical enough that someone who likely couldn't name the countries affected much less clearly couldn't explain even the basics of how GMOs are modified is provided a privileged position.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:23 AM on September 22, 2013 [58 favorites]


There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful in any way.

Yes there is. But what would you consider to be valid evidence? Can you be bothered to place parameters in the public space and state "If these parameters are met that is evidence of harm"?

Labeling GMO ingredients implies there is a reason for them to be labeled.

Do you deny the people who believe markets matter and wish to express with their pocketbooks the ability to not fund something they do not like such as the Patenting of Life itself?

The patenting of life sure seems like a harm in some way.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:28 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


How many times has O'Leary insisted on Shark Tank that he would consider investing only if the candidate would offshore production to cut costs?


Fuck Kevin O'Leary.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:30 AM on September 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Blasdelb: I really appreciate your knowledgeable contributions to agricultural policy discussions. Thank you.

I'm curious, as someone who works in agricultural science, have you come across any substantiated criticisms of GMOs (either general or specific cases/projects)?
posted by jb at 5:30 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm a curmudgeon, but I find both debaters insufferable. O'Leary is a smarmy, condescending suitwad, and Rachel Parent is a smug little talking point delivery system who's young enough that she has a clear poker tell for when she hears him spout a talking point for which she has a counter talking point—everytime he says something for which there's a counterzap, she gets this big I'm-gonna-get-you grin. Heck, we know he's gross, and her organization might as well be named Won't Someone Think Of The Children!

Of course, her excuse is youth, and O'Leary is just a well-paid dick.

That said, I wish it were possible to have actual discussions about these subjects in the public space rather than talking point A v. talking point B and THE OTHER SIDE IS 100% WRONG IN EVERY WAY. We're all aware that Monsanto is a corporation and therefore acts like a corporation, and we're aware that the anti-GMO side has decided en masse that only a complete absence of genetic engineering is acceptable. How 'bout some time spent in the middle ground?

Because I run with a largely progressive crowd, among whom there are an awful lot of farmers, environmentalists, and locavores, my facebook feed is swimming with these sorts of talking points battles, and man—I can debate politics, religion, and sports with these folks without a problem, but suggest that genetic engineering isn't universally bad and that it isn't Monsanto killing the honeybees (it's Bayer, and honeybees are a non-native invasive industrial agriculture animal in the Americas anyway) and you are automatically with the bad guys. It's become like abortion in being dialectically intractable, which is very, very sad.
posted by sonascope at 5:31 AM on September 22, 2013 [61 favorites]


There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful in any way.

There are many objections to GMOs, only some of which relate to the quality of the food produced. For me, the real problem with GMOs lies with the way they give control of our food to a few corporations, allowing them to patent naturally occurring genetic information, sue farmers who aren't toeing the line, and generally creating monocultures where before there was a wide variety of cultivars.
posted by Trace McJoy at 5:31 AM on September 22, 2013 [58 favorites]


Projects like golden rice seem like truly excellent idea


As the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has stated, variety is the key and should be the norm rather than the exception in farming systems. According to Dr. Samson Tsou of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC), countries with vegetable consumption of more than 200 grams of vegetables per day do not have vitamin A deficiency as a major problem.10 Although animal sources are expensive, inexpensive plant food sources are widely available. It only takes two tablespoonfuls of yellow sweet potatoes, half a cup of dark green leafy vegetables or two-thirds of a medium-sized mango in a day to meet the vitamin A requirement of a pre-school child.11 This way, not only is the vitamin A requirement being addressed, but a whole range of other micronutrients as well.

With what has been shown so far, 300 grams of golden rice can only provide at most 20% of an adult’s daily vitamin A requirement (see graph). A child would have a lower requirement of 450 µg retinol as against 500-600 µg retinol for adults.12 But 300 g of rice a day is way too much for a child.


Got that? The "cure" is too little and other foods do a better job.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:32 AM on September 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


Yes there is. But what would you consider to be valid evidence?

I shouldn't speak for Blasdelb, but I would assume scientifically based evidence?

I have heard what I thought were pretty well thought out economic, social and biodiversity concerns about specific GMO organisms (I remember a paper by an agricultural scientist talking about maize in Mexico, in particular, with the primary concern not being about the GM, but about the loss of variety). But my agricultural knowledge peaks in 1640-1750, so I'm not exactly up on the latest debates.

This new "rapeseed" stuff seems to be working out, but I'm not sure about those poisonous tubers from the colonies...

I'd like to hear from someone who studies this.
posted by jb at 5:38 AM on September 22, 2013


"You know that GMOs don't actually have higher yields either"
It is incredibly depressing that the reason this girl has an audience is the sheer number of people who are so fundamentally disconnected from the systems that feed them that they have no more understanding of these words than she does.


As you have been thanked in this FPP as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) can you show the higher yields are able to be maintained for decades and are strictly the result of the GMOing?

Can we also agree to define what GMO means? I'd stake out that for the purposes of this discussion GMO does not mean cross-breeding or other plant breeding as practised until, say 1900.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:39 AM on September 22, 2013


Can we not already synthesize, ship, and distribute vitamin A? Why does it have to be in the rice? In what way is it smart or good to rely on one corporation or monoculture? This is simply the solution that benefits Monsanto.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:40 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I shouldn't speak for Blasdelb, but I would assume scientifically based evidence?

It was not Blasdelb who made that statement.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:41 AM on September 22, 2013


Can we not already synthesize, ship, and distribute vitamin A?

Yes and in the link I gave other foods already exist that can provide the A.

But the A being there may not matter - also from my link:
Dietary fat is needed for it to be absorbed by the body. Unfortunately dietary fat is also limited in rice-eating countries and in fact is being looked at as one possible "hidden" causes of vitamin A deficiency itself.13 There are also important interactions between different nutrients and minerals, which further warrants variety in food intake. Zinc deficiency, for example, may lead to an impairment of vitamin A metabolism. Disease control and hygiene, food selection and preparation will significantly influence absorption and utilisation of vitamin A (and iron). Furthermore, there has been debate over the bioconversion of beta-carotene from green leafy vegetables into vitamin A. Some reports claim that the conversion rate is less than one-quarter of what has been assumed up to now. Should this be the case, the amount of vitamin A made available from golden rice would be almost negligible.

Why does it have to be in the rice?

It doesn't. In fact Man used to eat some 4000 different plants. (KMO's c-realm is the source)

How many different types of plants do you eat in a month?

In what way is it smart or good to rely on one corporation or monoculture? This is simply the solution that benefits Monsanto.

No and yes along with others.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:46 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was not Blasdelb who made that statement.

In that case, I don't mean to speak for autobahn.
posted by jb at 5:46 AM on September 22, 2013


Subsistence farmers probably have a hard time growing 4000 different crops. It seems like the distribution to such farmers is done ethically, even if just as a PR effort.

Potrykus has spearheaded an effort to have golden rice distributed for free to subsistence farmers.[46] Free licenses for developing countries were granted quickly due to the positive publicity that golden rice received, particularly in Time magazine in July 2000. Golden rice was said to be the first recombinant DNA tech crop that was unarguably beneficial. Monsanto Company was one of the first companies to grant free licences.[47]

The cutoff between humanitarian and commercial use was set at US$10,000. Therefore, as long as a farmer or subsequent user of golden rice genetics does not make more than $10,000 per year, no royalties need to be paid. In addition, farmers are permitted to keep and replant seed.[48]

posted by Drinky Die at 5:49 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


In that case, I don't mean to speak for autobahn.

1) Which is why I asked the source
2) "good science" or even "scientifically based evidence" one only needs to look to the tobacco lawsuits and the change on smoking for examples of how 'evidence' was treated.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:53 AM on September 22, 2013


"There are many objections to GMOs, only some of which relate to the quality of the food produced. For me, the real problem with GMOs lies with the way they give control of our food to a few corporations,"
I don't think you'll find anyone who will disagree with you there, but there is nothing inherent about genetic modification that requires huge corporations aside from activists who have been very effective at shutting down the little guys with big dreams in ways that the big guys are pretty immune to. GMOs are not giving exclusive control of this technology to corporations, Greanpeace is.
"allowing them to patent naturally occurring genetic information, "
It had always been unclear just how much this has been the case, but the Supreme Court has pretty decisively cleared up the question by stating pretty unequivocally that you don't get to do that. Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics
"sue farmers who aren't toeing the line, "
A lot of hay gets made over this but the only farmers who have ever been sued for planting GMO crops have been sued because they were plainly trying to steal seed they did not have licenses to use. Even Monsanto does not sue farmers for disliking them.
"and generally creating monocultures where before there was a wide variety of cultivars."
This is also not the case. 1920s era hybrid seed technology is what has dramatically reduced variety on industrialized farms, but the IRRI has also demonstrated that GMOs are not at all tied to the Hybrid seed business model by creating hundreds of golden varieties of local strains of rice.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:54 AM on September 22, 2013 [29 favorites]


Subsistence farmers probably have a hard time growing 4000 different crops.

The act of farming forced changes to the plant selection. Remember plants != crops.

Once China got to a certain size there became the 5 sacred grains.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:57 AM on September 22, 2013


The act of farming forced changes to the plant selection.

Right, which is how we got to the point where some food products may end up needing to be fortified. It doesn't have to be in the rice, but it's a product people are already eating and already know how to grow so it might be a good approach for the present. More comprehensive efforts can be attempted at the same time.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:05 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


"allowing them to patent naturally occurring genetic information, "
It had always been unclear just how much this has been the case


It was my understanding that one could - seed patents on hybrids as the example.

Having plant A and plant B pollen cross by man or cross by a pollinator - what is the difference in a world where one injects DNA attached to gold flakes?

, but the Supreme Court has pretty decisively cleared up the question by stating pretty unequivocally that you don't get to do that. Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics

Un aware of that change. A fine rabbit hole for me to jump down some day....thank you.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:09 AM on September 22, 2013


I find the ignorance of some of the anti-GMO arguments truly offensive and dangerous.

One of the most egregious things in this thread is this line of thinking that golden rice is unnecessary because you can get all the vitamin A you need with a mixed diet of fresh fruit including a nice mango.

Geeee, I wonder why vitamin-A insufficiency in Asia's poor is so common? Can't someone just tell these stupid peasants to eat more mangos? Problem solved! Hey, while they're at it, "let them eat cake!"

Reality check guys... people develop life-endangering levels of vitamin-A insufficiency because they can't afford mangos and all the rest. These are people who live off rice, and pretty much nothing else, because it is all they can afford.

Why is golden rice necessary? Because for millions of people, rice and a few vegetables is all they have to eat. Mangos and all of the rest are expensive luxuries.
posted by Mokusatsu at 6:15 AM on September 22, 2013 [35 favorites]


"Having plant A and plant B pollen cross by man or cross by a pollinator - what is the difference in a world where one injects DNA attached to gold flakes?"

None really, so long as the plant can't make viable seeds.

The 1930 Plant Patent Act, which affords patent protection to asexually reproduced plants, and was indented for hybrids. The 1970 Plant Variety Protection Act can also be relevant as a related kind of protection of varieties depending on context.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:17 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


She was impressive, in that she talks like an accomplished politician - pivoting questions to her talking points, never admitting weakness, and ignoring attempts to rile her. And obviously she comes out looking great by comparison with O'Leary who, even though she's a well-spoken teenage girl and therefore basically untouchable, can't resist calling her a lobbyist, an irrational teenager, a shill, and a misguided pawn of the environmental lobby.

The GMO debate is hellishly difficult to have because, as we can already see in this thread, it's actually several debates about several complex topics. For example, I don't give a damn about tinkering with organisms' DNA and playing God (hell, it's what I do for a living) and I don't see any reason to suspect that there are any plausible health concerns for humans. But I do worry about the unpredictable and probably uncontainable consequences of horizontal gene transfer to neighbouring plant life, and about expanding corporations' control over the growth of staple crops. That's at least four long, complicated conversations about emotive topics right there, and packaging them together for an audience without much background knowledge -- or whose knowledge is biased in whichever directions -- is a hell of a challenge.

It's much easier to get a couple of talking heads to have an empty, emotive "debate" and draw no conclusions: you filled the airtime, can claim to whoever cares that is was a substantive segment about science, and viewers on every side of the debate are left feeling that their side gave the others a good thrashing.
posted by metaBugs at 6:18 AM on September 22, 2013 [30 favorites]


I find the ignorance of some of the anti-GMO arguments truly offensive and dangerous.
One of the most egregious things in this thread is this line of thinking that golden rice is unnecessary because you can get all the vitamin A you need with a mixed diet of fresh fruit including a nice mango.


Ahhh another SME! Good.

Provide proof of the bio-availability of the Vitamin A in the golden rice VS other sources.

(Oh and "goal post moving" of " a mixed diet of fresh fruit including a nice mango" is a nice rhetorical flourish. You are the 1st to mention it, so good for you on getting all upset over your own words.)
posted by rough ashlar at 6:20 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Provide proof of the bio-availability of the Vitamin A in the golden rice VS other sources."

Does this work?
Golden Rice is an effective source of vitamin A
Background: Genetically engineered “Golden Rice” contains up to 35 μg β-carotene per gram of rice. It is important to determine the vitamin A equivalency of Golden Rice β-carotene to project the potential effect of this biofortified grain in rice-consuming populations that commonly exhibit low vitamin A status.
Objective: The objective was to determine the vitamin A value of intrinsically labeled dietary Golden Rice in humans.
Design: Golden Rice plants were grown hydroponically with heavy water (deuterium oxide) to generate deuterium-labeled [2H]β-carotene in the rice grains. Golden Rice servings of 65–98 g (130–200 g cooked rice) containing 0.99–1.53 mg β-carotene were fed to 5 healthy adult volunteers (3 women and 2 men) with 10 g butter. A reference dose of [13C10]retinyl acetate (0.4–1.0 mg) in oil was given to each volunteer 1 wk before ingestion of the Golden Rice dose. Blood samples were collected over 36 d.
Results: Our results showed that the mean (±SD) area under the curve for the total serum response to [2H]retinol was 39.9 ± 20.7 μg·d after the Golden Rice dose. Compared with that of the [13C10]retinyl acetate reference dose (84.7 ± 34.6 μg·d), Golden Rice β-carotene provided 0.24–0.94 mg retinol. Thus, the conversion factor of Golden Rice β-carotene to retinol is 3.8 ± 1.7 to 1 with a range of 1.9–6.4 to 1 by weight, or 2.0 ± 0.9 to 1 with a range of 1.0–3.4 to 1 by moles.
Conclusion: β-Carotene derived from Golden Rice is effectively converted to vitamin A in humans. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT00680355.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:26 AM on September 22, 2013 [21 favorites]


Bioavailability of vitamin A from Golden rice? I just typed that phrase into Google and immediately got a nice list of papers claiming that on the basis of clinical trials, it is.

First hit in Google

The awkward truth is that Vitamin-A insufficiency is extremely common in many parts of the world and is associated with the poor, monotonous diets consumed by the very poor. People don't eat diets like that because they hate variety and would rather eat the same tasteless starchy dish day after day, they eat those diets because they can't afford anything better.

So as an initial step, trying to make those monotonous cheap starchy diets more nutritious seems like the way to go.
posted by Mokusatsu at 6:28 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm against things like Roundup Ready plants, but not anti-GMO. Too many people seem to think that genetic modification is messing with nature in some god-like way that creates an uncrossable line, as the term Frankenfood so readily demonstrates.

The thing is, genetic modification happens in nature, too. It's estimated that 8% of human DNA has a viral origin. It was "spliced in" by accident. What scientists are doing in the lab is a billion times more controlled than what happens in nature.

That doesn't of course, guarantee safety, and there should be (and to some degree, are) processes in place to test for that. The real danger is on the systemic scales, like if you create a monoculture because one form of genetically engineered plant becomes dominant, or as, in the case of Roundup, you encourage dumping more herbicides into the environment.

Genetic modification has tremendous potential to benefit the world, but we need to have the discussion about the hazards and benefits of each use, not the technique itself.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:34 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


rough ashlar, you might not be inclined to trust the source, but The Golden Rice Project has a nice summary of the project rationale and data. I haven't read the primary data myself, but it's all cited on that page if you want to go hunting. Mostly in the Lancet and Nature Biotechnology, which are very good journals, for whatever that's worth. (If you don't have journal access, I and presumably others in this thread will be happy to send them along)

From that page:
The most advanced version of Golden Rice [...] is more than enough to supply the required amounts of β-carotene, according to the bioavailability results.

We wish that everybody in the world had access to a well-balanced diet, capable of covering all nutrition needs of the population. Yet, a quick reality check teaches us that in many regions of the world this goal will not be achieved any time soon. The reasons for this sad reality are manifold. They are rooted in geographic and climatic limitations, different political, religious and sociocultural backgrounds and problems.
...they're not claiming that theirs is the only, or best possible solution. They're claiming that offering poor, rice-based societies a healthier version of rice seems more achievable in the short term than rebuilding those societies to eliminate food poverty.
posted by metaBugs at 6:35 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


True that. If the goal is to get vitamin A to the impoverished masses, then send/sell/give them vitamin A. There's no need to sell them a car whose scientifically-designed seats injects vitamin A through their asses. This is being presented (unsuccessfully, IMO) as some kind of philanthropy, when it's nothing of the sort.

(Also, whether it's safe or not, there's a world of difference between crossbreeding strawberry cultivars and introducing fish genes.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:35 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


While I don't object to GMO in principle, I am concerned with for profit corporations and their tendency to cut safety corners in the name of quicker profits. There's also some concerning rent seeking aspects to Monsanto et al's approach to GMO crops.

That's always been my stance on it. GMO has the potential to improve things. In the hands of capitalists whose motive is money, not social or environmental improvement, it has the potential to completely fuck up everything except for short-term profit.

GMO should not be banned, but it should be scrutinized. We're eating that stuff. We're putting it out into the world where it could potentially ruin other food crops, or kill off pollinators or ruin the soil in one generation or whatever.

A "free" market requires the market to know what the hell it's paying for. Imagine if we had democratic elections where voters were not allowed to know anything about the candidates other than their names.

Monsanto does not operate out of the goodness of its heart, in order to feed starving children; it operates to turn a profit. And has revolving doors to the FDA and EPA.

Monsanto brought the world PCBs, DDT, Agent Orange, polystyrene, and rBGH and it's possible that RoundUp is contributing to the die-off of pollinating bees. But by all means let's put our trust in them because SCIENCE!
posted by Foosnark at 6:37 AM on September 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Arguments fom safety against transgenic crops have time and time again proven to be wrong (and founded largely in appeal to nature fallacies), so the new tactic among the scientfically illiterate set is to pretend that all of the ills of modern agriculture are attributable to transgenic crops.

It is despicable and reflects the same sort of too-much-money-and-not-enough-thinking entitlement that is displayed when some nutjob goes on daytime TV to froth about vaccines pulling their chakras out of alignment.

The "need moar studies" card is old and tired and reveals an ongoing failure to engage with the voluminous evidence already available.

Also, whether it's safe or not, there's a world of difference between crossbreeding strawberry cultivars and introducing fish genes.

No, there is not a "world of difference". Genes are genes. They do what genes do, whether they come from a fish or from an ape.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:44 AM on September 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


Also, when someone says "I'm not anti-science...I'm for responsible science", it strongly suggests (on the basis of every. single. pseudo-skeptic having said the exact same thing in at least one public debate) that said person will keep moving the goal posts and never be satisfied with a body of evidence that is significantly larger and higher in quality than research into, say, "organic" food.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


True that. If the goal is to get vitamin A to the impoverished masses, then send/sell/give them vitamin A.
-
Current efforts to combat micronutrient malnutrition in the developing world focus on providing vitamin and mineral supplements for pregnant women and young children and on fortifying foods through postharvest processing. In regions with a high prevalence of poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and poorly developed markets for food processing and delivery, however, these methods have had negligible impact, and biofortification has been proposed as a more effective intervention.

posted by Drinky Die at 6:49 AM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Funny how the vitamins can't get decent distribution but the seeds can, though, huh?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:53 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The seeds can be reused for free by subsistence farmers. The vitamins have to be continually provided. Aid dollars are limited and if there is a more efficient way without serious drawbacks, it's worth a look.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:54 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


No Benny, not funny. Seeds can be saved and replanted, vitamin pills are consumed permanently when swallowed.
posted by Mokusatsu at 6:55 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


The argument that people can't get vitamin A through other means is pretty ridiculous. From the same (ethically challenged by the way) Golden Rice study cited above:

To prevent clinical vitamin A deficiency in developing countries, chemically synthesized vitamin A supplements have been distributed periodically to deficient populations. This has been shown to be an efficient and generally safe strategy. However, supplementation programs with a periodic mass distribution have been difficult to sustain because of high distribution costs.

So this is what it comes down to - cost. Yes if we can make it cheaper for people to get vitamin A then by all means lets do it. But let's not do it in the name of enriching some corporations pocket at the expense of society. I'm not completely anti-GMO but the work needs to be very open and very well researched. If the corporations have nothing to fear than they should not be against labeling.
posted by Big_B at 6:56 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But let's not do it in the name of enriching some corporations pocket at the expense of society.

You know how I know you haven't done much background reading on golden rice?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:58 AM on September 22, 2013 [23 favorites]


You know how I know you haven't done much background reading on golden rice?

Ok, you got me. I'll stop so you can be dismissive and snarky instead of just correcting me.
posted by Big_B at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2013


"I'm curious, as someone who works in agricultural science, have you come across any substantiated criticisms of GMOs (either general or specific cases/projects)?"

I work in the molecular genetics of microbiology, and am not currently doing anything agriculturally focused, but I'll give answering your question a shot. I have yet to see anything I've found compelling in a general sense, but I have come across a GMO project that I saw as an especially bad idea.

The process of making paper requires removing lignin, the cell wall components that give trees their rigidity, from tree pulp in a very expensive and inherently environmentally destructive way. Much of the extracted lignin is then used for other things but the supply for resulting lignosulfonates way outstrips demand and is mostly only an afterthought to the process. If we could artificially grow trees with meaningfully low amounts of lignin then we could ameliorate or even avoid the whole destructive and expensive process. These trees would be more vulnerable to storms and a variety of diseases, but dead trees are excellent carbon sinks and the economic benefit would more than cover their costs. On the surface it seems like a perfect project, a good worth doing and a profit to be made that makes the whole thing happen.

The concern is that, if cultivated in the kind of huge plantations that we currently grow paper trees in, they would also spread massive quantities of pollen. In other systems this wouldn't matter at all as the inherently weaker seeds that result from wild contamination would just be strongly selected against and then die out. However a generation or two of trees is a big deal and, while permanent damage would be remain impossible and the gene would not be able to spread further, if used just wrong these kinds of strains could do serious harm to nearby forests that would only become a problem 20 years later.

Lacking any concerted opposition to GMOs with a shred of intellectual honesty or credibility this could have easily turned into something that would have done a lot of damage to the environment. The dream of these kinds of trees though is still alive, though only in the kinds of context where this couldn't be an issue (for example planting GMO eucalyptus in the American South) but the danger of CONSTANTLY crying wolf is still real.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Benny Andajetz: "Funny how the vitamins can't get decent distribution but the seeds can, though, huh?"

Rice can travel where aid workers with needles in land rovers cannot, it does not immediately spoil even in tropical climates, it is value dense, and it is self replacing. What makes Golden Rice so amazing and useful in ways nothing else can be is that Rice has existing local infrastructure for growing it and distributing it even where international commerce does not reach in exactly the areas affected by Vitamin A deficiency. Its commercial value is and will always be entirely irrelevant to its true value to humanity because the trait is already pretty much worthless to anyone who can afford to buy it off of a shipping container from a corporation rather than an NGO that can fix prices for starter seed to whatever is locally appropriate. All that is needed is the seeds, thoughtful education campaigns, and for activists who don't know a damn thing about what is important in agriculture or aid work to get out of the way.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:02 AM on September 22, 2013 [28 favorites]


A lot of hay gets made over this but the only farmers who have ever been sued for planting GMO crops have been sued because they were plainly trying to steal seed they did not have licenses to use. Even Monsanto does not sue farmers for disliking them.

They were actually stealing seed? That's a new one on me. I had just heard they were trying to plant without licenses.

Maybe this is the new "McDonald's coffee" case, then.
posted by ODiV at 7:04 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're claiming that offering poor, rice-based societies a healthier version of rice seems more achievable

And that may very well be. (The link I provided was 2001 and Blaseb link is 2009. Not had time to digest it but it does seem that the 2001 concern isn't the issue WRT the rice VS the 2009 data. The lack of fat in the diet may still be a show-stopper - but perhaps there is a study showing the rice substituion alone was able to raise blood serum levels to beyond 100% rda)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:05 AM on September 22, 2013


I'll stop so you can be dismissive and snarky

I expect the original commenter got snarky on you because a single google followed by a single click gets you to a page that tells how the rice is being made available for free. It's not lining some corporations pocket.

More importantly, once it's in place, it's self-sustaining. The "sell them vitamins" crowd doesn't seem to get that. Supplements would be more of a profit-making scam than GMO seeds.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


Inspector.Gadget: " But let's not do it in the name of enriching some corporations pocket at the expense of society.

You know how I know you haven't done much background reading on golden rice


Hey sweet, Monsanto gives out free licenses for this particular GMO product! I'm sold!
GMO for everyone in everything now!

Man I love the taste of succesful PR campaigns in the morning. Smells like victory.
posted by Big_B at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey sweet, Monsanto gives out free licenses for this particular GMO product! I'm sold!
GMO for everyone in everything now!


You've established that the optics of the situation don't suit you. How about engaging with the research?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:15 AM on September 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


Big_B, you claim you're not anti-GMO, so why spew FUD like an anti-GMO propagandist?

Monsanto didn't invent golden rice, nor do they produce the seeds. The company that does, Syngenta, has to license certain techniques that Monsanto has a patent on, but that's like Apple using techniques that Microsoft has a patent on. It doesn't mean that Microsoft makes iPhones.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:20 AM on September 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


rough ashlar: "And that may very well be. (The link I provided was 2001 and Blaseb link is 2009. Not had time to digest it but it does seem that the 2001 concern isn't the issue WRT the rice VS the 2009 data. The lack of fat in the diet may still be a show-stopper - but perhaps there is a study showing the rice substituion alone was able to raise blood serum levels to beyond 100% rda)"

Here you go,
β-Carotene in Golden Rice is as good as β-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children
Background: Golden Rice (GR) has been genetically engineered to be rich in β-carotene for use as a source of vitamin A.
Objective: The objective was to compare the vitamin A value of β-carotene in GR and in spinach with that of pure β-carotene in oil when consumed by children.
Design: Children (n = 68; age 6–8 y) were randomly assigned to consume GR or spinach (both grown in a nutrient solution containing 23 atom% 2H2O) or [2H8]β-carotene in an oil capsule. The GR and spinach β-carotene were enriched with deuterium (2H) with the highest abundance molecular mass (M) at Mβ-C+2H10. [13C10]Retinyl acetate in an oil capsule was administered as a reference dose. Serum samples collected from subjects were analyzed by using gas chromatography electron-capture negative chemical ionization mass spectrometry for the enrichments of labeled retinol: Mretinol+4 (from [2H8]β-carotene in oil), Mretinol+5 (from GR or spinach [2H10]β-carotene), and Mretinol+10 (from [13C10]retinyl acetate).
Results: Using the response to the dose of [13C10]retinyl acetate (0.5 mg) as a reference, our results (with the use of AUC of molar enrichment at days 1, 3, 7, 14, and 21 after the labeled doses) showed that the conversions of pure β-carotene (0.5 mg), GR β-carotene (0.6 mg), and spinach β-carotene (1.4 mg) to retinol were 2.0, 2.3, and 7.5 to 1 by weight, respectively.
Conclusions: The β-carotene in GR is as effective as pure β-carotene in oil and better than that in spinach at providing vitamin A to children. A bowl of ∼100 to 150 g cooked GR (50 g dry weight) can provide ∼60% of the Chinese Recommended Nutrient Intake of vitamin A for 6–8-y-old children. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as NCT00680212.
It is important to keep in mind that Recommended Daily Allowances were designed for rich westerners as the amount considered to be sufficient to fully meet all of the requirements of 97–98% of healthy individuals in every demographic in the United States. Less than 1% of the Vitamin A RDA has profound effects on blindness and immunity for those with the kinds of food security issues we're talking about.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:20 AM on September 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


I'm curious. Are any of the stridently anti-GMO, pro-14-year-old-precocious-girl commenters from the beginning of this thread convinced by Blasdelb's patient, detailed, impeccably sourced demolition of your position? And if you're not convinced, is there any evidence that would persuade you? Or is your negative opinion of GMO basically unfalsifiable?
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:23 AM on September 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


Labeling GMO ingredients implies there is a reason for them to be labeled.

There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful in any way.


What is the value to consumers in not knowing their food may be GMO derived? Suppose there is a production problem that slips through one day with a particular GMO product. If we aren't even allowed to know our foods contain these ingredients, how could we as consumers ever even hope to do our part in the event of an actual problem resulting from a manufacturing process error related to a particular GMO? Are we supposed to believe nothing can ever go wrong even due to error or sloppy industrial practice?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:28 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, there are some indications that malnutrition will prevent adequate uptake of vitamin A even if there is enough in the rice.


Look, I'm not opposed to doing whatever is efficacious. But it still squicks me out that these seeds are owned and licensed. The fact that this particular seed will be licensed for free in some circumstances doesn't really help. (And you know the goal is to eventually make this a GURT seed everywhere else.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:29 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you adding a series of proteins (or lipids/sugars I guess if you have that good a method for introducing whole metabolic pathways) that help the plant/animal grow in and of themselves?

I'm not seeing a reason for that to be labeled.

Are you adding a series of proteins (or lipids/sugars I guess if you have that good a method for introducing whole metabolic pathways) that help the plant survive your new front-line herbicides and pesticides (round up ready)?

Hell to the yes that should be labeled.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:30 AM on September 22, 2013


Look, I'm not opposed to doing whatever is efficacious. But it still squicks me out that these seeds are owned and licensed.

The solution to this problem is a intellectual property or public policy one. Hell, it could even be technology that makes it easier for smaller companies to generate new strains of fruits and vegetables.

I don't see why, or how, intentionally scaring the shit out of people by requiring labels on GMO foods solves the problem, at all.
posted by downing street memo at 7:34 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Blasdelb or other GMO fans: Why is golden rice relevant to the discussion of whether GMOs should be labeled in the US and Canada? Genuinely curious, it feels like a derail (in the clip as well--she's all "GMOs could be bad we need to study them and label them" and he's all "WHY DO YOU HATE ASIAN PEOPLE?" it just seems like an emotional appeal...).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:38 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Additional thought: Plants in general seem like a derail to what I consider the most troubling factor of GMOs, their assistance in making Factory Meat farming the standard in America and soon everywhere else. When you modify a plant, it doesn't hurt the plant, but taking a step back from the debate, do we really want a society where we eat animals grown in vats with tortured brains buried deep in sheaves of fat side by side without movement for decades until they die? Honest question, maybe it actually is better in the long run, but the whole Feed The World shtick breaks down once we start looking at what genetic manipulation gets us when it comes to meat.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:42 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kevin O'Leary is a vile vulgarian of disgraceful dis-ingenuousness , a cancerous blight as it were, on the Mother Corp(CBC, as its known in the great deaf mute giant of a country). The very worst we have to offer in this this country, non hard time punishable type offenders speaking wise.

No, that's Ezra Levant. Kevin O'Leary is up there on the list, but you've got all of SunTV to get through before you get to him.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:46 AM on September 22, 2013


Potomac Avenue - it's not, particularly. But if we're talking about the interview, Parent did say that "Golden rice was scrapped because it didn't work", which isn't true. She also flipped a couple of times between wanting all GM crops stopped and just wanting them labelled, although in fairness that was her position vs. that of her campaign, and I can understand those being different.

Plus, the conversation has drifted from "we should label GM foods" to "are GM foods a good thing".

I'm not sure that I understand your second point: are you talking about the possibility of growing e.g. huge GM cows in vats?
posted by metaBugs at 7:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't see why, or how, intentionally scaring the shit out of people by requiring labels on GMO foods solves the problem, at all.

Labeling GMOs won't solve any problems, and may in fact create some problems if people aren't down with it. But people have a right to know, regardless. Frankly, I'm angry at my fellow leftists that GMOs, nuclear power, and food irradiation aren't more common. In my view, the benefits of these things far outweigh the risks. But people have a right to self-determination, even when it bites them later.

Label it, and tell them - show them - how awesome it is. If they don't buy it, fine.

do we really want a society where we eat animals grown in vats with tortured brains buried deep in sheaves of fat side by side without movement for decades until they die?

Actually, I'd love a society where we eat animals grown in vats without brains. I'm hoping for a world where science makes this possible. It solves one major ethical dilemma with meat consumption (animal suffering), and might help the other (environmental impact).
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:48 AM on September 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


where we eat animals grown in vats with tortured brains buried deep in sheaves of fat side by side without movement for decades until they die?

Earth, Potomac, Earth! You're on Earth! Here we feed on meat and other nutritious substances, not on the concept of pain.

I don't believe I've ever heard anyone float the idea (hahaha, like brains in vats) of growing brains as well as the meat.
posted by tychotesla at 7:49 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Blasdelb or other GMO fans:

That right there is the biggest part of the problem. Anyone who says, "I'm a bit troubled by this aspect of GMO foods..." is labeled "anti-GMO religious nut," and anyone who says, "I like this aspect of GMO foods" is labeled "pro-GMO corporate stooge."

How about if we all just sort of take a step back and A) not assume that anyone who expresses a sliver of a different opinion isn't some kind of wild-eyed parody, and B) cut it with these callouts on orthogonal issues? If you actually want to know blasdelb's opinion on something, MeMail him; otherwise, it looks like you're just trying to score points.
posted by Etrigan at 7:51 AM on September 22, 2013 [31 favorites]


Also taking a tip fr the 14 year old and keeping things woo-free is always good.
posted by Artw at 7:53 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, Kevin Leary just moved up a few points in the All-Time Index of People I'd Like To See Get Punched in the Face. Didn't think I'd be revising the list this early today.
posted by Spatch at 7:55 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: "What is the value to consumers in not knowing their food may be GMO derived? "
Counter-intuitive.

There is an old urban legend about two salmon canneries dueling in the marketplace with competing slogans. One cannery, which packaged naturally white fleshed salmon, came out with a campaign declaring that its salmon was "Guaranteed Not To Turn Pink In The Can!." Then, not to be outdone, the next cannery, which packaged naturally pink fleshed salmon, comes out with its own slogan "Guaranteed: No Bleach Used in Processing!"

Labeling something as GMO-free is intellectually dishonest in all of the same ways that labeling salmon as guaranteed not to turn pink in the can or bleach free is, it takes advantage of the ignorance of the consumer while contributing to it. Of course we should no more make GMO-free labelled food, paraben-free cosmetics, MSG-free chinese food, or Bisphenol A (BPA) free plastics illegal than bleach free salmon, but to mandate the bullshit would be insane. Just because companies can make a lot of money selling you fear doesn't mean our government should help them.

The fact is that GMOs are substantially equivalent in every meaningful way and and we should not sully our credibility as a society by pretending they're not.
Potomac Avenue: "Blasdelb or other GMO fans: Why is golden rice relevant to the discussion of whether GMOs should be labeled in the US and Canada? Genuinely curious, it feels like a derail (in the clip as well--she's all "GMOs could be bad we need to study them and label them" and he's all "WHY DO YOU HATE ASIAN PEOPLE?" it just seems like an emotional appeal...)."
The kid spent a lot more time slandering the IRRI and golden rice than promoting labeling.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:56 AM on September 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


Labeling GMOs won't solve any problems, and may in fact create some problems if people aren't down with it. But people have a right to know, regardless.

This seems simplistic. Obviously the goal of anti-GMO organizations is to require labeling, then use general ignorance of science to scare people out of eating the GMOed foods.

They've learned well from the anti-vaccine people, who say they're all about "disclosure" and "choice", then move from ingredient to ingredient making up wild claims about every constituent part of the vaccine.
posted by downing street memo at 7:56 AM on September 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Speaking only for myself here:

"GMO fans" is not a useful descriptor. Transgenic methods are one tool in the toolbox of improving crop yield and nutrition, and improving crop yield and nutrition is one tool in the toolbox of improving global agriculture. I have no preference for transgenic crops over others in a general sense, but I am alarmed at the sheer willful ignorance and misinformation spread by self-styled activists (many of whom have an economic stake in spreading FUD about transgenic crops).

Saying that "GMOs could be bad we need to study and label them" is disingenuous. Transgenic crops have received a significant amount of scrutinuy already, far more than many conventional crops and certainly more than the "organic" section of the industry. It's akin to saying, in 2013, "Nobody has established why the World Trade Center fell, and we need to continue the inquiry". Sure, particular transgenic crops need to be studied, but transgenic methods as a discipline are conclusively safe. There is no "Frankenfood", no lurking monster. Genes are genes. We know far more about the consumption safety and other characteristics of glyphosphate-tolerant corn than about some random maize growing in a field in rural South America.

Mandatory labeling is and always has been a scare tactic employed by big conventional and organic crop producers. How much do you know about the non-transgenic corn that goes into the food you eat? How much do you know about the conventional beef in your burger? This is part of the reason anti-GMO activists are reluctant to speak about a particular case of transgenic crops: it's easier to paint with a broad brush and suggest that they have some mysterious health effect in common and need to be labeled. If producers want to label their food non-GMO voluntarily, that's fine - it is akin to kosher certification and those that feel it is important should be able to pursue it. Mandatory labeling of food products made from transgenic crops conveys no information to the consumer other than "OOGA BOOGA! BETTER BUY THESE MORE EXPENSIVE NATURE VALLEY CRACKERS SO I DON'T SPROUT A THIRD ARM!"

Why is golden rice relevant to the discussion of whether GMOs should be labeled in the US and Canada?

Because (a) the speaker brought up golden rice and (b) arguments from ignorance about golden rice are one of the rotating "throw anything at the wall and see if it sticks" strategies of anti-GMO activists. It will come up sooner or later; better to clear the air.

do we really want a society where we eat animals grown in vats with tortured brains buried deep in sheaves of fat side by side without movement for decades until they die?

This is such an absurd, poison-the-well argument it is not worth discussing. Nobody argues in favor of this situation and nobody is working to develop "animals grown in vats with tortured brains buried deep in sheaves of fat". Honestly, I expect better from Metafilter. This is the sort of parade-of-horribles garbage that you might catch on AM radio at 3 AM.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:56 AM on September 22, 2013 [30 favorites]


As an aside, one example of a GM product that everyone loves: insulin. For decades now, we've grown it in huge vats of genetically modified E. coli instead of mincing pig pancreases (pancreae? Funny, I don't think I've ever needed that plural before). Brewers' yeasts tend to be pretty heavily modified too (selective breeding, but also some deliberate modifications including antibiotic resistance and various marker genes). Neither of these has all the same issues as a crop growing in a field, but they're nice examples of GM organisms linked to human consumption that no one really worries about.
posted by metaBugs at 7:57 AM on September 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


How much do you know about the non-transgenic corn that goes into the food you eat? How much do you know about the conventional beef in your burger?

Not very much at all, but I'd sure like to! Maybe if there was an informative label on them...
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


This seems simplistic. Obviously the goal of anti-GMO organizations is to require labeling, then use general ignorance of science to scare people out of eating the GMOed foods.

This is precisely why government-mandated labeling, where the requirements are drafted by experts rather than marketers, is critical. Don't let the marketers play to fear with unregulated non-GMO labels. Make them dry and accurate.

There's an analogy to be drawn here with the people who decry all the "OMG! CHEMICALS!" in their food, without understanding what they are. That doesn't mean huge numbers of people stop purchasing things with ingredients with long names in them. Those people are out there, and they try to scare people, but they are for the most part ineffective.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:05 AM on September 22, 2013


Not very much at all, but I'd sure like to! Maybe if there was an informative label on them...

Evidently, then, this is not an issue that relates specifically to transgenic crops. I was hoping somebody would seize on that. What do you propose?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2013


GMOs are not giving exclusive control of this technology to corporations, Greanpeace is.

I'm not sure Greenpeace have a whole lot to do with genetic patents being a Thing. That might be lawmakers and lobbyists.
posted by Dysk at 8:08 AM on September 22, 2013


"GMO fans" is not a useful descriptor.

Sorry about that, it was just shorthand. I got no major problems with GMOs and don't really know much about the issue. I appreciate the zeal for defending science but maybe answering questions with less OOGA BOOGA U LIVE ON EARTH hyperbole might be helpful otherwise you lose completely agnostic folks like me yo.

This is such an absurd, poison-the-well argument it is not worth discussing.

Didn't mean to poison the well! I guess it was a derail though, I withdrawn the question. Seems like something that people are advocating for as an end goal of genetic mod of meat and relatively soon to me, but the OP is concerned with plants so maybe you're right that we'd be best to stick to one subject at a time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2013


Knowing very little about the issue but reviewing the comments I wonder if some of the responses to GMO relates to our semi-conscious knowledge that our planet is just fucked. I mean in terms of maintaining our standard of living, that's where I think the end is nigh.

So here we have an instance of our management of the environment with GMOs paired with some of the scary scenarios of GMOs on the loose. It's like it activates all parts of the *we fucked the environment/humanity is somewhat fucked as a result/can science save us* trilogy.
posted by angrycat at 8:11 AM on September 22, 2013


Potomac Avenue, that comment seems disingenuous.

If you are completely agnostic what's with the allusion to "some people are advocating for as an end goal of genetic mod of meat and relatively soon to me" and then dancing away with "mabe you're right that we'd be best to stick to one subject at a time"?

Coming so close on the heels of an impassioned comment about some horrific Cow Matrix imagined future I find that a bit too cute.

If you have something to say about transgenic animals, put it on the table. I'd be interested to hear it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:13 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Uther Bentrazor: "Not very much at all, but I'd sure like to! Maybe if there was an informative label on them..."

Philosopher Dirtbike: "This is precisely why government-mandated labeling, where the requirements are drafted by experts rather than marketers, is critical. Don't let the marketers play to fear with unregulated non-GMO labels. Make them dry and accurate.

There's an analogy to be drawn here with the people who decry all the "OMG! CHEMICALS!" in their food, without understanding what they are. That doesn't mean huge numbers of people stop purchasing things with ingredients with long names in them. Those people are out there, and they try to scare people, but they are for the most part ineffective.
"
Y'all have me imagining grocery stores piled high with dissertation sized binders attached to each item of food, and that actually sounds kind of awesome. If we were going to label food by strain in the kind of detail in which it would make sense to actual experts and not just marketers to include GMO information, there'd be an awful lot of other things labeled first.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:15 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Isn't the end goal the Ameglian Major Cow?
posted by Drinky Die at 8:16 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we could artificially grow trees with meaningfully low amounts of lignin then we could ameliorate or even avoid the whole destructive and expensive process.

You wouldn't want to stop with reduced lignin; you'd want to make the cellulose fibers longer too so the paper would be stronger.

It's as shame no such natural plant exists. If you invented it you could give it a punchy name like "hemp."
posted by localroger at 8:17 AM on September 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


horrific Cow Matrix imagined future

I pitched this idea to Warner Brothers, but it turns out cows are not a coveted movie audience demographic.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:18 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


The fact is that GMOs are substantially equivalent in every meaningful way and and we should not sully our credibility as a society by pretending they're not.

Chocolate produced by slaves is "substantially equivalent" to fair trade chocolate. Does that mean it makes sense to campaign against fair trade labelling on chocolate?
posted by Foosnark at 8:20 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem with GMO's isn't that they are inherently bad. It's that they are favored mainly because they enable rent-seeking by the corporations that own the GMO patents in ways which natural solutions don't.
posted by localroger at 8:21 AM on September 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


True that. If the goal is to get vitamin A to the impoverished masses, then send/sell/give them vitamin A. There's no need to sell them a car whose scientifically-designed seats injects vitamin A through their asses. This is being presented (unsuccessfully, IMO) as some kind of philanthropy, when it's nothing of the sort.

(Also, whether it's safe or not, there's a world of difference between crossbreeding strawberry cultivars and introducing fish genes.)


You guys all know that the reason that rickets is no longer a widespread problem in America is because we add Vitamin D to milk, right?

This "just give them vitamins!" is coming across very "let them eat cake." The easiest way to get populations to consume vitamins is often by fortifying existing foods which they already eat with them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:21 AM on September 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


Chocolate produced by slaves is "substantially equivalent" to fair trade chocolate. Does that mean it makes sense to campaign against fair trade labelling on chocolate?

Do you think planting transgenic crops is substantially equivalent to slavery? Be clear in your arguments.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:24 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let me get this straight... GMOs should not be labeled because then anti-GMO advocates could frighten the ignorant, unwashed masses away from GMOs. The solution is to keep said masses even more ignorant because you know what's best for them and not the other guy. Fascinating.
posted by Behemoth at 8:25 AM on September 22, 2013 [21 favorites]


Foosnark: "Chocolate produced by slaves is "substantially equivalent" to fair trade chocolate."

No it isn't.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:25 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Y'all have me imagining grocery stores piled high with dissertation sized binders attached to each item of food, and that actually sounds kind of awesome. If we were going to label food by strain in the kind of detail in which it would make sense to actual experts and not just marketers to include GMO information, there'd be an awful lot of other things labeled first.

Sounds like a science jobs program to me! Actually, this information would not have to be on the label itself these days. Stick a number on it that can be looked up on the internet. The goal is to have the information be accurate and available for those who want it. It is obvious that having a little graphic on the label that says the equivalent of "the wing is not on fire" doesn't help, but there are ways of providing information that are 1) not disingenuous, and 2) give *more* information than even the anti-GMO people are demanding. Who could argue with that?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:26 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


GMOs should not be labeled because then anti-GMO advocates could frighten the ignorant, unwashed masses away from GMOs.

Nobody is making this argument. The argument is "The government should not MANDATE labeling of transgenic crops because there is no evidence that any transgenic crop currently available for human consumption, or transgenic crops generally, pose any threat to human health. The government should not enable rent-seeking by organic producers by allowing them to spread FUD with the government's imprimatur. If organic or other producers wish to VOLUNTARILY label GMOs, and increase their margins earned from people with unjustified health concerns, that is their right."

Low-information-value warning labels are a problem in another way. They distract people from noticing things that are actually dangerous to them. If everything is a labeled carcinogen, nothing is a labeled carcinogen.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:30 AM on September 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Nobody is making this argument.

Semantics aside, that is precisely the argument you and several others in this thread are making.
posted by Behemoth at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Semantics aside, that is precisely the argument you and several others in this thread are making.

No, it is not. VOLUNTARY transgenic foodstuff labeling is perfectly OK. MANDATORY transgenic foodstuff labeling is not, for the reasons discussed above. If you don't care to grasp that distinction, that's on you.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:36 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


As an aside, one example of a GM product that everyone loves: insulin. For decades now, we've grown it in huge vats of genetically modified E. coli instead of mincing pig pancreases (pancreae? Funny, I don't think I've ever needed that plural before). Brewers' yeasts tend to be pretty heavily modified too (selective breeding, but also some deliberate modifications including antibiotic resistance and various marker genes). Neither of these has all the same issues as a crop growing in a field, but they're nice examples of GM organisms linked to human consumption that no one really worries about.

As an insulin-dependent diabetic, I am aware of, and grateful for, this. But, it should also be noted that, almost 100 years after the first production of insulin, there is no such thing as generic insulin. One small vial of insulin sells for well in excess of a hundred dollars; I use more than three a month.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:37 AM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Look, I'm not opposed to doing whatever is efficacious. But it still squicks me out that these seeds are owned and licensed.

I find this mindset incredibly vexing, and it seems to happy mostly on the left. This reminds me of the life-extension discussions on MetaFilter where people were against it because they thought it would disproportionately help the rich. "Huge advance has some implication I don't like. We have to ban it!"

Maybe instead of fighting (hopelessly) against technological progress, we should work towards copyright/patent reform.
posted by spaltavian at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Semantics aside, that is precisely...

This is the point where you admit the disingenuousness of your own "argument," you realize.
posted by Etrigan at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Inspector.Gadget: I guess I read too much science fiction where the scenario of meat being grown in vats without regard to animal welfare is widely extant, with plenty of reasonable arguments for why it would be a good thing. I wasn't being disingenuous in the least, the reaction to my comment by others convinced me that I was being a little apocalyptic and changing the subject. So I genuinely agreed that some future meat scenario is not what we're talking about.

I'm not an advocate for anything, and really honestly don't care that much either way, I thought I would take the opportunity to air some of my uneducated fears about the subject and see what more learned people thought about it.

All your comments have taught me of however is that you're kinda rude, especially for a child's cartoon from the 80s.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm curious. Are any of the stridently anti-GMO, pro-14-year-old-precocious-girl commenters from the beginning of this thread convinced by Blasdelb's patient, detailed, impeccably sourced demolition of your position? And if you're not convinced, is there any evidence that would persuade you? Or is your negative opinion of GMO basically unfalsifiable?

As the thread poster, I'd like to say that I know next to nothing about GMOs, and have really appreciated the debate here. Blasdelb's comment was excellent in that regard, and helps provide me with a base from which to think about this further—although I come across GMO debates so rarely that I suspect my learning about this topic will be a long time in the making.

I posted this video entirely because I was fascinated by how well Rachel apes the delivery style of older politicians, and manages to avoid getting frustrated/falling for Kevin's traps the way many older debaters would. I have a tendency to regard all televised debate as pure theatre, so Rachel's points didn't make much of an impact on me, and neither did Kevin's; however, I am quite fond of Kevin's sleazy businesspersonness, again entirely for the theatre of it and not at all because I approve of what impact sleazy businesspeople have on my planet. Capitalism and media performance both entertain and interest the hell out of me, and in that sense this video was interesting in a number of ways.

But one of the things I was hoping for when I posted this was a more substantiative debate in the comments, and I'm delighted by this ensuing conversation. MetaFilter does that "nexus of entertaining and informative" thing extraordinarily well; I hope nobody involved in this discussion is angry that I posted this more for the theatre of it than I did for the arguments within.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:39 AM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


If organic or other producers wish to VOLUNTARILY label GMOs, and increase their margins earned from people with unjustified health concerns, that is their right.

I think that's exactly backwards. Disingenuous labeling is as bad as no labeling at all. People have a right to know, but that means that the labeling must be *truly* informative, not marketing-driven. Government has a role to play in this, just as they have a role to play in ensuring that other labeling ("low fat", for instance) is not disingenuous.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:39 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think that a person's digestive system can probably handle GMO food just fine, and I think GMO food should not only be labelled, but it should say HOW and WHY the food was GMO'd. If I don't want spiderwebs in my goat milk, then I should know what type of goat milk I am buying.

I do not think that Earth's biosphere is prepared to handle GMO crops. The real danger here is that once unleashed, it cannot be contained. And it has been unleashed, and it cannot be contained.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:40 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


All your comments have taught me of however is that you're kinda rude, especially for a child's cartoon from the 80s.

I apologize if I have offended you. Please understand that the pattern of argumentation you followed closely resembles (to the person on the other side of the HTML) the astroturfing and concern trolling practiced by anti-GMO types and given your hypothetical I mistook you for one of them.

Government has a role to play in this, just as they have a role to play in ensuring that other labeling ("low fat", for instance) is not disingenuous.

Well, yes. Government can and should hold producers' feet to the fire for disingenuous labeling. Voluntarily labeling a foodstuff as non-GMO if is truly non-GMO doesn't strike me as concerning unless the producer repeats common falsehoods about transgenic crops (in which case the FTC should smack them).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:42 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do not think that Earth's biosphere is prepared to handle GMO crops.

You should have taken that up with maize viruses a few thousand years ago. The great part about reality is that it proceeds regardless of what NaturalNews believes.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:44 AM on September 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


Labeling GMO ingredients implies there is a reason for them to be labeled.

This "argument" is ridiculous. Some customers clearly want to know if something is GMO; in a free market, that is their right. Other customers don't care. That too is their right. The companies who are pushing to deny the first set of customers what they want are overstepping their bounds in asking for the government to help them 1) avoid the market reaction to their products and 2) boost their profits.

It's hilarious to me that so many pro-GMO folks who are gung-ho on unfettered capitalism in so many other contexts work to deny customers basic information those customers consider important when it suddenly looks like it'll hurt the company bottom line.

Suddenly, and only when it comes to labelling GMOs, it seems, consumers using anything other than pure logic to make decisions about what to buy is a notion that needs government intervention.
posted by mediareport at 8:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


mediareport, that is a strikingly disingenuous argument. Nobody is asking the government to prohibit labeling; what is actually occurring is pushback against the efforts of big organic ag companies to seek rents by having the government require a warning label based on zero evidence.

Rent-seeking from the government is not a desirable part of a free market. It is seeking an unearned subsidy. Voluntary labeling, although no more informative, is fine; there, the organic ag companies are extracting higher margins from their customers, not rents from their competitors and competitors' customers.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:51 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Benny Andajetz: "As an insulin-dependent diabetic, I am aware of, and grateful for, this. But, it should also be noted that, almost 100 years after the first production of insulin, there is no such thing as generic insulin. One small vital of insulin sells for well in excess of a hundred dollars; I use more than three a month."

The original patent for insulin from pig pancreases, sold to UToronto for a dollar, expired in the 40s, the original Genetech patents for microbial insulin expired in the 90s, and the last of the current crop of patents for the more advanced analogs of insulin currently in use expire around the end of this year. The patent protection was how we got the innovation and production capacity to have insulin in the first place and then how we were able to dramatically improve insulin over the years. There are difficult logistical reasons why demonstrably safe and effective generics will likely be a year or two late, but part of us getting insulin as a society is us paying for insulin as a society.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:54 AM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


given your hypothetical I mistook you for one of them.

You would do your argument a lot more justice if you stopped thinking in terms of Us and Them. Nobody on Metafilter is being paid to astroturf, we are all people with varying degrees of passion and understanding.

Can someone explain (with a minimum of accusations of disingenuousness) what "Rent-seeking" means in reference to labeling and organic food producers? In theory I am not against a small player in an industry seeking to level the playing field through government assistance.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a science nerd, I find the claims that we haven't demonstrated "harm" to be laughable. How long does it take to demonstrate harm in the human population? How hard is it to do so?

The quality of "science" - recent science, say the last 30 years - in the nutrition and dietary science and related fields is not exactly an encouraging base on which to rest the claim that GMOs are safe. In fact, you should assume they are lying, politicized, and incompetent because that is the objective reality.
posted by rr at 8:57 AM on September 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


We should probably just label all food: "Potentially Unsafe: Science can't be trusted."
posted by Drinky Die at 8:59 AM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


You anti-GMO people know that the alternative to using GMOs is usually to use a ton of poorly-tested pesticide, right? Is that really an improvement?
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:00 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Rent-seeking here is attempting to gain more market share and/or profitability by having the government require a warning label on transgenic crop-derived foodstuffs even though all of the evidence to date suggests that they are safe. It is akin to, in any other industry, encouraging the government to require a warning label on your competitors' products because their manufacturing process differs in one way from yours even though that difference appears to pose no risk of harm.

I'll note as an aside that it won't generally be small producers benefitting from this. The companies pushing for required labeling generally fit any reasonable definition of Big Business.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:01 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


One reason why I find these debates so annoying is that many of the anti-GMO guys are astonishingly ignorant of the basics of how plant varieties are created and grown.

For example one very common objection is that many people object to GMOs because it forces farmers to have to rely on a seed merchant rather than being able to save their own seed.

In reality farmers have relied on seed merchants for decades anyway. Many crops grown commercially are hybrids which do not breed true to the next generation. Farmers willingly purchase seed from the seed merchants because these hybrid varieties produce substantially better yields, so farmers make a commercial decision based on their desire for higher profit to deal with seed merchants.

Another major bit of ignorance is how conventional varieties are bred, and how GMOs differ.

It is common these days to accellerate the production of new mutant varieties by treating seeds with radiation and/or mutagenic chemicals. The offspring of these damaged plants have a variety of novel characteristics, but they are random. Breeders never know what they're going to get, so the result is driven by luck.

These mutant-making techniques create brand new genes which have never been seen before. Every supposed risk of GMOs exists for these crops, the novel proteins leading to potential poisons, allergens, genes that may spread through the pollen and get into the wild.

All of those risks exist and some have even been demonstrated to have occurred, but nobody is worried about it because irradiated mutant plants are technically not "GMOs". Indeed these new varieties can even be sold to the "organic" crowd.

There are no significant monitoring programs to see what these mutants are doing because random mutations are considered to be "conventional". It's just an accellerated form of what people have practiced for thousands of years, planting seeds and seeing what weird stuff they get and selecting the nice weird ones for future cultivation.

Nobody anywhere is campaigning to have varieties produced by radiation and mutagenic chemicals labelled. It's not an issue to anyone. Nobody cares.

In contrast, with genetic engineering we very precisely control what manipulations are being done. We know exactly what genes we are inserting and have a pretty good idea of what they will do.

However because this method is newer, activists call the results "Frankenfoods", and legislators have imposed astonishingly draconian regulations on how they are produced, licensed, approved and handled. Ironically, these regulations are so onerous that only the largest and best funded agritech companies are able to jump through the hoops. That's right, activists, it's arguable that YOU created Monsanto and their monopoly. Rather than a broad and innovative tech sector with numerous companies coming up with numerous things, Monsanto has a virtual monopoly and the development of GMOs tends on the whole to proceed in the direction of Monsanto's corporate interests.

*slow clap*

We're not comparing natural organisms with tampered ones, we're comparing organisms that have been tampered with in a surgically precise way utilising our most modern techniques for the insertion or deletion of specific genes with effects that are fairly predictable, vs a highly imprecise way which generates all kinds of new and unknown genes with a completely unpredictable outcome.

That we impose extreme caution on the precise and predictable method while having virtually no oversight for the imprecise and unpredictable method, simply because the unpredictable method has been used longer, is a scientific travesty and shows up the fundamental foundational lie that the anti-GMO movement is based on. If they really were concerned about unknown unknowns then conventional plant modification methods should be AT LEAST as heavily regulated as the newer, safer, GM techniques.
posted by Mokusatsu at 9:02 AM on September 22, 2013 [49 favorites]


Producers should have no right or expectation that they can dictate consumer demands to them. It completely undermines the very idea of a market to allow producers to withhold information from consumers or define for them what expectations are reasonable if consumers clearly demand otherwise. It's a kind of industrial autoritarianism or at least paternalism that's incompatible with democratic markets. Thinking of your consumers as helpless children who need you to shape the story for them for their own good is wrong on principle. Who's to say it stops with GMOs (which for the record don't bother me personally any more than selective breeding practices). I just don't understand why it's ever "insane" to satisfy a consumer's demand to know how their food was made or where it comes from. Especially in an age when adulterated food products like counterfeit honey and olive oil are entering the food markets every day.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:05 AM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


How long does it take to demonstrate harm in the human population?

This is my question too. Wouldn't it take longer than the relatively short (from an evolutionary standpoint) timeframe GMO products have been around to really assess the effects, positive, negative or negligible?
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:07 AM on September 22, 2013


The companies pushing for required labeling generally fit any reasonable definition of Big Business.

Which ones do you mean? According to what I can find the opponents of GMOs are environmentalists.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:08 AM on September 22, 2013


It completely undermines the very idea of a market to allow producers to withhold information from consumers or define for them what expectations are reasonable if consumers clearly demand otherwise.

Producers can voluntarily label their foodstuffs as non-GMO until they turn blue. That is responding to market demand. The real "industrial authoritarianism" here is the big organic ag concerns demanding that the government go to bat for their products and force their competitors to raise unjustified fears among consumers.

Thinking of your consumers as helpless children who need you to shape the story for them for their own good is wrong on principle.

I'm glad we agree. The marketing practices that the big organic ag companies want the government to do on their behalf wouldn't pass consumer protection muster at the FTC if they did it privately, so it is laughable that they want the government to do it for them.

---

This is my question too. Wouldn't it take longer than the relatively short (from an evolutionary standpoint) timeframe GMO products have been around to really assess the effects, positive, negative or negligible?

It's a mistake to consider this at the non-granular level of "GMO products". Which genes and which crops concern you?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:10 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, this is also a time when the energy industry has managed to force through state laws that literally suppress information about certain potential impacts of fracking. Consumer rights are far too weak right now. We don't need to give industries a license to supress info consumers might want or need to make informed choices.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:10 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can't demand something you don't even know about.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:11 AM on September 22, 2013


It's a form of preemptively thwarting consumer choice to suppress information about how foods are produced.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:13 AM on September 22, 2013


You can't demand something you don't even know about.

I'm currently eating chips from a bag that says "NON GMO Project VERIFIED nongmoproject.org". Companies that want that extra dollar per unit from you will tell you until you're sick of hearing it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:14 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why not a "non gmo" label?

Jinx inspector gadget
posted by ian1977 at 9:15 AM on September 22, 2013


However because this method is newer, activists call the results "Frankenfoods", and legislators have imposed astonishingly draconian regulations on how they are produced, licensed, approved and handled.

The legislators had their hands forced by fringe activists, of all people, which resulted in a monopoly for Monsanto?
posted by ODiV at 9:15 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I am looking at a granola bar that says "Non GMO" and some granny smith apples from Rainier. Their website reads "Synthetic agrochemicals, irradiation and genetically engineered ingredients are strictly prohibited in certified organic products."

This worry about evil companies sneaking random genes into food is silly. They'd much rather have more of your money and get a little gold star sticker than actually work to do something nefarious more covertly.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:18 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most recent comic on shortpacked is also pretty awesomely relevant here

posted by Blasdelb at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


My point is the producers should just respond to the demand and stop being babies about it if there's this much demand for the info. If it hurts demand for their products, tough shit. As consumers we're not obligated to help them succeed.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:22 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


My point is the oroducers should just respond to the femand and stop being babies about it if there's this much demand for the info.

If there's "this much demand", they would have added all those labels voluntarily already. You're arguing supply and demand but then appear shocked when the market behaves rationally.

As it is, they lose the business of uninformed people to organic producers who have voluntarily labeled. The existing demand originates with people who have been spoonfed misinformation by the likes of naturalnews.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:25 AM on September 22, 2013


The consumer choice topic is confusing. Virtually everybody wants the labels, so I have a very hard time being against giving them what they want and can't assume they are all incapable of sound choices.

However, if this demand was particularly hard food labeled as non-GMO would already be dominating the market. I think if we focused more on educating people about the issue the support for labeling might soften. It is my personal view that people who oppose GMO are wrong and it is perfectly safe but I have no idea how to communicate that to them.

If the purpose of the labels is to inform, what are we going to do to make sure they are properly informed at the same time that they don't really need to worry about the safety of the food?
posted by Drinky Die at 9:25 AM on September 22, 2013


Which genes and which crops concern you?

Nothing in particular because I don't honestly know enough about the science to know. It's more that it just seems disingenuous when proclamations like "there's no evidence they're harmful to humans" are made since I just don't see how we can really know that yet vis-a-vis the long term.

I get that we haven't seen people dropping dead, and that genetic mutation happens spontaneously (and naturally) all the time. I just don't want to see serious consideration of the long-term effects hand waved away by saying "there's no evidence". That statement really should be: "there's no evidence to date but it's only been studied for a few decades which is the tiniest blip of time along the evolutionary scale."

There are a lot of products throughout just the last century that were initially thought not harmful but turned out to be problematic. So I don't get why it's such a big deal to just label the stuff and let individuals make up their own mind about what to put in their bodies.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:28 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The legislators had their hands forced by fringe activists, of all people, which resulted in a monopoly for Monsanto?

I'm far from the first person to make this point, but here's how it works:

Fringe activists have for years been stirring up fears about GMOs. A few of these fears were well founded, but over the years as more research has been done these objections have become increasingly untenable and contrary to the data.

As a result of the fears, and direct lobbying from anti-GMO people, legislators have created a system of regulations surrounding GMOs which are vastly more onerous than the regulations regarding conventionally modified crops. These regulations are so difficult to get past that only the largest and best funded organisations with huge legal teams are able to bring products to market.

This creates a barrier to entry which excludes small tech companies from being able to develop and market GMO products.

Essentially anti-GMO hysteria has given Monsanto the dominant market position it enjoys today. Few other companies have the resources necessary to bring a GMO to market.
posted by Mokusatsu at 9:29 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


The application of the term "rent-seeking" to organic producers is a PR dodge by patent-pushing agribusinesses like Monsanto to whom it more accurately applies. The reason "rent-seeking" is bad is that it is a fee the rent seeker can continue to extract long after any benefit the rent seeker has provided has been paid for. Rent seeking is not an attempt to get a fair profit for doing a service, and perhaps a higher profit for doing a better service or one your customers want more. It is defined by the continual fee collection in perpetuity, enforced by the government, for services you've long since gotten a fair return for providing.

This fits what Monsanto has been doing for 20 years. Organic producers, while they might be seeking a PR advantage you think is undeserved, are not rent seeking. You always have the option to ignore the labels. You do not have the option of ignoring Monsanto when they sue you because their GMO pollen contaminated your crop.
posted by localroger at 9:30 AM on September 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Virtually everybody wants the labels, so I have a very hard time being against giving them what they want or assuming evverybody who wants them is incapable of making sound choices.

That Times poll is interesting, although not in the way most people who cite it intend. It shows off the depth of confusion stirred up by anti-GMO FUD.

Three-quarters of Americans expressed concern about genetically modified organisms in their food, with most of them worried about the effects on people’s health.

Thirty-seven percent of those worried about G.M.O.’s said they feared that such foods cause cancer or allergies, although scientific studies continue to show that there is no added risk.


TL;DR: Most people are not familiar with the research and are going off what their naturopathic reiki born-again chiropractor told them. Not exactly a sound basis for public policy.

-----

It's more that it just seems disingenuous when proclamations like "there's no evidence they're harmful to humans" are made since I just don't see how we can really know that yet vis-a-vis the long term.

We don't know that about ANYTHING yet, except maybe water and oxygen.

So I don't get why it's such a big deal to just label the stuff and let individuals make up their own mind about what to put in their bodies.

Because government-mandated labels are inherently misleading. They would imply a risk where none exists. Voluntary labels? Go for it.

---

Rent seeking is not an attempt to get a fair profit for doing a service, and perhaps a higher profit for doing a better service or one your customers want more.

If customers want it, why would the government need to require it? Again, say what you want about Monsanto (certainly not an unalloyed force for good), but mandatory labeling is a shit idea that hurts consumers by further misleading them.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:33 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


In re the observation that they're both idiots making simplistic arguments . . .

Rachel's fourteen. When I was fourteen, the only thing I could argue with any passion was that Def Leppard was awesome. (Though I did win a Remembrance Day essay contest -- on a military base! -- with a simplistic anti-war screed that said nothing more complex than "war is bad, mmmkay?") At the very least, I have no reason to suspect Rachel's motives or to assume that her empathy for suffering kids is anything other than genuine.

Whereas Kevin O'Leary? The only reason he's even heard of golden rice and Vitamin A deficiency is because he stands to make a buck off it, and his concern for malnourished Asian children ends the moment they set down their chopsticks and get back to work under subhuman conditions making stuff cheap so he can buy a new boat for the Muskoka cottage next year. He's like the fossil fuel shills who pretend to care about migrating birds to score a point against the renewable energy industry.

Rachel's excuse is she's young and passionate and naive. There's no excuse for Kevin O'Leary.

But I'm really surprised that a free-market ideologue like O'Leary would be against informed consumers deciding what they want to eat, pushing foods with ingredients of unknown provenance into the marketplace, regardless of issues around safety or environmental effects.

This is way upthread, but the idea that O'Leary or any barking TV windbag of his genotype even sees ideological consistency as a worthwhile goal is laughable. O'Leary is a one-note shill for profit. If something makes money, it's good. End of story.
posted by gompa at 9:37 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


As an investor ("shark"), he is very likely someone who has sued companies that have withheld information that adversely affect the value of his investments. He seems to be for letting the market decide, up until a product parts ways with his own political sensibilities.

That's why O'Leary comes off to me as a horrible representative of his point of view. He's talking about people starving because they can't get higher yields in Asia, but he's just an investor in a suit. He's not exactly Norman Borlaug here.
posted by jonp72 at 9:39 AM on September 22, 2013


If customers want it, why would the government need to require it?

This is such a weird sentence. For years I was charged by my cell phone company for 911 service, which is not available in my area. I wanted to not be charged that money, but the government had to require that they drop the charge.

Now, I want that money back. I'm still a customer. Why would the government need to require it? Because there's no way the cell phone company is giving up any money without a fight (the class action law suit is in appeals, afaik).
posted by ODiV at 9:40 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is such a weird sentence.

Not in context - the argument was that there is HUGE consumer demand for this stuff and the producers are not responding to it. Well, actually, they are - at the expected rate. Organic and other premium producers label voluntarily because that's where the demand is. Producers which use transgenic crops do not. The market is behaving rationally and there is no consumer protection or unfair competition problem in this scenario, in sharp contrast to the illegal conduct and/or monopoly abuse in your scenario.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:45 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


localroger: "The application of the term "rent-seeking" to organic producers is a PR dodge by patent-pushing agribusinesses like Monsanto to whom it more accurately applies."

No it isn't. As far as I can tell it had yet to be used in this context until your fellow mefite applied it in this very thread. This kind of shit is not at all ok.

localroger: "You do not have the option of ignoring Monsanto when they sue you because their GMO pollen contaminated your crop."

This does not happen. Monsanto sues farmers when they intentionally contaminate their own crops, buy fertilizers that will kill all but plants with Monsanto's genes, use them to intentionally select for Monsanto's genes, and then sell the products of those genes on the market, particularly when they then write an open letter to Monsanto daring them to sue over it. The none of the 9 times total Monsanto has ever won cases against farmers over this were from accidents.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:45 AM on September 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


mandatory labeling is a shit idea that hurts consumers by further misleading them.

Mandatory nutrition labels have made it much safer to eat processed food if you are, for example, pre-diabetic or have other medical conditions that require you to monitor your diet. Nobody has stopped eating potato chips because of the scary sounding chemicals listed in the ingredient box.

If GMO foods are so safe, make your case that they are safe. By trying to protect your right to hide GMO sources, it sounds like you are admitting up front that there is something sketchy about GMO which you need to hide.
posted by localroger at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Because government-mandated labels are inherently misleading. They would imply a risk where none exists. Voluntary labels? Go for it.

Voluntary labels imply a risk where none exists, too, and are thus disingenuous. Why should they be allowed? I don't get your argument. How can it be bad for a government agency -- which has access to experts and a mandate to protect the interests of citizens -- to be in charge of labeling, while being OK for corporations to knowingly prey on peoples' ignorance through disingenuous labeling?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


While I haven't vetted the article, or checked its citations, an article linked upthread suggests that the decline in Monarch butterfly populations may well be due to Roundup Ready GMO effects.

W eat almost all organic foods in our family, so personally, it doesn't make much difference to me and mine. If labeling something as GMO hurts sales, then the market has spoken. Stupid people hold stupid beliefs I guess. I don't trust Monsanto to be looking out for my safety, and don't care if their profits are hurt by stupid people being afraid of their products for silly reasons.
posted by Windopaene at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me, the real problem with GMOs lies with the way they give control of our food to a few corporations, allowing them to patent naturally occurring genetic information, sue farmers who aren't toeing the line, and generally creating monocultures where before there was a wide variety of cultivars.

THIS.

Genetic modification, in itself, is not necessarily dangerous. But the crossover between GMOs and 'intellectual property' is outright evil.

Everybody deserves to know what they're eating and supporting.
posted by anemone of the state at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Not in context

Yeah, okay. For some reason I thought you were speaking much more broadly there and not just for this specific case. As in, "if customers want something then it will happen despite lack of government regulation." No idea how I got that idea, sorry.

I wonder if mandatory country of origin labeling would happen if it was being pushed for today.
posted by ODiV at 9:51 AM on September 22, 2013


Voluntary labels? Go for it.

You're consistently missing one of the key points in these discussions, Inspector.Gadget. In the past major agribusiness concerns were actively fighting to disallow even voluntary labeling of controversial foods. We saw it with bovine growth hormone, for instance; in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio big companies got government to actively prevent their competitors from saying "we don't use bovine growth hormone" on their product labels. That's *voluntary* labeling, remember.

The concerns about GMO are too strong for similar attacks on voluntary labeling to survive, so Monsanto et al are now saying they favor the idea for GMO foods generally. But make no mistake: if they had their way the ability of small producers (the ones you say you want to protect) to voluntarily label their own products non-GMO would be illegal. We've seen the big companies do it before.
posted by mediareport at 9:51 AM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Inspector.gadget: producers markets are driven by producer demand, not consumer demand.That's part of why we have to regulate them more.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:52 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The idea that the solution to what you what you believe to be ignorance is to maintain more ignorance by omitting information is a supremely arrogant expression of pretended intellectual superiority.

Pretended.

The issues around genetically modified crops are complex, covering concerns about the destruction of global crop diversity, the extent to which the precautionary principle should be applied to the food supply, biopiracy, local economic development and the interests of people who are the intended recipients of GMO-driven largesse versus those of aid agencies.

But never mind, surely you would be shamed to be thought of as anti-science or something.
posted by mobunited at 9:54 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mandatory nutrition labels have made it much safer to eat processed food if you are, for example, pre-diabetic or have other medical conditions that require you to monitor your diet.

Those are high-value warnings. "This product contains two genes from another variety of maize" is not.

If GMO foods are so safe, make your case that they are safe.

The studies speak for themselves
, provided you're not the type to pretend that every gene modification is identical in its effects and also mysteriously hazardous.

By trying to protect your right to hide GMO sources, it sounds like you are admitting up front that there is something sketchy about GMO which you need to hide.

Nobody is hiding anything. Consumers should assume that their food may be transgenic and/or the product of mutation breeding, and should be scientifically literate enough to realize that neither is a particular hazard. If consumers as a whole have been hindered in that goal, it's because of the crap put out by scientifically illiterate anti-GMO types. Consumers who want to avoid transgenic foods and only eat foods with traditionally procured mutations are free to seek out the abundant existing voluntary labeling schemes in the market.

Voluntary labels imply a risk where none exists, too, and are thus disingenuous. Why should they be allowed?

In short, because disallowing them tramples on the First Amendment rights of idiots. They shouldn't be allowed to lie to consumers about risks, but if they simply want to say "we don't use transgenic crops" that is their right. They do NOT have the right to force mandatory labeling on others and force you and I to bear the cost.

You're consistently missing one of the key points in these discussions, Inspector.Gadget.

No, I'm not. I don't carry the banner for big ag. If they're fighting voluntary labeling, fuck them. They are scientifically correct but the legislation they have in mind is unconstitutional.

Inspector.gadget: producers markets are driven by producer demand, not consumer demand.That's part of why we have to regulate them more.

I think one or both of us is not using the same term to mean the same thing. If you want to sell chips with a non-GMO label, you buy non-GMO corn. If you want to eat non-GMO chips, you buy non-GMO chips. An entity can be both a consumer and a producer.

But never mind, surely you would be shamed to be thought of as anti-science or something.

Surely you can make specific arguments founded on specific evidence instead of hand-waving.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:56 AM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


And I'll come back to this thread later. I have to pick up some transgenic pants and a radiation-mutated belt.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:58 AM on September 22, 2013


I wish belts were better labeled. Nickel gives me a rash and no one at clothing shops knows what the hell anything is made out of.
posted by ODiV at 10:01 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, there's a new documentary hittingt he festival circuit, GMO OMG, that looks relevant.
posted by mediareport at 10:02 AM on September 22, 2013


The decision to use or not use GMOs or to label the sources of manufactured goods are determined by manufacturers on the commodities markets before the goods ever reach end consumer markets as prepared goods. Hell, just google producer markets versus consumer markets or something. I'm not a macroeconomics professor, but it's a well established concept in industrial economics.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:03 AM on September 22, 2013


If they're fighting voluntary labeling, fuck them.

They were. Only loudmouth anti-GMO activists stopped them. So, you're on the same side on that point, anyway.
posted by mediareport at 10:03 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not endorsing it (haven't seen it, live in the boonies where it'll only come via Netflix in a year or so), but here's more about GMO OMG.
posted by mediareport at 10:06 AM on September 22, 2013


Because government-mandated labels are inherently misleading. They would imply a risk where none exists. Voluntary labels? Go for it.

That's quite a load.

Voluntary labels? Like "we paid a fee to the Heart Health Smart Check Plus program so they'd let us put their meaningless logo on this can"? Like putting "Gluten Free!" and "No Trans Fats!" on a bottle of cola? Helpful!

Meanwhile, government-mandated labels, like the list of ingredients, nutritional information, net weight, and country of manufacture, yeah, those are useless bullshit, amirite?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:12 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Surely you can make specific arguments founded on specific evidence instead of hand-waving.

Well there was a who paragraph where I mentioned biopiracy, crop diversity and the consent of beneficiaries, but I have almost no faith that people in this thread will engage those things with any kind of rhetorical honesty.

Fuck it, I'm going there. I generally avoid talking to mostly-white, mostly-American people about this at all, for roughly the same reason that if I were born in another time, a London club would not be my first venue in which to get opinions about the East India Company.
posted by mobunited at 10:12 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The studies speak for themselves

Oh good, a bunch of authoritative quotes in an infographic.

Let me ask you a question - it is very easy to assemble an almost identical set of pull quotes of that sort fromt the 70s and 80s about cholesterol. How good are the studies showing that high cholesterol means higher mortality?

I mean, it's a settled question in nutritional epidemiology, yes?

Only it isn't, you've just been told it is. We're at nearly 60 years of looking at the question and it's not. How about salt? Is salt bad for you or good? Compared to GMO safety, these questions are absolutely trivial and they are not, in fact, settled.

There's another dishonest argument regularly used by pro-GMO types, which is that the use of mutagens and bulk selection to introduce novel genes is generally regarded as safe means people who are concerned about "genetic modification" are somehow being goofy and inconsistent. After all, there's no difference between traditional selective breeding, highly accelerated mutagen-assisted strain creation and transgenics, right? Genes change! It's all the same!

Wrong. The difference is soak time. And we should actually ask exactly those questions on the mutagen strains as well.

By the way, how about we do some study reproduction first? How about we have parties that do not have a financial interest do the studies and not bury unfavorable results?
posted by rr at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


In short, because disallowing them tramples on the First Amendment rights of idiots. They shouldn't be allowed to lie to consumers about risks, but if they simply want to say "we don't use transgenic crops" that is their right.

You have the rights of citizens and corporations exactly backwards.

First, the government does have the right to regulate the labels of food products if they are inherently misleading. This is the law in the United States:
Commercial speech doctrine, in the context of advertising for professional services, may be summarized generally as follows: truthful advertising related to lawful activities is entitled to the protections of the First Amendment. But when the particular content or method of the advertising suggests that it is inherently misleading, or when experience has proved that, in fact, such advertising is subject to abuse, the States may impose appropriate restrictions. Misleading advertising may be prohibited entirely. But the States may not place an absolute prohibition on certain types of potentially misleading information...

Even when a communication is not misleading, the State retains some authority to regulate. But the State must assert a substantial interest and the interference with speech must be in proportion to the interest served.
You have claimed that such labels are "inherently misleading" -- those were your exact words -- because they would "would imply a risk where none exists." But then you claim that they are protected by the First Amendment, which, if you are correct that they are inherently misleading, is simply not true.

Now, you could back off the claim that the labels are "inherently misleading", in which case you could cite International Dairy Foods Ass'n v. Boggs, but there a similar regulation (against labeling of milk) was struck down on the basis that it was not, in fact, inherently misleading. It was taken for granted that if the labels were inherently misleading, then they were not protected. But you've already claimed that they are inherently misleading, so that's not an argument that is available to you.

They do NOT have the right to force mandatory labeling on others and force you and I to bear the cost.

The citizenry does, in fact, have the right to force mandatory labeling on corporations, through their legislatures, under very broad conditions (though there are limitations on this). That's the whole reason we have a representative democracy.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:32 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Shark Tank, incidentally, is a damn good show, and Kevin is one of the reasons why it's as good as it is.

On that note, I would recommend that an American with access to the CBC check out Dragons' Den, the Canadian equivalent to Shark Tank. O'Leary appears on both programs. What makes DD better is that the producers rely less on emotional blah blah and filling the entire episode with LOUD DRAMATIC MUSIC. It's the same reason Gordan Ramsay's British programs are much better than his stuff on Fox.
posted by riruro at 10:42 AM on September 22, 2013


I'm uneasy about genetically modified food, medicine, animals, etc., because killer bees were introduced accidentally while trying to do good, lots of invasive, damaging, plants and animals have been set loose while trying to do good. Monsanto is absolutely averse to any regulation, and they and other companies have deep pockets to lobby Congress, state legislatures, fight bills. I want to know what's going on with my food. I want the right to make informed decisions.

They also hide how much water they've added, and other ingredients, as well as whether or not the meat's been irradiated (it probably has). They don't say what slaughterhouse was used, what meat-packing facility. Some of things may be okay, but knowing would be a huge help to consumers, and would pressure on the industry to deliver cleaner, safer food.

Realistically, a heck of a lot of people will buy GMO food even if it were labeled. Cheaper, maybe it has less fat, more protein, maybe it's easier to grill if the meat glows in the dark (kidding). Like people buy ground beef that was packaged who knows where and is likely liberally dosed with shit. Like people buy and eat all sorts of highly processed foods that they know are contributing to their lack of health. I can't afford to eat all organic local food that is grown ethically, etc., though I make attempts where feasible, but I like having a choice.
posted by theora55 at 10:43 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Having placed myself in the pro-GMO camp, I'm also going to say I'm not opposed to labeling, though I'm very pessimistic as to the likelihood of getting any true value out of it.

Consider the case of yeast. Let's saw a brewer uses a GMO-strain to produce beer. Now the alcohol itself isn't GMO, but since the filtration isn't going to guarantee that ever single cell of the yeast has been removed, does that brewer have to label the beer as a GMO product?

What about a product that only has a few teaspoons of GMO corn syrup per pound of non-GMO ingredients? Where's the cutoff? As was noted above, if you label everything as GMO, you've gained nothing.

In addition, the GM tag does not differentiate. There's a world of difference between a strain of wheat engineered to produce neurotoxins against insects than there is against one engineered to produce high protein levels. A simple GMO sticker tells you nothing in this regard.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


GMO is definitely an overly-broad term with limited usefulness. Strongly supporting intelligent, detailed labeling with categories that actually describe the varied realities of GMO foods makes a lot of sense.
posted by mediareport at 10:52 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


40 years from now she can look around at a messed up planet and say " I told you so".

Of course she'll do that while chowing down GM food, as due to global warming our current crops won't be cutting it any more.

Well either that or she'll stick to her current peasant-with-torch-and-pitchfork mentality and starve to death. But she's a smart kid, she'll know when to switch sides.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:53 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seems to me that there's something disingenuous about saying "there is no evidence that GMO foods are harmful" as a justification for not giving people the information that they'd need in order to figure out for themselves whether GMO foods are harmful.
posted by baf at 10:57 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


My personal belief is that not all labels are warning labels.
posted by dogwalker at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, Big Capitalism is supposedly in favor of informative labeling and letting the consumer decide. Until consumer trends run against Big Capitalism's quarterly earnings, that is.
posted by mediareport at 11:10 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm having a lot of trouble with the construction "you only want labeling because you're ignorant, and the solution to your ignorance is to make sure you stay ignorant."

As mediareport suggests, a labeling program can address its own problems and lead to better informed consumers, and if you don't want that, there's something fundamentally wrong with your argument. It doesn't have to be "OMG GMO" and that's the end of it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:12 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


And if your concern is that the label isn't going to provide sufficient room for useful information, just stick a QR code on it. Not only could it lead directly to an independently maintained website that provides accessibly structured data, but people could install apps that mapped to sites maintained by organizations that they trusted... so if the default site is the USDA and you think it's been bought off, you could have an app that mapped it to a site endorsed and monitored by the Union of Concerned Scientists or someone else you think a little better of. (Or, yes, a wackaloon site. As we've spent the last two decades learning, the intarweb propagates lies as efficiently as facts, but no one's suggesting not using it.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


What if in coordination with the rollout of the label the government ran an extensive PSA campaign to highlight that research shows GMO products are safe to eat and there is not a scientifically supported health reason to avoid them? Seems like that would address concerns that the labels might be misinterpreted as a warning.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2013


I've scratched my head about Mokusatsu's mango snark because while mangoes are imported luxuries in temperate climes they are native to southeast Asia. A mango tree per subsistence farmer is not a ridiculous idea. On my block of urban Honolulu, we have three mango trees, not counting the one I'm growing from seed in a pot. So the idea of having some diversity in food crops (links to PDF report from FAO on the Philippines), including fruit trees, as a way to improve food security (links to PDF paper from Int'l Fod Policy Research Institute) is far from far-fetched.

Overall, I find it weird how the monolith of starving Asian farmers are a prop in our conversations.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:27 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


research shows GMO products are safe to eat

But are they "safe" for the environment? What are the long-term effects of introducing "GMO products" into nature, with all the ecological complexities that introduction entails?

Where are the studies for that?
posted by mediareport at 11:29 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And, if we don't force companies to note when they're using GMO products, how can we get control groups to do the studies necessary to determine safety?)
posted by mediareport at 11:31 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


And if your concern is that the label isn't going to provide sufficient room for useful information, just stick a QR code on it.

When your use of the word "just" implictly includes "...provide smartphones to the 200 million Americans who don't currently have them and...", you might want to rethink your idea.
posted by Etrigan at 11:33 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'm neither in the GMO foods are safe or unsafe camp. You could produce an irresponsible strain by conventional cultivation as well. I'm in the "Monsanto execs would kill their own mothers for a nickel" camp. And in the "ignorance in service of the powerful is always a very very bad thing, period" camp.

On preview:
When your use of the word "just" implictly includes "...provide smartphones to the 200 million Americans who don't currently have them and...", you might want to rethink your idea.

It is the difference between labeling and not labeling, which is massive. Someone who needs an informed decision and doesn't have a smartphone can just ask for the information -- the store will have a tablet or something available and could produce a printout for them. It's not like you need to look up a product every time you buy it -- only when you're considering buying a given product which has the GMO indicator on it for the first time.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:36 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


But are they "safe" for the environment? What are the long-term effects of introducing "GMO products" into nature, with all the ecological complexities that introduction entails?

Where are the studies for that?


Sure, I guess the PSA campaign could additionally mention that like virtually all forms of industrial level agriculture there is a possibility of yet undiscovered environmental impact.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:39 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Voluntary labels? About that: Oakhurst Dairy, in Portland, Maine, buys milk only from dairy farms that do not feed rBGH/rBST. They stated this fact on their labeling("Our farmer's pledge: no artificial hormones"), and were sued by Monsanto. The case was settled out of court, with Oakhurst modifying the label to note that the US FDA claims there is no major difference between milk from rBST-treated and non rBST-treated cows. I hate Monsanto a lot since then.

I'm a consumer, and I'm not stupid. I prefer not to have additional hormones in my food. Also, the cows are healthier without it, and Oakhurst milk tastes better*, and supports local farms. Costs a shade more. If I'm like most consumers, I'm far more likely to be influenced by ads than by the label. As with other food labels, the content should be standardized.

I wish I could afford to buy more local, kosher** and organic food. I'm pretty skeptical about a lot of the natural food industry's claims, but I never got over reading The Jungle, and more recent work about the vile state of food-handling, animal slaughter and meat-packing in the US. This is our food. It's important, and we should really pay attention to what's in it, where it comes from, how it's handled. People die from food-borne illness. That Monsanto and other giant food manufacturers fight so hard against disclosure of what's in our food is profoundly disturbing.

* A friend made this claim and I scoffed, so we did a side-by-side blind taste. This was before rGBH. Maine cows are obviously superior.
** I like to think that it's handled to the required standard of cleanliness. I know I may be under an illusion.
posted by theora55 at 11:40 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


What scientists are doing in the lab is a billion times more controlled than what happens in nature. - CheeseDigestsAll
Nature is constantly applying mutation, and allowing successful mutations to thrive, while unsuccessful ones fail. Nature can be brutal, but Nature has 1 agenda - survival. US Corporations are driven by greed & profit, and my experience with greed and profit have taught me to be cautious.

by all means let's put our trust in them because SCIENCE! - Foosnark
SCIENCE! is awesome. I'm for science. But a lot of bad, inadequate, poorly reviewed studies are used to justify commerce. Transparency and openness are better for science than secrecy.

seeds can be reused for free by subsistence farmers - Drinky Die
Interesting. I did not know this. Got a cite? thanks.
posted by theora55 at 11:47 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is the difference between labeling and not labeling, which is massive.

I would say that the difference between labeling and labeling that is useful to the majority of people is just as massive, and ignoring the second-order effects of what seems like a relatively simple change isn't a good policy when reacting to the ignoring of second-order effects of what seems like a relatively simple change.
posted by Etrigan at 11:49 AM on September 22, 2013


Linked to Wiki above.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:50 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Etrigan, if you'd prefer a fold-out GMO facts pamphlet on every tin of peas, similar to that provided on certain household chemicals and most OTC drugs, I won't quarrel with you. I think the industry would, though. And besides, that doesn't provide for the alternative/trusted source I mentioned above. So tell me this, if you're against QR codes, what are you for?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:57 AM on September 22, 2013


(Oh, and I addressed the "accessible to everyone" point. Not "accessible with precisely equal ease to everyone" but I think I made some headway on why that's not a critical difference in terms of real-world shopping patterns.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2013


So tell me this, if you're against QR codes, what are you for?

As I mentioned above, you could just use a number (or an alphanumeric code) that could be easily written down. I thought of QR codes, but rejected them because many people don't have smartphones. In fact, most products already have a code on them: the UPC code, which is numeric.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2013


Fine, same idea. I'd worry about the pushback from using UPC codes, which may not be closely bound to specific formulations. They're a commerce code with a specific relationship to brand/product which may not map suitably onto the internal product variations over time or market.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:06 PM on September 22, 2013


Philosopher Dirtbike: "As I mentioned above, you could just use a number (or an alphanumeric code) that could be easily written down. I thought of QR codes, but rejected them because many people don't have smartphones. In fact, most products already have a code on them: the UPC code, which is numeric."

I think such a thing would have such little effect on consumer behavior that practically no one would be opposed.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2013


Thanks, Drinky Die. I had (incorrectly) thought this was being applied to Monsanto seed, which would surprise me.

the difference between labeling and labeling that is useful to the majority of people is just as massive - Etrigan
I read fb posts about how awful food additives are and I'm able to do a bit of research and make up my mind (avoid Sodium nitrite, even though Bacon!, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Olestra, Food Dyes). A percentage of people will natter on about additives, just like a certain percentage of people believe contrails/chemtrails are a form of government mind control. Stupidity is not a good reason to hide information. Some people will continue to believe untruths (waves at birthers), but that's a poor excuse for keeping the truth hidden. Truth and science should be best buddies.
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on September 22, 2013


Two suspicions:

1) Most people's knowledge of GMO crops comes from the episode of the Simpsons where they grow Tomacco.

2) If there were government mandated GMO labeling, there would be a big stink for about six weeks until everyone's eating habits went back to basically where they were before.
posted by modernserf at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


A percentage of people will natter on about additives, just like a certain percentage of people believe contrails/chemtrails are a form of government mind control. Stupidity is not a good reason to hide information.

Should plane tickets be labeled to clearly inform the purchaser that the plane they will be boarding may produce contrails?
posted by Drinky Die at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally, I am pro-GMO because I recognize that a lot of my food choices come from a position of privilege and from understanding that the food supply and production chain is not as unshakable as it looks. Just because I've currently secured a steady supply of nutritious food through the market doesn't mean that every person in the world can - logistical issues such as price, ability to be transported, shelf life, nutritional quality of food, accordance with local food culture, and so forth, are all issues that GMO technology can resolve, bettering quality of life for many around the globe. We've clearly seen this in Golden Rice, for instance. Similarly, I recognize in the face of climate change especially, my own food supply is not necessarily guaranteed - and as someone of a generation that'll likely have to see the harsher effects of global warming (I'm in my early 20s), I advocate for any technological advances that help you, y'know, survive.

But the other reason why I support GMO products is because from a scientific vantage, the science is completely sound. I'll do my best to summarize genetic modification technology here because I see a lot of confusion on the idea of whether the science is tested and safe just yet - it definitely, completely is. Furthermore, I'll try to distinguish between more general models of GMO and between the strategies that Monsanto pursues specifically. To be clear, I absolutely do not approve of Monsanto due to a lot of its patenting/technological strategies. That being said, I see people placing Monsanto as the representative of GMO a lot of the time, which disappoints me - because Monsanto uses several genetic strategies that favor them commercially but are not indicative of what GMO plants can actually do. So it's important to recognize that Monsanto is a company that does GMO, but not the end-all to all GMO - optimistically, I see GMO technology, if we can educate people on it enough, moving well past Monsanto to a better place that holistically benefits both consumers and the planet.

THE SCIENCE!:

Sourcing Genes
The transgenes that we use to give our plants new or modified capabilities don't just come from no-where! Which is to say, we don't generally build genes from scratch because our knowledge isn't far enough to the point that we can create an arbitrary DNA sequence and know exactly where the sequence is. For this reason, all transgenes are sourced from other natural organisms and then modified if necessary. The majority of plant characteristics will either come from mutant plants of the same species (which is to say, a plant naturally mutates due to evolutionary processes and exhibits a desirable trait that we now want to put in other plants), or from other species (for instance, maybe we want to grant our food crop with a gene that grants drought resistance from another plant); for some characteristics such as pesticide resistance or purification of toxins (we can often use hardy plants as a way to remove toxins from soil, e.g. such as in the case of mining sites), we can look at non-plant sources. For instance, insects are very likely to develop pesticide resistance as an evolutionary mechanism, so we can isolate these genes from them. Sometimes we have to modify these genes so they work better, and generally speaking, we do this on an evolutionary basis - we either perform evolutionary selection on generations of plant species, which tend to react by turning up expression of genes (thus creating stronger transgenes), or on generations of bacterial species, which tend to react by mutating the gene.

Inserting Genes
The resultant genes can be now inserted into plant cells by a variety of methods including use of modified agrobacterium, which naturally in the wild performs genetic modifications on plants resulting in plant tumors that supply the agrobacterium with food, and with particle bombardment, which is just a fancy way of saying we coat gold microballs with DNA and shoot them into cells really fast (this is generally the most popular way from the papers I've read.) All of these methods are inert and pose no harm - we can kill the agrobacterium after it performs its task, gold is inert, etc. They tend to be pretty low in probability of actually occurring, so we normally tend to put in marker genes in addition to the transgenes (that is, visible markers we can look at, or non-visible ones we can select for) to make sure the genes have integrated properly.

Final Breeding Stages
Any gene that is inserted into a plant by these methods will be heterozygous - which is to say, the plants will only have one copy of the gene. This isn't particularly desirable because that means the seed stock of the plant will be varied if you remember mendalian genetics - 25% will be homozygous, 50% will be heterozygous, and 25% will not contain the gene at all! So we breed the plant a few times and test the resultant crosses to make sure that we only distribute the homozygous ones such that the gene will persist.

Ecological Impact Strategies
The ecological impact of GMO plants has been something that has been anticipated for and discussed between scientists for a long time. I see many people bringing up concerns with ecology - this is a good thing! But remember that if you can think of them, the scientists probably have done so already. Just a small sampling of the strategies we use:

Sterility - we often make the plant's seed stock sterile as so not to cross-contaminate wild plants. If some of the plants escape from the farm, that's fine! The traits won't be passed down, and it won't have any impact on the local ecosystem. The negative impact is that yes, the farmers will need to buy new seeds each farming season - but regulated properly, this can be less of a negative capitalistic issue.
Modification of Local Strains - this is one of Golden Rice's models! Instead of trying to have one monoculture, it looks at local strains of plants and modifies those. So you have hundreds of different subspecies of plants with the same modification. The bonus is that we can be guaranteed that the subspecies will work in the place we want to grow it, since it's the species that people actually use!
Sacrificial Crops - to prevent natural resistance from growing, many distributors of GMO plants often require a sacrificial crop with no genetic modifications be planted nearby. For instance, if there is a pesticide resistance, the insects will be able to feast on the sacrificial plants preferentially, slowing down the progression of insect-related resistance genes.

The Monsanto Model
The above general strategy, which is really all there is to genetically modified technology (nutshell: find gene you like, insert it into plant, make sure the gene persists) permits us to do an incredibly varied number of things with the technology. It's definitely one of those technologies where you can use your imagination with! So it's an incredible force for good if it can only be used as such since you can choose to do so much with it. That being said - because Monsanto is a commercial operation, it chooses to use certain practices that aren't particularly savory. Let's look at some of them.

Terminator Genes:
Monsanto promotes the use of sterility in GMO plants through terminator genes - which is a fancy way of saying an extra gene that creates sterility in seed stock unless the seed is treated in its early stages. So it's important to recognize that sterility isn't a trait natural and inherent to all GMO plants, but one artificially granted by conscious scientific decisions. We've previously discussed how sterility of plants can actually be an important factor to minimize ecological impact - but that's not why Monsanto does it. It does it for commercial reasons - so that it can control what farmers have use over the GMO plant, control distribution of its genetic "product", and have a steady source of consumers to sell the product to. So this is a regulatory issue, not a scientific issue - with a freer distribution method, such as in the golden rice model, this is not an issue.

Round-up Genes:
Monsanto gives its plants resistance to a herbicide called Round-up - which the company produces. Herbicide resistance is not necessarily a bad thing, especially not in the context of the planet and consumer. It's great because it lets us use less herbicide, and less harmful herbicides, making things better for consumers, farmers and the planet. But again, Monsanto twists their genetic decision into a marketing decision: they market their herbicide is the only one that will work with their GMO plants.

So I like the idea of GMO being a responsible technology. It is definitely one of those things that the planet needs - if you look at a lot of modern day woes, ranging from food inequality to issues with global energy to pharmaceuticals to global warming, GMO technology is one of those technologies that stands as a major force to contest these issues. But we can only develop in this path if the unwarranted, and indeed, anti-scientific fear around GMO technology begins to wane.
posted by Conspire at 12:15 PM on September 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


Where are the studies for that?

We're just going to let nature take care of that for us, I think. It's a shitty way to do SCIENCE! and it makes us real scientists look effectively like corporate stooges, but Monsanto's shareholders gotta eat.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:28 PM on September 22, 2013


"Monsanto promotes the use of sterility in GMO plants through terminator genes - which is a fancy way of saying an extra gene that creates sterility in seed stock unless the seed is treated in its early stages."

Gene Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs), colloquially referred to as terminator seeds, are not now and have never been used by Monsanto - if nothing else Monsanto doesn't own the rights. They were developed as a collaboration between the ARS of the USDA and Delta and Pine Land company in the 90s but have never been used commercially.

That people still worry about this, pretty innocuous, thing that hasn't really been even a potential thing since the early 90s is pretty depressing.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


"But are they "safe" for the environment? What are the long-term effects of introducing "GMO products" into nature, with all the ecological complexities that introduction entails?

Where are the studies for that?
"

This is pretty absurdly broad for a research question, but if you are serious and narrow it down a bit I'd be happy to find studies that address specific aspects of it for you. Also, if anyone would like access to research articles on this subject please feel free to memail me with a link to the abstract, an email I can send a PDF to, and a promise not to distribute that PDF further - for the benefit of this academic discussion that we are currently having of course. It would then make me incredibly happy if you would then come back to the thread with either answers or questions from the article - regardless of how you feel about GMOs.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:35 PM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm having a lot of trouble with the construction "you only want labeling because you're ignorant, and the solution to your ignorance is to make sure you stay ignorant."

Fortunately, this is a completely inaccurate construction. It's more of a case of "These methods of labeling carry disingenuous implications that prey on the ignorant, and the solution to that predation is to bar deliberate attempts to mislead". Just because the statement is, in isolation, factually true, does not by any means make it not an attempt to mislead.
posted by kafziel at 12:39 PM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


You shouldn't trust any corporation, that's why we have Government inspectors and departments to check on them as a method of limiting badness. The recent wave of regulatory capture needs to be reversed.

GMOs are like any technology, a different set of tradeoffs from previous ways of doing things. The government should set long term testing standards, with reporting of ALL trials (to prevent only reporting the good results), and enforce them fairly for all submissions. This would allow business to factor in the long term costs ahead of time, instead of playing politics to try to shortcut everything, including safety, to meet the next quarter's profit statements.

Yes, anything which as had genes snipped from other organisms and then pasted in should be labeled. I'd like to know what has been done to the foods I eat, so it's possible to notice trends and patterns and things I should avoid, or seek more of.
posted by MikeWarot at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2013


But that would be socialism!
posted by Sys Rq at 12:45 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That people still worry about this, pretty innocuous, thing that hasn't really been even a potential thing since the early 90s is pretty depressing.

Oh, thanks for pointing out my mistake. I was working from memory, so I'm not quite sure how I associated Monsanto with terminator genes. I guess it's because the collective culture has just gotten so stuck on things that even I've picked up some of the more fear-mongering ideas along the way?
posted by Conspire at 12:54 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Low- or no- fat as a label in the USA is generally taken to mean "more heathier for me" although it is usually saying "we crammed in extra sugars!" Or maybe "you are eating gummi worm which never had fats."
That's a marketing label that works.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And, if we don't force companies to note when they're using GMO products, how can we get control groups to do the studies necessary to determine safety?)

In some cases, the genetic basis of the GMO product has contaminated the rest of the stock, to the extent that it seems difficult to do empirical SCIENCE! that requires a control cohort. As with the body burden that the chemical industry would rather you not worry about, we are basically throwing a bunch of variables together and seeing who can make the most money in the least amount of time. Not a great way to do SCIENCE!, but if it makes investors like O'Leary wealthier, then it is "rational".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:09 PM on September 22, 2013


Kafziel, drawing an equivalence between GMO and the excrement of homeless people doesn't aid that particular argument. More salient perhaps is the rBST-free labeling introduced above, where Monsanto brought suit to block it and it was decided that the labeling could continue if it contained an FDA-worded disclaimer to the effect that there was no significant difference between milk of treated and untreated cows.

In this much hinges on your definition of "significant". There is now a federal circuit court ruling that the differences are in fact significant enough to warrant labeling, or at least regard such labeling as not misleading.

Quite apart from which, the FDA disclaimer itself fits your test of "factual yet potentially misleading" in that it suggests that a substantial difference in the composition of milk is the issue -- when in fact there are undisputed differences in the health of treated vs untreated cows, which is also a reasonable and commonplace point of consumer concern. A consumer may also simply be boycotting the supplier of rBST, in which case the "attempt to mislead" argument is wholly inapplicable, since no claim apart from the bare fact of the hormone treatment itself is at issue.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:14 PM on September 22, 2013


Nature is constantly applying mutation, and allowing successful mutations to thrive, while unsuccessful ones fail.
Er, how is this helpful. A natural mutation in a plant that caused the consumers of the plant to die in 10 years could be very successful.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:17 PM on September 22, 2013


That's quite a load.

Voluntary labels? Like "we paid a fee to the Heart Health Smart Check Plus program so they'd let us put their meaningless logo on this can"? Like putting "Gluten Free!" and "No Trans Fats!" on a bottle of cola? Helpful!

Meanwhile, government-mandated labels, like the list of ingredients, nutritional information, net weight, and country of manufacture, yeah, those are useless bullshit, amirite?


I think you misunderstand my argument. The labels are not worthless because they are government-mandated; they are worthless because they convey no actionable information and only serve to spur unfounded worry. I would CONTRAST them sharply with government-required nutrition labels, which are useful (if too often unread). If the existing voluntary certification labels suck, take that up with organic producers and their trade associations.

=======

You have the rights of citizens and corporations exactly backwards.

Forgive me, because it's been a while since I've read the commercial speech case law, but I don't think the type of entity doing the speaking is relevant to that inquiry.

First, the government does have the right to regulate the labels of food products if they are inherently misleading.

Yes. A label which reads, simply, "This product contains no components derived from transgenic organisms" is not misleading. A label which alludes to some unspecified health concern or other issue is inherently misleading, because there is no evidence for the claim. I don't LIKE the former example as a marketing strategy, but it's hard to believe that a federal court would allow the government to prohibit a purely factual statement.

Similarly, I would be shocked if even a state government exercising its police power could compel producers of transgenic products to attach a warning label to their products given the aforementioned absence of evidence. Setting aside problems with that approach at the state level, all agriculture is susceptible to federal commerce clause jurisdiction, and I think federal courts would look with a jaundiced eye at any legislation requiring manufacturers to baselessly denigrate their products - especially if amicus briefs were forthcoming from states who did not have such prohibitions, and especially if the court got wind of the whole enterprise being a scheme to promote the financial interests of certain big ag companies at the expense of others. Rational basis review is not completely without a standard, no matter how much it appears that way. And there are certainly shitty federal judges, but put this in front of a guy like Easterbrook or Dennis Jacobs and I think it is a done deal.

I suspect my prior phrasing was not sufficiently clear; I don't think we disagree on what the law is currently. But, hey, if you want to throw down some more case law, that's cool; I usually get paid to review it.

=================

By the way, how about we do some study reproduction first? How about we have parties that do not have a financial interest do the studies and not bury unfavorable results?

Can you identify specific methodological weaknesses in these studies are or are you simply reciting a litany of whatever concerns come to mind?

=============

Well there was a who paragraph where I mentioned biopiracy, crop diversity and the consent of beneficiaries, but I have almost no faith that people in this thread will engage those things with any kind of rhetorical honesty.

You alluded to these arguments; you did not make them. I'll almost completely overlook your needless and baseless slight.

=============

The case was settled out of court, with Oakhurst modifying the label to note that the US FDA claims there is no major difference between milk from rBST-treated and non rBST-treated cows. I hate Monsanto a lot since then.

You hate Monsanto because a product now provides more context for its existing label and can't imply there is something wrong with something that the FDA has decided is safe? The FDA could well be wrong but if people can label products to make claims contra the FDA's findings that opens up doors to many problems for consumers.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Blasdelb: The none of the 9 times total Monsanto has ever won cases against farmers over this were from accidents.

That's funny because according to Monsanto's own PR page ...
Sometimes however, we are forced to resort to lawsuits. This is a relatively rare circumstance, with 145 lawsuits filed since 1997 in the United States. This averages about 11 per year for the past 13 years. To date, only 9 cases have gone through full trial. In every one of these instances, the jury or court decided in our favor.
So they've sued 145 times but only carried through 9? Considering that being sued by a multinational corporation is a pretty big threat whether you're in the right or not, this seems like a pretty obvious intimidation campaign.
posted by localroger at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just in the name of accuracy I'd point out that the active ingredient in roundup has gone off patent and is available as a generic.
posted by JPD at 1:38 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Kafziel, drawing an equivalence between GMO and the excrement of homeless people doesn't aid that particular argument."

Now that is a seriously impressively recursive rhetorical gambit. Wow. So Kafziel notes that one store driving another store out of business with the factually true statement that the homeless do not defecate in their store, said so as to be intentionally misleading about the other store, is like the situation of how the statement that a food product has GMO ingredients is, while factually true, intentionally misleading. So you now you say that Kafziel has drawn an equivalence between GMOs and the excrement of homeless people which, while factually true, is intentionally misleading.

I'm not even mad, that's amazing.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:41 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


The labels are not worthless because they are government-mandated; they are worthless because they convey no actionable information and only serve to spur unfounded worry.

I don't want to give any money to Monsanto. Knowing whether the bread I buy is made of actual wheat or Patented Round Up Ready Weet® Brand Cereal Grain is information I could use to make an informed decision about which products to buy.

It's pretty obvious why they'd be opposed to that.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:51 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Blasdelb, what I'm saying is that the misleading claims are not comparable. In two ways:

1) Homeless people do not -- we may reasonably assume -- crap in the aisles of either store. Therefore a contrast of GMO vs not GMO is not comparable to this, because the presence of GMO in foods is an actual thing.

2) Human feces in the aisle is an indisputably undesirable and unwanted thing. As has been copiously pointed out GMO is not an established negative.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:52 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't want to give any money to Monsanto. Knowing whether the bread I buy is made of wheat or Patented Round Up Ready Weet® Brand Cereal Grain is information I could use to make an informed decision about which products to buy.

If your beef is with Monsanto, why not propose to require foodstuff seller to disclose their suppliers? Whether a crop comes from Monsanto seed and whether it is transgenic are not good proxies for one another and will not be useful proxies at all in the near future. Again, people are eager to attribute the perceived ills of big ag generally to transgenic technology.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:56 PM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


"So they've sued 145 times but only carried through 9? Considering that being sued by a multinational corporation is a pretty big threat whether you're in the right or not, this seems like a pretty obvious intimidation campaign."

This is, I think, emblematic of a big part of why this 'debate' has gotten so shallow that 14 year olds are considered to have something meaningful to say about it, just how obvious everything is, even to people who plainly have zero context for understanding what is so obvious. localroger, if you knew anything about these lawsuits wouldn't at least one of the 145 be a good example of their unjustness? Do you feel the judicial protections against this sort of thing, specifically punitive damages for spurious lawsuits are somehow inadequate in these cases? With how much money is being put into advertising the myth of lawsuits based on accidental contamination, why isn't there a real example of this that is ever put forth?
posted by Blasdelb at 1:58 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The labels are not worthless because they are government-mandated; they are worthless because they convey no actionable information and only serve to spur unfounded worry.

When the public has unfounded worry, it's disingenuous to argue that they need less information and should trust that everything is fine.
posted by dogwalker at 2:01 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


When the public has unfounded worry, it's disingenuous to argue that they need less information and should trust that everything is fine.

Nobody is arguing that the public needs less information. Science education, including education about genetics and general biology, needs to improve by a huge margin in this country. What we need to avoid at a policy level is requiring producers to give people information that is misleading by virtue of being incomplete, especially at the behest of people that stand to benefit by misleading consumers.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:04 PM on September 22, 2013


Blazecock Pileon: "In some cases, the genetic basis of the GMO product has contaminated the rest of the stock, to the extent that it seems difficult to do empirical SCIENCE! that requires a control cohort. As with the body burden that the chemical industry would rather you not worry about, we are basically throwing a bunch of variables together and seeing who can make the most money in the least amount of time. Not a great way to do SCIENCE!, but if it makes investors like O'Leary wealthier, then it is "rational"."

Blazecock, unlike a lot of the posters in this thread, you have the education and perspective to know that this is bullshit - making it not bullshit but a bald faced lie. You know perfectly well how trivially easy it is to test crops for genetic modifications, being just few quick PCRs away, and you know perfectly well about seed repositories even if this were a problem, which it isn't.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:09 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh I see--Monsanto's just looking out for the consumer's right not to be misled by facts they overwhelmingly want to know but don't really need to know. Consumer info on a need-to-know basis. Sounds like a great model for consumer protection to me.

It's not about the science. It's about consumer rights and the balance of power over regulating the marketplace.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2013


localroger, if you knew anything about these lawsuits wouldn't at least one of the 145 be a good example of their unjustness? Do you feel the judicial protections against this sort of thing, specifically punitive damages for spurious lawsuits are somehow inadequate in these cases? With how much money is being put into advertising the myth of lawsuits based on accidental contamination, why isn't there an example of this that is ever put forth?

Well there's Percy Schmeiser.
Bryson wanted to know what actions would convince Monsanto to sue a farmer, and Waxman came up with this:

"In the real world, Judge Bryson, the cases Monsanto brings are cases in which it has come to learn that the farmer is not purchasing any Roundup Ready seed, but is spraying his fields with Roundup, and the plants are surviving. If the farmer were not spraying, by definition he wouldn't be taking advantage of Monsanto's technology."

Under Waxman's common-sense standard, Monsanto wouldn't have brought its case against Schmeiser. That's because in that case, the company did not produce any evidence that Schmeiser was taking advantage of Monsanto's technology by spraying his crop with Roundup.
That's just a first page Google hit; I know I've read of other cases where there was no evidence Roundup was used on the supposedly infringing Roundup-ReadyTM crops. I don't consider it my job to look them up for you.

As for the punitive damages for spurious lawsuits, yes they are totally inadequate. A fine that would put a small business or farmer in bankruptcy is a minor nuisance to a player like Monsanto. And that's a double edged sword; the farmers can also end up liable for the $MILLION$ Monsanto can pour into their legal efforts, which the farmers couldn't afford themselves, should the farmers lose.

With how much money is being put into advertising the myth of lawsuits based on accidental contamination, why isn't there an example of this that is ever put forth?

Because pity the poor multinational corporation which hasn't spent a cent, NOT A CENT I say, promoting its side of the story against this unwarranted attack from a bunch of invincibly rich farmers and environmentalists.
posted by localroger at 2:14 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not about the science. It's about consumer rights and the balance of power over regulating the marketplace.

I appreciate the candor. When do you propose we begin requiring across-the-board disclosure of consumer-relevant contents of foodstuffs?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:16 PM on September 22, 2013


I'm genuinely curious what drives one to post 25+ comments arguing so vociferously against a request for information no more unreasonable than ingredient lists or nutritional content labels, all the while claiming that one is doing a public good by withholding said information because of an alleged conspiracy by Big Organic.

If this were me, I would at least try to get someone at Monsanto to pay me for this service.
posted by Behemoth at 2:16 PM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm genuinely curious what drives one to post 25+ comments arguing so vociferously against a request for information no more unreasonable than ingredient lists or nutritional content labels

Behemoth, it's nice that missing the point has kept you occupied through all of that reading. If you don't care to review the available scientific research and understand why an inherently misleading labeling scheme is not of any benefit to consumers, or at least make an argument that shows you are engaging with that premise, I don't have anything more to say to you.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a bit of a side story, I happen to have a little anecdote about Roundup.

55 gallon drums are typically filled on a scale. Given the limitations of the technology and the filling infrastructure requirements most drums get filled on a scale with a resolution of 0.5 or 1 pound (or 0.2 to 0.5 kg in other countries). This means that to ensure each drum contains what you claim it does you must risk overfilling by about that amount to be sure.

I know of a company that sold the first high capacity force restoration balance ever installed in the USA. Capable of 0.1 lb resolution it was installed under a drumfiller which fills drums with Roundup. This was back when Roundup was still under patent.

They were told that each drum was worth about USD$50,000 and that the new scale, which cost over $20,000, paid for itself within a week.

So it is really hard to see Monsanto as the poor put upon victim here. I have a better idea where the bodies are buried in industry than most people ever will.
posted by localroger at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe we could use some of that Fundie energy for good for a change. I mean, it's hard to imagine more "unnatural" relations than fish copulating with strawberries, right?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2013


fish copulating with strawberries, right?

I don't know, they don't seem too upset about wool getting mixed with acrylic.

On the other hand, if the fish-strawberry hybrids were getting abortions, we might have a mass protest movement to deal with.
posted by localroger at 2:24 PM on September 22, 2013


Under Waxman's common-sense standard, Monsanto wouldn't have brought its case against Schmeiser. That's because in that case, the company did not produce any evidence that Schmeiser was taking advantage of Monsanto's technology by spraying his crop with Roundup.

I dunno, this reasoning on that seems pretty sound to me:

The court ruled in favour of Monsanto, holding that his use of the patented genes and cells was analogous to the use of a machine containing a patented part: "It is no defense to say that the thing actually used was not patented, but only one of its components." (Supreme Court Decision, Paragraph 78[7]) The court also held that by planting genetically modified Roundup resistant canola, Schmeiser made use of the "stand-by" or insurance utility of the invention. That is, he left himself the option of using Roundup on the crop should the need arise. This was considered to be analogous to the installation of patented pumps on a ship: even if the pumps are never actually switched on, they are still used by being available for pumping if the need arises.

posted by Drinky Die at 2:26 PM on September 22, 2013


Drinky Die, if you read the rest of the article you'd see that even Monsanto now seems to realize that suing Schmeiser was a mistake. One can be legally right and both morally and common-sensibly wrong.
posted by localroger at 2:28 PM on September 22, 2013


What we need to avoid at a policy level is requiring producers to give people information that is misleading by virtue of being incomplete, especially at the behest of people that stand to benefit by misleading consumers.

Yeah, but the reasoning you have for it being "misleading" is that someone has already gotten to the public with a differing opinion.

It just seems like you think your opponents have better PR, which based on how aggressively and smugly you've argued in this thread, may be true.
posted by dogwalker at 2:28 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Socialist Europe there is a set of regulatives protecting consumers and producers of agriculture. It is really strange to see in this thread, how black and white the discussion is in the US.
From this side of the Atlantic Ocean, consumer choice, protection against monopolies, bio-diversity, food security and scientific development are equally good things, and not at all in opposition to one another.
I would happily eat bread made from GM wheat, I am in no way worried that genetic modification of plants can harm me. As stated above, genetic modification is what farmers have been doing, in a very slow and complicated way, for 10.000 years. But like my government, I am worried above monopolies within the agro-industry, and I am worried about overuse of pesticides. So it is not genetic modification per se, but its specific use that worries me.
Anecdote: someone very ignorant used Roundup in my herb-garden five years ago, while I was away, thinking my herbs were weeds. Not only did he kill everything there, it is still not possible to grow anything but grass, dandelions and nettles. Somehow, this tells me Roundup should be avoided. I imagine that a poison this efficient is not sound for consumption.
With golden rice, again it is not the genetic modification that is worrisome, but the monopoly and drive towards monoculture. We need seed diversity.
posted by mumimor at 2:29 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but the reasoning you have for it being "misleading" is that someone has already gotten to the public with a differing opinion.

Can you explain what you mean here? I think required labeling of transgenic crop-derived food is misleading because it implies that the government believes there is something about which to caution consumers. The evidence shows that there is not. It really doesn't matter who was there first or whatever; requiring producers to imply something about their products with no factual basis harms consumers.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2013


"Well there's Percy Schmeiser."

Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser: Federal Court Judgements & Supreme Court Judgments

He wasn't sued for accidentally getting Roundup Ready canola on his land, he was sued for saving the seed with technology that wasn't his and then planting it the next year on purpose. He was not wronged by Monsanto, he was wronged by his failure to understand what a patent is and the huge confusing mess of bullshit that is pretty much anything put out by environmental groups on the subject.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:34 PM on September 22, 2013


Well Blasdelb why is it then that according to the article I linked even Monsanto seems to be ready to admit that suing him was a mistake, even though they won in court?
posted by localroger at 2:38 PM on September 22, 2013


Yeah, even as a GM skeptic (note, not knee-jerk anti-GM, just put it in more responsible hands, demand total transparency of process, free the scientific review process from dependency on and influence from industry money, and create disincentives for predatory practices) I agree that the Schmeiser case is a bad one and fellow GM skeptics need to stop raising that one. My take on that is that he knowingly gathered and propagated the roundup-resistant seed when he had every reason to understand it was the Monsanto strain. It's a shitty situation that he should not have been in but he knew what he was doing. My belief is that if genes get into your crop and germinate you get to propagate them. But that is not the law.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:42 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


"From this side of the Atlantic Ocean, consumer choice, protection against monopolies, bio-diversity, food security and scientific development are equally good things, and not at all in opposition to one another. I would happily eat bread made from GM wheat, I am in no way worried that genetic modification of plants can harm me. As stated above, genetic modification is what farmers have been doing, in a very slow and complicated way, for 10.000 years. But like my government, I am worried above monopolies within the agro-industry, and I am worried about overuse of pesticides. So it is not genetic modification per se, but its specific use that worries me."
The European Commission has no problem with monopolies, even agribusiness monopolies, supporting quite a few itself - but does have a problem with foreign competitors. If any of the major players in the Commission had a significant economic foothold in the industry it would all look very different, but American companies got there first and there is nothing they want to do about that now.
"With golden rice, again it is not the genetic modification that is worrisome, but the monopoly and drive towards monoculture. We need seed diversity."
Rice has been grown in monocultures since before recorded history. Also, one of the primary priorities of the International Rice Research Institute, which is funding this as well as many other rice related anti-hunger projects, for each of the hundreds of strains of Golden Rice that they have created out of locally used varieties is that the seed be both reusable and locally breed-able such that farmers can continue to maintain the Golden trait themselves with conventional breeding techniques. The IRRI is also at the forefront of maintaining rice seed diversity independently of its golden rice project.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:50 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Well Blasdelb why is it then that according to the article I linked even Monsanto seems to be ready to admit that suing him was a mistake, even though they won in court?"

Because despite how incredibly solid their case against him is the dude is still an old man who may have just been stubborn and stupid rather than actually trying to get away with anything, unlike their other cases.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:53 PM on September 22, 2013


Blasdelb, could you expand on which monopolies the Commission supports, and not least, which "major players" have "economic footholds" where? Obviously, we have corruption in Europe, just like anywhere else, but this description does not fit with how the Commission works. At all.
posted by mumimor at 2:57 PM on September 22, 2013


Can you explain what you mean here? I think required labeling of transgenic crop-derived food is misleading because it implies that the government believes there is something about which to caution consumers. The evidence shows that there is not.

Sure. I don't see that same implication of caution. Implications are subjective, and I see a neutrally worded label as merely neutral.
posted by dogwalker at 3:00 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


unlike their other cases.

Would that be unlike the other 8 cases they won, or unlike the other 135 they didn't follow through?
posted by localroger at 3:00 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an investor ("shark"), he is very likely someone who has sued companies that have withheld information that adversely affect the value of his investments. He seems to be for letting the market decide, up until a product parts ways with his own political sensibilities.

"very likely"? "seems to be"?

You could be right, but cites would be welcome.

I would recommend that an American with access to the CBC check out Dragons' Den, the Canadian equivalent to Shark Tank.


Don't stop there! The UK Dragons Den is also fun. And that's only the beginning.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:01 PM on September 22, 2013


mumimor, I was thinking of asking that exact same question, because it is quite inflammatory, but it's a derail, and there are plenty of cases where the EU appears to fight for its own side in trade wars. Airbus vs. Boeing is the most often appearing.

Interestingly enough, in the late 90s (according to Wikipedia) a delayed ripening tomato (not Flavr Savr, despite the page title) was produced by Zeneca, and, clearly labelled, was selling well in tomato puree in 1998 before the European GM backlash. I'm not aware of any GM products in the EU market.
posted by ambrosen at 3:09 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure. I don't see that same implication of caution. Implications are subjective, and I see a neutrally worded label as merely neutral.

It can't be neutral in this case, thanks to the well-poisoning already accomplished by anti-GMO types. As already discussed above, it is a low information value label. Those two items taken together mean that the natural implication is that there is something to fear there. The NYTimes poll linked above clearly demonstrates that simply asking about GMO foods provokes people to unjustified health concerns.

It is an unfortunate reality and we shouldn't compound it by accomodating the desire of some to profit by regulatory capture and the desire of some to fuck Monsanto in any way possible.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:10 PM on September 22, 2013


the desire of some to fuck Monsanto in any way possible.

Funny you should bring that up, because it turns out that if a turnip fucks Monsanto in a specific way you get a much more frost-tolerant Pinot Noir grape.

So, y'know, there's that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:20 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


It can't be neutral in this case, thanks to the well-poisoning already accomplished by anti-GMO types.

Right, this is exactly what I said about their PR getting to the public first. It's unfortunate for the science, yes, but I'm not sold that avoiding labeling is the best solution in the long term. It may be difficult to sway public opinion, but it's not going to get any easier in the future.
posted by dogwalker at 3:20 PM on September 22, 2013


"I appreciate the candor. When do you propose we begin requiring across-the-board disclosure of consumer-relevant contents of foodstuffs?"

As soon as every credible opinion poll shows the public overwhelmingly wants it.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:21 PM on September 22, 2013


Me personally, I wouldn't mind having it now, especially in light of the recent investigations into the dumping of counterfeit Chinese honey into American markets.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:23 PM on September 22, 2013


I'd be delighted if raw hamburger was labeled as to whether it mixes batches from multiple sources. The market I go to never does that -- you can actually see the original pattern of striations within the grind -- but they don't have a big sign to that effect; you have to ask. They should, but oh noes that would disparage the competition by unfair implication!
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:26 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Regulation of genetically modified organisms in the European Union
posted by triggerfinger at 3:31 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, what a little firecracker. Hell yeah Rachel Parent!
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:46 PM on September 22, 2013


well-poisoning

How does glyophosate get in my drinking water?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:48 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Monsanto could be destroying your microbiome (via)
posted by jeffburdges at 4:16 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


How does glyophosate get in my drinking water?

Sounds like more anti-science rhetoric from those commie regulators at the EPA.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:24 PM on September 22, 2013


Information on the licensing for Golden Rice
Appears as sensible as feasible without eliminating or further restricting GMO patents.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:25 PM on September 22, 2013


What I don't get is how you can rail against "libertarianism" five days a week and then when someone suggests corporate regulation, you start talking about how they're anti-science and stuff.

Anyone know if the Kochs are involved in this GMO stuff?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:29 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Food Label That Has Kraft, Nestle, And Coca-Cola Shaking In Their Boots
posted by Twang at 4:34 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting how that label decides to make GMO or not a very, very prominent part of the label. Is there really no more important information that might take that space? I would like a "Vegetarian or Not" label so I don't have to scan all the ingredients, for example.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:42 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anecdote: someone very ignorant used Roundup in my herb-garden five years ago, while I was away, thinking my herbs were weeds. Not only did he kill everything there, it is still not possible to grow anything but grass, dandelions and nettles. Somehow, this tells me Roundup should be avoided. I imagine that a poison this efficient is not sound for consumption.

I can answer this one. Glyphosate (Roundup) has a half life of 2 to 197 days. If the ignorant someone had poured a bucket of roundup on the patch, say, it might be possible that there would still be some trace amounts in the soil. However, I doubt that a weed killer is what is hurting your garden since the weeds are doing quite well there!
posted by Tsuga at 4:54 PM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I may be an outlier here, but I'm supportive of the non-stupid uses of GE and GMOs, and I think the labels are just fine. It's my theory that labeling food for GMO content is going to be a bit like the old proposal that things for gay folks would be different if we all turned purple one day—the notion that people are going to have a mass histrionic Alar flip-out is a lot less likely than that people will look and say "hmm, there's been GMO content in that thing I've been eating for quite a while and I'm just fine, sooo…" On the other hand, maybe there will be a cultural consensus that we're not okay with GMO, and we'll have to deal with the other side of the problems industrialized monocultures create, which is massive pesticide use.

A vegetarian label would also be good, and a general ethics rating, though that's already partially in place if you just assume that Nestlé and Kraft=pure shitty evilness and act accordingly.
posted by sonascope at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2013


My concern is that use of irradiation and especially GMO creates a much faster rate of appearance of new strains, and this creates a qualitative difference. My other concern is that traditional breeding selected for what you might call "simpler" trait changes, in other words, you might see a strain that grows faster because it uses more energy for stalks and fruiting vs. root system; this will be apparent on the trial field but it's far less likely to have effect on human health vs. production of a specific insecticide which may have subtle and long-ranging effect on health.

Is it just me? - but I see parallels between the argument that it's just regular mutations but faster, and arguments about species dying out at a faster rate (but it's natural for species to die out - they've been doing this for hundreds of millions of years!), and global climate change (but climate has been changing back and forth over billions of years!).

I don't want to see a GMO label, I really don't. What I want to see is a strain label with a url that has links on how strain was produced, by whom, how many studies where done, by whom and when.

Yet another issue is that I wonder if many GMO products on the shelves might in fact be only a few cents cheaper than non-GMO ones. If there's no label, the wholesaler and the seller keep the price at the same level and split the profits (more likely producer / patent holder keep most of the profit). I want to see the price difference before deciding. I might be ok with a specific GMO product, but if, e.g., a bag of vegetables is 5 cents cheaper in GMO version, I might buy the other one because of just a little bit of uncertainty I may have. Or I'll spend a few hours researching that strain on da interwebs just to save 5c!!
posted by rainy at 5:06 PM on September 22, 2013


Has there ever, once, at any point in industrialized history been an instance when powerful interests deliberately withheld information about the nature of their goods or services, or sued to keep such information secret, which was ultimately a net positive for society as a whole? Where the public was deliberately kept in the dark and things turned out well?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:08 PM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


But maybe we're just witnessing the first instance of this, isn't that exciting! So exciting! Witnessing! It's like going to a zoo and seeing a rare animal from Peru or something.
posted by rainy at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can answer this one. Glyphosate (Roundup) has a half life of 2 to 197 days.

That same link acknowledges that the breakdown products may themselves be of toxicological significance, and it says nothing about their persistence. Also, adverse changes to the soil's microbial population could be long-term if the soil isn't actively rehabilitated in some way.

However, I doubt that a weed killer is what is hurting your garden since the weeds are doing quite well there!

"Weed" isn't a taxonomically meaningful term except in the sense that it means "any plant you're not trying to grow, as opposed to the one you are." I'm sure glyphosate is more or less active on different kinds of plants, but it doesn't innately know how to act on plants you don't want and not on plants you do. Unless of course they are Monsanto™ plants!
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:15 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


rainy: I think you are grossly overestimating how much radiation to induce mutations is used as a technique in the production of transgenes for GMO organisms. The problem is that it's just a very sloppy technique that has little chance of success: if you have a specific problem you want to solve, such as drought resistance or quality of nutrition, it becomes vanishingly unlikely that just irradiating your plants of interest is actually going to generate anything relevant given the random nature of the technique, or even anything even interesting/useful given the low success rate of the technique, is vanishingly unlikely. So the majority of created transgenes will be done through selective pressure - which greatly resembles the artificial selection procedures we have been using for countless years.

Furthermore, keep in mind that regardless of how we create/obtain the transgene, we are going to be isolating the gene - so we will be eliminating any genetic mutations/selective adaptations that may have developed in tandem.

You raise some very good questions about long-term effects on human health, but I think these aren't questions that haven't exactly gone unasked and unanswered by scientists in the process of research and development already.
posted by Conspire at 5:28 PM on September 22, 2013


Conspire, I meant to say that either irradiation or GMO create strains at a faster rate which is the crux of the issue for me.

You raise some very good questions about long-term effects on human health, but I think these aren't questions that haven't exactly gone unasked and unanswered by scientists in the process of research and development already.

As someone pointed out upthread, there are still many questions about even basic nutrition like sugar, salt, transfats, caffeine, which seem to be far from completely settled. These questions also were not unasked and unanswered, in fact if you went back a couple hundred years, these questions were still not unasked and unanswered; my concern is not that they were unasked and/or unanswered, my concern is whether they are answered conclusively for all strains extant and will be answered for the future ones.

This stuff is pretty profitable and it will accelerate and an average person on the street will only take notice if there's some high-publicity case that's uncontroversial and clearcut. Things I mentioned like subtle and long-ranging health effects are not going to cut it, and I'm afraid new strains will edge out the old ones in the marketplace and nobody will ask your or my opinion on this.
posted by rainy at 5:48 PM on September 22, 2013


I think the question that still hasn't been answered, even with all the great information in this thread, is what counts as GMO? The term "genetically modified" when it comes to our food crops is essentially meaningless, since all crops are genetically modified through, at the very least, breeding. I tried to ask a biologist friend of mine what difference there was between breeding for a trait and inserting a trait (or gene) directly. He made some points about the fact that genes can be inserted very distantly related (separate kingdoms even) organisms whereas breeding usually involves more closely related organisms. Can anyone explain 1. how breeding differs from the insertion of genes in terms of risks (environmental, human health, biodiversity, etc.) and 2. why (and this may follow from 1) only transgene crops should be labeled as "GMO" when, techincally, all crops are genetically modified?
posted by runcibleshaw at 7:52 PM on September 22, 2013


But the other reason why I support GMO products is because from a scientific vantage, the science is completely sound.

Oh yes? What is the impact on gut flora?

Hint: we are only just beginning to understand the role of gut flora and, for that matter, lateral gene transfer. To call the science "completely sound" is an interesting definition of "sound" that excludes the fact that we are *profoundly ignorant* of ecosystems including those that make up human beings.
posted by rr at 8:14 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


all crops are genetically modified?

In the maximally narrow, trivialized sense: nothing.

In the real world that the rest of us live in sense, a hell of a lot.

A major, major difference is dependency and soak time. Strains that were minor refinements over decades gives us lots of time to observe things, strains shunted directly to market after a few years of testing on short lived shirt tail relatives (rats, guinea pigs, goats) don't come anywhere near that soak time.

With regard to dependence. Traditional breeding requires that the plants be basically viable without exotic assistance.

Since we barely really understand genetics (hint: if we did, we wouldn't be looking forward to a Nobel prize for CRISPR, which finally explains the sequences that geneticists dismissed for years as "examples of imperfect copying", we wouldn't have uncovered the role of ERVs in reproduction only in the last decade, and so on), despite excessively confident declarations from the "science proves it's all fine!" crowd here and elsewhere, perhaps we shouldn't be mucking about in the large until we've studied things a lot more. The same overly confident science crowd was crowing about how estrogen-like materials in plastics (and plasticizers, today) were TOTALLY HARMLESS. Or transfats. And so on and so forth.
posted by rr at 8:20 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can we get an explanation of "soak time"? It's popped up a few times in this thread, but I'm not sure I understand its significance in any sense other than the fact that breeding takes longer.

And, I think the question stands on what possibly makes the effects of targeted gene insertion qualitatively different than traditional breeding or the more modern "random mutation by irradiation" method described above (the effects, not the process). Why is swapping out a single gene more or less dangerous (or unpredictable maybe) than breeding or forcing mutation through other methods?

What is "exotic assistance"? Is that like an iron lung for plants?

Also, is it just the newness of transgenic crops that warrants labeling, because we don't know what we don't know about it? After all, I don't see anyone asking for labels about what strains of peas were bred together (if that's even how that works) or how certain desirable traits were selected for and by what method on every can.

Please note that I ask these questions not to bolster any argument I'm trying to make, but I truly don't understand the science, or the implications of that science.
posted by runcibleshaw at 8:38 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I truly don't understand the science, or the implications of that science.

You differ from most, if not all, of the people making positive assertions about the science in this thread only in your honesty.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:03 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Soak time means that we have had enough time to see that it is not harmful and to see how it affects the things around it - human scale time - not a 2Y study on some rats.
posted by rr at 10:26 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Inspector.Gadget: I would be shocked if even a state government exercising its police power could compel producers of transgenic products to attach a warning label to their products given the aforementioned absence of evidence.

You shifted the goalposts to a government-mandated *warning* label. There are two kinds of labels under discussion here: a simple "factual" label like "contains no GMOs", and more detailed labeling that would enable the sourcing of ingredients. You contended that a label which would be protected by the first amendment would be "inherently misleading" if the government were to mandate it. You drew a clear distinction between voluntary versus mandatory labeling, but not the *content* of that labeling:

Inspector.Gadget: Because government-mandated labels are inherently misleading. They would imply a risk where none exists. Voluntary labels? Go for it.

We agree that (some?) labeling of the simplistic type is inherently misleading, apparently; we also agree that inherently misleading labels are not protected. What I don't get is how the same label could be inherently misleading when the government mandates it, but not when a corporation does it.

Inspector.Gadget: I suspect my prior phrasing was not sufficiently clear; I don't think we disagree on what the law is currently.

So maybe your (unspoken) assumption is this: the government would only mandate the labeling of GMO-containing products, whereas corporations would do the reverse: only labeling non-GMO-containing products? And that's a relevant difference? I'm trying to understand the difference you're assuming between the government labels and voluntary labels that would make the government ones inherently misleading, but not the voluntary ones.

Clearly whether it is voluntary or not has nothing to do with whether the label itself is inherently misleading (by any definition of inherent...).

Inspector.Gadget: But, hey, if you want to throw down some more case law, that's cool; I usually get paid to review it.

There's no reason to be dickish about it, especially if you're willing to admit to having been unclear. I'm trying to clarify your position, not "throw down". This isn't WWE.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:37 AM on September 23, 2013


Hint: we are only just beginning to understand the role of gut flora and, for that matter, lateral gene transfer. To call the science "completely sound" is an interesting definition of "sound" that excludes the fact that we are *profoundly ignorant* of ecosystems including those that make up human beings.

The problem with this argument is that it doesn't just cut GMOs, it cuts all of agriculture. People were crossing plants and animals for thousands of years before anyone understood inheritance. If a technique is to be judged by how much the practicers understand about the "product", then modern biologists win hands down. That's not to say that scientists know everything at this point, but let's not use arguments whose implications are that we go back to being hunters and gatherers.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:02 AM on September 23, 2013


jeffburdges: "Monsanto could be destroying your microbiome (via)"
Penicillin is many orders of magnitude more effective at fucking up your gut than even the most ridiculous plausible concentrations of round-up ever could be. While penicillin and other antibiotics do have significant ways in which their use effects human health, disbiosis is kinda miserable and does leave you more vulnerable to intestinal pathogens, they are not the cause of all of society's ills. The one paper that your article is building that whole house of cards on tries to make the case that huge concentrations of round-up make cows more vulnerable to C. diff infection, but does it poorly, and with good reason does not itself speculate on how their pet theory might affect human health. The grist article also betrays its fundamental scientific ignorance calling E. coli a harmful bacteria in the gut, we rely on it and other coliforms to keep our colons anoxic even if there are also pathogenic strains of it and it kinda sucks to have in your upper intestinal tract.

Glyphosphate is not destroying our microbiomes and neither is any lack of purity of essence in GMOs generally.
rr: "Hint: we are only just beginning to understand the role of gut flora and, for that matter, lateral gene transfer. To call the science "completely sound" is an interesting definition of "sound" that excludes the fact that we are *profoundly ignorant* of ecosystems including those that make up human beings."
There is a lot we DO know about the microbiome depending on how you frame the question.

Check out this freakish genetically modified cow, its kind was first created some time just before 1807 in Belgium when a calf was born with a mutation to its myostatin gene, which has never gone through any characterization process for safety. Myostatin is necessary for the ordinary processes of telling muscles to stop growing and when the gene responsible for myostatin was inactivated through a mysterious genetic event this was the result. We have no proof that this mutation doesn't have some bizarre effect on gut flora when you eat it, no one has ever tested it, but does that mean its dangerous? No, even though we have no idea what inactivated the gene. It could have been a point mutation is some essential amino acid, it could have been a virus inserting its DNA into the middle of the gene to mysterious and uncharacterized effects, it could be a chromosomal abnormality altering the expression of thousands of genes, but there isn't really a conceivable way it could have happened that would matter one damn to us - knowing of course that the cows are relatively healthy even if they require c sections to give birth.

Unlike those supremely delicious cows we know exactly what has been inserted into or deleted from the genomes of the intentionally modified organisms we eat, we know that proteins encoded by the modification are both not immunogenic and could not last long enough in the gut to cause harm even if they were, we know nothing encodes for human toxins, we know what parts of the organism that genes of interest are expressed in, and we know none of the modifications have the tools to do any more jumping.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:44 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Watching the video, I really wasn't convinced by either side. It definitely shows up the limitations of the talk show as debate platform, because when the discussion is impromptu speakers tend to veer off-course and their position becomes confused.

From what I made out, Parent's stance regards people being informed. She wants long-term testing of GMOs (by independent bodies so that there's no conflict of interest) to ensure there is no danger to human health and the environment from their use, and she wants GMO labelling to ensure that people can stay informed of what they're putting in their bodies in the meantime and beyond.

O'Leary's stance, as far as I could tell, was that GMOs have the potential to save lives and increase crop yield and there should be continued research and development in the area of GMOs.

It really irritated me that the two went about arguing their positions in a really ineffective way. They're not even mutually exclusive, but O'Leary seemed not to notice and Parent did not bring this to his attention. As a result there was this continuous back and forth between the two with O'Leary saying 'GMOs have the potential to save lives' and Parent saying 'yes, but to ensure their safety and people's right to choose, there needs to be testing and labelling.' And it just seemed to keep coming back to this, over and over.
posted by Quilford at 3:00 AM on September 23, 2013


I mean, O'Leary was condescending and Parent was (for the most part) articulate, so in that sense Parent "won" whatever debate was being had. But there was no progress in addressing the actual ethical issues at hand, and both sides were, I think, pretty complicit in this.
posted by Quilford at 3:04 AM on September 23, 2013


Well Parent had a middle schooler's understanding of the issues, and O'Leary had the understanding of a man being paid to understand the issues in a certain way, so I guess it would be more fair to say that we lost rather than that either of them won.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:11 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Has there ever, once, at any point in industrialized history been an instance when powerful interests deliberately withheld information about the nature of their goods or services, or sued to keep such information secret, which was ultimately a net positive for society as a whole? Where the public was deliberately kept in the dark and things turned out well?"

We're about to find out,
Should I eat that?
posted by Blasdelb at 3:28 AM on September 23, 2013


Thank you B and IG for laying out the scientific links and explanations behind what was said. Sometimes personal fortunes are made in the betterment of the common good.

What got my interest up (and ire) had to do with this.
I saw two natural enemies. One was a bright 14yr old idealist, vrs. a 50yr old capitalist. Ms. Person ended up spouting unproven talking points and O'Leary, personal insults. Because he is 12.

O'leary is Ms. Person's mortal enemy. His ilk will do or say anything to increase their personal hoards even if they can't live long enough to enjoy them. In their doing so Ms. Person will get to watch the chickens come home. She must throw whatever she has at hand, even if it is being fed to her.

Her theories are dubious, but her heart is in the right place. I very much hope that she learns to fight with the right tools in the future because she has a lot to lose. Much more than he does.
posted by qinn at 3:31 AM on September 23, 2013


Oh and "goal post moving" of " a mixed diet of fresh fruit including a nice mango" is a nice rhetorical flourish. You are the 1st to mention it, so good for you on getting all upset over your own words.)

And...

I've scratched my head about Mokusatsu's mango snark because while mangoes are imported luxuries in temperate climes they are native to southeast Asia.

If you do a text search of this conversation you'll find I was not the first to mention mangoes.

Specifically:
As the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has stated, variety is the key and should be the norm rather than the exception in farming systems. According to Dr. Samson Tsou of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC), countries with vegetable consumption of more than 200 grams of vegetables per day do not have vitamin A deficiency as a major problem.10 Although animal sources are expensive, inexpensive plant food sources are widely available. It only takes two tablespoonfuls of yellow sweet potatoes, half a cup of dark green leafy vegetables or two-thirds of a medium-sized mango in a day to meet the vitamin A requirement of a pre-school child.11 This way, not only is the vitamin A requirement being addressed, but a whole range of other micronutrients as well.

Was pointing out that these subsistence farmers eat an extremely monotonous diet consisting mostly of rice, because they don't have the money to purchase anything else just "snark"?

It was an entirely serious response to what I perceived as a "let them eat cake!" level of cluelessness about just how poor these farmers are and how crappy their diets.
posted by Mokusatsu at 5:15 AM on September 23, 2013


You know, if the corporations REALLY CARED ABOUT PEOPLE, they could GPL the intellectual property.
posted by mikelieman at 6:23 AM on September 23, 2013


Here's an article comparing the anti-GM movement to the anti-vaccine movement, with a particular emphasis on Golden Rice, from the Australian website "The Conversation". This website's intent is to publish articles by academics to a non-academic audience, providing scientifically valid information in an accessible format:

For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease
posted by Mokusatsu at 6:30 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nice! Let's tie anti-vax nonsense to a completely unrelated consumer rights question. That seems like an honest and good faith way to debate this.

I'm as anti-anti-vaxer as you'll likely find anywhere, but as a consumer, I find the science to be irrelevant to the bigger issues of consumer rights. Muddying the waters isn't going to help anyone see the issues clearly.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


The problem with this argument is that it doesn't just cut GMOs, it cuts all of agriculture.

That's great, but the topic is GMOs.

Again: there is a huge difference between GMO and traditional breeding in practice. That you keep ignoring that is a pretty good example of the many ways that the pro-GMO side does not argue in good faith.
posted by rr at 10:41 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The science is very much at the heart of it, and informs us of whether there is actually an issue for consumers to exercise rights over.

One of the stupid marketing scams of the last few years in my country has been the emergence of labels on milk bottles describing them as "permeate free". Now permeate is simply a component of milk, one of the things which is created during the processing of whole milk into the various fractions of cream, full cream milk, light and skim milks, cheese base etc. There is no way to test for the presence of "permeate" as an adultering agent of milk, because permeate is part of milk.

But the campaign to label milk as permeate free, initiated by some marketing person of questionable ethics, has lead to a proliferation of similar labels in all brands, as well as the widespread circulation of misinformation about permeate including numerous health myths about the dangers of consuming permeate. People weren't scared of permeate until the ads started playing claiming it was bad stuff. This labelling campaign has led to far more misinformation and confusion than enlightenment. Most consumers still haven't got a clue what permeate is, they saw the ads which led them to think it's some kind of disgusting chemical they adulterate milk with in order to save money. The net result of this particular labelling fad is an increase in confusion and ignorance.

I'm sure in the near future some marketer somewhere will pick up on the presence or absence of a particular harmless protein or carbohydrate in one of the products he wants to sell, or the products of his rivals, and start a similar marketing campaign where he proudly boasts of the presence, or absence, of this inconsequential chemical.

This isn't to reply to a consumer need, it is to create a perception of one, and it's all crap. No useful consumer function is served by insinuating that there is a health issue which people need to be warned of with labelling.

Why do consumers need to be "warned" of GMOs?

Do products carry warning labels that the product may contain hybrid plants?
A lot of new varieties are generated with radiation and mutagenic chemical treatments, do people have a right to know about what techniques were used to produce the varieties?

Do we label them according to which particular fertilisers and pesticides have been used in their production?

Are consumers, who struggle to appreciate the significance of standard nutrition labels as it is, now going to learn all about agrichemicals so they can exercise their consumer rights to make informed decisions about what kinds of fertiliser they expect the farmers to use?

This whole labelling issue is not about consumer choice, it's a follow up to a scare campaign. First came the misinformation about GMOs, now the same people who publicise bad studies showing that genetically modified corn will give you cancer want warning labels on products. How else are people going to act on the misinformation they've been fed?
posted by Mokusatsu at 11:19 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Again: there is a huge difference between GMO and traditional breeding in practice.

It's true. One method creates unpredictable novel combinations of genes which have never been seen in nature before, introducing unknowable risks of new allergies and the like.

The other method precisely manipulates genes one at a time, with far more predictable results.

People should be warned of the dangers of traditional breeding! How much longer are we going to leave these things to chance?
posted by Mokusatsu at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You shifted the goalposts to a government-mandated *warning* label. There are two kinds of labels under discussion here: a simple "factual" label like "contains no GMOs", and more detailed labeling that would enable the sourcing of ingredients. You contended that a label which would be protected by the first amendment would be "inherently misleading" if the government were to mandate it. You drew a clear distinction between voluntary versus mandatory labeling, but not the *content* of that labeling:

No, I didn't, and I think this is where we are inadvertently talking past one another. Anti-GMO types want to force producers to label their products IF they contain transgenic crops. To be more clear still, the two types of labels I am talking about are:

(1) Required labeling of goods derived from transgenic crops;
(2) Voluntary labeling of goods that contain no components derived from transgenic crops.

Either can be misleading. The first is inherently misleading because the fact that it would be mandatory conveys to the public that the government believes there is scientifically supported reason to label (though, as we agree, there is no such reason). The second, if short and plain, is not inherently misleading - it becomes inherently misleading only if done in the context of other efforts by anti-GMO types to mislead consumers and poison the well. It can also be misleading if the product itself bears some type of frightening bullshit about how much better non-GMO products are in some way,

I hope those are the categories you were talking about too.

We agree that (some?) labeling of the simplistic type is inherently misleading, apparently; we also agree that inherently misleading labels are not protected. What I don't get is how the same label could be inherently misleading when the government mandates it, but not when a corporation does it.

See my earlier responses above - whether a label is government-mandated or not does not make it inherently misleading per se. It is inherently misleading in this instance for the reasons set out earlier - to wit, because it implies that there is cause for concern.

So maybe your (unspoken) assumption is this: the government would only mandate the labeling of GMO-containing products, whereas corporations would do the reverse: only labeling non-GMO-containing products? And that's a relevant difference? I'm trying to understand the difference you're assuming between the government labels and voluntary labels that would make the government ones inherently misleading, but not the voluntary ones.

One is narrowly drawn private speech on a matter of public concern (however unfounded); one is coerced, required speech that adds to an already wrongheaded "debate". I don't like the consequences of either approach but there is a world of difference between voluntary and compelled statements.

Clearly whether it is voluntary or not has nothing to do with whether the label itself is inherently misleading (by any definition of inherent...).

I don't agree - I think required labeling prompts consumers to think "Why is this required?", and that's the problem where there is no real reason other than some people wanting to sell more organic apples at the expense of transgenic apples.

There's no reason to be dickish about it, especially if you're willing to admit to having been unclear. I'm trying to clarify your position, not "throw down". This isn't WWE.

I'm not being dickish and I didn't say "throw down" anywhere. I ENJOYED seeing your citations to case law because granular discussions of the law, particularly First Amendment jurisprudence, are rare on Metafilter. I was inviting you to show me some other cites if at that time you though we were not in agreement on the law, because it would be helpful to iron out that point of contention (especially because I don't think it currently exists!).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:45 AM on September 23, 2013


This whole labelling issue is not about consumer choice, it's a follow up to a scare campaign.

Even if it weren't about scare tactics, the idea that the government should require or even permit labeling about some characteristic that consumers care about isn't obvious. For the simple reason that consumers can care about characteristics that are not actually harmful or beneficial.

I mean, no matter how many consumers cared about it, I expect we would agree that a government should not require agribusinesses to label their grapes THESE GRAPES HANDLED BY NONWHITES when that's the case. I think most of us would even be uncomfortable allowing them to voluntarily label their grapes HANDLED BY WHITES ONLY, or to label their diamonds JEW-FREE FROM MINE TO STORE, even if it were completely true.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:48 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Penicillin is many orders of magnitude more effective at fucking up your gut than even the most ridiculous plausible concentrations of round-up ever could be.

Are you offering to drink a glass of Round-Up?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2013


Are you offering to drink a glass of Round-Up?

By "plausible" I assume he means the most you might actually get from Roundup as it is actually used.

So we're talking about dilute solutions of glyphosate, sprayed onto plants, left a couple of weeks exposed to weather and irrigation etc.

Roundup breaks down very rapidly in the environment, furthermore it is relatively benign stnf to begin with, compared to the alternatives.

I wouldn't drink a glass of roundup, but would I be willing to eat a plant product from a farm which used Roundup to control the weeds? Sure.
posted by Mokusatsu at 12:07 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the subject of Round-Up consumption...
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:10 PM on September 23, 2013


So you're not offering to drink a glass of Round-Up?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2013


I like the (implicit) logic that if someone isn't willing to drink a glass of $SUBSTANCE, they're acknowledging that it's harmful enough to merit warnings.

Here, blazecock, I've got a nice tall glass of soy sauce for you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:22 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're going to state categorically that Round-Up is harmless, even though it is known to cause chromosomal aberrations in farmers that handle it, then own up to that statement and drink a glass. Do it for SCIENCE!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 PM on September 23, 2013


If you're going to state categorically that Round-Up is harmless, even though it is known to cause chromosomal aberrations in farmers that handle it, then own up to that statement and drink a glass.

How do you get "state categorically that Round-Up is harmless" from "Penicillin is many orders of magnitude more effective at fucking up your gut than even the most ridiculous plausible concentrations of round-up ever could be"?
posted by Etrigan at 12:40 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


even though it is known to cause chromosomal aberrations in farmers that handle it

The amount of derp being thrown around glyphosate has unfortunately pushed any discussion of scientific evidence out of prominence in search engines. While I don't doubt that glyphosate has some negative human health effects at a given concentration and duration of exposure (it is a pesticide, after all), could you link the study or studies that specifically identify genetic effects?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:44 PM on September 23, 2013


I mean, no matter how many consumers cared about it, I expect we would agree that a government should not require agribusinesses to label their grapes THESE GRAPES HANDLED BY NONWHITES when that's the case. I think most of us would even be uncomfortable allowing them to voluntarily label their grapes HANDLED BY WHITES ONLY, or to label their diamonds JEW-FREE FROM MINE TO STORE, even if it were completely true.

*slow clap*

Some primo GM bananas there.

Yes, you're right, questioning corporate control of life itself is exactly the same as being racist.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:54 PM on September 23, 2013


Basically this comment is where the calls to argue in good faith went to die.

On preview, what he said. Jesus.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2013


Then you agree that the government should force firms to label their racial purity or lack thereof, if enough consumers care about that?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:00 PM on September 23, 2013


Clearly whether it is voluntary or not has nothing to do with whether the label itself is inherently misleading (by any definition of inherent...).

I don't agree - I think required labeling prompts consumers to think "Why is this required?", and that's the problem where there is no real reason other than some people wanting to sell more organic apples at the expense of transgenic apples.

If the same message would be interpreted one way in one context, and in another way in another context, then those meanings cannot be inherent. "Inherent" means that the misleadingness is part of the label's essential character. But that's ok; I think I understand what you mean now. We simply disagree on the definition of inherent.

I'm not being dickish and I didn't say "throw down" anywhere

Ok, I'll take you at your word, but you did say "throw down" ("But, hey, if you want to throw down some more case law, that's cool"). I apologize for understanding that by its argumentative definition, if you didn't mean it that way.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:02 PM on September 23, 2013


Here, blazecock, I've got a nice tall glass of soy sauce for you.

Cinnamon Challenge!
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:07 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Then you agree that the government should force firms to label their racial purity or lack thereof, if enough consumers care about that?

I believe the government should confiscate whatever it is you're smoking.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2013


While I don't doubt that glyphosate has some negative human health effects at a given concentration and duration of exposure (it is a pesticide, after all)

Glyphosate is a herbicide, not a pesticide.

could you link the study or studies that specifically identify genetic effects?

I'm on my phone, so I don't have access to my library proxy, but an article I looked at examined glyphosate exposure at coca farms and measured associated genotoxic effect. A couple other papers looked at the same kinds of exposures, but as with the chemical burden issue I mentioned earlier, there were other agrichemicals involved, which seems to make it harder to do empirical, control-based science. I'll see if I can dig up a link, but in the meantime, I would totally pay ideologues $20 to drink a glass of Round-Up – all in the name of science, of course. I'd offer O'Leary $20 in Canadian dollars to drink a glass. I think he's so vested in his pro-business worldview that he'd actually be game for it, too. Having fucked-up nuclei should be harmless – let's find out, Kevin!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:15 PM on September 23, 2013


The other method precisely manipulates genes one at a time, with far more predictable results.

This is false. Mutagen based GMO does not involve predictable anything, and since it is the strawman that the pro-GMO side keeps raising to try and make transgenic GMO seem like nothing more than traditional breeding it's amusing that you are choosing this argument.

In the end, the pro-GMO group has a very severe case of (carefully engineered, btw) overconfidence when the reality is they barely understand anything.
posted by rr at 1:16 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Glyphosate is a herbicide, not a pesticide.

Yes, I've also called it "glyphosphate" above - short on coffee today.

I'll see if I can dig up a link

I'd appreciate it.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2013


Inspector.Gadget: "While I don't doubt that glyphosate has some negative human health effects at a given concentration and duration of exposure (it is a pesticide, after all)"

You know how I know you haven't done much background reading on glyphosate?
posted by Big_B at 2:01 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon: "I'm on my phone, so I don't have access to my library proxy, but an article I looked at examined glyphosate exposure at coca farms and measured associated genotoxic effect. A couple other papers looked at the same kinds of exposures, but as with the chemical burden issue I mentioned earlier, there were other agrichemicals involved, which seems to make it harder to do empirical, control-based science."
Do you mean this?
Genotoxicity studies performed in the ecuadorian population. Mol Biol Int.
Genotoxicity studies in Ecuador have been carried out during the past two decades. The focuses of the research were mainly the area of environmental issues, where the populations have been accidentally exposed to contaminants and the area of occupational exposure of individuals at the workplace. This paper includes studies carried out in the population of the Amazon region, a zone known for its rich biodiversity as well as for the ecological damage caused by oil spills and chemical sprayings whose consequences continue to be controversial. Additionally, we show the results of studies comprised of individuals occupationally exposed to toxic agents in two very different settings: flower plantation workers exposed to pesticide mixtures and X-ray exposure of hospital workers. The results from these studies confirm that genotoxicity studies can help evaluate current conditions and prevent further damage in the populations exposed to contaminants. As such, they are evidence of the need for biomonitoring employers at risk, stricter law enforcement regarding the use of pesticides, and increasingly conscientious oil extraction activities.
Because its recent but there is a reason this review, which mostly just quotes Séralini's bullshit, is published in a journal with no impact factor. Or do you mean this?
Evaluation of DNA damage in an Ecuadorian population exposed to glyphosate
We analyzed the consequences of aerial spraying with glyphosate added to a surfactant solution in the northern part of Ecuador. A total of 24 exposed and 21 unexposed control individuals were investigated using the comet assay. The results showed a higher degree of DNA damage in the exposed group (comet length = 35.5μm) compared to the control group (comet length = 25.94 μm). These results suggest that in the formulation used during aerial spraying glyphosate had a genotoxic effect on the exposed individuals.
Because it uses a test for DNA damage that isn't at all appropriate to this context and this later study has a fuck ton more statistical power, measures a far more sensitive population with more appropriate assays and has thankfully failed to find anything scary,
Regional Differences in Time to Pregnancy Among Fertile Women from Five Colombian Regions with Different use of Glyphosate
The objective of this study was to test whether there was an association between the use of glyphosate when applied by aerial spray for the eradication of illicit crops (cocaine and poppy) and time to pregnancy (TTP) among fertile women. A retrospective cohort study (with an ecological exposure index) of first pregnancies was undertaken in 2592 fertile Colombian women from 5 regions with different uses of glyphosate. Women were interviewed regarding potential reproductive, lifestyle, and work history predictors of TTP, which was measured in months. Fecundability odds ratios (fOR) were estimated using a discrete time analogue of Cox's proportional hazard model. There were differences in TTP between regions. In the final multivariate model, the main predictor was the region adjusted by irregular relationship with partner, maternal age at first pregnancy, and, marginally, coffee consumption and self-perception of water pollution. Boyacá, a region with traditional crops and. recently, illicit crops without glyphosate eradication spraying (manual eradication), displayed minimal risk and was the reference region. Other regions, including Sierra Nevada (control area, organic agriculture), Putumayo and Nariño (illicit crops and intensive eradication spray program), and Valle del Cauca, demonstrated greater risk of longer TTP, with the highest risk for Valle del Cauca (fOR 0.15, 95% CI 0.12, 0.18), a sugar-cane region with a history of use of glyphosate and others chemicals for more than 30 yr. The reduced fecundability in some regions was not associated with the use of glyphosate for eradication spraying. The observed ecological differences remain unexplained and may be produced by varying exposures to environmental factors, history of contraceptive programs in the region, or psychological distress. Future studies examining these or other possible causes are needed.
This paper though is probably a lot more relevant,
Cancer Incidence among Glyphosate-Exposed Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study
Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that is one of the most frequently applied pesticides in the world. Although there has been little consistent evidence of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity from in vitro and animal studies, a few epidemiologic reports have indicated potential health effects of glyphosate. We evaluated associations between glyphosate exposure and cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a prospective cohort study of 57,311 licensed pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina. Detailed information on pesticide use and other factors was obtained from a self-administered questionnaire completed at time of enrollment (1993–1997). Among private and commercial applicators, 75.5% reported having ever used glyphosate, of which > 97% were men. In this analysis, glyphosate exposure was defined as a) ever personally mixed or applied products containing glyphosate; b) cumulative lifetime days of use, or “cumulative exposure days” (years of use × days/year); and c) intensity-weighted cumulative exposure days (years of use × days/year × estimated intensity level). Poisson regression was used to estimate exposure–response relations between glyphosate and incidence of all cancers combined and 12 relatively common cancer subtypes. Glyphosate exposure was not associated with cancer incidence overall or with most of the cancer subtypes we studied. There was a suggested association with multiple myeloma incidence that should be followed up as more cases occur in the AHS. Given the widespread use of glyphosate, future analyses of the AHS will allow further examination of long-term health effects, including less common cancers.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:11 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Traditional breeding practices wouldn't allow you to insert genes from, say, a glow in the dark jellyfish into a chicken, right? Genetic modification in the lab can and has made such things possible, no? That GM methods are not effectively identical to traditional selective breeding practices in agriculture seems pretty evident in at least one case. As consumers, we all have a legitimate interest in information about the production methods behind the foods we consume, so that we can make informed choices based not only on health and safety concerns but political ones. We have a right to make political choices at the checkout counter, too.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:17 PM on September 23, 2013


As consumers, we all have a legitimate interest in information about the production methods behind the foods we consume, so that we can make informed choices based not only on health and safety concerns but political ones. We have a right to make political choices at the checkout counter, too.

We do, but I sure as hell don't want the government deciding which political information is mandatory on labels.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:22 PM on September 23, 2013


rr: "This is false. Mutagen based GMO does not involve predictable anything, and since it is the strawman that the pro-GMO side keeps raising to try and make transgenic GMO seem like nothing more than traditional breeding it's amusing that you are choosing this argument."

You're just playing dishonest games with semantics. Both chemical and radioactive mutagens have been used as part of breeding techniques since the 1920s and are not currently considered to be a GMO process. GM techniques are sometimes but not usually employed in combination with mutation breeding, for the most part GM techniques makes mutation breeding and atomic gardens unnecessary.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:26 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: "If you're going to state categorically that Round-Up is harmless, even though it is known to cause chromosomal aberrations in farmers that handle it, then own up to that statement and drink a glass. Do it for SCIENCE!" ... "but in the meantime, I would totally pay ideologues $20 to drink a glass of Round-Up – all in the name of science, of course."

So you're saying that if I dilute Round-Up into a glass of milk in the maximum concentration allowed for drinking water and gulp it down on camera you'll open up your memail long enough for me to send you my PayPal information and then send me $20? Or are you going to chicken out and say that it must be a glass of raw glyphosate powder or just do the expected and ignore your bold statement?
posted by Blasdelb at 2:44 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am going to drink every concoction on this 1920s Cocktail Round-Up, I better get my $20.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:52 PM on September 23, 2013


Do you mean this?

The following research suggests that there is a measurable, if variable, increase in nuclear damage caused by glyphosate exposure in some tests, while other results are complicated by the compounded use of other agricultural chemicals:

Biomonitoring of genotoxic risk in agricultural workers from five colombian regions: association to occupational exposure to glyphosate

The baseline level of chromosomal damage, evaluated as frequency of BNMN [micronuclei per binucleated cell], was associated with the different regions considered in our study. The frequency of BNMN before spraying was also associated with region, gender, and age. Gender difference in the background incidence of MN in peripheral leukocytes, with the frequency being consistently higher in females, and a strong correlation between MN frequency and increasing age are well documented (Bonassi et al., 1995, 2001; Bolognesi et al., 1997a)…

The frequency of BNMN increased after spraying with glyphosate but not consistently. The results obtained with a second sampling, carried out immediately after the glyphosate spraying, showed a statistically significant increase in frequency of BNMN in the three regions where glyphosate was sprayed. However, this was not consistent with the rates of application use in the regions. The increase in frequency of BNMN in Valle (application rate = 1 kg a.e. glyphosate/ha) was greater than that in Nariño and Putumayo (3.69 kg a.e. glyphosate/ha).


While damage is said to be transient (not sure how the authors define this), it appears to increase where the herbicide is used.

As for this:

So you're saying that if I dilute Round-Up into a glass of milk in the maximum concentration allowed for drinking water and gulp it down on camera you'll open up your memail long enough for me to send you my PayPal information and then send me $20?

No, I'm saying that if you drink a glass of Round-Up straight off the shelf, since you and others practically say it is harmless, then I will pay you $20. I am honestly not interested in any post hoc qualifications: I just want to see you walk the talk. Let me know if you want to drink a glass of Round-Up, no "dilution" or any other silly word games of yours, and we can work out the payment details.

I hope that you don't take me up on this offer, because I don't think people should hurt themselves out of pride, but if you are a Barry Marshall and you have the courage of your convictions, then I will pay you the $20, as promised.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:00 PM on September 23, 2013


I am honestly not interested in any post hoc qualifications

You mean other than the one your entire challenge is predicated on?
posted by Etrigan at 3:05 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


BP, I'm pro-voluntary-labeling and you're coming across just insanely fighty here. I mean seriously, drinking a glass of roundup straight off the shelf (which roundup? which shelf) is as related to Blasdelb's original claim as the Cinnamon Challenge is to eating a damn snickerdoodle -- less so, even.
posted by KathrynT at 3:13 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great, now I'm craving snickerdoodles.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:15 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will only pay $1 for the cinnamon challenge. Mainly because no one will ever fail it any better than Miss GloZell.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:19 PM on September 23, 2013


KathrynT, I read that as "eating a clam snickerdoodle," for which I would totally kick in $5.
posted by Etrigan at 3:28 PM on September 23, 2013


BP, that has got to be the dumbest point you have ever made on Metafilter.

Acetaminophen is safe, but you couldn't pay me to consume a whole bottle of it, because it would kill me.

Dosage matters.
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:32 PM on September 23, 2013


"Dosage matters."

To have a decent 50/50 shot of killing me, weighing in at 72 kilograms, I'd theoretically need to drink a hair more than three standard wine glasses of the stuff but clinical experience from attempted suicides, the ineffectiveness of which I guess we can gratefully thank the scaremongering for, shows that it'd be unlikely to work as the stuff would burn and cause me to throw it up. 13mL or two and a half teaspoons is the lowest amount likely to actually do anything, and 130 μL, two orders of magnitude lower than that, is what is currently thought to be safe for my phat self in a day.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:11 PM on September 23, 2013


You know how I know you haven't done much background reading on glyphosate?

The fact you consider a quickly corrected and inconsequential mistake made in haste akin to considered and willful ignorance reflects more on you than on me.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:37 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


BP: I'll do it if you take a full bottle of Excedrin. Maybe wash it down with a gallon of milk.
posted by kafziel at 4:45 PM on September 23, 2013


[Folks we are officially done with the "I challenge you to do something that may or may not be dangerous" line of discussion. Take it to MeMail or just leave it alone, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:10 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're just playing dishonest games with semantics. Both chemical and radioactive mutagens have been used as part of breeding techniques since the 1920s and are not currently considered to be a GMO process. GM techniques are sometimes but not usually employed in combination with mutation breeding, for the most part GM techniques makes mutation breeding and atomic gardens unnecessary

Scroll back in the thread. The claim that this is "no different" has been made a few times.

I agree with you that these can be used less (how much less, I think, is debatable in practice).

In any case, again, we have a very shallow understanding. You are overconfident. How many of the papers that were published have results that are even reproducible? (Hint: the situation is *terrible*.)
posted by rr at 8:46 PM on September 23, 2013


This thread is making me reconsider my plan to post a recent 9/11 documentary (even though it was good enough for Colorado Public Television) cause if folks get this het up about GMO round here at Mefi, hell, there'd be death threats flying round that thread within 10 comments!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:50 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The lack of fat in the diet may still be a show-stopper - but perhaps there is a study showing the rice substituion alone was able to raise blood serum levels to beyond 100% rda)

and the not answer:

Here you go,
β-Carotene in Golden Rice is as good as β-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children
Background: Golden Rice (GR) has been genetically engineered to be rich in β-carotene for use as a source of vitamin A.


This doesn't seem to address the actual lack of fat in the diet. If there was enough fat from other sources fat/fat free β-Carotene won't matter.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:10 AM on September 24, 2013


convinced by Blasdelb's patient, detailed, impeccably sourced demolition of your position?

That must be the one where Blasdelb said
The concern is that, if cultivated in the kind of huge plantations that we currently grow paper trees in, they would also spread massive quantities of pollen. In other systems this wouldn't matter at all as the inherently weaker seeds that result from wild contamination would just be strongly selected against and then die out. However a generation or two of trees is a big deal and, while permanent damage would be remain impossible and the gene would not be able to spread further, if used just wrong these kinds of strains could do serious harm to nearby forests that would only become a problem 20 years later.


(The 2009 data does a fine job of showing the 2001 links data about vit A per gram is wrong BTW)

And if you're not convinced, is there any evidence that would persuade you? Or is your negative opinion of GMO basically unfalsifiable?

That question was already asked 1st of another who came in and made the claim "There is no evidence that GMO's are harmful in any way".

Are you willing to hold both sides feet to the fire?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:33 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Roundup breaks down very rapidly in the environment,

Manufacturers claim that Roundup, the glyphosate-based herbicide used on most GM crops, breaks down quickly and harmlessly in the environment. But research shows that this is untrue:

In soil, glyphosate has a half-life (the length of time taken to lose half its biological activity) of between 3 and 215 days, depending on soil conditions.85,86 In water, glyphosate’s half-life is 35–63 days.87
Although glyphosate binds well to soil particles, the Danish National Pesticide Monitoring Program showed that glyphosate and its main breakdown product AMPA are washed out of the root zone of clay soils in concentrations that exceed the acceptable quantities for drinking water (0.1 µg/l), with maximum values of over 5 µg/l.88
Glyphosate was detected in between 60 and 100% of air and rain samples taken in the American Midwest during the crop growing season in the American Midwest, where Roundup Ready GM crops are widely planted.89
Glyphosate and its main breakdown product, AMPA, were detected in streams in the American Midwest during the crop growing season.90
Glyphosate is toxic to earthworms91 and reduces bird populations due to habitat changes.92
Roundup is highly toxic to amphibians. A study in a natural setting found that Roundup application at the rate recommended by the manufacturer eliminated two species of tadpoles and nearly exterminated a third species, resulting in a 70% decline in the species richness of tadpoles. Contrary to common belief, the presence of soil does not reduce the chemical’s effects.93 Further experiments with lower concentrations, well within levels to be expected in the environment, still caused 40% amphibian mortality.94
Claims that Roundup and glyphosate are safe for human health and the environment have been overturned in courts in the United States95 and France. The French court forced Monsanto to withdraw advertising claims that Roundup is biodegradable and leaves the soil clean after use.96

Regulatory bodies around the world have not caught up with the state of the science on Roundup and glyphosate. Instead they continue to rely on decades-old studies, mostly sponsored by manufacturers, to claim it is safe. An objective up-to-date review of Roundup and glyphosate’s persistence and toxicity is long overdue.

posted by rough ashlar at 7:43 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Inspector.Gadget: "The fact you consider a quickly corrected and inconsequential mistake made in haste akin to considered and willful ignorance reflects more on you than on me."

Yes, it proves that I have a sense of humor and you are just some jerk on the internet. I wasn't being willfully ignorant - I actually accepted that I was (sort of) incorrect. Either way I'm not going to argue with the what we're labeling as the metafilter "Pro-GMO" lobby here, because clearly you guys are deft at twisting people's comments around. And I was labeled anti-GMO above - I'm not anti-GMO, I'm pro-science (twist away!), and if the science says there's no risk here, then great! I deal with cleanup of compounds EVERY DAY that we thought were perfectly safe for you, and now we're spending millions trying to clean it up. Some think there is enough risk analysis that's been done, others don't. I don't pretend that I'm on either side. But when people like you come in here and twist this into "you're just like anti-vaxxers!" then you can take a flying leap.

Oh, and this says more about you than it does me.
posted by Big_B at 8:58 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: I have a sense of humor and your are just some jerk on the internet
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:59 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh.
posted by Big_B at 9:00 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, it proves that I have a sense of humor and you are just some jerk on the internet.

For the record: totally not how it came off.
posted by Etrigan at 9:05 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's just like, your opinion, man.
posted by Big_B at 9:08 AM on September 24, 2013


rough ashlar: "That question was already asked 1st of another who came in and made the claim "There is no evidence that GMO's are harmful in any way".

Are you willing to hold both sides feet to the fire?
"

This is an explicitly, profoundly, falsifiable position. All anyone would need to do is show evidence of harm that is somehow intrinsic to GMOs, which has yet to happen.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:48 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is an explicitly, profoundly, falsifiable position. All anyone would need to do is show evidence of harm that is somehow intrinsic to GMOs, which has yet to happen.

Um, no. What we would need to show is that you cannot trust the motives or judgement or practices of the entities that are responsible for GMO safety because in practice that is what matters, not "intrinsic" danger.
posted by rr at 6:57 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So we ARE abandoning science then, and relying on fear mongering and woo?

That's kind of a shame.
posted by Artw at 7:55 PM on September 24, 2013


You can trust or not the evidence that GMO is not harmful. But if you want to show it is harmful in some way, you need to show that it is harmful in some way.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:55 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


(but I gather what you are actually saying is that we don't know, and we need more time to notice some unexpected things that could crop up. That isn't untrue, but you have to deploy safe seeming beneficial new technologies some time, right? We can't test for everything.)
posted by Drinky Die at 7:58 PM on September 24, 2013


. What we would need to show is that you cannot trust the motives or judgement or practices of the entities

You probably don't trusts banks either, but I bet you have a checking account. "I don't like these guys" is not a convincing reason to not use a technological innovation that you seem unwilling to claim is actually dangerous.
posted by spaltavian at 8:08 PM on September 24, 2013


I am finding this such a bizarre experience. I'm so pro-science that I was talking to co-workers today about plasmids and the interesting ideas around the problems (hostile) plasmids pose to bacteria and how they deal with them.

The problems that I am noting are very straightforward. They are not 'woo' and they are not 'fud.' To claim that is to be deliberately, profusely overconfident and frankly credulous. How about you spend a few months reading RetractionWatch before you conclude that a few industry-funded studies and shill quotes based on them prove anything.

The studies are thin, need reproduction, and need to look for things that may be outside the scope of the studies (of which there is PLENTY). This is not an anti-science position any more than noting that, for example, the pharma industry (science!) is rife with fraud and unbelievably poor standards of reporting (report the good results! bury the bad results!).

That you are so willing to take the word of companies that can *objectively* be said to have *at best* questionalble histories and even more questionable ethics for something as important as control over the food chain is amazing to me and is basically one of the most anti-science positions there is. You cannot consider yourself "pro science" if you want to avoid - you know - actually *doing* the science.

We are profoundly ignorant of many things around nutrition in particular and have made a series of gross errors and bad decisions in this space for at least 40 years - almost nothing in nutritional science is actual science and the long-term biological effects of compounds in the water supply and food chain are real issues where we have played fast and loose.

I can already hear the "but but but what about BPA|etc.... we just went ahead with those!"

That we have played fast and loose with, say, PFOA and BPA does not mean we should play fast and loose with GMO.
posted by rr at 6:58 PM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wish I could favorite rr's comment directly above another, say, 100 times. So many people in this thread need to read and consider that comment. Because the arrogance of so many here who argue from a position of "I believe in science" is truly astonishing (and sad) and rr's comment nails it on the HEAD.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:57 PM on September 25, 2013


Personally, I still believe the FDA on BPA. ;)

Is BPA safe?

Yes. Based on FDA’s ongoing safety review of scientific evidence, the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging. People are exposed to low levels of BPA because, like many packaging components, very small amounts of BPA may migrate from the food packaging into foods or beverages.

posted by Drinky Die at 10:06 PM on September 25, 2013


Is there any evidence at all that radio and chemo-mutated organisms are safer than GMOs?

I don't think we should be playing fast and loose with these things. The genetic modifications of traditionally modified organisms are far more extensive and less controlled. Why aren't people up in arms about this?
posted by Mokusatsu at 10:24 PM on September 25, 2013


Why aren't people up in arms about this?

Seemingly, because they feel safe and secure under the steadfastly benevolent guardianship of the nice folks at Monsanto, Syngenta, etc. Those friendly, reassuring, but most importantly, SCIENTIFIC! corporate overlords who have your health and well being as their primary motivation. You, too, should just relax and put your trust in them! When have they ever steered you wrong?

actually, don't answer that last question: i ain't got all day, y'know
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:14 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The genetically modified hamburgers are flying thick and fast in here.
posted by Etrigan at 4:10 AM on September 26, 2013


I'll be the test case on BPA: I've been exposed so much by reusing water/pop bottles & microwaving plastic takeout containers (cheaper than Tupperware!), if anyone gets cancer it will be me. I should set up a website: "Does jb have cancer (yet)?"
posted by jb at 6:14 AM on September 26, 2013


"The problems that I am noting are very straightforward. They are not 'woo' and they are not 'fud.' To claim that is to be deliberately, profusely overconfident and frankly credulous. How about you spend a few months reading RetractionWatch before you conclude that a few industry-funded studies and shill quotes based on them prove anything.

The studies are thin, need reproduction, and need to look for things that may be outside the scope of the studies (of which there is PLENTY). This is not an anti-science position any more than noting that, for example, the pharma industry (science!) is rife with fraud and unbelievably poor standards of reporting (report the good results! bury the bad results!).
"
The problems you are noting in this thread are either vague and ill-informed or not actually related to GMOs. Just because you may not be familiar with the truly excessively massive and expensive body of literature dedicated to studying questions relating to the safety of genetic modification techniques in food, which have been uninteresting and trivial for decades, does not mean it is exclusively industry funded or lacks redundancy. There is research being done on GMO safety by companies that is commissioned with and then reported to the USDA, FDA, or EPA depending on context and then published by them in giant reports as part of the regulatory process, which has its advantages being free to society but also has obvious problems related to trust. There is also research done directly by USDA/FDA/EPA staff that is often appropriately redundant and gets published by the relevant agency in those same giant reports, as well as research being done by academic institutions commissioned by all sorts of involved public agencies as well as research that is independently conceived and conducted that then gets published in the academic literature and cited in those gigantic reports. If you want to pick a plant and a modification I'll be happy to pull down the reports for you, they're all publicly available but unfortunately that doesn't mean they're easy to find.
"That you are so willing to take the word of companies that can *objectively* be said to have *at best* questionalble histories and even more questionable ethics for something as important as control over the food chain is amazing to me and is basically one of the most anti-science positions there is. You cannot consider yourself "pro science" if you want to avoid - you know - actually *doing* the science."
We don't really need to take their word for much of anything, but the ironic thing is that even fuckers like Monsanto among the most trust-able grownup voices in all of this, the opposite of either Rachel Parent or Kevin O'Leary. No one with half a brain and a basic understanding of the issues involved gives a fuck about what Greenpeace says about anything without being paid to do so because they lie constantly, and don't even bother to stop when they're caught doing so, but Monsanto's seed division actually has credibility worth losing. They don't get caught in lies, they actually know what they're talking about, and they also know better than to fuck up the current regulatory compromise with anything that would be a scandal with anything real to it. Thankfully there is more to credibility that matters than whatever the current media narrative is, but again, if you ask a narrow enough question I can show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes for the embarrassingly ridiculous amount and quality of research that has already been done on these now largely trivial questions.
"We are profoundly ignorant of many things around nutrition in particular and have made a series of gross errors and bad decisions in this space for at least 40 years - almost nothing in nutritional science is actual science and the long-term biological effects of compounds in the water supply and food chain are real issues where we have played fast and loose."
If you're looking for things that have really affected the nutritional quality of our food crops in ways we are only beginning to understand the magnitude of, you are looking for the Hybrid seed business model. We really have no idea how much more nutritious our food was before the 1920s when farmers stopped breeding their own varieties of crops, started buying commercially bred seeds with better characteristics for farming than they could breed themselves, and consumers started to demand consistency. Even if the one variety of tomato we all eat today were more nutritious than any of the tomatoes people ate 100 years ago, and we know the opposite is true, the homogeneous population of tomatoes we currently eat today is for damn sure less nutritious than the diverse population of tomatoes our more food secure ancestors would eat when taken in aggregate. The same is true for most all of our other crops; where bread used to be made, by necessity, from a huge population of diverse local strains of grains where today the hybrid seed model has reduced that to, generously, around a dozen.

GMOs are currently, with notable exceptions like Golden Rice, only developed according to this model, making it stronger, but that doesn't need to be the case. For example, the biggest reason why there is only one tomato on your grocery shelf is also the reason why it tastes like shit. Ripe tomatoes are practically impossible to market on a more meaningful level than the back of a pickup truck even with modern logistics because they get soft, smush, and mold. The current industrial model is to pick hard unripe green tomatoes and expose them to ethylene gas, which softens them and makes them appear ripe, just before sale - but there is a another way. Using GM techniques, the lovably unwashed UC-Davis hippies who formed Calgene in a garage managed turn this model on its head by simply turning off the pathway that lead to the natural production of ethylene, allowing tomatoes to be picked while actually ripe and delicious and healthy but not soft.

There were other problems with the company, namely that they were scientists with little idea of how to farm tomatoes and ethylene production wasn't turned of as strongly as they had hoped, but the reason they ended up having to sell out their business and patents to Monsanto without being able to give it another shot with more experience is all of the bullshit FUD that Monsanto only ends up benefiting from. The trait they were developing could have trivially been breed into hundreds of varieties. Imagine every grocery section in the country with dozens of commercially viable heirloom tomatoes that would be actually fucking ripe and actually fucking taste like something. This is what GM techniques could do for us as a society if only we would trust the scientists who actually understand them to use them in creative ways to benefit us rather than shutting down everything that isn't so big and indifferent that it need not give a shit.
"Seemingly, because they feel safe and secure under the steadfastly benevolent guardianship of the nice folks at Monsanto, Syngenta, etc. Those friendly, reassuring, but most importantly, SCIENTIFIC! corporate overlords who have your health and well being as their primary motivation. You, too, should just relax and put your trust in them! When have they ever steered you wrong?"
flapjax, everyone in this thread fucking hates Monsanto - even if some of us have reason to hate fuckers like Cargill and DuPont more - but only some of us strengthen their business model by ensuring that they and the consumer indifferent fuckers like them are the only ones who can compete. If you want to actually hurt them you can add your voice to demanding the consumer focused GMOs they can provide like smaller companies can.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:51 AM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


"If you want to actually hurt them you can add your voice to demanding the consumer focused GMOs they can provide like smaller companies can."

...and I've missed the edit window, that should read as can't provide like smaller companies can.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:04 AM on September 26, 2013


Also, thankfully, the future is still coming (Here is a more detailed talk for biologists and a more detailed talk for computer science people) and Monsanto's current stranglehold on the industry will rapidly become obsolete as these techniques become more reliable, cheaper, more precisely controllable, and more accessible to smaller labs. We actually, in spite of ourselves, have an opportunity to learn from the economic mistakes of the last two decades and prevent them from owning the next generation of the world's most technologically advanced seeds by taking control of it ourselves.

There is no reason why institutes like the IRRI shouldn't be able to dictate the terms of the next global market for seeds for the benefit of all mankind - aside from how our debates are so childish that they're just 14 year olds and hacks scoring points.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:28 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if we label GMO foods, what gets labeled? How would we decide? Where is the cutoff? Because, as discussed above, "genetically modified" is essentially a meaningless term. So, does anyone who is for labeling have a suggestion for what gets labeled and what doesn't... and more importantly, why?
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:28 PM on September 28, 2013


"Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. If new genetically engineered forms of corn and soybeans tolerant of 2,4-D are approved, the volume of 2,4-D sprayed could drive herbicide usage upward by another approximate 50%. The magnitude of increases in herbicide use on herbicide-resistant hectares has dwarfed the reduction in insecticide use on Bt crops over the past 16 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future."
http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24/abstract
posted by dougiedd at 11:47 PM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


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