Unhealthy Fixation
July 15, 2015 3:32 PM   Subscribe

 
It's a great article, thanks for posting it.
posted by McSly at 3:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Comprehensively makes the case that I've tried in vain to make in any number of conversations. I'll be bookmarking this to share, thanks.
posted by saturday_morning at 3:46 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


What if I'm ok with GMOs, but I'm against Monsanto's bullshit?
posted by Molly Razor at 3:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [56 favorites]


What if I'm ok with GMOs, but I'm against Monsanto's bullshit?

Then you can come sit by me.
posted by lalex at 3:50 PM on July 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


What would be better for addressing what concerns legitimately exist? Don't label the GMOs, just label privately patented foods ("Contains Monstanto Wheat")
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Reading the article, I saw a lot of the same rhetorical gambits that I associate with controversial attack articles. I'm not saying that the facts reported in the article are wrong, but I am saying that I don't really feel like my intelligence is respected and the rhetoric doesn't really reassure me that the author did good research himself. The article reads more like a forgone conclusion than investigative journalism (though I certainly recognize that at a certain point this is what you need to do).

Also, FWIW, from my interested party perspective as a foodie and former scientist, what I understand of the motives behind GMO labeling efforts is that there is some effort to try to keep big agribusiness responsible to research/production/deployment ethics which are, to be honest, abysmal these days.
posted by kalessin at 3:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Anti-GMO hysteria is the climate change denial of the Left.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:52 PM on July 15, 2015 [36 favorites]




What if I'm ok with GMOs, but I'm against Monsanto's bullshit?

Well, then you need to ask for a label besides "Contains GMO."

Since 2012 the top four companies on Greenpeace’s list of global pesticide villains—Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF—have spent about $2 billion to move into the biopesticide market. Another agrochemical giant, DuPont, has invested $6 billion. If you’re boycotting GMOs or buying organic to escape Bt and fight corporate agriculture, think again. Monsanto is one step ahead of you.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:55 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


The promotion of GMO is full of slander and misrepresentation. As the article itself states, "there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents." So, then, why the contemptuous dismissal of these valid concerns by lumping them together with others?
posted by No Robots at 3:55 PM on July 15, 2015 [24 favorites]


Because for too long the "frankenfoods" nonsense has been at the forefront of attacks on GMOs.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


And yet, how is it any less ridiculous to claim that GMOs are safe?

Genetically modified organisms are not by definition "safe," and consumers have a right to be informed about the products they buy, even if you disagree with how (you assume) that information informs their choices.

How has big food has managed to gin up such widespread opposition to labeling requirements?
posted by ernielundquist at 3:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


If GMOs have not been proven dangerous to human health, it does not follow that consumers should not be able to reliably identify foods that do and do not contain GMOs. Not only is the argument specious, the idea that consumers should be kept on a need-to-know basis regarding any aspect of the food production chain is sinister.
posted by ormon nekas at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


So, then, why the contemptuous dismissal of these valid concerns by lumping them together with others?

Because the ongoing Stosselification of pop-science journalism is excellent clickbait.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


From Wikipedia:

"...the law of unintended consequences has come to be used as an adage or idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system tends to create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. Akin to Murphy's law, it is commonly used as a wry or humorous warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them.

"Possible causes of unintended consequences include the world's inherent complexity... human stupidity, self-deception, failure to account for human nature...

"As a sub-component of complexity (in the scientific sense), the chaotic nature of the universe—and especially its quality of having small, apparently insignificant changes with far-reaching effects (e.g., the butterfly effect)—applies."

"... almost all environmental problems, from chemical pollution to global warming, are the unexpected consequences of the application of modern technologies... Because of the complexity of ecosystems, deliberate changes to an ecosystem or other environmental interventions will often have (usually negative) unintended consequences. Sometimes, these effects cause permanent irreversible changes."
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:07 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Genetically modified organisms are not by definition "safe," *

*citation needed.
posted by Justinian at 4:12 PM on July 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


If GMOs have not been proven dangerous to human health, it does not follow that consumers should not be able to reliably identify foods that do and do not contain GMOs.

Then why not label them for Potassium? Then why not label them for Carbon?

Surely, if dihydrogen monoxide is so "safe", putting a distinct and visible label on every food item should bring no objections from an educated person!
posted by sideshow at 4:14 PM on July 15, 2015 [29 favorites]


... almost all environmental problems, from chemical pollution to global warming, are the unexpected consequences of the application of modern technologies...

That's ridiculous. They're not unexpected consequences, they're consequences the polluters didn't care about. It's not like factory owners had no idea the shit they were pumping into the air and water and soil was dangerous, and were totally shocked and sorry when they found out what they were doing.

Almost all problems today aren't "unexpected consequences", they're consequences of people not giving a shit about the consequences of their actions until they're forced to.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:19 PM on July 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


how is it any less ridiculous to claim that GMOs are safe?

They're not "safe" any more than anything else we do today is intrinsically safe. It's just fearmongering to say "GMO could be dangerous therefore we must be warned of it". All things can be dangerous, but that doesn't mean they are.

What if a farmer dusted their fields with cyanide to kill pests? That would be unsafe. Would that situation be fixed by a label saying "Treated with pesticide" put on 99% of the food products we buy?

What if a farmer harvested their crops using a tractor that leaked motor oil all over the field? That would be unsafe. Would we solve that problem by putting a label on the food saying "Harvested by a mechanical device" and asking Whole Foods to only stock hand-picked food?

What if a farmer fertilized their crops with an unsafe synthetic fertilizer? Do we solve that by labeling foods with "Made in fields treated with fertilizer"? What meaningful information could be gained by that label?

Farmers could start breeding a variety of some food that had more naturally-occurring toxins. After long enough, we could breed a variety of corn that was poisonous to eat. At that point, would we make a label "Produced via human-guided natural selection" and affix it to everything in the grocery store?

How is GMO different from any of these? There are many, many, many safe GMO products out there, as shown by the evidence. Tomorrow, someone could make a dangerous GMO crop, but that is a product of the outcome, not the method.
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:20 PM on July 15, 2015 [75 favorites]


I can reliably identify foods that contain water. Likewise the potassium content of various food ingredients is easy to find out. I cannot reliably identify foods that contain GMO ingredients (except obviously by scrupulously avoiding ambiguously-labelled foods imported from countries that allow the silent use of GMOs, as I am far from alone in doing).

Like many people, anyway, my objections are not health-based. The reasoned arguments are ecological (the reminder on unintended consequences is relevant) and political (I object to the approach to agriculture that goes with GMO crops today, on a number of grounds). I will also freely admit to some irrational revulsion, which I do not see why I should be tricked into ignoring.
posted by ormon nekas at 4:22 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Surely, if dihydrogen monoxide is so "safe", putting a distinct and visible label on every food stuff should be the FDA's highest priority!!!!

It's real hard for me to assume good intent when these kinds of comments are made. This special mixture of sarcasm and insult is very difficult to put down and back away slowly from.
posted by kalessin at 4:24 PM on July 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


I'm in the position of agreeing 100% that GMOs are safe and the campaign against them is dumb AND thinking that they ought to be labeled.

The thing is, all my damn life, I've heard this fantastic line of bullshit about the invisible hand of the market, and how regulations are bad because we ought to allow consumers the choice of deciding on their own whether to consume tetratrichloralmethylate or whatever the fuck if it makes their soda $.03 cheaper ... and now that that same logic might result in slightly lower profits for big agribusiness, suddenly the market can't be relied on to choose? Fuck that.

People have dumb preferences. That's true.

But you live by the dumb preference sword, you die by the dumb preference sword.
posted by Myca at 4:24 PM on July 15, 2015 [45 favorites]


Surely, if dihydrogen monoxide is so "safe", putting a distinct and visible label on every food item should bring no objections from an educated person!

Aren't food labels already required to tell you the ingredients list?
posted by 23skidoo at 4:25 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am always amazed at the stridency with which people will attack GMO labelling in these threads. Whose livelihood is endangered by indulging consumers’ preferences against a new technology? There are religious objections too.
posted by ormon nekas at 4:25 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Genetically modified organisms are not by definition "safe,"

"They" aren't safe by any definition. "GMOs are safe" is an epistemologically and scientifically reckless statement, and is by far the most absurd claim made by any side in the whole debate.

GMOs are safe. Someone says this, I want to say: Which GMOs? All of them? Some of them? Are they all the same? Have they all been subjected to long term, randomized, placebo controlled double-blind trials? Short term trials? Any studying? How do you know, how do I find out? Did you look them all up before you said they were all safe? Who's done the research? Not me. And, what meaning of safe? Cancer, allergies, monoculture, ecocide, biopiracy - safe along all these vectors? How do you know?

There are thousands of varieties of GMOs out there and there are more being invented all the time. "GMOs are safe." How do you know that? Is it because you checked the gene deletions & insertions and, being a geneticist, satisfied yourself that they're a-OK? Or is it because the I Fucking Love Science facebook page said so? By what means does any person gain the epistemic confidence to say "GMOs [all 10,000 of them] are safe [for long-term cultivation and consumption, by everyone]." It's ridiculous!

The most surprising part of the whole debate is the way the left is allowing itself to be used as a useful idiot for corporate giants that don't share our goals and values and will bear no cost and suffer no punishment if something goes wrong. I never thought I'd see liberals arguing that information should be intentionally withheld from consumers because they're too stupid to use it correctly, but here we are.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 4:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


One valid, scientific reason GMOs are bad and unsafe is that monocultures, by definition, reduce genetic diversity and that has, historically, put food security at risk to the extent of causing famines and mass starvation. This reality is not just bad for consumers, but bad for humanity as a whole. We already have climate change putting pressure on arable farmland, and reducing genetic diversity would add further pressure by increasing the susceptibility of our basic food security to one or another infectious agent that comes along.

Another valid, scientific reason GMOs are bad and unsafe is the sad fact that their deployment has increased herbicide and other petrochemical usage many-fold, even despite their makers' promise — the technology's promise — to reduce the need for these chemicals. Basically, all those weeds and insects that were vulnerable died out and what was left was resistant. So we have to spray more. Further, increased use of all the neuro- and genotoxic stuff that GMOs are engineered to work in concert with is not only bad for consumers to consume, it is even worse for farm workers who handle these compounds in industrial-scale quantities.

Of course, with dihydrogen monoxide and SCIENCE! etc. it's hard to slow down the Stosselification that is poisoning modern science. Too much money on the table to pass up, not to just let some generation or two down the line deal with the consequences.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:28 PM on July 15, 2015 [27 favorites]


I mean, religious objections are one of the many reasons people may not wish to participate in this new technology, and welcome compulsory labelling.
posted by ormon nekas at 4:28 PM on July 15, 2015


Even the stupid, ignorant, and malevolent deserve to be informed. Even if that information may potentially cause harm. Preventing harm by preventing information is a very dangerous approach to public welfare, and should only be used in extreme circumstances. A bunch of small labels takes up very little package space -- gmo, kosher, halal, gluten-free, potassium, h20 -- whatever you may think of the beliefs underlying those labels, the world is rarely better off leaving people deliberately in the dark. Persuade them in other ways.
posted by chortly at 4:30 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


And agribusiness GMO interests are based on misidentified solutions to mushy problems, reframing, and hack science. No one is a winner here.

For the total cost of the yet to be realized "golden rice" we could have just given poor people money for decades to buy food they already have access to that gives them the exact benefit of golden rice.

Let's stop reframing any critique of GMO foods as a conspiracy, because there are critiques to be made.

Agribusiness is not an innocent agent in all the this. They are happy for you to frame all reasonable critique as conspiracy, without addressing the real business and social impacts for dubious and unrealized promises of higher yields. And yet nearly every NGO study indicates we have a distribution problem, not a yield problem. Which is not something that can be solved with GMO buy in.

Sorry for bursting the easy bubble here, but treating fringe critique as the norm is weak sauce, and doesn't actually solve the very problems the so called moderates claim are solved.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


Stosselification
a lungful of dragon

Sorry, I'm not familiar with this term. What does it mean?
posted by Sangermaine at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2015


Aside from the mass deployment of GMOs being exceptionally poorly-thought-out science, from a purely economic, capitalist perspective it is absolutely fascinating to watch how much objection there is to putting factually-correct labels on food products and letting the free market decide.

Free markets for the Monsantos, Stossels and Slates, but not-so-free markets for the rest of us. I guess libertarianism is only as useful a philosophical ideal to the extent that it funnels the most money into the fewest hands. Same is it ever was.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:34 PM on July 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


John Stossel, I would guess, who is known for his libertarian politics and style of combining reporting and commentary.
posted by kalessin at 4:35 PM on July 15, 2015


Aside from the mass deployment of GMOs being exceptionally poorly-thought-out science, from a purely economic, capitalist perspective it is absolutely fascinating to watch how much objection there is to putting factually-correct labels on food products and letting the free market decide.

If consumers were smart heart disease and diabetes wouldn't be our #1 and #7 killers respectively despite factually labeling everything as loaded with fat, salt and sugar.
posted by Talez at 4:36 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The article undermines its own point when it talks about the GMO papayas. Specifically, it shows how it won support of some people who are otherwise against GMOs because it was extensively and rigorously tested. This seems to be the reasonable approach: since these are new technologies being introduced into the food supply, I have no problem with setting a fairly high bar for their acceptance. More transparency in agribusiness would be a very good thing.

Likewise, labelling is a good idea. Not so that people can avoid GMOs altogether but so that they can choose what level of risk they want to take given what is published about food.
posted by graymouser at 4:38 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


The most that can responsibly be said is, "GMOs aren't necessarily unsafe just by virtue of being GMOs." This is not remotely the same thing as, "They're all safe!"

We've just started playing around with the possibilities, and as usual anything that presents an opportunity for short-term profit will be exploited to the fullest no matter HOW obviously bad an idea it is. Making some kind of blanket declaration that whatever is coming down the pike IS SAFE! is just poorly considered.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:39 PM on July 15, 2015


I'm in the camp that's pro-GMO, convinced that the ones on the market are safe, and so forth. But like people are saying, there are other classes of objection that people hold, and it's not such a cut-and-dry issue as it seems from some perspectives.

As far as labeling goes, the things I'd could weigh would be the stress of the new useless regulation on the economy (small but not inconsiderable, I'd imagine, and economic strain does cause real human harm) vs the general principles that a transaction can't be ethical if both parties aren't fully informed, and that people should be able to find out information that matters to them.

Another major factor in my opinion forming is often "look at who's on either side." In the legislative fights here, it's Monsanto and the Agriculture Lobby vs, uh, some environmentalists, some minority religious groups, and a bunch of ordinary people of all stripes, misinformed as they may be. It's not hard to pick sides there.
posted by 4th number at 4:41 PM on July 15, 2015


It's real hard for me to assume good intent when these kinds of comments are made.

You got me, I don't have good intent.

Voters of the Great State of California passed a law in 1986 that requires businesses to me inform me that the crust on a piece of bread contains a compound known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

So, we already have enough useless labeling around, we don't need any more more.
posted by sideshow at 4:42 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am always amazed at the stridency with which people will attack GMO labelling in these threads.

They are an intentional, business funded attempt to make it mandatory for there to be a label on a harmless inclusion in a competitor's product in a knowing attempt to hurt their sales. I can't understand why anybody supports that.

Whose livelihood is endangered by indulging consumers’ preferences against a new technology?

The competitors of the businesses funding the labeling drives stand to lose, as do consumers who will be encouraged to make decisions based on disinformation about GMO. Not to mention encouragement of vague GMO fears has contributed to putting a wall in front of the widespread use of crops like golden rice. So, children with vitamin-A deficiency stand to lose.

There are religious objections too.

Voluntary labeling seems to work fine for religions in the US right now. If you want to buy a GMO free product, there is already the same sort of labeling out there already.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:45 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


The thing is, GMOs do not need volunteer defenders. Enough money is spent by agribusiness companies every year on lobbying, astroturfing, and research grants that reflex scepticism would be warranted if only as an epistemic defence.

There is no comparable source of pressure for regulation, transparency, testing, prudence, responsible use, aside from the strong feelings of ordinary people. So I have a hard time getting angry at my fellow humans for having insufficiently scientific arguments for their misgivings.
posted by ormon nekas at 4:45 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


We've just started playing around with the possibilities, and as usual anything that presents an opportunity for short-term profit will be exploited to the fullest no matter HOW obviously bad an idea it is. Making some kind of blanket declaration that whatever is coming down the pike IS SAFE! is just poorly considered.

What would think if I told you a supermarket food coming in could have a random mutation where they still have massive amounts of solanine but don't show any signs of it. That poison that comes from the NIGHTSHADE family. Just one little gene turned off and it could be poisonous or even lethal but you wouldn't know. We should label it as the could-be-poisonous-because-its-a-fucking-relative-to-the-nightshade but that doesn't slip off the tongue like a fucking potato.
posted by Talez at 4:45 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Finally!
posted by Sophie1 at 4:46 PM on July 15, 2015


We have historical proof that food purveyors in a capitalist market will doctor their products to an unsafe degree in order to maximize profits. That's why the FDA was founded in 1906 in the US.

Note I'm not saying all foods makers and sellers are unethical and dangerous, but that there's always an idiot, and our recent history tells us that the idiot could just as well be a very advanced decision-maker or a small shop owner. Which is why, to my mind, regulation and labeling are good things.

Also, our political process is designed so it can be revised and changed - usually we are a little clubfooted and then we realize the tweaks we need and get them passed.
posted by kalessin at 4:47 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


There is a side that talks about a 'war against genetically modified organisms' and a side that fearmongers? And they are different sides?
posted by Ashenmote at 4:49 PM on July 15, 2015


The author distorts the opinion of the National Academy of Sciences, as in the original context it makes clear the burden of the safety validation is on the genetic engineers, as opposed to the human population that is subject to these inventions, including those groups whom the author narrowly rails against:

"Overall Findings and Recommendation"

"Findings"
"All new crop varieties, animal breeds (see the cloning subreport), and microbial strains carry modified DNA that differs from parental strains. Methods to genetically modify plants, animals, and microbes are mechanistically diverse and include both natural and human-mediated activities. Health outcomes could be associated with the presence or absence of specific substances added or deleted using genetic modification techniques, including genetic engineering, and with unintended compositional changes.
"The likelihood that an unintended compositional change will occur can be placed on a continuum that is based on the method of genetic modification used (see Figure ES-1). The genetic modification method used, however, should not be the sole criterion for suspecting and subsequently evaluating possible health effects associated with unintended compositional changes.
"All evidence evaluated to date indicates that unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including genetic engineering. Whether such compositional changes result in unintended health effects is dependent upon the nature of the substances altered and the biological consequences of the compounds. To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."

"Recommendation 1"
"The committee recommends that compositional changes that result from all genetic modification in food, including genetic engineering, undergo an appropriate safety assessment. The extent of an appropriate safety assessment should be determined prior to commercialization. It should be based on the presence of novel compounds or substantial changes in the levels of naturally occurring substances, such as nutrients that are above or below the normal range for that species (see Chapter 3), taking into account the organism modified and the nature of the introduced trait."
2004 National Research Council, and Institute of Medicine

There is nuance in this declaration that demonstrates a healthy, directed skepticism. You shouldn't trust stuff blindly, and this is how to do it.
posted by polymodus at 4:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS BUT FEEL COMPELLED TO YELL.
posted by lattiboy at 4:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'd like to see labeling because I'd like to be able to avoid giving money to producers that utilize glyphosate.

While glyphosate itself has been shown to be reasonably safe it does not travel alone. Mixes such as Roundup contain around 50 different substances (adjuvants) which do stuff like break down cell walls to allow the active principle (glyphosate) to get inside and do it's thing.

These mixes are never tested for safety. Only the active principle is tested for safety by, say, feeding rats pure glyphosate. The mixes actually utilized on the fields can exceed the toxicity of the active ingredient by multiple orders of magnitude.

But even Glyphosate itself appears to have unintended side effects. Monika Krüger friom the Institute for Bacteriology and Mycology at the University of Leipzig, Germany, has found that Glyphosate kills of important bacteria present in a healthy cow's stomach making room for opportunistic species such as botulism. There was a long article about this in Spiegel magazine in June but unfortunately it's not (yet?) available in English (German version).

Glyphosate is popular because it won't attack GMO crops developed for that purpose. However farmers have been forced to user ever increasing amounts of it because many weeds have become resistant to it. At the same time farmers in Germany have used imported GMO animal feed (mostly corn and soy) from Argentina and the USA since it became legal to import them into the EU in 1996.
In combination this has resulted in increasing levels of glyphosate detected in animals (for example via cow urine tests). At the same time increasing numbers of cattle in Germany are lost to botulism and pig farmers have begun to observe a whole host of problems with their animals from diarrhea all the way to birth defects that are not only costly to deal with but also appear to magically go away when they switch to non-glyphosate-treated food sources. (Again more detail in the Spiegel article which is unfortunately in German).

Anyhow, whether particular GMOs are problematic or not is one question (and likely not really the most important one). What's more important is how they're used and what else comes with the use of these crops.

I want to avoid buying certain GMOs not because I'm scared they're "toxic" but because I don't want to support certain business models and agricultural practices that do more harm than good in the long run.

To be lumped in with the crazies is rather offensive.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:54 PM on July 15, 2015 [32 favorites]


Genetically modified organisms are not by definition "safe," *

*citation needed.


The only thing I can imagine here is that this is a really insulting and hostile misreading. Understandable, in a discussion of such a vitriolic article, I guess. Sheesh. The header text alone is a shitshow.

So no. You cite your apparent claim that the process of genetic modification renders organisms "safe."

Genetic modification is a process. The end results of that process, the organisms, are wide and varied, as are the objections and concerns of individual consumers. I'm sure there are plenty of people who are worried about health effects of GMOs due to ignorance and fear. There are also those who have environmental, ideological, and cultural concerns as well.

I will reword it in case it helps: It is no more ridiculous to call GMOs universally unsafe than it is to call them universally safe. Both are unsupportable.

Is just labeling products as containing GMOs sufficient? Of course not. But it informs consumers who do have objections or concerns, including those who boycott many of the major players, and gives them the opportunity to research specific products if they choose. And if they'd rather just avoid genetically modified foods in general, then so what?

It is not a fallacy to point out that the longer a specific substance has been a part of our foodways, the more knowledge we have about the wide range of effects it has on human health, the environment, and culture.

If you want to argue for better and more detailed labeling, please do. I will join you. Strawmanning and attacking those who argue for providing information to consumers is the opposite of doing that.

BTW, I just want to mention here that a guy once got REAL MAD at me for ruining his setup of a dihydrogen monoxide troll. I was unrepentant, though, because it's just plain mean spirited, and possibly worse, it was old and done. This was on Usenet, and I think he was trolling for AOL newbs, so we're talking circa 1993.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm against mandatory GMO food labelling, because the act of labelling implies that it conveys useful safety information when, in fact it does not. The presence or absence of GMO ingredients says nothing, good or bad, about the safety of the food.

More information = better might be a statement of faith for some people, but from a behavioral science approach that's really not true.

I'd also not be against an overhaul of food labeling that included information about GMO ingredients in a context that gave the consumer some useful indication about identity of the GMO(s). As it is - the label GMO-free is both so broad as to be meaningless, and also skew consumer choice.

If for example, there are GMO products that use less water, it's actually socially beneficial to use those, and there's a cost to discouraging their use.

Secondarily, I also think that a focus on GMOs takes food activisim away from monoculture, fertilizer and pesticide overuse, and industrial farming - issues where there is all proven, as opposed to speculative, harm.
posted by mercredi at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


I'm anti mandatory GMO labelling because it is singling out this one factor as being somehow determinative of the food's safety. If GMOs are bad because they lead to monoculture, well why not a monoculture label? Every avocado I see in Toronto is a hass, which isn't GMO but is a monoculture. If they increase herbicide use, well why not a label indicating how much herbicide/pesticide was used to create the food product? The amounts of water and energy used in its production would be good things to know as well because drought and climate change will get us before the GMOs do anyway. If you are labelling these things as well as GMO then I don't have an issue with it, and in fact would welcome it.

What should be done is something like putting a 3d barcode on every item in the supermarket that would list out all of these things and more (how about listing where every ingredient is from? the carton of orange juice says made in Canada even though I know the oranges weren't from here). For your meat how about a record of what processors it went through? Or what the hourly/yearly wage of the workers at the various levels of the supply chain is? This is all stuff that we as consumers should have access to so that we can make informed decisions about what we put into our bodies. I could then scan everything with my phone as I go shopping and if anything trips one of my flags (GMO, made in China, workers paid less than a living wage, whatever) I could then pick something else that didn't.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:59 PM on July 15, 2015 [28 favorites]


Labeling products that contain GMOs is expensive and difficult for all involved. Even coming up with a viable definition of what a "GMO" is will prove difficult (I'm already assuming an "any minute GMO ingredient = fail non-GMO label"). As noted above by other commenters, "GMO" labeling also doesn't cover a lot of the cases involved.

And labels don't guarantee anything, except that people and companies will cheat.

We should care about that because the cost associated with mandated supply chain validation and certification tends to favor "Big Food" and hurt precisely the kinds of small, independent food producers that seem to be so beloved in these scenarios.

"GMOs [are] monocultures" and "GMOs have increased herbicide and petrochemical usage"
Some non-GMO foods are effectively monocultures today, and herbicide and petrochemical usage have increased for "conventional" and "organic" food production as well. Barring additional research being provided, I have a hard time accepting GMOs somehow make this a bigger problem than not having GMOs.

There's also some blurring here of the argument. Nobody's saying "there should only be GMOs", and I don't think anybody is even saying "if we allow GMOs there will only be GMOs", in terms of either ingredients or final product.

There also seems to be a continual conflation of "GMOs are bad" and "Monsanto is bad" (and the closely-related "this other thing Monsanto makes is bad"). These are very different arguments and problems. I'm not saying they're not worth discussing (maybe?), but I think the distinction is critical.

There may very well be diabolical schemes afoot at companies like Monsanto, but the constant demonization is tough to take seriously. You'd think they were Microsoft or something.

Finally, I'll put myself at MF community risk here by saying the following:
The anti-GMO argument often strikes me as a particularly Western/American (if not Imperial) problem, or at least indicative of a first-world mindset. You don't feed the world by making food more expensive and/or more difficult to produce. And telling other countries "no, seriously, trust us, we know better, you need fragile tomatoes (or whatever) that only grown under certain conditions" is about as Imperial as it gets.

Fighting all GMOs is, in some sense, saying "poor people can starve", and ignores very real problems around the world of growing enough hardy crops at low enough cost.
posted by Jinsai at 5:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


According to the article—if you make it to the fifth section—about 80-85% of corn and cotton are engineered to be herbicide resistant, as are the crops grown on around 80% of all land where GMOs are grown. This is the issue.

The health arguments that make up most of the article are surely significant to some of the people who are anti-GMO. But to me all of the issues for or against are trivial at this point compared to the herbicide/pesticide ones. I'm all for making insulin with yeast instead of extracting it from pigs. If we could use GM to add back some genetic diversity back into populations critically endangered species that have been through a population bottleneck that would be great. But as long as it's mostly a way to increase herbicide usage, I support labeling as a way of putting pressure on agribusiness. It doesn't stop people from using the technology.

I have definitely heard unscientific arguments against GMOs, mostly because 99% of people are scientifically illiterate. On the other hand, the idea that escalating herbicide use is a sustainable response to other plants trying to live in our monocultured fields also shows a profound ignorance of the fundamentals of biology.

Spinning this as a scientific vs. non-scientific debate shows profound ignorance of the number of issues involved—including a lot of the relevant science.
posted by snofoam at 5:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


For the moment, we are growing enough food to feed the population of the planet. Double-digit proportions are lost either to inefficient supply chains (leading to spoilage) or to waste as a result of market allocation. Future population growth may require a number of further changes to food production such as energy efficiency and yes, possibly controlled use of genetically engineered varieties for specific purposes.

But the focus of the originally posted article was on consumer attitudes in rich countries (one in particular), where there is ample slack for transparency along the supply chain. I think most of the compulsory labelling advocates would be satisfied with a factual declaration in or near the ingredients list (e.g. "ingredients: soybeans (including GM varieties)" or "beef (including beef raised on feedstock from GM crops)" not necessarily with that phrasing). I agree that the methods used in farming the GM crops that are prevalent today fail to impress in terms of scientific sophistication, to say the least.
posted by ormon nekas at 5:30 PM on July 15, 2015


But as long as it's mostly a way to increase herbicide usage, I support labeling as a way of putting pressure on agribusiness.

Do you support a mandatory government label on Chipotle’s products to discourage people from buying them now that they use sunflower oil?

Chipotle’s answer to this, per its new non-GMO policy, is to switch from soybean oil to sunflower oil.

The problem is, many sunflower varieties, while not genetically modified, also are herbicide-tolerant. They were bred to tolerate a class of herbicides called ALS inhibitors. And since farmers starting relying on those herbicides, many weeds have evolved resistance to them. In fact, many more weeds have become resistant to ALS inhibitors than to glyphosate.

posted by Drinky Die at 5:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


We should label it as the could-be-poisonous-because-its-a-fucking-relative-to-the-nightshade but that doesn't slip off the tongue like a fucking potato.

I dunno, knowing that potatoes can have high concentrations of solanine, and knowing how to recognize when they do, seems like useful information to have, rather than much of a rhetorical point against labeling foods.

I like extensive labeling. I love the fact that food packagers routinely list major allergens. It saves me a ton of time. I love it when cheeses list whether they contain vegetarian-friendly rennet or the gross depressing kind. I want to know whether my food contains trans fats.

Why should I be able to read reams of detailed specifications of cell phones I might want to buy, but if I want to know this one thing about a vegetable in my shopping cart, that knowledge is off-limits?
posted by mittens at 5:34 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


So because non-GMO agricultural practices are often equally bad, we should capitulate to the race to the bottom?
posted by ormon nekas at 5:34 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, but it does suggest that information about GMO status is not a great proxy for information about agricultural practices, and that labeling those might be a better way to address some of the concerns raised in this thread.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:40 PM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


There is no comparable source of pressure for regulation, transparency, testing, prudence, responsible use, aside from the strong feelings of ordinary people.

Unfortunately you may be right, but the organizations that support GMO labelling are also backed by large organic agribusinesses with a clear profit motivation to label competing products as broadly dangerous without scientific backing.

I support a powerful FDA, food safety regulations, and agricultural transparency. But I can't support broad GMO labelling laws - if GMOs are unsafe then they shouldn't be on shelves in the first place!
posted by muddgirl at 5:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm taking the quiz on the site and came to this,

"Greenpeace says gene transfer is more dangerous than breeding because it causes unintended changes in the plant’s DNA."

Uhh, I'm pretty sure the exact opposite is true. Usually when you crossbreed you end up with a hybrid that is basically sterile because of the extra mess of genes it possesses. If it goes on to mate its offspring are likely to have vastly different characteristics from the parent and even eachother. Contrast this to targeted gene manipulation which specifically does NOT create unintended changes in the plant's DNA.

I was listening to a podcast with a GMO researcher, and he told a fascinating story of a GM peanut that was developed but impossible to market due to anti-GMO scares. The special thing about this peanut is that it doesn't produce the protein that trigger allergies. I just felt incredibly bad for people with that allergy that will still never get to enjoy a big PB and J.
posted by hellphish at 6:04 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I agree with mittens.

And to add to that, the very idea that information should not be available to us because we might misinterpret it? What are we? Nannies? Is there a reason that we keep acting like information about organism design and cultivation needs to be kept secret?

It really rankles me that folks of a skeptical nature especially seem really comfortable turning knowledge into a meritocracy. I think we should be tearing down those barriers and making information and data free, not supporting the infrastructure that keeps scientific data in the hands of the elite/rich/educated.

I used to be a scientist, for sure. But I also try to keep my humble origins in mind. Everyone is educable, but if we keep hiding each other's secrets... I think that largely leads to bad things.
posted by kalessin at 6:04 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a scientist, I find "GMOs are safe" arguments condescending and infuriating. GMO can be thought of as a technique. Everything it can be used for and all of the potential different forms it can have, by definition are neither safe or dangerous, any more so than you can say all products of natural selection are safe (or dangerous). (With the huge number of possibilities and the rapid results you can get with direct genetic modification, the possibility for something bad happening is more likely than gradual natural selection.)

It doesn't bother me on the end of people thinking that all GMO are dangerous. Let them go there own way. This is not like vaccines, it doesn't effect me. It does bother me by declaring GMO is safe, as though it is not an issue that should be considered.

It is not just a question of whether the vectors to modify GMOs are safe in themselves or non-allergenic or directly toxic.

For example, the herbicide, high usage of glyphosate may be safer than alternatives. But it is a legitimate question that shouldn't be glossed over. And 99% of GMO products are modified to increase the use of herbicides or insecticides. That is significant.

GMO foods are often modified to allow for shipping over long distances. So we have suckier food that is picked early in Chile and sent around the world. Beyond the taste issue, is long distance shipment keep foods as safe as local shipment? There are thousands potential unintended consequences you can get with the rapid introduction of modified life forms just in the way that there are thousands of possible uses.

It is the hardball, shut up, you anti-scientist attitude of the GMO industry that makes me want to say screw them. I won't support them unless they want to treat the issues surrounding their industry seriously.

I am a pharmacologist. This is like BigPharm saying everything we do is lovely because drugs can do good and besides there are clinical trials.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


Just to muddy the waters some more, I noticed that neither the article nor the comments have mentioned Terminator seeds and Genetic Use Restriction technology. These are seeds that produce fruit that don't produce viable offspring seeds.

In the first link, Monsanto goes on record vowing to never commercialize Terminator seed technology even though they originally researched it. And I tend to believe them. But it's a good reminder that GMOs are an incredibly powerful technology. It's why they are very different from cross breeding. Golden rice might be great and safe, but who knows what other stuff is possible with this stuff. Maybe there will be another company with fewer scruples than Monsanto that won't agree to never add the addictive power of heroin to broccoli.
posted by destro at 6:10 PM on July 15, 2015


As someone who leans jainist in respect for living beings, I don't think anyone should be forced to consume food created by people who see plants as worthless tools to be abused and tortured and considered irrelevant.

How often have humans been wrong when claiming another form of life "can't possibly feel" simply because we don't know how to communicate with them?

There are worse things than death, a plant or animal genetically modified could suffer unbelievable pain.

I want no part of humanities brutality against this planet and the lengths they will go to prove torture is necessary because they want it to be so.
posted by xarnop at 6:14 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


the addictive power of heroin to broccoli.

The government stepped in to regulate that after the debacle with Tomacco.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:14 PM on July 15, 2015


Mandatory GMO labelling seems like mandatory non-kosher labelling.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:20 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm against corporate ownership of our planets feedstock.

I'm against corporate ownership of life forms.

I believe farmers should be able to harvest seeds from their crops and replant them.

I think monocultures are bad for our planet.

I'm against technology that encourages increased use of herbicides and pesticides because those chemicals have known negative ecological effects.

I'm against corporations telling me what I have a right to know.

I'm against corporations telling me that I shouldn't have some information about their attempts to monopolize the food supply.

For all of these reasons, I think GMO foods should be labeled, and I don't appreciate Monsanto and other agribusinesses spending billions of dollars to prevent GMOs from being labeled. The fact that they don't give me cancer or make my hair fall out is irrelevant. That's not why I'm opposed to them. I'm opposed to them because they are economically unsafe.
posted by alms at 6:49 PM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


The way to solve the problems of corporate ownership of life forms, along with many of other "GMO" issues, is to pass better patent laws, not to label all genetically engineered products no matter who makes them and what scientific and regulatory practices they follow.

Pesticide use is already controlled using the "certified organic" label, isn't it?
posted by muddgirl at 7:12 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


What should be done is something like putting a 3d barcode on every item in the supermarket that would list out all of these things and more

I would actually like this a lot. The moral/ethical/financial/health calculus we are expected to perform while doing a basic task like grocery shopping is now so impossibly complicated that I would no longer blame anyone for just throwing up their hands and buying HUNGRY-MAN products for every meal out of sheer frustration.

What would be helpful is a remotely computer scannable RFID for each product, and some sort of advanced expert-system that asks you 300 questions or so, and provides you with a tailored meal plan according to your budget, health concerns and dietary requirements, ethical concerns about provenance of food and treatment of any animals involved, known meal preferences and cooking ability, and overlays some sort of AR view of the supermarket showing you which products you can actually purchase.

Obviously that actually sounds sort of terrible, but I don't think I'm alone in feeling anxiety in the supermarket trying to juggle a million factors to make the right decision.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Certified organic means absolutely no pesticides or herbicides and a bunch of other things. I may not want to bother with organic, but I'd still like to avoid buying products that have been carpet bombed with glyphosate because the farmer used roundup ready seeds and so didn't need to worry about how much they used. (Note, this isn't necessarily about my health; it's about the ecosystems surrounding the farms.)

It's true we should have better patent laws, but that doesn't mean that GMO foods shouldn't be labeled. It's also true that we should have better trade agreements, but in the mean time it's nice to have foods labeled by country of origin. Oh, right, the same agribusiness that doesn't think we need to know about GMO content has also decided that we don't need to know about country of origin. We shouldn't bother our pretty little heads about it, because it might interfere with their profits.
posted by alms at 7:48 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Certified organic means absolutely no pesticides or herbicides and a bunch of other things.

\_(ツ)_/
posted by Drinky Die at 7:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Pesticide use is already controlled using the "certified organic" label, isn't it?

It's controlled, but it still allows pesticides as long as they're not synthetic (in the US, at least), which isn't a guarantee of anything beyond what the regulations say.

There is no such thing as a label that will tell you everything you may want or need to know. There are only broad regulatory categories that provide specific information about specific aspects, and organic labeling AND GMO labeling provide the consumer with specific, limited information about the origins of the food they are putting inside their bodies.

The questions with organic labeling are the same as the GMO ones. Do people understand what the label means? Do they convey information that consumers want or need? And do people deserve to be more or less informed about the products they consume?

A label reading "GMO," like a label reading "organic," is not inherently a value judgment or a guarantee of safety or anything like that, ignorant and hostile rhetoric aside.

It is specific information that individual consumers can use or ignore however they choose, and it's something that consumers want to know.

I think you'd have to make a very compelling case to keep that information from them, and I haven't seen an argument that comes close.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:54 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


A label reading "GMO," like a label reading "organic," is not inherently a value judgment or a guarantee of safety or anything like that, ignorant and hostile rhetoric aside.

It is specific information that individual consumers can use or ignore however they choose, and it's something that consumers want to know.


It's a vague piece of information that doesn't actually tell me whether a particular food item is a monoculture, or uses lots of pesticide, or contains patented genes, or is too new to be guaranteed non-toxic, or any of the actual concerns I might have about genetic modification.

If a producer wants to label their goods as GMO or non-GMO, that's fine, they're just responding to consumer demand. I'm even okay with FDA standards to regulate the label, like they do with "organic", so that it won't be diluted into meaninglessness (like "natural"). But I don't think anyone should be required to label GMO foods. That's an unnecessary burden on small companies, and it doesn't convey useful information.

And to add to that, the very idea that information should not be available to us because we might misinterpret it? What are we? Nannies?

If the government is going to require sellers to label certain information, and have a whole infrastructure to verify that the labels are accurate, then yes, I think they should be selective about which information has this additional burden. Calorie counts and allergens are important enough to justify requiring them; GMO status is not.
posted by Rangi at 8:04 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


You need calories to live. Why should there be any laws about calories when they are perfectly safe? Calorie counting is just The Man telling us what we can and can't count.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:15 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


The organic analogy is a good one.

Just as there's no evidence that GMO foods are less safe or less nutritious, there's also I'm pretty sure no evidence that organic foods are safer or more nutritious. No difference, either way, in food safety or nutrition.

So, should we oppose labeling organic food? After all, labeling organic food effectively impugns the safety and nutritional value of all other food. Why do we allow the organic label to stand? Why does the government support it?

Well, a cynic would argue that the government supports it because organic has become a huge industry. Agribusiness and retail both reap huge profits and fat margins from the organic label. So even though it is misleading --- most people probably think that organic food is better for them, and there is pretty much no evidence to support that --- even though it's misleading, industry has not opposed the organic label.

The argument against GMO labeling is similar. It might impugn the quality of the food in the minds of ignorant consumers. But in this case that argument wins the day, even though it didn't with organic. It wins the day because that's what industry wants.

From a personal ethical perspective, it's possible to want organic foods and to want to avoid GMO foods for reasons that have nothing to do with misguided notions of nutritional value or food safety. But that doesn't matter. We only get labels when there's a profit to be made from them. That's the American way.
posted by alms at 8:26 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


GMOs are a complex issue in my mind. Banning their labeling doesn't advance discussion constructively. Adding labeling may hinder their adoptance due to low-information consumers making uninformed choices, but is that better than giving consumers zero information? I'm not so sure.

I would eat (and likely do eat) GMO foods, but I would be wary if the only review such foods have is a large corporation saying "trust us, we're not doing anything that nature can't do". I can see some real benefits using genetic manipulation, especially in the area of protecting a species. American Chestnut trees are non-existent due to Chestnut Blight - if a genetic fix for this could be had, that seems like a good use of this power.

On the other hand, genetically modifying foods in more exotic ways just feels more wrong. Imagine putting a gene from a cow into a lemon in order to make the lemons larger. GMO enthusiasts will tell you that this is technically naturally possible by doing millions upon millions of cross-breedings, and that GMO simply short-cuts the process. Maybe that is true, but without truly understanding why a cow can't directly breed with a lemon, is this something we should toy with? I admit I can't come up with a scientific reason for disliking this, but I don't think that "larger lemons" is a good reason to go so far.

The anti-corporate angle is strong here. Large corporations have not proven to be good stewards of our food supply. Look at the apples served up in our grocery stores. Pitiful, really, but bred to serve corporate needs over consumer needs (i.e. make them cheaper and make them last on the shelves longer). Eat an heirloom apple, one that has a shelf life of a week or so, and understand how much we have lost.

This anti-anti-GMO campaign smells bad to me. It has the aura of a corporate shill game, maybe Monsanto is paying a lot of people to proclaim "GMOs are great, and if you're a GMO skeptic that puts you into the same category as a 9/11-Truther". It seems like there is less debate and more shaming going on. It would be absurd to believe that any GMO is perfectly safe, yet that is what we are being asked to accept. Just trust them.
posted by RalphSlate at 8:30 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


From a personal ethical perspective, it's possible to want organic foods and to want to avoid GMO foods for reasons that have nothing to do with misguided notions of nutritional value or food safety. But that doesn't matter. We only get labels when there's a profit to be made from them. That's the American way.

The organic label is voluntary, not mandatory. A comparable label would be a voluntary "GMO Free" label which is something we already have. It's not backed up by regulation as far as I'm aware but general laws about false advertising should apply if someone markets a GMO product as GMO free.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


"the climate change denial of the Left."

Here are some facts relating to India, my native country:

1. India (which suffered terrible famines under British colonialism) is entirely food-self-sufficient today, without the use of GMO foods (which have always been entirely banned in India).

2. As regards non-food GMOs like Bt cotton, their effect on Indian farmers has been terrible. Conned into Monsanto's monopolistic vertical stack solution (intentionally sterile seeds, patented pesticides to be used with GMO plants) coupled with yield promises that were simply lies, many Indian cotton farmers went heavily into debt, committing suicide on an unprecedented, almost epidemic scale in the early 2000s.

I put more stock in empiricism than ideology, and it's pretty clear from the above demonstrated results that GMOs are (a) unnecessary and (b) harmful. And it's one hell of an insult to tell me that it's not in my best interests to be able to choose as a consumer, that I should leave this decision to political decisions that have largely been funded by the corporations I am trying to boycott.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:41 PM on July 15, 2015 [12 favorites]




dances with sneeches if you're so amped up to drop the "I'm a scientist" appeal to authority, you should be a little more careful about linking t0 the HuffPo for your facts, and then misquoting the article itself. The HuffPo article has no citations or footnotes to back up the 99% claim, in either it's original form or your alteration.

The sentence in the article says:
Over 99% of GMO acreage is engineered by chemical companies to tolerate heavy herbicide (glyphosate) use and/or produce insecticide (Bt) in every cell of every plant over the entire growing season.

Which is not at all the same as what you said:
And 99% of GMO products are modified to increase the use of herbicides or insecticides.


Insecticide producing plants have a very different ecological niche than herbicide tolerant ones, in part because they actively reduce the amount of fertilizers and insecticides that need to be spread on crops. There are also concerns with Bt corn and insect populations, including bee populations, but incorrect, sloppy misquoting does not "science" make.
posted by mercredi at 8:46 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, genetically modifying foods in more exotic ways just feels more wrong. Imagine putting a gene from a cow into a lemon in order to make the lemons larger. GMO enthusiasts will tell you that this is technically naturally possible by doing millions upon millions of cross-breedings, and that GMO simply short-cuts the process. Maybe that is true, but without truly understanding why a cow can't directly breed with a lemon, is this something we should toy with?

There is no "cow-ness" to a gene, it's just that cows happened to hit on that gene before lemons did. I'm admittedly not an expert either, but I would be more confident that a gene is safe to eat in lemons if it's already safe to eat in cows.
posted by Rangi at 8:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Exactly that distinction, Drinky Die. That's the only significant difference I can see between organic vs. GMO free. Organic is a voluntary claim, whereas a "contains GMOs" would be mandatory.

But without specific regulation outlining what the requirements for labeling something "GMO free," the claim that something is "GMO free" is subject to manipulation. A false advertising claim would be pretty tough to make when the terminology itself isn't legally defined, and claims aren't being regulated.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:54 PM on July 15, 2015


As much as I have a natural curiosity about a lot of things and as much as I love to read and study lots of different subjects to get as good and thorough an understanding of them as I can, I often bump of the limits of my own knowledge of what I can reasonably learn outside of the specialized training I'd receive in a classroom setting. This is especially true with complex science-y things. In these cases, it is reasonable and necessary for me to reply on what the actual experts are saying. And the scientific consensus on GMO safety is stronger than it is for climate change. And I'm pretty sure that most people here are willing to trust what scientists say about climate change. Yet, a staggering 67% of the public believe that “scientists do not have a clear understanding of the health effects of GM crops.”

!!!!

You, the expert, don't understand this very technical thing requiring specialized knowledge, as well as I, the layperson, does! That is really shocking to me. If we're so distrustful that we won't believe what a vast majority of subject matter experts across the globe have to say on their actual subject, then we might as well just throw in the towel.

I think people conflate bad feelings about Monsanto with GMOs and it's a shame, to say the least. To claim that people like myself, who choose to rely upon scientific consensus in the face of my own limited knowledge are basically corporate shills for fucking Monsanto, is just like, WT actual F.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:01 PM on July 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


If GMO foods were such wonderful things, you'd think the industry would be promoting foods with GMO content. It's very curious that the industry producing these wonderful things is spending millions of dollars trying to suppress awareness of their existence in the market. Usually industries only try to suppress awareness of things they are doing that aren't good.

Sure, it's true that GMO's have a bad rep currently. But isn't that what PR and awareness campaigns are about? Why not promote these things if they're so good for us? If something's truly good, it should be possible to get that message across, especially with the bank accounts that there backers have. Why not make the GMO label a positive one rather than quash people's right to even know about it?

I mean, look at vaccines. They have a bad rep in some circles, too. But the public health establishment doesn't respond by telling doctors to stop calling them vaccines. They address the misinformation and promote vaccines as something good. It is very telling that the GMO industry hasn't done that, and that instead they consistently try to suppress knowledge.
posted by alms at 9:08 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yet, a staggering 67% of the public believe that “scientists do not have a clear understanding of the health effects of GM crops.”

!!!!

You, the expert, don't understand this very technical thing requiring specialized knowledge, as well as I, the layperson, does! That is really shocking to me. If we're so distrustful that we won't believe what a vast majority of subject matter experts across the globe have to say on their actual subject, then we might as well just throw in the towel.


No. I cannot tell you what the respondents said, or what they meant, but they did not say that. This is something you're extrapolating.

If 67% of the respondents agreed that scientists do not have a clear understanding of the health effects of GM crops, that is what they said. Not that they know better than scientists.

And it's not an unreasonable response when presented with a poll that offers a pre-phrased statement without an option to elaborate.

'Science' is not some simple, monolithic machine that you can feed a scenario into and get conclusive and reliable predictions about long term effects on a broad population. You can only test for the things you think to test for, and 'science' has been wrong over and over again about things scientists once deemed safe. I'm sure plenty of people have things like asbestos and thalidomide and transfats in mind when answering a question like that.

People have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of scientific claims, especially anything as broadly worded as that, and it's unfair and and scientifically unsound to assume anything beyond exactly what it says.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:44 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Will Saletan
‏@saletan
Hey @MonsantoCo! These guys https://www.facebook.com/Slate/posts/10153358348011438 … say you funded our GMO story at http://slate.me/1L9nUT1 . Why am I not getting the checks?


Monsanto Company
‏@MonsantoCo
@saletan We get this a lot. Check is in the mail. We promise.

posted by Drinky Die at 9:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


GMO enthusiasts will tell you that this is technically naturally possible by doing millions upon millions of cross-breedings, and that GMO simply short-cuts the process. Maybe that is true, but without truly understanding why a cow can't directly breed with a lemon, is this something we should toy with?

But I mean, this is already how synthetic insulin is made, except the lemons are bacteria and the cows are humans. No need to ask why we can't mate with bacteria (which are even farther from us than lemons on the evolutionary tree) to get them to produce something we consume.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:26 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's a bit of a difference between manufacturing an extensively FDA-tested chemical in a bioreactor and causing a traditional foodstuff to suddenly have a new chemical/protein in it thanks to new genes.

Especially if you don't then do huge amounts of testing on the modified food before distributing it to the population. Traditional foodstuffs created by plant breeding have already passed generations of human testing.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:40 PM on July 15, 2015


GMOs are (a) unnecessary and (b) harmful.

Well is that's the case, why are people bullshitting around with half measures like labels? If GMOs are harmful, then don't push for labels, push for a complete ban on genetically modified organisms. Otherwise, labels are basically a BS maneuver promoted by the organic food megacorporations.
posted by happyroach at 10:53 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hey @MonsantoCo! These guys https://www.facebook.com/Slate/posts/10153358348011438 … say you funded our GMO story at http://slate.me/1L9nUT1 . Why am I not getting the checks?

Perhaps because your story is clickbait that doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:11 PM on July 15, 2015


I find myself in a weird position with genetically engineered food.

On the one hand, I really REALLY like the idea of directly modifying food to have characteristics it otherwise couldn't. I want beefsteak tomatoes that have actual beef steak in them. I want melons that grow their own prosciutto around them. I want popcorn that makes its own flavocol. Luminescent broccoli! Plants that make premixed curry powder! Chickens with eight legs! Buffalo wing trees!

But what do I get? Stuff you can dump roundup on, or stuff that makes toxins, so that they can grow cheaper. As if food in the global north weren't already so cheap that we have to pay people not to grow it and often actually destroy human labor and ingenuity by growing food that's worth less than its inputs.

Meh. Until they will give me that mad-science shit that I want, fuck 'em. Y'all can have your labels for all I care, if you'll let me have my full-on frankenfood some other decade.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:13 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, maybe I just like to know about the provenance of my food as much as possible. I'm pro GMO labels, and also very much into the PDO scheme. What is wrong with wanting to know as much about your food as possible?
posted by holybagel at 11:27 PM on July 15, 2015


"full on frankenfood?" Like corn dogs, when you cut them open, actual puppies come out? Or do you mean Al Frankenfood, which at first makes you laugh, and then shows a serious side?
posted by Oyéah at 11:35 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a bit of a difference between manufacturing an extensively FDA-tested chemical in a bioreactor and causing a traditional foodstuff to suddenly have a new chemical/protein in it thanks to new genes.

Yes, the difference is that one is eaten as a food and the other has a medicinal extract prepared from it. In each of the other ways you describe here, the two scenarios are actually very similar. Insulin is actually an animal protein and was overexpressed in bacteria by transferring a copy of a human gene, and with respect to FDA testing, most cow proteins (with a couple famous exceptions) have a track record of safe human consumption that far exceeds anything the FDA can offer. And modern farming techniques are hardly qualitatively different from culturing something in a bioreactor.

Anyway, I don't think the distinction between a food and a medicine is meaningless by any stretch, but that distinction is also not relevant to the point I was making. (Nor, obviously, do I think that GMOs are intrinsically safe, and it blows my mind that I apparently have to say this: even people who are much more pro-GMO than I am believe that GMO crops should be subject to "huge amounts of testing.") I brought up this example specifically as a response to the idea, stated upthread, that we shouldn't "toy with" expressing, e.g., cow proteins in lemons, because we don't "truly understand" why a cow and a lemon can't mate (?). This objection applies equally well to recombinant insulin, since bacteria and humans are even farther apart in terms of evolutionary distance.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:48 AM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Name me one revolutionary technology with which humanity has not royally fucked up at one point in history. Now consider again the question of whether "gm foods are safe" (whatever this formulation may really mean), and answer it, preferably while looking at dissenters in the eye.
posted by polymodus at 1:14 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Name me one revolutionary technology with which humanity has not royally fucked up at one point in history.

Vaccination.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:22 AM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sliced bread.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:35 AM on July 16, 2015


So to summarise: GMO not intrinsically bad, however many GMO companies act like total assholes.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:00 AM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also worth noting that greater regulations (even vague-to-meaningless ones like "GMO products included!") favor large corporations.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:01 AM on July 16, 2015


All labels are problematic, but the more I think about it, the more I think GMO labeling may be the simplest way to—more or less—indicate a set of agricultural practices I disagree with or am wary of. Which is not because I'm worried about eating a GMO, but because of the economies of scale involved, the way GM is primarily being used to facilitate increased herbicide use and the legal/patent issue surrounding these organisms.

Also, if nothing else, the labeling issue has finally brought this to the attention of people in the US, where GMO products entered the market as a fait accompli.
posted by snofoam at 3:48 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seeing large corporations lobby against regulations that favor them must be an uplifting experience.

But seriously, instead of having no regulations, we could shift some tax burden from the smaller players to the beneficiaries to offset this effect.
posted by Ashenmote at 4:18 AM on July 16, 2015


And the scientific consensus on GMO safety is stronger than it is for climate change

Whaaat?
Ok, spot the agenda on THAT website, now - let me defend climate change!

From the linked article, the "overwhelming consensus exceeds the percentage of scientists, 88%, who believe global warming is the result of human activity"

Scientists? A scientist who specialises in detecting metal fractures via magnets, does not have the relevant domain knowledge to evaluate climate change. Neither does a biologist.
You know who does? Climate scientists, of whom more than 97% acknowledge human-induced climate change, and pretty much ALL of them acknowledge it is happening, regardless of cause.

So what would be the comparable study? Geneticists.
Now, I'm sure most geneticists are (hopefully) happy with their own labs safety standards, or the areas they are working in, but they're in the industry, they don't necessarily trust the processes that other, big companies go through, they know the near misses and screw ups that have happened, or safety standards that allow conducting trials of wind pollinated crops, in open fields (congratulations ecosystem!). What percentage?
I have no idea, but I've had cocktail discussions with geneticists working in medical research who were unhappy with food modification, but I've never talked to anyone working in the climate field who were anything other than, 100%, oh god, we are fucking up badly.


Further, it is scientifically illiterate to compare genetic modification to plant breeding, it is far, far, FAR cooler than that, crossing genes between species that may have millions of years of divergent evolution. Gah! Also... targeted? Well. Kind of. In the way that you target a shot gun, basically?
Genetic modification is freaking awesome, awe-inspiring, and it is a failure of imagination to not also add, slightly 'worrying' if you understand the implications. So yes, I expect far, far higher safety standards from food crops than, because hey, risk reward principle?

I'm not trying to be anti-GMO (seriously, I've been holding out for designer babies, but I don't think we're going to get there in time), but people have a habit of underestimating the complexity of biological and ecological systems. People often think the barrier to, say, going to Mars is rocketships.
No it isn't, it's the fact that we can't construct an enclosed, self-sustaining biosphere that will support human life on EARTH (well, other than a few months of a one russian + spirulina cycle).
It is HAAAARD. Pfffft, physics is easy in comparison. :P


Anyway, that is an aside. Often people are protesting not the tool, but what GMO food crops have been used for - increased pesticide use, increased herbicide use, usually decreased yields, and increasing monopolies.
Therefore, if we have to live in a capitalist society, then the only way it *can* run 'correctly' is if consumers can make informed decisions.
And therefore, people should be able to boycott companies and processes they disagree with.
posted by Elysum at 4:26 AM on July 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


Oh, for that Spirulina reference, I was thinking of Chlorella, from this: BIOS-3, and he wasn't eating it.

Best progress so far on enclosed systems appears to be Yuegong-1, with 45% of food sourced within the closed system, and 105 days of use.

(The Biosphere projects couldn't self-sustain on oxygen, sooo.... :P )
posted by Elysum at 4:41 AM on July 16, 2015


Thanks Elysum, cogent argument FTW!

Personally I like the idea of GM foods, they could be fantastic. However the technology has not become cheap enough yet that there is serious competition for the huge multinationals and I find their agenda and business practices suspect. I am also very much in favour of more equitable access to nutrition, but as has been mentioned several times in this thread, that is not so much a scientific issue as a political one.

The enviropig is a good idea, but only in concert with reducing food waste and meat consumption. Food security is something that is a concern for the bulk of humanity, let's deal with the big issues before we worry about helping out the GM lobby with their agenda.
posted by asok at 5:16 AM on July 16, 2015


ROU_Xenophobe: " On the one hand, I really REALLY like the idea of directly modifying food to have characteristics it otherwise couldn't. I want beefsteak tomatoes that have actual beef steak in them. I want melons that grow their own prosciutto around them. I want popcorn that makes its own flavocol. Luminescent broccoli! Plants that make premixed curry powder! Chickens with eight legs! Buffalo wing trees!"

So I get what you're trying to say, and yet ... all I can think of is some variant of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Like the buffalo wing trees look delicious, but they also talk, and they have really fake sounding British accents, like they're being sarcastic in a really melodramatic way. Even though they're only supposed to be able to mimic human speech, it seems like they're just being deliberately annoying for their own amusement, repeating your words like a little brother or sister would do. Stuff like that...
posted by krinklyfig at 5:47 AM on July 16, 2015


I'll pass on the food that talks. I might be a weirdo but I'm not kzinti or tnuctipun.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:22 AM on July 16, 2015


The public is being told to accept GMO because science. However, this is clearly a case where science is serving corporate interests. Capital is hiding behind science, and science boosters are serving capital. As we saw earlier this week with the American Psychology Association, scientists will enthusiastically serve power regardless of the public interest. The public concern about GMO may be somewhat unfocused at present, but I see nothing wrong with demanding a halt to all GMO activity until all issues are resolved to the satisfaction of the public.
posted by No Robots at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not really seeing how GMOs are any less obviously safe than conventional breeding. I mean, sure, it's possible that maybe some GMO will come along that has the capacity to harm humans who consume it, but A) nobody seems to have demonstrated that anything like that has happened yet, and B) it's not like we don't already have plenty of conventionally-bred crops out there which can harm people who eat them, whether due to allergies (peanuts, strawberries, soybeans), native toxins and/or improper preparation (potatoes, celery, cassava, grass peas, cashews), the presence of certain diseases (wheat), or bioconcentration of soil toxins (rice). It is unreasonable to set a standard for 100% safety in GMO varieties that isn't met by conventionally-bred plants. If the current regulatory process caught the (conventionally-bred) Lenape potato before it went to market, I would expect it to catch any harmful GMOs too.

As for science serving corporate interests: the world is not flat just because Monsanto tells you it's round. I mean, you may want to double-check, if Monsanto tells you it's round, but being evil has never prevented anyone from telling the truth when they want to.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:46 AM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


As for science serving corporate interests: the world is not flat just because Monsanto tells you it's round. I mean, you may want to double-check, if Monsanto tells you it's round, but being evil has never prevented anyone from telling the truth when they want to.

The enemy here is not Monsanto. Monsanto is following its interest, and is therefore predictable and therefore manageable. It is science that is the threat here. Scientists, in the name of truth but in service of their obscured interests, may very well tell you that the Earth is flat.
posted by No Robots at 9:11 AM on July 16, 2015


As if science is some kind of monolithic entity moving with a single mind and purpose, instead of a large constellation of individuals, all with their own agendas, biases, and motivations.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:15 AM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


all with their own agendas, biases, and motivations.

These are predictable and manageable, if they are known and acknowledged. It seems to me that we are dealing here with a complex of economic motivation, fan-boy boosterism and the desire to maintain science in a magisterial role as final arbiter of public policy.
posted by No Robots at 9:20 AM on July 16, 2015


Given a choice, I've begun to avoid buying products labeled "GMO-free!" Eff that. I want as much DNA in my corn flakes as possible. Sell me your modified corn, tomatoes, bananas, papayas, whatever, I'll eat it all up.
posted by maryr at 10:22 AM on July 16, 2015


I don't think GM corn flakes will have significantly different amounts of DNA from non-GM corn flakes.

Then again, if we're going to be pedantic, plastics are also organic too, so.
posted by qcubed at 10:24 AM on July 16, 2015


GallonOfAlan:
"So to summarise: GMO not intrinsically bad, however many GMO companies act like total assholes."
The above bears repeating.

I'm not opposed to GMO in and of itself. It's just another tool in the toolkit, possibly a very powerful one. But as long as it's mostly backed and driven by profit oriented business interests, that have demonstrated again and again that they couldn't care less about the general welfare of this world and the lifeforms that dwell on it, I find it impossible to put my trust in their word just because they tell me to.

These things always work the same way. Invest a lot of money in what you hope is a good idea. Turn it into a product and build a business around it. Discover unintended consequences and side effects. Try to suppress exposure and regulation of these because now you have already so much money invested that you'd rather just continue making a buck for as long as you can. Fuck everybody else.

I'm actually all for GMO research. Here's how I'd like to see it done: publicly funded, thoroughly executed and all discoveries put into the public domain for all to benefit from the research. Bring on the drought tolerant crops and all the other great things that may be possible. Just don't allow the profit motive to poison what could be beneficial to all.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:36 AM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


You are correct, there is not significant difference in the amount of DNA in non-GM corn flakes. I was kinda joking. But I do choose not to buy products labeled "no GMOs!" when there are no GMO products in that field. Yes, your fancy tea is non-GMO. Nobody is making GMO tea leaves (or hibiscus or mint or cinnamon or lemon or peaches or ginger or any of the ingredients I see listed quickly). Here's a list of commercially available GM crops. If you're worried about your carnations or cantaloupes, make whatever choices you feel you need to make. If your carrots start bragging about their all-natural DNA, that's ridiculous.
posted by maryr at 10:38 AM on July 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


[Scientists' agendas, biases, and motivations] are predictable and manageable, if they are known and acknowledged.

If you really believe that scientists as a group have hidden agendas, why not say what you think they are instead of being coy about it?
posted by en forme de poire at 11:44 AM on July 16, 2015


"I think you'd have to make a very compelling case to keep that information from them, and I haven't seen an argument that comes close."

It costs money and has negligible benefit for public health, environmental and agricultural policies. It's a terribly noisy proxy and the opposition to GMOs is largely driven by capital interest and anti-science luddites who spam misinformation.

As we're starting from a point where GMO labels are not required, changing the policy to require them means providing a justification for that change. Arguing that the burden is on anti-labeling voices proposing to keep information from the public is an inversion of the actual question. If GMO labeling were already required and people were arguing to get rid of it, then that formulation would be accurate.

So, should we oppose labeling organic food? After all, labeling organic food effectively impugns the safety and nutritional value of all other food. Why do we allow the organic label to stand? Why does the government support it?

It's a marketing label that was pretty easily suborned by large corporations, and is also a terrible proxy for agricultural practices. I think part of that is because people are so disconnected from actual farming that they don't even understand the right questions to ask — but even then, it requires a fairly large body of knowledge to evaluate claims. For example, "no spray" is generally going to imply less insecticides and herbicides, but may or may not be organic, and the insecticides and herbicides still available through "no spray" have their own trade offs.

If GMO foods were such wonderful things, you'd think the industry would be promoting foods with GMO content. It's very curious that the industry producing these wonderful things is spending millions of dollars trying to suppress awareness of their existence in the market. Usually industries only try to suppress awareness of things they are doing that aren't good.

Agricultural industry does promote the shit out of GMO crops. There's little benefit to them in promoting them to consumers as GMO, since farmers are the proximal decision makers on most of that stuff, and it's easier to promote to consumers on the basis of what they offer. And even then, the "GMO" distinction is often dubious. Seedless watermelons are debatably GMO; they're a genetic mutation induced by a chemical addition. But they can be sold as "organic" depending on the later stage agricultural inputs.

Basically, "GMO" is an incoherent signifier, and at best an incredibly noisy signal about the attributes that should concern people in industrial agriculture.
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you really believe that scientists as a group have hidden agendas, why not say what you think they are instead of being coy about it?

I haven't been coy at all. To reiterate: scientists as a group have a hidden agenda of service to existing power structures.
posted by No Robots at 12:15 PM on July 16, 2015


To reiterate: scientists as a group have a hidden agenda of service to existing power structures.

Not only are there examples where this seems to be plainly untrue -- would you characterize scientists working on climate change as engaged in "service to existing power structures," for instance? How so? -- but this statement is also so vague as to be meaningless. Which power structures? Serving them in what way? And in what way is this specific to scientists?
posted by en forme de poire at 12:41 PM on July 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


scientists working on climate change

This is a hopeful sign of change.

Which power structures? Serving them in what way?

I gave an example above of the American Psychological Association's involvement in torture. And there is the present case of geneticists involved in GMO.

And in what way is this specific to scientists?

I suppose everyone serves power in one way or another. The question is whether one admits it or not. Scientists are heavily invested in their own self-righteous claims to objectivity. That is the problem.
posted by No Robots at 12:58 PM on July 16, 2015


I just want to stop wellness gurus from treating GMOs like they treat gluten.
posted by Monochrome at 1:08 PM on July 16, 2015


It costs money and has negligible benefit for public health, environmental and agricultural policies. It's a terribly noisy proxy and the opposition to GMOs is largely driven by capital interest and anti-science luddites who spam misinformation.

The arguments about the cost of labeling are very much debatable. It wouldn't cost nothing, of course, but it wouldn't be as expensive as some are making it out.

But how would GMO labeling be different from organic labeling? Organic labeling is voluntary, but it's widely adopted enough that major food producers adopt it when they can, and it's a safe bet that regular grocery store food not labeled organic doesn't qualify. Organic labeling is expensive and a lot of the requirements are of negligible value too.

Are you proposing a similar scheme, where there is a clear legal definition of GMO-free that producers can adopt?

(And you got a little bit of unintentional nuance in that string of invective there. Luddites were social reformers who understood exactly what they were protesting, not the uninformed technophobes that they're popularly characterized as.)

I suppose everyone serves power in one way or another. The question is whether one admits it or not. Scientists are heavily invested in their own self-righteous claims to objectivity. That is the problem.

I'd put less of the blame on scientists here than I do on the popular notion of what I think of as "science with an exclamation point." Most of the professional scientists I know would be the first to tell you that science is an ongoing process of discovery, not just a series of simple calculations that will accurately predict outcomes.

A lot of scientists do unethical things in exchange for paychecks, but a lot of everybody does that.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:10 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I gave an example above of the American Psychological Association's involvement in torture.

But I mean, a lot of scientists were also justly horrified when this came to light because it was such an egregious ethical violation. And I don't see the analogy you're drawing to geneticists working on GM foods: unlike torture, there does not seem to be any reason that GM food must be inherently unethical (absent a belief system like xarnop's above).

With regard to the "claims to objectivity," I agree with ernielundquist's take. I'd also add that I think part of the issue is that many scientists are rightly frustrated by who they see as charlatans capitalizing on misinformation and fear of the unknown in order to exploit people. I agree that sometimes this push-back can lead people into espousing views that look like scientism, or the "capital-S and exclamation point" variety ernielundquist calls attention to here, and I agree that this is a problem in and of itself, but that doesn't mean that a push-back isn't warranted.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:22 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's no point in adding in anything here other than to say I work professionally in the field that regulates chemicals and this article is full of confident braggadocio that is very, extremely unwarranted. If you feel comfortable asserting on the internet that this approach to food and agriculture is perfectly safe and without worry, please, start coming to the USDA and FDA and EPA meetings on this subject as they are announced in the Federal Register. Your confidence and expertise in science journalism will surely outweigh the gathered global expertise that has, by no means, come near a consensus on this very complicated subject.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:26 PM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Scientists are heavily invested in their own self-righteous claims to objectivity. That is the problem.

That is not the only problem. The other problem is that groups like Greenpeace are also heavily invested in their own self-righteousness. To the point of deliberately misrepresenting research in public testimony. That's just dickish.
posted by storybored at 1:30 PM on July 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


It costs money and has negligible benefit for public health, environmental and agricultural policies.

Historically, the same has been said, time and time again, about other forms of nutritional and anti-adulteration labeling over the centuries. One would think we would have had developed a measure of skepticism about these sorts of claims by now. Go figure.

It's a terribly noisy proxy and the opposition to GMOs is largely driven by capital interest and anti-science luddites who spam misinformation.

I have yet to see a rational defense for deliberately growing food in such a way that purposefully reduces genetic diversity, purposefully requires more spraying of poisonous herbicides and pesticides, and purposefully drives natural selection towards resilient weeds and insects. To this published scientist, this does not seem like good science, let alone good public policy.

It's ironic that the proxies for companies that push GMOs are poor representatives for their cause. The real reason that GM food technology does so well is not that it is good science, it is because it is profitable.

There are so many regulatory vacuums for industrial farming processes and food safety — and the asymmetry of knowledge between consumer and industry is so vast — that incentivizing the status quo is critical.

Science only enters into this picture as a marketing tactic, like 1950s doctors telling us smoking cigarettes is good for our T-zones. It seems weird that we can't just admit that this stuff makes a few people richer, so that we can move on to the post hoc rationalizations for doing it.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:45 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


A representative of a great food distributing concern who appeared before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce to protest against the passage of the pending [1906 Pure Food and Drug Act], declared that the food industry of the country rested on fraud and deception. "Make us leave preservatives and coloring matters out of our food," he declared, "and call our products by the right name and you will bankrupt every food industry in the country." And he was sincere about it too.

- Wiley, H.W., Test of Foods, Beverages, and Toliet Accessories, Good and Otherwise, 1914
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:57 PM on July 16, 2015


I have yet to see a rational defense for deliberately growing food in such a way that purposefully reduces genetic diversity, purposefully requires more spraying of poisonous herbicides and pesticides, and purposefully drives natural selection towards resilient weeds and insects. To this published scientist, this does not seem like good science, let alone good public policy.

Here's one: Bt corn. Bt corn reduces insecticide uses and does not reduce the genetic diversity of a monoculture crop. It doesn't drive natural selection any more than any other trait of a monoculture crop would.

GMO:herbicide resistance.::car:SUV. It's popular, consumers love it, companies love to sell it, but I agree that it is not good for the environment. It is resource intensive and there a few situations where one is actually needed. But we don't stop selling all cars because SUVs use too much gas. I agree, Roundup needs to go. Let's cut back on it. Let's drive less. But consumers aren't going to abandon cheap meat which comes from cheap corn and soy which comes from GMO crops. Monoculture agriculture isn't going away any more than the car is.

The real reason that GM food technology does so well is not that it is good science, it is because it is profitable.

Isn't that the reason most technology does well? I mean, name a successful technology that isn't (or wasn't initially) profitable. Let's be clear here, what is "good science" in this context?

Science only enters into this picture as a marketing tactic, like 1950s doctors telling us smoking cigarettes is good for our T-zones.

Science entered the picture again a few years later when they made it clear that smoking cigarettes was directly linked to lung cancer. I mean, there was a point when we all thought uranium water was healthy too. GMOs have been through (and continue to go through) a hell of a lot more testing than that.
posted by maryr at 2:08 PM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


"But how would GMO labeling be different from organic labeling? Organic labeling is voluntary, but it's widely adopted enough that major food producers adopt it when they can, and it's a safe bet that regular grocery store food not labeled organic doesn't qualify. Organic labeling is expensive and a lot of the requirements are of negligible value too. "

You answer your question yourself. The voluntary nature means that companies are free to decide whether they will gain more money by putting an 'organic' label on their products. If not, even if the products are organic, they don't. There's no compulsory labeling of organic products — a fair number of farms are effectively organic but uncertified, and thus unable to advertise as organic.

"Are you proposing a similar scheme, where there is a clear legal definition of GMO-free that producers can adopt? "

I'd be fine with that, though I think that it would be of dubious value. I disagree with attempts to block companies from labeling their wares as "non-GMO," even though I think that's like labeling a product 'lite' or 'green.'

"Historically, the same has been said, time and time again, about other forms of nutritional and anti-adulteration labeling over the centuries. One would think we would have had developed a measure of skepticism about these sorts of claims by now. Go figure."

It's also been said about a bunch of things that haven't ended up being harmful or worth the cost, e.g. California's cancer labeling. Your argument is ad hominem — it's valid to say that these claims should be evaluated, but not to say that the argument that cost outweighs benefit is inherently wrong. Ergo, your comment doesn't refute, it just impugns.

"I have yet to see a rational defense for deliberately growing food in such a way that purposefully reduces genetic diversity, purposefully requires more spraying of poisonous herbicides and pesticides, and purposefully drives natural selection towards resilient weeds and insects. To this published scientist, this does not seem like good science, let alone good public policy."

First off, are you published in agricultural science? Genetics? Linus Pauling won a Nobel Prize but was full of shit on Vitamin C. Second off, your argument is an incoherent mishmash and should be vaguely embarrassing to someone shouldering the "SCIENCE!" mantle.

1) Reducing genetic diversity

This is unrelated to GMOs, and ignores a tremendous amount about how agriculture functions. Farmers have worked to decrease genetic diversity in their crops for millennia because it results in better and more predictable yields for the majority of farmers. It's what "breeding true" is all about. It's orthogonal to GMOs, not least because it's hard to argue that introducing novel genes doesn't increase genetic diversity.

2) Purposefully increasing poisonous herbicide and pesticide

Again, an incoherent claim at best. Herbicide is often grouped as a pesticide; GMOs generally reduce insecticide; the purpose is to decrease weed competition, not to increase the use of poisons. Concern about herbicide and industrial agriculture's effect on things like water supplies and runoff (which is also related to fertilizer) is valid, but it's not something that's confined to GMOs, and conflating the issues just makes you look either dishonest or ignorant.

3) Purposefully drives natural selection toward more resilient weeds and insects

Again, a claim that's incoherent at best. First off, every attempt to control weeds and insects drives natural selection toward more resilient weeds and insects. That's how natural selection works. Even things like frequent organic crop rotation drives natural selection toward more resilient weeds and insects — the argument would be on the time frame and scale that GMOs do. Arguing that it's purposeful is daft nonsense — the increase in herbicides with GMOs has the effect of increasing weed resistance faster, but that's again based on monoculture farming, not GMOs themselves.

How much time have you actually spent on a working farm? My aunt and late uncle were farmers who later became organic farm inspectors, not too far away from where Organic Valley is headquartered. My aunt still runs the sheep and goats, though mostly for wool now instead of meat. They grew tobacco, alfalfa, cabbage and corn, sold eggs and a bit of milk, along with a few forays into stuff like emus and alpacas. I spent a lot of summers on that farm doing farm work, and I've worked for a hippy food co-op and for a hippy CSA, dealing up close with how "organic" and "no GMO" labeling plays out in practice. The way that food labeling standards are promulgated in America with respect to organics, and with respect to proposed GMO labeling, is an absolute muddle of bullshit, magical thinking, greenwashed capitalism and very little science. In terms of direct produce, "organic" is often a useful proxy because it leans on the heirloom varietals that are not bred for shipping stability, and they condition people to look past the skin of any given produce to the actual quality of the whole ingredient. And there are legitimate concerns about antibiotics and hormones in livestock-derived products. But as labels, they are a binary signal that has only a mild correlation with the actual food quality and policy decisions that matter for health or environment, and fixating on them as a shibboleth both gives people the belief that they are actually important and distracts from the other issues.

The majority of anti-GMO and pro-organic activists are part of the problem, just as much shills and idiots as the PR flacks that represent agribusiness and inflict bullshit like ethanol on the American public.
posted by klangklangston at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


So how about promoting the idea that patenting organisms isn't really in our best interests and keep promoting the idea that research findings (and protocols) - especially those publicly funded - should be available to the public for review?
posted by kalessin at 4:37 PM on July 16, 2015


I am concerned about the risk. If you are not trying to understand risk, you are not trying to understand the situation. GMO is qualitatively different. Large capitalist enterprises brought you safe asbestos, safe tobacco, safe leaded fuel, safe plastics, safe thalidomide, and on and on and on. All safe.... ask the Marlboro Man...
http://arxiv.org/pdf/1410.5787v1.pdf is a beginning point.

The argument is about risk as much as "genetic"s and 15 or 20 years isn't very long to be sure something is "safe". Saletan doesn't know what he is talking about or at least shows no evidence that he understands risk and calculation of risk.
posted by SteveLaudig at 5:06 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Name me one revolutionary technology with which humanity has not royally fucked up at one point in history.

Vaccination.


OK for this one my mom's a doctor and it turns out if one bothers to research the history, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was one of those institutions that had to be created in order to deal with people who died because they were given vaccines. There was a time that doctors didn't know certain populations would react adversely to certain vaccines.

My family actually knows one of these people. What was supposed to be a routine procedure didn't kill her, but it paralyzed her for a time and ultimately disabled her ability to walk normally (she uses a cane or crutch of some sort). This was in Canada and due to immigration reasons they wouldn't cover the accident, so as I was told basically the cost of having to self-pay her hospitable treatment bills literally changed the course of her life in a material way (i.e. life savings).

Is this alone a reason to not use vaccines? Of course not. I'm saying that there are reasons why engineers and scientists spend time working on aspects of technology that the majority of people take for granted. (For how many of us give a second thought to the above happening while getting our own vaccine shots?) Maybe the National Academy of Sciences book on the safety of biotech is boring to read, but it's more useful than anything a Slate.com article will (probably) ever produce.
posted by polymodus at 9:40 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


"1. India (which suffered terrible famines under British colonialism) is entirely food-self-sufficient today, without the use of GMO foods (which have always been entirely banned in India)."
That food self-sufficiency happened suddenly to both India and Pakistan simultaneously, while both countries were also in the middle of a vicious, expensive, and man-power-consuming war during an unusually dry year. Where, from one season to the next, there were mean doublings and documented quadruplings of yield in the same fields causing schools and government buildings to be closed in order to have somewhere to fit the grain while new silos were built. It is one of the most important events in human history, dwarfing the combined horror of all of the great wars of the 20th century in its positive effect on human lives, and yet it is almost entirely reviled or worse, forgotten. What happened is everything that people are complaining about in this thread and blaming GMOs for.

The 50s and early 60s had a terrible future in store for anyone who didn't live in a society with the unlooted and mechanized agriculture of the US or Europe. Populations were exploding everywhere and there were no feasible ways to increase agricultural yields enough to keep up without massive investments from wealthy countries that would never happen, and the inevitable result was a global famine that would kill on the order of billions. The Green Revolution of modernized management techniques, centralized hybridized seed development, affordable synthetic fertilizers, effective pesticides, and expanded irrigation infrastructure came to India just in time. The alternative was a new world of food colonialism, where the West would lord its agricultural wealth over the developing world like it previously had its military might and withhold it at its pleasure.
"2. As regards non-food GMOs like Bt cotton, their effect on Indian farmers has been terrible. Conned into Monsanto's monopolistic vertical stack solution (intentionally sterile seeds, patented pesticides to be used with GMO plants) coupled with yield promises that were simply lies, many Indian cotton farmers went heavily into debt, committing suicide on an unprecedented, almost epidemic scale in the early 2000s."
The effect of Bt cotton on farmers is something that is better addressed with research than just whatever Vandana Shiva pulls out of her ass,

Genetically Modified Crops and Food Security [PLOS ONE]
The role of genetically modified (GM) crops for food security is the subject of public controversy. GM crops could contribute to food production increases and higher food availability. There may also be impacts on food quality and nutrient composition. Finally, growing GM crops may influence farmers’ income and thus their economic access to food. Smallholder farmers make up a large proportion of the undernourished people worldwide. Our study focuses on this latter aspect and provides the first ex post analysis of food security impacts of GM crops at the micro level. We use comprehensive panel data collected over several years from farm households in India, where insect-resistant GM cotton has been widely adopted. Controlling for other factors, the adoption of GM cotton has significantly improved calorie consumption and dietary quality, resulting from increased family incomes. This technology has reduced food insecurity by 15–20% among cotton-producing households. GM crops alone will not solve the hunger problem, but they can be an important component in a broader food security strategy.

The idea of GMOs being somehow linked to farmer suicides does not come from poor farmers in either South America or South Asia, but was manufactured wholesale by a bullshit artist from a rich family who has never sold a crop in her life, lies about her academic qualifications, conspicuously lacks the fundamental kinds of knowledge to even coherently interrogate the things she attacks, and has become quite wealthy selling green flavored eschatology to gullible westerners.

Michael Specter of The New Yorker profiles and critiques prominent anti-Genetically Modified crops activist (and purported leading physicist) Vandana Shiva: "her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist."

For additional context, read the Genetic Literacy Project’s backgrounder on Vandana Shiva–a complete history of her campaigns and views. Also check out the GLP’s in-depth profile of Shiva: Who is Vandana Shiva and why is she saying such awful things about GMOs?"
posted by Blasdelb at 3:19 AM on July 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'd like to try explaining why I am not so concerned about the safety of GMOs even in the context of corporate control, why I am much more concerned about how the anti-GMO movement is affecting the fairness and social justice of how GMOs are integrated in society than the nefariousness of any CEO, and finally the parallels I do see between the anti-GMO and anti-vaxx movements. I posted this once at the dead tail end of a very old thread, but I'm very curious to see what everyone in this thread who is objecting to the article thinks about it.

I'm already looking forward to the end of summer and apple season so that I can stop by an ancient apple tree at an abbey that is right near where I work for a snack from time to time. As far as I can tell the tree is probably a cross between something like a Cox's Orange Pippen and some probably extinct idiosyncratic Flemish variety, and I can be reasonably certain that the variety has never been properly tested for pretty much anything related to safety much less effects on the environment. I need to carefully peel apples before I eat them, being allergic to apple skins, but I'm going to enjoy the fuck out of the couple of apples I eat because they are fucking delicious and there is no reason to think that this one might be unsafe even though no one can give me a specific answer to the very important question of whether these apples are more immunogenic than more standard ones. Indeed, while the techniques involved on apple crossings are pretty dramatically random and unpredictable in their genetic effects, I don't know the molecular basis for my allergy, and I don't even know who crossed these apples beyond maybe monks, I do know enough about apples to be sure that there are pretty much no plausible ways in which this one could hurt me. While no, formally I cannot prove the negative, I still feel comfortable assuring myself that eating this apple is not going to mess with my microbiota anymore than any other apple would, and its not going to cause cancer lumps to grow out of my head like Séralini's unfortunate rigged mice.

I feel safe eating these apples for all the same reasons why I think that most of the testing that GMO techniques have been put through since the 90s, which all arrives at the same pretty much ontologically necessary conclusion, is wildly excessive. These techniques for modifying the genomes of economically important critters are not substantially more dangerous, or even different from a safety perspective, than more traditional ones except in how powerful and specific they are. For example, check out this freakishly delicious looking 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 incidentally 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 even 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 aside from how they require c sections to give birth.

On a biological level, the only meaningful difference between that Belgian farmer's stroke of luck and what happens when researchers manipulate the genomes of useful crops is intentionality, and the only difference between the apples from my favorite tree and an Arctic apple is how much simpler and intentional arctic modification is. The techniques are not mysterious or unknown, or even new, this is now the thirty year anniversary of the first useful GMO product. Questions relating to the safety of GMO techniques have been trivial, if not solidly answered, for decades now. We are rapidly approaching an age of gut flora modified to make our poop change color to screen for or diagnose disease and bacteria that make meat packaging turn purple when they encounter gasses associated with meat spoilage, but our understanding of GMOs hasn't left the 70s and our conversations about them haven't left the 90s. These are projects that undergrads could come up with and implement, imagine what Greenpeace with its 320 million dollar budget could accomplish with replacing Monsanto's seed division rather than flailing at it, if only it wedged its head out of its collective ass and gave a shit about something other than being greener, angrier, and more useless than thou? The increased yields that the next generation of technology promises will mean less need for farmland and a world where third world farmers could compete - if the technology is distributed equitably, increased pest and disease resistance will mean less need for expensive and harmful inputs like pesticides, improved shelf-life and transportation characteristics will mean that more crops can be adapted to less developed economies, improved drought tolerance will allow drought prone regions to weather climate change without parasitic western food aid, improved salt tolerance will open up blighted land to self sustainable communities, and increased nutrient density already means greater food security.

The eagerly apocalyptic science fiction surrounding GMOs is at best a distraction from the real problems with how GMOs are economically structured, which I would argue increasingly stem far more from the anti-GMO movement than any corporate bullshit. As the strong patents on modification techniques from the 90s keep running out, the new tools we use for editing genomes become ever more powerful and easy to use with innovations like CRISPR-Cas9 systems, and the biotechnology workforce grows we have the opportunity for a radical transformation in how seeds are bred. Genetic manipulation that is either commercially viable or more directly socially valuable no longer requires the kind of expensive centralized development that initially put this technology in the hands of large corporations, and the only thing keeping it there now is the dedicated efforts of the anti-GMO movement scaring consumers away from goods that can be marketed to them, rather than farmers, and scaring voters into requiring uselessly expensive centralized testing regimens as part of regulation. I'd much rather we focus the talents of our new biotechnology workforce on more valuable efforts than just running a little bit faster on the pesticide treadmill in the first world but, far from standing in the way of that coming revolution, Big Ag is actively supporting it. At the same time, the anti-GMO movement seems to be focusing on picking on the little companies and nonprofits they can actually tackle. Projects like Golden Rice and Rothamsted's wheat conducted not-for-profit should be the norm, food security is a human right and the technology that enables it has no business being abandoned by us to be picked up and patented by private entities. This would be trivially easy to do now with all kinds of awesome projects that can produce higher yields with lower inputs or better produce, if only the anti-GMO movement would abandon its focus on dogmatic science fiction and get on with the business of supporting real alternatives to Big Ag.

The reasons why the anti-GMO movement necessarily can't do that are where I see the parallels with the anti-vaxx movement. Its the almost religious fervor backing a blind faith in the natural, and just how rapidly the healthy citizen oversight that is desperately needed to make our capitalist system work for us rather than just capitalists turns into loose associations and conspiratorial thinking. The pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines have demonstrated over and over again that they absolutely do need watchful eyes keeping them honest, but just like with the anti-GMO movement, when we have eyes that see danger and conspiracy everywhere; they're no longer actually watching. It is a type of activism that takes on a zealot's understanding of science rather than a student's where, having run down the rabbit hole, 'truth' becomes a tool rather than a goal. It quickly comes to resemble all of the worst impulses of industry with all of their bullshit but none of their resources. When science is used like a drunk man might use a lamppost, for support rather than illumination, it quickly becomes apparent to everyone who isn't immersed how little a community can be trusted to accurately report what is around them as everything they say resembles a blurry drunken haze of things that do or do not support their crusade. The only real solution is the proper application of that lamppost, the humble search for truth and the honest communication of findings. When people have deeper understandings of science, its nomenclature, its process, and the patterns it has found, it becomes more difficult for both powerful charlatans and petty ones to peddle their shit and this is what we should be fighting for.

There certainly are real concerns to be found in GMO technology, just like there are to be found in vaccines, but I don't think either the anti-GMO nor the anti-vaxx movements are really capable of even seeing them anymore.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:38 AM on July 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


ormon nekas:

"If GMOs have not been proven dangerous to human health, it does not follow that consumers should not be able to reliably identify foods that do and do not contain GMOs. Not only is the argument specious, the idea that consumers should be kept on a need-to-know basis regarding any aspect of the food production chain is sinister."

"I am always amazed at the stridency with which people will attack GMO labelling in these threads. Whose livelihood is endangered by indulging consumers’ preferences against a new technology? There are religious objections too."
The case against GMO labeling is counter-intuitive but incredibly important. A GMO sticker wouldn't clearly label anything or communicate accurate information about the product, just like the factually true but actively misleading stickers that creationists in state governments were trying to put into science textbooks a while ago declaring evolution to be just a theory. They would communicate something fundamentally false, even if the sticker were literally accurate. By way of explanation, there is an old urban legend about two salmon canneries dueling in the marketplace with competing slogans. The story goes that 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!," which while factually true falsely implied that their competitors sold old salmon. Then, not to be outdone, the other cannery, which packaged naturally pink fleshed salmon, comes out with its own slogan "Guaranteed: No Bleach Used in Processing!" Its a funny parable of capitalism gone shitty, but then so is the whole labeling debate.

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 or similar examples of companies using FUD tactics to sell products like 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. Consumers are already perfectly capable of choosing GMO free foods by buying organic if they have sincerely held beliefs in whatever, but just because the companies pushing this can make a lot of money selling you fear doesn't mean our government should help them.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:10 AM on July 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


I want beefsteak tomatoes that have actual beef steak in them

Don't look now, but researchers at OSU have developed a strain of dulse seaweed that contains up to 16 percent protein in dry weight and tastes like bacon when it's cooked.

(No actual pig genes involved, as far as I can gather.)
posted by alms at 7:48 AM on July 17, 2015


"So how about promoting the idea that patenting organisms isn't really in our best interests and keep promoting the idea that research findings (and protocols) - especially those publicly funded - should be available to the public for review?"

Taking the latter first: I believe any research funded by public money should be released to the public domain. I can understand arguments for some embargoes — photos of the comet we landed on were held back to allow the scientists directly involved to get published first — but I do believe that it serves the public good much more to have that information publicly accessible. As to the former, I tend to think that the notion of patents on genetic innovations are really complicated and so while my inclination is that synthetic DNA or organisms should be patentable, as should processes involved in creating them, that's not a strongly held opinion and the specifics of any given example would likely be more important to me than a broad principle.

I am concerned about the risk. If you are not trying to understand risk, you are not trying to understand the situation. GMO is qualitatively different. Large capitalist enterprises brought you safe asbestos, safe tobacco, safe leaded fuel, safe plastics, safe thalidomide, and on and on and on. All safe.... ask the Marlboro Man...
http://arxiv.org/pdf/1410.5787v1.pdf is a beginning point.

The argument is about risk as much as "genetic"s and 15 or 20 years isn't very long to be sure something is "safe". Saletan doesn't know what he is talking about or at least shows no evidence that he understands risk and calculation of risk.
"

Ignoring the general anti-science bullshit (if you want to list things that large capitalist science got wrong, I can spend all day listing things that large capitalist science got right that improve our lives every day — and just because something does have drawbacks doesn't mean it's not on balance positive) to focus on the linked paper, there are a couple of problems with it:

First, it succumbs to a category error regarding GMOs, arguing that the novelty of the process is alone a justification for applying the precautionary principle (PP) in risk management. But in doing so, they contradict their earlier criteria of systemic risk, which leaves their rebuttals on New World crops unpersuasive — and they also ignore what we do know about invasive species in order to downplay the disruptive risk of non-GMO ecological changes. The application of genetic engineering to any given organism is not inherently linked to whether it poses a local or systemic risk, just as the notion of interbreeding (which they use to support that contention) is not assured. The risks of glowing fish being introduced to an ecosphere are unknown, sure, but we can reasonably introduce them to larger and larger spheres and extrapolate from there — it's a potential case for PP, but not an assured one. But the introduction of bioluminescence to illuminate targeted mammalian genes for further research has basically zero chance of contaminating the larger biosphere. Because of the category error, these two are conflated.

Secondly, their PP argument of infinite ruin risk based on unknowable consequences from novel, artificial manipulation is only coherent across the category if you assume geological time scales. But while seems like a legitimate mathematical argument, it's not a legitimate policy argument to posit that because a genetic mutation introduced now may lead to catastrophe in 10,000 years, it is exempted from cost-benefit frameworks and should be abjured. Climate change is almost undoubtably likely to have large scale catastrophic effects over the next 10,000 years, but the policy arguments are compelling because of the legitimate risks within the next hundred to two hundred years. Asking someone to forgo a cheeseburger now so that their great great great grandchildren could eat one is unpersuasive.

Third, their evidence for GMO risk ends up being overstated even as they deny the necessity of biological expertise to evaluate the risk. For instance, when they say that "This despite experiments that show that increased concentrations of neurotoxins in maternal blood are linked to GMOs," they cite a flawed study that found evidence of Bt in placental tissue. In the first case, describing Bt as a "neurotoxin" is misleading at best — it creates protein toxins that cause pores to develop in insect digestive tracts, but has no known effect on humans. In fact, as discussed in the FPP, Bt is frequently sprayed on organic crops. It's not a neurotoxin, and finding it in placental tissue might be alarming if it were linked to any teratogenic effects, but it's not as far as anyone knows (and we've been studying it for over a century now). Secondly, the methodology of the study that found the Bt proteins is flawed — the researchers used a screening test that detects Bt in plant tissue, but is known to give false positives in animal tissue due to similar proteins that naturally occur. A similar test of bovine tissue using an animal-calibrated test found no residual Bt in cows fed a Bt diet. At best, the Ontario researchers should repeat their study using the proper test.

Third, the argument that natural novelty is inherently a small-tail distribution, thus distinguished from GMOs (as they assert when dismissing the "potato fallacy") is belied by the historical evidence of invasive species. Rats and cats have both done more damage as invasive species in less time than Bt corn has, and kudzu is an object lesson in the propensity for rapid ecological change brought by natural invasive species. They even touch on the primary vector for both climate change and human-induced extinctions: Transportation. But apparently the novelties involved in that aren't sufficient to condemn it to the PP like GMOs. If it were, at the very least they'd have to advocate a public policy that discouraged exploration of any new uninhabited territory.

The paper does highlight that current FDA regulations are not conducive to preventing paradigm-shifting biological catastrophes. That's true, and there are a ton of ways that the FDA's regulatory processes could be improved. That does not justify their overall argument about risk management, and a critical reading of that paper makes it clear that it's insufficient as a justification for overall public policy around GMOs.
posted by klangklangston at 11:46 AM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Not only that, klang, in one breath that paper cites the thoroughly debunked Seralini study to bolster its argument that GMOs are risky, and then in the next breath, literally dismisses the idea that any biological expertise at all is even necessary to deduce that GMOs will surely lead to "ruin," because "nobody asks a probabilist dealing with roulette sequences if he is a carpenter" (actual quote). Which is not only inconsistent (and condescending), but also literally wrong. If your statistical model of a roulette wheel says that all of the slots are equally likely, but the plans for the specific roulette wheel you're interested in reveal that the wheel is loaded or that the way it's cut allows the croupier to fix the outcome, then by not caring about carpentry, you've constructed a model that is totally irrelevant to the situation you care about. (The paper then goes on to argue that biologists are bad at stats and therefore we shouldn't listen to anything they might have to say about risk management. I wish I were exaggerating.)
posted by en forme de poire at 6:42 PM on July 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Poll finds most Americans want GMO food labels

House passes bill blocking states from requiring GMO labels on food

It's pretty sad when Republicans and blue dog Dems are the sane ones in the room. I don't think I want to live on this planet anymore.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:12 AM on July 25, 2015


The GOP: Occasionally we do the right thing, but for the wrong reasons!
posted by klangklangston at 12:55 PM on July 25, 2015






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