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If you live in California, you may be deciding how to vote on Proposition 37.  Prop 37 is an initiative which would require the labeling of GMO foods. Since I was seeking information on how to vote, I asked two talented Kossacks to weigh in on opposite sides of this debate so that we could have a diary representing both sides. Below are their thoughts. Thanks to both of them for providing food for thought in the upcoming election!

Yes on 37, by boophus

I have worked as a lab tech and a chemist in many different kinds of labs. I have a degree in math and read obsessively.  I find myself irritated by the assumption that any questions of the relatively new science of genetic engineering were equivalent to those questioning the huge mass of information about the long established science behind vaccines and evolution, both of which are still subject to being overturned at any time or being improved upon by those still driven to do so.

A good scientist doesn't shut off collecting data and doesn't sift out what they don't like. This is a particular problem if they are receiving a payoff either in recognition or money, which raises questions about their claims. A good scientist would welcome data. Good science demands we reject theories even on long established science if counter-data should be presented. To block data collection in the area of our food supply is inconceivably arrogant and potentially devastating. If those self-proclaimed super scientists tell the rest of us we are ignorant and uninformed, they potentially are building a wall around important species survival data. How does blocking people from making the best choices for their own bodies make good science? How does blocking the collection of even anecdotal data in this great experiment that genetic engineers are carrying out for profit and yes, in many cases for their idealized vision of the benefits of good science, help those not vested? Many who call themselves scientists are just as rigidly protective of their claim to expertise as any religionist. You don't just seek information to back your own claims and then stop not just your own efforts, but also anyone else’s.

We have had scientists behind many products and procedures that were missing important information that proved eventually that their discoveries put into practice had consequences they did not foresee. DDT, antibiotics in everything, medications foisted on a trusting public that killed or damaged many; nasty experiments with syphilis and radiation; tobacco was considered in the early days to be a health enhancing product, and even as late as the 80s we had scientist rejecting data that it was dangerous. Do I have to mention science’s part in the practices that have resulted in Global Warming? There is science and there is commerce. It is an uneasy and potentially corrupt union.

I do not oppose GMOs just because they are GMOs, but I reject the idea that the public unwittingly buying these products should be denied information simply by virtue of the fact that they may choose to not use the product. This is our very bodies and the food we depend on. To block any pathway that may illuminate a danger unseen is arrogant and marginalizing others real interest in their own well-being. Some claim they know all potential interactions and reactions on the part of everyone’s expressions of their DNA and the chemicals involved in that expression. That is irresponsible and there is every historical reason to know that there people who are more interested in their monetary benefit then the science. To them, science is the tool to become wealthy and then to defend that generation of wealth.

The other part of this argument is that we have bred and crossbred new varieties of plants and animals for thousands of years. True, but those were carried out without crossing animals and plants that do not normally reproduce together. I was a farm child and I know about horse and jackasses producing non-reproductive mules, but I never saw a hog cross with a dog. I also am not an expert on viruses but I am under the impression that some are the result of shed DNA; in light of bird flu I think that is another concern. I am excited by some of what I read, but I am also wary of its real value and potential risks. I reject baseless claims of fevered nightmares, but I do not see any value in closing down any counter examples that may have tremendous importance to our very survival, because food is a necessity for life. To reject the gathering of information is authoritarianism in a very ugly and arrogant form.

Science does not need battalions of lawyers to force the supposed beneficial effects of the implementation of new science onto disrespected and despised clients. That is commerce plain and simple. It regards humans as feed-lot, income generating animals while disregarding the fact that the managers of that feed lot are indistinguishable from those they use for their benefit. Scientists utilizing the respect their role commands in this effort is like a priest using his position to harm a child, thereby damaging the decency and moral standing of all the good priests.

In commerce there are many obstacles to real beneficial science being uncovered. If we are going to run this experiment let us do it in a way that does not hide results that may counter claims of benefit. If it is a good thing, then it will prove itself.  To me this is obvious, but to the investors and the vested it is frightening and so they look for ways to paint anyone who questions their efforts or products as stupid, ignorant or superstitious. To me that is a gigantic warning sign. LABEL IT.

I will be the judge of what is good for me.

No on 37, by pico

I began this issue as an agnostic: I support GM technology in principle, but didn't know enough about the proposition or the surrounding issues to have a strong stance one way or another.  In the last few weeks, the more I've read, the angrier I've gotten.  Prop 37 is bad policy, and I hope to convince you of that, but let me begin with two caveats. 1. I'm not questioning the "right" of consumers to demand whatever label they want, even (as in this case) a misleading and uninformative one, and 2. I'm not defending the No campaign as such, neither the donors nor their tactics so far.  I'm arguing Prop 37 on the merits alone, and on the merits, it's a massive failure.

Let's start with the science.  From its very first lines, Prop 37 writes bad science into the California lawbooks, arguing its necessity against the "unintended consequences" and "imprecise" methods that "can cause a variety of significant problems with plant foods".  This is total bunk, relying as it does on widespread consumer ignorance about what GM is and how it works; the process is not imprecise and the belief in "unintended consequences" is largely a misunderstanding of the technology, of phenomena like pleiotropy, etc. (Since I don't have a thousand words to spare on the science itself, I encourage everyone to listen to this fantastic podcast on Skeptically Speaking, in which non-industry, Left-leaning scientists explain these issues in-depth).  There can be unintended consequences with GM products, but to a much lesser degree than natural (sic) hybrids, for reasons that should be pretty clear.  Likewise, the claim that GM hasn't been sufficiently studied is simply not true.

Second, as a question of semantics, demanding GMO be "proven safe" is literally nonsense, because "GMO" is not a single technique with a single result.  The GMO label doesn't say tell you anything about the nature of the product: it can involve manipulating genes within a single species or bringing in a sequence from a different species; it can effect herbicide resistance, nutrition, disease resistance, speed of growth, or purely cosmetic issues; and all of these are more specifically and concretely targeted than non-labeled techniques like natural (sic) hybrids or like barraging genes with radiation to cause mutations, neither of which are labeled. If a particular GMO were found to carry risks, the specificity of that risk gets obscured by the blanket labeling; if a particular GMO finally gains widespread support as "safe" (whatever that means), it still gets stuck gets the label.   The labeling focus is all askew: GMO as a technology is not controversial in the least.

Third, let's deal with the industry issues.  The threats of environmental harm that Prop 37 lists, from monoculture to cross-pollination, exist with non-GMO crops as well; natural (sic) hybrids are just as capable of, and are usually better equipped for, spreading into the neighboring environment.  How labeling relates to these concerns is assumed rather than explained.  The bigger issue is that no one likes Monsanto, and with good reason... But Monsanto is only one GM company, not the sum of genetic technology. If your reason for supporting 37 has to do with Monsanto business practices, e.g. the fear of farmers being penalized for cross-pollination (etc.), then I have good news: California law already covers these issues directly.  And here's an unintended consequence: note that a behemoth like Monsanto can manage the economic hit of Prop 37 more effectively than small and more conscientious tech companies, so Prop 37 tilts what's left of the GM market toward corporations that can absorb the inconvenience.  (As an added bonus, the proposition as-written also bans the label "natural" for any processed foods.  A little miffed by the backlash, the Yes campaign swears this wasn't their intent, but the state legislative analyst disagreed: this is the plain language of the statute (pdf).  California voters may remember the last time authors of a proposition made a claim of intent.)

Finally, follow the money.  If it's unnerving that Monsanto is the major backer of No (no wonder: it's their bottom line), it should be equally unnerving that Mercola is the major backer of Yes (AIDS-denialist, anti-vaccine, anti-fluoridation, repeatedly censured by the FDA for providing misleading health information to consumers).  With Prop 37, he's selling his usual snake oil.  I totally understand why people don't trust corporate (sic) science, but our major advocates on the Left for better science policy - people we frequently cite here, like PZ Myers (Pharyngula), Orac at Scienceblogs, or even Chris Mooney (The Republican War on Science) - have all defended GMO tech against the widespread, reactionary ignorance of our own side.  At the risk of making an appeal to expertise: I don't expect 100% agreement with everyone, but when we trust these people on climate science, on evolution, on vaccines, on AIDS research, on environmental topics, on the intersection of science and politics, etc.... maybe we should pay attention when they tell us we're wrong on GMOs, too?


Thanks to both of these two for their comments here. And now we welcome your thoughts.

Originally posted to California politics on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by Dream Menders.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for posting this, and for organizing (13+ / 0-)

    this debate.  I tried to keep my opening remarks efficient, so there's a lot of stuff I didn't get to unpack as much as I'd like.  Hopefully the discussion here will allow us to tease out the arguments a bit more.

    Though we disagree on pretty much every aspect of this discussion, I'd also like to thank boophus for outlining a slate of disagreements that, hopefully, allows us all to put our arguments under tighter scrutiny.   Hopefully boophus will be able to come by later and take part in the comments, too.

    I may have to get running in a few minutes, so I wanted to leave a few initial thoughts on boophus' argument.  Here are two issues in particular I'd like to address:

    1. The confusion between GM and transgenic technology.  Most transgenic products are GMO, but not all GMOs are transgenic, and as I mentioned in my opening statement there are products that fall under the GM label that have no inserted gene sequences from any other species.  Take the GM apples developed by Okaganan, for example.  They work by suppressing the genes within the apples that cause the flesh to brown: nothing foreign, nothing added, nothing inserted.  The fear of vegetable-animal hybrids, already a wild misrepresentation of how the technology works, is doubly moot in cases like this.  

    Oh, and because we use grafting rather than seeds to grow these trees, the chances of 'contaminating' (sic) the environment approache nil, not that non-browning would provide any evolutionary advantage once it 'got out'.  And Okaganan is a small tech company rather than a corporate behemoth.  None of the major arguments ostensibly aimed at GMO are relevant here, which is just another example of why the proposition casts an overbroad net on an ill-defined problem.

    2. The need for more research. I covered this in my opening statement, but just in case: the body of available research is quite large, especially as compared with 'natural' (sic) products.  It's understandable that consumers demand a higher threshold for GM products because of the fear of technology amok, but the way this argument proceeds is ridiculous for two reasons: a) The demands are undefined because they're not real.  To quote from a Yes post making its way around Facebook, GM must be "proven foolproof", i.e. an impossibility.  And as I mentioned above, the diversity of types of GM crops means that the health and safety of one is meaningless to the health and safety of another: I don't have to prove the safety of a GM apple to argue the safety of GM corn, or vice-versa.  I have no objections to higher hurdles for GM products, but these are imaginary hurdles.  b) The comparative studies of 'natural' (sic) products are held to no such standard, based on the fallacious idea that natural=safe/good.  Natural food products can kill you, but where we trust a consumer to, say, take extra care when cooking cassava (a product that would never make it to our grocery shelves if the GMO standard of research were applied), we nonetheless don't feel the need to label it in any way.  

    Certainy the available research has to be strictly scrutinized.  GMO cassava came under fire recently when the nutritional claims in one study failed to be repeated, leading to a retraction of those claims.  This is good: this is how science works.  This is also evidence of rigorous debate over a product that's not on the market at all, so the idea that no real science is taking place, or that it's all beholden to the corporate line, is ridiculous.

    This is why the anti-GMO movement gets compared to anti-vaccers.  It's about the epistemology of science, and how people make the arguments they make.   With vaccines we're lucky that the results are so clear and dramatic, but it's hard to quantify the results of GMO in such a dramatic way.   So this resistance to them will continue long after the earliest studies, some forty years old already, are collecting dust.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:43:21 AM PDT

    •  That "proven foolproof thing" might bite back.... (6+ / 0-)

      It's like saying we should invoke the so-called "precautionary principle" and not do anything unless we are sure it will not have any unfortunate consequences.

      The people making that argument seem to forget that the same principle could be turned on them. Are we sure that, say, herbal medicines are free from all perils? But when they are asked to live up to the same standards they want others to live up to, the screaming is heard for miles.

      "They smash your face in, and say you were always ugly." (Solzhenitsyn)

      by sagesource on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:48:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thank you, pico (6+ / 0-)

      As soon as I read both of your original statements, I immediately hoped that you'd each also offer rebuttals to each other.  I'm glad you've written more here, and I hope boophus chimes in with replies as well.

    •  the link doesn't work (2+ / 0-)

      either here or in the body of your argument. Do you have another way to demonstrate there's depth to the science supporting the use of genetically engineered food?

      •  Which link doesn't work? (0+ / 0-)

        They're all working for me right now, so maybe the site was down at some point?  

        If it's the one to the breadth of research, all they're doing is compiling existing studies, so most of their collection is available in places like Google scholar, too.  What's particularly useful about the way they're doing it is that they're trying to collect everything, that is, research that both supports and rejects the safety of GMOs... and it's not only searchable by topic, it's even searchable by funding source.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 11:04:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  sorry, I wasn't clear (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          What I meant was the link that takes you to a page where you can search for research by crop, whether or not the article is peer-reviewed, etc. When I try to use the drop down (e.g., to select corn), the page I'm already on reloads. I wasn't able to access any studies.

          •  Ah, I see the problem: (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            the search part isn't up and running, so they posted two lists of studies that can individually searched: the full list, and the list of just independently-funded (non-corporate) studies.  Both are regular ctrl-F searchable, and they consist of only peer reviewed articles (I think the search will be for type of peer review, based on what they have written in their intro.)

            Mea culpa.   If this diary were still hot I'd ask the diarist to include a small correction, but I don't think anyone's reading it outside the handful of us in the comments.  Thanks for catching that!

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 04:48:41 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  I really appreciate your quiet style (2+ / 0-)

      laying out the facts as you see them, taking the time to ask good questions of all of us reading and posting here. It made for good discussion.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 08:02:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Your missing the point on research (0+ / 0-)

      It's not the volume but the topic. Safety to whom? Is research being conducted on the long term affects of release into wild populations? It's affect on related cultivars, subspecies, species, and genera in domestic and natural settings? It's affect on wildlife? It's affect on ecosystems? It's affect on foodsystems and their sustainability and long term viability? It's affect on biodiversity? It's affect on pollinators?

      The big picture stuff is where the rubber meets the road and I can tell you from conversations with concerned scientists in the field today that this research is not being done adequately before these for profit GM crops are rolled out to the public at large without their consent. It is a very, very serious issue and I am not sure why you have such a strong bone to pick with it. Clearly people have the right to be informed and there is no reason not to pursue truth in labeling especially since you yourself stated that "There can be unintended consequences with GM products."

      We all deserve to know. There is no reason to vote no.

      A solar spill is just called a nice day

      by furpletron on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 01:16:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the pro/con arguments (11+ / 0-)

    I'm especially interested in the "no" position presented because I want to try to understand this position. This has helped a lot.

    Still, however, despite the deep arguments, it all comes down to one thing for me, and this is why I'll be voting for Prop. 37: I simply want to know what's in my food. The other arguments take a back seat to that.

    (With that said, we primarily eat organic, so know that our food is not GMO to begin with....)

    Please proceed, governor

    by Senor Unoball on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:44:49 AM PDT

    •  But does the label tell you what's in your food? (5+ / 0-)

      I guess that's what I'm trying to get at (in part) with my second paragraph: what's "in" your food if it's labeled GMO?  Has something been added?  Does it affect the product's nutritional content?  The label doesn't really say anything, except that one or more of a list of certain technologies was used in the cultivation.    

      People certainly have the right to know that, if they want: that's why I don't oppose 37 on those grounds.  It's just that the justification for why that's necessary, and the information content it provides, I find highly objectionable.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:50:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, I came into this diary as a Yes on 37 person (5+ / 0-)

        and now you're swaying me heavily into the No on 37 position.  I believe in information, in food labeling - but I believe in useful information and food labels.  It sounds like a GMO label would be useless because it would be so very broad (unless one simply has a knee-jerk reaction to anything GMO).  I'd prefer a label explaining just what the GMO is for that particular food, and then I can better decide whether that's something I do or don't want to eat.

        Can any Yes supporter address this further?

        •  Here's how to structure a no-lose "no" argument (3+ / 0-)

          If the anti-GMO side proposes a basic label, argue "It doesn't give you enough information!"

          If the anti-GMO side proposes a more comprehensive label, argue "I'll cost too much and will raise the price of food to unaffordable levels for all consumers!"

        •  I am sort of a canary (5+ / 0-)

          In a coal mine example.  Most people probably don't have severe reactions to GMO.  I have severe hives within a few hours of eating either GMO corn or wheat.  No issue with certified organic.  

          I need to know what I'm eating.

          •  I have no problem with that (2+ / 0-)

            But, is it GMO period, or is it certain kinds of GMO?  That's my current dilemma.

            If Yes on 37 passes, will you avoid anything and everything that's labelled GMO - not just corn and wheat, but everything? Or do other GMO foods not trigger this allergic reaction?  If not, could it be because of the particular type of GMO that is being used with corn and wheat?  If so, then isn't that an important difference that should be reflected on a GMO label?

            I believe that food should be labelled.  I'm just not sure, anymore, that this particular proposition does the task correctly.  To use an analogy - some people have allergies to particular natural foods.  For the sake of this hypothetical, let's use shellfish.  If something was labelled, simply, "seafood," people who have no problem eating halibut, salmon, etc. would have to avoid it because it might or might not be shellfish.  For the moment, until I do further research and/or hear rebuttals from the other side that specifically address this concern, the proposal of a catch-all GMO label is sounding much like the same sort of thing.

          •  That's odd. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Because there is no GMO wheat.

            “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

            by mem from somerville on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 06:56:40 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  There is GMO wheat and it is licensed (2+ / 0-)

              but you are correct that it is not in commercial production to the point where it is likely to be found in mass market food.

              Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

              by elfling on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 07:56:44 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  And this is precisely the point (0+ / 0-)

                Who know for sure.  It's not labeled.

                I can't tell exactly what foods are causing the exact problems because there are no labels. I'm guessing. Everyone is guessing.

                I do know what I am eating can make me very sick. No its not just wheat and corn. But without any labels I don't have any reasonable method of sorting it out.

                If it was a straight allergy thing that would narrow the field but I have other family members, close and distant experiencing some disturbing symptoms from certain foods.   Not the typical allergic reaction  Bottom line is we must have labels to even begin the process of elimination.

          •  There have been claims related to possible (0+ / 0-)

            allergies to the Bt in corn, but it's hard to pinpoint for a couple of reasons.  One is that it's extremely rare, with the only cases so far reported having to do not with any allergenic property in the Bt itself, but with preexisting illnesses/sensitivies on the part of the the people exposed.  Another is that it wouldn't be an allergy to Bt in itself, but to a protein in one of the bacteria, which is again hard to determine (and would be a problem even with organic produce sprayed with Bt, the most commonly used pesticide for organics.)  

            So it's tough to pinpoint exactly what your reaction might have been to, but it doesn't seem to be the usual suspect.

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 11:11:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It's definitely not the usual (0+ / 0-)

              But there is a serious lag on the reporting of these types of problems. Most doctors tend to shrug it off and pass out the cortisone.
              We need more active pursuit of the problem. Autoimmune, allergies, autism, a whole spectrum of illnesses have gone from rare to epidemic in my lifetime. My grandchildren are really suffering. And I would bet my life it is our food supply. The supposedly tested, safe, good for you ADA approved stuff in the American diet.
              Actually I probably am betting my life on it. So are a lot of other people.  

      •  No, point taken (7+ / 0-)

        Food is already labeled as to nutritional content. But I am interested in how it's made, whether it's an heirloom tomato or one that is GMO.

        There may be nothing inherently bad about eating a GMO tomato, but I'd still like to have it labeled as such.

        Please proceed, governor

        by Senor Unoball on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:58:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the majority of consumers also want to know this. (4+ / 0-)

          Most people want to know and the chemical and pesticide industries are trying to hide this information. They are spending around a million dollars a day to keep us from knowing.

          All other arguments are secondary. We have the right to know.

          Please see the "Facts" page on the CA Right to Know site:

          working for a world that works for everyone ...

          by USHomeopath on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 12:56:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  "All other arguments are secondary." (6+ / 0-)

            Can't resist, then:

            Did you know that homeopathic drugs (sic) are exempt from some of the most basic good-practice requirements of the FDA for labeling?   There is e.g. no testing requirement whatsoever before the products are put on the market.

            So, while I recognize the legitimate if misguided concern about the amount of GMO testing that's been done, it's great to have a user with your username hanging out in the discussion, for contrast.

            I'm sure there's a reason why all these arguments are secondary, indeed.

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 01:27:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Actually, the FDA has detailed requirements (3+ / 0-)

              for the labeling of homeopathic products. I don't care for some of their requirements, but they are there.

              You're correct in your meaning, though. There is no testing requirement that you would recognise as such. The FDA does require remedies to be in the HPUS, which means they have been tested according to classical homeopathic procedures.

              Not sufficient in your opinion, I'm sure. But also not completely unregulated. The labeling required is precise.

              working for a world that works for everyone ...

              by USHomeopath on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 05:58:51 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  You're correct: there's labeling for ingredients (0+ / 0-)

                and for ostensible purpose, but yeah, nothing required for safety testing.  

                I don't demand stricter testing only because I figure people who use homeopathic remedies already know what they're getting into.  I just wanted to point out that the threshold for acceptability in safety is skewed ideologically here.

                Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                by pico on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 11:13:02 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Kudos to all three of you (8+ / 0-)

    This is dKos at its finest, imo, a forum for reasoned debate. Lots to chew on here (pun absolutely intended)...

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:52:06 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for Putting this Together (6+ / 0-)

    I'm still on the fence on this one, and disappointed that the arguments on each side didn't address what I thought were key questions.

    Neither side addressed the claim, or is it a fact, that GMO labeling is the law in a number of other countries and the parade of horribles pushed by the No on 37 camp haven't come to pass.  Practical experience of other places with similar laws would seem to be pretty key when we talk about possible unintended side effects.  What's the story?

    In terms of magnitude, I've gotten the impression that the 800 pound gorilla in GMO products is increased resistance to herbicides.  Engineering for color and other things may exist, but in terms of market share I got the impression that the big deal in GMOs is Monsanto selling herbicide resistant seeds and then selling more of the herbicide the seeds are resistant to.  That may all be well and good, but the average consumer has not been genetically engineered to be resistant to increased herbicides in the food chain.  Is the real issue the concern about herbicides used as a result of the GMO products, not the GMOs themselves?

    •  I'm not sure about boophus, but (6+ / 0-)

      the reason I didn't address the other countries issue is because after reading up on them I don't think it's relevant to our situation.  These are decisions based mostly on politics and ideology.  Europe, for example, has a stronger sense of local protectionism when it comes to agriculture, and the hostility to GM there has led to fairly frequent vandalism of not only crops themselves, but also of research.   We've had relatively little of that here (I can think of one case in Hawai'i involving papaya, but that's all off the top of my head.)  

      As far as unintended side effects go, the GM labeling in Europe has apparently correlated with higher grocery prices overall, but there's debate about whether there's causation, and whether it's applicable in the U.S. context.  Jill Richardson, for example, thinks that American consumers will act differently (no offense to Jill, who I know in person, but her argument rests entirely on this assumption.)   So as far as unintended consequences go, this is a plausible scenario.

      On the second issue, it would seem you wanted to regulate herbicides rather than GMO.   What does the GMO label tell you about the incidence of herbicides in crops that haven't been engineered to resist them?  Nothing at all, I'm afraid.

      (Also keep in mind that pat of butter tried to keep us to five paragraphs or so to prevent the dreaded TL;DR.)

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 12:06:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well, the EU has these laws (5+ / 0-)

      and has very high food prices, and has had difficulty providing its own feed for animals. So they have to import a lot of GMOs from us and from South America.

      They had to change their laws recently because feed was getting problematic:

      The Commission, industry and exporting countries argue the 0.1% threshold is needed to avoid a repeat of supply disruptions in 2009, when US soy shipments to Europe were blocked after tiny quantities of unapproved GM material were found in some cargoes.

      The limit "addresses the current uncertainty EU operators face when placing on the market feed based on imports of raw materials from third countries," the Commission said in a statement.

      The EU imported more than 51 million tonnes of animal feed last year, worth almost €15 billion euros, according to Commission trade statistics. About half was GM soy from Brazil and Argentina developed by US biotech company Monsanto.

      “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

      by mem from somerville on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 12:33:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Do you know (5+ / 0-)

      about the conventional herbicide-resistant plants? Like Clearfield? Not one of those products will be labeled with this initiative.

      And a strange consequence of this law will also be more of that conventionally bred HR tolerance. I'm already seeing some.  Firm developing non-GMO herbicide-resistant varieties. Again, unaffected by this label.

      And that's part of what's wrong with this: aiming at GMO is aiming at the wrong target then. If you hate herbicides, label those.

      “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

      by mem from somerville on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 12:42:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Even though my basic impulse is to (4+ / 0-)

    vote YES on this proposition, the proposition as written is an unholy mess. I hope people will vote NO and that the issue will be brought back in a better form on a future ballot.

    _____________ "One is more likely to be a successful, satisfied vulture capitalist if one is a narcissistic, sociopathic bully." -- Salmo

    by teachme2night on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 11:55:19 AM PDT

  •  But what is the problem with labelling? (6+ / 0-)

    Consumer choice is a good thing. People should be fully informed about the things they purchase. This has nothing to do with potential harm. It has to do with our rights versus the profits of large corporations.

    Why should kosher foods be labelled? There is no scientific difference between kosher and non kosher foods. Yet some people prefer to eat kosher foods, and so they are labelled, and the labels are regulated, i.e. the food actually has to be prepared in the kosher fashion to bear the label.

    The only argument against labeling GM foods is "But people might not buy them!" Oh no. People might not buy a product they do not want? That is sacrilege against the Holy Free Market and the Sacred Right of large corporations to profit off of people against their will!

    Remember the BGH milk issue? Seems that, absent a labeling law, producers of BGH-tainted milk could actually successfully sue milk producers who labelled their milk "BGH free" because that might mislead people into thinking BGH was bad.

    Personally, I have no problem eating GM foods. I also eat meat, shellfish, animals that do not chew their cud, peanuts, and gluten. Some people don't. Choice is always a good thing, even when some people make uninformed choices, who am I to judge?

    Why would anyone want to take away consumers ability to make an informed choice? If you fear that consumers will make an uninformed choice, inform them. Don't limit their ability to make the choice.

  •  thank you all 3... (6+ / 0-)

    I like pico's arguments...but will still vote for 37...we have a right to know...and maybe our legislators will do their job and rewrite a better law.

    I also will vote for prop 30 and candidates who support STEM education so my child can grow up to better understand these issues.

    We are not broke, we are being robbed.

    by Glen The Plumber on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 12:06:29 PM PDT

  •  Just got this in (4+ / 0-)

    from the AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

    RT @dvergano: AAAS on labeling Genetically-Modified Food "mislead and falsely alarm consumers"

    “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

    by mem from somerville on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 12:22:47 PM PDT

  •  I want the labels (3+ / 0-)

    I think the consequence will be that most food companies will take the safe harbor: "This product does or may contain GMO ingredients."

    Since GMO ingredients are in about 70% of our food supply, there is no way that this proposition will eliminate them... and that's fine with me. But I think people have the right to know that they've been eating GMO food without really any notice or discussion, and I think they have the right to choose GMO-free alternatives if it is important to them. Currently, the only way to do that is to choose organic.

    I am especially distressed by the transgenic salmon that was recently approved. People eat salmon because of its healthy nutritional profile. GMO salmon doesn't have the same health advantages. People eat pacific salmon because it's from a sustainable fishery. The GMO salmon is environmentally problematic if all goes as planned, and potentially devastating to pacific salmon if it does not go as planned. We as citizens pay millions of dollars every year protecting the salmon fishery... and we would risk it so some investors can make a quick buck? Where is the benefit to the consumer here?

    And that's kind of my key point: GMO food ingredients, as currently practiced, do not benefit consumers. It may be the case that they don't harm us... I'm personally unsatisfied with the science there, but no so concerned that I buy all organic. But at the end of the day, these ingredients are not even intended to benefit the consumer... and since we eat them, we take all the risk, however large or small you think that is. We don't even get lower prices out of the deal.

    As a consumer, I want to be able to choose, whether my reasons are concerns with the safety of the technology or concerns about the effect on the environment or concerns about multinationals patenting seed.

    rBGH is disappearing from the marketplace. Why? Consumers don't want it, and dairies realized it wasn't improving their profits so much after all when all the positives and negatives added up.

    If GMOs are all great and wonderful, why aren't they thrilled to add to the label, "Proudly made with GMO ingredients"?

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 02:15:47 PM PDT

    •  Let's parse this: (3+ / 0-)
      rBGH is disappearing from the marketplace. Why? Consumers don't want it, and dairies realized it wasn't improving their profits so much after all when all the positives and negatives added up.

      If GMOs are all great and wonderful, why aren't they thrilled to add to the label, "Proudly made with GMO ingredients"?

      So what you're saying is, consumer disapproval drove the decline of rBGH rather than the science, so much so that it outweighed the benefits it provided dairy farmers.   And then you ask why producers don't provide "Proudly made with..." labels?   Don't you see the contradiction there?  

      As for the salmon, I'm going to have to ask where you're getting your information from, because it's not at all what's said in the FDA report on the salmon (pdf), which goes into the nutrition profile in great detail.  Based on this and your comments elsewhere, was it an article like this?  If so, I think you may not be getting the correct information.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:14:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  On rBGH (2+ / 0-)

        Dairy farmers initially were attracted to it because it increased milk production.

        What they found was that it was really really expensive and that it ended up not increasing profits.

        That some dairies would pay them more to produce milk without it merely accelerated the disadoption process.

        It soon became clear that some dairy producers who adopted rbST began to discontinue, or disadopt, its use. One of the mains reason for disadopting was low profitability. Stefanides and Tauer (1999) and Foltz and Chang (2002) examine dairy farms in New York and Connecticut, respectively, and find no evidence that rbST use has significantly increased profits even though its use did increase milk production. In Wisconsin, Barham et al. (2004) find that the 82 percent of disadopters did so because “rbST was not cost effective” for them. McBride, Short and El-Osta (2004) show that the use of rbST has no statistically significant financial impact for dairy producers using data that are nationally representative.
        IIRC, Monsanto sold off Posilac fairly recently at a pittance.

        For my own purposes, although you cannot detect the hormone in the milk, it does clearly have detrimental health effects on the cows, and those effects in general are problematic for me to begin with and can potentially appear in the milk.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:37:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The cost to dairy farmers of rBGH was so high (2+ / 0-)

        that I recall there were several thefts of big shipments of it in the central valley, maybe in 2007?

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:42:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  On the salmon (1+ / 0-)

        I didn't read that particular article.

        Consumers Union is not usually one to go off the deep end, though, and they are among the groups objecting to the GMO salmon being sold unlabeled.

        The particular data that I had come across was that the Omega 3/6 ratios were off and worse than from ordinary farmed Atlantic salmon (which are already kind of terrible).

        My concerns with the GM fish are twofold. I want a label. Again, I think they should be proud of their Better Living Through Chemistry if it's really a better product.

        Second, the fisheries issue is extremely worrisome given how fragile the salmon populations are already. On most California rivers, we are counting down to each individual fish, and millions of dollars are spent protecting them. The GM fish are meant to be sterile but they haven't quite managed 100%.

        If they are careful about isolating their fish, in theory it would come down to the labeling. Consumers have the right to say this isn't what they want to support with their money.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 08:12:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  One other issue on the salmon and fisheries (0+ / 0-)

        Obviously the first concern is that the GMO fish might escape and breed and outcompete native salmon. (Other species could be at risk as well.)

        The second concern is that it might escape and breed and interbreed with native salmon, eliminating or narrowing an already threatened genetic stock.

        The third concern is that the intense growth rate is associated with a much higher level of waste and water contamination, which might dramatically affect the ecosystems of many rivers, affecting life and water quality other than those occupying a salmon-like niche.

        In Northern California, we're currently very worried about the zebra mussel, which has wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes and is now present in southern California. They're terrible on water systems because they block pipes and valves, and requires millions of dollars annually in additional maintenance. But, they're also extremely damaging to water quality because they increase the ambient concentration of ammonia and phosphorous, and cause oxygen depletion in the water column. This can have dramatic and destabilizing effects on an entire ecosystem.  The Seneca River in NY is one place that has some significant research on this phenomenon.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 10:56:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Do you have a source (3+ / 0-)

      for this approval? Last I read (and this was in Nature) it was still under review.

      Politics holds back animal engineers

      “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

      by mem from somerville on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:49:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I stand corrected (2+ / 0-)

        I had thought FDA had approved and that production was held up in the courts, but FDA has elected not to put the final stamp on the paperwork just yet.

        However, FDA did issue an opinion that indicated that they will approve, and included that there was no requirement to label this salmon, which I find inexplicable.

        And the fisheries people are furious that there's no place in the process for them to review and reject.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Oct 26, 2012 at 08:01:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Monsanto would do more for GMO tech (3+ / 0-)

    by investing in a proudly-labeled food product that had actual benefits to the end consumer than they have ever gained with all the money they've spent fighting these various initiatives.

    On the other hand, initiatives like this are a perverted form of economic stimulus. Monsanto outspent our county's initiative 10 to 1 ... and still lost. :-)

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 02:24:30 PM PDT

    •  Funny, (2+ / 0-)

      they don't really need to, because their customers--farmers--are buying the seeds in a pretty big way. Unlike some people, I don't think farmers are stupid. They are buying a product that works well for them and delivers the characteristics they want.

      “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

      by mem from somerville on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:46:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Just to be clear (3+ / 0-)

        I don't think they're stupid either. My neighbors are farmers... although not grains and not GMO.

        But if there's risk from eating the grain, they're not taking it. I am. Why should I have to accept that risk?

        That's my fundamental issue with the way GMO technology is practiced in the US - that the main intended benefit is financial for the producer. Some farmers have also seen financial benefits... and many haven't. But the end consumer, who is part of this web, is not seeing even the financial benefit.

        This objection would go away if the product was engineered to benefit end users. More nutritious corn, for example. Then at least there'd be something in it for us.

        If something goes wrong with any of these products, it's consumers who will be the ones dealing with the corrective action. All the risk, no reward.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 03:56:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Unfortunately I am not that quick (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glen The Plumber, elfling, pico

    in reading and understanding both side's arguments, but I definitely would like to point you to Amy Goodman's show yesterday in which she had two guests one proponent one opposition and a journalist who had extensively written about it.

    Food Fight: Debating Prop 37, California’s Landmark Initiative to Label GMO Food.

    Michael Pollan: California’s Prop 37 Fight to Label GMOs Could Galvanize Growing U.S. Food Movement.

    Michael Pollan: From GMOs to NYC’s Soda Ban, Local Efforts Challenge Agri-Giants’ National Control.

    And one of the last link's paragraph I can't ignore and forget:

    MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, you know, our government has been promoting Monsanto’s products and the technology of genetic engineering. Both parties, as I said earlier, have supported this—the Democrats very early on. Remember the era of industrial policy—I’m sure you do, Amy—where the Democrats would pick out certain industries to promote to bring back the economy during the first Bush administration. Well, biotech was one of the ones they chose. The biotech industry and Monsanto was very close to Bill Clinton, in particular. And so, you’ve had—this is an American product that we’re promoting overseas. There’s nothing unusual about that. And it just happens to be a product a lot of people around the world don’t want. And, you know, it’s important to remember that other countries have had their debate, and they’ve decided they want to label this.

    We can’t have that debate in Washington, because Monsanto has closed off all the avenues of debate. We can’t have it in state legislatures—same reason: lobbying money has closed off the avenues. In Congress, Dennis Kucinich has—you know, has introduced bills to label GM for every year since they were introduced. He’s never gotten more than a handful of co-sponsors. This bubbling up of the issue in California, through our crazy initiative process, is the only—the only way that it has managed to come before the public. And it’s a politics that’s very hard to stamp out, though God knows they’re trying, and they may succeed. And I think that, in itself, is a—is a pretty worrisome phenomenon.

    And watching the difficulty of the pro-campaign response, since they don’t have airtime—and the media has done just a terrible job of calling out the deceptions in this advertising—is discouraging. But we still need to keep at it. You know, there are a lot of people in the food movement who are just like turned off on national politics, and they want to go to their farmers’ markets and work on local issues. And all that is very, very important. But the risk there is we build a two-class food system, where people who can afford to check out on the industrial food system do, and everyone else is left eating industrial stuff. That’s why we do need to deal with these issues at the ballot box, deal with them in Washington, deal with them in the White House.

  •  Wrong Pico (0+ / 0-)

    1) Unintended consequences are not bunk. For more information look into Dr. Ignacio Chapela's work:

    an important conclusion from the 2001 Nature paper, namely, that the transgene-contaminated corn has replicated
    Very, very serious issue. Look into it.

    2) By posting a link to Genera with some "400" studies does not mean that they are looking at the correct aspects of this issue. It's not just how it affects people, but how it affects plants, other cultivars in same species, other species in same genus, animals, ecosystems, and food systems over the long term. This bigger picture has not been exhaustively studied.

    3) Semantics are not the issue. It doesn't matter if it is one technique or a billion. The issue is that the FDA says that if GMOs are "functionally similar to other foods or food additives" and they can be "generally recognized as safe." This is the argument non-GMO-Industry scientist strongly disagree with. They are not functionally similar until they are clearly and without a shadow of a doubt proven otherwise and until then we have a right to know that they have been modified.

    4) Saying Monsanto will benefit over small biotech companies is again totally besides the point. We deserve to know what is in the food we eat regardless of who will benefit and who will loose out. You could make the same argument about Organic, it still wouldn't change it's value or necessity for truth in labeling form consumers.

    5) Because you have a bone to pick with one contributor to the Yes side doesn't invalidate it. You just made the exact same argument for your paper with non other then &^$*ing Monsanto. What are you on their payroll or something?

    Believe me you are not going to get 100% approval for your arguments. Especially not from Europe or the dozens of other countries who think this is important as the majority of the California Electorate do come Nov 6th.


    A solar spill is just called a nice day

    by furpletron on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 12:51:35 AM PDT

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