Most of the time it doesn’t matter in the slightest what you or I, as individuals, think about an issue. Sometimes an issue comes along that proves that it doesn’t even matter if we all agree on an issue, it still doesn’t matter what we all think. Genetically modified foods are a perfect example of this. From this morning’s Washington Post:
E IGHTY-EIGHT percent of scientists polled by the Pew Research Center in January said genetically modified food is generally safe to eat. Only 37 percent of the public shared that view. The movement to require genetically modified food products to be labeled both reflects and exploits this divergence between informed opinion and popular anxiety.
37 percent of the public don’t see a problem with eating genetically modified foods, which, if you do the math slightly different means that 63 percent of us DO feel that eating genetically modified foods is not safe.
At issue is not whether GM crops should be planted and developed, but whether or not they should be labeled as GM crops at your grocery store. The fight here is over whether or not you should be informed, so that you can make a selection. Sellers of GM crops rightly suspect that if given a side by side choice they will have reduced sales of GM crops if we know which is which. Normally, when this happens they entice you into purchasing the less desirable variety by LOWERING THE PRICE. People will eat foods that aren’t even foods if the price is low enough. So, they don’t want to lower the price, so instead they want to hide which is which from you. The Washington Post says “Let them”, because
1. People have been inducing genetic mutations in crops all sorts of other ways for a long time — by, for example, bathing plants in chemicals or exposing them to radiation. There is also all sorts of genetic turbulence in traditional selective plant breeding and constant natural genetic variation.
This is true, that people have been selectively breeding crops and animals for traits that are desirable. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that selective breeding is different than gene-splicing. Bathing plants in chemicals does not change the plant, while modifying it to resist a deadly chemical that kills every other living plant in the same field is a basic distinction that cannot be glossed over by saying “its just the same old plant science”.
2. If they were threatening, one would expect experts to have identified unique harms to human health in the past two decades of GM-crop consumption. They haven’t. Unsurprisingly, institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization have concluded that GM food is no riskier than other food.
As I have said in the past, when talking about processed foods and food additives, one of the problems with the approval process is that additives get approved and then pulled away when they prove to be harmful. This is actually what WaPo is advocating here, in so many words. “It’s not poisonous, ergo, it’s not harmful.” is their actual argument. Could anything be farther from the truth than this? It may not be harmful, but I want to know which is which, so I can let WaPo editors eat one kind while I eat the other kind and they can experiment with their own family’s health. I actually don’t fear eating GM foods, myself, and would eat them if the choice were GM or processed foods. However, the debate here is whether you should get the option at the market, or if you should trust your grocer to be the only one that knows. Once again, they could sell just as much GM food if they cut the price marginally compared to ‘natural’ foods. We aren’t talking about banning GM here.
3. Instead of demanding that food companies add an unnecessary label, people who distrust the assurances that GM food is safe can buy food voluntarily labeled as organic or non-GM.
See the little logical slight of hand, here? The label you demand is unnecessary, because if you want ‘Natural’ food you can pay MORE for the one labeled ‘organic or Non-GM”. Why is organic worth more? Because there is a higher demand for it. Its worth more for the same reason that the GM foods are worth less. They are worth so much less that some of them are not even shippable out of the country. Bad thing is that some of the GM crops are so ubiquitous that farmers can’t keep GM pollen from infecting the non GM crops. The non-GM label will come to mean not intentionally modified, but it will take a DNA test to prove this label wrong. What good will a non-GM label be if we can’t keep science fiction pollen away from our natural plants?
4. If GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.
Just like with drug research that is vital to the world, but isn’t going to make the Pfizers of the world billions of dollars, important food science is done in the agriculture research centers of major universities. Most of the research that is actually useful, instead of ‘profitable’ will continue to be done where it always has been done–in government sponsored colleges. Does the WaPo editorial board really expect me to believe that Monsanto cares whether peasants in Sri Lanka can grow crops that their poor can afford to eat? If GM crops were properly labeled, and sold for what the market is willing to pay for them then the poor in Sri Lanka could afford our current GM crops.
The dumbest thing about this whole argument is that they don’t even really discuss why these crops are GM in the first place. Corn and Soy have been genetically modified so that they can grow them in such close proximity that entire States in the US can be bathed in Roundup herbicide that used to kill everything in the field except for the corn and soy. It’s not 100% true anymore, as weeds are modifying their own genes to resist Roundup, requiring doses of additional chemicals to keep the weeds down, but thats another story. The point I am headed to is that the purpose of Roundup is to keep the price of commodity grains down to the point that we can feed it to our food animals and BURN IT IN OUR CARS. We make kitty litter out of corn. While they starve in poor countries, our food crops are so cheap we pile them in huge exposed piles outside of silos, where the weather and vermin can get at it. This is why we genetically modify our foods. We genetically modified potatoes so they won’t brown when you cut them. We did apples the same way. Whatever the risks are to the world, no matter how small, can it be smaller than the benefit to the world of an apple you can slice and it doesn’t brown?
We are not talking about banning GM crops. We are talking about being brave and honest and labeling them proudly as not natural. We are talking about subsidizing genetically modified foods by keeping you ignorant that you are buying them. We are talking about keeping the value up by forcing you to pay more for a food that IS labeled honestly.
I won’t even get into the arguments against the Congress writing laws that forbid the states from writing more restrictive law than the federal law. If your State wants to require extra things on fool labelling why would the Congress step in and say no? It would be because Monsanto can buy the support it needs to get a Federal law it likes, while not being able to pull the same shenanigans in all of the State legislatures. Central bribery is cheaper.
This fight is actually easier to conduct for us at the Federal level, too. If you want to help get GM foods labeled honestly, write to your Senators–you have two. If we can get forty Democrats to hate the idea of hiding the identity of GM foods we can keep the law from passing. It’s worth a shot.