Why Not Demanding GMO Labeling is Udder Foolishness… (Get it? It’s a pun!)

Over in Off The Cuff, Kazzy asked whether or not he was a “bad liberal” or “taking crazy pills” for his belief that food processors should not be required to label food that comes from genetically modified organisms (GMO):

I’m trying to figure out why I seem to be the only person I know who does not believe that foods containing GMOs should be legally required to label as such.  To me, mandated speech is just as much a “free speech” issue as halting it.  And while I recognize that companies aren’t people and don’t have all the same rights, I still find it bothersome.  Especially given that I have yet to see hard evidence that GMOs actually pose any kind of threat.  Proponents of such laws argue that folks have a right to know and, more importantly, want GMO-free food.  But if that were the case, wouldn’t we see organizations develop standards for being certified GMO-free and companies printing money by catering to this supposedly massive market?

Though Kaz initially worried that he might be the only person to hold such an opinion, the threads have by and large backed him up.  “GMOs are backed by science,” goes the central thrust of the argument, “and because of this labels should not be required.”

I will say up front that I agree with Kaz and others about the scientific findings on GMO products.  Most reputable studies that I am aware of suggest that there is no discernable danger in eating foods that have been genetically modified in a laboratory, and as such I have no qualms in eating them.  Indeed, I confess that when I hear people fretting about GMO products I often suspect a layer of neo-luddism lies at the heart of their concerns.  In a world where access to astoundingly cheap and sustainable food still means the difference between life and death for far too many, I am a very pro-GMO guy.

Despite all of this, however, Kazzy and most of my brethren here are absolutely, positively, one hundred percent wrong.  Manufacturers of GMO foods should be required to label their products as such; anything short of such a requirement should be considered unacceptable by consumers.

There is a mountain of evidence that grows daily that suggests that what we eat has a very direct impact on our health.  We’ve always known this as a general rule, of course, but the extent to which is it true seems to grow the more we study the effects of nutrition on the human body.  We have known for a long time that too much sugar can lead to chronic health problems. But now there is even some evidence that human body might process certain kinds of sugars differently, and that because of this different sweeteners might be more detrimental than others.  When I was a child it was assumed that homogenized milk was good for you, period.  Now it appears that it may have adverse effects in many adults to varying degrees, including chronic digestive problems and an increased risk of heart disease.  A generation ago, if you didn’t drop dead from a eating a peanut the entire concept that your chronic health issues might be related to food allergies was widely mocked; today, it is one of the first things doctors consider with certain maladies.  And after my new regiment of going in to have my blood pressure taken on a weekly basis, don’t even talk to me about salt.  In fact, a surprising amount of our entire bloated healthcare budget is spent on ailments that are either directly or indirectly related to what we choose to eat and drink on a daily basis.

Whether we choose to pay attention to it or not, our diet has a very direct and intimate impact on our health, longevity and quality of life.  And regardless of what Kazzy or I think of their concerns, the reality is that there are a lot of people out there who are unsure about how GMO food impacts those things.

And therein lies the crux of the matter:

Of all the non-negotiable demands consumers might make, “it’s not ok for companies to hide information about the food I eat” should always be right up there at the top.

I am always baffled to hear people argue that agribusiness should be allowed to hide from us what we put into our bodies, as well as information regarding how it was grown, raised, or manufactured. The truth is that this isn’t really a debate about the science of GMOs, it’s a debate about transparency – and it’s one that’s older than GMOs.

In my life, I’ve heard agribusiness and the food service industry argue that they have a right to hide the ingredients, processing methods and nutritional information of what they sell from consumers; I’ve heard as well that they should be allowed to make untrue claims about those same ingredients, processes and nutritional value. And every time they do, I am stunned to hear a vocal number of consumers argue on their behalf.

Each time a question of  potential transparency arises we’re told that the public simply can’t handle the truth and that the food industry will suffer financial losses that will ruin them.  Every time they’re forced to do so, the cries of panic end up being for naught.  In those places where fast food companies are required to disclose nutritional information, fast food is still big business.  Your grocery store aisles are still predominantly filled with packaged foods where the item you believe you are buying (e.g.: orange juice) is in fact not the first or even second of the ingredients listed.  Items everywhere have labels that warn “May Contain Nuts,” and people still purchase them.

If you believe (as I do) that there is no reason to worry about GMOs, then don’t worry about the label.  If there are enough people who are worried, there are actually plenty of growers/processors out there that will do things differently and less efficiently for a higher price.  That’s the way the market is supposed to work, not some ridiculous Randian fantasy on Bovine Growth Hormones where people who die from eating things they’re allergic to learn not to by the same product in the future.

Science may change its mind on GMO food in the future, as it seems to be doing with corn byproducts, cow’s milk, allergies and salt.  Or it may not – in fifty years time GMO food may be so ubiquitous that you simply can’t purchase anything else.  Or perhaps it will be something in between.  That’s not the point.  The point is this:

We should never, ever begin to go down the road where we tell food manufacturers that they have our blessing to purposefully hide information about what we consume from us.

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368 thoughts on “Why Not Demanding GMO Labeling is Udder Foolishness… (Get it? It’s a pun!)

  1. This post was O.G., dude!

    I agree with much of your argument, though I have a bit of a quibble. By demanding that food producers label GMO foods, the government could be seen as implying ‘there’s something wrong with GMO foods, so be warned’. That’s a legitimate concern.

    Also, as a bit of a free speech extremist, I’m always wary of the government making demands of speech.

    Regardless, this issue is not a hill upon which I will die.


    • “By demanding that food producers label GMO foods, the government could be seen as implying ‘there’s something wrong with GMO foods, so be warned’”

      I don’t understand this argument. Every ingredient in packaged food needs to be identified on the label; there’s not an assumption that those ingredients are bad for you. (Though often times there probably should be.)


      • Even if there was an assumption that some of these things that *aren’t* bad for you *were*, one of the ways that people become convinced that they *aren’t* is by having them be around for a while.

        Right now, the ambiguity over how much GMO you may or may not be consuming means that the pseudoscience people can play on that doubt. You don’t know! You don’t know what’s in your food! It could be killing you! The They don’t want you to know it, see they lobby against it! Millions of dollars!

        Plonk the label on there and wait a decade and we can actually have a conversation without conspiracy theorists having a seat at the grownups table. They’ll still be ranting, but we can put them over in the corner where they belong.


      • Yeah, I kind of hedged that by saying “could be seen”. I don’t think it’s a winning argument, but I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand. Also, I’m not sure we can underestimate the irrationality* of the average consumer.

        *I’m not using the economic definition of rational/irrational, just the lay usage, so I hope we don’t start that debate again.


    • “Also, as a bit of a free speech extremist, I’m always wary of the government making demands of speech.”

      You and I are compatriots on this.

      “Regardless, this issue is not a hill upon which I will die.”

      If it weren’t a bunch of rights-demanding hippies giving liberals a bad name* storming up the hill, I’d be more comfortable taking this approach. Though I should say I have taken zero steps outside of writing my piece to oppose them. But I also won’t vote for any of their ballot initiatives should the opportunity present itself.

      * This isn’t really a big part of it, but it is frustrating when a side you identify with acts like the embodiment of a stereotype. Now I know how Republicans feel. ZING!


      • If you want to talk about every person framing every desire as i “right” than i agree what is a problem. But people all over the map do that. Americans see everything they wish as a Right. That doesn’t mean they may not have a reasonable concern just because people wear out the word Right.


      • If it weren’t a bunch of rights-demanding hippies giving liberals a bad name* storming up the hill, I’d be more comfortable taking this approach.

        Except that it’s not. There are a fair number of people on the right side of the aisle for whom the presence of GMOs in their food is an issue. Amazingly enough, people don’t necessarily trust for corporate agriculture to look out for their best interests. I’ve read enough about industrial food product ion to be vary wary of any claims they might make. So have many of my friends on the right. And personally, I find it pretty insulting that you characterize anyone who’d like to see GMO labeling as some kind of Luddite hippie intent on defying “progress” in its latest iteration. If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that huge mega-corps like Monsanto are concerned about profits at any cost. It’s not like tobacco companies never lied about the effects of their products or what comprised them.

        I firmly believe that the jury is still out on GMOs and would prefer not to consume them, thank you very much. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable violation of free speech to ask corporations to inform us what we’re consuming. Ad with all other rights, freedom of speech is not absolute, especially in cases of non-political speech (which is what the First Amendment was designed to protect). In this case, other interests outweigh it.


        • There are a fair number of people on the right side of the aisle for whom the presence of GMOs in their food is an issue.

          Concerns over food are one of the few places members of the radical right and left have common ground. After the organic hippie stores lost to the luster to the Disco babies, evangelical churches (particularly 7th Day Adventist) kept organic markets open, created a market for small farmers and producers to hone their skills But they express it differently, so they can’t seem to get together. Liberals do stuff like this, advocate for labels, the big government solution.

          Conservatives signal food purity differently; I’m convinced that was half of Sarah Palin’s act; like her pardoning a turkey while others bleed out behind her or her attempts at reality hunting on TV. But where the vegetarian liberals and meat-eating evangelicals able to get their voices together, it would be a pretty powerful political alliance when it comes to food.


      • I have heard so many people rant against GMO and gush over organic food that I can’t look at food labeled organic without gagging.

        I have picked up organic bananas noticed the sign indicating organic then put them down and walked another 20 feet out of my way to pick-up non-organic bananas.

        All I can think when I hear organic is meaningless term for charging me more money for the same damn thing.


        • I’ll pay more for good farming techniques. I dislike, strongly, the idea that organic is actually better than “we only put pesticides on when we need to. jesus, we’re businessmen!”

          However, I also know that Purdue is running many a breed of apple these days, and they really ARE different than the conventional apples. Those organic apples are bred to be pest-resistant.


    • By demanding that food producers label GMO foods, the government could be seen as implying ‘there’s something wrong with GMO foods, so be warned’. That’s a legitimate concern.

      Or, depending on one’s perspective, the government could simply require that sellers/producers provide all the pertinent facts to potential buyers so they have the ability to make informed decisions. In situations where sellers have a strong financial incentive to withhold information and that information could materially impact a person’s decision whether to transact, I support the kind of disclosure that could prevent this happening.

      I have a strong First Amendment position myself, but disclosure laws under these circumstances don’t concern me. I see the government acting more in the role of a referee (assuming it actually does its job but that’s a different story altogether).


      • “Or, depending on one’s perspective, the government could simply require that sellers/producers provide all the pertinent facts to potential buyers so they have the ability to make informed decisions. In situations where sellers have a strong financial incentive to withhold information and that information could materially impact a person’s decision whether to transact, I support the kind of disclosure that could prevent this happening.”

        This was, basically, my response on Kazzy’s original Off The Cuff post.

        I lean towards this position, but I’m rather squishy on the issue (and I agree with Tod’s piece more than I disagree with it).


    • I disagree that you have raised a legitimate concern. Do you think there’s anything wrong with nuts or dairy? Kosher foods? Sugar or cholesterol? Those are things that are already labeled on foods, and except for a subset of people who have specific concerns and really need that info, most people don’t care that much. But the people in those subsets care quite a bit, and for some, it can be a life-or-death choice that they’re forced to make without adequate information, if there is no labeling.


  2. “The truth is that this isn’t really a debate about the science of GMOs, it’s a debate about transparency – and it’s one that’s older than GMOs.”

    I agree.

    “Each time a question of potential transparency arises we’re told that the public simply can’t handle the truth and that the food industry will suffer financial losses that will ruin them.”

    Neither of these were my arguments.

    The GMO labeling debate was so often framed as, “We have a right to know if GMOs are in our food!”
    No. You don’t. Or, if you do, you have some work to do to demonstrate that this is a right you possess. Especially if you are running up against a true right, that of freedom of speech.

    Now, I think Tod here does a great job of articulating why there might be a right to know what is in our food… or perhaps more precisely, why there is a compelling interest to know what is in our food. If Tod were the spokesman for this movement, I’d find their arguments much more palatable, perhaps even to the point of agreeing with them. The problem is, the movement as I’ve come to understand it is not let by people as smart and thoughtful as Tod. But the world would literally be one of candy and (non-allergen) nuts if we are all Tod so… fish you, Tod.

    My question is… how is GMO labeling different than organic labeling? As I understanding organic labeling, there is no requirement from the government. Instead, in response to consumer demand, producers have created and specifically marketed organic products and non-organic products are barred from labeling themselves as such (nor would they get any reputable certification to do so) under existing laws. To me, that is the preferable route to go because it avoids some ugly entanglement of the government.


        • No in that if you want to use the organic label you have to follow those standards or you’re lying. It’s not a freedom of speech issue, it’s a disclosure/non-incrimination issue.

          Personally I think growers in general should be mandated to disclose things like type of pesticides used, given that there’s a fair number that have carcinogenic properties but are allowed within a certain range by the USDA.

          Also I think the point is more using GMO products as a grower is a choice. If you choose to do it, then you should, as a grower or seller be required to follow the rules regarding them.

          (Now there’s a separate problem with how the commercialization of GMOs are combined with the oligopoly on seed production…but this is a different issue.)


          • A separate problem but a very serious one. Agribusiness has eliminated much of the diversity in our food supply to our detriment. Barbara Kingsolver’s book on eating locally (can’t remember the title) has a lot of good information and references regarding the increasing loss of diversity in our food supply and it’s potential extremely negative consequences.


          • And it seems to me GMO labeling should work the same way as it does for organic: don’t force the label, but if you do use it, here are the rules.

            Isn’t just about everything GMO in reality? I mean, haven’t we been selectively breeding plants and animals for centuries? Is the modern definition of GMO really that different? So it seems there’s an opportunity (as there was for organic) for the minority of producers that eschew any sort of genetic alteration to label their products as “genetically pure” or something like that, and that the meaning of that term is what should be legally defined.


    • I think you’re confusing freedom of speech with the right to not incriminate oneself.
      Both of those are limited rights.

      Freedom of speech applies only to public speech. It protects ‘speech;’ not ‘non-speech.’
      The right to not incriminate oneself applies to criminal matters. My understanding is that if a defendant testifies in his own defense, he must then be subject to cross-examination for that testimony to be admissible as evidence.

      Or, the short version: Irrelevant.


    • “My question is… how is GMO labeling different than organic labeling?” It is different in the way that listing sugars and fats in the packaging is different. It is not a label that one has to qualify for, incentivized by the ability to advertise We Meet Gold Standard A. The proper parallel to this would be a privately-certified approach to being labeled GMO-free, and to some extent, this exists (at least some foods in my grocery aisles advertise that way).

      It is a different question to say whether there is a compelling government rationale, acting in our collective interest, in ensuring that in addition to being labeled for grams of sugar and fat, listing ingredients in order of proportion, etc., food label its GMO ingredients. And as Tod points out, the question doesn’t depend on a government position on GMO per se, but on a government position on the right of people to know what is in their food, as contrasted with a company’s right to not speak to that detail of its ingredients.

      I find Tod’s point compelling – the issue seems properly understood as one of transparency, and is being fought about potential associations that consumers might make that are not scientifically sound – in other words, don’t make us say this, by not doing so we’re protecting the consumers from themselves and their own irrational decision-making. They don’t know what’s in the public interest well enough, leave it to the experts like us.

      If it was taken to a debate, and it was pointed out that GMO labeling is costly and our money could be better spent, personally I would not vote for GMO labeling. It seems quite appropriate to suggest that it is a misplaced priority. But, granted that it would apply fairly to all food producers, it is difficult to see it as an issue of contrasting rights – if the public feel that it is worth the investment to require GMO labeling, transparency about ingredients doesn’t seem to be beyond the scope of standard government regulation of the marketplace. And a debate about whether GMO labeling is a worthwhile investment is quite different than a debate about whether government should have the right to undertake such regulation vis-a-vis companies’ free speech rights to describe their products how they wish.


      • GMO labelling doesn’t tell you what’s in your food in the way that ingredient and calorie lists do. It doesn’t tell you what gene’s been changed, or what animal the modified gene(s) come from, or anything about how the product differs in a practical sense from a non-GM product. It’s about the process by which the food was made, same as “organic” labelling.

        They both exist for the same reason – to say to consumers “this food was grown using something you think is scary!” They don’t provide them with any information about the actual health quality or contents of the product.

        If we’re going to introduce new labelling requirements based on production processes, I’d rather focus on ones that actually affect people’s lives – like requiring that when companies make products using slaves, or child labour (or child slaves) they have to say so. If we can’t take companies to court for the abuses they commit overseas, we can at least take them to court for not disclosing it.


        • Current science information might suggest that GMOs aren’t harmful but, given that there haven’t been any long term studies on their effect, I’d suggest that the jury is still out. How many other things we ingest were previously thought not to be harmful? As Tod suggests, quite a few.


            • “GMOs” are not a category that would share health effects. It might be possible that, down the road, one specific plant with one specific modified gene might have a health result, but that would tell you absolutely nothing about the health effects of every other GMO out there. And given that what’s being changed is about 0.00000001% (or probably a lot less) of the plant’s genome, the chances of adverse health effects are highly unlikely – really no more likely than health effects resulting from random mutations in food plants and livestock that happen every day.

              Every single time something is invented or improved in this world, we don’t know what its long term effects are. That’s no call for Luddism.


      • This is an excellent comment from David. It states my position almost exactly. I don’t feel the need to advocate for such a requirement, but if the public strongly supported it, especially at the local level, I wouldn’t think the government was overstepping its bounds to bow the preferences and require the disclosure. Food producers have no right to be free from being compelled to disclose information about their production processes that the public is interested in knowing (even enough to advocate for the government to require such disclosure), even if there are rational-scientific arguments to be made that that degree of concern about that particular matter of production process isn’t rational from a health perspective. It matters, though not necessarily over all other concerns, that people simply want to be guaranteed access to the information.

        At some point we could run into space issues, but I personally don’t find that food products in the stores are so cluttered with notices that I can’t inspect the food properly or that I can’t locate the information I am interested in finding. It’s a potential constraint, but I don’t think it’s currently a pressing enough one to override a strong public preference to have this information mandatorily disclosed (which preference I don’t see much evidence actually exists at present.)


  3. Of all the non-negotiable demands consumers might make, “it’s not ok for companies to hide information about the food I eat” should always be right up there at the top. … We should never, ever begin to go down the road where we tell food manufacturers that they have our blessing to purposefully hide information about what we consume from us.

    If you add the word “relevant,” I would be simpatico with it, as in…

    Of all the non-negotiable demands consumers might make, “it’s not ok for companies to hide relevant information about the food I eat” should always be right up there at the top. … We should never, ever begin to go down the road where we tell food manufacturers that they have our blessing to purposefully hide relevant information about what we consume from us.

    …This where “relevant” means “information which an average, reasonable consumer would use in selecting what to eat.” Much of the fear about GMO foods is not reasonable but based merely on antipathy to their novelty.

    There is all sorts of information about a variety of foods one selects to eat which is probably not material to an average, reasonable consumer’s decision. Some consumers may care, for instance, whether steer manure or swine manure is used as a fertilizer. But I’d doubt that most consumers do. Whether the wheat that is ground up to make the flour that makes my store-bought bread was harvested from Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, or Nebraska really doesn’t make that much difference to me. In fact, the exact species of wheat probably isn’t really all that important to me.

    Sure, there are certain consumers who want to know as much information about their food as possible. And maybe it makes a difference, at least to them. Information ought to be available. But for most consumers, what matters I whether the cantaloupe is ripe, and whether the price demanded is appropriate for the season, and not much else.


    • Let’s not use “wheat”, let’s use “spinach”.

      At one point in the very near past, a large chunk of the spinach in the country was thrown out, because nobody would buy it, because nobody trusted provenance and five people got salmonella.

      Was that relevant? If you properly wash your spinach, you’re not going to get salmonella. Most people properly wash their spinach (hence, only five people got salmonella).

      On any sort of rational risk analysis, a company has a pretty defensible stance to say, “we don’t need to acknowledge that spinach is dangerous”, because, really, it’s not.

      And yet nobody would argue that. Well, maybe me, but nobody else, probably.


      • Actually, I would argue that too and I suspect a lot of people would join us. Spinach isn’t dangerous. Therefore, it doesn’t need to be labeled as dangerous.

        Food intended for human consumption is frequently grown from plants fertilized with animal manure. That’s what food is, and you and I and damn near everybody else reading this have been eating food thus produced for years, with no deleterious health effects resulting therefrom. I believe this is common enough knowledge that growers and vendors are not under an obligation to disclose it at the produce counter.

        It’s common knowledge that you must wash spinach before it gets cooked or eaten. At some point, the company doesn’t have to say what’s common knowledge. Where exactly is that line drawn? I can’t say with precision, which is why I refer to the reasonable, ordinary consumer. This had the advantage of being a standard well-known in law already, even if it is inexact on its face.

        If five people get salmonella from eating spinach out of the however many millions of people who eat spinach every day, and it’s likely that the reason they got salmonella was improperly washing the spinach before eating it, then it’s not reasonable to fear spinach as a source of food poisoning.


    • Then this seems pretty simple: Do enough people care that we ought to mandate labelling?

      Reasonable or not is in the eye of the beholder. (unless we WANT to bring in stereotypical nanny state liberalism and say “Eat your GMO foods, you ignorant fool, it’s good for you!”).

      I, offhand, don’t see any reason not to label them. It seems to be an issue that concerns many people, it’s incredibly cheap and simple to add it to the label (nothing nearly like the cost of nutritional testing)…

      I’m honestly not seeing a downside, unless it’s “People stop eating GMO’s entirely and they go out of business” which just means non-GMO’s go INTO business. it’s not like Americans turning up their noses at GMO foods will outlaw golden rice the world over.

      I suspect a great deal of the antipathy towards GMO is the very fact that it appears to be forced upon consumers. Not only is it just shoved into our foods, and “for our own good”, but there seems to be a stiff resistance to merely labelling it and letting people chose on their own.

      Even if GMO were the very nectar of the Gods themselves and bestowed eternal health and youth, people would STILL get irritatable at it being snuck in their food without so much as a by-your-leave. Acting like GMO is something to hide makes it suspicious.

      Label it and move on.


      • As you know, Morat, reasonable is in the eye of the jury. Pick twelve people at random, and ask them to form a consensus on the issue.

        The act of labeling is low-cost, but not low-effect. In the example above Pat raises concerning spinach, suppose twelve jurors would decide that they considered it important to know that their spinach was planted in a pile of literal bull shit and there may be traces of the stuff somewhere on the plant even as it sits on the shelf in the store. Must the grocery store disclose “This spinach was grown in a bed of topsoil fertilized with steer manure, please wash very thoroughly before enjoying”?


        • Would it change your mind if it wasn’t twelve jurors, but a majority of elected officials? Isn’t that the fundamental compact that it means to form a government – that where there is not a violation of rights, we debate publicly and empower officials to act on behalf of the collective? It would be a stupid sign, but if most people want it, it would just be a waste, not a rights issue.

          Side note – it seems that there’s something strange in the underlying notion that people in the market will figure out what information they care about, and then act to set up systems so that they can buy products that align with certain interests (e.g. self-certification of organic produce), but simultaneously fearing that if certain bits of information are mandatory-disclosure, people will misinterpret that information and not work out over time whether to ignore it, and thereby distort the market.


            • If people want it badly enough to bring democratic legislative processes to effect a policy of mandatory manure disclosure, then barring an actual demonstrable space issue re: other labels (which I’d add there’s no reason to presume that democratic-legislative process couldn’t or wouldn’t take into account when considering the manure label in any case).

              At the federal administrative level (FDA), both on GMOs (though more narrowly), and (more certainly) on manure, I think the kind of harm-versus-practical-limits assessment that Mark prescribes is the order of the day in policymaking (notice that there isn’t currently a federal reg requiring GMO labels), so that problems with absurd or frivolous labeling don’t actually arise. So in terms of popular sentiment, even though the nominal aim of these advocates is for a federal administrative reg, in practical political terms I think what we’d be looking at would actually be a legislative direction that that administrative action happen (i.e a law). Perhaps I’m wrong and the FDA is seriously looking at this, but I’m skeptical.


          • Indeed. This entire discussion (not just here, but everywhere) has shown an absurd level of hypocrisy from the ‘small government’ crowd, usually run around asserting ‘Free market! The market will take care of it! Just let the market decide!’.

            Until, uh, the market wants some information to make a decision on. At which point suddenly there’s a ‘free speech’ issue.

            Here’s an interesting fact: When society has decided that there is a danger (Not whether or not there actually is one, when we decide there is one.) we’ve always required providers of that danger inform the nearby public. We require construction sites to post ‘Hard Hat Area’ signs, we require labels on tobacco, we require people to notify others they are a convicted sex offender, hell, we require all sorts of things on a food label that _aren’t_ dangers, such as the amount of Vitamin C.

            This is not actually a first amendment issue, as long as the information the government requires them to provide is _truthful_. And here, we’re talking about a label that is not, in any way, a warning message. The GMO label is a simple statement of fact. And it’s a _lot_ less work than the nutritional labeling we _already_ require on all foods!

            It’s been clear to me for years that a lot of ‘free market/small government’ people are simply ‘parrot whatever corporations want’ people. And every so often I run across a perfect example of this issue, where suddenly the Most Important Rule Ever that ‘the market should decide’ _instantly_ flips to worries that the market may make the ‘wrong’ decision and decide against GMO foods, so we can’t tell people which those are.


            • No, a market solution has been proposed. GMO-free food can be labeled as such, and people that want it can buy it. If there really is a demand for GMO-free products, one would expect the market to provide it. This requires no compulsion.


                • How is that? Under a regime that required GMO labeling, he would be forced to label unless he could prove no GMO presence. If the product was not labeled as including GMO, and there was contamination, he could be subject to lawsuits.

                  As things currently stand, he can sell an unlabeled product with no fear. If he can certify as GMO free, he can make that claim too.


                  • The small fry (like Jon Tester) are the folks who are generally growing the non-GMO stuff. The bigfish can afford to certify GMO at source. Because, um… it’s at source.

                    If you force/ask the small-fry to certify, you’re putting them at risk of getting their fields burnt.


                    • um…if you mandate GMO labeling, then you’re also asking them to do that certification. Or they can just put “may contain GMO” labeling on everything and not bother to actually check, resulting in a meaningless label.


                    • Jim,
                      Tester’s an organic farmer. This is the same way… the non-GMO people will be the small fry.

                      Monstersanto can certify any farmer that buys from them.


                    • Organic schmorganic. If he can’t show test results then he has to label.

                      No. IF HE CANNOT SHOW TEST RESULTS THEN HE HAS TO LABEL. That is the position which regulators have consistently taken over the many years of debate regarding Prop 65 and the CPSIA. The only way you can show that you’re good is if you have a test showing that you’re good.


                • WTF is ‘testing’ for GMO? Why does this insanity keep popping up?

                  People who are growing GMO crops _know_ they’re doing that. They had to buy the seeds.

                  They should be required to _tell_ companies who are buying their produce that, who should then be required to _label_ the food they make from that produce as GMO.

                  Where the fuck does ‘testing’ come into this process?


                  • You may not be aware, but a regulatory regime of disclosure is really only meaningful if verifiable.

                    Verifiable is generally understood to be ‘testable’ – otherwise it’s a meaningless assertion. If we’re all OK with food products getting labeled however marketers feel like, that’s probably cool but I suspect that’s not what pretty much anyone is talking about when they’re demanding mandatory labeling regimes.


                    • No. What they’re demanding is “label Monstersanto products”.
                      see dragonfrog below.
                      People absolutely know who they bought seed from. That’s cheap and easy to verify.


                    • Yes, and regulation would require verifying that the stuff they purchased is actually from the people they said they purchased from.

                      Keeping track of produce sources is _already_ required in many places in the food industry, in cases of things like disease outbreaks.

                      Requiring that companies be able to say ‘We buy our produce from sources X, Y, and Z’, and doing spot checks of that they are not lying about those sources, is not the same as requiring expensive genetic testing.


                  • People who are intentionally growing GMO crops know they are doing it. Ask Percy Schmeiser about the distinction.

                    People who save seed from year to year (which is lots of people) end up growing crops whose genetic material is a mix of seed they bought years ago, seed their neighbours bought years ago, seed their neighbours’ neighbours’ neighbours bought decades ago, etc.


                    • If people want to debate ‘The law proposed doesn’t provide any sort of excuse for people who do not know they are growing GMO food.’, then that’s a valid discussion to have. There clearly _should_ be some sort of exception for unintentionally failing to label GMO.

                      That’s…not the discussion that is going on here, which appears more about the horrible ‘violation of rights’ of…having to tell people things about the stuff you’re selling them.

                      In fact, I suspect that there actually _is_ such a provision in any proposed bill, and this is an idiotic red herring. Almost all violations of law have to prove ‘intent’.


                    • “People who save seed from year to year (which is lots of people) end up growing crops whose genetic material is a mix…”

                      Which means they’re growing GMO crops.

                      “No, we mean GMO like Monsanto does!”

                      Oh, so this is a law specifically aimed at a specific private entity?

                      “No! We just want the people to know what Monstanto–I mean, we want people to know what’s in their food!”



                    • Jim,
                      Ayup. and with good reason too. It’s aimed at these fine folks who are modifying genes.

                      Not that we’d need such things if we were buying yellow rice, of course, because we could SEE that.


                  • “People who are growing GMO crops _know_ they’re doing that. ”

                    If you put flour on your hands before you roll and pat the bread dough into a loaf, then that flour needs to be GMO-free, otherwise your food may contain GMO and it has to have a label.

                    If you spray the pan with Pam or some similar cooking spray, the oil has to come from GMO-free vegetables, otherwise your food may contain GMO and it has to be labeled.

                    If you use a vanilla flavor, then the vanilla plants from which the flavor extract came have to be GMO-free, otherwise your food may contain GMO and it has to be labeled.

                    See where this is going?


                    • And why exactly would flour, Pam, and vanilla that contain GMO-containing _not_ be labelled as containing GMO?

                      What exactly is the premise here? That people shouldn’t be expected to be literate? That it’s too much work for people who are selling food to the public (and hence have to comply with all sorts of safety regulations) to _read the labels_ of their food ingredients?


                    • “why exactly would flour, Pam, and vanilla that contain GMO-containing _not_ be labelled as containing GMO?”

                      So your argument is that someone who wants to be non-GMO should be required to maintain complete control over the entire supply chain?

                      Interesting. Tell me again about how this helps small farmers and avoids excessive cost increases for consumers.

                      I’d be interested in learning why people would not just slap “MAY CONTAIN GMO” on absolutely everything and have done with it, which is what’s happened with Prop 65.


                    • You know, food producers _already_ have to know the contents of of what they’re buying. So they can put it on the goddamn label like they’re _already_ required to do?

                      ‘Herp derp, I’ll just buy this sack of grain without bothering to figure out what sort of grain it is. I’m sure the FDA won’t mind if I just put “Ingredients: Some brownish grain I bought” on the label of the bread I sell.’

                      Jesus Christ, what sort of lunacy is this that I actually have to explain that, _yes_, people selling other people food products do in fact have to know what they are selling. And hence they have to know what it is when they _buy_ it.

                      Problems with communicating up ‘The entire supply chain’ is complete nonsense, because, and here’s a really fucking crazy fact, the _things in question already traveled the entire supply chain_. Insane thought, I know. And hence to get information up the supply chain, all you have to do is require it travels _with the goods_. You know, like some sort of _label_ or something.

                      Rather like, oh, the exact thing we’re talking about.


              • Right! And if people _do_ what to know what is in the food they’re eating, we should just wait for someone in the market to list ingredients. And if people want to know the amount of sugar in what they’re buying, well, surely someone in the market will provide that, also.

                And if people want to know what sort of fees exist at their bank, surely some banks will just start _providing_ that information out of the kindness of their heart.

                And wouldn’t it make sense to just voluntarily label everything that does _not_ contain lead?

                Except, of course, that does not actually happen except in crazy Libertarian land, because those things are _oligopolies_, and having voluntary labeling like that requires the support of people who have no incentive.

                Here’s a fun question for you hypocritical free market types out there. Let us say that I drank 22 Mountain Dews a day, for approximately 1000 grams of sugar, for a long period of time. And consequently got very ill, thus costing me, oh, $50,000 in medical expenses. And let’s assume this illness is entirely traceable to drinking that absurd amount of Mountain Dew.

                Why _exactly_ would I not be able to sue Pepsico?

                Let us assume you’ve given the correct answer of ‘Because the label said that Mountain Dew had 46g of sugar, and said that 15% of the recommended daily carbs, and obviously drinking 330% of the recommended amount of total carbs, entirely in sugar, is going to eventually cause medical problems’.

                Now it is the point where you say ‘But sugar is dangerous’. Actually, 46g of sugar really aren’t. That is not a ‘warning label’. Neither is the ingredient list.

                This requires no compulsion.

                Yes, because it is huge amount of compulsion to required them to print ‘Contains GMO’ _right under the other stuff they are required to print on the label of food_. (Stuff that they’re actually required to run a lab and test for, unlike GMO, which they can determine solely by who they buy raw material from.)





                  • There’s never demonstrable harm _at first_. That said, there probably is no harm in GMO at all, at least not on the consumer.

                    But as I pointed out, there’s not actually any demonstrable harm for, for example, carbonated water.(1) Or gum arabic. Yet oddly enough a can of Mountain Dew is required to have those listed on the label.

                    The question isn’t ‘Why should we require them to put this piece of information on the label?’, it’s ‘Why are they able to _leave this off_ when they’re required to list Every. Other. Damn. Thing?’.

                    Seriously, it’s like we’ve started worry about politicians being bribed online, so we’re debating whether or not Senators have to disclose how much gold they have in their WoW account, and everyone’s running around yammering about ‘How dare we make them say things they might not want to say’ and ‘Can’t we just have those who want to disclose, disclose, and if voters care, they’ll only elect those guys…’

                    …uh, guys? They’re already required to disclose an assload of information about exactly this sort of thing. They have to list _all_ their money in _all_ their banks. It’s just that WoW gold is not covered under existing law.

                    Likewise, we already have a right to know, and we already demand that manufacturers tell us, _exactly_ what we are putting in your body. We demand a list of _everything_ that goes in the produce, and we demand that they dissect (at their own expense) their food to tell us what amount of sugar and protein and whatnot it contains.

                    Adding one single bit of information ‘And did you put any GMO food in this?’ is not some sort of massive change, nor does it require or even imply any sort of ‘harm’ from GMO. And it is not reasonable to _oppose_ on some sort of crazy ‘free market will save us’ or ‘They shouldn’t be forced to tell us that!’ grounds that while accepting _current_ labeling laws.

                    1) Yes, I know that, technically, you can OD on water. That’s not the point.


                    • “Why are they able to _leave this off_ when they’re required to list Every. Other. Damn. Thing…”

                      See the earlier discussion about manure fertilizer and how they are not, in fact, required to list Every. Other. Damn. Thing.


                    • They _ARE_ required to list Every. Other. Damn Thing. THAT WE TELL THEM TO LIST.

                      If we required them to list fertilizer types, they _would_ be required to list it.

                      There is no requirement for those things to be dangerous. The idea that there is suddenly some magical 1st amendment reason is complete nonsense. The courts have never had an issue with factual ‘compelled speech’ on sold goods. (Except for goods that are themselves subject to the the first amendment…they can’t make people label books and stuff like that.)

                      If you accept the state can make them say that Cheez-Its contain ‘paprika’ (Another thing which no one has ever suggested is in any way harmful) then we can make them state whether or not it contains GMO wheat. There is literally no difference at all.

                      If you _don’t_ think we can make them state that on some nonsensical 1st amendment reason, well, at this point opposing food labeling is sounding exactly like ‘The government should get out of marriage’ cry of libertarians. The sort of bullshit freeeeeeeeeedom principles that are found when the government tries to do something, and it’s suddenly revealed that for decades the government the government has been doing something that Libertarians have opposed, and they’ve suddenly started talking about it.

                      But not, they hasten to add, because of random current issue. They’ve _always_ opposed mandatory food labeling, and never bothered to mention it, because shut up, that’s why. (Despite the fact that, as I pointed out, a large part of the repeated complaints about ‘nanny state’ is that people should have the right to harm themselves, and that a well informed public will make good choices.)

                      Next up: The government starts issuing driver’s licenses to people the right doesn’t like, and libertarians mysteriously find principles stating that the government should not be licensing drivers in the first place. Which they’ve ALWAYS BELIEVED.


                    • You know, the only people bringing up the First Amendment are the ones bringing it up so they can claim that it’s irrelevant and we shouldn’t bring it up. There’s a name for this kind of fallacious argument.


                    • You know, the only people bringing up the First Amendment are the ones bringing it up so they can claim that it’s irrelevant and we shouldn’t bring it up. There’s a name for this kind of fallacious argument.

                      You realize First Amendment grounds are _exactly_ the reason that Kazzy was opposed to GMO labeling, which is the point of this entire article, right? In fact, the article quotes that ‘To me, mandated speech is just as much a “free speech” issue as halting it.’

                      But apparently we’ve reached the point for goalpost moving, where apparently now free speech is _not_ an issue, and the new concern is that it’s too much work to keep track of GMO stuff.

                      I eagerly await whatever reason is next, now that I’ve pointed out the stupidity of complaining about food producers having to keep track of exactly what goes in the food they sell…like, uh, they already have to.

                      What brand new made-up principled reason will it be? What theory will be next?! I’m so excited! Perhaps labeling GMO foods requires spot inspections, which are a violation of the third amendment!


            • Why are JURIES suddenly involved? We’re talking about government regulation due to demand (a regulation that can be taken to be not burdensome, insofar as government already requires far more expensive and onerous labeling requirements), not juries.

              So why is a jury’s idea of ‘reasonable’ even involved? I used “reasonable” in the pure sense of an individual’s choice as to whether to or not GMO is harmful to consume. Some people believe it is, some people scoff that it isn’t, and some people don’t know.

              It honestly doesn’t even matter if your concerns about eating GMO foods ARE reasonable. My entire point was that really, whether it was ‘reasonable’ to worry about eating GMO’s was entirely moot — labeling them was cheap and easy, people could choose for themselves, so why not do it if enough people wanted it. It’s information, letting people choose for themselves.

              So again: Why are juries suddenly involved? I don’t get the jump.


  4. I don’t see labeling requirements as ‘speech,’ but rather as ‘disclosure.’

    Disclosure is good.
    Necessary for informed consent.

    Without informed consent, there is only rape and 9-11.

    Seriously thought, too many companies have shown that they’re willing to poison people to pad the bottom line.
    I want to see MSDS sheets on everything.

    Didn’t buy a pack of gum today, because there was no list of ingredients on it.


    • Well, I imagine that some folks would label products for purity, specifically whether it was ever planted, touched, or owned by unclean hands. Such labels would have to certify that the food is free from any physical or economic contact with blacks, hispanics, Jews, Muslims, atheists, divorced people, and maybe Catholics and Baptists.

      Come to think of it, “Amish grown” does seem to satisfy most of that, and unlike a government standard that would wrap halfway around the package, it’s terse. ^_^

      Perhaps a niche desire should be satifisfied by producers who’ll exploit the niche market, instead of having the heavy hand of government declaring the niche to be the market.


  5. I dunno my Tod. I don’t think I’m persuaded. We’re talking here about mandating labels with laws yes? We’re talking about employing people to validate that labeling is being done in accordance with the new mandates no? This strikes me as far from cost free.

    If we are to mandate labeling of GMO foods what about Snarks? Wouldn’t it be useful to inform customers whether their food has been processed in a factory that has no Snarks? How about Grumpkins? What about eggplant for that matter? As far as I know neither Grumpkins, Snarks nor Eggplants have been proven to have no negative effects on humans when consumed. Setting aside these examples what about chemicals? Foods are grown with chemicals. How about illegal immigrant labor? Consumers probably would like to know if their food was grown with any of these things. Perhaps every product could come with a booklet?

    I mean can’t GMO free products label themselves instead? If it’s a big deal then they should get a fine lift from it and with that setup then we probably wouldn’t have to pay anyone to enforce anything. Just about everything is organic now days.


    • Exactly.

      I keep going back to this, but it needs to be recognized that there is a practical limit on the amount of information that can be disclosed on a label (again, if we want to talk about just making certain information publicly available outside of labeling, then it’s a much different question). Because of that practical limit, the information that the government is going to require a manufacturer disclose needs to be demonstrably relevant. This is doubly the case because the more irrelevant information you require be put on a label, the more the relevant information gets diluted.


      • there is a practical limit on the amount of information that can be disclosed on a label

        True. However, every damned product that’s sold has a barcode on it. I’d have no problem with there being a website that can translate that barcode to the stuff that’s already required (ingredients, nutrition information, plus GMO data, steroids/antibiotics used in meat and dairy animals, etc. There’d be a smartphone app for that in days [1], and grocery stores could be offered tax incentives to offer places to look it all up , just as some have price-checking scanners.

        1. Including the ability to tweet whatever you find out e.g. “Velveeta on a burger is still kosher!”


        • “There’d be a smartphone app for that in days…”


          “…and grocery stores could be offered tax incentives to offer places to look it all up , just as some have price-checking scanners.”


          Hey… this is fun!

          Actually, this is an idea I can get behind.


        • Sounds like you have identified a business opportunity there. If many people are as interested as you are, they would buy the app for a dollar or two, and maybe visit some of the paid advertising on your website. Heck, you could even allow them to make commendations toward the products they most enjoy.

          You don’t need government to make it happen, take those sleeves and start rolling them up.

          When you make your first few million you can take the next logical step and sponsor a political campaign to make your product mandatory. Good for business that.


      • Labelling is about a lot more than just real estate on the packaging. There’s the whole regime of testing and documentation to prove your labelling is accurate, not to mention the personnel at federal agencies to police the labelling.

        All this, for something that is, as far as I can tell, completely untestable. How would such a regulation be enforced?


        • “How would such a regulation be enforced?”

          Expensively of course… job creation dude… kick start the flagging economy… haven’t you heard about “aggregate demand”?


          • Not for GMO products.

            The gaping hole between calorie counts and ingredient lists is that those are all verifiable pieces of data.

            I would contend, maybe I’m not as fully informed as I could be, but whether or not a product contains ‘GMOs’ is functionally non-verifiable.
            If you could show me a simple lab test that could reliably advise if a food product ‘contains GMOs’ I would say the labeling idea is maybe ill-informed but well-within reasonable powers of regulation.
            However, to have a non-verifiable claim imprinted on food products with a federal stamp of approval is way beyond the pale, IMHO.


              • You can determine if a given soybean or corn cell contains a particular gene, that is not remotely the same as a test of a product to determine if the food ‘contains GMOs’
                Especially if the product source grain might be of mixed origins – are you going to force a genetic test of how many samples? How frequently? What might the false positive/negative rates be and what would you do with mixed results?


                • Okay. You raise some easy points.
                  Corn from roundup ready plants probably sells at a lower cost, so if you’re buying commodity grade, you are getting roundup ready.

                  It’s just like organic, which routinely costs more.


            • I would contend, maybe I’m not as fully informed as I could be, but whether or not a product contains ‘GMOs’ is functionally non-verifiable.

              Well, my working definition of GMO, on the other thread, was that some company held IP rights over its genetic makeup.

              That’s pretty verifiable. They built the thing, they have provenance over it when they sell it to you, they can put it on the invoice. And in return, you can put it on whatever you make out of the stuff they sold you on that invoice.

              This doesn’t seem to be a very high burden, to me. Verification doesn’t need to be via testing, just an occasional audit of the processing chain.


              • “my working definition of GMO, on the other thread, was that some company held IP rights over its genetic makeup.”

                Which means that any amateur gardner is a genetic engineer producing GMO crops, because non-propogation agreements are pretty much de rigeur for gardening, and it seems difficult to argue that a non-propogation agreement is not “holding IP rights over a genetic makeup”.


                • Good point. Because a gardener who tries to keep volunteers out of his garden is exactly the same as a company that puts a patent on a genetic code and then sues anyone that sells items with that same code. I dont’ know how we’d ever be able to tell them apart.


        • Pretty simply: Define it at the seed level.

          Then use the transitive property. Monsanto and other relevant corporations would label their seeds as GMO. You sell corn or whatever grown from GMO seeds, you label it GMO.

          Really, it’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds. Much easier than, say, nutritional testing.

          All you need is a simple definition. I mean, good lord, GMO crops are patented for Pete’s sake. They’re not hiding it.


      • Because of that practical limit, the information that the government is going to require a manufacturer disclose needs to be demonstrably relevant.

        But doesn’t that just raise the question of how to define what’s relevant to a community? IOW, are you saying that if a community prefers, in full recognition of the limitations of space and competing priorities, to mandate disclosure about GMOs and we think that’s a silly priority, then what exactly are you saying has gone wrong? Have they made a mistake that they somehow ought to be prevented from making, or have they just made a mistake that they should live with like communities frequently do? IOW, it seems like if they really care about it, then it’s relevant, regardless of what science or rationality says. So I guess the question is, where does this relevance standard get defined and enforced? In the community or outside? And if you concede that it’s onside, then doesn’t that really just reduce down to an admonition to communities to try to make the best policy they can, keeping all factors and priorities in mind as much as possible? Generally, it seems to me, that’s what communities try to do, but we know that there is always mixed success. And unless some outside rationality review is imposed on community decision-making, inside communities it will always be the case that everyone won’t agree, and there won’t be any final resolution, on what’s “relevant” to a policy decision, even though everyone is committed to making good policy. Ultimately you have to decide whether you’re okay with a community’s decisions about what’s important and relevant enough to act on, or you have to call for some outside “rationality/relevance” review. But just saying that considerations need to be relevant (or important, or high-priority) is going to have little purchase inside community decision-making processes, where people already feel that way wrt to whatever policy aims they have.

        It seems to me that if people in a community care enough about GMOs, then, regardless of the reality about GMOs, concern about GMOs can becomes relevant enough for a community to legitimately decide to mandate disclosure about them, in view of their priorities. If you want to say that the community should not take that step, or be allowed to then you need to choose which of those you are saying, and argue for it. If a community feels that GMOs are relevant enough to mandate disclosure and you don;t want to tell them they should be prevented from doing so, then you need to say not that GMO’s have to be shown to have relevance (if people care about them, then they have relevance), but instead, you have to argue that the people in the community should not have such concerns about GMOs, should change how they think of them, and should choose not to pursue the labeling mandate. If, on the other hand, you are saying that there should be some external control over what the community’s policy decisions will be such that labeling mandates like this must be pursuant to some technocratic vision of what is substantively relevant for humans in choosing what to eat, then that is what you should say. But the reality is that, if a community is on the verge of choosing to mandate such labeling, then by virtue of having proceeded to that point in the decision making process, the community has shown that it deems the concern relevant, or at least a significant subpart thereof has expressed that view. So the question becomes what is the jurisdiction and locus and process for review being proposed by those who want to deem the deeming of that concern as relevant mistaken?


        • The idea that we’re suddenly at the ‘limit’ for labeling is nonsense, anyway. There’s absolutely no reason that we couldn’t add another line to the required ‘Nutritional Facts’ section, right above ‘Serving Size’ or whatever.

          A lot of people seem to think this would be required as some big label on the front. Perhaps there is some actual bill or something that I don’t know of requiring that, but I think that unlikely…the only thing _required_ on the front of a food package is the amount of the food in the package. (I thought there were some extra rules about different things like soft drinks having their black ‘calories’ badge, but it turns out that’s a private initiative of the American Beverage Institute that Coke and Pepsi and others are participating in.)


  6. The food industry won’t go broke if GMOs are labelled. But the sheer volume of misinformation out there about them, and the scientific illiteracy of the average person, has the potential to set scientific progress in improving the global food supply back a long time.


      • But is there any amount of information that would be sufficient about GMO foods, and if you could absorb such a label should we automatically grant you a master’s degree in chemistry, genetics, and biology?

        “Amish grown” is sounding better and better.


        • It seems to me that if a person would purchase a beet knowing that the beet has a frost resistant gene from an iceplant but would not purchase a beet that had a “CONTAINS GMO” sticker, that there is some weird dynamic going on.

          Pointing out that “CONTAINS GMO” is providing information seems to be another weird dynamic, certainly if we agree that this same person would buy the iceplant beet if they knew what the actual gene trading involved.


          • What percentage of soylent green has to be genetically human before you get squicked? Zero, or is “That’s just so it can make its own Vitamin D” acceptable?


            • “If you want to know more, see the company’s web site” vs. “Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain”.

              Practically? Zero. Almost nobody will follow up on the first. I don’t find this a compelling reason.

              I submit that in the grand scheme of things, this is not an unreasonable demand. If the costs were higher, maybe.


          • It seems to me, if people provided with large serving size beverages drink more than people provided with small serving size beverages (1), despite not having an objective reason to be more thirsty, that there is some weird dynamic going on. And is there any amount of information we could put on a label that would grant the reader degrees in nutrition science and medicine? Therefore, it’s impossible for customers to give informed consent to consuming 16.01 oz sodas, so they must be banned. QED.

            (1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17126628


            • Dude. You keep assuming that the automatic response of “I don’t like X” is “WE NEED TO BAN X!!!”

              Not all people who don’t like things immediately resort to banning them. This goes doubly so when it comes to the question of “should the government force X to happen?”

              If we say “no, the government shouldn’t force X to happen”, that doesn’t mean that we want to ban X.


              • Yes, if only there were some sort of response short of banning something that would allow people who dislike something to act. What if, say, we put some sort of label on the product, so that people were informed of the situation but free to make their own choices.

                I’m not sure how responding to a request for more consumer information with “but if people were informed, they might make bad choices” is any less paternalistic.


                • but if people were informed

                  I’m suggesting that “CONTAINS GMO” is not, in fact, providing information. It might be providing data… but that’s not the same thing.

                  I imagine that if there were a particularly good ad campaign that showed people in white coats explaining how we’re making iceberg lettuce *BETTER* by making it more like tomatoes and “We’re *PROUD* to say that our salad contains GMO. LOOK FOR THE GMO LABEL!!!”, that, suddenly, we’d see requests for the government to do something… well, something else.

                  There are weird dynamics at play here.


                  • Mandatory labels do carry certain implications beyond what information they carry.

                    Why are nut labels required? Danger.
                    Why phenylalanine warnings? Danger.
                    Reasonable conclusion about GMO warnings? Danger.


                    • Should we list mandatory labels that don’t carry the connotation of danger?

                      Calorie lists. Nutritional information. 99% of the stuff on the list of ingredients for just about every product (which nobody is allergic to).

                      Hey, would you buy a yellow can that said, in black letters, “FOOD”?


                    • Why are nut labels required? Danger.

                      You’re undermining your own argument. I don’t think many people think the government is saying that nuts are inherently dangerous and everyone who eats them is putting their health at risk. Most people will happily eat nut-containing foods, warning or no warning. The only people who pay attention to those warnings are people who already know they want to avoid nuts.

                      There are weird dynamics at play here.

                      There are weird dynamics in play regarding beverage serving sizes, as I said already in this thread. Weird dynamics are everywhere in human behavior.


  7. Exactly how the hell is it that neither of the two posts on this subject mentioned California’s Proposition 65?

    Because that’s what this is.

    You are never, ever, going to be able to prove–without some kind of Star Trek scan of the individual molecules of food–that GMO were not involved in the production of that food item. Maybe the apple itself isn’t GMO, but what if the fertilizer came from a compost heap that at some point had GMO rice thrown in it? How do you *prove* that the genes from that rice didn’t survive through the composting and get spread on the apple and survive all the way to the market and into your mouth and YOU JUST ATE A GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM AND YOU WILL GET BRAIN CANCER AND DIE. Prove that won’t happen. If you can’t prove that won’t happen then you have to label that apple as “may contain genetically modified organisms”.

    Which means that if you make “GMO labeling” mandatory, then any food item sold will need to have a GMO label on it, or the seller can be sued for failure to follow labeling regulations. Or maybe they’ll just put a sticker on the door saying “warning: Food items provided in this area may contain genetically modified organisms”. Meaning that the end result is, in fact, no information whatsoever.


    • Er, that’s not how genetic information is transmitted?

      You don’t see people spontaneously developing the ability to photosynthesize even though they eat a lot of plants.

      Plants don’t gain genes from stuff that’s in their fertilizer.


      • “Plants don’t gain genes from stuff that’s in their fertilizer.”

        Wasn’t what I said. And anyway, prove it. After all, they’ve shown that when you grow GMO plants in a field with non-GMO plants, the GMO genes transfer into the non-GMO plants. There’ve been actual studies! Or maybe there haven’t but anyway there were lawsuits and Monstanto made farmers burn all their crops! You don’t *KNOW* genes can’t transfer like that, do you? Like, in some way that you can prove to *me*, the average citizen who thinks that “Jurassic Park” was how genetic engineering actually works?


          • But if the common man isn’t going to “get it” then what’s the use of having the warning? I mean, what’s the takeaway from GMO labeling? “Well, then it would be labeled.” Fine; slap a label on absolutely everything. Next?

            Oh, not everything has GMO in it? See above. Note that you *will* have people suing over the absence of GMO labels, just as it’s a cottage industry in California to sue over a lack of Prop 65 labeling.

            And, as was stated elsewhere, everything in the supermarket (except maybe wild-caught seafood) is GMO. A cow is not a naturally-occurring animal. That the GMO process was achieved through selective breeding rather than catalyzation of phosphodiester bonds doesn’t mean that the modification was not radical in the extreme.


            • I’m fine with GMO foods. But saying there is no difference between selective breeding and the way they make GMO foods is ignoring a pretty big difference. Breeding the cutest cow or the dog that produces the most milk is quite a bit different from sniping a bit of DNA and plonking it into an embryo.


              • Yes, when you “plonk” the DNA into an embryo (which isn’t what happens but you really want to use the woowooscary description so whatever) you know what DNA you put in, you know what it’s supposed to do, and you can verify that you aren’t getting unexpected results.

                When you let two animals breed, you’re mashing two complete gene sets together and hoping for the best.

                What you are saying is that you like nuts in your cake, but that you’re concerned that adding just nuts would be bad, so you’d rather throw a whole Snickers bar into the batter.


  8. I am always baffled to hear people argue that agribusiness should be allowed to hide from us what we put into our bodies, as well as information regarding how it was grown, raised, or manufactured. The truth is that this isn’t really a debate about the science of GMOs, it’s a debate about transparency – and it’s one that’s older than GMOs.

    Sort of.

    If it was just about transparency then GMOs would not even merit special attention in the debate.

    There is obviously a limit to disclosure, and 100% information on everything is just impossible. Thus, we prioritise our concerns and different people have different priorities. For some people GMO’s are very important, for other people “organic fruit” is more important (as if anyone eats inorganic fruit, hurts your teeth, but that’s another argument) but maybe mineral content and vitamin content are more important. Also, mandatory labelling costs money (increasingly large amounts of money as the regulations get thicker) and it tends to lock small producers out of the market (large producers can better amortise the costs or regulatory compliance). Worse, as we see in Europe, people simply cheat. Your pie might be labelled “beef” but when actually tested, some of them contained horse, while others contained no meat DNA from any animal at all!

    So it is really a matter of how to get a reasonable level of transparency, cheaply, and in a way that is difficult to cheat, and address the main concerns of the buyers. Sounds like one of those balancing acts that free markets are pretty good at solving. Let’s face it, a very large number of customers will happily buy a nondescript tomato from a nondescript fruit shop, with no special label at all, and take zero interest in where it came from. They will, however, get pretty darn cranky if the price of fruit goes up by 5%.


    • But wouldn’t it be easier to comply with the labeling requirement if the genetic modification resulted in the plant or animal growing its own label?


  9. Of all the non-negotiable demands consumers might make, “it’s not ok for companies to hide information about the food I eat” should always be right up there at the top.

    On the contrary, it is essential that companies hide information about the food you eat. I present information to non-technical audiences for a living, and I can tell you hiding information is as important to informing people as disclosing information.

    People can only absorb so much data, especially if they aren’t familiar with the topic in question, especially especially if they are short on time or attention. When you’re operating in an environment like that the key is to offer a little information as you can, without distorting the picture you’re giving. The job of an analyst is to pick the critical facts out of a morass of data and present them to your audience so they don’t have to repeat that work for themselves (because if they could interpret raw data for themselves, why would they need you?).

    This applies to warning labels too. You need to give consumers enough information to make an informed decision, but every extra note you add dilutes the whole label, making it harder for the consumer to absorb the other information it contains. So if you’re thinking of adding another piece of information to a label, you need to ask yourself “Does this add enough relevant data to the label to justify making the label as a whole harder to digest?”

    In my opinion, the answer for GMO disclosure is no. For one thing, there’s no a priori reason to believe GMOs are any more dangerous than the food we eat now. For another “contains GE ingredients” is too vague to be useful. Any risks would depend entirely on which genes were moved, and where. Any disclose detailed enough to be useful would be too detailed to be comprehensible. Plus, depending on how the diclosure is mandted (most of these schemes I’m familiar with create the impression that the “contains GE ingredients” label is a warning label, you can end up fearmongering, which is a form of disclosure that is worse than useless.

    If there’s a demand for GE free food, let the private sector use labelling to point out GE-free food. And woe betide anyone who uses such a label falsely. But a mandatory disclose on GE contents isn’t informative in any meaningful sense.


    • James,
      Producers of peanut-based products routinely withhold life-threatening information, simply because the information is … disgusting.

      Have you ever known someone who’s allergic to cockroaches? Don’t you think they’d like to know how much is in there?

      How about someone who’s allergic to animal dander? Don’t you think they’d like to know how much rathair is in what they’re eating?


  10. Let’s put aside GMOs for a moment and talk about the Red Delicious apple.

    The Red Delicious is a cultivar of apple that isn’t. Delicious, that is. It’s very red. back in the day, it was reddish and tasty. But you can’t see the tasty, and you can see the red.

    Supermarkets found out that the redder and shinier the apples were, the more customers bought them. So they began paying top dollar for the biggest, shiniest, reddest apples. Farmers bred big and shiny and red apples. And in the breeding process, the apples became mushy and tasteless. It took decades before the apple-buying public realized that the prettiest apples weren’t the tastiest, and started buying Gala and Fuji apples instead. Apple farmers owned orchards full of apples nobody wanted, and the end result was a bailout of something like 90 million dollars.

    That’s what happens when the buying public focuses on the superficial instead of things like taste, texture, and nutrition. Quality is reduced. The consumer loses. When the consumer wises up, the producer loses. If the government gets involved, then the taxpayer loses.

    And yeah, sometimes actors in a market are going to make irrational decisions. And we can live with that and hope that the corrective mechanisms don’t cause too much pain. But under no circumstances should we be asking the government to encourage such irrational decisions.


    • Farmers bred big and shiny and red apples. And in the breeding process, the apples became mushy and tasteless.

      Actually, this doesn’t do much to explain apple cultivation. Because apples are pretty wild with their reproduction. Most seed produce trees with, by supermarket standards, unedible fruit. Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around sowing fruit-for-eating stock, he went around sowing a high-demand product for making liquor.

      Red Delicious apples are all clones from a cultivar that produced the original red delicious apple. Same with Macs, yellow delicious, gala, honeycrisp (my favorite). The original tree had branches gut and grafted onto other root stock, and the varieties spread in this way. There’s a profitable business in searching out old heirloom apples; not for their seeds, but for the branches that can be grafted onto other trees and thus spread. The seeds of those apple trees produce who knows what?

      I actually have a wild apple in my back yard with some tasty fruit on it; that’s pretty unusual, and it might be worth a small fortune, I’ve yet to share it with an apple grower to see what they think.

      To the taste/mushiness/etc. qualities of the red delicious in the store, you need to look at other things: soil quality, time of harvest, ethanol exposure to force ripening, storage, etc. Many are picked before the sugars are fully developed so that they’ll hold; red delicious in particular reddens before it’s mature, and then treated with ethanol gas to sweeten it before shipment to market.

      And there’s that final, most important consideration: apples are a seasonal product. They last well, with proper storage, depending on the type of apple. The honeycrisps I so enjoy are only available from late September through the end of December/Jan. An apple in the summer, unless it’s shipped from the southern hemisphere, is actually an outrageous thing. Agriculture, despite our efforts to have all produce available at all times of the year, depends on the season, and flavor and quality are actually linked to season.


      • Honeycrisps are only good through November or so. Silly watercored apples.
        I’m up here in applecountry (I’ve seen some of Johnny Appleseed’s original trees, fwiw).

        Red delicious used to be circular fruit, now they’re essentially square. I don’t see how a different rootstock does that. Soil’ll change how many and how large the apple is, but it won’t change the color and everything.


        • You’re rather missing the point, Kim.

          Those red delicious are all genetically identical to the tree originally produced red delicious; though there may have been selection for shape that’s also called red delicious; I don’t know.

          MacIntosh are all genetically identical to the original mac. They’re clones grafted to root stock, they’re not trees grown from seed.


            • Kimmi, those are all sports, that is, clones with genetic drift. They’re all still clones of the original.

              Zic, you’re very much right to call me out on the use of “breeding”. Apples are, like many fruits and veggies, cloned with a grafting process.* As you point out the undesirable traits are the result of selecting certain sports, growing conditions, storage conditions, etc.

              As for the square apples, Kimmi, I suspect that’s just what happens when you try to grow them bigger– The extra flesh goes onto the corners, as it were, giving you a squarer shape.

              *Yep, cloned. We’ve been going mad scientist on our fruits for 4000 years. Nowadays you’ve got people using the term “Frankenfoods” for GMOs when most fruit you eat comes from trees that are sewn together parts of multiple plants. Imagine if we had to label all asexually propigated plants as “clone” –after all, the consumer has a right to know.


              • Can’t be a clone if the genes are different… but i take your point. see second link for how folks’re doing it with seeds and stuff.

                Fugis can be huger’n heck, and still be roundish.

                rofl. that would be hilarious, you’re right.


  11. I can think of several things that food producers could put on labels that would be more useful to me than whether or not the food contains GMOs. Lipid profile, for one. Saturated and unsaturated fat isn’t enough; at the very least unsaturated should be broken down into mono- and polyunsaturated, and information about levels of specific polyunsaturated fatty acids would help, as well. Then there’s a breakdown of the types of sugars. Information about vitamin content other than the basic required ones. For animal products, what the animals were fed.

    Then there’s the fact that “Contains GMOs” is not particularly informative. All it tells us is that, in addition to the thousands of genes haphazardly thrown together by evolution and crossbreeding, a handful of carefully selected genes were deliberately inserted into the product’s genome. Telling us what those genes are could reasonably be considered informative. But “Contains GMOs?” Who the hell knows what’s in there?

    The problem is that by requiring that companies specifically label that one thing out of literally hundreds of different things that they could possibly label but currently don’t, the government implicitly endorses the idea that that particular thing is especially worthy of concern.

    Optional labeling by producers of non-GM food allows the government to stay neutral, and also allows the market to decide. If “Contains no GMOs” turns out to be a real selling point, producers will advertise it, and some will even stop using them. If not, then maybe that particular bit of information about the food doesn’t need to be privileged above others through required labeling.

    If we’re going to require it, though, why not require information about the specific proteins coded for by the added genes, rather than the uninformative scarlet G?


  12. What do the proponents of these laws actually propose? Local laws? A federal law? An FDA regulation?

    If their aim is federal, it seem to me that we’re far enough from this ever happening that the most reasonable response here is to treat this like any other nutty proposal: people make nutty proposals; that’s what people do: we’re not going to enact it or even very seriously consider it. And if their aim tends to be more local, why not take a federalistic approach: particular places have particular preferences and concerns, and if this is a priority for the good people of Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, well, let’s give them the respect of believing they can work the issue out for themselves.


  13. I’m a big fan of disclosure, in most all things, especially food.

    I want to know if a food product is made with GMO, and how exactly the food was modified. I’m ok with all the details not being on the label but it should be available for my review-allowances for proprietary info withholding, etc.

    BUT no one has a RIGHT to know what’s in their food and no company has a RIGHT to not disclose it, and by “right” I mean “this isn’t labeled so I can sue you and win damages.” I’m content to let the market place pressure companies to disclose this info in a REGULATORY NEUTRAL framework. Let the activist test products they think might be GMO and call out companies’ misbehavior. Let consumers agitate to the companies for more details on the label, or boycott the products if companies refuse.


  14. in fifty years time GMO food may be so ubiquitous that you simply can’t purchase anything else

    Bees don’t know the difference between a field of organic peas and GMO peas a half mile down the road.

    Neither does wind, which pollinates corn.

    This isn’t just about consumer labels, though your point on labeling and transparency is great. It’s about what we let creep into the genetic stream before we comprehend it.

    It’s also about corporate practice here; because bees and wind do pollinate, and Monsanto has taken farmers with crops in fields near their patented-gene fields to court.

    And wtf is this about patenting genes?


  15. I should ask Pat to help, because his comment-fu is so much stronger than mine. But I’m remembering a conversation that went on here a year or two ago about whether or not companies should be required to let people know the ingredients and nutritional info of the food they sold.

    What I find interesting is that if I think back to the people who I remember being an active part of that conversation (Pat, JB, Jim Heffman, greginak, etc.) their responses and degree of certainty were the same, even though their reasoning was obviously entirely different. In fact, if I’m pretty sure you could just transpose their comments, add the word GMO, and you’d not be the wiser.

    Which makes me wonder to what degree our views on our own nutrition are social signaling.


    • I think that one of my issues with “nutritional info” was that the technocrats were surprised when people went for “more bang for the buck” and would rather spend $2.99 on 540 calories than $2.99 on 500 calories.

      Or are you talking about the Vitamin Water kerfuffle?

      One thing that I suppose I’d want to know is what the goal of putting the label on the package actually is. Maybe we could measure the goal against what would be achieved.

      If, in two years, we ask the average person on the street what “GMO” is, they answer that it’s like MSG except doesn’t cause headaches, we can say that our goal has failed. Or succeeded, maybe. Depending on what our goal was.


      • Well, the “average person” can’t tell you what the ingredients on most packed food are, or what they do.

        Should we therefore eliminate the need for manufacturers to list ingredients?

        Seriously, I don’t get this whole, “people don’t always use information the way they should so they shouldn’t be allowed any” thing.


        • No, it’s not that “they shouldn’t be allowed any”. Seriously.

          It’s that I’m wondering what the goal is behind providing this particular piece of information. Does the goal include stuff that should be measured? If it’s merely to provide information, how can we judge if the information was received properly?

          I think that the real, seriously this actually happened, results of posting the nutrition information in fast food restaurants were outcomes that were not desired by those who were posting the nutrition information.

          What are the goals for GMO labelling? Will slapping a sticker that says “Warning: These Oh Boy! Soy! candy bars contain GMO soy!” help achieve those goals?


          • If you want to look at it that way, my position on GMOs is that most people eat mostly GMOs, and the hysteria about GMOs is largely based upon stupid. And while the GMO stupid here in the U.S. isn’t anything like the GMO stupid in the EU (which is, I’d guess, massively supported by local farmers not wanting to compete with GMO crops because they don’t want to pay the vigorish to Monsanto, but that’s neither here nor there).

            So if you start labeling everything that has GMOs in it as GMOs, people will go, “Oh. Uh. I’ve been eating this stuff for ten years now. So what. Big deal.”


            • Although you’ll have created a huge business opportunity for lawyers to go around suing food providers who can’t produce documentation showing test results and supply-chain verification audits showing that their food has never come into contact with anything containing GMO.

              Which is what happens now, with Prop 65.


              • No, you won’t. Because people either won’t buy GMO seed and will take pains to grow only au natural Certified Organic Plus foodstuffs or they won’t.

                And the vast, vast majority of food producers won’t. They’ll just put the GMO label on the box. Right now, the question is, do you want to work with the USDA and put the label more or less voluntarily on the back of the box, or do you want to continue lobbying against all these labeling efforts until “they must be hiding something” overrides $0.10 more per pound of produce and the label winds up on the front of the package in big bold red letters?

                Since you brought up Prop 65, in particular… for what it’s worth, if you can’t demonstrate that you’re not growing crops on fields filled with carcinogens with some sort of test, I’m not sure that lawyers suing you is as much “an unnecessary burden on food growers” as it is “an actual food safety issue”. Prop 65 passed in 1986. Last I checked California still had a viable agribusiness presence.


                • ” the vast, vast majority of food producers won’t. They’ll just put the GMO label on the box. ”

                  Congratulations, you agree that labeling for GMO is pointless because, in practice, it won’t actually convey any information about the product.

                  Why are you arguing about this, again?

                  “if you can’t demonstrate that you’re not growing crops on fields filled with carcinogens with some sort of test”

                  Please do not do me the discourtesy of refusing to look up the history of Prop 65 enforcement. If you need some hand-holding, search for “disneyland doorknobs prop 65”.


                  • Well, I’ve now found about eleventeen articles and blog posts claiming that Disneyland is a victim of a frivolous law suit and another eleventeen claiming that Disneyland, in fact, has a fairly broad pattern of testable lead exposure that far exceeds state standards.

                    And no records of anything regarding the lawsuit, except that it was filed.

                    So, hey, tell you what, submit a guest post that details exactly what you think is going on here and why it’s wrong, and we can argue about that one in the comment thread.

                    Because I can’t find verifiable information regarding lead exposure at Disneyland that is what I would call “objective”, so I’m not sure what this example is supposed to lead me to believe.


                  • Congratulations, you agree that labeling for GMO is pointless because, in practice, it won’t actually convey any information about the product.

                    That is something I’ve maintained since the beginning. It’s also not the crux of the argument I’ve been making.


      • Unless you are looking for a conspiracy theory wouldn’t the goal of putting a GMO label on food to be to let people know there was GMO in the food. Seems pretty straight forward. And who are these technocrats you are talking about? Are you against labels saying what is in food? I’m not really seeing your points in this thread other than generalized gripes about gov or people against GMO.


        • And if we see that people’s eating habits are unchanged, then what? Will we assume that our attempts to educate have failed? How will you measure success?

          Personally, I think that if after, oh, a year or so that the average schlub on the street doesn’t know what “GMO” stands for (“General Motors Ordurves?” “Hors d’oeuvre would be an H.” “Don’t condescend to me, man.”), we’d be able to say that attempts to inform have failed.

          Is there anything that could happen following the process of labelling food with GMO stickers that would get you to say “okay, that may not have been the policy we should have gone for”? Or is this one of those things where there is no way that it could possibly be measured a failure therefore it can only be a success?


          • People’s changes in eating habits are irrelevant.

            If I buy ice cream, I should be allowed to know if it was made with peanuts… or whatever.

            That I still choose to eat it doesn’t change that.


            • Fair enough. Is there any way to measure the success (or failure) of this policy?

              I mean, let’s say we mandate peanut warnings. If, after we mandate peanut warnings, the number of attacks and/or deaths from peanut allergies goes down by 10%, we can say “okay, the policy is a success”.

              Is the success (or failure) of this policy measurable at all or are we going to say that, like the freedom of speech, the existence of this sticker on this box will be considered a good in and of itself?


              • The success of the policy is determined by the potential of people to find out specifically what they’re eating, so it’s no different in principle than listing peanuts as an ingredient. That is, it’s the access to the information that constitutes its success.

                Is the information reliable? Plinko’s worry is that there are no practical tests which could determine if GMOs are ingredients in a food product. Personally, I think that concern is misplaced since if there were such a practical test, then presumably labeling would be entirely justified. So, are there ways to determine if GMOs comprise foods? Well, yes. It’s quite easy in fact: just trace out the supply chain to the types of seeds used to produce the various ingredients.

                Of course, I don’t think Plinko’s worry reduces to verification procedures. Personally, I think it presupposes that harms are a necessary condition for forced labeling, and that ingredients which cause harms would be detectable by a fully general and probably quite easy test. (Does it turn the litmus paper soylent-green?)

                None of that has anything to do with Tod’s argument that more consumer information is better than less, however, or that perhaps government has an interest in ensuring consumers have access to relevant information.


                • So if people can say “yeah, this has GMO!” and we ask “what’s GMO?” and they don’t know… is that a success because they know it has GMO in it?

                  If they can’t answer why GMO might be bad or answer why GMO might be good… but can just say “yep, this has GMO!”, is that a success?


                • Man this is hilarious. I’d think you were a liberal if I didn’t know better, so concerned about the downtrodden dummies victimized by their GMO ignorance. Who’ll speak out for them!!??


                  • The irony is that there’s a perfectly clear libertarian argument against mandatory GMO labeling which doesn’t require crawling in people’s heads or protecting the ignorant from theirownselves or protecting others from thet ignorant or Unintended Consequences or Verification or any of that stuff. It’s, like, three words long.


                    • OK, I’ve paired it down to three. It’s not a formal argument tho, just a premise with the other premise and conclusion implied. So you might win the Shortest Libertarian Argument Against GMO Labeling contest.


                    • Please understand: I can be convinced that the provision of the information on the “CONTAINS GMO!” label is a positive good that will result in all of us, as a society, being better off.

                      At this point, however, it just seems to be an effort to get people to not buy GMO food… and I don’t understand why not buying GMO food is a positive good.


                    • If that’s the way you view it, then you haven’t been listening to anything anyone’s saying. Or what is more likely the case: you aren’t believing them when they say it. (I get it. Institutional thinking and all…)

                      Do you think Tod wrote this post because he (not so) secretly wants to destroy the GM food industry and that he’s just telling big fat lies to accomplish that goal?


                  • Dude, I just want to know what the goal of putting the sticker on the label is and if that goal is measurable.

                    Because if the goal is not measurable, that’s one of those things that is usually a warning sign.

                    If the goal is “educate and inform” and if we find out that the labels don’t really educate or inform… then what?

                    In the absence of demonstrable harm from having genetically modified soy in my microwavable bowl of Steak And Rice Pilaf, I’d like to know why the box requires a sticker on the front. If I read the ingredients on the back and it says “High Fructose Corn Syrup, Soy, Rice, spices, preservatives, water” and, underneath the ingredients, it says “the soy in this product may contain genetically modified soy”, it seems to me that I’ve just gotten a lot more information than a giant “CONTAINS GMO!” on the front of the box.


                • My argument is that labeling is meaningless without verifiability, harm is irrelevant.
                  Harm is a motivating factor for advocates of a labeling regime, yes.
                  I can speak to an awful lot about certification and testing regulatory regimes given my occupational industry is probably below only food and pharma for the breadth and intensity of product regulations.
                  Understanding how it works to test and verify simple things like lead contents (litmus-style tests are not nearly sufficient) tells me that most advocates of labeling don’t incorporate any thought whatsoever into what an enforcement regime would entail.


              • “Fair enough. Is there any way to measure the success (or failure) of this policy? I mean, let’s say we mandate peanut warnings. If, after we mandate peanut warnings, the number of attacks and/or deaths from peanut allergies goes down by 10%, we can say “okay, the policy is a success”. Is the success (or failure) of this policy measurable at all or are we going to say that, like the freedom of speech, the existence of this sticker on this box will be considered a good in and of itself?”

                Sure thing.

                Here’s the test: Does it allow consumers to know what they are eating? Is the answer yes? Then it’s a success.

                By your logic JB, there’s no reason to list Thiamin, riboflavin, Propionic acid, propylene glycol, butylated hyroxytoluene, or any one of the countless things that go in our food. After all, we won’t be able to “measure” if letting people know what’s in their food is a success, right? What metric would we use?

                Look, if a box of cereal contains butylated hyroxytoluene, it’s on the consumer to find out what “butylated hyroxytoluene” is, what it does, why it’s added, if it has any nutritional value, and if there are any health risks associated with it before he or she makes a decision to eat that cereal. But it’s on the food manufacture to let someone know that the cereal contains butylated hyroxytoluene.

                I’m just not seeing why it’s on consumers to first develop a system of metrics that prove there’s a problem with butylated hyroxytoluene before a manufacturer has to tell people it’s there.


                • I see a difference between putting “the (whatever) in this product may contain genetically modified (whatever)” after the ingredient list and slapping a “CONTAINS GMO!” on the front of the box.

                  If all you’re talking about is the former, I see no problem with it whatsoever.

                  If it’s the latter, I see putting a “CONTAINS GMO!” sticker as the equivalent of putting a “CONTAINS BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE!” sticker on the front of the cereal box… and I can’t help but wonder about what the purpose of the latter would be if it were not to get people to not buy the cereal.


                  • I’m not sure why you assume that labeling food requires a big red siren. Listing ingredients and nutritional content IS labeling.

                    Imagine the label on the package os sausages you just bought. Now imagine that there is an addition phrase there in the lis t of ingredients that says “may contain meat from genetically modified animals.”

                    This is different from “may contain butylated hyroxytoluene” how?


                    • If we’re talking about something following the ingredients “contains: pig parts, owl parts, rat parts, salt, pepper. The meat from the owls and rats may have been genetically modified”, know that I have zero issue with this.

                      I was imagining a “CONTAINS GMO!” in big red letters on the front of the box.

                      The former strikes me as actually providing information to the consumer. The latter strikes me as (plausibly deniable) attempts to modify behavior.


                    • And while we are at it Jaybird, I want to know what hybridization techniques were used for the plants, what breeding methods for the animals used for meat, and a full list of all medications used on the animals. It is just compelling the supplier to provide information which I would like to know, and providing information is essentially no cost. Anything anyone might want to know should be included on the label. There is no good reason to oppose creation of laws compelling the companies to provide this information.

                      We can just call for a “Full Disclosure Act.”


                    • Yes, clearly every request for labeling ought to leads to disclosure of anything that could possibly be claimed as interesting just as every request for licensure is unwarranted, and if you’re not for gun control you want criminals be able to pack guns openly on the streets.

                      It’s almost as if foundational principles are of limited value when discussing implementations of policy!


                    • If the argument is “it does not matter of GMOs are harmful, we should compel their disclosure because people want to know they are present,” why not extend that to other information that people are interested in?

                      If the argument is that GMOs are harmful, what is the evidence of their harm? Why require their disclosure but not pesticides?


                    • Oops. I thought you were making a different argument: that slippery slopes are slippery and impose financial costs so (…do some logic here…) no labeling.

                      I agree with you about harm being a clear bright line. Or at least not dim and opaque.


                    • If the argument is “it does not matter of GMOs are harmful, we should compel their disclosure because people want to know they are present,” why not extend that to other information that people are interested in?

                      Because in the case where there is information asymmetry, by default I’m going to lean on the, “yeah, disclose that because your customers want to know” unless it’s substantively expensive for you to disclose it. I’m as yet utterly unconvinced that this particular label represents a difficulty for food growers/producers.

                      Because, you know, that’s how information asymmetry works, for consumer goods. The asymmetry is heavily laden in one direction. The burden (in my mind) is on the agent providing the good for sale to show compelling reason not to be forced to disclose something rather than the other way around.

                      To be clear, there are *lots* of compelling reasons not to disclose something. “My product might then sell for less than other also-non-Certified-Organic products” is not compelling. If consumers have a preference for non-GMO products, then… stop… growing the GMO products, and grow the other ones?

                      If the argument is that GMOs are harmful, what is the evidence of their harm? Why require their disclosure but not pesticides?

                      We should require pesticides. Generally speaking, the way that we consume, and produce, food in this country is completely crazy.


          • I don’t think the goal of putting a GMO label on food is to change behavior. As more GMO food goes into the local 7-11 we’ll see if people care about it at all.

            Its fine with me to have a secret cabal of unaccountable technocrats in some smoke filled room review labeling every few years.

            If there is no labeling of GMO, then how do we know if people care about it at all? If people don’t know what is in their food, then how can we say they do or don’t care about GMO food or have freely chosen it?


  16. The part I’m suspect about in GMO has to do with natural compounds. Plants produce all types of nasties. Cyanide, solanine, various alkaloids and a wide varity of neurotoxin. There appears to be a rush to get GMO in the field and into market.

    Without the test of time it is unknown if some genetic switch may be thrown that causes the production of one of these compounds in future produce. I just don’t see where the safety is located. From that vantage point I would like to see GMOs labeled, if only for the sake of “we really don’t know what to expect”.


    • But that switch gets thrown anyway, all the time, merely as a result of breeding. The most toxic potato sold to customers was developed almost before anyone even knew what DNA was, let alone how to mess with it.


  17. I’m kind of darkly amused at the fact that a fairly libertarian blog has a surprising number of “But people will make wrong/stupid/uninformed decisions if we tell them it’s GMO” statements.

    Normally that’s called nanny state liberalism, right?


    • “But people will be dumb!” is not nanny state liberalism. It’s realism.

      Saying “People will be dumb therefore we need to mitigate, regulate, and put stickers on everything!” is nanny state liberalism.


      • Problem is, Jaybird, as Ron White observed: There’s no fixing stupid.

        Look, GMO is turning into a very stupid fight. One side features a cadre of bought ‘n paid for geneticists and their corporate backers. The other side features platoons of unscientific ninnies and a handful of thoughtful ethicists.

        Wisdom doesn’t shout as loudly as Stupidity. If there is a Libertarian stance on this issue — and here I’m putting words in people’s mouths, always a bad move — it would revolve around the issue of trying to patent genes as if they were integrated circuits. How can the Big Money get the government to allow them to run little enforcement squads, grant search warrants, allowing them to seize evidence on the grounds that some gene is someone’s intellectual property?

        These GMO outfits don’t create those genes from scratch, stringing them together one amino acid at a time. If they did, there might be some grounds for patent protection. But that’s not what they do. They’re getting those sequences from elsewhere in nature. In the case of Roundup Ready soybean, they used three different critters, the cauliflower mosaic virus, a hybrid petunia and a bacteria which causes a plant tumour, Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

        In short, Monsanto didn’t invent jack shit. They might as well have put together a mix tape and tried to put it under copyright.


          • That’s right. Two separate issues.

            Here’s the big deal with GMO: it’s the same problem we have with the introduction of non-native species. It”s like The Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. We’re already distorting the ecosystem in ways we can’t quite predict. Which isn’t to say we should all eat pine cones and wander lonely as a cloud, singing songs to the squirrels and bunnies.

            Something’s gone horrid wrong with the bees which pollinate our crops. We’re reaching some conclusions on this subject and it’s only getting more horrible the more we look at it. I am not going to get Udderly Foolish and start running around in little circles and make squeaky noises about it and flap my hands like a big old ninny: we ought to be scientific in our approach to this problem.

            But if we continue to lose the bees, folks, that is a Big Problem.


        • That house? Pish. He didn’t build it; all he did was put together the bricks and boards that someone else made for him–and he didn’t even get them to the job site himself! A trucking company carried it all there and dropped it off in a neat little pile!

          Nobody should ever get paid for building a house. I mean, all they did was stack things up in a funny way. That’s nothing special. *Anyone* could do that.


          • Do pay attention, Heffman. I am tired of explaining the obvious. Were it the case that Monsanto had strung together those sequences, one amino acid at a time, yes, it would be analogous to bricks and boards.

            But don’t tell me you can put a copy of Jerry Jeff Walker’s Pickup Truck Song in the middle of the Beatles’ White Album and say you’ve created Heffman’s First Symphony. The cauliflower mosaic virus evolved a resistance to glyphosate. Monsanto didn’t invent that.


      • But that isn’t your argument, and it’s certainly not the pro0labeling argument.

        Your argument is that because people are dumb, we (those who know better!) ought to refrain from confusing them. They’re like cattle, after all, and spook easily.

        The pro-GMO labeling argument is that more information on labels provides people who read them with more information to make better decisions.


        • No, my argument is that it’s pretty disingenuous to pretend that the motivation behind slapping “CONTAINS GMO!” stickers on the front of the box is not to get people to buy the competitor’s product.

          It seems pretty obvious to me that the “CONTAINS GMO!” stickers are intended to reduce the behavior of purchasing foods that contain GMO.

          Is that not obvious to anybody else?


          • Is that not obvious to anybody else?

            No. Like, it’s not obvious at all. In fact, I don’t think you can make that argument without begging all sorts of questions, like for example, attributing motives to people that you are completely incapable of discerning.

            It might be true that GMO labeling will in fact shift consumer preferences away from GM foods, but that’s not the motivation of people advocating for GMO labeling. Again and to repeat: it’s so that consumers can make more informed choices.

            I mean, you seem to be incapably of thinking about this issue without reflexively thinking about what a bunch of people who aren’t you are thinking about a different group of people who also aren’t you. That’s a lot of levels of abstraction, Jaybird. Dizzying, really. And it’s amazing to me that you know the mental states of people you’ve never met before.


            • Well, you see, it’s like how when someone says “it’s important that you work for what you get”, we know they’re actually saying “I’m a huge racist who honestly believes that black people are lazy”.


              • If the folks who say that were to explicitly include poor whites and lazy farmers and etc in the set of people who need to work for their rewards, then complaints of implied racism would be derailed.


            • Are you familiar with the term “frankenfood”? Have you heard this term before? I ask because I have heard this term before and it’s with regards to the argument regarding genetically modified foods.

              As such, I’ll ask you to please understand that I’m abstracting from such things as “arguments I’ve actually seen in the wild”.

              If you have never heard the term “frankenfood” before, I guess I’ll have to conclude that I’ve been reading mostly fringe arguments about genetic modifications of food and I’ll be pleased to let this drop.


                • Is that a “yes, I have heard the term” or “No, I have not heard that term”?

                  Heck, I’d settle for a “I have only heard that term because I hang out with fringe people from time to time but they’re the only ones who use it and shouldn’t be considered part of the serious debate over GMO labeling.”


                  • Yes, I’ve heard of it. Of course. But we’re just retreading old ground from yesterday now. You think that the anti-GMO croud is motivated to destroy the GM food industry (Full Stop!). I get that. You’ve been saying it for two says now. Nothing will persuade you otherwise.


                    • No, I was just responding to your claim that “Like, it’s not obvious at all. In fact, I don’t think you can make that argument without begging all sorts of questions, like for example, attributing motives to people that you are completely incapable of discerning. ”

                      It seems to me that there is definitely an undercurrent of behavior modification with regards to the legislation. I am being told that this undercurrent that I see is not there at all.

                      I am willing to believe that. I hang out with some pretty crazy people, after all.

                      If it turns out that the anti-GMO crowd is just a bunch of weirdos on the ‘tubes who shouldn’t be assumed to have their fingers in the argument, I’d be fine to just shrug and say that I don’t have a problem with informing consumers that their food contains GMO the same way it contains preservatives.


              • Frankenfood is about as accurate a literary metaphor for the problem we’re now creating with GMO. If you remember the story, having sewed his creature together and jump started it, Dr. Frankenstein couldn’t manage outcomes. Things got a bit hectic, especially towards the end of the story.

                Glyphoside resistant crops are only creating glyphoside resistant bugs: you didn’t think nature wouldn’t adapt to this problem, did you? It’s not the Frankenfood which is the problem. It’s the Franken-bugs we’re creating in the process. And Franken-weeds. We’ve become highly dependent on Apis mellifera and that relationship is in serious trouble. They aren’t adapting.

                It’s all of a piece, the pesticides and the GMO we’ve done so our favoured few plants can be resistant to those pesticides. We can eat the Frankenfood, that’s why we created it. We didn’t exactly plan on pesticides wreaking havoc on another favoured species, the honeybee, but that’s what happened.


          • Here’s on instance where you might be right, tho: the organic food lobby. If the organic food lobby wants mandatory GMO labeling, then it makes perfect sense that they are doing so out of a desire to shift people’s preferences away from GM foods and towards organics.

            It’s not personal. It’s just business.


            • Well, if you walk into the store, and you have three choices: Certified Organic (TM), unlabeled, and GMO, and the price difference for a tomato is:

              $2.50, $1.85, and $0.95

              I’m guessing you’re going to buy the one that is the most expensive that you can still afford on your tomato-budget.

              The thing is, Certified Organic already has differentiators between itself and everything else. No inorganic fertilizer, no synthetic pesticides (you can still use plenty of pesticides, note), no GMO.

              While I’m sure the Certified Organic people are lobbying for GM-labeling, I don’t know that they’ll get the response out of it that they think they will.


          • I’m for labeling products as GMO and for GMO products. I don’t have any desire to limit or reduce buying GMO stuff. Is it not obvious that a lot of us just feel more info is good and people should buy or not buy based on knowing what is in the darn thing.

            “An informed consumer is our best customer” Sy Sperling ( i’m sure some people know that commercial)


      • What objections to this do you have — objections that are different than those you might have towards nutritional labelling? For the sake of keeping this GMO only, let us set aside the wisdom, legality, idealogy, or whatever involving mandatory labelling — those are seperate arguments. Accept requiring information about food stuffs on the label as a given for the moment.

        What makes a GMO label different than the calorie count or the ingrediants list?

        Not meta, not “where do we stop” — that’s not an argument about GMO, that’s about mandatory labels.

        Do you think it’s too expensive? Do you think it’s too hard to do? What objections do you have towards letting customers have that information at the time they pick up the can and look at it — objections that are NOT equally valid for fat content?


  18. OK, I’m going to give this one last shot. Think of it as my final argument, which I’m happy to leave standing…

    To me, the issue of GMO food is remarkably similar to that of vaccinations.

    Like vaccinations, studies so far pretty conclusively show that there are no immediate or long term health risks with eating GMO food. Like vaccinations, there is an argument to be made that GMOs add to the public good, not just in the US but world wide. (Because on a planet where famines still occur, making food cheaper, more efficient to grow and to raise, and giving it more shelf life can help reduce the effects of such disasters.)

    Like the anti-vaccine crowd, every person who’s ever pointed me to a “study” about how GMOs are deadly invariably points me to a blog where someone misinterprets data from a study that says the opposite. Like the anti-vaccine crowd with Big Pharma, the anti-MGO crowd have the irritating habit of telling my I’m a stooge for Big Ag.

    When I’m asked to sign petitions to make laws forbidding the sale of GMO food, I react with the same eye rolling I do when I’m asked to support making vaccinations illegal… and should such a bill look like it might actually pass, I’d fight it as strongly as I would an anti-vaccine bill. When I hear someone say they’ve heard something about GMOs that troubles them, I try to explain the facts we know them to that person, just as I would if that person heard something troubling about vaccinations and autism. As with vaccinations, I reserve the right to change my mind about GMOs should science raise a red flag, but until then I am happy (and grateful) to have it be part of our modern world.

    I assume that most of us are on the same page up to this point, so let me ask you to take one last step in this comparison.

    Let’s say that the pharmaceutical industry decided that they might sell more vaccines if they stopped letting doctors and patients know exactly what was in the vaccines that you’re going to be putting in your child’s body. That measles shot your daughter is scheduled to get next year might be exactly the same compound they used last year… or it may not. That’s not your concern, you and your doctor are told. All you need to know is that they have tested it, are fine with the results, and were you to know you might just behave in a silly fashion anyway.

    Would you find that in any way acceptable?

    Look, “labeling” food doesn’t require a giant red warning label that says DANGER. When my son asks if I’ll get OJ at the store, I always read the label because I know that most store-bought OJ don’t have much orange juice in it at all – they’re mostly HFCS and water. Some orange juices – this is true – don’t actually have ANY orange juice in them. If you’re like most people, you buy your OJ and have no idea it’s not really orange juice and don’t really care – and that’s fine. But I maintain there is no reason why I should not be able to look at the ingredient/nutritional info part of the carton’s label and see what I’m about to give my kid to drink. It’s the same with food. If the meat in the sausage I’m about to buy is made from GMO cows or the spaghetti sauce I’m buying is made from GMO tomatoes, there is no reason why that same little square of info-in-small-print shouldn’t be able to tell me that it is. I shouldn’t have to prove damages before I’m allowed to know.

    As with what’s in my child’s vaccine that’s going to be injected into him, I shouldn’t have to wait for science to “prove” that I have a reason you find good enough to know what’s in it.


    • +1

      It seems the people arguing against GMO labeling aren’t really dealing with the issues you are raising. They are arguing against anti-GMO people being dumb hippies or hidden agendas and that every single possible thing can’t be put on a label. But none of those really answer the basic concern about transparency and consumers having as much info as reasonably possible with which to make choices.


    • I’m sure we both agree that there are ways to inform people that any given vaccine contains Thiomersal… and some ways are ways that are clearly intended to inform and some ways are ways that are clearly intended to alarm.

      If we agree on that, we agree on everything.


        • Except “contains GMO” is not the same as “contains thimerisol.”

          “Contains GMO” is more like saying “contains thimerisol produced by such-and-such reaction.” It is describing a process, and declaring that one process the be important enough to single out of all the numerous processes involved in production.


                • They also are not processes used in producing the food. There are numerous processes involved in the production of food, from farming techniques to handling techniques to packing techniques. What about the GM process requires the government to step in and compel its disclosure?


                • Psst – stick with the vitamin content; calorie counts and fat content were pretty clearly included for customers trying to avoid obesity and related health issues, no? I think in some sense they were, and are, intended as warning info.


                    • I’m not against them, I like them.

                      I just think that saying they were/are intended as neutral info, rather than as “warning, you could end up a fatty!” isn’t quite correct.

                      Vitamin content listings are much less a “warning” and more neutral, or even a “recommendation.”


                    • “I’m still a supporter of calorie labeling on the simple grounds that people should have this information, no matter how they choose to use it. But so far, the evidence suggests that it’s not going to make a dent in obesity rates.”

                      A fortiori mutatis mutandis ergo: GMO labeling won’t make a dent in GM food consumption. This evidence undermines the main argument you’ve been advancing for the last two days.

                      But it doesn’t undermine mine because afortiorimutatismutandiergo, it might be the case that people aren’t advocating for GMO food labeling in order to destroy the GM food industry. Or even to get other people to not eat GM foods.


                  • Glyph, so you’re agreeing with RR that anything printed on the label is inherently prejudicial? It’s not just neutral information that can be viewed by the consumer in any way they see fit?

                    I find this argument amazing coming from so many libertarians and libertarian-inclined folks. I mean, it’s obvious that some people think the burden hasn’t been met for mandatory labeling, but all this sociological/psychological analysis of how other people react to labels is baffling to me. The argument against mandatory GMO labeling is simple: there is no demonstrable harms incurred from eating it. The counter argument is that people have a right to know what they’re consuming, in particular, whether that food contains any GMOs.

                    Where does sociological/psychological group analysis from a distance come into play in any of this? Or maybe the better question is “why”?


                    • I now see something like “8 oz” in a much darker more sinister way. I mean, its printed right there on the package. It must mean something. And that font they use…that is an alarming font.


                    • I already agreed, way back at the beginning of these discussions, that when it comes to food, I would probably say that generally, erring on the side of more, rather than less, info is the way to go.

                      But it’s not realistic, IMO, to say that calorie counts and fat content listings are not intended as warnings. They clearly were, and are. Once we realized that these things make you fat, and those things can give you a coronary, we started putting them on labels.

                      And that’s OK. I am not arguing for removing them! And they are descriptive, and measurable, and can be demonstrably harmful in a way that GMO has not yet been shown to be. Which is why they are not good apples to analogize to GMO apples.


                    • Glyph, they are good apples. People advocate for labeling of fat content and calories per serving because the provision of relevant information informs consumer choices (or not!). By the exact same reasoning, people are currently advocating for mandatory GMO labeling. The only relevant difference is that there isn’t an established connection between GMOs and physical harm. That’s it.

                      You might think of those labels as warnings (Warning! 8.0 fluid ozs.!!) but I certainly don’t. I look at them as information provided to me to do whatever I see fit with it. Use it, disregard it, laugh at all the silly liberals who think labels determine eating habits. Whatever.

                      And whether they are or aren’t warnings is irrelevant to the argument being made by pro-GMO-labeling folks. Their argument is that they – the specific person advocating or supporting labeling requirements! – have a right to know.


                    • Still, as I’ve made clear, this is not a hill I wish to die on. I am already regretting chiming in. I was actually trying to help the pro-labelling side, because I thought that part of the argument was less strong than it could otherwise be. That’s all.

                      Why did calorie counts and fat content listings get added to labels to begin with?

                      Wasn’t it because we became increasingly aware of what negative effects the overconsumption of each can have?

                      Isn’t that a warning?

                      If we find that alligator attacks can kill you, and a lake has a few alligator attacks, and they put up a sign saying “Lake may contain alligators”, is that sign strictly informational, or is it a warning?

                      Are we just having a semantics issue?

                      That is honestly the only point I was trying to make. I seriously don’t care about GMO labels, except in an extremely-theoretical fashion.


                    • Sorry for the shouting, Glyph. I wasn’t really shouting at you but rather thru you to something else. Namely this: I just cannot believe some of the arguments being advanced on this issue, especially by the libertertianish.

                      But I’ve said enough about that already.

                      Apologies for taking it out on you. I know this isn’t a big fight for you. And labeling perse isn’t a big issue for me. I’m just mystified and amazed (and slightly irritated, truth be told) by some of the psychological attributions being flung around to justify irrelevant arguments.


        • Do we see the difference between putting a sticker on the front of the box that says “CONTAINS THIOMERSAL!” and having, on the back, “ingredients: cowpox, thiomersal”?

          Does the “I just want parents to be informed” sound like any arguments that are actually out there in the wild?


          • I’ll admit i absolutely do not have a strong preference for where “GMO” is located on the box. I’m a squishy elitist liberal. If we are talking about box placement of a label, then i don’t think there is much left to be said.

            There are many good and bad arguments in the wild. I try to pay more attention to what comes out of my piehole first. I’m not going to sadle you with every stupid thing everybody from CO or every libertarian says. I’m also not interested in defending every stupid argument you may have hear.


          • But a GMO label wouldn’t be like a “Contains Thiomersal” label because the GMO label doesn’t tell you anything about what the package contains, because GMO isn’t a chemical compound, it’s a history of how a thing came to be.

            A more equivalent label for the vaccine would be “Contains chemicals invented through acid base reactions and refined through distillation and/or centrifugation.”


            • But a GMO label wouldn’t be like a “Contains Thiomersal” label because the GMO label doesn’t tell you anything about what the package contains, because GMO isn’t a chemical compound, it’s a history of how a thing came to be.

              No, a GMO is a genetic modified organism. It’s not really a ‘chemical compound’, we usually don’t refer to produce that way, but ‘wheat’ isn’t really a ‘chemical compound’ either, yet that appears to be listed on a label.

              Both non-genetically modified wheat and genetically modified wheat are actual things, that are actually in the food, not ‘processes’. GMO food is _made_ of chemical compounds, just like all food.

              You’re just trying to assert that GMO things and non-GMO things _are_ the same thing, that the genetic modification makes no difference, so it’s…unfair(?) that one of them is labelled differently. Regardless of that, they are, in fact, _things_.


      • It really, really, REALLY sounds like you think the GMO label will be interpreted as “bad” and thus people won’t buy it.

        Isn’t that their choice? How the market is supposed to work?

        You’re jumping to the conclusion that the GMO label is prejudicial, in the way that service size, calorie count, or “contains tomatoes” isn’t.

        Okay, let’s stipulate that — that means people don’t like eating GMO, want to know what is GMO, and don’t want to eat it. Thus meaning people selling GMO will have a hard row to hoe.

        So what? The free market, red in tooth and claw? Winners and losers, based on everything from foresight to fad?

        I mean, sure, they’re being told they HAVE to disclose — horrible interference in the market. They also have to disclose ingrediants, salt content, and a bunch of other stuff. How is choosing based on sodium content any different than choosing on GMO grounds?

        Why should GMO foods get to hide from consumers?

        I totally get it if you have a deep, idealogical disdain for forced disclosures of any sort — like nutritional labels, calorie counts, ingredients, etc. Adding GMO is just another example of mandatory disclosure. Totally 100% understandable.

        But that doesn’t seem to be entirely the case. Maybe I’m reading into it, but there didn’t seem to be a vibe of “If you list fat content, people might choose to buy less fatty foods!” undercurrent to the whole nutrition thing. But there really DOES seem to be a “If you label GMO, stupid people will buy less GMO and that’s bad”.


        • It really, really, REALLY sounds like you think the GMO label will be interpreted as “bad” and thus people won’t buy it.

          Change “will be” to “could be” and know that I fully support the type of GMO labeling (that I’ve discussed, several times!) that strikes me as providing information and oppose the GMO labeling that strikes me as hoping to ride a wave of alarmist nonsense.

          Some feel that there is not a wave of alarmist nonsense out there to be ridden, or not much of one, so how it’s done is less important than that it’s done. Fair enough. I’m not convinced that we really need to err on the side of legislation… but I’ve already provided a handful of examples of labeling that would strike me as appropriate.

          Would you find the examples of GMO labeling I’ve provided to be insufficiently informative?


        • Why should GMO foods get to hide from consumers?

          Exactly.* Good comment Morat. There’s a lot of unstated undercurrent in some of these anti-labeling arguments.


    • “Let’s say that the pharmaceutical industry decided that they might sell more vaccines if they stopped letting doctors and patients know exactly what was in the vaccines that you’re going to be putting in your child’s body.”

      So, really? You’re really going to throw over all that intellect and make a What About The Childrens argument? You’re going to hold my children as intellectual hostages?


    • I’ll follow up on this with my own sort of last parting shot:

      (a) I did not vote for the labeling requirement ballot initiative in California. When next it comes up, which will undoubtedly be soon, I probably won’t vote for it, again. Just because I think something is generally permissible (which is what I’ve been arguing on these threads) doesn’t mean that I think it is a good idea (which I’ve said on these threads, but I think that’s getting overlooked), nor am I particularly interested in mandating this particular bit of consumer information. On the other hand, I think the arguments against it are, to put it bluntly, piss-poor.

      (b) When it passes, as it probably will eventually, I expect it will change consumer behavior a bit, and if anything create a new market niche for ag businesses that don’t want to go to the hassle of producing Certified Organic produce but are willing to buy seeds that don’t come from Monsanto, and generally decrease by a bit the market for IP-laden foodstuffs, which (although it is a secondary effect) I think is actually a good thing for some other reasons.

      (c) When it passes, it will be challenged in the courts and it will lose.

      (d) Given recent League history, I would not have pegged this as a topic to produce such rancorous conversation.


      • (d) Given recent League history, I would not have pegged this as a topic to produce such rancorous conversation.

        Why not? There are lots of entrenched views backed up by bad arguments on this issue. Plus, it’s hard to calmly and rationally argue with “kooks on a grander scale than 9/11 Truthers”.


        • Still, if my followup comments haven’t adequately clarified things, most people who would prefer GMO labeling are expressing a preference, and I don’t have a problem with it, and (I think) I’ve laid out a pretty defensible stance why it should be okay for them to have that stance.

          I also, perhaps in a moment of pique, condemned a vocal minority of those people as being kooks.

          If I was not clear, and haven’t clarified myself sufficiently since, this was not intended to be an overbroad brushing of the entire movement of “people who want GMO labels on their food”.

          So in the event you’re harboring some sort of towering resentment over my inadvertent overgeneralized language, let me clarify: I apologize.


          • Thanks for that Patrick. Your comment probably wouldn’t have set me off if it wasn’t preceded by a handful of almost identical comments made by other people I also hold in high regard. It might be that I’m particularly sensitive about this after Chris’s post, which is a view a share and try – and often fail – to implement when conversing with people, but it’s something that is a persistent and fully general irritant.

            I know you’re not a causal, sloppy thinker, and the words you said then didn’t reflect your views if they were more carefully considered in the moment. They did, however, get me pretty ramped up in the moment.


        • Say, Jim, do you have any idea what phthalate exposure can do? Just because half the mice don’t curl up and die immediately at a specific level of exposure doesn’t mean phthalates aren’t dangerous. The damage turns up in the next generation of mice, males that aren’t really male. Feminised. It happens to baby boys, too. They’re born with damaged testicles and they’ll mature with female characteristics. It damages the female endocrine system too. Skeletal defects. Respiratory system defects. It turns already-flexible proteins into plastics.

          We make more than a billion pounds of phthalate a year. Some of the phthalate molecules are bioconcentrating. And phthalates are just the start of the list of problem molecules in the water supply and they’re heading up the food chain.

          You sell it, you label it. Prop 65 ought to be the law of the land.


          • Blaise, I haven’t responded to too many of your comments, but I want to give you a fully general +1 for what you’ve been writing. The GMO issue really can’t be separated from the pesticide/herbicide issue (and monoculture crops, and RoundupReady!, and bees, all those things) or the chemicalization (TM!) of our food growing – and other – practices generally. Not to mention crop yields, patents on naturally occurring gene sequences, long term effects of pest/herbicide ingestion, etc etc.


            • Well, thanks, Stillwater. It’s an important issue, one which we can’t allow to be turned into a Ship of Fools, replete with ignorant talk about the true causes and effects of GMO food.


            • This is one of those weird things, I see pesticide/herbicide issues, monoculture crops, and RoundupReady!, and bees and whatnot as things that we will downright have to change and think that proper education would (I’d hope) result in consumers changing habits.

              If anything, I see GMO as a tool that we can use to address at least a few of these issues.


                • Pest-resistant foods are likely to require less pesticide use. Plants that are “invisible” to pests, that sort of thing. RoundupReady is an offshoot of overuse of herbicides. Crops that have been tweaked to thrive without having to rely on pesticides or herbicides are a good thing.


                  • I don’t know, Jay. That works short term, I agree.

                    We had great success with antibiotics, too. Great run. Millions and millions of lives saved.

                    But it looks like that’s coming to an end, too. That’s the funny thing about pests; the ones that survive eradication are tougher to eradicate.


              • Yeah, exactly. We have to quit with the phony debates and start looking at the hard science. Truth is, we’re just beginning to understand how we’re screwing up, trying to feed a world so full of people.

                The worst of evils commence with the best of intentions. We have reached a critical mass as a species. Most of the life forms which evolved on this planet have gone extinct and we are no exception to this fact. We are perfectly capable of destroying ourselves, in the immortal words of Six Million Dollar Man “we have the technology.”

                Science comes wrapped in doubt. It’s the only viable intellectual position in any debate.


                  • Man, you just can’t engage in a dialogue, can you, Jaybird? Blaise didn’t say there are too many people, he said “so” many people. You’re whole schtick is to demonize what you view as “others”. Even when you have to deliberately mischaracterize what people say to do it. Of course, given your fancy liberal decoder ring, you don’t think you’re mischaracterizing anything.

                    So, a question: is there any way to get you to reject your own essentialist thinking about liberals and begin responding to the actual words individual liberal write? If there is, bro, I’ll do it. I’ll help you out.


                    • And if you mis-state your response because you haven’t thought it thru very well, and wish it was something you could take back, consider it an open offer. No matter matter how embarrassed you might be about what you might/will say, I’m here for you. I’m serious about trying to help, dude.


                    • Huh? Jaybird’s response seems honest enough. There are too many people and it’s become a driving force in this filthy Here We Go Round the Prickly Pear feedback loop. Poor people want better crop yields and they’ll put any old damned thing on their fields to get them.

                      Maybe you see something I don’t.


                    • Stillwater, I think that thinking about what I write as if I am sneering down my nose from my moral perch is to misread what I’m writing. There are matters of taste and matters of morality, after all. Most opinions, what we deal with here, are matters of taste… and even if I say something like “I think you’re wrong”, I’m not saying “you’re a bad person!”

                      I do think that those of you who think you’d make good tsars are wrong, of course… but I don’t think you’re bad. I just think you’re wrong.

                      It’s okay. You can think that I’m wrong. I won’t hold it against you. I’ll just think you’re wrong.

                      I assure you: we don’t encounter *THAT* many “this sentence demarks this person as an immoral person!” sentences around here. As awesome as it would be.


                    • Maybe you see something I don’t.

                      I do. Liberal’s lurking infatuation with eugenics. Not that I think there is such a thing. You’d have to ask Jaybird his opinion about it.


                    • There are matters of taste and matters of morality, after all.

                      Sure. And never the twain shall meet. For some of us, slavery and poverty are matters of taste. For others, they’re matters of morality. Huh, imagine that. I’m can’t figure out what you mean by the rest of that comment. But surely, criticizing someone for ridiculously thinking something’s a matter of morality while you regard it as a matter of taste is very close to sneering.


                    • I’m can’t figure out what you mean by the rest of that comment.

                      Sorry, I was arguing against where I thought you would have gone with that.

                      In any case, if someone is mistaken about thinking that something is a matter of morality, the important thing is to get them to act like it’s a matter of taste. Sneering, I’ve found, doesn’t work as well as planting seeds of doubt.

                      But that’s beside the point. It’s probably better to assume “Jay’s thinking I’m building up to an argument that I’m not planning on making and he’s arguing against that” than “Jay’s sneering down his nose at me for thinking that such-and-such is a matter of Right and Wrong.”


                    • For some reason, I’ve never found Jaybird’s sentiments particularly hard to stomach. For godsakes, he stipulated to the need for education and coming to terms with the consequences. And let’s face it, there are far too many folks who think they’d make good tsars, emperors and autocrats of all the world. Tsars just won’t solve the problem.

                      Ordinary people do not want to ingest pesticides and participate in the creation of ecological disasters. They just want to go to the store and buy their damned old groceries and not have to treat their shopping list as some Kierkegaard-ian ethical decision-making meat grinder of the soul. It shouldn’t be this tough.

                      There are trade-offs in this wicked world. Wee sleekit tim’rous cowering beasties live in the fields we plough and given half a chance they’ll reproduce by the millions and infest our grain silos. Locusts. Corn nematodes. Fusarium stalk rot. If the human race had any idea how close we’re driving to the edge of the cliff with every spring planting, they’d crap themselves.

                      The sleep of reason breeds monsters. And boy howdy, Monsanto has bred a minotaur which is kicking the world’s ass. Let any one of several dozen plant diseases break out of that labyrinth and millions of people would starve to death, with a concomitant political eruption the likes of which the modern world has never seen.


                    • the important thing is to get them to act like it’s a matter of taste.

                      And they might say the same thing about you…

                      Why not just say you disagree with them and give the reasons why? Clearly, concisely, without the vague pointing and poking?

                      And why is “the important thing” to get them to act differently? All you have to go on at that point is a disagreement, yes? It’s yet to be determined that your preferred path is the right path, or even a path they’d agree with. So all you’re doing is trying to get them to act like you want them to.


                    • And why is “the important thing” to get them to act differently? All you have to go on at that point is a disagreement, yes? It’s yet to be determined that your preferred path is the right path, or even a path they’d agree with. So all you’re doing is trying to get them to act like you want them to.

                      Actually, to put a fine point on it, I’m trying to get them to not act the way I don’t want them to.

                      Given that all we have is disagreement, I think that that’s the best course of action for everybody involved. As for getting them to act differently, I’ve found that treating matters of taste as if they were matters of morality and legislating them as such is one of the bad things I find worth fighting against. Even if the best way I’ve found to fight against them is by planting seeds of doubt.


                    • Even if the best way I’ve found to fight against them is by planting seeds of doubt.

                      Well, continue to knock yourself out. It’s interesting to me that you think other people will benefit from seeds of doubt, which you are the dispenser of, but you yourself aren’t in any need of.


                    • Well, it’s interesting you say that. You have offended me – by consistently and constantly (and conveniently!!) reducing very specific arguments to simplistic expressions of ideologically driven psychological properties. But I said all that upthread. No need to go over it again here.

                      I don’t know what the utility of that practice is. Nor do I see it as planting any seeds of doubt. All it is, in my view, is a deliberate attempt to mischaracterize people’s views so that you can easily discard them in an effort to get people to, as you say, “act differently”.

                      I’d rethink the strategy, myself. At least ditch the liberal decoder ring. I don’t think it’s working correctly.

                      But apart from that … it’s all good!


          • “Say, Jim, do you have any idea what phthalate exposure can do?”

            Same thing that Alar exposure did: Nothing, at the levels of exposure that are already controlled by regulation.

            Oh, some people want to minimize their phthalate exposure? Congratulations, you’ve identified a market for non-phthalate products. Get crackin’. Of course, there probably should be some way to define what “non” means in this case. Maybe the FDA or some similar body should create a standard.

            It means a lot that the pro-label group is apparently unwilling to countenance the creation of a “no-GMO” standard, similar to the standards for organic and Kosher that already exist. Because that would seem to be the same thing–a way to determine which products do and don’t have GMO.


            • I am not going to argue with someone who doesn’t understand enough chemistry to admit phthalates are dangerous. If you ever had any cred around here, you just blew it all up.


        • That’s not an example, Jim. Shoot, you didn’t even lay out an argument. “Google Prop 65 and Disneyland” isn’t an argument. But hey, I did it anyway, and found reams of conflicting information.

          When I asked for clarification, your response was, and I’m quoting here: “If the horse won’t drink I guess there’s not much else I can do.”

          You got something to say, make the argument. This, right here? This isn’t even an argument. “Piss-poor” is being generous.


          • I am not put on this Earth to do your work for you. If you genuinely feel that there is nothing to be concerned about regarding with Proposition 65’s implementation, enforcement, and actual result? If you honestly believe that Prop 65 has brought about a positive change in the way things are done in California? If you truly believe that the various GMO-labeling schemes aren’t going to have the same result? Then I guess that’s the end of the discussion.

            No, “why don’t you show me what’s wrong” is not a proper answer. I could present you with a billion examples and you’d just say “well you’re cherry-picking”, “you’re spinning”, “you’re lying”. When you say “I think GMO labeling is a good idea” without addressing Prop 65, you’re saying that you think Prop 65 works. You might not want to be saying that, but you are.

            “Let’s change something! Oh, I don’t know why. It just seems like a good idea to me. And if you can’t present a pre-chewed answer for me then my hair is a bird and your theory is invalid.”