The Food Movement And The Horse It's Tied To

By Keith Kloor | November 29, 2012 2:32 pm

Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Slate that was critical of the Food Movement and some of its leading lights, such as Michael Pollan. Like my previous GMO-related essay for Slate, this one struck a nerve. Shortly after it appeared–and after a proposal to label GMO foods was rejected by California voters–Pollan gave a lecture at Berkley where he is a journalism professor.

In his talk, Pollan briefly mentions “this guy Keith Kloor” at the outset–he handed out my piece to his class before the lecture–and indirectly addresses the criticisms I made. He also discusses at length why (he thinks) the GMO labeling initiative (Proposition 37) failed.

Pollan says a bunch of notable things. For example, on the scare-mongering by GMO opponents, who often assert GM foods are a threat to public health, Pollan admits that the science doesn’t support such claims. “I don’t think you win this case on scientific merit,” he says, adding: “Fear is not a basis to rally people against GMOs.”

But Pollan wants to have it both ways, because in the next breath, he also says that not enough science has been done. Additionally, he suggests, incredibly, that the mainstream press “unfairly” dumped on the French researcher of that notorious GMO/rat cancer study that has just been eviscerated once again–this time by the French Society of Toxicologic Pathology. Pollan’s comment on this is odd, since, if anything, it was the many scientists who were harshly critical of the study–not journalists, who were just reporting the reaction to it.

Pollan and his fellow foodies are in a tough spot. In the California GMO labeling initiative, they saw a chance to galvanize support for a wide-ranging food politics agenda. Pollan had essentially said that Proposition 37 was a defining moment for the upstart Food Movement. Obviously, he bet on the wrong horse and now it seems he doesn’t want to stay with that horse (especially the way it’s being rode).

It’s probably too late, if the old adage about the horse leaving the barn holds true.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: food movement, GMOs
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  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    You are creating a set here, Keith. A set of social issues that are closely tied to scientific research. You started with climate change and have added GMOs/Frankenfoods. What’s next?

  • Joshua

    Keith – you mention the “wide-ranging” political agenda associated with the “food movement.” It seems to me that thus far your focus related to that agenda is pretty much limited to what you consider “fear-mongering” about “junk science.”

    It seems to me that other aspects of the agenda, as discussed in the article you linked, are also certainly worthy of mention. In fact, I’d say that they are, potentially at least, far more important. I’ve mentioned to you in the past that there are some folks doing good work with urban farming – in particular educating inner-city youth about diet and nutrition. If you’d like to write something about that, I could give you some contacts.

  • Jeffn

    Loved the Time article.
    Five miles from my house, farmland sells for under $2,000/acre. I just googled price per acre in Manhattan and saw a 3.4-acre plot that sold for $345 million – $100 million per acre.

    Which place should we use to grow affordable lettuce?
    Tough, tough question.

    The environmental benefit of urban areas is that it concentrates people into a smaller ecological footprint, no? And the concentration allows less energy use per capita- mass transit, smaller apartments etc. So, how do you concentrate the people and grow food for all of them in the same space?
    The answer seems to lie in the delightful description of the speakers at the “sustainable food conference” the Time writer attended. Savor the artist enlisted to speak about “window farming.” A hipster got a New York writer to describe her hobby garden as a “revolution” in food. In a national news magazine that people once respected. What’s the grain yield on a window box- can you make a whole bagel out of it?
    This is journalism?

  • Mary

    Oh. Look at that.

    I think you are being noticed. Required reading the the halls of academia.

    Nicely done.

    Can’t wait to watch it, but it probably won’t be until the weekend. Will need to have more plant-based ethanol in the house for an hour+ of Pollan.

  • Joshua

    Keith – you say

    Additionally, he suggests, incredibly, that the mainstream press “unfairly” dumped on the French researcher of that notorious GMO/rat cancer study that has just been eviscerated
    once again”“this time by the French Society of Toxicologic Pathology.
    Pollan’s comment on this is odd, since, if anything, it was the many
    scientists who were harshly critical of the study”“not journalists, who
    were just reporting the reaction to it.

    But Pollan says:

    Who sounds a lot more like a political activist than a scientist…the story was… rolled out in an ideological way….everybody dumped on this guy, I would say unfairly in some ways.…I don’t think you win this campaign on the scientific merits, and the reason I say that is not that there isn’t a scientific case to be made about GM food – it hasn’t  yet been made to anyone’s satisfaction except to a handful of activists…

    He then goes on to say that basically mainstream science supports GM, to talk about how it was a mistake for the labeling campaign to focus on that study, and to talk about deceptive arguments made by the anti-labeling activists. Hmmm.  Personally, I think there was much of substance in his talk that would have been a much better subject for your reactions. Why didn’t you talk more his argument that “fear and science” is not good ground to stand on – that the best grounds to stand on are more science, transparency, etc.?

  • Keith Kloor

    Joshua,

    The point I wanted to make in my short post is that Pollan talks out of both sides of his issue on the GMO safety issue. In one breath, he’ll say fear isn’t a good basis to rest the anti-GMO argument on, and in the next breath he he’ll say but there’s not enough science to be definitive about it and so why not label them, etc, etc.

    He spoke for an hour and half. I mainly wanted to give people a taste and if they are interested in more, I embedded the video to make it easy to watch.

    Hmm. Next time, I’ll try and anticipate better what might please you.

  • Keith Kloor

    Joshua,

    The point I wanted to make in my short post is that Pollan talks out of both sides of his mouth on the GMO safety issue. In one breath, he’ll say fear isn’t a good basis to rest the anti-GMO argument on, and in the next breath he he’ll say but there’s not enough science to be definitive about it and so why not label them, etc, etc.

    He spoke for an hour and half. I mainly wanted to give people a taste and if they are interested in more, I embedded the video to make it easy to watch.

    Hmm. Next time, I’ll try and anticipate better what might please you.

  • Joshua

    Hmmm.

    “I understand that the more conservatives adds …were the most effective… I think that pushing too hard on that study…..when I said there was something unfair about the attack on the study, the important thing to know is, this study in the judgement of a lot of scientists I respect, was not adequate in terms of the number of animals in terms of the protocol….however, the scientist was actually using the exact same protocol same kind of rats as used by Monsanto used to get the products approved in Europe…”

    So the reason that Pollan said the criticism was in “some ways unfair.” — because on the one hand the protocol was deemed adequate to justify the technology (in Europe) but on the other hand deemed inadequate to reject the technology. Perhaps an argument you disagree with – but I’d say more “nuanced” than how you presented it.

  • Joshua

    Keith -

    In one breath, he’ll say fear isn’t a good basis to rest the anti-GMO
    argument on, and in the next breath he he’ll say but there’s not enough
    science to be definitive about it and so why not label them, etc, etc.

    He is saying that pushing the fear tactic is not something he favors. He says clearly that the that the tactic he favors is more science and calls for more transparency (which is how he characterizes a call for labeling). Now I get that you don’t agree with those arguments, and maybe his argument is more one of expediency than principle – but I don’t think that there is the inherent hypocrisy that  you suggest. Is there no room in your view for anyone to favor labeling without also pushing “junk science” or “fear-mongering?” Are they necessarily one and the same?  I don’t think that you are doing justice to the notion of favoring “nuanced” discussion here.

    And I really don’t get this whine about how I’m somehow suggesting that what you write should “please me.” You keep snarking that somehow that’s what I’m calling for. You’re wrong. You should write whatever you want to write, Keith. I fully respect that. It’s your blog. Does that mean that I shouldn’t criticize what you write when I disagree with your analysis?

  • Keith Kloor

    Joshua,

    Transparency is a phony argument. People want GMO foods labeled because they think there is something inherently risky/dangerous about them. They want them labeled so they can avoid them.

    On what basis is that judgment made? Junk science. Pollan says that’s not a good basis, that the science showing harm is not there. But then he says more and better science is necessary, suggesting that maybe there is something to worry about, after all. So hey, until that more and better science is done, then why not label GMOs?

    It’s a circular argument that is illogical. Like I said, he’s trying to have it both ways. That’s my analysis. You’re free to disagree with it.

  • Joshua

    Whether you agree with the basis of their reasoning or not, many people want GMO labeled so they have a choice. Not necessarily because they believe there is something “inherently dangerous” – but yes, because they believe that there is the potential for danger. Those aren’t the same thing. And just repeating that you think concerns about increased risk are foolish will not eliminate such concerns.

    Even if you trust the existing science (a fairly big leap to make given what we’ve seen, say, with industry-influence on research such as we’ve seen with pharmaceuticals), there is, IMO, an understandable concern that introducing variables increases risk. Thus, there is a logic behind wanting an increased ability to make choices. This lies on top of the discussion of whether or not making a choice on the basis of GMO is meaningful if we consider that organisms have been modified for decades, or the discussion about whether other potentially more dangerous modifications wouldn’t be labeled, etc. The question of choice is a fundamental political and philosophical issue. All of these issues related to the food movement put the philosophical and political ramifications of choice, and the interplay with public welfare and public health, under the microscope.

    This is completely consistent with how people tend to view risk across the board. We can see similar arguments about the logic or rationality of concerns about nuclear energy or vaccines or climate change. And we know that views or determinations of when fear is “rational” shift dramatically depending on political, cultural, and social overlays. Why would we expect people to assume a different approach to  risk in this context?

    At least from what I can tell from this clip, Pollan isn’t trying to stifle the discussion as some might do if they hype “fear-mongering” or “junk science.” .He is saying that no scientific argument supports advocacy for labeling, and so poor science should not be the basis for advocacy. He says that labeling about GMO is, in fact, not a primary issue but one of a series of issues that spin off what he considers the major issue: monoculture/industrial farming. As such, the issue of choice is an important consideration that relates to the larger discussion as well as the sub-issues. These are complicated issues, IMO. I don’t think that they are well-served by overly-broad characterizations. IMO, they only make the combatants more entrenched.

  • Keith Kloor

     Joshua (11)

    “many people want GMO labeled so they have a choice. Not necessarily because they believe there is something “inherently dangerous” ““ but yes, because they believe that there is the potential for danger. Those aren’t the same thing.”

    I don’t see the distinction. Look, labeling is trojan horse, plain and simple.

    But smart people like Pollan know that–he knows that labeling of GMOs doesn’t tell you anything. That’s another reason why I think he’s still trying to have it both ways. 

     I don’t think for a second that Pollan is trying to stifle discussion. Kudos to him for handing out my Slate piece and addressing all the criticisms I raised. And yes, he would like the debate’s focus to be on monocultures, but I think he he knows that’s not going to sway the masses. That’s why he threw in behind the labeling movement, even if he doesn’t really buy their core arguments. Oh well, like I said, the genie is out of the bottle. Good luck trying to put it back in.

  • Joshua

    Interesting article from the standpoint of linkage between fracking and the (local) food movement.

    http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/29/15547283-livestock-falling-ill-in-fracking-regions?lite

  • Joshua

    Pollan is clearly making an argument about political expediency. That doesn’t mean, however, that he  believes that the choice provided by labeling is meaningless, and your certainty that you can know that what he says is different than what he believes is an inherent weakness to the argument you’re presenting. You can’t know such things for certain.

    From what I’ve seen, some of the arguments against labeling have some merit, but:’(1) I think that skepticism that GMOs have been proven safe beyond any shadow of doubt is understandable – even though I also accept the argument that GMOs have not scientifically been proven to be dangerous, and even though some people have promoted “junk science” or other weak strategies  to make that argument. This is a question about decision-making in the face of uncertainty. Minimizing uncertainty doesn’t work in either direction.

    (2) I think it gets tricky to when you try to determine on what scientific grounds the freedom of choice should be determined/limited. If people hear the arguments on both sides and want a choice about GMO labeling – even if others think that choice isn’t based on sound science, that’s the messy part of living in a democracy. Is there a potential downside from a “tyranny of the majority” standpoint? Sure. But the messiness of democratic processes doesn’t mean that they are worse than the available options, IMO. 

    (3) Are there potentially better ways forward than simplistic, binary labeling requirements resulting from popular-vote referendums? Sure, maybe. Popular-vote referendums are inherently problematic, especially in how they play out in Cali, and certainly so in this case. But on the other hand, I don’t buy the downside arguments I’ve seen some on the other side of this issue present. The potential for  better options does not mean that the type of labeling associated with the referendum would have  produced worse outcomes than the status quo. I haven’t yet seen a convincing argument in that regard. Do you have a link that to something that you think makes a solid case? 

    On any side here, what I think is most problematic is when people take such complex and messy issues and simplify them to promote an agenda. I don’t see Pollan doing that. I see him advocating for exploration of the nuances.

  • Keith Kloor

    Joshua (14) 

    “I think that skepticism that GMOs have been proven safe beyond any shadow of doubt is understandable”

    This is a widely shared sentiment in the liberal sphere and a big reason why I wrote my Slate piece called, “GMO Opponents Are the Climate Skeptics of the Left.”

    This article has gotten a lot of play and has infuriated liberals (who accept the science on climate change), and yet they (as your comment above attests) keep reinforcing the validity of my argument.

    The mealy-mouthed posture that you and Pollan and Bittman et al take on GMOs would be grounds for ridicule and condemnation if it were applied to climate change. After all, has the precise human contribution to greenhouse gas warming been established “beyond any shadow of doubt”? Has climate sensitivity been established “beyond any shadow of doubt”? And have the projected impacts of climate change been established beyond any shadow of doubt?”

    The obvious answer to all three is no. Yet if we apply the standard you have for GMOs to climate science, then skepticism of climate change would be warranted. 

    Hence the hypocritical double standard by liberals that I keep pointing out. You and Pollan and others who keep going down this road do yourself no favors. 

  • Mary

    @Joshua #11:

    The question of choice is a fundamental political and philosophical issue.

    Precisely. This is a political and philosophical issue. And we do not do mandatory government labeling for political and philosophical issues. We label for evidence-based matters.

    If you have philosophical issues with this process, then you and the folks who have this philosophical issue should set your rules, monitor them, punish the breeches, and pay for the label. See “Kosher”.

    Making the government label things for any groups philosophical objections is a very unwise strategy.

  • Tom Scharf

    Joshua, you have choice, buy organic.  Stop pretending this is a choice issue.  This is really all about pushing other people’s choices onto those who don’t want it “for their own good”.  These type of movements are rarely successful.

    GM doesn’t need “more science”.  The biggest experiment ever is already in progress, mass production.  And it has revealed nothing of merit.  Even with all the fear mongering before GM went into production, nothing has changed.  The same fears exist in spite of all the data.  The conclusion, the science doesn’t matter to these people, and it never will.  It’s a belief system, and it usually resolves around a Monsanto is evil mentality.

    But GM shouldn’t be thought of as single entity.  It is clear that some specific theoretical GM could be bad in many ways. Bioweapons are GM.  It is important that the proper care is taken in the science before the foods are released for mass production.  The data so far shows that this is the case.  But expecting perfection, and there never to be a mistake is unreasonable.  So there will be missteps along the way, its the way technology works.  Adapt and recover.

  • Joshua

    After all, has the precise human contribution to greenhouse gas
    warming been established “beyond any shadow of doubt”? Has climate
    sensitivity been established “beyond any shadow of doubt”? And have the
    projected impacts of climate change been established beyond any shadow
    of doubt?”

    The obvious answer to all three is no.

    I agree. The answer is no. So what is your point?

    Yet if we apply the standard
    you have for GMOs to climate science, then skepticism of climate change
    would be warranted. 

    I really don’t understand what you mean here about applying “the same standard.” Skepticism of that sort that accurately reflects uncertainty is warranted w/r/t climate change. In fact, the iconic statement of “most warming” very likely to be anthropogenically attributed reflects that kind of warranted skepticism (although whether it accurately quantifies uncertainty is a valid subject for debate, IMO).. I have no problem with skepticism.about climate change.  (It is “skepticism” that I have a problem with. Skepticism based on open approach to uncertainty is entirely justified. What isn’t justified, IMO, is when uncertainty is used in an unwarranted fashion to serve an agenda – and I would apply that standard w/r/t both issues.

    But that all is really a side issue, IMO. The analogy doesn’t work, IMO – because the contexts are not parallel enough. My views on climate change are almost entirely unrelated to my views about labeling GMOs. I think it is more interesting and useful to look at the labeling issue unto itself without tying it in to finger-pointing, generalizations about “liberals,” etc. (btw, FWIW, although in today’s debates the term “liberal” is loosely applied to folks on the left – as a technical matter because of historical context, I don’t identify as a liberal).  I find simplifying these arguments to tie beliefs to “liberals” or “conservatives” to miss the more important point. The problems we see in how people reason in these debates is not particular to one political ideology or the other.

    I am not saying that the safety of GMOs have to be held to an unreasonable standard (safe beyond any shadow of a doubt) before their use is allowed. To allow their usage, extensive study that proves no significant dangers is enough to allow for their usage, IMO. I’m not suggesting that GMOs be banned. I’m suggesting that if people vote to support legislation requiring labeling – because the safety of GMOs has not been proven to their satisfaction -  it is another kettle of fish entirely. There is a straight-forward argument that people have a right to have more information about their food, and that people have a right to make decisions on that basis. Government has a role to play in ensuring those rights and responding to the will of the electorate on such matters. Those rights, and the role of government in ensuring them, can potentially go to far – but I don’t see that being the case if a majority people want GMOs labeled. The protection of those rights doesn’t justify the promotion of “junk science” to advance the cause of labeling – just as concerns about the possible over-extension of  those rights doesn’t justify  hyperbole on the other side of the issue, such as arguments that millions will starve if labels are required. 

    And on top of all of that, Keith – even if I am applying a double standard, my political identification is not the explanatory causality – well-established cognitive and psychological influences in how people reason in the face of controversy that connects to social, cultural, and political identifications is causal. You are making a basic error w/r/t conflating correlation with causation. Of course liberals apply double-standards. Do you think that is somehow a profound insight? I don’t think so. Isn’t it abundantly obvious that people of all political stripes apply double-standards?  Up to a certain point I think it is useful to point out that the habit of applying double-standards is something that liberals do – as a way of deconstructing arguments that such habits are exclusive to those of one political persuasion as opposed to another. But at a certain point harping on an association for one particular group, IMO, only becomes counterproductive, and only results in more flying Jell-0.

  • Keith Kloor

    Joshua (18)

    I give up.  Now you are just moving the goal posts and arguing just to argue. 

    For those of you interested, John Fleck on twitter just reminded me of an excellent 2004 Daniel Sarewitz paper that is relevant to this discussion and many others that take place on this blog.

  • Joshua

    Mary -

    Precisely. This is a political and philosophical issue. And we do not do
    mandatory government labeling for political and philosophical issues.
    We label for evidence-based matters.

    Our government legislates based on majority support related to political and philosophical perspectives all the time. I agree that basing legislation on evidence is important, but evaluating evidence is inherently subjective and the evaluation of evidence is rarely (never?) the only criterion used to determine legislation. Expecting otherwise seems unrealistic, IMO. Ultimately, majority public opinion is the hammer. And that’s how it should be – as imperfect as such a system is.  If enough people want the food they buy in the supermarket to be labeled as to GMO content, so be it. If majorities don’t support such labeling, so be it. What I would consider unfortunate is if this issue becomes a distraction from the larger, and more important related issues. I don’t see that being the case, actually. As much focus as this issue of labeling has received, I think that people will move on pretty quickly to examine the more important underlying issues.

  • Joshua

    Keith -

     Now you are just moving the goal posts and arguing just to argue. 

    You brought up the parallels with climate change, and I responded in kind. I]But in fact, I have been consistent in saying that I think that your generalizing about “liberals” is only useful to an extent, and that beyond that point it becomes counterproductive. Not sure how you then determine that I’m moving goalposts. It is certainly interesting that Pollan used your article as information to further the understanding of his students on these issues – that would support an argument that your input value. I don’t question that your input has value – my questions relate to how the value of your input might be maximized. Ultimately, that is for you to decide, and you are certainly within your rights to reject my perspective. I don’t take it personally.

  • Pete

    The thing is, fear is all that they’ve got. The idea that the modern world is out to get them is at the basis of all this. What else is there?

  • Pete

    The thing is, fear is all that they’ve got. The idea that the modern world is out to get them is at the basis of all this. What else is there?

  • Mary

    @Joshua #20: What you said:

    Our government legislates based on majority support related to political and philosophical perspectives all the time.

    Please show me the mandated food labels that meet this criteria. Or admit that you have moved to goalposts to talk about something else entirely. Evidence, please.

    And this:

    What I would consider unfortunate is if this issue becomes a distraction from the larger, and more important related issues.

    Is also precisely what has happened. The GMO bogeyman has completely distracted people with misleading information. If you banned GMOs tomorrow would you eliminate monocultures, herbicides, or patents–all the things people want this labeling to do? Nope. Not a single one of those goes away.
    Brazil labels, I’m told. Why don’t you tell me if that has reduced their monoculture farming.

  • Tom Scharf

    Joshua, are there any liberal stances that you don’t support?  If it looks like one…and smells like one…

  • Joshua

    Tom.  i don’t doubt that for some, the labeling issue is a proxy for fighting to eliminate GMOs. That said – i don’t attrbute that motivation to everyone in favor of labeling.

  • Joshua

    Input your comments here…

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Waitaminnit. I’m a liberal–very liberal. I believe we need real oversight of food and drugs–we really should have an administrative body to conduct such oversight. 

    I believe we should conduct testing to look for effectiveness and harmful side effects of food and drugs and act on the results of those tests. We should also be receptive to new information about them as it arises.

    I also think truth in labeling is important–that companies should not mischaracterize the ingredients of prepared foods and should list known allergens.

    But the developed world has all that. GMOs have satisfied all those requirements and more. They are safely used by hundreds of millions. As individual products come to market they are evaluated and tested.

    If there is demand for foods that do not contain GMOs, then companies will see the opportunity and label their products as GMO-free. 

    How does that not solve the problem?

  • Pete

    Tom it sounds like your one of those old fashioned liberals who believe in a better future. Get on board the future is horrible and all we can hope for is that the government save us from it.

  • Joshua

    How does that not solve the problem?

    It doesn’t solve the problem for the subset of people who want to know whether something they buy at the supermarket contains GMOs.

    So the issue was put to a referendum and didn’t pass. If a majority of people voting felt that such labeling should be mandated, would that have been a problem? If the referendum had passed, would there  be a problem with legislation enacted that reflected the wishes of a  majority of stakeholders? If it had passed, would there have been  some concrete problem as an outgrowth of labeling that would have trumped the right of a constituency to vote for regulatory mandates they wanted? Should such referendums be prohibited? If a majority had supported labeling, should it have been prevented in some fashion? How? 

    I think that it is interesting to see whether people view direct democracy  processes differently depending on the subject. Are referendums OK on decriminalizing pot, using pot for medical purposes, gay marriage, limiting tax rates, etc., but not OK for labeling GMOs? What is the conceptual difference that isolates labeling of GMOs as selectively inappropriate for ballot referenda?

    So just to make sure I understand: Those who want a referendum on labeling of GMOs are statists asking for governments to save us from a horrible future and to impose their will on others, but those who want a referendum to prevent two men from marrying are saving society from the destruction of traditional marriage?

    How does the logic work, exactly?

  • prasad

    Well said. Pollan clearly wants to push the “science is unclear” angle, notwithstanding that every major scientific organization has rejected his side’s fearmongering view. “All the evidence isn’t in yet” is a great way of ginning up opposition when the evidence that is in doesn’t look good, and of course *all* the evidence will never be in on anything. I also like how he simply skates past the fact that the mainstream of science is against him. He doesn’t say – because obviously false – that all the entirety of that mainstream view is obtained for through cash payment by Monsanto. But neither does he bother with providing an alternate view for why the scientific community rejects his view.And finally, yes, the transparency argument implicitly depends upon the science at least plausibly being off. Which he’s trying to be on both sides of. Otherwise he’s just transmuting fear, luddism and romanticism into a spurious argument supposedly for the reasoned consideration of facts.

  • Mary

    @prasad #31;
    Yeah, they learned a lot from the “Doubt is our Product” gang. Lately Jeffrey Smith has had a conference called “Seeds of Doubt”. Greenpeace just launched a video and campaign called “Growing Doubt” (growingdoubt.org). 

    It’s such a sad strategy that all these groups hated and denounced when the tobacco companies employed it, and now they are using it.

  • Tom Scharf

    Nobody is arguing whether public ballots should be outlawed or ignored if passed.  You are the only one here arguing about this, with yourself.  The argument is why this labeling is needed (very weak science), and why the usual process (FDA) is not adequate or trusted to resolve this.  Common sense tells everyone that this is a proxy fight over GM by the GM mad hatters.  It’s a public awareness campaign.  The market has solved this already, you want non-GM foods, buy organic.

    I just don’t get why certain groups get so fired up over certain topics.  No good will come out of this for all the mental effort employed.  Try something more effective.  If you want to save some trees, force catalog providers to get an opt-in before they can send a holiday catalog to someone.  That will save 50 lbs of catalogs that go straight to recycle in my house.  What a waste. 

    From the other side of the aisle, maybe a majority of the public doesn’t like watching movies or TV with GBL themes, and want specific labeling for this.  Maybe places that perform gay marriages should be labelled.  Bending to the will of every interest group’s specific paranoia doesn’t make sense.

  • Tom C

    Joshua -  I read you comment #18, which included this: 

    “And on top of all of that, Keith ““ even if I am applying a double standard, my political identification is not the explanatory causality ““ well-established cognitive and psychological influences in how people reason in the face of controversy that connects to social, cultural, and political identifications is causal.” 

    and it put me in mind of this quote from G.K. Chesterton: 

    Most of the machinery of modern language is labour-saving machinery; and it saves mental labour very much more than it ought. Scientific phrases are used like scientific wheels and piston-rods to make swifter and smoother yet the path of the comfortable. Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable. If you say “The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment,” you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin “I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out,” you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word “damn” than in the word “degeneration.

  • http://www.biofortified.org Karl Haro von Mogel

    Michael Pollan said “however, the scientist was actually using the exact same protocol
    same kind of rats as used by Monsanto used to get the products approved
    in Europe

    No, this is wrong. They did not use the same protocol at all! I think what Pollan is referring to is that they used the same rats and the same number of animals per group, but the key difference is that they did a lifelong study versus a 90-day study. That alone makes it a different protocol. And in not recognizing that the number of animals should be different due to the longer time interval being studied, he glosses over the critical flaw in Seralini’s study.

    Nice to see he agrees with the idea that fear should not be used in the campaign to label GE foods, however, I agree that he is being wishy-washy to both say that, and then subtly prod the same fears by saying there’s not enough science on it. I agree there needs to be more science, (when is there ever enough science?! More more more!) but at a certain point that call for more science becomes less of a call for more knowledge as it is a means to prevent adequate science that already exists from being used to drive policy.

  • harrywr2

    #33 Tom Scarf

    I just don’t get why certain groups get so fired up over certain topics.

    Because the war was effectively won(as you point out, we have organic labeling) but the ‘warriors’ have gone on fighting. Or maybe the war was never about food labeling to begin with. The ‘organic food’ group didn’t bring Monsanto, Dole, Heinz, ADM, General Mills et all to their knees.Personally I think the prior…the organic food movement did bring organic foods and organic labeling to the marketplace…but now that they’ve ‘won’ what are they going to fight for? What further purpose do their lives have?  If you spend 20 or 30 years fighting and organizing for something, what do you do with yourself when ‘the war is over’?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    at a certain point that call for more science becomes less of a call
    for more knowledge as it is a means to prevent adequate science that
    already exists from being used to drive policy.

    hmmm…where have we seen that dynamic before? labeling GMOs may not be justified on scientific grounds, but plenty of people oppose GMOs for other reasons so the ‘sound science = labeling not needed’ argument doesn’t hold water by itself.

  • Joshua

    (35) Karl -

    That’s a legit criticism, IMO – but even if he got the protocol aspect wrong, he does say that scientists he trusts were highly critical of the study.

    Do you think there is any legitimacy to the arguments that the methodologies (at least often) and scope of  industry-funded  studies leaves something to be desired?

  • harrywr2

    #37

    labeling GMOs may not be justified on scientific grounds

    Official California Voters Guide to Prop 37http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2012/general/pdf/37-arg-rebuttals.pdfQuoting the Proponents          PROTECTING YOUR FAMILY’S HEALTH WILL BE EASIER.

    There are no long-term health studies that have proven that genetically engineered food is safe for humans. Whether you buy genetically engineered food or not, you have a right to know what you are buying and not gamble on your family’s health.

    Sorry Marlowe, but the proponents made arguments that only can be based on scientific evidence. Whether or not ‘it’s a gamble’ to eat genetically engineered food is a  question for science.

  • hr

    Joshua says “It doesn’t solve the problem for the subset of people who want to know whether something they buy at the supermarket contains GMOs.”Well why can’t I have my food labelled to say “it was washed with fluoridated water” or “picked by illegal workers” or “is from a company that contributes to The Republican Party” or whatever I feel like? The salient point is does GMO represent anything so extraordinary that it possess a health risk. Science says “no”. So you don’t get to enforce labeling.

  • hr

    Joshua if we were to label things that alleviated every concern (irrational fear) of “a subset of people” then I think we are looking at some pretty large, unreadable labels. So the question is why this subsets’ particular concern?

  • steven mosher

    absent any finding that there is a danger, I see no way one can make a case that people have a right to know whether the food is GM or not. It’s not like we tell food producers they must label heir food as Non kosher, even though there is a sizable population who really care to know whether the food is kosher or not. That group’s interest is well served by the market mechanism.
    If there s a market for No GMO food, then the food movement should put some capital at risk and start selling it.

  • Joshua

    Well why can’t I have my food labelled to say “it was washed with fluoridated water” or “picked by illegal workers” or “is from a company that contributes to The Republican Party” or whatever I feel like?

    If there were a sufficient % of a given constituency that wanted that, and that passed a referendum to require such labeling, you could. I fail to understand why this is so complicated. People who want GMO labels – for no doubt more than one reason – tried to pass a referendum. They failed. Life moves on. 

    The salient point is does GMO represent anything so extraordinary that
    it possess a health risk. Science says “no”. So you don’t get to
    enforce labeling.

    Except you do if there is a sufficient % of the population that is in agreement. If there isn’t, you don’t. Again, why is this complicated? 

    Joshua if we were to label things that alleviated every concern
    (irrational fear) of “a subset of people” then I think we are looking at
    some pretty large, unreadable labels. So the question is why this
    subsets’ particular concern?

    Because that subset represents a fairly significant chunk of the population (although not significant enough to pass the referendum). I would say that anti-gay marriage referendums are the result of irrational fear. But a fact of life in this country is that majorities get to enact laws based on their beliefs irrespective of my interpretation of their rationality. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would you?

  • Joshua

    I have belonged to a food co-op for many, many years (my parents were founding members some 40 years ago).  A while back there was an initiative amongst some members to have products labeled so as to distinguish those products that came from, or might have come from, illegal Israeli settlements in “occupied”  Palestinian territories.  The issue was put to a vote. The initiative failed. The majority of members felt that such labeling was discriminatory towards Israel, harmful towards Israel, or based on an inherently selective criterion (the thinking was once you started labeling, there could many advocates for any number of various kinds of labels). 

    People felt strongly on both sides of the debate. People disagree about these types of things. People advocate for their beliefs, what they want. Some times they win. Sometimes the lose. Life moves on.

  • Mary

    @Joshua #44: What if you could get enough Americans to say they wanted labels that said “Not Halal” and “Not grown in a Muslim country”. There are plenty of places in the US you might be able to do that.

    You think the government should pay for that?

    Why isn’t the co-op strategy good enough? Voluntary labels by a group for whom it matters. That’s just like the Non-GMO project, which works fine for folks who must avoid GMOs because of their philosophical objections to them.

  • Joshua

    What if you could get enough Americans to say they wanted labels that
    said “Not Halal” and “Not grown in a Muslim country”. There are plenty
    of places in the US you might be able to do that.
    You think the government should pay for that?

    “Government” is comprised of citizens, who are elected to office. As such, I think it should pay for what the constituency says it should pay for. If there were enough votes to pass such a referendum,what would you suggest? Should government officials refuse to conform with the referendum? On what basis? How would it be determined which referenda they should refuse to abide by?

    The majority holds the hammer. That’s how it should be, IMO, despite all the imperfections and dangers of such a system. MLK  spoke powerfully about a moral justification for disobedience against unjust laws. Somehow I don’t think that he would have applied that philosophical argument to argue that there is a moral imperative to refuse to label GMOs. 

  • Nullius in Verba

    #46,

    Interesting discussion. This is about the conflict between democracy and liberty. JS Mill said it best.

    Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyran–society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it–its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism. [...]

    The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

    Joshua is arguing for the “tyranny of the majority” in which the majority can compel a minority to do as they demand, without the justification of preventing demonstrable harm to others, simply because they are the majority. That, as they say, is democracy.

    The reason we normally demand solid scientific evidence of harm before legislating, indeed, the reason we allow legislation when we do have such evidence, is precisely to comply with this moral principle.

    The authoritarian and libertarian tendencies in society are opposed in this. One wants to erode the principle, in order to better order society in line with their ideals, and has picked various popular cases to start with. The other seeks to defend the principle, even in cases where they have no personal interest, or indeed may even agree that the behaviour being banned is objectionable. Because once you establish that the State can, we know it will be extended to all sorts of other things people don’t like others doing. History and psychology make that obvious. It’s all about seeking power over other people.

    The battle is played out again and again, in each successive generation. Sometimes we win, and start to take it for granted that we will now always be a free society. Sometimes we lose, and then spend a few decades rediscovering why it was so important. MLK, who Joshua cites, certainly knew why it was important, and it was resisting the unjust laws in the most minor things that sent the most powerful message. It is in the scale of things a very minor thing where people sit on a bus.

    I don’t know, but I think he might very well have understood about the reasons for not labelling GMOs. With the authoritarian principle and precedent established, it’s logically not so unlike labelling people.

  • prasad

    Joshua makes a telling slide in his defense of labeling. He was asked _why it would be a good thing_ for mandated GMO labeling to exist, if the science shows there’s no health benefit to non-GM food. In response he simply says democratic majorities have the _legal right_ to do it.

    Nullius in Verba makes the point that Joshua’s so called transparency is coming into contact with a very real liberty concern here – absent sound reason-based argument, basically Joshua’s side wants to bring the brute power of the state to bear upon producers and consumers who don’t want exactly what he does, instead of just entering the market himself. But set that to one side. Notice that he’s been asked why it would be right, good and proper for his side to impose its whims upon the populace at large without reasons. He simply sidesteps. Someone asks pointedly whether laws mandating “not made with fluoridated water” or “not picked with immigrant labor” or “kosher” (or evolution is a theory?)  labels should also pass by majoritarian fiat. In particular whether all of us would have good reasons to oppose such labels, taking to the courts and to the public to stop them from gaining support.

    Again Joshua simply says majorities have rights. Yes Joshua, majorities have large (though contestable and contested) powers. Now answer the question.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #48,

    I don’t think Joshua was sliding, or not answering the question. he was simply taking the standard ‘democratic authoritarian’ position that the majority has the right to impose the rules of society, whatever they might be. That’s the defining principle of democracy, which most people consider a good thing, although usually that’s when being compared to tyranny of the minority.

    The libertarian/authoritarian axis is a separate issue, and one that a lot of people don’t always recognise explicitly. There are many people in society who genuinely don’t recognise liberty as a primary moral principle, and who are politically authoritarian with the best of intentions. It’s certainly a legitimate question as to whether liberty should overide democracy. There are genuine arguments on both sides. I don’t have any problem with Joshua taking the position. It’s up to the rest of us to express the arguments for or against it with clarity.

  • prasad

    I don’t think respect for “democratic authoritarianism” is a distinguishing feature of American liberalism. In California especially I can think of an important issue or two that’ve come up recently where liberals have (righly) opposed the notion that majorities should always prevail. I would diagnose differently: people (generically) think of transparency and think ‘consumers have a right to know.’ They’re not thinking ‘but producers have a right not to be dictated to needlessly.’ That’s not – I think – about any sort of visceral comfort with “authoritarianism.” It’s just all people are consumers, but very few spend much time as manufacturers. If you have legal schemes up for vote that say ‘all stenographers must use recycled paper’ or ‘all soda merchants should sell only small bottle sizes’ or ‘every taxi operator must buy a million dollar medallion’ the same people bridle.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > This is a political and philosophical issue. And we do not do mandatory government labeling for political and philosophical issues. We label for evidence-based matters.

    I’d like to know the evidence basis for “made in china”.

  • Gaythia Weis

    I’d advocate that the best position for science would be on the free flow of information side of this debate. Which I would see as advocating in favor of both democracy and liberty.  To Nullis in Verba, or Prasad, I’d say don’t confuse a fascist corporatist controlled state with “liberty”.

    Food labeling as it currently exists is very political with considerable lobbying efforts directed towards legal descriptors whose intent is to obscure rather than inform.

    Examples would include the multiple descriptors of substances containing MSG, for example”hydrolyzed soy protein” ; or the current efforts of the corn lobby to back away from their choice of “high fructose corn syrup”.  Their current proposal is “corn sugar”.

    Originally they apparently thought that made consumers of high sugar products such as sodas unaware that how much sugar was involved, now it is high fructose corn syrup that seems to have the negative connotation.

    To be fair, it should also be noted that some organic luncheon  meat products advertise “no nitrites” but do include celery powder, which contains it.

    In times of crisis, for example when cantaloupe was found to be contaminated with listeria, the government was capable, with time, to trace back this outbreak to a single manure contaminated truck on one individual farm, in Colorado.

    It seems to me that in this modern era of big data the correct approach is to work to streamline and accentuate this system such that in time, a scan-able code on a supermarket shelf would yield field, water, seed, farming practices, food handling, processing and retail information.

    Much of this information exists already, in corporate data banks.  In a democracy, the public has a right to know.

    So in the not so distant future, it ought to be possible to know not only the genotype of your food, a broad analysis of its nutritional value and also obtain an analysis as to natural environmental constituents it may have absorbed, such as arsenic (or fluoride, for that matter).  As fields and irrigation waters “salt out’ both of those, and other chemicals, will be of rising concern.   There is considerable powerful science there.

    If scientists want to convince the public that concerns regarding GMOs are not valid, the correct approach, IMHO, is more public information not less.  In my opinion, this would lead to greater, although perhaps selective, public acceptance of GMO products.

    The corporate forces which opposed the California measure are, in many instance the same forces that have actively and are actively lobbying against chemical and/or food labeling in other venues.  It can’t be said that they always have nutrition, safety or environmental health at the forefront of their agendas.

    There was considerable (and valid) griping by scientists that California’s Proposition 37 was poorly written.  The time to start drafting a more comprehensive measure is now. That would be a considerably more useful exercise than sniping at the “food movement”.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    I just found a nice introduction to an analysis to Mill’s harm principle:

    http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/alevelphilosophy/data/A2/Mill/MillHarm.pdf

    Since copying from that PDF removes the empty spaces, I won’t. But in a nutshell, the concept of “harm” that Mill shovelled his analysis would certainly deserve due diligence.

    Not that I would impose to anyone to pay due diligence to Mill’s analysis, mind you. People are free to use philosophy the way they please, even when it’s the opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

  • harrywr2

    #51 Willard

    I’d like to know the evidence basis for “made in china”.

    Country of origin labeling requirements are for the determination of import duties.

  • Gaythia Weis

    If I devised, say, a GMO “golden rice’ that not only added vitamin A, but also reduced absorption of arsenic from soils, why would I want to keep that information secret?

    The biggest problem for GMO’s IMHO, is not the technology itself,  but the fact that the first corparations out there had imlementations that were backwards looking in nature, and self serving for the corporations involved, extending current herbicide products rather than building crop competitive, strength, for example.

  • Gaythia Weis

    Food ingredient labeling does not depend on some evidence that knowing the particular ingredients is pertinent.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    For those who have access to JSTOR, here’s an excerpt from a conclusion of an analysis by a guy who spent his entire life studying the harm principle:

    [W]ith a few exceptions, proponents of the Harm principle have devoted insufficient attention to the question of what harm is. Perhaps there has even been an, as it were, “top-down” tendency to characterize something as a harm if there seemed to be a case for coercion rather than the other way around. It is no great surprise, then, that the Harm principle has seemed intuitively plausible.

    http://www.jstor.org/stable/27504250

    Holtug also mentions that the plausibility of the principle may also be explained by the fact that harm is a concept that applies to persons, and that only some kind of individualist principle could ever justify coercion.

    I hope readers will recognize by this analysis does not try to impose any kind of moral coercion on any kind of public opinion.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Thank you, Harry.

    And what kind of evidence basis does import duties provide?

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard
  • prasad

    “To Nullis in Verba, or Prasad, I’d say don’t confuse a fascist corporatist controlled state with “liberty”. Food labeling as it currently exists is very political with
    considerable lobbying efforts directed towards legal descriptors whose
    intent is to obscure rather than inform.”Gaythia, I would say heal your own movement. It’s goal here is precisely to get a label glommed onto food without scientific evidence, whose intent is to spread fear, in support of ideological goals many of the rest of us, including scientifically minded liberals, don’t share. One does not have to believe in “fascism” to think you shouldn’t be bringing the force of the state to the question of what Pepsico (say) may or may not legally sell me, unless you’ve demonstrated some genuine public interest. And no, that interest isn’t to be found ouroboros-fashion in the very fact that some people like you care for your proposed label. Such people can ask for that label on the marketplace the same way kosher or halal eaters do.

  • Gaythia Weis

    IMHO, we are incuring huge public expenses due to the likes of Pepsico marketing and profiting from product without  Pepsico incurring the social costs of the health related results.Things presented in the public domain ought to be public.  So yes, things not specifically arcredited as halal, kosher or not meeting ISO 22000 food standards for that matter ought to be defined as such.  Which is easy for a manutfacturer to figure out, because unless said manufacturer has taken the specific steps to be included, they are not.In this modern technological era, labeling does not mean with a hand scribed scroll, that means with a scanable link to a data base.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #50,

    “I don’t think respect for “democratic authoritarianism” is a distinguishing feature of American liberalism.”

    Not as a general moral principle, no, but I would say that there is a distinct and growing authoritarian streak in American (and European) politics. However, in a way, I agree with your diagnosis. While libertarians hold it as a general principle, authoritarians tend to take it more expediently. Their aim is that society should act in accordance with their own wishes, morals, standards, etc. Authoritarians believe that the State should support them in this, and enforce those standards on other people. When it comes to the State enforcing other people’s moral standards on them, they suddenly become more liberal. They work to increase the State’s power over people when in power, but resist it and seek to change the policy when it works against them. There is a continuous spectrum of views, and many positions fall between the two extremes.

    People’s positions vary with the circumstances. Even fairly pure libertarians accept the power of the State on pragmatic grounds and the need to bring about change through democratic channels where available even when issues of liberty are involved, and authoritarians will accept there are limits beyond which resistance to the State is moral (Joshua’s MLK reference). But the difference between real-life authoritarians and libertarians is mostly not an ‘always/never’ distinction but a ‘sometimes/never’ one.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #52,

    “I’d advocate that the best position for science would be on the free flow of information side of this debate. Which I would see as advocating in favor of both democracy and liberty.  To Nullis in Verba, or Prasad, I’d say don’t confuse a fascist corporatist controlled state with “liberty”.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here, but I suspect you might be referring to protectionism as practiced by ‘big agriculture’. As a free-market believer, I’m certainly against protectionism.

    However, I’d argue that the best response to protectionism is not more protectionism, but competition. Developing genetically modified crops is very expensive, and is made even more expensive by onerous safety testing and control standards (including labelling). No business will spend their own money to develop new technologies for society’s benefit unless they get a return on the investment. And the more hostile you make the business environment, the more likely it is only the sharks will be able to survive in it.

    If you want to stop Monsanto picking the most profitable modifications to make, your only real solution is to reduce costs and open the industry up to competition. When some other corporation can still make more money by offering a product with a lower profit margin that gets more market share, they will. But if you make it hard to develop and harder to sell, only the most profitable products will be worth developing.

    I agree with the idea of a free flow of information, but this needs to be market-driven, not legislated. If there is a market for non-GMO foods, then manufacturers should be free to label their products as such, and charge a premium. If they don’t want to do so, they miss out on the GMO-free market. Similarly, if some people are concerned by the astrological star sign under which the seed was planted, I see no reason why other people shouldn’t make more money by labelling their products with that information. But the only valid justification for compulsion is a demonstrated safety concern.

  • Gaythia Weis

    There is no, or at least not very much, safety concern with most of the ingredients on food labels.  Those for whom there is a concern, in many cases, such as with allergens, form a very small segment of the population.  I wonder if Mary and others would have supported a voluntary system there.   What a corporation picks as “most profitable” ought to include transparency so that the true social cost could be evaluated.  The absence of secrecy can also lead to greater trust.  So that even in cases where there is no safety or other  negative issue involved, disclosure can serve a constructive purpose in building consumer confidence.  It demonstrates you have nothing to hide and reduces risk perceptions.  David Ropeik has an interesting piece on this over at Big Think.Disclosure is an important value in a democracy.   Rampant capitalism does not lead to free markets.  Secrecy is one mechanism that can be used to short circuit the system.  What were food or medical supplies like in the days before the FDA?  Did consumers really have an informed free choice?  An informed populace is needed to govern effectively. Fostering an attitude of: trust we’re the experts, we’re the ones with economic and political clout, will undermine both democracy and the pursuit of science.

  • harrywr2

    #64

    Those for whom there is a concern, in many cases, such as with allergens, form a very small segment of the population. 

    I’m hypersensitive to perfumes. The vast majority of soap products are perfumed. There is however a large enough market for ‘perfume free’ that manufactures do accommodate us.P&G lists all the ingredients for ‘Cheer Free’ laundry detergent on their website,
    they don’t list all the ingredients that go into regular Cheer(They list all the ingredients that ‘might’ be included …the list is so long that it is useless). Fair enough…they have multiple product lines…one for people with allergies/hypersensitivity and a bunch for everyone else.For me the problem isn’t the labeling, the problem is the after sale use. What did the hotel wash the sheets with? What did they use to shampoo the carpets, do they use scented air fresheners, did the previous guest wear a lot of perfume etc etc etc.It’s unrealistic to believe the hotel reservations clerk would even have a list of all the chemicals in the various cleaning supplies never mind an inventory of the perfumes used by the previous guest. One hotel even put me in their ‘room for people with allergies’…it had a huge HEPA air cleaner…then right behind the desk was a ‘plug in glade air freshener just pumping out sickening ‘april fresh scent’.I seriously doubt that people with specific food allergies can’t find an adequate amount of information at the ‘product manufacturer level’.Just as in P&G’s laundry detergent…some manufacturers may have products lines intended for people without any food allergies with a mystery list of ingredients and others to accommodate people with specific allergies/concerns.I suspect the biggest problems with food allergies are restaurants that may or may not wish to accommodate people with food allergies. A lot of restaurants simply reheat packaged foods. The waitress and the cook have no idea what was used to make the seasoning/sauces or if any sort of ‘meat tenderizer’ was used in preparation.

  • Joshua

    he was simply taking the standard “˜democratic authoritarian’ position
    that the majority has the right to impose the rules of society, whatever
    they might be.

    I’m afraid that you are seeing what you want to see, and as a result read far too much into what I say. First, I am not a “democratic authoritarian. Hardly. In fact, I am quite anti-authority as a general rule. In contrast, I am only stating a simple fact, in the US we live in an imperfect manifestation of a majoritarian democracy. Imperfect as it is, it is better than the alternatives, IMO, and certainly better than some Shangri-La concept of a libertarian state which does not currently exist anywhere on the planet, and which has never existed in the history of the planet – except possibly in a less state-like form when people lived in caves and if they wanted something someone else had they clubbed them over the head or died attempting to do so.

    The key difference between your conceptualization of what I think and what I actually think can be seen in your qualification of “…whatever they might be.” The power and/or the right of the majority to impose rules on the minority is not something absolute or static, but exists as a dynamic that changes on both short and long time scales, and that I personally view differently depending on a variety of factors. It is contingent, very much, on the specifics of what kinds of “rules” we are talking about. For example, although the majority at one time in this country had both the right and the power to enslave people based on their skin color, neither case is true any longer.

    It is meaningless, IMO, to make some sort of comparison between such questions of majority power and right as referenced by slavery to those referenced by questions such as whether food products should be labeled if they contain GMOs. The sense of scale is so out of proportion, IMO, so as to make the comparison essentially meaningless. That was what I meant by my reference to MLK – and the notion that the context related to MLK could be described as “minor things” seems honestly, quite strange to me. The referendum for GMO labeling failed, but I have to say I find it quite amusing that it seems that there are some folks who feel that if it hadn’t, it would have represented some great injustice.

    But no matter how I personally view these issues, the power of the majority, if not necessarily the rights (which are inherently subjective and an outgrowth of power) manifest independently of my beliefs as an individual. I might have some small measure of influence, and some individuals such as president Obama might have a relatively much larger measure of influence, but we don’t live in an actual totalitarians state (as opposed to a non-totalitarian state that some extremist libertarians, and perhaps extremist anarchists, in their binary mindset-Shangri La fantasizing confuse as totalitarian), and as such our reality is that the majority does decide these issues. Whining about that seems rather pointless to me. On another note, I have been thinking about something I said that I should change, however. I said earlier that referenda that create anti-gay marriage legislation is based on irrational beliefs. On second thought, I’m not sure I believe that is true – and saying so ultimately makes what else I’ve been saying somewhat hypocritical. Such legislation is based on beliefs that I disagree with, beliefs that I think are mistaken – but I guess in a sense they are rational. It is a line that is hard to distinguish – that line between beliefs I think are mistaken and beliefs that I think are irrational – but it is an important distinction, and it is a distinction that is lost, IMO, amongst  those who are hand-wringing about the prospect of GMO labels. There are those who distrust the science supporting GMOs and the sorts of corporations that produce GMOs and the science that supports them. There are rational underpinnings beneath such beliefs. This is similar to beliefs related to nuclear power, to vaccines, and a host of other issues related to risk assessment and decision-making under uncertainty. Just because I might draw lines in a different location than where someone else draws them does not make their beliefs in those regards less “rational” than mine.

    Ultimately, in the end, no matter how we as individuals might assess risk, or even rationality, our society determines that the power of decision-making rests with the majority – as a collective assemblage of individuals who in broad strokes are equal in power and voice and agency. Now of course that equality does not exist in a pure form, but given the extent to which it does exist, it is better IMO than the alternatives. And certainly, the quote from Mill illustrates well how the destructive influence a “tyranny of the majority” can be, in many ways, far more impactful when they lie outside the purview of political structures such as seen with the GMO referendum. Consider, for example, the impact of majority power as seen through homophobia, isolation and ill-treatment of the mentally ill or the physically disabled, even people who are fat or exceptionally short or whose physical appearance are considered unattractive. 

  • Joshua

    There was considerable (and valid) griping by scientists that California’s Proposition 37 was poorly written.

    I have heard similar griping about the referenda in Cali more generally. Some friends of mine from Cali have said that they often find that while they might generally be in support ((even in strong support) of the spirit of many of the referenda, by the time they exit the drafting process they become unsupportable because of how poorly they are written or how they become so watered down or so shaped by special interests with disproportionate power. It is one of the problems, I guess, with direct democratic processes. 

  • Joshua

    IMHO, we are incuring huge public expenses due to the likes of Pepsico marketing and profiting from product without 

    This speaks to what I consider to be a disproportionality in the extreme concern in these threads about those dirty hippie environmentalists. So much hand-wringing about how dangerous those GMO labels might have been. Why I half-expect that if Keith and the Toms, had they lived in Cali (I think Fuller does, doesn’t he?), they would already started on building their bunkers in advance of election day just in case. The lack of proportion is what I find problematic about what I see as an imbalance in Keith’s overall focus.

  • Joshua

    I agree with the idea of a free flow of information, but this needs to be market-driven, not legislated.

    The market thrives on information asymmetry. Not that regulation can eliminate the problem (or that government, also, doesn’t gain power from information asymmetry), but it can be something of a protection against extreme distortion.

  • Gaythia Weis

    @harrywr2@65  I also suffer from allergies (anaphylactic level food allergies).  My point was meant to be in response to others advocating a voluntary system,  IMHO voluntary systems have not worked very well in the past and are not working well now.What coverage we do have is mandated by the Consumer Protection Act of 2004:  http://www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/FoodAllergensLabeling/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/ucm106187.htmI favor widely encompassing public disclosure involving both food labeling and accessible data bases.@Joshua I do agree with those who believe that California’s Proposition 37 is poorly written.  I also think that public concerns regarding food safety and nutrition as well as agricultural sustainability represent valid concerns, even if some members of the public are a bit fuzzy on the details of their intended targets.   That is why I believe that now is the time for the science community to develop proposals that would be more informative.  This is also where I think science communicators such as Keith Kloor should focus their efforts.

  • steven mosher

    Of course us marketeers will write things like

    GMO Free! Avoid the danger of unknown genetic defects.

    And I would definately get ahead of any mandated move to labelling. Take whatever product you have currently that is GMO free ( say at least 75% of all products )

    And then Sku the same product up under a new brand, with GMO free labelling, and charge a nice fat premium to all the wacko leftist nut jobs.

    So, you have the same product that goes into 3 skus A) white label for the store. B) your regular brand. C) nut job brand..

    The store will like the higher ‘ring’, and you can probably kick a different brand off the shelf
    because somebody will have to go to maintain the basic planogram.Shelf space doesnt get created, just re arranged. So, good all around.

    You take the same product and get 3 different margins. always good to hit multiple price points with the same basic product. You have a chance for more ‘facings’ on the shelf and kick your competitors products off the shelf or down in price. And those profits can be plowed back into more GMO research. All good.

  • Gaythia Weis

    @harrywr2, while I agree that personal vigilance is necessary, regulations for food labeling does help quite a bit.  A restaurant using prepared foods would have an easy solution, if the manufacturers were required to label the containers.  A clever chef incorporating yesterday’s roast beef and gravy into today’s hash, not so much.  There are restaurants I simply can’t eat in, others in which I stick to “safe” foods.  But restaurants certainly could come up with lists of which ingredients are not used, the flip side to the vague warning of  “may contain” on store food labels.I agree that public accommodations are a problem, but on the other hand, huge strides have been made since the days when no attempts were made to provide smoke free rooms. I carried my own pillow & sheet back then.  Maybe something similar would work for you. These rooms are actually regulated at least at the state level, see for example: http://www.iowasmokefreeair.gov/   So there may be recourse against false claims.  More work is needed, obviously.  After a recent trip back east I’m wondering how bedbug spraying is handled.I once encountered co-packaging of a room freshener with a furnace filter at a local big box hardware store, and finding both them and my initial contact person at the filter company unresponsive, I enlisted the help of the American Lung Association, as the filter in question carried their logo as a seal of approval.  The item was removed.   Regulations are not perfect (laws regarding murder aren’t perfect deterrents either).  But they do help.Would somebody please remind me how to insert paragraph breaks here?

  • steven mosher

    Of course the voluntary system is already in place.
    http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/environmental-stewardship/genetically-engineered-foods

    So, if you want GMO free you are free to shop at whole foods. same way if you want kosher, you can shop at places that offer it.

    But that my friends is not good enough for some.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Free the data, free the code, free the ingredients!

  • steven mosher

    willard, ingredients are already free.
    you are required to list ingredients.
    and in fact they are.
    Don’t confuse the issue with imprecision.
    Ingredients are listed.
    What people want to know, is whether the listed ingredients were created using a process of genetic modification.
    Now, when something is labelled as organic, that of course means it is not GMO.
    When it is not labelled organic it could be GMO or not.
    The other salient issue is this.

    If you want me to buy your science, then I would demand transparency. No transparency, no sale. Likewise, if you want me to buy your food, I can also demand transparency, no labeling no sale.
    The demand ( or rather my demand) for transparency has always been tied to the concept of buying the science. you want me to accept it? then be transparent. You can choose not to be transparent, and as I have argued, I am under no rational obligation to accept it.

    It’s pretty simple. Just exercise your consumer rights. You shouldnt be forced to buy GMO food if you dont want to. And you are not. And you shouldnt be expected to accept non transparent science. Whether we are being ‘forced’ to accept non transparent science is an interesting question. I would imagine if the FDA was as lax as the NSF in enforcing its own regulations that folks might be upset. but hey, the planet is at stake, no point in upholding existing standards.

  • jim

    “And then Sku the same product up under a new brand, with GMO free labelling, and charge a nice fat premium to all the wacko leftist nut jobs.”+1

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    1. If I gave you a list of my filenames, have I freed the code, Moshpit?

    2. Compare and contrast:

    (1) I want to buy your science.

    (2) I want to buy your produce.

    Simples.

    3. Free the code, free the data in the data, free the ingredients in the ingredients!

  • Joshua

    Free Willy!Free the Chicago Seven!

  • Jarmo

    Seriously, I think the whole GM/organic  topic is a side issue when considering food safety. I am yet to hear about a single person killed by GM foods or a single person’s life saved by organic food. 

    The food poisoning epidemic that killed 37 people in Germany last year was traced to some sprouts from an organic farm. Well, it could have originated from a non-organic farm as well. The point is that whether you eat organic or GM does not make any discernible difference to your health, somatoform effects excluded.

    Here is the real beef:

    It is difficult to
    estimate the global incidence of foodborne disease, but it has been reported that in the year 2000 about 2.1 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases. Many of these cases have been attributed to contamination of food and drinking water. Additionally, diarrhea is a major cause of malnutrition in infants
    and young children.

    Even in industrialized
    countries, up to 30% of the population of people have been reported to suffer from foodborne diseases every year. In the U.S, around 76 million cases of foodborne diseases, which resulted in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths,
    are estimated to occur each year. Developing countries in particular are worst affected by foodborne illnesses due to the presence of a wide range of diseases, including those caused by parasites. Foodborne illnesses can and did inflict
    serious and extensive harm on society. In 1994, an outbreak of salmonellosis due to contaminated ice cream occurred in the USA, affecting an estimated 224,000 persons. In 1988, an outbreak of hepatitis A, resulting from the consumption of
    contaminated clams, affected some 300,000 individuals in China.

    Food contamination creates an enormous social and economic strain on societies. In the U.S., diseases caused by the major pathogens alone are estimated to cost up to US $35
    billion annually (1997) in medical costs and lost productivity. The re-emergence of cholera in Peru in 1991 resulted in the loss of US $500 million in fish and fishery product export
    s that year.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foodborne_illness#Global_impact

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    From Keith’s link under the words “In the California GMO labeling initiative, they saw a chance to galvanize support for a wide-ranging food politics agenda”:

    Why has the food movement sprouted so rapidly, even as traditional environmentalism has stalled? Simple: it’s about pleasure. Before the political games, before worries about dead zones and manure lagoons, before concerns about obesity and trans fat, the food movement arose around a simple principle: food should taste better. Like their environmental brethren, foodies could be accused of trying to force people to eat their vegetables “” but these vegetables are more than metaphorical: they are from a local organic farm and they’re sautéed to perfection. The food movement has also directly jacked into that other great American obsession “” health “” in a way that distant concerns about climate change have largely failed to do. And there’s the simple fact that food is present in our lives in a way that endangered species or deforestation or Arctic melting simply aren’t. We buy food, we cook food (though less and less frequently) and three times a day, we eat food “” occasionally while watching cooking shows.

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2049255,00.html

    Tough spot indeed.

    Perhaps we ought to get inspired by the masculine marketing of Maxim and sell GMO fortified products at a premium. Surreal food for surreal men. It could even come with a free plastic bag, one for each item you buy. Then Keith could blog about the kick he got from the looks he get while buying it.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Amateurs of evidence-based reasoning will surely appreciate Freakonomics’ op-ed entitled **How California’s GMO Labeling Law Could Limit Your Food Choices and Hurt the Poor**. My favourite line:

    If successful, they may well imperil the ability of Californians, and consumers around the world, to choose a technology that scientists contend could end hunger and malnutrition, lift hundreds of millions from poverty, and reduce the environmental impact of feeding an evermore populous world.

    No pressure there.

    http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/06/22/how-california's-gmo-labeling-law-could-limit-your-food-choices-and-hurt-the-poor/

  • Brian

    In all probability there is a low level presence of GMO in all manufactured foods.  Our storage, handling and transportation system pretty much guarantees some presence in all processed foods. So beore you decide to label, decide the acceptable level of presence.

  • Mary

    @Gaythia #64:

    “I wonder if Mary and others would have supported a voluntary system there.”

    I find the allergy labeling pretty arbitrary and random, actually. I come from a family with extensive food allergies. But when we grew up we expected to manage our personal genetic quirks ourselves rather than relying on federal (or state) labeling. My grandmother was allergic to strawberries. Yet we’ll never see “Processed in a plant using strawberries.” And “May contain…” is an entirely useless label.

    Lately lupin flour is getting around. It seems to cause allergic reactions in nut-allergic folks. Kiwi also caused allergies for some. But we don’t call those out. GMOs get tested for likely allergens. Any random new foodie fad does not.

    But in many cases you do have to rely on voluntary labeling in my experience. I have a peanut allergy. Every cookie in the workroom, every brownie in the coffee shop, every pastry is suspect. Thai restaurant food is pretty much out. But none of these require labels. So if I don’t know, I don’t eat it. It’s really not that hard.

    Let’s say, though, that a new GMO-allergen-reduced nut is developed. I’d seek it out. But I wouldn’t expect that to be in the mandatory label. I’d expect it in the company voluntary description. And I’d pay more for it. (Just like the NonGMO project, and Joshua never told me why that or the co-op’s decision wasn’t sufficient.)

    If I looked a jar of peanut butter (had Prop37 passed) the label would read: “May contain…” and then list peanuts, soya oil, sugar…. Since Prop37 tells us nothing, I would have no idea if any of those specific ingredients was GMO. 

    On the other hand, as a replacement, I eat sunflower butter. It’s probably grown with Clearfield herbicide-tolerant (but non-GMO) seeds. But if you hate herbicides, Prop37 wouldn’t have helped there either.

    In short, Prop37 was entirely useless about any specific ingredient anyway. It was not transparent. It did nothing for monocultures, herbicides, and patents. It was really a stunt.

    Further–let’s note that in the end it was only about 15% of the residents of California who could be arsed to vote “yes” on this. It’s a smaller group than they seem because they are just louder than everyone else.

  • Joshua

    Thanks for that link: Fear-mongering at its very best, Willard.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Brian,

    From the tied horse’s mouth:

    If Proposition 37 has been approved, it would have:

    Required labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways.

    Prohibited labeling or advertising such food as “natural.”

    Exempted from this requirement foods that are “certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.”

    http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition_37,_Mandatory_Labeling_of_Genetically_Engineered_Food_(2012)

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > In short, Prop37 was entirely useless about any specific ingredient anyway. It was not transparent. It did nothing for monocultures, herbicides, and patents. It was really a stunt.

    Indeed, since it is not solving everything, Prop37 solves nothing.

    A fin example of evidence-based reasoning.

  • Joshua

    Mary -

    “…and Joshua never told me why that or the co-op’s decision wasn’t sufficient.”

    Not sure what you’re going for there. The Co-op’s decision in itself was neither sufficient nor insufficient, in my view. I would have preferred labeling and the majority of voting members felt differently – but the process in and of itself was the determinant of what was or wasn’t sufficient in my view — just as was the question of labeling GMOS being put to a vote. I am a member of the Co-op specifically because it allows me to have a small measure of greater agency in little but important pieces of my life: how the place where I buy food interfaces with the local community, and to a lesser extent how it interfaces with communities on a broader scale.

    When the Co-op first started, the mission was to leverage the gains from community cooperation to lower members’ food costs  (by eliminating the inefficiencies of a profit orientation), increase members’ ability to access particular kinds of foods, and to leverage member cooperation to impact our shared community more generally. Over the years, the focus has shifted somewhat but still the community orientation brings benefits that I value: The Co-op supports community programs such as one that brings a “marketplace” into local schools where kids can be actively engaged in positive marketing activities and learn about healthy eating at the same time. The Co-op started a local urban farm (actually, the farm bears my father’s name as my mother started the farm with funds donated in my father’s memory) that educates hundreds of kids that visit every year and that runs outreach educational programs in schools in the community. There’s also a garden that’s been established at a local homeless shelter and a CSA that donates some memberships based on ability to pay. 

    Given these and many other direct and indirect benefits, I maintain my membership even though the outcome of the vote on labeling foods from areas where Israel is establishing settlements – activity that I oppose – was not resolved in the way that I would have wished. There are other Co-op policies that I disagree with also, but my membership reflects a bargain that I make quite willingly – and as long as I have a voice as a voting member, I am likely to always discount the outcomes of policies that I don’t directly support. I feel similarly about living in a country where majorities within local constituencies vote to make it illegal for one woman to marry another.

    I’m sure that some members of the Co-op might have felt that the lack of labeling was insufficient to address their concerns. Some may have left the Co-op as a result. Others my have just sucked it up and put the outcome in the larger context of enjoying the full range of benefits from a Co-op membership. Does that answer your question?

  • Matt B

    @ Jarmo 81,

    No kidding about the GMO foofaraw being a side-show while other real problems & solutions get shoved to the back pages. For example the irradiation of beef in the US has been approved since 1999 & as of 2011 the amount being irradiated in the US for human consumption is a booming 0.1%. It’s used more for cat & dog food than for people!

    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/09/is-it-time-to-accept-food-irradiation/

    A good quote from the article, even if it is from a source with an obvious rooting interest: 

    “I believe there’s 10 to 15 percent of the public who will never buy
    irradiated food and 10 to 15 percent of the public who will always buy
    it if available,” Clemmons said. “The rest don’t understand what
    irradiation is, and if provided the information, I believe the American
    consumer would accept it in most cases.”

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Breaking news:

    By astonishing coincidence, the biggest landowners happen to be among the richest people in Europe. Every taxpayer in the EU, including the poorest, subsidises the lords of the land: not once, as we did during the bank bailouts, but in perpetuity. Every household in the UK pays an average of £245 a year to keep millionaires in the style to which they are accustomed(7). No more regressive form of taxation has been devised on this continent since the old autocracies were overthrown. Never mind French farmers dumping manure in the streets: we should be dumping manure on French farmers.

    http://www.monbiot.com/2012/11/26/the-fat-of-the-land/

    Prop37 and GMO labeling does not solve autocratic subsidies in Europe.

    Can only be a side stunt.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Perhaps not an engineer-level derivation, but here’s what could be one important cause of hunger:

    At the end of 2005, the global number of refugees was at its lowest level in almost a quarter of a century. Despite some large-scale repatriation movements, the last three years have witnessed a significant increase in refugee numbers, due primarily to the violence taking place in Iraq and Somalia. By the end of 2008, the total number of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate exceeded 10 million. The number of conflict-induced internally displaced persons (IDPs) reached some 26 million worldwide at the end of the year . Providing exact figures on the number of stateless people is extremely difficult But, important, (relatively) visible though it is, and anguishing for those involved conflict is less important as poverty (and its causes) as a cause of hunger. (Using the statistics above 1.02 billion people suffer from chronic hunger while 36 million people are displaced [UNHCR 2008])

    Only GMO food has the power to end all this.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard
  • Gaythia Weis

    I agree with much of Willard’s point on hunger.  As someone interested in water issues, I personally favor greater research into possibilities of perennial grains.I don’t see GMO labeling as a sideshow.  I view efforts towards full transparency in agriculture (as well as in other areas) as essential to a democracy.  And as a side benefit, a vehicle towards gaining the public trust necessary to implement policies and provide research funding under which appropriate GMO technologies can be put to greater use.Given the state of the nation’s health, I think that having a food movement is a very good thing, and that rather than continued sniping over past issues, science communicators such as Keith Kloor could move on to advocate for future policies and propositions that are better phrased than California’s now defeated proposition 37 and do a better job of working to increase public knowledge of food sourcing.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    It seems that my suggestion in #80 was an accuracte retrodiction of this 2008 breakthrough:

    PASADENA, CA””Geneticists at the California Institute of Technology announced Monday that they have developed a tomato with a 31 percent larger price tag than a typical specimen of the vine-ripened fruit. “By utilizing an exciting new breakthrough in gene-splicing technology, we’ve been able to manipulate this new tomato with recombinant DNA in such a manner as to make it nearly as pricey as a similarly sized tangelo,” said Dr. Lee Nolan, who headed up the project. “Genetically modified crops such as this will be instrumental in helping average grocers keep pace with unaffordable organic stores such as Whole Foods.” In addition to vastly surpassing similar produce in expense, the new tomato will reportedly wipe out four species of ladybugs.

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/tomato-genetically-modified-to-be-more-expensive,6149/

  • Mary

    I finally had a chance to watch the video. It wasn’t as painful as I expected. He called Seralini a “fringy French scientist” which made me even giggle.

    And although it was better than most of the foodie post-mortems on Prop37, it certainly wasn’t deeply introspective about the failures. At least it didn’t blame the single bogeyman like most of them.
    I just wish his acolytes could hear this point, at about 48min:

    But I think the important point about GM is that, if there were no genetically modified food, the problems of industrial agriculture will
    not go away. Everything would be kind of status quo ante….It wouldn’t solve a whole lot of problems.

    And this is exactly what I keep trying to say. He needs to be more explicit about this being the wrong target to his flock and his thought-leader buddies. It is a distraction to the real issues that they claim to care about.

  • Gaythia Weis

    It seems to me that more could be learned from past trials and tribulations regarding dealing with anti-vaxxers.  Direct jousting with anti-vaxxer extremists kept Andrew Wakefield in the headlines for decades.Meanwhile, some epidemics, such as Hepatitis B spread by drug use and then transmitted to infants by their mothers; health issues of adults in immigrant communities that may have missed out on immunizations earlier in life and have little or no access now; and the more rapid than anticipated need for booster shots in those vaccinated; crept in under the radar.IMHO, an overall focus on public health, in which childhood vaccination is a significant but not the only focus would have been a much better approach.The GMO/not GMO battle is best ignored in favor of one advocating better public access to knowledge regarding food crops overall.  Fuller access to genomic information would provide an entry for advocates of GMO sources to provide clearer understanding of the proposed benefits of their seeds.Insisting on operating under a veil of secrecy only increases the suspicion that you have something to hide.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Here is shown that Prop37 was just footnotes to our old authoritarian man Plato:

    Socrates: Exactly, my precocious student. As for modifying the genes of our plants, GMOs are qualitatively very different from selective breeding. While choosing the best crops for the next year does involve improving genes, these traits appear naturally and are more in tune with the environment in which they developed. Genetic modification in a biotechnology sense involves inserting genes into the organism in a lab. Some think that bringing in genes that are completely foreign to the organism and the ecosystem is much riskier. When’s the last time that you upgraded some software on your computer and had it work perfectly?

    Demeter: Um, computers weren’t invented for 2400 years after you died, Socrates. I’m too old school to operate a mouse, how is it that you know anything about computers?

    Socrates: I find Siri to be a fantastic partner for philosophical debate.

    Demeter: “¦

    Socrates: Well, the point is that technology is not always predictable. More alarming is that our law protects the technology that goes into our GMO crops, but not the work done by natural selection. This gives the GMO alchemists more leverage to control the market. It’s possible for farmers to get boxed into “the system”: prices are set for their seeds, fertilizer, and for how much their crops can be sold.

    Demeter: That doesn’t sound so bad. They get a full package that works together, right?

    Socrates: When you can’t choose another company’s products or services, economic laws break down: the prices for the package deal can be set however the supplier wants, even if it’s not possible for the farmer to make a living. Genetically modified crops help large companies remove choices: it’s the same reason that monopolies are a bad thing. Note that I’m not necessarily saying that suppliers do this, because I can’t afford a lawsuit for libel. It’s hard to earn money as a ghost. I’m merely stating that complete control over the supply chain is very powerful, especially when you can sell on one side and buy on the other, and some farmers are saying they’re experiencing this sort of problem.12

    Demeter: Was the legal system so difficult to manage in your time?

    Socrates: You have no idea.

    http://soundbites.knifeandforkproject.com/proposition-37-a-socratic-dialogue/#more-467

  • Nullius in Verba

    #96,

    You mean it was genetically-modified non-toxic hemlock all along? Why, that cunning Socrates…

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Socrates preferred this organic treatment to fleeing where the skies had these so freewheeling shades of purple. Some alleges he had greater confidence in his integrity than in death itself.

  • Mary

    @Joshua #87:
    No, Joshua–the issue wasn’t the specifics of your co-op, but the fact that your co-op could choose to label or not based on their philosophical inclinations. It did not require government labeling, it could be handled by those who care about it.

    The Non-GMO project is exactly the same thing. It already exists, and makes far more sense than Prop37 did. It establishes its rules, monitors the vendors, and would be responsible for policing it. 

    Why isn’t that a sensible strategy for philosophical labels in general?

  • Joshua

    Mary -

    My  point in describing the situation with the Co-op is that it is a collection of stakeholders, just as is the electorate. The stakeholders got together to vote as to whether the organization, as a whole (via stakeholders elected as representative), should mandate the labels. If the vote had gone through, the organization would have mandated a policy that was contrary to the wishes of some stakeholders. Such is life! No one every promised us a rose garden!

    This was a vote as to the policy for the entire organizational structure, where some % of the membership would have an outcome contrary to their wishes no matter the outcome. Think of having cakes and eating them too.

    The decision via referendum was made based on majority sentiment. The Co-op vote seems as much a parallel to the referendum on GMO labels as the parallel you are focusing on , and seems to me to be quite a sensible strategy. Why do you feel that your example is more analogous?

    I see little problem, relatively speaking and on this issue in particular – with putting it to a vote. In fact, with the referendum process there is an additional bulkhead against a “tyranny of the majority” that the Co-op doesn’t have: We have a court system to (ostensibly) protect against votes that violate founding philosophy.

    The electorate voting for legislation to mandate GMO labeling is, precisely, “handled by those who care about it”: Those who came out to vote.

    Sorry – I just don’t see how, if the referendum had passed, it would have been some kind of significant injustice. The fear-mongering on the pro-labeling side is not defensible, but while not a justification, I find a selective focus on that fear-mongering without similar acknowledgement of the fear-mongering on the other side to be insufficient. In addition, the problems with the pro-labeling advocacy should be accompanied, IMO, by an examination of the wider political implications on both sides (including the full-range of political implications of concentration of power in the hands of corporations like Monsanto). To do otherwise seems to me like promoting an agenda.

  • Mary

    It is likely that if the referendum had passed, the court system would have had to resolve it. And there were multiple ways that it could be challenged. It would have been unlikely to survive because it was so poorly constructed and aimed. The court fight also would have been another drain on taxpayer resources.

    You are missing the point: government mandated labeling of food based on philosophical reasons is a bad idea. Nobody is saying you can’t try it. I’m saying it’s a terrible strategy with an unsound foundation, and in this case was a sad waste of time and money.

    It is better handled by those who have the philosophical issue. Making the general public pay for this is not a responsible use of government funds.

    Just like the textbook labels in Georgia that were required by a group opposed to evolution. It’s possible to pass the law. That doesn’t make it a good idea or a good use of public resources.

  • Joshua

    Mary -

    You are missing the point: government mandated labeling of food based on philosophical reasons is a bad idea.

    Sorry – but because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that I miss “the point.” There is not only one “point” and you don’t get to determine which points are or aren’t of relevance.

    I don’t agree with you. I don’t consider the exercise of democratic principles, through a direct democratic process, to be a “bad idea” or a “sad waste of time and money.” You are not the arbiter of what is or isn’t a “good idea” or a “good use of public resources.” When you get to Shangri-La – where democracy isn’t a messy process and aligns perfectly with what you deem to be good ideas – drop me a line.

  • Brian

    As usual Joshua, your cognitive myopia gets in the way of constructive dialogue. Mary’s point is mandatory labelling on food or food products should be reserved for nutrition and safety. Your democratic right to label GMO free exists, use it to your advantage.

  • Brian

    As usual Joshua, your cognitive myopia gets in the way of constructive dialogue. Mary’s point is mandatory labelling on food or food products should be reserved for nutrition and safety. Your democratic right to label GMO free exists, use it to your advantage.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    I point at this:

    Mary’s point is mandatory labelling on food or food products should be reserved for nutrition and safety.

    And I point at the whole #83, where we can read:

    But in many cases you do have to rely on voluntary labeling in my experience. I have a peanut allergy. Every cookie in the workroom, every brownie in the coffee shop, every pastry is suspect. Thai restaurant food is pretty much out. But none of these require labels. So if I don’t know, I don’t eat it. It’s really not that hard.

    That is all.

  • Joshua

    Brian -

    The democratic right to have a referendum on GMO labeling exists.

    Given that, and assuming that you will allow such democratic rights to continue -  perhaps if you post your email everyone considering a referendum can contact you to ask your determination about whether it is a waste of time and resources, a bad idea, etc.? No guarantees that they will follow your determination – but I guess it can’t hurt.

  • BillC

    Joshua,I read the full paper that was the source for the fracking story you linked in an earlier comment. It’s too bad that it’s all fairly anecdotal, but I understand why that can’t be helped. I would agree (haven’t changed my position on this) that oil and gas exploration ought to be regulated from an environmental standpoint regarding release of chemicals, etc., without any special exceptions related to other industries.

  • Mary

    @Brian #140: Exactly. @willard #105. What is your point? If you are going to mandate a food label it should have scientific basis and evidence. But labels are not mandated on restaurant food. If they were, I would still think government mandating philosophical labeling would be a bad idea.

  • jim

    Keith, great topic and great timing.  Wasn’t there a big study just a few months ago concluding that organic and “natural” foods have no discernable health benefits?  I think it’s time to force organic and “natural” food makers to have a label warning that their products confer no discernable health benefits.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Mary,

    My point is that Brian’s interpretation does not amount to your claim that we **should** (I am glad you made a prescriptive statement, btw) label food on scientific basis and evidence. In fact, if we’re to label food for security reason, we’d never label anything, unless we were allowed to sell poison as food. But we’re not.

    Pending a example of a food label you **would** accept on scientific basis and evidence, I consider that you’re setting up a criteria that will never be met by anything.

    As an aside, I will note that what we **should** do does not rest on scientific basis and evidence. Not yet. So your own criteria still rests of what you dub “philosophical”, an epithet that would make sense if we had some kind of conceptual analysis in the thread. So far, this is sorely lacking. What we have instead is merely above sloganeering.

  • harrywr2

    #105 Willard,

    I think you are missing a point. The kind of ‘mandatory labeling’ we have, even where it exists doesn’t provide the kind of information someone with a ‘specific allergy’ would need to evaluate whether or not the food/item poses a problem. The California GMO labeling proposition exempted restaurants.

    Here is the list of ingredients that go into the fragrances in laundry soap..it’s 20 pages long, more then 1,000 ingredients.

    http://www.pgproductsafety.com/productsafety/ingredients/Perfume_and_Scents.pdf

    Personally I am content that P&G offers products that are ‘fragrance free’.

    But if we insist on labeling everything, then everything that includes fragrances and everything washed in something that includes fragrances needs to be labeled as well.

    Won’t people who wear perfume or clothes washed in perfumed soap look silly with a sign tacked to their foreheads with a list of more then 1,000 ingredients?

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    Harry,

    And how about 999 ingredients?

    And 998?

    You have not answered my earlier question: what is the scientific basis to label stuff “made in China”? Perhaps I should have chosen a more appropriate example. Let’s take a barrel of olives with “Product of Greece” on it.

    The same question applies to the ingredients list: why have them? I mean, what is **the scientific basis** to have them listed?

    If you feel that the last question is almost meaningless, chances are that the idea to list stuff based on scientific evidence makes little sense.

    I take already too much of my time as it is, so I won’t help you out of your lack of analytical ground. You like to have an argument void of **any** conceptual merit, fine. Please leave the “philosophical” out of it.

    Meanwhile, feel free to caricature as you please.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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