The Key Difference Between Two Growing Protest Movements

By Keith Kloor | July 3, 2013 1:37 pm

When protests against the Keystone XL pipeline were heating up several years ago, some highly respected environmentally-friendly commentators scoffed (ever so politely). Opposition to the pipeline was “shortsighted” and counterproductive, Michael Levi wrote in a 2011 New York Times op-ed. The singular focus on Keystone was misplaced, Jon Foley has argued.

Climate change-concerned greens disagree. “Keystone is an organizing opportunity; chance to build movement,” Grist’s Chip Giller tweeted earlier this year. When Foley countered that the pipeline was mostly a symbol, Giller shot back:

Symbols matter. We need our Montgomery Bus. You are understating the importance of such things.

I wouldn’t go so far as to compare Keystone opposition to the Civil Rights movement, but I have said that “the galvanizing symbolism of the pipeline cannot be easily dismissed.” As I wrote in this post:

Keystone may not be the best front for the larger battle over how to decarbonize our energy economy, but it is a potent proxy that is now mobilizing people to join that larger battle.

And that is a worthy battle, I believe. Reasonable people can disagree on how to fight it, but reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels seems a no-brainer to me. If my two boys (ages 6 & 8) were in high school or college and wanted to join hands with Keystone protesters, I would not be displeased. I’d talk to them about the complexity of the climate challenge, but I would not try to minimize or downplay their concerns about climate change, because there is a well established body of science that legitimizes those concerns.

In contrast, I have a much different perspective on the growing opposition to genetically modified foods in the United States. Unlike the climate movement, which springs from a scientifically-based concern, the anti-GMO movement is propelled by pseudoscience and outright fear-mongering. Its proxy battle is the GMO labeling cause. Anti-GMO campaigners in favor of labeling may say it’s all about transparency (the “right to know“), but the underlying basis is also transparent, as I wrote in Slate last year:

The pro-labeling camp wants people to believe that eating “frankenfood” is dangerous to their health. This is simply false. Years of rigorous studies of GM foods have not demonstrated any harmful effects associated with consuming GM crops.

So if my kids had wanted to join the march against Monsanto last month, I would have been displeased, because that protest sprang from fear of a technology that that has no scientific basis. As my Discover blogging colleague Christy Wilcox recently wrote:

The simple fact is our fear of GM technology is based entirely on emotion. There is no science to support it. When it comes to GMOs, the anti crowd are not ‘raising concerns’—they’re denying scientific consensus.

This is the essential fact to keep in mind with people agitating against GMOs. Why do they really want to label genetically modified foods? Well, think about the labels prominently emblazoned across some foods and drinks. For example, Paul Newman’s lemonade shouts out “All Natural” and “No High Fructose Corn syrup” for a reason. The little gourmet grocery in my neighborhood has a new sign outside its store that reads, “We Are Now GMO-Free!” Why do you suppose that is?

I know that the store owner doesn’t believe there is any health risk associated with food products containing GMOs. But his customers do, so he has to cater to those fears.

On July 4, the GMO panic will manifest itself under a phony guise–Moms & Apple pie:

The citizen action group “Moms Across America” are galvanizing people to an unprecedented effort to raise public awareness of the need to label GM food.

They are calling it “Patriotism on a Plate” and are seeking to make this Independence Day “a true celebration of TRUTH in labelling, JUSTICE for future generations and LIBERTY for ALL to know what is in their food.”

What Moms Across America should do is liberate themselves from a fear that is not scientifically supported.

[Image/Label it Yourself campaign]
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  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    Keith, I always have assumed that, as long as fossil fuels are there, we will continue to use them. Do you disagree? I’ve read that we are less than half way through *known” EASILY recoverable reserves *just* for oil. I suspect that as long as it’s in the ground there will be some (less modern) society that will still be using it far in the future. Look at africa, they still largely use wood fires to cook, right?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Robert,
      That is a different debate. We don’t use the horse and buggy anymore (well, okay, some people do), and there are plenty of horses.

      When something cleaner-burning, cheaper, and just as reliable comes along that provides as much energy as fossil fuels, then coal and oil will be replaced, no matter how much is still in the ground.

      • Tom Scharf

        This exactly right, which is why the focus needs to be on making renewable energy cheaper. Not wasting money on subsidies to prop up non-cost competitive tech.

        • Buddy199

          Government funded basic research, which is then released into the free market for innovative solutions and practical applications. Not government screwing around trying to create markets out of thin air or strangle industries it doesn’t like.

          • M Lundberg

            The free market DOES need restrictions in some cases. When the common welfare of humanity is burdened by the waste products of a money-making endeavor, the representatives of the populace are obligated to return the cost of reparation to the free market. If burning fossil fuels leads to lower quality of life through climate change, then that cost must be passed back into the market in order to effect change. The same concept applies to ensuring resource extraction concerns are repairing land, water, and air. However, it is much more difficult to quantify the damage from climate change. Industry need not be strangled, but it also should not get a free pass to devalue the environment.

          • jh

            “If burning fossil fuels leads to lower quality of life through climate change…”

            So, would you say then that the last 100 years – well, 200 years or so including coal – has seen a significant slip in the quality of life? What about the last 50 years?

      • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

        Idk the future is not inevitable;)

      • jh

        “When something cleaner-burning, cheaper, and just as reliable comes along…”

        Great point. But that’s still The Great Hope init? I think the real point is that opposition to Keystone is futile until The Great Hope arrives and at that point opposition to Keystone will be unnecessary. Right?

  • Cat De’Espino

    To summarize, the concerns of people who have joined the No GMO movement have less to do with what the scientific community “supports” or what other people consider to be a logical concern and more to do with the freedom to choose. How many times in history has the scientific community been imprecise, incorrect, slow to react, and/or completely callous when it came to the health and well-being of other human beings and, not to mention, the Earth? Scientists are not perfect people and like any other human they’re prone to errors in judgment (for whatever reason, and under whatever circumstances) and being short-sighted. As a student in uni. studying science, I can confirm that. The food that a person uses to nourish their body sustains their life and can impact the lives of their descendants. While you may be comfortable blindly ingesting GMOs based on the idea that there haven’t been “a lot” (though there have been some, going as far back as the 70s) of recent objections uttered from other human beings who simply possess a few extra diplomas than you, you’re more than welcome and your choice should be respected. Realize that the people of the No GMO movement deserve the same respect of their choice not to participate and as a member of a democratic society I would hope that you would see it as their right.

    • Tom Scharf

      You have choice. Buy organic. So what’s you problem?

      Let me guess, you have compelling need to force your choice on others, for their own good, right?

      Do I have a choice to not listen to you and decide for myself what is good?

    • Buddy199

      Billions of people have eaten countless millions of tons of GMO food. If these products were dangerous wouldn’t their effects be more obvious and widespread, as they are say for tobacco or alcohol? I’m for free choice but for the anti-GMO people free choice is just the first step to no choice. Which would deprive millions of people, especially in the developing world, of a better food supply.

      • Psyclic

        Buddy – What would you look for? Some tobacco users live to old age or do not die from emphysema or lung cancer. Look how well the tobacco industry was able to minimize any research against tobacco. What about genetic deficits – like selective sensitivity to aspartame. What about red meat and fats – this is still argued and not put to bed with a simple resolution. You have a very limited understanding of biological interactions to think they will appear as flashing warning signs.
        (And I don’t think the numbers you toss out can be verified.)

        • Buddy199

          In a study involving billions of subjects trends would be glaringly apparent for even the slightest effect. Tobacco has an incredibly obvious effect on health that doesn’t need fine-tuned studies to tease out although the side effect of lung cancer did. There are no incredibly obvious tobacco-like effects from GMO foods. Even less obvious effects have not been conclusively demonstrated through statistical analysis, as it took for the tobacco – lung cancer link. Right now, there’s just no convincing there there.

          • Psyclic

            I don’t remember any studies on tobacco smoking, the effects of GMcrops, electromagnetic radiation, prayer, or anything – involving “billions of people”.
            As for your “tobacco has incredibly obvious” observation – read the reply to Tom, above. The relationship between tobacco and ill-health had been demonstrated since the 18th century – but what obvious effect did that have?

          • Tom

            Not the same. Smoking is scientifically proven to increase your chance of lung cancer and heart disease. No such evidence exists for GM food.

            EDIT: I should add, no scientific evidence of ANY harmful effects of GM food exists.

        • Tom

          The first epidemiological study of links between smoking and lung cancer started in 1951 and it only took three years to establish a clear relationship between the two.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Doctors_Study
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2085438/

          • Psyclic

            In 1795 von Soemmerling liks tobacco smoking to cancer; In 1854 Tiederming liks cancer to tobacco smoking; In 1871 smoking tobacco was banned in the House of Representatives. Tobacco as a caustive agent agent was demonstrated in 1900. In 1900 the Supreme Court of the US banned sale of tobacco. In the 1900s-1910, tobacco sales were banned in almost every state in the union – Tobacco sales flourished during WWI and the market made it legal (and manly) to smoke. It wasn’t until 1964, that the NIH published Smoking and Health which suggested a strong relationship, not until 1970 that tobacco ads were banned from TV and radio. All through the 80s and 90s there was a back-and-forth of “harmful” ads and “not harmful ads” – so it only took about 150+ years to get the tobacco companies to acknowledge what was demonstrated by the 1951 studies!

          • Tom

            Yet smoking is still legal and lots of people indulge in it.

            My point was the same as Buddy199′s below – if there was a serious health problem with GM food it would be obvious (as in Seralini obvious). I think the decrease in mycotoxin levels in GM corn already outweighs any unknown/undetectable minor hazards (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSvHShvRWzI ). Also, as a molecular biologist, I need to hear a clear hypothesis for a mechanism of how Bt or Agrobacterium ESPS synthase (the glyphosate resistance gene) could be harmful to our health in contrast to the millions of other kinds of proteins we ingest every day. Because in the end they’re just proteins.

      • Katherine Schmidt Edmund

        What makes you think that people aren’t sicker now than they were? Are you aware of the increases in autism in the past 20 years? I’ll just pick the one, as an example, but there are hundreds. How do you know that it’s not GMO? Because nobody but the biotech industry is bothering to study it. And, if you wish to take the word of the Corporation that is getting rich off of GMO rather than the hundreds of scientists begging the UN to intervene….well then, enjoy your GMO meal. I, however, am more interested in having this stuff tested on somebody other than my family.

        • Tom Fuller

          Umm, every measure of health shows improvement and this improvement is equal for those who employ and those who resist GMOs in agriculture.

          Even measures that are worrying are the same in GMO friendly vs. GMO resistant cultures. Obesity is growing as quickly in France as in Brazil.

          There are 20 years of public health data that can be compared. We have the natural control that every scientist dreams of having. Europe doesn’t use GMOs. America and Brazil do. Look at what’s happening to mortality rates, overall longevity, cancer, diabetes, days of work lost to illness, etc. and chart the trends. Assume if you like that GMOs are the cause of any differences noted.

          And you will quickly see that GMOs are not the cause of any public health issues.

          This is something a high school student could do on the weekends and have a robust answer in a month. Why do those who protest against GMOs fail to do this?

          • Tom Fuller

            Just to take trends in longevity for example, the good news is that people are living longer everywhere. But there is still inequality. However the inequality actually is greater within countries rather than between them. So the rich people eating GMOs in Brazil are living much longer than the poor people eating GMOs in Brazil, while progress in longevity has plateaued in France for both the rich and the poor who shun GMOs.

        • Aaaarrrggh

          They aren’t sicker. People are healthier than they have ever been.

        • Tom

          There aren’t “hundreds of scientists begging the UN to intervene”. There is an anti-GMO site where anyone can sign a petition that then gets thrown around as a list of scientists. However, there are thousands of actual scientists (I am one of them), who wish that people would just calm down and carefully study the scientific evidence.

          http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10977

  • Buddy199

    Reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels is a lot more complicated than waving a sign an anti-Keystone rally while you hold your GMO-free caramel latte in the other hand. First of all, that CO2 releasing oil is going to be burned somewhere so, since there’s only one atmosphere, I’m kind of vague on the scientific logic of the protesters. Same for coal that they don’t want burned in the U.S., but will be shipped to China, India and wherever else there are buyers.

    Solar is still so technologically primitive that it can only survive with massive governmental subsidies, as in Germany and Spain. When the money runs out in a lousy economy governments pull the plug, as in Germany and Spain. Wind is unreliable and marginally contributory to the energy sector, at best. Hydro – forget it, the greens want to tear down dams not build them. Nuclear – the opponents are wackier than the anti-GMO crowd. Fusion is just 30 years away from being practical – and always has been since the late ’50′s.

    Fossil fuels are going to be used far into the future because of physics and chemistry more than any other reason. They are the most compact, energy rich, economical, convenient, widespread, reliable sources of energy. Developing economies don’t have the luxury of designer energy alternatives available in the West, hence their demand for cheap, abundant coal will only grow as their economies grow. There are 2 billion people in China and India trying to lift themselves into the middle class. They’re not going to give that up to make rich Westerners feel better.

    There is good news that’s the key to how this will all resolve in the years to come. CO2 emissions have hit a 20 year low in the U.S. because the free market figured out a way to economically recover vast stores of natural gas, which reduced our demand for coal. It didn’t happen because of a governmental decree or enviro protest movement. That will be the key to transitioning to a non-fossil energy economy, the free market figuring out an alternative that’s better than fossil fuels with billions of consumers flooding into that new market. Thinking that it’s all about instituting just the right magical combination of laws and regulations just betrays the arrogance and naivete of central planners. The marketplace will decide in the end, it always. does.

    • Norbrook

      One might – and I will – point out that the ability to “economically recover of vast stores of natural gas” is coming with it’s own serious concerns. What you’re talking about is “fracking,” and what has been coming more evident over the past few years is that there’s a need for much more stringent regulation and monitoring at the very least. It’s been a big issue in my state, and we only have to look at a bordering state to see why that’s needed.

      Even the “vast stores” have a completely different issue – they’re going to run out at some point. According to the Oil Drum, an industry analysis blog, the total recoverable reserves in the Marcellus Shale amounts to … about 7 years of U.S. natural gas usage.

      • jh

        Except that “recoverable reserves” changes – usually grows – with additional exploration and technological improvements.

        Aside from the fact that The Oil Drum is a pessimistic voice. Last time I checked, they were still backpedaling about peak oil.

    • Psyclic

      We’re number 1, alright. We’re outstripping the Taliban in religious and political coercion, and we’re raising a barnyard full of intelligent people who know nothing but what they’ve decided is true.
      Any transition is dangerous and will be dreaded, but there ARE studies which demonstrate that a directed effort to conserve and alter demand and supply CAN have a significant effect on reducing O&G demands.
      As for the trade-offs – Gas need vs contamination and AGW – you need to ask yourself: Is it more important to buy gas at $1 today or to have a healthy environment for your children in 50 years? If you follow the money, you will find a surprising correlation.

  • Tom Scharf

    I believe its a fair argument to say the climate movement is also guilty of “outright fear mongering”.

    In fact I would say they set the standard on over the top unsubstantiated fear. From tens of meters of sea level rise to 40% extinction rates to 100′s of millions of climate refugees to collapse of food production.

    48% of Americans believe the threat of global warming has been exaggerated – Gallup 2010.

    There are an enormous number of examples here. I would be surprised if anyone contested this.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      Well, I’ve blogged a lot on this a lot, too, as long-time readers know. But again, while it’s true that climate catastrophe has been a rhetorical card much played, climate science has more than established a baseline for legitimate concern. I separate that out from the rhetorical excess exhibited by the more partisan and political climate concerned types.

      So the point of my post holds:

      Science gives us legitimate cause to be be concerned about climate change (we can reasonably differ on the level of risk).

      And science gives us no legitimate cause to be concerned about genetically modified foods.

      • joseph

        Legitimate cause to be concerned with gmo’s that is scientifically based would be:
        better disease resistant foods that yield more equals faster overpopulation-
        the failure too mention this alone makes me laugh at everybody’s comments- I guess the pro- gmo-ers have perpetual motion figured out and are going to take the burgeoning masses to a new planet with them and a bag full of montasono seeds:)

        • anonymousse

          So what is your solution for overpopulation? Let a few people starve (Of course not you. You live in the developed world)
          Sterilize them?

          I always thought being able to feed people in developing country’s till they can tackle their overpopulation problem with social policy changes is a good thing (You know education, availability of contraceptives and silly things like that).

          But i am probably naive that way and your Darwinian system is the way to go…

          • kdk33

            Turns out that the usual solution is to let other people starve. It’s the same for the “climate concerned” as this is the inevitable consequence of their “no fossil fuel policy”.

          • joseph

            Starvation is as natural as overpopulation-
            just Bc we have created some distance between the two does not mean they will not be neighbors again soon- perhaps due to gmo-s relying on scientists for cures to naturally mutating disease…
            I have produced much of my own food organically for part of my adult life- everybody should try it; it lowers the incidences of many western ailments.
            and I would argue many less developed nations have bettered education systems then we do-curious.
            The use of food subsidies followed by arms sales has done wonders for much of AFrica the last several decades- very much developing into a darwinian cycle of sorts….. but definitely not first world caliber.
            Perhaps gmo’s will sterilize them.
            Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon had a similar disagreement- jury some may argue is still out.

          • anonymousse

            “due to gmo-s relying on scientists for cures to naturally mutating disease”

            I am not quite sure what that means.

            Gmo plants aren’t any more susceptible to diseases (i am assuming you mean microbial diseases) than their organic “natural” counterparts.

            A lot of secondary metabolites which usually would protect plants from epidemic disease or pests had to be reduced or eliminated in crop plants from their more primitive wild ancestors because they would otherwise be poisonus or inedible.

            BT-toxin even protects plants from fungal infection by reducing damage caused by insect pests.

            “I have produced much of my own food organically for part of my adult life- everybody should try it; it lowers the incidences of many western ailments.”

            Which ailments and how?

            Come on, it would be selfish if you kept all your precious “knowledge” for yourself.

            I would prefer specifics and references to published literature over your anecdotes.

            Pleas iluminate me.

            The only example i could think of is that the lower incidence of parasitic infections in the west seems to encourage the development of certain auto-immune diseases (e.g.: Crohns disease)

            “… I would argue many less developed nations have bettered education systems then we do-curious.”

            Really? Which ones (that have a problem with overpopulation)?

            India and China have a decent education if you have the advantage of not belonging to the empoverished rural population in those countries.

          • joseph

            US consumers spend 547 billion annually on farm/ranch food (cattle eat gmo too)… Annually the US spends around 20 billion in agricultural subsides…. How much and who has spent money on GMO’s? How much have they spent on alternatives? How much have they spent on sustainable agricultural research as opposed to genetically modified organisms….. oh wait, you can’t patent common knowledge and allow it to cross pollinate across the globe until you have an agri-genetic monopoly- my bad! (New Zealand stopped all subsidies in 1984, and has 5 times the agricultural dependence of the US)

            Natural hazards to crops (weeds, insects, etc.) appear to be keeping up with the gmos- overall reduction of herbicides and insecticides has been less than 10%, and the hazards’ resistances seem to be keeping pace in mutating to new gmo challenges.

            All agriculture affects the environmental. Chemical runoff, erosion, loss of diversity and increase in pathogens all affect our health, the environments health, and increasingly global health. External agricultural costs range domestically 7-17 billion- absorbed by society for the most part.

            My main point is that our domestic practices are wasteful and destructive, and have become increasingly so. GMO’s squeeze more sustainable options out of the market. The only thing in all of natural history that has successfully controlled population is predation, disease, draughts, and famine- it is not STARVATION, it is a basic rule of biological existence. Our own agricultural practices are not sustainable. By in large, we arenot aneducated, healthy society. It would be nice if we focused on our own shortcomings and lead by example before we play god with less economically blessed or developed countries.

          • kdk33

            Fascinating.

            Glad to know that people don’t starve during famines. I was worried for a bit.

            And glad to know the weeds are keeping pace, so no advantage for GMO.

            We certainly ought take profit out of agriculture, otherwise there might be incentive for efficient agricultural practices – to make more money and all.

            And good to know those poor countries can’t use our excess food, otherwise we would be tempted to try to help people, which is always a nuisance.

            Oh wait.

          • joseph

            U should travel to a few countries that receive. Food aid and see who gets it, how long it lasts, and what happens when for some reason or another it gets cut off. Ground zero is the only place to gather truth- or is Snowden sitting in Moscow because We all cherish the truths so much:)
            Profit has done as much as misconstrued prophets have to the deterioration of our planet- of course again you would have to get up and go see for yourself to find the truth- unless you live next to a Superfund site.
            Seeing is believing and not all perceptions are reality. “So good night and good luck”
            I sure miss newsmen like Ed Murrow

          • kdk33

            Sure. Let’s consider a not profit driven economy like, speaking of Snowden, the former soviet union. That was a fun gig.

        • jh

          I think the link between economic growth and lower birthrates is about 110% established. If GMOs produce more food for lower cost, that’s a pretty good start toward slowing population growth.

          • anonymousse

            Exactly.
            Like Norman Borlaug said:
            “Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

            http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/greens-and-hunger/

            It is easy to preach with a full stomach….

          • jh

            +1

          • joseph

            There is not enough material resources for.us all to be a developed nation:) 7billion laptops? Refrigerators? cars?
            I thought our foriegn policy was geared for destabilization and economic slavery for “developing nations”
            I have spent much time in third world countries and the wealth they have is beyond comprehension to most westerners…….. so much wisdom we loose isolating oursevles from daily contact with death.
            All balances will be righted eventually- as long as its not our generation that sees the faults of gmo’s we all rant complacently; maybe a few of us actually do something.

          • Tom Fuller

            The wisdom they have is leading them to cry out for access to western levels of energy and appliances.

          • joseph

            Would have nothing to do with our propaganda – I mean media, corporate agenda sanctions/trade stimulus or their population growth and idealized leaders driving hummers and sporting nike- many impovershed people (by your standards)I know are very happy with their way of life. and only ask for cleaner water or better waste treatments and for foriegn corporations to not disturb their way of life- albeit this is limited to south and central American countries, I will see about Africa and southeast Asia soon enough

          • Tom Fuller

            Joseph, I live in Shanghai. These people are making their own ads promoting growth and access to top of the line lifestyles. They don’t need Western help for that.

      • jh

        WRT climate, you say legitimate cause for concern but what you mean is you believe there is legitimate cause for action. For you, “concern” means “action.”

        In my view, there is cause for “concern” about climate: enough cause for us to monitor it carefully and seek a better understanding. There is sufficient cause for small actions – alternative energy research and pilot projects etc – but no where near sufficient cause for economic or social disruption.

      • harrywr2

        Science gives us plenty of legitimate reasons to be concerned about GMO’s.

        Science has also addressed those concerns.

        Climate concern question -

        Will injecting massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere have unintended disastrous consequences?

        GMO Concern -

        Will introducing genetically engineered organism’s into the natural biosphere have unintended disastrous consequences?

        Both concerns are based on whether or not one believes that humanity is smart enough to manage relatively complex natural systems.

        Fortunately/Unfortunately legitimate questions and concerns are frequently hijacked by people whose motives have little to do with the original question/concern.

        In the case of GMO’s there is no shortage of people who find corporate farming to be inconsistent with their world view.

  • Psyclic

    Keith – maybe it’s your redneck cap – but you seem to attract the fringes.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Ellen Kozisek

    On the GMO thing, I feel like there’s two sides and I’m on neither. The anti-GMO people are fighting against the idea of GMOs, without regards to science, and I’m not with them on that. But, no, I’m not going to trust the companies to it all safely without anyone holding them accountable. And I wonder what the chances are of reasonable protests, ones based in reality, getting a proper hearing rather than being lost in the shuffle of the fear-based protests.

    • Buddy199

      Unfortunately, whoever shouts the loudest, longest and wins over most of the main stream media wins the argument, which ever argument that might be.

  • Luminous Flux

    Two points:

    - People with allergies are a lot more sensitive to things that aren’t a problem in billions of other people. Me, for instance – I’m allergic to trans fats. Which means that EVEN the labeling of “no trans fats” doesn’t help me; I have to read ingredients fanatically. I’m a fan of labeling everything because of that. I know a lot of people who are also a fan of labeling everything for the same reason. What’s the qualitative difference in labeling something as GMO? By your same argument, there’s not a scientific reason NOT to.

    - I would love a GMO-specific labeling, but not because I’m anti-science – it’s so I can look into WHO supported this particular GMO and not spend money on Monsanto. If it wasn’t Monsanto? I have about 75% less resistance to it. ;)

    Not all the GMO-labeling proponents are about it just because it’s GMO. After all, you could argue with the same lack of science that tomatoes and canola oil are genetically modified… ;)

    • Aaaarrrggh

      Because labeling something as “GMO” will not help determine if you are allergic to it. There is no such thing as being “allergic to GMO” because genetic engineering is a technology: a tool, not a product. It is what you make with the tool that is important not the tool itself.

      • Luminous Flux

        I’m not sure, but it seems to me that you’re looking at my response as though I’d object to GMO as a rule, when that’s not the case. I’m not saying that labeling something as GMO would tell me if I’m allergic – I’m saying it would allow me to do the *research* instead of trusting it’s the [x organism] I’ve eaten for years. After all, when I was losing swaths of skin in the 80s I read the same thing you’re saying about hydrogenation: Hydrogenation is a process, not an end result, and ostensibly back then there was no proven qualitative difference in the end product. But I’m terribly allergic to most hydrogenated oils, whether ingesting them or putting them on my skin. No clue why – I just know it happens.

        Therefore, the kicker for me is not that I would be “allergic to GMO” – it’s that I might be allergic to some unknown oil or enzyme produced by the introduction of a new RNA piece, or plasmid, or inverter, or whatever is added to make the plant or organism hardier and/or produce more. Because I can’t tell just by looking *what* is combined in the produce or grains I’d be purchasing, it’s entirely possible that I could have a potential allergic response – there’s no way of knowing unless I went and looked up what was used from what organism. So, for instance, if someone added a genome component from, say, a cactus or rosemary plant to a tomato plant to increase its hardiness in drier weather, and if I happened to be allergic to rosemary (I know some who are, though I am not), that would be something I’d want to know…because a surprising amount of food allergy testing hasn’t progressed to the point where I can identify what, precisely, about X plant I’m allergic to. Labeling would allow me to go look it up to be sure – because I agree, in the end it’s what you make that is important. If the product is labeled, I can go research what was made with said tool and how, since that’s often just as important. I can then decide on my own to experiment and see if it works for me.

  • dljvjbsl

    The Keystone XL project is about Canadian oil. That is, it is about an American political decision that involves the political risk to American politicians of denying a major Canadian project. So American politicians have a chance to grandstand and create symbols with no political risk

  • jh

    What if everyone who’s so opposed to Keystone spent their time working on solutions to transportation fuels instead of protesting? :)

    I guess that says a lot about a) who’s protesting and b) the opportunities in alternative fuels.

    Same for GMOs: instead of protesting, why not work toward alternatives?

    The market is waiting…

  • Katherine Schmidt Edmund

    Years of rigorous studies? Not by anyone not connected with the biotech
    industry. Here’s what the scientists
    commissioned by Health Canada, Environment Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection
    Agency had to say:

    Royal Report: Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of
    Food Biotechnology in Canada

    To summarize: Way back in 2001
    Health Canada, Environment Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency commissioned
    this report. The report warns about the
    dangers of GMO.

    It demonstrates how the government of the day forced these agencies to
    promote GMO in the interests of keeping jobs in Canada.

    Absolutely nothing has changed since 2001.

    These scientists believe that GMOs have the potential to be everything
    recent reports say they are and that at the very least the protectors of
    our food supply should label GMOs and educate the public.

    Most importantly, these scientists demonstrate very adequately how
    flawed the biotech company science has been and that the conflict of interest
    alone should raise the hair on the back of your neck.

    THIS is fact.

    • jh

      “The report warns about the dangers of GMO.”

      But it apparently doesn’t show that any of those dangers have manifested themselves, or you’d be telling us about it, right?

      In the 70′s some scientists warned about the dangers of a cooling climate. Didn’t happen. In the 60′s we were warned about the dangers of the Population Bomb. Didn’t happen. In the 70s again we were warned about the collapse of oil. Didn’t happen.

    • anonymousse

      Could you be more specific about those “recent reports”.

      You remain rather vague about what you consider to be the dangers of genetically modified organisms.

  • Ann Onnimus

    GMOs are still dangerous, though, even if not from the standpoint of being dangerous directly to the human body when consumed.

    Firstly, the use of GMOs is creating a dangerous monoculture climate. To be fair, this was happening before GMOs, but it’s still bad for the same reasons: monoculture can easily allow a single disease, environmental condition, or insect to wipe out the ENTIRE CROP of EVERYONE who grows it, which can lead to food shortage. Genetic variability is important, and very underappreciated. It’s what allows some crops of corn to survive very hot weather, while others are better at surviving attack from insects or from root molds. If every farmer in America is growing the same breed of plant, it’s only going to take one or two growing seasons before we start having shortages.

    Secondly, the use of (for instance) pesticide resistant strains of crops has been shown to be inadvertently contaminating other genetic strains, particularly in plants pollinated by wind, which does 2 unsavory things (allows a big ag company like Monsanto to sue anyone who grows these accidental hybrids, and the creation of genetically unstable mutants) Corn is probably the best example. We are seeing mutant plants with deformed stalks popping up wild, often in poorer areas where they can’t afford the GMO seeds and/or actively don’t WANT them. What happens when these rogue genes get loose? What unknown effects might they have? Did anyone think to test eagles when DDT was about to come out? Of course not! That’s why they’re called UNFORESEEN side effects.

    Thirdly, the GMO plants (again, picking on the pesticide-resistant ones) don’t save anyone any money, because the farmer is spending lots of dosh on those pesticides, many of which don’t wash well off the plants, which means we DO get to eat more pesticides. And we’re already seeing signs of pesticide resistance in the weeds that are targeted by those pesticides, which means that the whole thing, at least in that regard, was an exercise in futility anyway.

    By all means, blindly embrace all the new technology if you like (keeping in mind that not everything new is well tested and that recalls happen when deleterious effects are discovered, like DDT). You have the right to do that. Just leave the option to the rest of us who want no part of this particular one. Labels will let us choose for ourselves what foods we want to eat. LET THE FOOD BE LABELED.

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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, and an 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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