Anyone who has read my posts about GMO’s (Genetically modified organisms) and the anti-GMO movement know I am a proponent of genetic modification.
I suggest those who are not actually sure what genetic modification is go read the post I’ve previously written explaining the types of genetic modification in broad terms. Link below.
Now this demand for GMO labeling, from my understanding, is largely a byproduct of the anti-GMO movement and the massive ignorance surrounding the fields of biology related to genetic modification. People really just don’t understand what is going on in the production and modification of food crops. Even Bill Nye The Science Guy is a proponent of these labels, but this is only further proof that people don’t understand the biology. Allow me to defend these statements, and explain why the labels will not help consumers.
Genetic modification, and what kinds of genetic modification are considered “problematic,” is poorly defined, and even more poorly understood by the general public and most policy makers. Much like how people think Organic food means no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizer (this is actually true in some areas, but not all), and healthier (which it isn’t). People think GMO means “bad” and unhealthy, but this is childish and flatly wrong. Why? because genetic modification refers to a wide array of methods, some of which have been used for hundreds or thousands of years. That, and genetic change occurs all the time. When advantageous mutation spring up, farmers and horticulturists have jumped to capitalize on these mutations. The only difference now is some times we are able to take a well understood (if it isn’t well understood then you simply don’t have the necessary information to transfer the genes) advantageous trait from one crop and put it into the other without mucking about with hybridization or artificial mutation.
But this is the biggest problem: genetic modification is massively complex. I’m 5 years into my degree and I have only in the last year and a half become competent in speaking about this topic. So to expect the lay person to understand is unreasonable without first devoting some serious resources to publicly educating the population. But moving along, why are the labels likely to be ineffective at communicating anything useful?
Because almost everything is genetically modified. If you read my other blog post about about the kinds of genetic modification here, you will quickly come to realize there is a lot going on with everything on the shelves, and I think it very probable that labeling will result in either a whole lot of things been labeled or very few, and the problem is that all that will accomplish is a reduction in sales of those things labeled, since there is a strong anti-GMO bias in much of the population. But that bias is not based in the science, so we will not see a direct health benefit, nor will we see a better informed populous.
Why won’t we see a more informed population? Because the number of potential combinations are unfathomable. Just sticking a label on a fruit isn’t going to tell you anything, and even if you do add a much more substantial label to the fruit telling you what genes and methods were used and how to get more information, people in general don’t have the biology, or specifically genetics knowledge to make effective use of that knowledge.
This, as far as I’m concerned, is the realm of government regulation and independent researchers to test the safely of these foods and products. And you know what? It’s already happening. There are many thousands of research papers published and many more each year that indicated the safely of, as far as I’m aware, all genetically modified food organisms currently sold in the west.
As for those papers, here are a selection of over 600: http://gmopundit.blogspot.ca/p/450-published-safety-assessments.html
So why would we spend money (any expenses will ultimately come out of us consumers) on labels that won’t help a damn thing?
December 5th, 2014 at 6:20 pm
Yes I understand your position. However, at this point, I think the reason to label GE food is to build consumer confidence. Right now we have a situation in which a segment of the public is afraid of GE foods. Generally the companies that manufacture these foods and products have responded to that fear in a very aggressive and condescending way. It has been quite the PR boondoggle.
Thanks for your posts. Good reading all around!
December 5th, 2014 at 3:22 pm
I think the issues around labeling also have something to with a mistrust of large corporations.
December 5th, 2014 at 5:45 pm
Yes I think your correct. But in regard to corporate practice you need strong regulation to tackle it, because large corporations with screw with the labels (or anything else if it makes a buck) too if the rules are not enforced. But if you already have strong regulatory systems then you be better off putting it to work making sure all the food is safe, but making sure corporations label GMO’s. Like many other label are very important, but I hope it’s clear from my post why I don’t thing labeling GMO’s would do anything.
🙂 thanks for the comment!
December 1st, 2014 at 6:39 pm
Good article. I’m less concerned with the health issues of GMO food (that nonsensical rats with tumors picture that went viral, for instance), and more concerned with the state of U.S. food being owned by a handful of companies who bully competitors with the proprietary aspects of GMO crop strains.
The legal power these companies have has gotten ridiculous. I am all for capitalism and free enterprise, but is it really right to “own” specific types of basic foods like corn or wheat? Food that can blow seeds all over the earth and can start growing anywhere?
Does it make sense that if a few seeds of commercial corn XYZ from farm # 5432 fall next door into Farmer Joe’s plot, they can sue him for everything he’s got for stealing their “property”? What did he use to steal it, the wind?
By that alone, I’m perfectly fine with a label that tells me if something has GMO corn, so I can boycott the companies involved and other people can too, even if it’s for the wrong reasons. I don’t believe that GMO food is all bad, but if other people do, I don’t mind. There’s no way I’m going to change everyone’s mind.
People are reactionary and good causes are often driven by confusion. Think of the Boston “Massacre” for instance. The colonies became independent because the bad mean Englanders “massacred” us. Yeah, not exactly what happened, but it still got people wanting independence eventually.
December 2nd, 2014 at 9:21 pm
As to the seed suing, I do thing there are problems the only case of Monsanto suing I’m aware of where when a farmer sued Monsanto because his organic crop was contaminated. Except over 90% of his crop was had Monsanto genes in it which is way higher then it should have been, so Monsanto sued him back…
As for companies owning genes, that’s a problem with patent law, and I don’t see it holding up well in court until you get a lot of companies producing novel genes which just isn’t something that’s happening yet. That said it is something to watch closely.
Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
November 23rd, 2014 at 2:29 pm
very much like your article. I used to work in a meat department in a big grocery store. So many people asked for organic meat and hadn’t a clue what that meant, only that they were told that it was “better”. I was always amused when they would come back and complain that it didn’t taste “good”, was “tough”, because they had no idea what makes meat taste that way and have a tender texture.
Labels might work but only if humans stop being so lazy and ignorant.
like those people who would ask me if a new York strip was “gluten free”. Oh it’s so popular to worry about gluten but if you don’t even know what gluten is, please do shut up.
November 23rd, 2014 at 9:28 am
The fact that there are a large number of people who are “against GMO”, yet don’t even know what the letters stand for, says a lot to me.
LikeLiked by 1 person
November 23rd, 2014 at 2:25 pm
For those people “GMO” = “BAD” because they have been bombarded with misinformation and have not had the opportunity, or the desire to actually learn about the topic in any detail.
LikeLiked by 1 person
November 23rd, 2014 at 8:04 am
Bearing in mind how much of our food is GMO varies country to country I don’t see the harm in clear labelling. Companies should be transparent about what they put in our food, and regardless of whether you agree with GMO or not everybody should be able to pick and choose what products they buy and make the decision for themselves. I don’t see it as anti-gmo to have to say it is gmo on the label, any more than it is anti-sweetner to have to say a product contains aspartame; it’s just being honest.
LikeLiked by 2 people
November 23rd, 2014 at 2:39 pm
Well not quite it’s less honest then artificial sweetener because such a label acts as though it is informing the public but if you see a GMO label what does that tell you about the product? I don’t know what that means to the majority of people, if I where to see able that says GMO Corn I would read that as, okay that probably a breed of roundup ready corn which has no nutritional/health benefits or drawbacks, just a typically higher yield.
I could be more accepting of maybe sticking it amongst the other ingredients.
I only see the GMO labels in practice being ignored or been seen an indicator of a “bad” (be it that bad equates with unhealthy, unethical, or what have you) product.
The “it leads to a more informed public,” line just doesn’t convince me. Public education leads to a more informed public, and proper safety and health regulation and enforcement leads to a safer population.
I think ultimately labeling GMO’s come across a little more to me as an attempt to demonize them further.
November 24th, 2014 at 4:50 am
“Public education leads to a more informed public, and proper safety and health regulation and enforcement leads to a safer population.”
You are either suggesting it is up to the government to add product ingredients to the school curriculum or a poster and tv campaign (easier said, harder and more expensive to do).
Or if you are suggesting it is up to the individual to look at what is in their food, that is precisely why the food has clear labelling here, (also it cost the tax payer less because it is a simple bit of legislation) so the public can read what is in the product and educate themselves without need to google or write a letter to the companies demanding to know the ingredients list.
November 23rd, 2014 at 5:28 am
The propaganda against GMO food is evident in the name given to the alternative. Organic. Modified or not, GMO is still organic.
November 23rd, 2014 at 2:47 pm
Thank you for making that point, although I don’t think Organic food is the direct converse it was more an attempt to create a new market that was wildly successful, and uses and promotes anti-GMO rhetoric because it helps sales.
LikeLiked by 1 person
November 23rd, 2014 at 3:11 pm
I fully agree. It was the whole idea and why it can be called propaganda. It’s steeped in creating an emotional reaction from people.
LikeLiked by 1 person
November 23rd, 2014 at 5:16 am
Completely agree. But I have a genetics major in my science degree. I find most people without that specialised knowledge really do (as you say) struggle to even see the shape of the issues.