I’ve been finding it difficult to come up with ideas for blog posts, which is why this blog hasn’t been very active lately. As such, I’d like to leave it up to the readers: what would you like us to write about? Would you like to know something specific about our atheism? Do you have an argument that you’d like us to address? Would you like us to discuss a particular book? Do you have any questions about Philosophy, Biology, or History? Would you like to know our stance on a particular feminist issue? Is there something else you’d like us to write on? Let us know in the comment section.
Tag Archives: GMOs
Labeling Genetically modified food, why it’s a waste of time and money.
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?
My Coming Week Will be a Busy One
I will be getting back into my Bible review posts in September. I am swamped with some other projects right now, so I don’t have time to worry about that series. I’ll also be putting the Mere Christianity review on hold. I doubt I’ll really be posting anything for the next week and a bit.
But Withteeth is currently working on a series of posts about feminism which should be posted soon. And when he’s done with that he’ll get back to his GMO series. As such, there should be some interesting reads coming.
Tackling the GMO Problem: Part 2, The Organic Push
Clarification: It is not the fault of scientists (Or even many journalist, since it’s really a systemic problem) that science in sensationalized in the news. It’s a byproduct of how news is distributed and produced, or the idea that news has to be flashy or no one will read/watch it.
Last time I tried to validate and begin to disperse the fears people might have about GMO foods. This time I will address some very problematic myths surrounding organic food as well as some of the good.
Now, organic foods are pretty nifty sounding, and when I first heard about them I didn’t have any issue with them. I thought what many pro-organic consumers out there think: that organic food uses little to no pesticide and herbicides, and that they have higher nutritional content. However, to my great displeasure I came to learn that this is not true.
Organic food can be grown using pesticides and fertilizer, and has no significant difference in nutritional content compared to non-organic foods. Though the specifics surrounding pesticide and fertilizer use is highly dependent on the area that you live in.
That’s right, organic foods have pesticides used on them and are fertilized, they are irradiated just like conventional crops. I pulled this off of the Canadian Organic Growers website, so you’ll have to check your local standards for what is and isn’t allowed, but don’t worry about irradiation: it just kills bugs and bacteria in the food, it doesn’t leave anything radioactive in the food. There is some indication that organic food now contain a percentage of GMO crop genes, though there is no research on the topic, so take this with a grain of salt.
I will now send you off once again to Healthcare Triage, who did another excellent video, this one on organic foods where they get into the data. I’d suggest watching this video, since they do an awesome job looking at the research while also staying easy to follow and listen to. Plus it saves me the trouble of having to write all the same stuff here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gl5GXArC134
Welcome back. So I hope that video convinces you that there is no significant difference between the health benefits of organic foods. If you want good healthy food, grow your own or find someone nearby who does and buy some from them. A home grown tomato or carrot is immensely better tasting than something you by at the store, so it will be much easier to convince yourself to eat healthier. Though nutrient levels probably still don’t differ much.
Now there is another problem with organic foods and it’s this: they are just not sustainable or expandable to a massive scale. We need modern fertilizers and pesticides to get the yields we need to feed the billions of mouths that live today, and are yet to be born. Most organic foods use manure as fertilizer, but there just isn’t any way to produce enough from animals (since animals take crops to raise in the first place) to meet that kind of demand. Further more, many organic crops need to use more pesticides that conventional crops because they have not been modified to produce their own, and because some places limit the use of modern pesticides and force the farmers to use old technology. In Canada, for example, some synthetic pesticides are allowed while others are not.
According to one review (a scientific review is a research paper which looks at a large number of other research papers in order to draw a more conclusive conclusion), organics produce 80% of the yield of conventional crops, though the particular crop and field can vary from as much as 59% yield to 101% of a comparable conventional crop. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X1100182X
From this meta-data, it looks like organic yields are a great deal less certain than conventional yields, some times far exceeding conventional yields and others having yields lower than 50% of that brought by conventional techniques.
To end on a positive note, there are some notable positives to organic farming, though they are not limited to organic farming, just more prevalent within organic farming. Organic farmers are more likely to avoid monoculture (growing only one type of crop per field), and they are more likely to practice no till growing (not tilling the soil all the time causing soil erosion and soil compactions and nutrient lost). By using mulch and other soil covers they can reduce moister lost and reduce the need for irrigation.
All the above methods can and should be integrated at some level into the conventional farming methods, and, if anything good should be said about organic farming, it is that they have allowed for experimentation into better farming techniques, which is desperately needed in much of the world as resources are stretched further out among more people. Further more, many local farmers in your area are probably practicing sustainable farming while still falling under conventional farming methods.
My take always from looking at organics is, if you want better food go fresh food first, not organic. If you want to support organics, do it because local organic farmers in your area are pushing for better farming techniques and better treatment of workers, not because they don’t use GMO’s, or because it’s healthier (because it’s not). Get to know the regulation is your area before you make any decisions, and support your local farmers, especially those who are doing good for themselves, the community, and the world at large.