How California’s GMO Labeling Law Could Limit Your Food Choices and Hurt the Poor

(Photo: Daniel Lobo)

The American Medical Association resolved this week that “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”

The association has long-held that nothing about the process of recombinant DNA makes genetically engineered (GE) crop plants inherently more dangerous to the environment or to human health than the traditional crop plants that have been deliberately but slowly bred for human purposes for millennia. It is a view shared by the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., the European Commission, and countless other national science academies and non-governmental organizations.

And yet Californians will consider on their November ballots a law that mandates cigarette-like labeling of food derived from GE plants. Proponents claim to promote opportunities for consumers to make informed choices about the foods they eat. But to build support for the measure, they have played on consumer fears about a promising technology that is nevertheless prone to “Frankenfoods” demagoguery. 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.

 “Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat.” That was the conclusion of a 2003 inquiry by the International Council for Science, an NGO representing the national science academies of 140 countries, including the U.S. It is a finding repeatedly made by the U.S. National Research Council. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. EPA all regulate the use of genetically engineered plants in the U.S. according to a philosophy endorsed by the scientific community that the content and characteristics of plants and foods should govern their regulatory scrutiny, not the process by which they are made.

Voluntary certified organic labels already allow consumers to avoid GE foods. Given the dramatic fissure between scientific opinion and public perception—only one in four consumers thinks GE foods are “basically safe”—a mandatory labeling regime is likely only to cripple crop science by reducing market share and revenues to GE food producers. 

More devastating than the label itself, could be the cost of avoiding the label on non-GE foods that may nevertheless contain trace amounts of GE material. In the U.S., the highest-grade corn can contain as much as 2% foreign material, like crop residues. In Europe, a food product can contain as much as 0.9% genetically engineered material and avoid a GE label. But the California law would impose a nearly twice as stringent purity standard, tolerating only 0.5% GE content in non-GE food.

Such a high purity standard would likely require farmers to invest in separate planting, harvesting, storage, hauling, processing, and packaging equipment for GE production in order to avoid revenue losses and liability from contaminating their non-GE operations or those of competitors. Because the costs of risk reduction generally increase exponentially in the level of safety, California’s stringent purity standard may be a death sentence to GE producers who could spread the high fixed costs of contamination avoidance across only the low levels of production that the market would initially support. 

Facing diminished revenue prospects and high fixed costs to prevent even trace contamination, processors may abandon GE production altogether. Farmers would stop planting GE crops, and scientists would stop agricultural biotechnology research. Much as a decade-long moratorium on GE crops in Europe caused the agricultural biotechnology R&D pipeline to contract around the world, a labeling regime in the most populous state of the world’s most aggressive GE-adopting country could cause firms to shelve potentially life-saving innovations. Food prices would rise and consumer choice would be diminished.

Existing applications of agricultural biotechnology allow better control of pests by encoding plant DNA to either produce a naturally occurring and widely used insect toxin or generate immunity to a relatively low toxicity, broad spectrum herbicide marketed as Round-Up. By improving the control of insects or weeds, the technologies reduce crop damage, raising crop yields, lowering food prices, and saving natural habitat from cropland expansion.

An exhaustive review by the National Research Council in 2010 concluded that existing GE technologies reduce insecticide applications, support the substitution of low toxicity herbicides for more toxic alternatives, and encourage the use of no-till operations that reduce soil erosion and support soil carbon sequestration. They also permit double-cropping, a practice whereby farmers successively plant two crops per growing season, essentially doubling the productivity of existing land.

Forthcoming and prospective GE crops hold greater promise. They include staple crops with improved nutrient content to reduce malnutrition in the developing world and field crops that tolerate the climatic extremes experienced in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Norman Borlaug was the 20th century savior of the poor and hungry. Wearing coveralls and toiling in Mexican fields with conventional breeding techniques, he launched the Green Revolution and saved millions of lives, for which he received the Nobel Peace Price in 1970. His 21st century counterparts wear lab coats and stare into microscopes on university campuses and in the research departments of multinational corporations. They advance the same science to which Borlaug devoted his life and do work that he whole-heartedly endorsed unto his death. For many of today’s crop scientists, his goals are theirs. But their tools are better and their potential is greater. 

If only Californians will give them a chance.

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  1. brazzy says:

    No matter whether you think GE plants are dangerous: this article is pure industry lobbyism of the worst kind.

    So people are wary of GE foods and are likely to choose not to buy them if they can clearly recognize them. How in HELL can you argue that giving them the ability to make that choice would LIMIT their choice?

    How can anyone with an ounce of decency argue that the solution to the bad reputation of GE foods is to not let people know what products contain them?

    If you think GE is safe, then *convince* people of that. With, you know, arguments.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 169 Thumb down 134
    • Mike B says:

      By your logic we should label foods with the ethnicity of the person who produced it so that consumers can more easily choose which races get their money. What about labels certifying that the food wasn’t handled by someone with a sexually transited disease or of a certain religion or sexual orientation?

      Perhaps some forms of choice are detrimental to society. Hopefully if this becomes law it will get thrown out due to failing the rational basis test.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 98 Thumb down 94
      • Zane Geiger says:

        That’s a really interesting moral question: when does more choice become harmful? How much choice is ‘good,’ and how much should freedoms be restricted?

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 3
      • Owen says:

        So I guess we should get rid of labels that indicate where food is from since cheese from New Zealand is just as safe as cheese from Wisconsin.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 22
      • aepxc says:

        The standard is pretty simple – label for everything that is likely to materially impact the purchasing preferences of a sufficiently significant t of the population. Reasonably or not, more people would avoid GMO foods than would avoid foods touched, at least once, by a white person.

        In my experience, free markets tend to decide better than any “rational basis tests” designed by any bureaucrats. Provided that there is no information asymmetry, of course.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 24
      • brazzy says:

        Have fun with your strawmen, but don’t confuse them with rational arguments.

        Who produced the food is an entirely different matter than the nature of the ingredients of the food.

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      • Mike B says:

        If the nature of the ingredients have no effect on human health then they are exactly as relevant as who made it.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 29
    • lv says:

      I think that article does in fact argue that forcing labeling (under the premise of offering the choice) may in fact limit the choice. By significantly reducing the viability of the market one would expect production of such products to reduce and concequently with their availability so does our choice.

      And this piece isn’t arguing about the safety of GM, it is arguing about the impact of mandatory labeling. The safety is taken as an assumption (with it’s validity deferred to the linked information in the fifth paragraph). You can criticise the validity of the assumption but it is a bit silly to criticise the piece for not being a different argument (i.e. arguing about safety rather than the impact of labeling).

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 40 Thumb down 9
      • ohminus says:

        The article might argue that, but it’s doing so by completely handwaving arguments. In fact, there was a time when products were labeled “Made in Germany” to help people avoid foreign products and “buy British”. Eventually, german companies proudly labeled their products “made in Germany”, the designation having become synonymous with high quality products.

        Essentially, the author suggests that once more, producers should be relieved of their task to convince buyers that their products are actually worth buying. Instead of letting customers buy products they actually want and consider worth their money, he wants them to buy products which they explicitly do not want for the sheer fact that they do not know this is the kind of product they do not want.

        Aside from being good old marketing through lying instead of marketing through discerning and fulfilling customer needs, it’s unreasonable in its assumption that what it asks for is a remotely realistic provision. While he might work to convince legislators in the US, other regions in the world are far less likely to comply with his ideas….

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    • Hominid says:

      If you think GE is unsafe then prove it, but don’t force producers to sound false alarms because some new-age crackpots think the sky is falling.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 43 Thumb down 44
    • TallDave says:

      “If you think GE is safe, then *convince* people of that. With, you know, arguments.”

      Often such views are not alterable with rational arguments or facts, because they aren’t based on them in the first place.

      Besides, you could label foods with “WARNING: THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE WHICH HAS BEEN PROVEN TO KILL MILLIONS OF PEOPLE!” and (while perfectly accurate) it would certainly dissuade some nontrivial proportion of people from consuming products containing… water.

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    • gabe says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • kvm says:

      Perhaps you can’t read Brazzy because the post lists at least 10 organizations that concluded GE foods are safe. Non-organic food does not need to be labeled as such so why GE food?

      I mean if you think GE isn’t safe, then *convince* people of that. With, you know, arguments.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 12
      • Travis says:

        Perhaps you should learn to read rather than blindly trusting citations… From the preface of the first citation:

        “While these intended changes can be readily evaluated for their safety in food, unintentionally introduced changes in the composition of foods may be more difficult to identify and assess. Whether genetic engineering per se affects the likelihood of unintentionally introducing undesired compositional changes in food is not fully understood. In contrast to adverse health effects that have been associated with some traditional food production methods, similar serious health effects have not been identified as a result of genetic engineering techniques used in food production. This may be because developers of bioengineered organisms perform extensive compositional analyses to determine that each phenotype is desirable and to ensure that unintended changes have not occurred in key components of food.

        Improvement in currently available methods for identifying and assessing unintended compositional changes in food could further enhance the ability of product developers and regulators to perform appropriate testing to assure the safety of food. Whether all such analyses are warranted and are the most appropriate methods for discovering unintended changes in food composition that may have human health consequences remains to be determined.”

        Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the safety of genetic engineering, wouldn’t you say? How about the WHO report?

        “The use of GMOs may also involve potential risks for human health and development. Many genes used in GMOs have not been in the food supply before. While new types of conventional food crops are not usually subject to safety assessment before marketing, assessments of GM foods were undertaken before the first crops were commercialized. To provide international consistency in the assessment of GM foods, principles developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (a joint programme of WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; FAO) now cover food safety, while the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety covers environmental safety of GMOs. Many countries have established specific premarket regulatory systems in accordance with this international guidance that require a case-by-case risk assessment of each GM food. Risk assessment methodology undergoes continuous improvements, a fact that is recognized by the Codex principles, including the need for risk assessments to consider both the intended and unintended effects of such foods in the food supply. GM foods currently traded on the international market have passed risk assessments in several countries and are not likely, nor have been shown, to present risks for human health.”

        The FAO report?

        “However, FAO is also aware of the concern about the potential risks posed by certain aspects of biotechnology. These risks fall into two basic categories: the effects on human and animal health and the environmental consequences. Caution must be exercised in order to reduce the risks of transferring toxins from one life form to another, of creating new toxins or of transferring allergenic compounds from one species to another, which could result in unexpected allergic reactions. Risks to the environment include the possibility of outcrossing, which could lead, for example, to the development of more aggressive weeds or wild relatives with increased resistance to diseases or environmental stresses, upsetting the ecosystem balance. Biodiversity may also be lost, as a result of the displacement of traditional cultivars by a small number of genetically modified cultivars, for example.

        FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product or process prior to its release. The possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety need to be evaluated, and the extent to which the benefits of the product or process outweigh its risks assessed. The evaluation process should also take into consideration experience gained by national regulatory authorities in clearing such products. Careful monitoring of the post-release effects of these products and processes is also essential to ensure their continued safety to human beings, animals and the environment.”

        None of them seem to be ringing the ringing endorsements of GMO’s Dr. Sexton seems to tout them as being. So, perhaps first *you* should learn to read.

        I’m personally sick and tired of people touting these documents as some ringing scientific endorsement of GMOs when universally every one that is released essentially notes that GMOs deserve close scrutiny, and there remain significant uncertainties with respect to their effect on humans and the human environment.

        Since when do we just assume everything is safe? Perhaps we should just abolish the FDA and assume all pharmaceuticals are safe, that will sure help the drug companies get everything to market faster.

        If you want to prove something is safe, first you need scientific evidence that concludes it’s actually safe. Citing these three documents to come to that conclusion is academically dishonest, to say the very least.

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      • ohminus says:

        Funny. Shouldn’t it be the task of the producer to convince people that their products are safe and worth spending money on? With, you know, arguments? Instead of simply not disclosing the property of their products?

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      • Organics says:

        Number 1: Monsanto and its GE “partners” have been previously found guilty of false advertisements, falsifying research reports, lying about toxicity of their products, etc. Look up their timeline, and then court records, that should be enough evidence to be sceptical about such a corporation.

        Number 2: GMO foods have not been in the market for sufficient time to accurately tell us what it does to our health in the long run. Making claims ahead of time can cost us all.

        Number 3: As far as I know, the consumer has power over producer mainly because he/she decides where and how to spend the money he/she has earned. If I, a consumer, want to know what is in the product that I might purchase, do not tell me that it doesn’t matter! Do not hide things from me. I don’t care what your reason is. It’s my money, my health, and my life. Stay the f*** out of it!

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    • bmb says:

      The problem is that arguments have been out for years and years and years about the safety of GE crops. People are just too ignorant to accept it.

      Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8
      • YankeeFrank says:

        “Arguments” are worthless. “Data”, and reliable studies from uncompromised sources are needed. However, the idea that a food item is to be presumed safe until proven unsafe is the wrong way to approach food safety. Just like we in the US allow any chemical to be used in any setting until it is shown to be unsafe, we are allowing GE foods to be consumed on a mass scale with nothing like the proper testing having been done. In Europe, a chemical is deemed unsafe until it is shown to be safe. That is the proper sequence to apply; not “throw it out there and see if anyone gets sick”. The idea that choice and “freedom” should be paramount and safety secondary is foolish and designed to aid marketers and manufacturers at the expense of the public.

        A lot of arrogant scientists in the employ of big agra and big chemical business use their false “logic” to tell us why some molecule or other is safe. Testing is the only way to know if something is safe. And Monsanto and their ilk have not done the testing, but they are flooding our environment with DNA modifications that would never have resulted from natural variation, causing the generation of super weeds and organ failure in lab animals who consume large amounts of GE foods. Good work. It seems our environment will have to be entirely destroyed and the people sickened on a mass scale before sanity will enter the conversation. Good luck to ya.

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      • robert richard says:

        Thanks Yankee Frank for illuminating the issue of our Tort Law based system that some folks decry until issues with public health and safety impinge on corporate juggernaut. Then they ask why didn’t the government do something proactive? to prevent this crisis/disaster/etc.

        Truly, corporations are given extremely wide berth to create products without any economic incentive to verify their safety. In fact really knowing the true impact opens them up to worse outcomes in court. Except for those areas outraged citizens impressed upon the government to take action to establish regualtions. Thalidomide cocktail anyone?

        The corporations that benefit from this system need to invest in safety testing way beyond the simple binary GMO modification. Combinations that get into other ecological systems need to be considered. The downstream effects of bad combinations may not be seen for years by which time it may be too late to rid the ecosystem of the result.

        Our current system frees corporations of responsibility to prove the safety of their products. They can put out whatever they please until problems arise. And then they can cost effectively contain the risk knowing few people have the resources to pursue lawsuits and only succeed in countering the most egregious corporate behavior.

        Really, if corporations suggest that GMO food items are perfectly safe, then why fear the labeling as such? The cost of printing the truth certainly cannot be more expensive than hiding it, no?

        Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
      • Alys says:

        If you believe that, fine. But the rest of us have a right to make an informed decision. Don’t believe everything the big $ people say. Here are a couple sites that will help inform you of the cost on our health of GE and Bt foods:

        We have a right to know what’s in our food so we are able to make an informed decision. If you choose to believe that those foods are safe for you and your loved ones, great. Eat them. But the rest of us have the right to know. If there’s no problem with them, it shouldn’t bother them to put the info out there. And there are a lot of ‘organic’ food makers that don’t want that info out there as well.

        Think about it. Read, educate yourself. But we have the right to decide for ourselves.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
      • SteveP says:

        DDT was argued to be completely safe for about 24 years before it was banned by the US government.

        As far as I am aware, no long term studies have been made on the affects of consuming GMO foods. Monsanto, et. al, paid the government to pretty much green light whatever they wanted them too.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
    • No says:

      Actually, no. The burden of proof is on you to show that they’re unsafe for people to eat. There have been hundreds of studies and none of them show GMOs are unsafe to eat. We’ve been consuming them for a whole generation and no one’s ever died. Sorry, but YOU have to PROVE your argument because the science supports the fact that nothing is wrong with eating GMOs.
      The only health concern is allergies and the FDA already requires labeling for GMOs that contain allergins. Again, you prove your argument.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 12
      • B Jones says:

        Perhaps you think that “no one dying” is the standard. I think a more comprehensive standard should be followed such as: do GM crops produce increased allergies, less immune function, increased autism etc. When we have conclusive answers to these questions, then we will have proper proof. Dying is simply the last stage in a series of very bad events. NO ONE has done the proper kind of long-term testing that is required to conclude that these crops are safe. If you would like to volunteer for testing, we would all appreciate it.

        Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3
      • Alys says:

        Obviously you’ve only heard/read from the GE/BT people. There have been studies done that have proven they are dangerous. Here are a couple of those sites. However, you won’t hear about those studies from the very people trying to force us to become their guinea pigs.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
      • Col. Forbin says:

        Have you researched who carried out these “hundreds of studies” which you speak of? It is my guess that you are just passing on disinformation which your particular belief system would have you assume would be done. The USDA has not carried out these studies numbering in these hundreds of which you state. What scientific peer group do you speak of that “supports the fact that nothing is wrong with eating GMO’s”? None. There isn’t a neutral non-profit group of scientists that agree with what you are claiming.
        The original reason given for genetic engineering of plant seeds was to make the tomato a consistent vibrant red color, that was tastier and juicier. This tomato was the first genetically altered crop tested on the American public. It failed miserably. Since then plants have been genetically altered for one single reason, to withstand the chemical pesticides and herbicides that which are made by the corporation that is doing the genetic engineering. Monsanto is not a company rooted in agriculture. They are as much rooted in agriculture as much as IG Farben. Monsanto is the industrial chemical producer that brought to us Agent Orange and DDT. They have former employees in the cabinet and U.S. Supreme Court. I imagine if you do a little bit of research you will be surprised upon rereading this author’s disinformation.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
      • Col. Forbin says:

        My second reply is a question to you for I believe I proved the argument thoroughly by simply mentioning Monsanto’s clandestine operations within our government and how it achieved it’s value both monetarily and in it’s influence in the USDA. Why are you against our right to know? This is not ceasing GMOs. It is merely giving citizens the right to choose. You can believe what you want and choose to eat what you want. It in no way infringes upon this. Do you not feel it is our right to know what is in the food we eat? It would seem to me to be simply un-American to forgo such a basic right. Do you have no sense of Patriotism?!?

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • BGarst says:

      “How in HELL can you argue that giving them the ability to make that choice would LIMIT their choice?”

      Paragraphs 6-8 explained exactly how it will reduce choice , including by thrusting significant new costs even on non GE foods. So the author has already explained “how in HELL” it will happen. If you disagree with the logic then you should say why. “With, you know, arguments.”

      Moreover, you ignore the author’s point that voluntary labels already allow people to avoid GE foods if they so desire.

      Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6
      • Col. Forbin says:

        The cost of labeling argument is the most hollow argument ever constructed. There is so much money spent on marketing that you honestly believe a stamp of certification would even put a dent in a products marketing budget let alone it’s labeling budget. Most products are constantly changing their labels in attempt to keep up with it’s latest competitor. Look at chips, look at teas, look at any product on your store’s shelves and tell me it has had the same label on it for the last decade….there is such a miniscule number of products (if any). In fact it is not uncommon for a product to change not only it’s labeling but it’s packaging multiple times a year! Even Quaker Oat’s Quaker had a face lift and I never heard how it was going to decimate the economy. That is a bunch of bologna – which if you look for Oscar-Meyer’s bologna packaging from a decade ago you won’t find it. If labeling was such an economy wrecking device we would have been doomed in the cold war by Wheaties! For the love of the planet please start thinking for yourself, educating yourself and not believing all the drivel you choose to read. There were no WMD’s in Iraq, no matter what you were told!

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2
  2. Seminymous Coward says:

    Everyone who intentionally buys organic food or wants to block GE food would rather they indulge their superstitions than poor people eat. It’s a pity that our intuitive moral reasoning deals very poorly with effects which are insufficient immediate and visceral.

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    • Ian M says:

      Sometimes people eat organic food to help poorer people.

      That being said, there should be labels for food grown “without pesticides”. I don’t care about organic. I couldn’t care less about eating GMO foods or those grown with synthetic fertilizers.

      Hippies would never go for that though.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 15
      • Seminymous Coward says:

        It’s a fair point that Dole and Chiquita are pretty much despicable. That’s a very strong argument for not buying their bananas. Pesticides are probably not the top reason, but that specific pesticide surely makes the short list.

        Encouraging the growth of organic banana producers by buying their bananas is still bad, though. I don’t recall ever seeing non-Dole, non-Chiquita, non-organic bananas in person, so it’s possible those are the only realistic options available. If so, I suppose the answer is not to eat bananas until a competitor arises. That’s a pity, but it’s obviously a small sacrifice to make in order to neither poison nor starve others, even indirectly.

        To summarize, evils done by specific non-organic farming companies is not an argument for eating organic.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 9
      • J says:

        Is there food grown without pesticides?

        Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3
      • YankeeFrank says:

        Umm, yeah. Its called “organic” food, and its grown without pesticides, and without a lot of other harmful garbage being introduced into the environment. I eat organic dairy, eggs and meat, because when I was a kid, that is what was known as dairy, eggs and meat.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 11
      • Seminymous Coward says:

        YankeeFrank, it would seem you don’t know the definition of “organic” in this context. Please go read it from whatever source you consider authoritative, ideally before telling us more about the subject.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 10
    • Stacey Layne says:

      There is proof that GMO foods cause a plethora of ill health effects.

      Just because the FDA regards things as “safe” just as it does pharmaceuticals that cause death, doesn’t mean it is good for the poor. If you think government institutions have the poor in mind – think again.

      Nature designed things in their perfect form, when we mess with that – there are always repercussions.

      Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8
      • No says:

        The person you’re citing links GMOs to autism, an unproven claim. They also argue against vaccines, saying it causes autism. And he’s also an AIDS denialist.

        Next time cite a reliable source of information.

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  3. Mike B says:

    This is where the Eco-Mentalists show themselves to be no different than the religious wrong. Granted it is a logical reaction to the decades of corporate propaganda that labeled everything from DDT to nuclear radiation as harmless indicators of “progress”, but I think they forgot that studies have improved a lot since the 1950’s. Of course a sizable part of the anti-GM lobby won’t argue about the human safety, but will instead focus on all of the wider movie plot style threats that genetic engineering might cause like zombieism , but I guess what else should we expect in a state where decades of education cuts have resulted in Hollywood Science being the only science most Californians are exposed to.

    Perhaps the best way to counteract this law is to require that ALL foods that have been modified from their wild states through ANY process of genetic manipulation get the GM label. This way all the hard core super-locovores can be super smug after they spend most of their daylight hours hunger-gathering their GM-free dinner. Hell, why stop there. Pet stores should alert people that they are purchasing genetically modified wolves.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 41 Thumb down 42
  4. David says:

    Your analysis seems to have entirely ignored that people may wish to avoid GM food because they have reservations about companies like Monsanto owning patents to their food supply. The frankenfood argument is a red herring.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      Why, then, did these people decide to pursue a food labeling law instead of a revision to patent law?

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      • susan says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        susan: Did you read David’s comment to which mine was replying? He conflated the two by suggesting that the labels are desired because “people may wish to avoid GM food because they have reservations about companies like Monsanto owning patents to their food supply.” I suggested that grievances with patent law are best solved by changing patent law and not labeling laws, i.e. I wholeheartedly agree that those areas have nothing in common.

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    • RachaelL says:

      Even if GM foods went entirely off the market, seed companies and large agribusiness (like Monsanto) would still have seed patents on new hybrid varieties and other agricultural techniques and tools. Most food would thus still be “controlled” by large agribusiness. If your desire is to not support companies like that, then just avoiding GM just isn’t going to do it. Avoiding GM to avoid Monsanto would also have the side effect of avoiding GM papaya which is not “owned” by Monsanto but by the farmers who grow it and the university that developed it. An anti-GM position is a very blunt tool for attacking large agribusiness as it discourages non-profit (or low-profit) efforts to make useful GM crops.

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  5. Christina Chambronne says:

    When you say “a technology that (…) could end hunger and malnutrition, lift hundreds of millions from poverty,” I can only assume it is joke. Like there is not enough food in the world and the cause of hunger are not mostly caused by mishandle and the unfair distribution of available food!! May I suppose that “reduce[ing] the environmental impact of feeding an evermore populous world” is joke too?

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      Crops that can grow anywhere people live would substantially ease distribution issues, and each step toward that goal would incrementally ease them. More crops that grow within easy distribution distance of people would also enhance those people’s nutrition by varying their nutrient intake.

      High-yielding crop varieties ease the environmental impact by allowing the world to be fed from less land. That allows more land for every other use, including parks and rainforests.

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    • SunnyvaleCA says:

      Sorry if this sounds like a rant or a troll, but I really think that anything other than addressing the core problem of excessive population is just kicking the can down the road…

      “a technology that (…) could end hunger and malnutrition, lift hundreds of millions from poverty,”

      We already have such technology…. It’s called Birth Control. Just need to get more people to start using it.

      The “green revolution” of the 60’s and 70’s increased food yields massively, but now we have more living in poverty than ever. Why is a second wave of so-called “green” going to be any different? The population will just increase again to overwhelm the technology and there will be even more still living in poverty.

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      • Hominid says:

        ‘Just need to get more people to start using it.’ How obvious! How brilliant! Why don’t we just do that?

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  6. Melissa Belvadi says:

    Did Monsanto ghost-write this article? If not, they might well have – it reads like a PR puff piece. Opposition to GMOs isn’t just about concerns about the health of the food itself, just as objections to foie gras isn’t about the fat content. There are huge environmental and moral issues surrounding how the GMO companies have conducted themselves, bullied and lied to farmers, destroyed the value of organic pest control methods that have worked for decades by appropriating then overusing them – the list of non-nutrition related reasons to oppose GMOs as currently marketed (not necessarily the technology in the abstract, which is what the AMA endorsed) is overwhelming if you take the time to learn about it.

    And as another commenter touched on, the claim that it’s about feeding the world’s poor is absolutely laughable, not only because there’s already plenty of actual food (malnutrition is about distribution and poverty, not quantity of food on the planet), but because an analysis of the actual business practices of the GMO companies makes it clear that they’re designing products that serve the interests of huge American agribusinesses, not third world farmers, and often at the expense of third world farmers. The global food issue is enormously more complicated than “we need to grow more food”.

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    • Jen says:

      Amen. That’s the worst part of this article for me. I feel there is room for debate on this topic (for instance, the differences in effects between the CA 0.5% the European 0.9% and a 2% standard).

      However, the tone and word choice of this article left me no choice but to distrust the conclusions it led toward. This sort of propaganda should be like a red flag shouting, Doubt This! Check Every “Fact” in this Article! How can you hear it without being made more wary?

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    • Hominid says:

      Apples & oranges – you’re talking about an issue separate from the food safety issue that the labeling is about. Try to focus on the issues under discussion instead of your preferred lib boogie monster.

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      • ohminus says:

        It’s you who is pick-and-choosing topics. Just because you feel safe to debunk safety arguments doesn’t mean that that’s the actual issue at hand. The labelling is not primarily about safety, it’s about choice. Safety would be one reason for choice, but there are plenty of other reasons.

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    • SteveP says:

      I agree. It does sound like an article that was written based on a press release from Monsanto. I am wondering if this guy actually did write it.

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  7. Matunos says:

    If you’re going to describe the law as requiring “cigarette-like labeling of food derived from GE plants”, you probably should not link to the actual details of the law, which clearly state that the label must say nothing more than “Genetically engineered”, or “Partially produced with genetic engineering.” I have not looked at a madated cigarette warning label recently, but I believe they contain more than “Contains nicotine and tar.”

    It’s surprising when advocates for free markets, which depend on free information, go crazy about increasing information to participants. If the labels are inaccurate, then you have a case. But if your argument is that the labels are generally accurate but will be incorrectly interpreted by consumers to mean something they don’t, the you’re in a curious position. Are market participants too stupid to decide these things for themselves? Must we rely on what the agro-businesses and scientific organizations conclude we should fill our maw with? Yet such people go crazy if a mayor proposes to restrict access to large servings of sugar water with clear negative impacts on our health.

    We’re not talking here about irrational ideas on vaccinations which impact the lives of children with no say in the matter either way. Nobody is suggesting that non-GE foods are somehow less safe in general. So why do you distrust the consumer so in this matter? Instead of worrying about how people may misapply this information, why don’t you just try to educate them? Maybe, as a commenter above suggests, some people choose to avoid GE foods for moral or political reasons, not health reasons.

    And let’s get off the guilt trip about poor people here. Name a commercially available genetically engineered crop whose engineering has led to greater crop yield or nutritional value. There is little evidence that Monsanto or other companies have any interest in these things. Their interest lies in selling more pesticide (an interesting side effect of which is the evolution of pests resistant to their pesticides… I wonder if they’ll patent them too) and locking farmers into their seeds. I see no moral obligation to defend them. Crops which farmers cannot legally seed next year without paying royalties are not what is going to feed the starving masses of the world.

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    • m.m. says:


      Let’s get real here–Monsanto has as much genuine concern for solving world hunger as McDonald’s and Coca Cola do.

      Besides–if GMO foods are so undeniably awesome, why not view this as a fabulous marketing opportunity? Just like companies prominently display “organic”, “recycled,” etc., on their packaging, these companies just need a better PR push: “This product was made from crops genetically engineered by Monsanto to increase nutrition, decrease the use of water and other scarce resources, limit pesticides, and help end world hunger. Enjoy it proudly and in good health.”

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    • David says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • David says:

        Argh. The blog software mangled my not-equal-to sign.

        Government force /= (is not equal to) free market.

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      • CAS says:

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      • Seth says:

        The government (though the FDA) is currently preventing non-GMO food from being labelled as such… would you support those restrictions being lifted?

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        Seth: Do you have a source for that claim? Are the Non-GMO Project ( and Whole Foods ( ) just balatantly violating this supposed law/regulation?

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      • Seth says:


        My source was a misreading of this: I also don’t spend much time at WholeFoods, so wasn’t aware that is actually a non-GMO labeling/certification already going.

        I stand corrected.

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      • David says:

        Seth: If such restrictions existed then they should absolutely be lifted!

        Evil is evil, even if it looks like it’s good. Such government-mandated restrictions are all evil.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        Seth: That’s more than fair, particularly since that article certainly seems to make the claim. I’m left wondering if there was a change in the law/regulation. Your source seems unlikely to be flat-out lying.

        In any case, I’m with David in thinking that such a restriction is bad.

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      • Melissa Belvadi says:

        One of the earliest GMO products was not a crop but a hormone for dairy cows. Monsanto, the owner of rBGH, lobbied successfully in many states to prevent non-rBGH-using dairy farms from labeling their product as non-rBGH. At least one court has now struck down such a law, but I don’t know if such laws are still on the books in other states, and in any case that many-year battle left a lot of people strongly distrusting Monsanto.
        Market forces can’t work in the case of product content information. Since the consumer can’t tell from looking at a tomato whether it has fish genes in it or not, only government regulation can provide that information. Do you oppose the entire nutrition labeling system too, which forces manufacturers to tell us about how much saturated fat and salt they’ve put in the foods?

        (PS. The fish gene in tomato is not an exaggeration – they really did make that one. That’s a big problem for vegetarians and orthodox Jews, among others. I think the product failed due to just not working quite right, so it didn’t get much press in terms of public opposition.)

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      • Hominid says:

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      • aed939 says:

        So the market works when there is complete information. In a farmer-to-consumer market with no intermediaries, the consumer can ask the farmer at the point of sale. The farmer may choose to answer the potential consumer’s questions truthfully, or he may refuse to answer any or all questions. Then the consumer is free to purchase or decline to purchase. Furthermore, the consumer is free to post on his blog what the farmer said or refused to answer. The farmer is not allowed to lie. Here the market works.

        However, when the consumer and producer are separated from this basic information exchange through a supply chain, there are certain basic aspects about the food product that a rational customer would like to know. Required labeling makes sense here in order to improve the market. We have required labeling with regard to the weight/volume of the product, the ingredients list, and some nutrition facts. There is a USDA organic label, and organics are not allowed to have GM ingredients. However, organics are expensive. It would be nice to have a middle tier of food products that are not organic, but at least GM free. And actually, that would make the price of the bottom-tier GM products actually cheaper, yes?

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    • Steve Sexton says:

      In the U.S., food products have historically been required to provide two types of information: nutrition content (ingredient lists), and health warnings, e.g. the Surgeon General’s warning on tobacco products. As the process of genetic engineering does not, itself, change the nutritional content of food products or ingredients, a GMO label is certainly not in keeping with that tradition. Moreover, front-of-packaging labels, like those the California law would mandate for some GE foods, have historically been voluntary and regulated only to ensure the accuracy of claims. Voluntary front-of-package labels could assert valid “GMO-free” claims today, irrespective of the proposed California law. That the market has not voluntarily provided this information suggests it is not demanded by consumers.

      Even free market economists acknowledge perfect information as a precondition for well-functioning markets. In this case, there is asymmetric information. Consumers cannot independently verify the safety of the foods they eat, which is why food safety is regulated by government agencies that must retain the public’s trust. The California labeling law does not propose to correct the information asymmetry. And, in fact, the “Findings and Declarations” in the preamble to the California law provide misinformation, misleading consumers to believe that there are substantial health risks from consuming GMOs and that GMO foods are unregulated. Neither claim is true. Given the misinformation campaign perpetuated by environmental groups and organic farmers, who are, themselves, interested parties, there is hardly perfect information in the market for food. Market participants are not stupid, but they have been duped. My commentary is an attempt to educate. But as long as the schism between scientific reality and consumer perceptions exist, a labeling regime that claims to promote consumer choice may affect a reduction in consumer choice and make society worse off. A consumer who avoids GMOs on the basis of incorrect information is not made better off by his choice. All interested parties should undertake to communicate the scientific consensus against the headwinds of environmental groups and the organic lobby.

      Below is a sampling of the peer-reviewed literature on yield improvements, chemical reductions and other farm-level impacts of GE crops from around the world. The evidence of yield gains with GE technologies in some places, including developing countries, is overwhelming. And products that will come online in the next several years (barring any major contraction in ag biotech investment) will further enhance the technology’s usefulness in a development context.

      Ag biotech firms are not saints. They are intent on making profits, which they can do by developing products that farmers and informed consumers demand. May profit motives cause private firms to overlook potentially beneficial applications for regions that cannot afford them? Yes. So there is a role for public support for agricultural biotechnology, too. Major research universities and many major international NGOs and private foundations are supporting research that applies the tools of genetic engineering to applications for developing countries. In many cases, these efforts are in cooperation with the Monsanto’s of the world, which often provide technologies to poor farmers for free. See And let us also not forget that patents are not evil. Intellectual property rights are conferred in exchange for costly R&D investments that would not be made by private firms if their investment returns were arbitraged away by competitors immediately replicating their discoveries.

      Qaim, M. and D. Zilberman. 2003. “Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries.” Science 299, pp900-902

      Huang, J., S. Rozelle, and C. Pray. 2002. “Plant Biotechnology in China.” Science 295, pp674-676.

      Yorobe JMJr, Quicoy CB. 2006. Economic impact of Bt corn in the Philippines. Philipp. Agric. Sci. 89:258–67

      Huang J, Hu R, Rozelle S, Qiao F, Pray CE. 2002a. Transgenic varieties and productivity of smallholder cotton farmers in China. Aust. J. Agric. Resour. Econ. 46:367–87 [Web of Science ®]

      Qaim M, Subramanian A, Naik G, Zilberman D. 2006. Adoption of Bt cotton and impact variability: insights from India. Rev. Agric. Econ. 28:48–58

      Thirtle C, Beyers L, Ismael Y, Piesse J. 2003. Can GM-technologies help the poor? The impact of Bt cotton in Makhathini Flats, KwaZulu-Natal. World Dev. 31:717–32 [Web of Science ®]

      Kambhampati U, Morse S, Bennett R, Ismael Y. 2006. Farm-level performance of genetically modified cotton—a frontier analysis of cotton production in Maharashtra. Outlook Agric. 35:291–97 [Web of Science ®]

      Crost B, Shankar B, Bennett R, Morse S. 2007. Bias from farmer self-selection in genetically modified crop productivity estimates: evidence from Indian data. J. Agric. Econ. 58:24–36 [Web of Science ®]

      Krishna VV, Qaim M. 2008b. Potential impacts of Bt eggplant on economic surplus and farmers’ health in India. Agric. Econ. 38:167–80 [Web of Science ®]

      Gouse M, Pray C, Schimmelpfennig D, Kirsten J. 2006. Three seasons of subsistence insect-resistant maize in South Africa: Have smallholders benefited? AgBioForum 9:15–22

      Brookes G, Barfoot P. 2008. GM Crops: Global Socioeconomic and Environmental Impacts 1996–2008. Dorchester: PG Econ.

      Sexton, S. and D. Zilberman. 2011. “How Agricultural Biotechnology Boosts Food Supply and Accomodates Biofuel. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 16699.

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      • Melissa Belvadi says:

        Food labeling is not just a binary about “food safety” otherwise there wouldn’t be a requirement to list all the ingredients, but just a govt “thumbs up” that the food product is safe. The govt considers gelatin made from ungulate hooves to be safe, but as a vegetarian I choose not to eat products (eg Yoplait Yogurt) containing it, and I think it’s entirely appropriate that the govt require the producer to tell me when it’s present. GMO foods may be “safe” but they have something the natural product never would have in it by hybridizing, e.g. BT corn has an organic pesticide within every cell of the plant, and I reject the idea that just because someone considers me irrational for not wanting to consume that molecular structure, therefore I shouldn’t know it’s there. Many people consider me irrational for not wanting to consume gelatin either.

        Prof. Sexton, can you state that you have never received any funding from any of the businesses that use and/or profit from (directly or indirectly as customers) GMOs?

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      • Jeff F says:

        The contents of this comment should have been included in your article. Nonetheless, I and other people would love to see GM markings on food, and industry is not quick to respond to changes that would potentially affect 80% (more?) of their offerings. Also, there is close to ZERO knowledge of what GM food actually does to people over the long term. If you can produce ANY health policy researcher that has been published (reputably) saying with 95% confidence that GM food has zero effect on health over 20 years, I will eat my words, and your awful food.

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      • Gareth says:

        Whether or not an alien, manufactured organism (albeit derived from an indigenous one) is safe to eat is somewhat moot – the real conern, and why GM products must not be introduced into the biome, is that nobody can predict how the new organism will interact with the rest of the biome or what the biological consequences will be. An organism can be safe to eat and still be a dire threat to the biome.

        If labelling helps consumers to vote with their pockets for or against the use of manufactured organisms, that can’t be bad.

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      • Peter says:

        Mr. Sexton – I am afraid that I must agree with many of the comments being made here, that your piece is very one-sided in terms of the evidence you choose to present, and that the positions you adopt on wider issues, such as the impacts of global intellectual property rights law in the context of biotechnology, are certainly open to criticism/challenge.

        You fail to mention perhaps the most significant scientific research to date on the future role of plant biotechnology in global agriculture: a major UN/World Bank-sponsored report, compiled by over 400 independent scientists and endorsed by 58 countries, known as the IAASTD.

        In recognition that agriculture is at the centre of the looming crises of climate change, population growth, fossil fuel and natural resource depletion, in 2003 the world’s major agriculture and development institutions initiated a project to gather the ‘best global science’ on agriculture. This hugely ambitious project was entitled the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (or IAASTD).

        One key area the IAASTD considered was the potential role of modern biotechnology. As the IAASTD co-chair, Dr. Hans R. Herren, stated at the time, “Biotechnology is without doubt a hot issue that is shrouded in layers of statements about its potential to solve the food production and nutrition issues in the future and also on how it will protect the environment and create new wealth along the way.”

        After completing its research in 2008, the IAASTD reported back in the form of multi-chapter reports of peer-reviewed science, specifically designed for global decision makers. Unfortunately, the report is huge and highly complex. But I recently came across a very important book written by one of the co-authors of the IAASTD report, Jack A. Heinemann, a professor of genetics and molecular biology at University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

        Entitled ‘Hope Not Hype,’ Heinemann’s book presents the IAASTD findings on GM in a far more accessible format. To put it simply, Hope Not Hype presents the “science facts” about plant biotechnology – not the science fiction.

        I should point out that the IAASTD did not reject modern biotechnology outright as a potential source of some solutions to the challenges we face in terms of climate change, finite natural resources, feeding a growing population, and so on, so the IAASTD cannot simply be dismissed as a bunch of backward Luddites. However, as Heinemann states, the IAASTD “found that the inherent ability of this [GM] technology, or as it is applied under current intellectual property frameworks with an emphasis on agriculture innovation being driven by private wealth creation, was unexceptional at best and possibly counter-productive at worst.”

        It’s simply not possible to list the background science here, so I urge people to read Heinemann’s book to see for themselves (you can download his book for free at But in summary the IAASTD found:

        • No evidence of a general, sustained or reliable increase in yield from GM crops over the last 12 years since the first commercial release. Heinemann states that “there is no convincing evidence that the major transgenic crops have been superior to conventional crops for raising yields or achieving other sustainability goals such as poverty or hunger reduction with less impact on the environment.” [p 91]

        • No evidence of a sustained reduction in costs to farmers adopting GM crops, nor a sustained and reliable increase in farmer profits. Heinemann states that: “Coupled with higher upfront costs for GM seeds, amongst other production and market risks, reliable returns from genetic engineering are not certain.” [p 59].

        • No evidence of a sustainable reduction in pesticide use. In fact, close to 99% of GM crops are engineered to be herbicide- and/or insect-tolerant. The IAASTD found there has been a dramatic increase in the use of some herbicides: as Heinemann states, “The amount of glyphosate usage in the US has increased 15-fold since 1994.” [p 73].

        • The way that pesticides are used on GM crops is undermining the conventional farmer’s weed control options with the increasing emergence of herbicide resistant weeds – and the creation of new herbicide-tolerant weeds through gene flow from GM crops to related weeds. [We all know this is happening across the U.S. farmland today]

        • The presence of GM in food creates unique consumer choice and legal issues. As Heinemann says, “Whether or not someone knowingly grows a GMO such as a GM crop, they could become exposed to legal actions, suffer market rejections or be the subject of recalls causing loss of earnings.” [p 48].

        • No evidence that genetic engineering has been effective at delivering the crops and animals needed by the majority of the world’s farmers, or at prices they can afford. “While there is much talk of other traits, including drought and salt tolerance and nutritional enhancement, there are few or no commercial examples,” states Heinemann. [p 63].

        • The wholesale rush to patent plant genes as the intellectual property of a few mega-corporations is consolidating the seed industry and threatens long-term plant agrobiodiversity and biodiversity. The IAASTD are concerned that: “In developing countries especially, instruments such as patents may drive up costs, restrict experimentation by the individual farmer or public researcher while also potentially undermining local practices that enhance food security and economic stability.” [p 102]

        • New GMOs must be subject to uniform safety and ecological assessments of higher standard, transparency and independence than has benefited existing GM crops. Heinemann states that: “Not all GMOs in the human food chain may have benefited from a safety evaluation or been deemed to be safe as food.” [p 39].

        To repeat: the IAASTD findings represent the scientific consensus of over 400 independent scientists across the world, endorsed by 58 countries. I am sure that the IAASTD must make uncomfortable reading for anyone with a vested interest in GM crops, which is probably why Syngenta walked out from the IASSTD process, while CropLife International – the global federation representing the plant science industry – publicly rejected the report just before the IAASTD presented its findings.

        The IAASTD points to the potential of other high-technology plant breeding methods such as Marker Assisted Selection (MAS), which use DNA-based techniques to follow genes of interest in the plant breeding process without manipulating DNA. But perhaps the most important finding from the IAASTD is that there is substantial scientific evidence – and now scientific consensus – that agroecological methods of farming could contribute to feeding the world in a sustainable way. Indeed, the IAASTD found that organic and agroecological farming methods are already outpacing conventional/industrial agriculture in the very places that are most in need of a new path to food security – for example, Africa. This is despite the fact that that agroecological farming has not even remotely benefited from the vast levels of research funding which underpins the global modern biotechnology industry today.

        Don’t believe the science fiction about GM crops – or the attempts by Big Ag to dismiss agroecological approaches to farming – without reading ‘Hope Not Hype’ first.

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      • aed939 says:

        Steve, you forgot the most basic labeling requirements: standards of identity and content. This is to protect the consumer against deceptive and misleading packaging, and assures that the consumer is getting what is indicated by the packaging. For example, the manufacturer must label the net weight or volume. There’s a whole set of standards of what constitutes real chocolate, real cheese, etc. This is not directly a safety or nutrition issue, but rather a quality and authenticity issue. The GM ingredient label is a food quality issue, similar to the USDA Organic labeling program.

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      • ohminus says:

        “That the market has not voluntarily provided this information suggests it is not demanded by consumers. ”

        That’s a hilarious attempt to turn reality on its head. That the market has not voluntarily provided this information is a testimony of how afraid they are to provide it.

        It is telling that in Sexton’s analysis of the economic impact of GE crops, the effects on non-adopters are a side note which he handwaves, declaring that further research is needed. That there can be no actual assessment on the economic effects when effects one would like to ignore and handwaved and taken out of the equation should be evident to anyone with a minimum of academic integrity. What Sexton does is simply declare that as far as he is concerned, those darn naysayers can all go to h***.

        Problem is, of course, while he lambasts Californians, plenty of agricultural products in the US are not meant for domestic consumption at all. And when people abroad don’t fall for his attempts at manipulation, then all of his efforts are in vain, because producers will have to comply with stricter standards anyway, or they will drown in all their corn and soy products.

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      • B. Jones says:

        Please. How can you say with a straight face that the reason GMO information is not on the package is because consumers haven’t demanded it. It’s because the industry fights to keep it secret. Those who know about GM ingredients in their food overwhelmingly want to know that it’s there so they can make their choices accordingly. Those who don’t know that GM ingredients are in the majority of processed foods are obviously silent. Once again, the industry is fighting to make sure that they continue to be unaware of the issue.

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    • Christina Chambronne says:

      ‘If you’re going to describe the law as requiring “cigarette-like labeling of food derived from GE plants”, you probably should not link to the actual details of the law, which clearly state that the label must say nothing more than “Genetically engineered”, or “Partially produced with genetic engineering.” I have not looked at a madated cigarette warning label recently, but I believe they contain more than “Contains nicotine and tar.”’

      You made me remember that in here in Brazil besides having the companies label their products with threating pictures, the law also also have the products made with GM crops to be labeled with a fairly visible “T” (this “T” makes sense in Portuguese) inside a yellow triangle, and we don’t see any company complaining about revenue losses because of that.

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      • David says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Jen says:

        David says: ” to use force to tell people what they may or may do, because you genuinely believe that these laws will shape the world as you desire and couldn’t possibly have unintended consequences. You think you’re gods. Self-righteousness is indeed the worse evil of them all.”

        Hahahaha, for a minute there I thought you might be talking about Monsanto et al. You know, genuinely believing that everything they do won’t have unintended consequences and will only have beneficial ones.

        Please step back for just a minute and ponder who might be more self-righteous. I’m guessing it’s the people with the profit motive behind them.

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      • David says:

        Jen: I’m talking about the government, which uses force.

        I am no supported of Monsato, because they also use force, via the government’s patent system. Patents are abhorrent, a serious impediment to innovation, progress, and the free market, and just plain evil. If it weren’t for Monsato’s patents, there would be more competition in the GM industry. More importantly, others would legally be allowed to plant and sell those modified seeds, leading to cheaper and better crops, leading to more people not dying. Monsato’s patents kill people. But they have a government-enforced monopoly on their crops, because some self-righteous asshole “knew” that allowing companies to “own”inventions would be better for society. And you know what every single independent economist who has ever studied the patent system has found? That it does lots of harm and no good. But that’s what happens when people are so self-righteous that they “know” how their knee-jerk “there ought to be a law!” reactions are good. They never seek evidence or question themselves if they have a moral right to use force (because that’s what government is) on others. They come first.

        It isn’t a choice of Monsato vs. mandatory labelling. The solution to bad laws (patents) is not more bad laws (requirements for labels). The rational solution is to enable the free market to do what it does best by removing impediments, such as the patent system, not by trying to “force” it to do what you think it ought to do. That never ever ever works like you think it will. Never.

        And I apologize for my harsh tone. I just hate it when people are so sure of themselves that they are insanely eager to pass more regulations, even when there is a good chance that such regulation will literally kill people—possibly millions of people. And that’s what this article was about. How could any moral individual living in a a developed country be so cavalier about the lives of horribly poor and dying people in developing countries? What’s wrong with these people?

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      • David says:

        One more thing: the profit motive is not self-righteous. That’s just trying to make a profit. Self-righteousness is when you think you’re so smart and so right that you try to impose your will on everyone else. No one is forcing you to buy any particular brand of food, or anything for that matter. But you’re trying to force people to spend money on labels, making the foods you hate more expensive to other people, forcing them to spend more money or to purchase something else. Your ideas will lead to all sorts of changes in the way people spend their own money, because it will interfere with the signals the free market sends and will artificially change prices. Who’s more self-righteous? Playing with other people’s money is no different from theft.

        And, yes, what Monsato does with patents is also theft. They should not have those patents. Get rid of them, and they free market is brought closer to its ideal. Perhaps Monsato might even stop producing their crops. Chances are, though, by all the evidence, that they will continue, and those crops will be cheaper and better. Why? Because of competition. Competition takes the profit motive and uses it for Good. It’s because of the desire for profit that companies have to make better and cheaper products, so customers are happy and buy their products instead of their competitors’. The profit motive—in the context of competition and a true free market—is what consistently makes the world a better place. I stead complaining about how companies are evil because they seek profit, you should complain about regulations that prevent the profit motive from producing the best possible at the cheapest prices.

        If you really think that profit is evil, I suggest you go back in time and move to Soviet Russia. Or to Cuba. Or any other communist country. After all, goods produced for the good of mankind are much better than those produced for evil profit!

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      • Jen says:

        Wait, you’re all for getting rid of patents/patent law? Have you checked with those engaged in capitalism and free markets and anti-regulations and all? They seem to really like patents. Chemical and Pharmaceutical companies in particular.

        Honestly, your own self-righteousness gets in the way of your making clear arguments. Passionate arguing and debate is not the same as screaming that anyone who disagrees with you should move.

        Regulation is a fact of life as long as we aren’t making perfect products in a perfect world. Are all regulations great? Of course not. Does progress and change make some regulations obsolete and in need of revision or excision? Of course. Should regulations be, perhaps, more flexible and easy to change? Most likely.

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      • David says:

        I find it deeply sad that anyone could think that being pro-capitalism is compatible with being pro-patents. It depresses me greatly.

        Being a businessman doesn’t make you pro-capitalism. Companies that support patents do so because it gives them an artificial advantage: a government-enforced monopoly. Monopolies are the antithesis of capitalism, the free market, the principles behind libertarianism, and liberty/freedom. Here is some reading for you on how such monopolies are both economically harmful and immoral:

        Against Intellectual Monopoly:
        Against Intellectual Property:

        You can call me self-righteous all you want. In the end, I will never support forcing people to behave as I believe, and will thus never support regulations or any other laws that infringe on others’ liberty. You can pretend it’s OK to support these things because we live in the real world, which is horribly corrupt, but it’s still wrong, and it’s the dangerous kind of self-righteousness: where you “know” you know better, so it’s OK to use the force of government to tell people what to do. After all, it’s only a label, right? Two wrongs don’t make a right; stupid laws (I should just say ‘laws’, since they’re all stupid, except for ‘thou shalt not steal’) should be repealed, not “fixed” with more stupid laws. Every regulation adds bureaucracy and removes a small amount of freedom, and that includes regulations that are meant to balance other regulations.

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    • Jacob says:

      I don’t think the author is making a free-market argument here, but a pragmatic one. The author argues that the law will harm GE food producers, but you don’t see him waxing philosophical about how the government shouldn’t be ‘picking winners’. Instead he argues that there are positive socioeconomic and environmental benefits to GE crops, and that therefore we should not harm this particular industry. If we imagine a world were GE foods had a positive public perception, I think we’d find a similar article by the same author in support of the law simply because it would then act as a subsidy for GE instead of a tax.

      There is an argument against the law simply on the basis that industry-specific taxes are bad, the government should get out of markets, regulation is always bad, etc., but I think you’d have to go to a much more radical right-wing blog than this to find it.

      Also, I think we _are_ talking about irrational ideas not entirely different from the vaccination issue. Many* anti-GE folks dismiss all opposing scientific evidence prima facie as ‘funded by the industry’ in the same way that climate change skeptics view global warming as some sort of academic conspiracy. If fields like evolution and climate science have such a hard time getting public support, what chance does GE have? It doesn’t help that Monsanto casts a shadow over the entire field; perfectly good science is given a bad name by the actions of a sketchy company.

      On the subject, I agree that Monsanto probably has little interest in solving world hunger (unless that happens to coincide with greater profits). However, I don’t think that means GE food has no potential to help the poor get more food. Instead of trying to destroy the GE industry we’d be better served to break up Monsanto’s monopoly. It’s be hard to sell single-use seeds if the guy next door is selling the same thing without the royalties.

      * I want to stress that not all anti-GE people are like this, but there is a certain subset that is dogmatic in their opposition. You can find even them in here: they start off their posts by claiming anyone who disagrees with them is a Monsanto shill.

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      • Melissa Belvadi says:

        How much of the history of the battle over GMOs do you know? Have you been following this issue from the beginning? It really isn’t comparable at all to the climate change skeptics “debate”, because the science in that issue pretty much all came out of disinterested sources, and the opponents are pretty much all (or funded by) large corporations who see their profits threatened by the issue. With GMOs on the other hand, the opponents may or may not be wrong about the science, but their opposition is motivated by genuine concerns for safety and ethics, not corporate greed.

        And in the early years of the GMO debate, pretty much all of the pro-GMO “research” was in fact pretty clearly coming from traceable “Monsanto shills” (or equivalent companies’) so there’s actually a logical basis to at least question whether any one-sided argument in favor of GMOs might have financial ties to Monsanto or its industry brethren. That’s not paranoia, it’s historical pattern. A balanced analysis wouldn’t just make vague claims about potential, but discuss whether the industry has in fact brought to market any products that actually enhance human health or developing countries’ farmers’ financial positions. How is the production going for that vitamin A-enhanced rice, for instance?

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