Watch out for facts!

Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m in a loosing battle. I have so much peer-reviewed, confirmed, substantiated information about biotechnology, but this information can not be easily compacted into a soundbite. The impact of all this information is not as great as a single picture of a needle sticking a tomato. It doesn’t matter whether the terminator gene has never been used, even Ben Goldacre wrote about it in a way that implied it has been used in his book Bad Science that was about lies perpetuated about science! I can spend days carefully writing a pages-long post based on research but it has a tiny tiny fraction of the impact of someone tweeting “GMOs are evil”.

Sometimes I think there’s a formula that people are using, consciously or subconsciously, to push science about biotechnology away from them as quickly as possible. Well, I think I found the formula, thanks to a commenter at Pharyngula: Oh, No! It’s Making Well-Reasoned Arguments Backed With Facts! Run! by Matthew Barnes. Of course, not everyone who has concerns with biotechnology follows this formula in full or at all, but it is in use by a lot of people. We’ve all seen parts of it in comment boards, interviews, etc all over the place.

YHKJQHVPPYF3

Anastasia is a Board Member of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes! Learn more about Anastasia at about.me. Disclaimer: Anastasia's words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer(s). She is not paid to blog or conduct any social media activities. Any mention of a specific company or product does not indicate endorsement of that company or product.

Posted in Commentary
32 comments on “Watch out for facts!
  1. Eric Baumholder says:

    Lots of people using that approach to biotechnology believe they have something better than facts. They espouse things which sound noble — which makes you a bad person if you disagree.

    The ancient wisdom of ayurvedics; ditto homeopathy; ditto ‘sacred maize'; ditto biodynamic/organic. Once you agree it’s better to be noble, than to be right, you’re lost.

  2. Tyro says:

    Your blog has turned my views towards GMOs around through your cunning use of facts and reasoned, intellectually honest arguments. There’s something about that combination which I find irresistible, even if it means admitting I was wrong. I bet it can feel overwhelming but know that it does make an impact on my life and on my family’s (since I often read out especially juicy quotes).

    Incidentally, the Terminator gene was one that evoked the strongest feeling of revulsion in me before I had a chance to sit down and think it over. No doubt I’m not alone. I thought I learned more since those days but I didn’t realize that it wasn’t in use. Love to get more information, whenever you have time.

  3. Hey, it looks like Matthew Barnes has been reading Grist lately! :)

    The most upsetting thing is that after investing time and effort, and apparently winning brownie points with those who you are arguing with, you enter a new discussion with the same people and they act like you are not the person they were thanking for being polite and factual in the first discussion. Then after discussion #2 you are being thanked again… awaiting the revisiting in discussion #3…

  4. Ken says:

    It’s ironic that President G.W. Bush both strongly supported GMOs and had little use for facts.

    Here are scientific facts of the effects of 3 GM corn varieties on mammalian health.

    http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

    The solution is simple, full disclosure in a truly free market, where the destiny of GMOs is guided and decided by consumers who are armed with facts and proper labeling so that they may freely to decide food choices for themselves. Not government-supported and underwritten industries that subvert freedom and the will of the people by covertly promoting one world view.

    • So far, there hasn’t been a president that has been really against GE. Jimmy Carter, in fact, is a strong advocate of GE crop intended to help developing countries. President Obama gets flak from the extreme anti-GE people for not being against it either. So you can’t tie it to GW Bush like that.

      While I am not an opponent of labeling per se, why not label every process used to generate a variety? That would be full and complete transparency! Seedless watermelons would mention that they were the result of induced polyploidy with colchicine, cold-tolerant grains would mention mutagenesis, and fruits would mention grafting. There is no non-arbitrary reason to label GE and not these things as well. Unless you agree that all these other methods must be labeled, then by your own logic you are trying to “subvert freedom.” And what would be the cost to the consumer for all these labels (or just the ones for GE)?

      I advise you to read the paper you linked to in full. Buried within the materials/methods section, are a couple sentences about their statistical methods and results that were ignored in the conclusion. They applied a method called a False Discovery Rate (FDR), and almost every positive result they found was eliminated. On top of that they say in the paper that they do not have proof of negative effects, but call their bland results “signs of toxicity” instead. In a followup document, they reiterate that they have not demonstrated that there are negative effects from the GE corn. Hardly a good reference to use. If the corn had negative effects above and beyond what regular breeding does, it would not be a reason to label it, but to pull it from the market.

      • Ken says:

        Good morning Karl,

        “Seedless” is the label for seedless watermelon and I don’t buy it. First, watermelon with seeds tastes far better than seedless watermelon.

        All this discussion boils down to one thing; there is more than one world view.

        In one corner you have people who believe that GMOs are the best thing since sliced bread and technology will solve all man’s ills. In another corner you have people that believe God’s creation over the last 6,000 years trumps the trial run of GMOs. Still, in another corner you have people that believe 6 billion years of evolution trumps the trial run of GMOs. Yet in another corner you have people that simply don’t want anyone tampering with their food, and even this world view is as ancient as refusing to be Pharaoh’s food taster. Lastly, between the four corners and throughout the middle you have all points in between.

        To those persons in the first corner, I accept your world view. Just don’t impose it on me. Can we get ahead by disregarding the will of the other three corners and points between? If I say black and you say white, does black not exist? Even in the science of food science there are alternate views.

        Mankind benefits from alternate views when they are vetted in the light of day. Monsantoco blogger (a.k.a. corporately-approved Monsanto speak) at Beyond the Rows…
        http://www.monsantoblog.com/2009/03/02/gmo-label-jeffrey-smith/
        …states, “Policy formation takes in-depth research, expert opinion and a lot of critical thinking by seasoned policy makers.” Monsantoco concludes, “The issue of GM food labeling has already taken place in the US, and that the consensus and determination is that labeling of GMO foods makes [no sense].” Yet ironically, “[Monsantoco] knows for a fact that nowhere near 90% of Americans have been exposed to enough serious debate on this topic to have an informed opinion.” Furthermore, Monsantoco says surveys or petitions are not to be trusted. According to Monsantoco, “It’s way too easy to design surveys and petitions that, intentionally or unintentionally, influence the response. Survey results and petition signatures often reflect not only the opinion of the survey population, but of their general knowledge, or lack thereof, of the subject matter.”

        I don’t know of any seasoned policy maker (politician, staff or otherwise), critical thinker or researcher that does not bring a world view to the table. And, while it is well documented that GE industry leaders were at the table when the issue of GM food labeling was decided by policy makers reliant on researchers, the lack of an alternate world view at the negotiating table is deafening.

        Full Disclosure: While I have read Seeds of Deception, I have absolutely no connection to Jeffrey Smith. This is the first I have heard of the survey referenced by Monsantoco. And I own no stock in Monsanto.

        So, while I may say tip and you may say tap, all the tips for taps add up to the fact that there is more than one world view in this contemporaneous world we live. And, absent contrary pressures, fully disclosed free markets provide the healthiest and most stable economies and societies. To borrow a phrase from Matthew Barnes’ assessment of well-reasoned arguments, it appears as though the truth and fact of world-wide market acceptance for GM labeling is like a bad case of cognitive dissonance among GE petitioners.

        • In one corner you have people who believe that GMOs are the best thing since sliced bread and technology will solve all man’s ills. In another corner you have people that believe God’s creation over the last 6,000 years trumps the trial run of GMOs. Still, in another corner you have people that believe 6 billion years of evolution trumps the trial run of GMOs. Yet in another corner you have people that simply don’t want anyone tampering with their food, and even this world view is as ancient as refusing to be Pharaoh’s food taster.

          Or in the corner that I am standing in, you have the people who believe that all four corners as you have laid out are disastrously wrong. Anyone who says that any one thing will cure all the world’s ills is wrong, and anyone who says that food was created as-is by a deity is completely wrong. The Earth has been around for over 4 billion years, and the plants that we have modified through breeding and selection evolved from the same common ancestor that we did, although that common ancestor lived long, long ago. The foods we eat today are however not the result of non-directed evolution alone, and everything from corn to wheat, beans, cows, chickens, and now even cranberries have been modified from their ‘natural’ state. So anyone that says that evolution itself produced the food we eat, or that foods are unmodified is also completely wrong. A scientifically accurate picture of where genetic engineering fits into the context of plant breeding and food does not lie between corners of equal wrongness – it deserves its own corner.

          I am not an opponent of GE labeling per se, in fact there is the potential to educate people through careful labeling. But I have not yet encountered a compelling argument for why GE crops must be labeled but the other methods that we use to modify the genetics of crops need not be. No advocate of GE labeling has ever adequately tackled the issue except to fall back on, “but I want it.” Surveys have found that although 90% of people want GE labeling (to have more information) 75% also want hybrid crops labeled. Is 75% enough to justify the cost? Or should the cost be justified on the basis of whether it will provide a public benefit?
          You are suggesting that I am imposing my ‘worldview’ on you, but you are also asking your worldview to dictate policy, and add to the cost of everyone’s food. It’s a sticky situation, politically, I’ll admit.

          Seedless watermelons are labeled as seedless, but still does not tell people how they came to be seedless. I dunno, I have tasted some pretty awesome seedless watermelons, the breeding needed time to catch up to the seedless varieties.

          • Ewan R says:

            I also felt the 4 corners were rather unrepresentative (at least the evolution and pro-GM ones and agree with Karl that of the world views presented (the extreme versions) not one of them should be taken remotely seriously – GMO isn’t the answer to all problems (I’ve yet to see anyone frame it as such other than the strawman of the pro-GMO which anti-GMO folk often build), anyone who believes the earth is 6000 years old clearly doesn’t value science enough to have an informed opinion.
            Likewise anyone who believes evolution has played out over 6 billion years is either from the future or not quite so well informed on evolution – entirely aside from Karl’s point that the food we eat has all been tampered with and hasn’t evolved ‘naturally’ other than possibly a very small percentage of most peoples diet or the diet of people who haven’t developed agriculture to any extent.

            Different people certainly do have different worldviews, but in my opinion they don’t all carry equal weight. (I’m going t ostop there as I’m also responding over at tomorrow’s table and can’t abide doing the same thing twice, or copy and pasting the same opinion far and wide)

            • Ken says:

              Karl states, “No advocate of GE labeling has ever adequately tackled the issue except to fall back on, “but I want it.” Surveys have found that although 90% of people want GE labeling (to have more information) 75% also want hybrid crops labeled. Is 75% enough to justify the cost? Or should the cost be justified on the basis of whether it will provide a public benefit?”

              Ewan states, “Different people certainly do have different worldviews, but in my opinion they don’t all carry equal weight.”

              Both arguments merely bolster my point…

              When the Wright brothers set out to build a plane and tame the skies, did they first convene a caucus of men to determine the public benefit? No, there was a desire to do it. When scientists first toiled in their laboratories to create the first pesticides, did they first convene a caucus of men to determine the public benefit? No, there was a desire to do it. When GEs first toiled in their laboratories to create the first insect-resistant plant, did they first convene a caucus of men to determine the public benefit? No, there was a desire to do it. Moreover, in each case, the desires of these people, the market and their critics strengthened the product and its design, while the purveyor of censorship quashes free markets.

              The history of the free market and your remarks lead me to conclude that you advocate a double standard for a well-funded industry and a short-changed, under-funded public, which is exactly my point. Censorship comes in many forms. This is one of them and can be akin to a mafia silencing its critics. See the following link, which began as a lobbying effort on behalf of the global GM industry.
              http://www.mynews.in/print_story2.php?nid=38523
              Also, see our own government in action legislating censorship to quash the free market…
              http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/fda-bans-gm-free-labeling/

              And, here is an example of a petroleum-related industry quashing the free market as well as national security by way of quashing our country’s progress toward freeing ourselves from oil (foreign or otherwise)
              http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/who-killed-the-electric-car/

              Freedom of speech, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the cornerstones of a free market and a strengthened America and stable global economy, not censorship and tyranny.

              Full Disclosure: I have no political or financial connection to any of the above links or sources. I am merely one of the millions of Americans that desire to know what I am ingesting, and whom you hastily quash for your own interests, which only serves to undermine the strength of your own career and the good your industry can attain in a truly free market.

              • “The history of the free market and your remarks lead me to conclude that you advocate a double standard for a well-funded industry and a short-changed, under-funded public”

                You have made an incorrect conclusion. Karl and I both advocate for more publicly funded research and I would be very surprised if Ewan and most other “pro-GMO” commenters here didn’t feel similarly. I don’t see a problem with having strong private and public research and development working together. That’s what got us to the moon.

    • Ewan R says:

      As stated over at Tomorrow’s table – Irony, you’re doing it wrong.

      It might be ironic if Bush was all gung ho about something like pretzel safety, being dumb doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always wrong – broken clock and all that.

      • Ken says:

        ??? What are you saying?

        • Ewan R says:

          I was saying that your stated position wasn’t ironic. Although looking into it a bit more I guess it could be seen as such – I guess it is a somewhat unexpected that someone whose reality is more based on the utterances of sky fairies and a man who is essentially the emperor from Star Wars would support GMOs.

          However I think it would be more ironic if Bush, who sadly missed being assassinated by a pretzel by inches, was gung ho about pretzel safety.

          The broken clock analogy is that a broken clock is right twice a day – I put down any instances of Bush thinking or doing the right thing as essentially the same thing – statistically speaking if you blunder about like a fool your whole life there will be some instances where what you do is right.

          • Ken says:

            Got it. Thanks.

            The only way to reconcile a President who wraps himself in the bible and extols the preeminence of God and His Creation while promoting the superiority of man’s intervention, is that he’s a career politician who shills the sheeple to slaughter. Disingenuous at best, and if it works for the industry that butters your bread, [screw] ‘em if the sheeple can’t take a joke.

    • André says:

      Ken,

      « Hardly a good reference to use. »? Karl must be commended for his elegant manners!

      The paper and its predecessors have been torne into pieces by respected and trustworthy scientists and by regulatory authorities. To get a flavour, I suggest you go to David Tribe’s excellent blog (at http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/) and search for « Seralini ». « GMO statistics Part 5. FSANZ say non-validated statistical dredging doesn’t mean much » reproduces the answer by the Aussie-Kiwi authority. Damning… « Lies, damn lies and statistics » is also worth reading to get insight into the magnitude of the problems with pseudo-science harnessed in support of a cause.

      In France, a retired scientist published a paper accusing Seralini of no less than unethical scientific behaviour.

  5. Ewan R says:

    The only way to reconcile a President who wraps himself in the bible and extols the preeminence of God and His Creation while promoting the superiority of man’s intervention, is that he’s a career politician who shills the sheeple to slaughter.

    Not really – given the wide variety of options the bible gives people it’s pretty much possible to reconcile any and all actions with your preferred interpretation – I have a feeling you wouldn’t even have to leave Genesis before you can reconcile a stance which supports altering nature (dominion over nature and all that fun stuff) – although this is getting vastly off topic!

    • Ken says:

      Yea, we can argue this one all day. The vast majority of sheeple rarely read the bible and some not at all. And, even scholars trip over their arguments of Creation over evolution. The two are not mutually exclusive. Anyway, what war is won in a battle where the victor must carry the welfare of the defeated? There is no strength in victory when the defeated remain captive.

  6. Matthew says:

    Today’s Google ‘thought for the day’ reminded me of this post:

    “Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.”
    – Thomas H. Huxley

    Happy Holidays Biofortified folks. Thanks for devoting energy to this forum, even if we sometimes see each other’s perspective as nothing but unreasonable truths and irrational errors. See you in the New Year.

  7. Ken says:

    -
    To all GE advocates, what have you got against full disclosure and giving consumers the right to choose?

    Could it be the light of day will…
    …narrow your job prospects?
    …jeopardize the all-knowing montra of BIG-government/corporation?
    …reveal people prefer choices?
    …create a control group that proves you could be wrong?

    One word, LABEL!
    -

    • I’ve written about labeling many times here at Biofortified. See What’s in a label, Labeling GMOs, and Ethics of labeling.

      It’s not as easy as you think. There are a lot of complex issues to consider. I think you’ll find that anyone you might label “pro-GMO” on this site are generally in favor of voluntary labeling for things that are choice based but for mandatory labeling for things that are safety based. For example, “contains nuts” labels are safety based but “Kosher” labels are not. With the large amount of research showing that the process of genetic engineering is safe in addition to the testing that is conducted before each genetically engineered plant variety goes on the market, we have to conclude that GMO labels aren’t safety based but choice based.

      • Ken says:

        Hello Anastasia,

        You and your peers are spin-doctoring GM food labeling into something that only sounds complicated, when in fact it is quite simple.

        Free markets respond to consumer demands. Consumers demand GM foods be labeled, so label them. If you and your peers don’t understand this simple truthful solution then maybe it’s time you step away from the kool-aid fountain.

        It appears GE advocates are being deluded by their own spin doctors, and consumer facts and demands are as foreign as free markets themselves.

        Nutritional labels convey nutrition, not safety. Consumers demanded nutritional facts, and nutritional facts are now on labels. Millions of consumers are demanding that GM food be labeled, yet from day one the industry has revolted against GM labels, and is now revolting against volunteer labels that state “No GMO”

        Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest through the trees. In this case, the market is screaming for the labeling of GM food by the purveyors of GM plants and animals. Additionally, tracking and enforcement of labeling is much less costly when labeling requirements are placed on the purveyor of GM foods than organic foods. The lack of GM labels may cause organic food processors to inadvertently purchase GM foods.

        The bottom line is that the GM food industry has a gigantic customer PR problem on its hands, and its answer only has been to absolve itself of any responsibility by hiring well-heeled spin doctors and lobbyists. This way it can continue to not label and foist its products down the throats of the public until the point of no return. If you don’t understand this to be the case then again, step away from the kool-aid cooler.

        Please, name another industry where companies hide the fact they have a new and improved product. In all other industries, companies proudly boast of their differentiated product?

        If GM food is the best thing since sliced bread, then shout it from the top of the mountain for all the world to hear and label the damn thing. On the other hand, if the virtues of GM food are not self-evident, then the industry, like any other industry, must go back to square one and do its homework to gain consumer trust.

        But, please, please, please, do not covertly foist your GM-plants and GM-animals on me or consumers in general.

        P.S.: The inference of “Bio-Fortified” is a clever misnomer for this website. For the casual observer, or layman, the term “Fortified” in the food industry is used to inform consumers that a food is enriched with additional vitamins, etc. GM plants are not fortified with any additional nutrients, and if they were I am sure consumers would be the first ones to hear about it on the 6-O’clock news. Cleverly, the label “Bio-Fortified” here refers to plant traits and not nutrition. Although, the label “Bio-Fortified” may subliminally sway casual readers and duped authors that GM plants improve nutritional values. Again, step away from the kool-aid cooler!

        Enjoy your holidays.

        • Since you don’t seem to be interested in what’s been said before, I’ll recap for you.

          I’m a vegetarian. I very strongly want to avoid animal sourced ingredients, something that isn’t easy because there are many ingredients that have animal, plant, and non-biological sources or some combination thereof. I’m not alone in desiring a “contains animal sourced ingredients”, either.

          The 2008 “Vegetarianism in America” study, published by Vegetarian Times (vegetariantimes.com), shows that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those are vegans, who consume no animal products at all. In addition, 10 percent of U.S., adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.”

          Should a “contains animal sourced ingredients” label be mandatory, especially considering how many people want it? How is this different from a mandatory “contains GMO sourced ingredients” label if we’re going by how many people might want it?

          Even though such a label would be very nice, I do not think it should be mandatory. Crazy, I know, but I understand that there are reasons behind mandatory labels and a “contains animal sourced ingredients” label does not meet those reasons. How?

          Well, ingredients with multiple possible sources (animal, plant, petroleum, bacteria, etc) once purified are the same chemically. Some companies (Burt’s Bees is one) choose to have only one source for a given ingredient and to label as such, but that means they either can’t take advantage of fluctuating costs for ingredients by switching when a source becomes cheaper or if they switch sources, they have to clean all their equipment extensively, avoid mixing, and change the labels. Either option raises cost. This is fine for a company choosing voluntarily to do this because they think they can recoup the increased costs by asking an increased price from their customers. If it was mandatory, however, the increased cost would be passed on to all customers, vegetarian or not. Surely you can see that that would be unfair and surely you can see similarities here with a mandatory “contains GMO sourced ingredients” label.

          If either label were to be made mandatory, a likely consequence would be that the label becomes meaningless. Any company that might use animal or GMO sourced ingredients could save money by just slapping a “may contain” label on there because the majority of customers don’t care. It’d just be the default. Anyone who wants to spend more to get a “does not contain” labeled product would be free to do so, just as they are now.

            • c_rader says:

              Ken, there are two very good reasons why producers shy away from a GMO label.

              One reason is that it would force segregation of essentially identical ingredients. This reason is valid because segregation costs money. To take all issues of safety out of the question, suppose you are a publisher of a newspaper and suppose someone demanded that you label each issue of the newspaper as to whether it was printed on one or the other of two identical kinds of paper. You would object to the needless and costly burden.

              The other reason is the one nobody talks about. There’s a campaign going on to scare people about GMO food. Why would any food vendor jump out in front of such a campaign?

              Your claim that we oppose a “contains no GMO” label is simply false. People who want some food feature, whether they are rational or silly, should bear the costs of providing that feature. Jews don’t demand that meat be labeled non-kosher and non-Jews don’t object to a Kosher label, which they are free to ignore.

              The anti-GMO campaigners falsely insinuate a safety concern. They have, however, never tried to ask for labels for food products developed by exposure to radiation, by chromosome doubling, triploidy, tissue culture, etc. This is, in the end, a campaign of economic advantage. The fright leads to increased sales of the frightener’s product.

            • That’s not a very useful comment. Care to provide any counter examples, further explain your claims..?

              So far, you’ve visited Biofortified, made accusations about what you think we stand for without providing evidence, write in a generally offensive tone, then don’t even bother to have a conversation because you seem to already know you’re right. Let’s take a breath, step back, and remember that each person’s opinions have merit even if we don’t agree with them. You may find this surprising, but I’ve had my mind changed many times here and elsewhere, though reasoned conversation and lots of sources to back up claims. A demanding “I’m right” attitude doesn’t change anyone’s mind about anything.

              • Ken says:

                Anastasia,

                While I would agree with you that c.rader is making some wild accusations about organics, and is somewhat self-righteous about GMOs, I didn’t think his tone was offensive.

  8. Ken says:

    Hello c_rader,

    Your position begins with a presumption that the GM industry is under attack and is at an economic disadvantage.

    To the contrary, manufacturers of GM plants and animals have something to be proud of, right? Heaven knows the GE industry extols the virtues of its seeds to farmers, producers, the EU, World Food Programme, etc. Moreover, that beaming pride leads them to patent and spread their GM plant and gain economic dominance in that market.

    Now, if I prefer non-GMO food over GMOs, I should not have to bear the cost of a label stating ‘non-GMO’ so that the owner of a highly profitable, patented GM plant can freely market its product, externalize its cost, and gain economic dominance in the market.

    Rader, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re gay. Likewise, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you own or use GM plants in your production. And, like the Jew who does not demand your product be labeled ‘non-Kosher’, I do not demand that your product be labeled ‘non-organic.’ The burden of labeling should rest on the sector that is gaining the economic advantage and quashing consumer rights to information. And, if a food producer must decide whether to use all GM products, a blend of GM products or no GM products that is their decision. A rate of GM to non-GM should not be required. Simply, if it contains the industry’s beneficial GM plant, then that producer should be able to include that GM plant on its label.

    At the end of the day, this is not a kosher issue, a halal issue, a vegetarian issue, a vegan issue or an organic issue. This is a GMO issue. The sooner we dispense with the smoke and mirrors, and painting this as an organic issue, the sooner we can have an intelligent conversation about labeling GM food.

    • Ha ha. Yeah, I wasn’t talking to C Rader.

    • Ewan R says:

      Your position begins with a presumption that the GM industry is under attack and is at an economic disadvantage.

      Erm, the GM industry is “under attack” – not by everyone, but to say there isn’t a number of people who are anti-GM and attacking the industry, and indeed the very concept (whether industry or academia generated) is ignorant of the entire debate. I’m not sure c_rader suggested GM products were currently at a disadvantage (and suggesting such vastly oversimplifies the issue.

      To the contrary, manufacturers of GM plants and animals have something to be proud of, right?

      For the most part yes, glad you agree.

      Heaven knows the GE industry extols the virtues of its seeds to farmers, producers, the EU, World Food Programme, etc.

      Oh, so your issue is that farmers should have the product they purchase labelled? No problem there – they do. The consumer of GMOs (the one who actually sees a tangible change because they’re using them) does have a choice and does have labelling.

      Moreover, that beaming pride leads them to patent and spread their GM plant and gain economic dominance in that market.

      I don’t think you understand why people patent things – it isn’t a thing to do with pride, I also don’t think you understand the market either or the climate into which GM products are released within the market – sure, in terms of traits there is dominance (which is entirely what the patent system was set up to do – you’ve tended to wax lyrical about the principles America was founded on – it seems rather odd that you’d then abandon such a wide eyed patriotic stance when it comes to something like patenting given that it forms the foundation of what drives innovation within your vaunted free market system – but in terms of seeds not so much – Monsanto tends to have about a 30% market share in seed sales within the major crops it has GMed – they certainly do vie for extra market position but they do so via improved hybrids not through GM – GM traits are widely licensed – the playing field in the seeds market is level in this respect – companies succeed or fail to claw market share points from one and other based on the success of their hybrids – totally removed from presence or absence of GM trait.

      Had Monsanto actually wanted total dominance, as is always suggested to be the case, then why would they have licensed IR or HT traits so widely? A dominant position could have much more easily been obtained by actually guarding the patent to the full extent the law allows – if Monsanto were the only producers of RR soybeans that’d open the possibility for a 90%+ market share in soy seed sales rather than just trait sales for example – the fact that they didn’t makes your accusations of market dominance (over and above the dominance legally (and historically) handed out to inventors of new products) look just a tad far fetched (not that I expect this to stop you)

      Now, if I prefer non-GMO food over GMOs, I should not have to bear the cost of a label stating ‘non-GMO’ so that the owner of a highly profitable, patented GM plant can freely market its product, externalize its cost, and gain economic dominance in the market.

      I prefer food cooked by radiant and not convective heat, the owners of highly profitable firms manufacturing devices for cooking with convective heat should bear the cost of a label stating non-convective heated.

      Oh no, wait, that’d be both unprecedented and stupid. If the free market (a term you continue to harp on about as if it is the best thing ever while at the same time espousing a view which is entirely not free market) demands a product that isn’t something, then by virtue of not being something it derives its profitability therefore the burden of cost is on the manufacturers of that product to label it such (and given this is exactly what producers of organic do, and producers of current GM free labelled products it appears that the free market accepts this)

      Rader, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re gay. Likewise, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you own or use GM plants in your production.

      So all gays should get out there and wear that pink triangle! (Apologies for the near godwinning there to anyone in the fifth corner)

      Seriously – think about your arguement here, just that statement alone highlights rather well why labelling isn’t either a good idea or commercially fair – it is absolutely true that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of – however if all gays were labelled are you sure that in the current climate of intolerance for various reasons that this would be anything other than a disadvantage derived purely from the ignorance of others rather than from any reality based take on this issue?

      And, if a food producer must decide whether to use all GM products, a blend of GM products or no GM products that is their decision.

      this, and the following paragraph, displays ignorance about how grain is processed and sold upstream – your proposal would require massive segregation at all stages in the food production chain simply for a label for a process which has no tangible effect on the end consumer – once grain hits the elevator such segregation would be wildly expensive (or require segregated elevators, which again would be wildly expensive to all parties)

      Simply, if it contains the industry’s beneficial GM plant, then that producer should be able to include that GM plant on its label.

      Nobody is preventing anyone from labelling their goods as containing GM – at every stage in production where they do have an actual rather than imagined impact they are labelled – and consumers actively go out seeking that label – once you can provide evidence that there is a tangible effect on end consumers of food products which contain GM as compared to non GM then perhaps you have a more coherent arguement – “because I want it” doesn’t cut it, and this is essentially what your arguement boils down to – if it’s purely personal desire then your vaunted free market accomodates to this – buy organic, buy products labelled GMO free, buy products that you know aren’t GMO etc.

  9. André says:

    There has been a – very long – discussion on labeling on this site and I believe newcomers to this site ought to look into it in order to get the benefit of the comments already made. Unless, of course, a « demanding “I’m right” attitude », as Anastasia has put it, is deployed…

    To pick up some points of Ken’s latest comment, « manufacturers » (the term is absolutely inappropriate, but let’s use it) of GM plants and animals indeed have something to be proud of. Anything they put on the market and is picked up by farmers provides a benefit compared to what was available theretofore. However, the fact is, at least in Europe, that the demand for mandatory labeling is based upon a campaign to scare people that itself rests on malignant dysinformation.

    The GM plant providers’ « beaming pride (that) leads them to patent and spread their GM plant and gain economic dominance in that market » is a by-product of cattle raising and just illustrates the dirty tactics of anti-GMO movements. Patents are available to any one who makes an invention; they provide protection for the results of human ingenuity and a basis for converting what is at the outset an idea into a marketable product. The GM industry’s use of patents is no different from that of any other type of industry. They « spread their GM plant » because they are in the business of producing plants (whether GM or not). And they « gain economic dominance in that market », if at all, if and only if their products are better than the competing ones. A patent on a bad product does not make it sell better.

    Now, the main point is that Ken posits that if he prefers non-GMO food over GMOs (which he obviously does), he should not have to bear the cost of a label stating ‘non-GMO’. This is by the way very egocentric. There shall be done what pleases me… Fact is, however, that, on the one hand, there is no substantive difference (so far) between the two and, on the other, labeling comes with a cost with respect to segregation in the whole production chain.

    With respect to differences, the situation is made more complicated by the fact that processed food contains several ingredients, with the following possibilities: clearly GMO products; clearly non-GMO products; non-GMO products with a GMO presence (« contaminated »; products derived from GMO which are identical with products from non-GMO (e.g. Soybean oil or lecithine, corn syrup).

    With respect to cost, there is much discussion in the US about segregation on the farm and at the elevator. But this is only the beginning of the story, particularly if one takes extremist views on labelling as GMO (as in Europe, where the anti-GMO lobby has succeded to impose a 0.9% threshold in an attempt to scupper GMO cultivation based upon the argument that « contamination » would make the growing of non-GMO – and the Holy Organic – close to impossible).

    All this being said, labelling might well be inefficient if extremist views prevail and every processed product were to be GM-ed because of the widespread use of ingredients from corn and soybean or if the non-GM-guaranteed were to come with a higher price. And what if the GM label were to be mandatorily applied both to a product supposed to be hazardous (after all, that is the primary objection to GMOs…) and to a biofortified or otherwise GM-improved product?

  10. Tracie Wells says:

    Your position begins with a presumption that the GM industry is under attack and is at an economic disadvantage. Erm, the GM industry is “under attack” – not by everyone, but to say there isn’t a number of people who are anti-GM and attacking the industry, and indeed the very concept (whether industry or academia generated) is ignorant of the entire debate. I’m not sure c_rader suggested GM products were currently at a disadvantage (and suggesting such vastly oversimplifies the issue. To the contrary, manufacturers of GM plants and animals have something to be proud of, right? For the most part yes, glad you agree. Heaven knows the GE industry extols the virtues of its seeds to farmers, producers, the EU, World Food Programme, etc. Oh, so your issue is that farmers should have the product they purchase labelled? No problem there – they do. The consumer of GMOs (the one who actually sees a tangible change because they’re using them) does have a choice and does have labelling. Moreover, that beaming pride leads them to patent and spread their GM plant and gain economic dominance in that market. I don’t think you understand why people patent things – it isn’t a thing to do with pride, I also don’t think you understand the market either or the climate into which GM products are released within the market – sure, in terms of traits there is dominance (which is entirely what the patent system was set up to do – you’ve tended to wax lyrical about the principles America was founded on – it seems rather odd that you’d then abandon such a wide eyed patriotic stance when it comes to something like patenting given that it forms the foundation of what drives innovation within your vaunted free market system – but in terms of seeds not so much – Monsanto tends to have about a 30% market share in seed sales within the major crops it has GMed – they certainly do vie for extra market position but they do so via improved hybrids not through GM – GM traits are widely licensed – the playing field in the seeds market is level in this respect – companies succeed or fail to claw market share points from one and other based on the success of their hybrids – totally removed from presence or absence of GM trait. Had Monsanto actually wanted total dominance, as is always suggested to be the case, then why would they have licensed IR or HT traits so widely? A dominant position could have much more easily been obtained by actually guarding the patent to the full extent the law allows – if Monsanto were the only producers of RR soybeans that’d open the possibility for a 90%+ market share in soy seed sales rather than just trait sales for example – the fact that they didn’t makes your accusations of market dominance (over and above the dominance legally (and historically) handed out to inventors of new products) look just a tad far fetched (not that I expect this to stop you) Now, if I prefer non-GMO food over GMOs, I should not have to bear the cost of a label stating ‘non-GMO’ so that the owner of a highly profitable, patented GM plant can freely market its product, externalize its cost, and gain economic dominance in the market. I prefer food cooked by radiant and not convective heat, the owners of highly profitable firms manufacturing devices for cooking with convective heat should bear the cost of a label stating non-convective heated. Oh no, wait, that’d be both unprecedented and stupid. If the free market (a term you continue to harp on about as if it is the best thing ever while at the same time espousing a view which is entirely not free market) demands a product that isn’t something, then by virtue of not being something it derives its profitability therefore the burden of cost is on the manufacturers of that product to label it such (and given this is exactly what producers of organic do, and producers of current GM free labelled products it appears that the free market accepts this) Rader, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re gay. Likewise, there is nothing to be ashamed of if you own or use GM plants in your production. So all gays should get out there and wear that pink triangle! (Apologies for the near godwinning there to anyone in the fifth corner) Seriously – think about your arguement here, just that statement alone highlights rather well why labelling isn’t either a good idea or commercially fair – it is absolutely true that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of – however if all gays were labelled are you sure that in the current climate of intolerance for various reasons that this would be anything other than a disadvantage derived purely from the ignorance of others rather than from any reality based take on this issue? And, if a food producer must decide whether to use all GM products, a blend of GM products or no GM products that is their decision. this, and the following paragraph, displays ignorance about how grain is processed and sold upstream – your proposal would require massive segregation at all stages in the food production chain simply for a label for a process which has no tangible effect on the end consumer – once grain hits the elevator such segregation would be wildly expensive (or require segregated elevators, which again would be wildly expensive to all parties) Simply, if it contains the industry’s beneficial GM plant, then that producer should be able to include that GM plant on its label. Nobody is preventing anyone from labelling their goods as containing GM – at every stage in production where they do have an actual rather than imagined impact they are labelled – and consumers actively go out seeking that label – once you can provide evidence that there is a tangible effect on end consumers of food products which contain GM as compared to non GM then perhaps you have a more coherent arguement – “because I want it” doesn’t cut it, and this is essentially what your arguement boils down to – if it’s purely personal desire then your vaunted free market accomodates to this – buy organic, buy products labelled GMO free, buy products that you know aren’t GMO etc.

  11. Ken says:

    Good morning my well-heeled friends,

    This is a busy time and I must return next week.

    Enjoy your weekend however you spend it, whether celebrating some leisure time, a belated winter solstice or Christmas.

Leave a Reply

Biology Fortified, Inc. is an independent, non-profit organization devoted to providing factual information and fostering discussion about issues in biology, with a particular emphasis on plant genetics and genetic engineering in agriculture. Find out more on our About page.

Join us as we learn about agriculture and biology with Frank N. Foode™, your friendly neighborhood genetically modified organism.

Support Biology Fortified