Diane Rehm Show on GE labeling

This morning on Tuesday, from 11 to noon EST, the Diane Rehm show on NPR will be discussing the issue of GE labeling, and I encourage you to tune in, and call in as well. Here is the show listing:

Environmental Outlook: Labels for Genetically Modified Foods

In 1992 the FDA ruled against requiring labels for genetically engineered foods. Join us for a panel discussion on the rationale for that decision and why some are urging the FDA to reconsider its stance.

Thomas Redick: Global Environmental Ethics Counsel

Gardiner Harris: Science reporter for The New York Times and author of the mystery novel “Hazard.”

Gary Hirshberg: President, Stonyfield Farm, Inc.

The development of the roster of guests was rather interesting, and bears mentioning. It has gone through numerous rounds of change. Initially, Val Giddings, President of Prometheus Agricultural Biotech, was going to be on the show, and then they also decided to add Doug Gurian-Sherman from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Then they switched to inviting our own Pam Ronald from UC Davis, and for a brief time period her name was also on the website. I heard from Pam last night that they decided that they did not want to have a science section on the show, and canceled that part of it.

In this whole process, it seems, the producers were trying to “balance” the show, but each iteration of the process showed that a false balance was being achieved. The journalist Chris Mooney has described the trap that some journalists fall into when covering science-related issues is to give equal time to scientists that represent the consensus of the scientific community and those that represent outlier or minority positions. This show was about to go even farther by giving this minority viewpoint more time on the show than for responses from the practicing scientist guests, and as a result, there was difficulty negotiating the interview.

But the end result may be more appropriate. The newly-added guest, Thomas Redick from GEEC sounds interesting, and it appears that he argues against labeling, as evidenced by a book he co-authored, Thwarting Consumer Choice: The Case against Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Modified Foods. I am not familiar with him or his arguments in specific, so that will be new to me.

So have a listen, I will be, and represent science by calling in as early as you can to ask questions! Feel free to discuss the show below live or afterward.

(This just in: at the last minute, they have added and advertisement for a pro-labeling e-book by Hirshberg and other critics of GE, making it pretty clear the intent of the show.)

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Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He currently works as a public research geneticist in Madison, WI. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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7 comments to Diane Rehm Show on GE labeling

  • Scott Smith

    Public policy and GMO science are an unlikely and prickly pair given the deceptive way they were introduced into the US food supply.

    As consumer GMO awareness grows, it’s not a matter of science but more a matter of full-disclosure and giving consumers the right to choose what they eat. It’s especially important so consumers can choose Non-GMO foods that are free of insecticide engineered into every cell.

    Organic standards currently restrict GMO ingredients, but this offers no benefit to the uninformed consumer. As public policy matter, I think it’s difficult to convene a panel because of the rampant special interests who are keen to keep their unlabeled GMO gravy train steaming down the tracks. Public right to know trumps the so-called scientific rationalization why nothing should change.

    Here’s an excerpt from Mr. Redicks LinkedIn profile (LOVE LIABILITY AVOIDANCE!):

    Mr. Redick represents clients in the high-technology and agricultural biotechnology industry sectors with issues relating to regulatory approval, liability avoidance and compliance with industry standards addressing socioeconomic and environmental impacts of multinational operations. His practice emphasizes transportation issues for high-technology, chemical and biotechnology applications. He currently coordinates compliance with complex regulatory frameworks covering toxic substances and innovative technologies, preparing global regulatory roadmaps and product liability prevention plans for technology clients. This includes transport documentation for commodities under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and recycled industrial equipment with traces of toxics under the Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste.
    Before establishing a solo international environmental consulting practice in 2005, Mr. Redick was a partner with Gallop, Johnson & Neuman L.C. in St. Louis, Missouri. He studied international environmental law at the University of Michigan (J.D. 1985, B.A. high honors 1982) and speaks and writes extensively on liability prevention for emerging technologies. He has held leadership positions on American Bar Association Section on Environment, Energy & Resources (ABA-SEER) Committees on Environmental Values & Ethics, Agricultural Management, International Environmental Law and Environmental Litigation and Toxic Torts.

    • pdiff

      “Public right to know trumps the so-called scientific rationalization why nothing should change.”

      Yeah! Damn that stuff that uses logic, testing, and evidence! It’s soooooo annoying!

      Labeling already exists. I can find any number of things in my local store that clearly state “No GMO”. It’s a marketing thing. They use it to jack the perceived value and price of the product up. It keeps their No GMO gravy train steaming down the tracks.

      And it doesn’t look like it was very hard for NPR to put together a panel against GMO, even in the face of those “rampant special interests”.

      Pdiff

  • What’s all this hysteria about GMOs? They are safe and much needed. Please take some time to read this insightful news article about how much we should be embracing this rather new technology that is helping to feed the world. http://bit.ly/x3Llru

  • Matt

    The show was kinda silly – clearly no guest knew much about ag – esp the past and status quo of pesticide use.

    Nevertheless, I wonder if the labeling issue is one not worth engaging so much. It may make the science chorus seem shrill to organic sympathizers if we strongly (stridently?) back up agchem MNCs on what seems like every issue. I don’t think I could care less about labeling as long as transgenic tools aren’t additionally hamstrug. I can’t imagine there’s ANY chance labelIng would happen anyway.

    So I wonder – do we cloudy the water more than clarify it when we get worked up on this issue? (as has happened elsewhere). What do you think?

    • I think there is value in discussing cost benefit analysis of mandatory labels that aren’t based on science. We all (well, except maybe extreme libertarians) agree that real safety concerns should have labels. There, the cost is outweighed by the benefit. The financial cost to consumers is certainly greater than 0, and most consumers don’t care.

      Still, I get what you are saying. Mando labels are so unlikely that it may just not be worth discussing – although I do like discussing things just for the heck of it :)

  • Life is filled with risks. Carbon monoxide will kill you in big enough doses. When’s the last time you were stuck in traffic smelling the fumes of fossil fuels burning? That didn’t make you stop driving did it? It didn’t kill you. Same with pesticides on food. This is a crop protection system that saves our crops from predators. The poison is in the dosage. Conventional foods are safe, and actually GMOs in nature put evolution into fast-forward and serve to reduce soil erosion and application pesticide fuel passes, while increasing yields and keeping food plentiful, safe and affordable. When’s the last time you have heard of someone getting “sick” from eating GMO products? Millions are consumed each day, with no ill-effects. Let’s stop this GMO hysteria. Eating organics is a lifestyle choice, nothing more. Organics are no safer or healthier than conventional foods.

  • Eric Baumholder

    The ‘wisdom of crowds’ has always been dubious.

    That it’s the backbone of representative democracy confounds the issue…

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