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Biotech Science Politics

California Wants Genetically Modified Foods To Be Labelled 559

bbianca127 writes "In November, California will be voting on Proposition 37. The proposition would mandate putting labels on foods that have been genetically modified. While supporters of the proposition think that consumers deserve to know what they're eating, opponents call it 'anti-science' and have donated $25 million to defeating the measure. From the article: 'Unsurprisingly, the battle has gotten very expensive, very quickly. Agribusinesses and food manufacturers have donated a total of $13 million toward defeating the measure, bringing the total up to $25 million in the coffers of those proposing the proposition. In comparison, the organic farmers and environmentalists who support the proposition have managed to raise less than a tenth of that total amount.'"
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California Wants Genetically Modified Foods To Be Labelled

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  • What's to fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:32PM (#41060873)

    The GMO makers tout their products as being so safe and great, such benefit to humanity. They should proudly label their products: Contains GMOs! What's to fear!?! This isn't anti-science but pro-science.

  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:33PM (#41060891)

    Genes from animals? Genes from other plants? Genes inserted directly?

    Where does 200+ years of cross breeding come in? Is that considered 'intelligent design' or genetic modification?

  • Lobbyists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:34PM (#41060907)
    It isn't anti-science to know the ingredients, and their specifics, of what goes into the foods we eat. It is just the companies being concerned about giving away what could be harmful nutritional information. The lobbyists wail against it like children. This doesn't make any arguments against science.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:36PM (#41060929)

    So, this is what a totally free libertarian market looks like, huh? Big companies throwing temper tantrums at the very notion of consumer empowerment and scientists and government agents falling in line to soothe their wailing.

    How about this? SIt down with the top food scientists in the United States, come up with every possible ingredient and fact about the contents of the food consumers should know, and then hire the top graphic designers to present this information in an organized and clear way.

    Oh, what's that? You don't want to rustle Kraft and Dean Food's feathers? OK, forget it. Let's stick to our 1980s food labeling standards and continue eating anal glands with our vanilla wafer cookies in total blind ignorance.

  • Land of the Free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SplashMyBandit ( 1543257 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:37PM (#41060953)

    ... except for freedom to make an informed choice? In my country all food must be labelled with nutritional information so consumers are able to make choices about what they eat. With the advent of genetically engineered or modified foods ("GE" or "GM") this labeling is very likely to be extended - as is being proposed in the US. For me this makes perfect sense, don't ban GE food, simply give people the choice whether they want to consume it or not. Consumer market forces will either make GE food a success or remove it far more effectively than tipping the scales with legal regulation.

    Why proponents of GE are trying to stop (via outspending) those who promote informed consumer choice is beyond me. If GE really is beneficial then consumers will see the reduced prices of the food, notice the improvement in quality and associate those with GE. If GE turns out to be hazardous in some cases then an informed consumer is made responsible for their own decision (although, in the US this hardly seems to be a factor these days in lawsuits). What could possibly go wrong with labeling food?

  • by OldSport ( 2677879 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:37PM (#41060959)

    ...are required, so why not GMO labeling? It strikes me as the same thing. Why *wouldn't* you want to know exactly what is in the food you are eating?

    What's more is that labeling GMO foods as such actually increases consumer access to information, which is one of the fundamental tenets of competition in the free market economy. The pseudo-conservative horde is always up in arms about labeling as being anti-free market when in fact the opposite is true.

  • by Bookwyrm ( 3535 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:38PM (#41060965)

    I would rather think businesses would want to label whether or not the produce had any 'patented' genetic modifications applied to them. People ought to be able to know whether or not it might not be legal for them to plant any of the seeds in the produce, after all, if they have not bought a license for the intellectual property in question.

    (For the irony impaired, the above comment is intended to contain at 20% of the RDA of iron.)

  • by VinceVulpes ( 1717404 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:39PM (#41060973)

    Our economic evidence is backing up what our medical evidence has already shown to be perfectly clear

    What..... that big business, agri or otherwise, has no problem withholding salient information from the public (even when they have the right to know) in the name of profit?

  • by TFAFalcon ( 1839122 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:39PM (#41060981)

    What exactly is anti-science about demanding that ingredients be listed? If anything, it will make it easier to compare the effects of modified and unmodified plants. If there are no differences or the modified plants prove to be healthier, then there is no downside for the agribusinesses.

  • Re:What's to fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by uniquename72 ( 1169497 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:39PM (#41060985)
    I want a big "Monsanto" label on these foods just so I can avoid supporting ridiculous patent lawsuits. [wikipedia.org] If you really want to limit who can grow plants from *your* seeds, grow them in a dome where wind and bees can't get at them. (What? Then they won't pollinate? Too fucking bad.)
  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:41PM (#41061011)

    The agribusinesses are right, it is anti-science, and it is bullshit. In this case, the side with the truth also has the money. Imagine that.

    The "truth" about a food includes whether genetically-modified organisms were involved in producing it. Perhaps those advocating labeling are doing so for reasons that aren't scientifically valid, but, hey, maybe the answer to bad speech is more speech - why don't the agribusinesses spend their money making the case for food the production of which involves GMOs rather than saying "trust me, you don't need to know this". It's not as if it's banning GMO-based foods.

  • by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:43PM (#41061047)
    Indeed, and many countries have labeling requirements that require GMO to be disclosed as well. Oddly enough, GMO sells poorly in those countries. No wonder they're fighting it here(where something like 70% of packaged food products have GMO ingredients)
  • by homer_ca ( 144738 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:44PM (#41061061)

    Regardless of your stance on the health effects of GMOs, if would behoove us to look more closely at the business practices (specifically w.r.t. intellectual property) of the seed giants, i.e. Monsanto: patenting life, monopolizing the seed market, shaking down small farmers with patent infringement suits, and all so they can sell more Roundup, creating a monoculture of herbicides. It's the same corporate playbook we've seen countless times in the tech world.

    We had herbicides before Roundup-ready GMOs. It ain't no huge innovation, aside from being a revenue win for Monsanto.
    http://cenblog.org/cleantech-chemistry/2010/03/what-did-farmers-do-before-roundup/ [cenblog.org]

  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:45PM (#41061069)

    I find it interesting that one of the cornerstone requirements for a working free market - perfect access to full information - is being opposed by entities praising the free market at every turn. It couldn't be that those are just interested in preserving their own position in the market, and are using "free market" as an easy mantra with which to mislead the voting public?

    All sarcasm aside, my biggest problem with this situation really isn't that GMO food might be inherently more dangerous than non-GMO food. It's that when I buy a banana, I want to know that this isn't a regular Chiquita banana, but the glow-in-the-dark version that is designed to keep nocturnal monkeys from eating it. In other words, I want to know what the product is that I'm buying. This bill would help me with that.

    In other words, the parent AC hits it on the head: this bill should be a no-brainer, because I should be able to know what I am buying.

  • Re:Reasonable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:45PM (#41061075)

    Most commercial applications of genetically modified food have been developed to benefit the producer, not the consumer - and the consumer has a right to know about it when it's occurred. The US ostensibly practices free market economics, after all.

    People should be allowed to know what the modification made was, and then choose whether or not they wish to consume food possessing that modification. If we're talking about increased Beta Carotene levels in Golden Rice, I suspect most consumers won't have a problem with it. If we're talking about soybeans and corn that have been modified to survive repeated direct spraying with Glyphosate - more people will probably opt out of eating that.

    I find it odd on a site where so many bristle at the very idea of closed-source software that people are basically endorsing closed-source food production.

  • This irks me. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:48PM (#41061113) Journal

    Act 1: FDA-or-somebody: "Umm, ADM, your 'xeno-bites' brand genetically engineered cowroach burgers have absolutely no track record of safety testing..."

    ADM: "Shut up, four-eyes, and go kill jobs somewhere else. We'll let the consumer decide what they feel comfortable eating."

    FDA-or-somebody: "Um, ok."

    Act 2: California: "Hey, the consumers want to know what ingredients are in food, so that they can exercise free choice and let the market decide between "Ammoniabeef, Piney-Fresh" and "Soylent X"!"

    ADM-or-somebody "Shut up, bureaucratic busybody, all our products are safe and legal and the consumers would just worry their little heads about it if we were to tell them. In fact, tell that dirty hippie down the street that he isn't allowed to use the phrases 'GMO free', 'less than .01% zergling by weight', or 'minimally teratogenic' in advertisements!"

    This basic back-and-forth is what annoys me so much about this brand of spat: When the regulators show up, health and safety regulations based on research are treated as a bunch of ivory-tower paternalism. When the customers show up demanding the data that they actually need to make their own choices(since they are justifiably somewhat doubtful that benevolent regulators have their backs on this one), they get a paternalistic rebuff and assurance that the previously neutered regulators are totally all over this one...

    There are arguments enough against having it merely one way or the other; but handing the customer the shit end of both worlds is just plain crass.

  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:49PM (#41061149) Homepage
    Where does 200+ years of cross breeding come in?

    200+ years? Try 3000+ years. Mankind has been selectively breeding plants and animals for at least that long, even though we've only recently started learning why it works.
  • by Pluvius ( 734915 ) <{pluvius3} {at} {gmail.com}> on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:50PM (#41061161) Journal

    On Bill Maher's show: if GMO food truly is safe and beneficial (and it generally is if you remove Monsanto et al. from the equation), then the obvious solution is not to keep consumers from knowing what it is they're eating, but just the opposite--educate them on exactly what it is they're eating in a neutral, fact-based manner.


  • Anti Science? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:53PM (#41061187) Homepage Journal

    Knowing less means knowing MORE!

  • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:57PM (#41061237) Homepage Journal

    and just jump straight to discussing which side has more money rather than which side has valid points?

    Why not? The outcome of the vote is the only consequence that will make an actual difference, and votes are won through advertising, not facts. Anybody with money understands this already, and is using this to their advantage every chance they can.

    Do try to keep up.

  • by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:58PM (#41061267)

    Cross-breeding by inserting genes from completely different plant species? Is that normal? Or, for example, inserting essentially a pesticide protein into the food? I don't think that can be done using the "natural" cross-breeding techniques.

  • by logicassasin ( 318009 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @06:58PM (#41061273)

    Considering that there are several European countries that have blanket bans on GMO crops, you might want to include them in your "Brainwashed people (especially Americans, due to their culture) can't be healed very easily." statement.

  • Re:What's to fear (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:01PM (#41061313)
    Not a bad idea. "Companies involved in the production of this food item" would be very useful information indeed. It could be like the ingredient list on the back. I'd happily avoid Monsanto products, but support responsible companies that make wise use of GMO.
  • Re:What's to fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot@NOsPam.hackish.org> on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:01PM (#41061315)

    So you're saying the free market can't work in America, because consumers can't be trusted to make their own decisions?

  • Re:Lobbyists (Score:2, Insightful)

    by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:05PM (#41061355)
    So do you want a label on all apples 'contains cyanide'?? How about organic celery that contains celery psoralen?? (Had to be taken off the market in the 80s because the levels were so high as to be hazardous.) How about a label on lettuce that it might contain listeria? How about one on organic foods that states 'nutritional superiority claims are unsubstantiated and any difference in nutritional value is related to the the area that they are grown rather than the method'.

    But .. to be fair, it was recently noted that it was traditional methods of cross breeding that sapped all of the flavor out of tomatoes. Seems that even the more traditional methods have issues. Maybe we should put that label on tomatoes .. 'Warning: decades of making this red have removed all flavor'

    I'll agree it isn't against science. It's about a small group of people who want to introduce fear into the population. Those that don't want GMO can always buy organic, there seems to be plenty of it around. They can also raise their own. So this isn't about their rights.

    Instead, they want to scare the vast majority of people who don't really give a crap into thinking that the food they are eating is bad for them, when there is very little science behind it their claims. Just the FUD the eco-nuts want to spread for their own self-serving benefits.
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:08PM (#41061397)
    You need to educate yourself. GMO is not cross-breeding. GMO practices typically insert genes from already-modified bacteria, or other animals, into plants or other animals.

    Sorry, but squids and cows don't cross-breed. Neither does E. Coli and corn. It just doesn't happen, man.

    There is a very big difference. If all they were doing was cross-breeding or even a sped-up equivalent, nobody would care. But that's NOT what they're doing.
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:15PM (#41061475)

    "Perhaps, if this measure were enacted, many people who are fearful of such technology will see just how much of our food is modified from its natural state, while causing no harm to said people."

    Deliberate sterilization so that corn can no longer be used to seed for the next season... you have to buy more seed from Monsanto. Said sterilized crops escaping the fields and contaminating other crops. Massive die-offs of bees. Evidence of liver damage.

    I think it's fair to say that those things might be considered "harm to people".

  • Re:Reasonable (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:33PM (#41061711)

    Most commercial applications of genetically modified food have been developed to benefit the producer, not the consumer

    So what? Have you gotten any direct benefits from silos or tractors (besides in terms of cost)? What is wrong with somethng only benefiting farmers and/or the environment (and if you don't think GE crops benefit the environment, thing again: they facilitate no-till agriculture, which prevents fertilizer runoff and reduces carbon emissions).

    and the consumer has a right to know about it when it's occurred

    But why is it only GE and not everything else? Selective breeding, various types of hybridization, somaclonal variation and mutagenesis, induced polyploidy, sport selection, wide crosses, and embryo rescue, ect all get a free pass? What about everything else you could say about a crop, like where it was grown, what fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, plant growth regulators, ect were applied? Hell, most things don't even label the variety name, let alone the genetic history or a crop.

    People should be allowed to know what the modification made was, and then choose whether or not they wish to consume food possessing that modification. If we're talking about increased Beta Carotene levels in Golden Rice, I suspect most consumers won't have a problem with it. If we're talking about soybeans and corn that have been modified to survive repeated direct spraying with Glyphosate - more people will probably opt out of eating that.

    What about Clearfield wheat [southeastfarmpress.com] or any of the other non-GE crops bred for herbicide resistance? Why should that get a free pass? And what if I want to know the conventionally bred genes found in my non-GE food? It is very inconsistent to single out one method of crop improvement and ignore the rest. And do you think non-GE corn should have a label informing that it had more pesticides than an insect resistant GE corn? Somehow I can't imagine the movement for a label like that being so popular.

    This thing is anti-science for the same reason those 'Warning: Evolution is only a theory' labels were anti-science. No one is denying that evolution is only a theory, but you know damned well the point of that was not to inform, it was to cast doubt on the validity of evolution (because how many people are going to respond by saying 'Only a theory like gravity'?). This is the same thing. They are singling something out because of political controversy, not science. Well, and profit of course. While it is true that Monsanto and others are funding the anti-side [kcet.org], organic businesses (and Mercola the homeopath and anti-vaxxer, so you know where the directors of this movement stand on science) are funding the pro, and what a fortunate coincidence, they don't use GE crops.

    And by the way, do you want to know how to tell if something s GE or not? I always know if I'm eating something that is GE. Corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beet, alfalfa, summer squash, papaya. That's it. If something has those in it, its probably GE. You want to avoid GE, avoid those, or buy organic or things labeled non-GMO (like things certified via the Non-GMO Project). Millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, and vegans get by without special labels just by educating themselves. Anyone who wants to avoid GE crops does not deserve a special law because they will not take responsibility for their own lifestyles and educate themselves.

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:35PM (#41061733)

    If that were the case, it means these companies *know* that the consumer at large does not want their product. Exactly why they have these aversions to the GMO products is inconsequential: the public is innately biased against it, and does not want to consume that product.

    So, in order to force the consumers to consume the "cheaper" GMO produce, they have to be deceptive in the packaging and labling.

    How is that not a deceptive market practice?

    If this were cheap chinese electronics that are functionally identical being sold as genuine items, the FTC and WIPO would be birthing purple cows over it, but because it's just food, and you wouldn't understand the difference anyway, it is perfectly OK to conceal this information to enforce continued profits of a product line?

  • Re:Lobbyists (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slippyblade ( 962288 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:41PM (#41061813) Homepage

    Not a single one of your examples are in the same arena as GMO. Not one. Apples contained cyanide before humans existed. Same with every one of your other examples. I see NO reason not to label GMO. I have a right to know what is being claimed as food.

    As far as raising your own, in many locales veggie gardens are being frowned on. After all, it's an eyesore, right? It's un-American not to consume, right?

    The fact that some in society are to stupid to understand what the label means should have no impact at all on whether I have access to information.

  • Re:What's to fear (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@ea r t h l i n k.net> on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:42PM (#41061823)

    Given the lack of testing, I'm not sure that NOT being biased against GMO foods is particularly sane. You are beta-testing something that might kill you, though it probably won't even injure you. How much bias one should have is a reasonable matter for debate, however. I doubt that I'd pay $10/pound extra for potatoes that were non-GMO. My wife might. And it's been suggested that some "food allergies" are actually allergies to GMO ingredients. Not sure if I believe it, but I see no reason to doubt it, so I tend to give that belief the benefit of the doubt.

    Think of GMO foods as beta testing on a large population of test subjects, that you don't monitor for adverse effects. If things work our right, there won't be any adverse effects. If there are, they can't prove it's because of your beta-testing. But if people CAN avoid GMO foods, all of a sudden you've divided the population into experimental subjects and a control group.

  • by ewibble ( 1655195 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @07:53PM (#41061993)

    I agree that most people are science-illiterate, but that does not mean that the information should be withheld, given the choice of GM modified food or no food I am fairly certain that most people will choose food no matter how clearly it is labelled GM, so people will not starve.

    Producers are quite willing to place deceptive labels on products in their favour. (fat free lollies that are 99% sugar, 80% fat free, slim chips that contain more fat than regular chips ....) If the information stops people buying your product then tough luck stop doing it (or prove that it is safe the burden of proof should be on the producer since they should have the knowledge), the free market is about meeting consumer demand, not about fooling people into buying your products. If people don't like red cars stop making them even if they are faster, or more fuel efficient.

    Your argument is people aren't smart enough to decide so don't give them the information. Well you could argue people aren't smart enough to decide who to vote for too (you would probably be right). Or drink or whatever you think you know better in. If people choose to buy higher priced products because they are GM free then it is there problem, and it is their choice under a free-market system.

    I don't necessarily believe that choice is a good thing, but the current system is built on it, I personally don't l like the idea of an industry deciding what is best for me because they have vested interest, also by extension the government since I believe the industries have a disproportionate say in related legislature.

  • Re:Reasonable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @08:47PM (#41062613) Homepage

    True or not, you're not going to convince many sane folks if your only evidence is from a site that makes TimeCube look reasonable by comparison.

  • Re:Lobbyists (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @09:28PM (#41063035)

    So this isn't about their rights.


    We can drop all of the arguments about GMO here.

    What you want amounts to censorship . Just because people may use information to further their agenda does not make the release of such information unethical.

    All of the pro-GMO arguments basically boil down to the fact they don't want the information out there, the arguments about that information to occur, and the ability for anyone to make a purchasing decision based on that information.

    Ummm, that's not to anyone's benefit. Restricting the information because you may feel you "know what is best for the rest of us" is abhorrent logic.

    Let them label it, and let people make their own decisions.

    Unless we have lost all pretense about living in a country where we have freedom and it is really isn't just about corporations and 1%'s fucking us over like slaves.

  • by Golddess ( 1361003 ) on Monday August 20, 2012 @10:49PM (#41063711)
    That seems like a curious comparison. You're basically saying that:

    Consumer: Why don't you label your food as non-Kosher?
    Producer: Because I'm not trying to market my food to you.

    Is the same as:

    Customer: Why don't you label your food as GM?
    Consumer: Because if I did that, you wouldn't eat it!

    Not commenting on whether or not consumer's fears about GM food is justified, only saying that the producers know people would shun the food simply for being GM.
  • Re:What's to fear (Score:4, Insightful)

    by azalin ( 67640 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:02AM (#41065007)
    I always considered it very interesting how much fuss countries like the US or Australia make at customs fearing to introduce alien species into their environment (and for very good reasons), but don't seem to worry about introducing completely new species.

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.