fbpx

Modified: GMO Labels That Work

GMO_Free_13_I10[1]

When the “in” crowd wrests the levers of power from the “out” crowd, be ready to duck. Trendy slogans may well become administrative fiat.

Authoritarian fashion-sense often relies on poor reasoning and an even poorer respect for individual autonomy. For a case in point, look no further than the intensifying push for genetically modified labeling in Colorado (pending state motto: “We’re Cooler than California”).

Genetically modified foods are definitely “out” for Colorado’s granola ’n arugula crowd, and they want the state to help make their case.  Proposition 105, like California’s failed Prop 37, asks Colorado voters whether it ought to be mandatory to include labels on all products containing genetically modified ingredients. The Coloradans might just outdo those Pacific-fronting pikers on this one, as happened with marijuana. Weed is hip, even good for you. Genetically modifying food? “Um, that’s just not cool, man . . . ” 

Consider the contradiction: After removing overstepping authority on recreational, supposedly harmless psychoactive drugs, the “in” crowd immediately does an about-face and asks the state to regulate its food. You cannot, if you love freedom and trust the individual, have it both ways.

Proponents of Proposition 105 argue (somewhat correctly), that this doesn’t represent the illiberal extreme. “It’s just a label” after all. True enough, but that label must be applied at the point of a bureaucrat’s pen. If proponents have their way, any company found in violation of the new requirement will suffer the force of the law. “And rightfully so,” sniff the vocal foes of GMOs.

The irony here is that as a food producer, I share some of their cautious distrust for laboratory-altered products. Yet while I am no cheerleader for GMOs, I find that calm, rational argument in favor of them vastly outstrips the hazy and illogical arguments against. Billions of meals have been consumed without a single documented negative side effect. The environmental benefits (reduced pesticide use, reduced acreage demands) are indisputable. Moreover, the same scientific consensus that tells us humans play a role in climate range also tells us that genetically modified foods are safe. Why trumpet near unanimity of scientists in one case but ignore it in another?

The harm of regulatory coercion far exceeds the as-yet-undocumented harm of GMOs. Turning Voltaire inside out: “Prop 105 proponents, I tend to agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death to keep you from using the state to say it.”

Authoritarian rules, in addition to eroding self-government, invariably create unintended consequences. Two that we can already foresee are 1) misleading people, and 2) putting small, organic farmers out of business.

Misleading? The Colorado law would require a GMO label on all products except meat, even if animals were raised exclusively on genetically modified grain. Realistically, shoppers will quickly scan label panels for indication of GMOs and assume that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Small Producers? This law only discomfits large, “mean” companies that will bear the labeling burden, right? Wrong. In practice, if a company submits a GMO-free ingredient panel for approval, the authorities will require the producer to “prove” he or she is not using genetically modified ingredients. This added burden is not light or cheap, and will fall disproportionately on the backs of folks we most want to see in business.

Can’t we do better? Is there no system to get the labeling that proponents want without relying on the same ridiculous technocrats who tell us we can’t buy raw milk for our families?

Of course there is.

The Non-GMO Project, a private non-profit, has been actively vetting brands for almost a decade, and has over 20,000 products stamped with its distinctive rainbow-hued butterfly. The project works, and works well. Could we imagine a state agency doing half as well? Even the most devoutly abstinent Colorado foodie, I’m sure, can manage an organic lifestyle if there are 20,000 products to choose from (add one more if we get our beef jerky approved!).

Compare the slogan of Prop105 supporters—“We have the right to know what’s in our food”—to the Non-GMO Project’s motto, which is that “everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms.” The sentiment is precisely the same, yet the former relies on force and submission while the latter quietly, effectively, and voluntarily gets the job done.

In the end, the campaign to label GMOs is not really about letting the customer decide. It’s about forcing businesses to respond to the anxiety du jour.  It’s likely that GMO labeling is in our future, but let’s allow companies to respond to consumer demand instead of dragging in Big Brother.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on October 16, 2014 at 11:18:57 am

Three arguments I don’t find compelling:

After removing overstepping authority on recreational, supposedly harmless psychoactive drugs, the “in” crowd immediately does an about-face and asks the state to regulate its food. You cannot, if you love freedom and trust the individual, have it both ways.

On a libertarian-leaning blog, I doubt many people will be persuaded that a law providing information about a product is analogous to a law criminalizing the use of a product. Indeed, I would not be surprised to learn that people who want to legalize pot would also want to have consumers informed if the pot has been genetically altered. If such a concept blows your mind, perhaps you’ve gotten into some genetically-altered pot.

If proponents have their way, any company found in violation of the new requirement will suffer the force of the law. “And rightfully so,” sniff the vocal foes of GMOs.

I’m happy to have the fat content of foods placed on their labels, so that I can knowledgably compare products on an equivalent basis. I’m thrilled to be able to know when a processed food contains so much gluten that it might irritate my gluten-intolerant gut. I’m deeply grateful that labels let me know if a product contains enough peanut parts to kill my kid. As far as I can tell, such regulations help produce knowledgeable buyers and sellers, making markets more efficient. So if certain food manufacturers would like to evade these regulations in order to deceive their consumers and gain an unfair market advantage, I think legal consequences are among the least punishments they should suffer.

But if we require other food manufacturers to disclose true info about their products on labels, why exactly should we regard GMO producers to have some kind of privileged status? Are we making a Hobby Lobby argument that the right to sell GMO food without disclosing its GMO character is fundamental right ‘cuz it’s a manifestation of their religious liberty?

[S]hoppers will quickly scan label panels for indication of GMOs and assume that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Yup. And the fact that we have armed police on the beat may prompt some people to leave their weapons at home and rely on the police for self-defense – to their detriment. Does it therefore follow that we should have no police? People who get a flu shot may then be less careful in washing their hands – to their detriment. Does it therefore follow that there should be no inoculations?

The harm is real, but the remedy is worse than the disease.

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
nobody.really
on October 16, 2014 at 11:24:13 am

Three arguments I find potentially compelling:

[I]f a company submits a GMO-free ingredient panel for approval, the authorities will require the producer to “prove” he or she is not using genetically modified ingredients. This added burden is not light or cheap….

The Non-GMO Project, a private non-profit, has been actively vetting brands for almost a decade, and has over 20,000 products stamped with its distinctive rainbow-hued butterfly. The project works, and works well.

This is a powerful argument, assuming the facts are as alleged. That said, I’m skeptical that the facts are as alleged. So how is it that government review is inevitably crushingly burdensome, yet this private non-profit can produce the same results effortlessly?

Even the most devoutly abstinent Colorado foodie, I’m sure, can manage an organic lifestyle if there are 20,000 products to choose from.

Perhaps. If you perceive the law's purpose is to ensure that people can find non-GMO food, I’d agree. If you perceive the law's purpose is to enable people to know whether any bit of (non-meat) food they’re holding in their hands at the grocery store (or in the restaurant?) is GMO-free, then no.

In the end, the campaign to label GMOs is not really about letting the customer decide. It’s about forcing businesses to respond to the anxiety du jour.

To my mind, this articulates the most fundamental quandary from a libertarian perspective.

I start from the posture that government’s jurisdiction extends solely to promoting bona fide governmental purpose. Thus, government has no role in providing information to people, even true information, unless that information is relevant to a bona fide governmental purpose. After all, a policy compelling Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothes may provide people with true information – but for what purpose? Disclosing a foods fat and peanut content would seem to have obvious relevance to health. But a label disclosing GMO content? In the absence of a bona fide purpose, it’s just a little yellow star.

Ideally, courts would then strike a GMO disclosure law as exceeding government jurisdiction. They’d issue a decision saying, “The courts have no opinion on whether the law is related to a bona fide purpose. The courts merely find that the executive branch failed to bear its burden to show that the law is sufficiently related to a bona fide purpose. So members of the public can acknowledge that the law really serves no purpose – or blame the executive branch for being too incompetent to demonstrate that purpose.”

Alas, that’s a complicated message. Instead, the headline would read, “Judge: I know better than you do about what information you should have about what you eat. Trust me!” It would smack of elitism and nanny-ism. But such it the lot of the libertarian jurist.

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
nobody.really
on October 16, 2014 at 20:21:17 pm

Well, the funny thing is that almost all food is genetically modified in much the same way that hybrid roses are genetically modified. Humans have been genetically modifying food even BEFORE they knew that they were genetically modifying them. The same is true for livestock and for just about any fruit, vegetable of breed of livestock.
When you cross pollinate one type of potato or apple (etc. etc.) you have genetically modified it. The difference now is that there is much more data available upon which you may make your "modifications" Goodness gracious - medieval monks were *modifying" plant and livestock genes.

Why does one now object to a more *data driven" gene shuffle than was previously employed? My state produces countless varieties of apples - the newest of which was developed by University researches and the seed stock is now available for sale. should we place labels on these apples? or how about the new strain(s) of wine grapes?

This is much ado about nothing other than the need to be "hip," enlightened and on the forefront of the liberal nanny state wave.

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on October 17, 2014 at 14:09:46 pm

[…] [Note: This post originally appeared at Law & Liberty] […]

read full comment
Image of Modified: GMO Labels that Actually Work - GANGUPON
Modified: GMO Labels that Actually Work - GANGUPON
on October 17, 2014 at 16:24:59 pm

[…] [Note: This post originally appeared at Law & Liberty] […]

read full comment
Image of Modified: GMO Labels that Actually Work | Paul Schwennesen
Modified: GMO Labels that Actually Work | Paul Schwennesen
on October 19, 2014 at 01:13:07 am

Well, the good... yes, it would indeed be better if trustable, private organizations give their stamp of approval, rather than having storm troopers raiding restaurants and grocery stores for delivering up unlabeled product, as they do now with perfectly labeled raw milk and the like. We obviously don't need to enhance the police state any more than it has already progressed and will continue to advance until it kills us all.

However, I'm not sure the scope on this, but I am advised that where food producers and sellers label a product "no GMOs" or something similar, the jack boots go on and FDA (or is it USDA?) comes around disallowing it. If we just declawed the FDA and USDA in their undue influence in the GMO debate and their protection of the GMO industry, it might be just what the doctor ordered. But how likely is that?

The bad... I question how one could consider meat products fed and/or finished on GMOs to be non-GMO. The DNA makes its mark on the one consuming it, which gets passed along up the food chain.

Someone here compared gene splicing to cross-breeding. Right. Let's see you cross breed a beetle with a rose or with corn or soy. This is LITERALLY the kind of gene splicing we're talking about, not crossing-pollenating a red tea rose with a yellow tea rose and grafting onto an old-rose root stock. We're not even talking horse and donkey here.

The downright ugly... Come now. The proof is in and clear that something is, in fact, very wrong with something in our environment. The incidence of cancer, diabetes and autism, for example, is up dramatically over the last few decades. GMOs and glyphosate hold an auspicious position at the table of probable sources, as does our increased use of grain-finishing of meats (screwing up the fatty acids balance), vast increase in the proportion of simple carbohydrates in the modern diet, sedentary lives, goofy ideas about exercise, incredibly poorly (at best) QC'd vaccines that contain Gawd-awful bugs and mercury renamed thimerosal to hide what it is (etc.), fluoride (and chloramines, etc.) in the water, and industrial chemicals other than glyphosate that are also omnipresent.

I don't trust FDA and USDA, when they don't even want to hear about studies on the safety of GMOs--or when they smirk and giggle about the "conspiracy theorists" who, by the way, are being proven right day in and day out. It's disgusting how those "agencies" act. Or... don't act. As noted above, I don't have to have the label that says, "studies not tightly manipulated by Monsanto (et al) have found that this food causes massive cancerous tumors and early death in rodents tested. Moreover, having retracted the most major study to assure proper peer review, the study and its findings have been reinstated." Yes, I don't have to have that label. I can happily settle for "no GMOs were knowingly used in the raising and preparation of this product. ...and we HAVE done our due diligence." ...that is, I can settle for that if I know it'll be treated, by officialdom, as a very serious fraud if false.

Less pesticide? What??? The pest plants and insects are adapting super-fast and thus are negating all purported benefit of the modification. Thus, record amounts of the agent orange element (glyphosate, aka Round-Up) are being dumped on crops. Moreover, glyphosate is a systemic, entering the leaves, traveling down the plant's circulatory system, to the roots, where it kills normal plants. Since the desired plants live through this process due to mad-scientist style gene splicing, all that glyphosate stays in your food. IN it, not ON it. You can't wash it off. And the health conscious much prefer less-cooked over more-cooked veggies, so arguing (whether it would even be true or not) that cooking it destroys the glyphosate is a moot point.

Also, with pest plants and bugs adapting so fast, the toxic waste of glyphosate and other factory-farm chemicals seeping into the water supply, into creeks and rivers and so on, is killing the natural and beneficial biologicals in soil and water, in fish, in beneficial and harmless insects (bees, anyone?), in birds, in ... well, in everything. Most especially, in your gut, where some 80% of your immune system literally lives as not even human genome. Unless you kill it with glyphosate... or fluoride... or chlorine... or chloramine...

I'm glad to read that you're at least mildly skeptical of the assurances of the gene splicers. However, while many arguing against GMOs are understandably worked up and may be less coherent than the studied liars at the gene splicing (and patenting) companies and their "official" sycophants, it really isn't that hard to see why folks are wound a little tight over it all. Don't let a pathos-tainted ethos ruin the logos of it all. In other words, their manner and style don't make their argument wrong.

Yet, I come back to agreeing with one part of what you said: calling in the most-evil titan to batter another evil titan (who is really a pocket buddy, providing funding and enough threat to keep officials dishonest) is not the way to fix it. However, the shots across Food, Inc.'s bow have failed to do anything but cause them to circle the wagons, call in that most-evil titan in their own favor, while insisting on organic food for their own families.

It would be nice if they weren't buying up all the producers and sellers of organic products and were not suing organic farmers unlucky enough to have their crops cross-bred, aka polluted, with Monsanto geneticalisticalisms from neighboring farms, but they are (patent infringement... and the courts go along?? Oh!!). So where and how are we to find food that we can believe in? In our back yards? Oh, but that's inches from illegal, too, where it isn't actually and already outright illegal.

Food, Inc. is about to make itself obsolete, as the people figure out what it's up to, which can at best be called vastly criminally negligent--and very possibly is better named genocidal. And the people will figure out a way to make that obsolescence stick. It would be SUPER easy for Food, Inc. to decide that it's agreeable that producers advise as to the GMO-or-not status of food products. But it won't. Now, why not? Hmm. Perhaps there's more to the frantic ravings of the anti-GMO crowd than one who lets the arguer's ethos cloud the logos would conclude.

read full comment
Image of kldimond
kldimond
on October 21, 2014 at 02:46:42 am

[…] [Note: This post originally appeared at Law & Liberty] […]

read full comment
Image of Modified: GMO Labels that Actually Work | Truth About Trade & Technology
Modified: GMO Labels that Actually Work | Truth About Trade & Technology

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.