Skip to comments.California's Anti-GMO Hysteria
Posted on 04/01/2014 4:02:25 PM PDT by neverdem
A new bill to mandate labeling of genetically altered food gets history and science all wrong.
Last week, in a victory for Californias radical anti-technology minority, S.B. 131 passed the states senate Health Committee by a vote of five to two. This misguided piece of legislation, introduced by state senator Noreen Evans, would require that any food, except as provided, offered for retail sale in the state be considered misbranded if it is entirely or partially genetically engineered, as defined, and that fact is not disclosed in a specified manner. In other words, it would require a label to inform consumers that the newest, most precise and predictable techniques of genetic modification had been employed in the foods production.
The bill rests on the same mistaken assumptions that Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, expressed in a letter she wrote to President Obama in December, which read in part:
It is my strong opinion that consumers have the right to know whether their food originates from genetically modified organisms. Your administration should reevaluate the Food & Drug Administrations outdated policy that genetically engineered food does not need to disclose this fact on required labels.
Both the Evans bill and Feinsteins letter pander to a small but vocal group of anti-science alarmists, and the two lawmakers are wrong on every count.
The push to require labeling of genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) food is one of those causes that sounds worthy like protect the Delta smelt or save the snail darter until you actually learn a little about them.
What, one might ask, could be wrong with letting consumers know whats in their food and allowing them to decide what to buy? Actually, plenty.
The terms genetically modified and genetically engineered are themselves misleading; the choice of what to include in these pseudo-categories is wholly arbitrary. Foods made with the precise techniques of genetic engineering are every bit as safe and natural as thousands of other common foods. In fact, as federal regulators have said repeatedly, a mandatory label would erroneously imply a meaningful difference where none exists.
Contrary to what activists would have you believe, genetic modification of one sort or another has been with us for millennia and there is a seamless continuum from crude, older techniques to newer, more precise and predictable ones. One genetic-modification technique, wide cross hybridization, has been performed by plant breeders since the 1930s. With this method, breeders move large numbers of alien genes from one species or one genus to another in order to create plant varieties that cannot and do not exist in nature. Common commercial crops derived from wide crosses include tomato, potato, sweet potato, oat, rice, wheat, corn, and pumpkin. Another technique, in use since the 1950s, is induced-mutation breeding, which involves exposing seeds or cells to ionizing radiation or toxic chemicals to induce high numbers of random genetic mutations, and then entering the plants that mutate in desirable ways into conventional breeding and testing programs. Thousands of such mutation-bred crop varieties have been commercialized in North America and Europe and are part of our diet.
When plant breeders use these conventional technologies, they do not know the exact genetic changes that produced the desirable traits; and more important, they have no idea what other changes their genetic modifications have caused in the plant, including those that could raise toxin levels or alter the plants ability to cause allergic reactions. These older techniques, unlike genetic engineering, are subject to no government regulation at all. The greater precision and predictability of modern genetic engineering make it more versatile and safer than older techniques.
On a daily basis, Americans consume dozens of varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains derived from wide crosses. (They include, by the way, even the heirloom varieties sold at farmers markets and health food stores.) As for foods made from plants derived from the modern molecular techniques of genetic engineering the only kind that Evans and Feinstein want labeled Americans have already consumed more than 3 trillion servings of them. The record shows no ill effects from this, not a single tummy ache.
The reason the FDA does not require labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients is that such information is not material a legal term of art that means related to safety or appropriate usage and would be misleading. Such a label, if mandatory, and not the lack of one, would arguably make the product misbranded and would violate federal law, which requires that labels be truthful and not misleading.
Federal courts have consistently struck down mandatory-labeling policies not supported by data. In the 1990s, a group of Wisconsin consumers sued the FDA, arguing that the agencys decision not to require the labeling of dairy products from cows treated with a bioengineered protein called bovine somatotropin (bST) allowed those products to be labeled in a false and misleading manner. (In other words, the plaintiffs wanted the same sort of mandatory labeling that Feinstein and Evans are seeking.) However, because the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any material difference between milk from treated and untreated cows, the federal court agreed with the FDA, finding that it would be misbranding to label the product as different, even if consumers misperceived the product as different.
In another federal case, in 1994, several food associations and companies challenged a Vermont statute that required labeling to identify milk from cows treated with bST. Because the state could not demonstrate that its labeling requirement was motivated by anything more than satisfying consumer curiosity, the court said it could not compel milk producers to include that information on product labels: We are aware of no case in which consumer interest alone was sufficient to justify requiring a products manufacturers to publish the functional equivalent of a warning about a production method that has no discernible impact on a final product. . . . Absent some indication that this information bears on a reasonable concern for human health or safety or some other sufficiently substantial governmental concern, the manufacturers cannot be compelled to disclose it, because it would violate constitutional guarantees of commercial free speech. Were consumer interest alone sufficient, said the court, there is no end to the information that states could require manufacturers to disclose about their production methods.
The bill that Californias Senate Health Committee just passed, SB 1831, follows the same line of argument that these earlier cases have already invalidated: California consumers have the right to know, through labeling, whether the foods they purchase were produced with genetic engineering. But the FDA, federal courts, and the U.S. Constitution say otherwise. Federal appeals courts citing of constitutional concerns is significant because the U.S. Constitution takes precedence over state and federal laws. Thus, if SB 1831 were passed and signed by the governor, the federal courts would probably void it on grounds of the constitutional right to free speech. To get us to that point, however, the state would have to spend years and millions of dollars defending the indefensible.
It is worth considering two other misconceptions in the text of SB 1381, which reads like a how not to example in a civics lesson.
Genetic engineering of plants and animals can cause unintended consequences. It has been demonstrated that manipulating genes through genetic engineering and inserting them into organisms is an imprecise process. This shows that Noreen Evans and her staffers know little about plant breeding. Her bill would require labeling only for food made with modern molecular techniques of genetic engineering; but, as I noted above, the modern techniques are in fact the most precise ones for improving seeds and plants. The older methods tinker with Nature as activists put it in far more drastic ways, and scientists have much greater uncertainty about the results from these methods, but they are essentially unregulated by the government, and no labeling of them is required. This is the fundamental inconsistency in Evanss bill.
Polls consistently show that the vast majority of the members of the public, more than 90 percent, want to know, for health, economic, environmental, religious, and ethical reasons, if the food they purchase was produced with genetic engineering.
Such surveys are notoriously dependent on how the questions are worded and in what order they are asked, and the questions are often deliberately crafted to yield a specific result. In a series of more reliable surveys commissioned by the non-profit International Food Information Council, respondents were first read a summary of the FDA rule on labeling and then asked their opinion. In every one of the 15 surveys, conducted between 1997 and 2012, a majority agreed with the FDAs risk-based approach, which does not mandate labeling according to the techniques employed in producing the food.
Moreover, Evans should know that when voters had the chance, via referenda in California in 2012 and in Washington in 2013, to weigh in on the issue of labeling for GE food, they rejected the mandates. Actual votes cast by millions of voters certainly trump trumped-up polls.
A little passing knowledge of the states history might further chasten Californias pro-labeling activists. One of Californias most important genetic engineers, Luther Burbank (18491926), made it his lifes work to increase the worlds food supply by manipulating the characteristics of plants. During his illustrious career, Burbank developed and introduced more than 800 new varieties of plants including over 200 varieties of fruits, many vegetables, nuts and grains, and hundreds of ornamental flowers, notes the Burbank Home and Gardens website. It just so happens that the gardens that showcase Burbanks work are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Evanss own senatorial district. A good many visitors clearly appreciate the geneticists work rather than decry it.
Adding to the absurdity of all this is my 2012 e-mail exchange with Senator Feinsteins office. As a constituent, I wrote to express my opposition to labeling. Her response read, in part: I recognize you have serious concerns about the health effects and environmental implications of genetically altered foods. I too believe that consumers have the right to know when the food that they eat contains these genetically-altered ingredients. . . . Please know that I appreciate learning of your support for labeling genetically engineered products and ingredients, and I will certainly keep the issues you have raised in mind. Ive heard of a pro forma response, but Feinstein and her staff interpreted my opinion as being exactly the opposite of what I had communicated to her.
Finally, there is plenty of information freely available that enables consumers to choose nongenetically engineered foods as meaningless as that term is scientifically if they prefer them.
Those who are opposed to modern techniques of genetic engineering have made it clear that they regard labeling as a first step toward eliminating the technology entirely. We are going to force them to label this food, said one anti-biotechnology activist. If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it. Another activist recently stated the goal forthrightly: Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most effective way to achieve this.
Evanss and Feinsteins efforts, if successful, would move us toward just such a ban on genetically engineered foods. The irony is that legislation intended to help consumers would have exactly the opposite effect, killing much-needed innovation. Drought-resistant genetically engineered plants now in testing will be invaluable to Californias drought-plagued farmers, and modified orange trees will be needed to save the states citrus industry from an insect-spread bacterial disease called citrus greening.
How, then, can we explain the lawmakers missteps? Poor due diligence by staffers? Big campaign contributions from the organic-food lobby? Whatever the reason, Noreen Evans owes her constituents an apology and the withdrawal of S.B. 1381, and Feinstein should retract her letter to President Obama.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford Universitys Hoover Institution. He was the founding director of the FDAs Office of Biotechnology.
Oh, yes stay away from “Organic grown stuff” and especially free range chicken and their eggs. Chickens running around catch all kinds diseases and ailments, and generate toxins and vermin in side, while chickens raised in secure environment, are kept away from viruses etc, and as a result are safer. Same with vegtables etc.
There is a difference between gene inserted glyphosate and seed breeding, one contains an untested chemical, the other contains natural hybridization.
Go for it!
What Monsanto does in labs to produce it’s genetically modified seeds and what Luther Burbank did in creating hybrid crosses from many plant varieties are two entirely different things, and it’s totally dishonest to pretend they are the same.
We need to be careful not to respond with “knee jerk” reactions just because we are conservatives. I am a Conservative to my very core, but also understand that the output of today’s “Factory Farming” is a horrific mix of filth, disease, and antibiotics to cost effectively counter the filth and disease. Animals are squeezed into tiny cages, they linger in their own feces, and are pumped full of antibiotics to fight the disease inherent in these conditions. You say no to “Organic” and “Free Range”...personally, I will gladly pay extra for that diseased filth we call Supermarket Meat NOT to go into my Grandchildren Stomachs, and NOT destroy their response to Antibiotics which may be needed to save their life someday. Do I agree with State or Federal MANDATES? NO! Do I hope consumers make better CHOICES? YES! Does that make me a bad Conservative?
Series of videos with some hyperbole and some facts. The monopolizing is a problem, and more original plants, though often yielding less, have survived many more adversities in time and proven themselves in that way.
GMO = Eugenics (!!)
A misleading and foolish article.
1. A gene is not a chemical. The RU Ready gene does NOT insert glyphosate chemicals into the plant, it makes the plant resistant to the glyphosate based herbicides.
2. Basic category errors indicate your knowledge base is somewhat limited.
3. Glyphosate is not an untested chemical.
4. You seem to have missed the paragraphs regarding wide cross hybridization and mutagenesis, both of which are unregulated and can and have produced all sorts of previously unknown genetic changes into food crops.
5. Nature moves genes between species without our permission or knowledge all the time. Humans generally only notice it when such change has negative effects on us.
5. Doing it with modern lab technology means the changes are no longer unknown prior to being introduced.
6. Nature or natural processes are not benevolent or benign. The only force with a higher kill rate is government.
Glyphosate gene in crop, sprayed with glyphosate Round up becomes immune to Roundup and spreads to other crops.
I will eat what I feel is not tainted.. you party on Val pal! Eat all of this stuff to your content and feed it to your family.
There has to be a reason that you wish to take the choice away from other Americans to know what they are eating.
This is one of the few times that I agree with the Europeans, Aussies and New Zealanders. Nature did NOT create glyphosate, Monsanto did.
So if you are truly an American who believes in free speech then you will not try to silence those who disagree with you. What’s the harm..two opinions going to hurt your industry?
I don’t know what your motivations are.
Mine are simply to eat food that God intended us to eat.
Live your life happily and with gusto, best wishes.
Apparently you are unaware that all conventionally grown crops whether they are GMO or not are grown with a variety of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. They are all chemicals.
Even organic crops have a list of approved chemicals.
Glyphosate is one of the least toxic (to humans) herbicide there is.
Forced labeling of a non-hazard is not free speech, but its antithesis.
But here’s the real problem regarding nature vs. science in farming. Nature adapts to whatever weed and pest control is used. Science allows man to adapt faster.
If you want to eat your version of what you think God intended us to eat, then I suggest you grow ALL your own food and leave the rest of us alone and stop trying to force labeling on us.
Well actually, I do grow most of my own food.
Call me when you can prove glyphosate is non toxic to chemically sensitive people.
Science is now a a load of bullcrap that is altered according to Grant Money.
Mercury in your teeth..anyone?
Flouride in your water..anyone?
Antibacterials in your soap anyone?
Sodium Laureth sulfate in your shampoo ?
Ethylene Glycol in your Antifreeze ..anyone?
Apparently unaware anyone?
It doesn’t make you a bad conservative, just a foolish one.
However, the good news is there are entire food sections, and even food chain stores, that have sprung up just to fleece, uh, serve you.
Everything is a chemical.
Au contraire, it is the Luddites who are trying to impose their view of the world on the rest of society.
There are already entire chain stores whose sole target market are those who want to stay away from GMO foods.
Is that enough for the Luddites? Of course not. Like the homosexual lobby, they are so unsure of their beliefs that they must, through the rule of law, deny those of us who prefer lower cost foods any source. Just as the homosexual lobby does.
So in your estimable opinion.. as an alleged “luddite” I wish to put all farmers out of business? Or would that just be CAFO farmers and not the smaller independent organic/self run Farmers.?
Luddites destroyed all manufacturing machinery because they could not let go of the past.
We simply want the good guys to have a chance at a future without Government interference and grow their own food as they see fit.
Good gracious! I guess “Luddites” cannot be Conservative .
Or perhaps purists cannot get out of their fundamentalism?
Color me convinced.
OMG, we’re all gonna die from chemical exposure! Or worse, exposure to elements.
Steve Forbes has used the phrase ‘Food Luddites’ in some of his writings about the closed minded approaches of many ignorant people towards modern methods of food production. It’s a good description, which is why I’ve adopted it too.
He properly has noticed that the Food Luddites want to destroy all of the food producing machinery that has been put in place over the decades by farmers, scientists, and agricultural specialists.
The above statement conflicts with your desire for additional regulation through more labeling requirements.
If you indeed want less interference with farmers then you would let farmers decide whether they want to be CAFO or not. The fact is, the EPA definitions allow it to designate any livestock producer they want as a CAFO, irrespective of reality or reason.
hey Val! I didn’t say “d*ck” about the EPA and yes indeedie do believe that people have a right to know what they are buying to put in their bodies. If you choose to be CAFO and you think it’s so wonderful then declare it proudly.
Why is it so hard to understand that people would like to know that they are eating non GMO.
If you are so opposed and so convinced that CAFO is better then why stop the organic Farmers from declaring that theirs are not?
How about just labeling non GMO and then we won’t buy CAFO?