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January 03, 2011

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Do we have a winner?

Clearly not. You say "a new federal bill that addresses demonstrated failures of a critical industry to operate safely" I say "toe-mah-toe," AKA "needless, unwarranted, and inefficient government meddling in the smooth and transparent workings of the free marketplace that will cost jobs and ruin American businesses, freedom, the Armed Forces, and mother's apple pie."

Clearly, those most affected by the various "foods of death" you speak of will not be helped by this legislation as they have already exercised their free will and chosen to no longer eat the food at issue, or, indeed, any food at all. I just note that this choice is available to all God-fearing (and other) Americans.

Indeed, the right to choose not to eat is at the heart of the American free market today. I mean, if you don't like the risk of death associated with your average meal, don't eat it! More than two million Americans make this choice every year. Is there something wrong with them?

Further, have you given any thought to those who would be denied the opportunity to suffer a debilitating illness from eating the iceberg lettuce from their local Applebees salad bar and the resulting loss of consumer surplus? Or the number of healthcare workers that will be laid off from the resulting decline in hospitalizations from spoiled eggs? I think not.

In sum, this bill represents yet another liberal exercise in wasteful big government at the expense of consumer choice and business efficiency that currently exists in the free market.

Ugh makes a strong point.

If I'm reading this thing correctly, the FDA could, potentially, insist on access to my kitchen, and copies of all my grocery receipts.
I'm not saying they would, but the text of the bill apparently means they could, if they felt like it.

I really dislike laws which are written so broadly they require the exercise of considerable discretion to not have horrifyingly intrusive results. Because it isn't a given that the people exercising said discretion won't WANT, occasionally, to be horrifyingly intrusive.

If I'm reading this thing correctly, the FDA could, potentially, insist on access to my kitchen, and copies of all my grocery receipts.

What section(s) specifically are you reading?

sounds like Brett is assuming his kitchen is what the summary is referring to when it uses the phrase "food facility".

luckily, that definition does not apply to home kitchens. the term is defined in current law, Section 415 (21 U.S.C. 350d), as:

(1) The term `facility' includes any factory, warehouse, or establishment (including a factory, warehouse, or establishment of an importer) that manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food. Such term does not include farms; restaurants; other retail food establishments; nonprofit food establishments in which food is prepared for or served directly to the consumer; or fishing vessels (except such vessels engaged in processing as defined in section 123.3(k) of title 21, Code of Federal Regulations).

whew.

If I'm reading this thing correctly, the FDA could, potentially, insist on access to my kitchen, and copies of all my grocery receipts.

What section(s) specifically are you reading?

I have the same question. Unless I'm very mistaken, the bill only applies to folks who grow or process food commercially.

There's a post about Andrew Olmsted at the top of the ObWi Main Page.

It's currently not listed on the sidebar due to the idiosyncracies of Typepad, and as explained in the comment below this post about Andrew Olmsted.

I hope people will read it and comment.

My apologies for being off-topic on Russell's thread to point out to people that the Andrew Olmsted post is not listed on the sidebar, and won't be seen by commenters looking only at the sidebar.

Thanks for understanding.

SEC. 101. INSPECTIONS OF RECORDS.

"‘(2) USE OF OR EXPOSURE TO FOOD OF CONCERN- If the Secretary believes that there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to an article of food, and any other article of food that the Secretary reasonably believes is likely to be affected in a similar manner, will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals, each person (excluding farms and restaurants) who manufactures, processes, packs, distributes, receives, holds, or imports such article shall, at the request of an officer or employee duly designated by the Secretary, permit such officer or employee, upon presentation of appropriate credentials and a written notice to such person, at reasonable times and within reasonable limits and in a reasonable manner, to have access to and copy all records relating to such article and to any other article of food that the Secretary reasonably believes is likely to be affected in a similar manner, that are needed to assist the Secretary in determining whether there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to the food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals."

I believe I do constitute a "person", who receives food, which is all you have to be for this particular clause to be applicable. Heck, it actually excludes farms and restaurants.

which is all you have to be for this particular clause to be applicable

that, and the belief that "a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to an article of food...will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals"...

yes, your right to privacy is trumped by the need to investigate causes of death.

From the original 21USC 350(d), which as near as I can tell is not being deleted:

(d) Limitations This section shall not be construed— . . .
(4) to extend to recipes for food, financial data, pricing data, personnel data, research data, or sales data (other than shipment data regarding sales).

Which would appear to exclude grocery store receipts.

Also note in the passage Brett quotes: "all records relating to such article and to any other article of food that the Secretary reasonably believes is likely to be affected in a similar manner, that are needed to assist the Secretary in determining whether there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to the food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals."

How would my grocery store receipts help to determine that?

How would my grocery store receipts help to determine that?
This sounds like a way to try to trace the source of food contamination by determining where and when you purchased your ingredients.

I'm just kidding, but once the government agents have jumped through all of the hoop-like wherefores, the wherebys, and the definitions of "reasonable" in the boilerplate, I doubt they will arrive in time to prevent Brett from partaking of the green-lipped mussels that have gone off, which is the rule-of-law's ham-handed way of ensuring that infringement on liberty is forestalled long enough for death to rule the day.

Few people know that Patrick Henry chose death by food poisoning over busybodies infringing his liberty by rifling through his pantry.

I don't know why but this episode of "Fawlty Towers" came to mind.

Excerpts:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8spJd-bMaA

You can view the full episode in installments on YouTube.

This sounds like a way to try to trace the source of food contamination by determining where and when you purchased your ingredients.

Once it's been determined that I've eaten contaminated food, yes. But Brett was describing a much more wide-ranging power that doesn't seem contingent on any actual existing problem, and sounds more like the NSA monitoring every phone call and email on the planet than like the FDA trying to stop a salmonella outbreak. If there isn't already a public health problem, there's no reason for them to demand your receipts.

I, for one, welcome my new diet of Jackboot Stew, not to mention the evolution of the word "foodie," which will cease to refer to lovers of food and its study, and will come to refer to the all-powerful agents of the FDA, the G-men of the 21st Century.

A number of these objections are puzzling to me.

First, who keeps grocery receipts?

Second, Section 101(2) mysteriously excludes restaurants. Am I to believe that the law imposes stricter record inspection on home kitchens than on restaurants, or is something else going on here?

Git me down mah shootin iron, ma! It's the foodies!

I believe I do constitute a "person", who receives food, which is all you have to be for this particular clause to be applicable. Heck, it actually excludes farms and restaurants.

The thing with a lot of legislation is that it often consists of incremental tweaks to existing sections of the US Code. That's so in this case.

The bit that Brett excerpts is part of a series of tweaks / extensions to US Code Article 21 Section 350(c). The language Brett takes exception to - the FDA being able to demand records from "receivers" of possibly tainted food - already exists in the code. So, FBOW, nothing new there. Not sure if that will reassure Brett, or make him even more concerned.

What's changed is that, in the existing code, the FDA can only do the various things it's empowered to do for food articles that it has reasonable reason to believe have been adulterated. The new language extends the set of "food articles" it can take action on to those that are processed in a similar manner to any that have been found to be adulterated, and any that it has reason to believe pose a health hazard (presumably without suspicion of specific adulteration).

Second, Section 101(2) mysteriously excludes restaurants. Am I to believe that the law imposes stricter record inspection on home kitchens than on restaurants, or is something else going on here?

The whole section is part of Title 21, Chapter 9, which is the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The scope of the act generally covers food processors - people who handle food between the point where it is harvested, and the point where you consume it.

Farms and restaurants are covered (to the degree that they are covered at the federal level) in other acts, I would guess.

To address both this and another of Brett's points, "person" in this context is defined in Section 321 as follows:

(e) The term ``person'' includes individual, partnership, corporation, and association.

What the Act is looking at are commercial food handlers. I suppose it's possible that, if someone in your household bought something believed to be tainted, or became sick, that somebody from the FDA might come to your house to try to figure out where you got the questionable food from. But authority to do that would only be conferred in the context of some kind of incident where food was likely to make you sick.

Also note that even if the act were somehow construed to apply to your kitchen, there's nothing in it that requires that you actually keep your grocery receipts. It says that the FDA must be able "to have access to and copy all records relating to" the food. If there aren't any records, then they're out of luck. Anyone trying to use this legislation to set up a totalitarian state(*) will be extremely frustrated.

(* see The Iron Chef, by Jack London)

If they're exempted, then the food they produce ought to be labeled as such.Same with GM food. Doesn't the consumer have a right to know?

Please, sir, may I have some more chicken intestines?

If they're exempted, then the food they produce ought to be labeled as such.Same with GM food. Doesn't the consumer have a right to know?

In the US, there are no laws requiring that GM foods be labeled. So, in the US at least, your argument fails.

Even outside the US, I'm not sure the argument makes any sense. There is no way for consumers to distinguish between GM and non-GM foods without labeling. However, for the exemption under consideration, it is often obvious. I've bought produce from tiny farms: even a glance at the label makes the distinction between a tiny outfit and a larger company obvious. And all the local produce I've seen at stores or restaurants or farmer's markets make their locality blindingly obvious.

If they're exempted, then the food they produce ought to be labeled as such.Same with GM food. Doesn't the consumer have a right to know?

Regarding folks who are exempted, they are small producers who generally sell directly to the consumer. So, you either are buying directly from the farmer at a farmstand or farmers market, or you're buying from a restaurant or retailer who buys directly from the farmer. In the latter cases, the fact that food is from local producers is usually a selling point, and is generally clearly called out.

When selling directly to consumers, I believe the new legislation requires the producer to label with their name and contact information. So, if you have an issue, you can figure out where it came from.

I agree regarding GM food. Whether you think there's no difference or not, some folks just prefer to avoid GM food, and they should have the choice.

I think small producers ought to be subject to the same kind of safety rules as the big guys. Having gotten sick from a tomatillo purchased at a farmer's market, I can attest that the aftereffects were no different than if I'd eaten bagged spinach imported from Mexico.

As for GM foods, no one knows what the longterm effects of it will be. And so, while I know there are no laws in the U.S. about labeling, I believe there should be. At least let it be the buyer who gets to choose, not the conglomerate.

I think small producers ought to be subject to the same kind of safety rules as the big guys.

Then it's likely that a lot of small producers will go out of business.

Small producers are still subject to state regs.

The solution is obvious: outlaw food poisoning.

Seriously, though, regulations can't make for a perfect world in any case, so there needs to be a balance between the help and the harm that regulations can effect. I don't see a pressing need to put lots of small farms out of business, a harm that would, I think, outweigh the benefits.

Small farms haven't suddendly become more dangerous because they've been carved out of a new regulatory regime.

"Do we have a winner?"

Well, if we did, it's all for naught:

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/46995.html

I look forward to future discussions about what to do about regulatory capture. Good luck.

Vermin are about to be set loose on the food supply and they go by many names, in this case, Darrel Issa.

In the meantime, should you suspect that your food supply is tainted before you eat, please don't report it because you will be destroying good, low-paying jobs with no benefits.

If you feel a little green around the gills after consuming some skanky lunchmeat, please keep in mind that your fellow citizens depend on you working through the cramps and the night sweats without taking action that would harm America.

And by fellow citizens, I don't mean individuals like you. I mean corporations, who are people.

You are not people.

In America, people who have people are ..... well, they had better examine the latest Supreme Court decisions to learn if they are the luckiest people in the world.

Another word to the wise: whether you and/or your children have medical insurance or not, do not seek medical care for food-borne illnesses because the short shelf-life of the Affordable Care Act will mean that whatever lingering effects remain from those illnesses will go on your permanent record and you will either be denied health insurance in the future, or if you have it, it will be rescinded.

You can thank people for that.

Let us pray that painful cramping, delirium, lockjaw, and eventual horrific death are confined to the portion of the population and their children who were sitting in Medicare-supplied scooters last summer on the Washington D.C. Mall protesting all manner of gummint interference in their lives, but I suspect it will be the innocent who suffer, as always.


Then it's likely that a lot of small producers will go out of business.

Small restaurants are just as subject to health code compliance as the big guys. It should be no different for small farmers.

It should be no different for small farmers.

I hear what you're saying, but it might be useful to understand exactly what small farmers are being exempted from.

The exemption is from some reporting and registration requirements in the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. That act primarily targets food *processors*, rather than growers. As others have noted, even before the changes introduced by S-510, the act specifically excludes restaurants and farms.

Agriculture per se is covered in an entirely different part of US Code, mostly in Title 7.

The exemption here is to allow small producers to do mom-and-pop level processing -- making cheese or baked goods, butchering livestock, general handling and transportation of produce -- without having to meet the same reporting and registration requirements that apply to companies like Tyson Foods, or Archer Daniels.

Farms of all sizes are still subject to federal regulations regarding agriculture per se -- the actual growing or raising of food -- as well as other existing federal regulations for specific food products like meat, poultry, and eggs.

And, as noted, all state regulations continue to apply as before.

Not trying to talk you out of being concerned for the quality of your food, just trying to clarify what the law and the amendment actually do.

1st comment by Ugh wins the thread. Brett's concerns are just a sampling of Ugh's thesis.

Give me Liberty or give death! How about both? Ok, just don't ask for a receipt.

What's in the bill? It's a response to the various food quality scares of the last couple of years: the Eggs Of Death [...]
Eggs Of Death, you say?

:-)

Cleek made a strong point on January 03, 2011 at 01:40 PM.

As always, excellent post, Russell!

debbie:

Same with GM food. Doesn't the consumer have a right to know?
Possibly. What's the definition of "GM food" that should be used in a proposed bill?

It's not my understanding that this term has a universal, or even popular, or remotely standard, definition.

I certainly may be wrong, in which case I would welcome a pointer to such a standard legal wording that should be used in U.S. Code.

Or a pointer to any definition anywhere that is in any way agreed upon by a majority of Americans, or by any remotely reputable authority of any sort.

Or a proposed wording for such a definition.

What I'm sure is that we can't pass a law that says "all GM food must be labeled with the words 'GM food.'"

Different, useable in court, understandable, language would have to be used.

Suggestions welcome.

Absent such, what is it, exactly, that you would like "the consumer" to have a right to know?

Since we have readers and commenters from many countries, and some countries do have such laws and legal wording, pointers and quotes of such would also be entirely on-topic and useful.

(We used to have a debbiefromaustralia, for instance, but whether you're her, or some other of the zillions of people who use "debbie" as a handle, I have no idea what country you're a citizen of, for instance.)

Brevitity suggests I not otherwise supply my own answers and and links. :-)

Not that debbie. Nor is it an inventive handle. It's the name I was saddled with. I did grow up in a state full of cornfields, and I'm sorry that anyone feels the need to muck around with what is a very delicious food.

What's the definition of "GM food" that should be used in a proposed bill?

I'm about as far from a scientist as a person can get, but how about something simple like any food whose DNA has been genetically engineered, with a specific exemption for pollination?

"I'm about as far from a scientist as a person can get, but how about something simple like any food whose DNA has been genetically engineered, with a specific exemption for pollination?"

It's not simple. You'd need to use legal language that covers the scientific distinction you believe you're making. I'm not clear what that would be unless you can describe it.

Pollination is indeed genetic engineering, and humans have been doing it for tens of thousands of years. You'll have to be more specific as to what exactly you want done, if you want to describe what it is you want done, I'm afraid.

This is the opposite of simple. I don't know how anyone who isn't both an expert in genetic engineering and a highly specialized lawyer would even begin the arguments over what, exactly, should be made as some sort of legal distinction about what sort of bioengineering someone might or might not find objectionable.

Do we include Somaclonal variation? Somatic embryogenesis? What sort of transgenesis should and shouldn't be allowed?

One could go on endlessly and only begin to open up the topics necessary to debate.

I'm the opposite of expert on this, with only a few months of combined work on technical writing for some biogenetics companies in Seattle, decades ago, and a bit of reading over the years to go on, but I know about about this to know something about how much I don't know, which is to say, this is an unbelievably complicated topic, and if one can't be more specific than "GM food," I, at least, don't know what it is they're proposing, suggesting, or desiring.

I'm sure others who know more than I do can explain how simple this might be, with their own technical expertise, and the many detailed aspects I certainly lack more than the most general outlines of knowledge of, myself, and that would be educational for me, so I do invite those more knowledgeable to comment on the technical and legal issues that they might suggest as a begining to a simple approach as to what they think should or shouldn't be done.

Any experts out there who would like to comment?

I would, myself, start by suggesting what is my best understanding, which is that:

[...] A 2008 review published by the Royal Society of Medicine noted that GM foods have been eaten by millions of people worldwide for over 15 years, with no reports of ill effects.[7] Similarly a 2004 report from the US National Academies of Sciences stated: "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."[1] A 2004 review of feeding trials in the Italian Journal of Animal Science found no differences among animals eating genetically modified plants.[8] A 2005 review in Archives of Animal Nutrition concluded that first-generation genetically modified foods had been found to be similar in nutrition and safety to non-GM foods, but noted that second-generation foods with "significant changes in constituents" would be more difficult to test, and would require further animal studies.
And so on and so forth, if you are interesting in reading that one link alone.

Myself, I'm unconvinced there's any demonstrable danger, and I have no idea what it is people want when they want "GM-food" labeled, but I'd certainly like to know, since a lot of people object to it, but only a few people seem to be able to describe what it is, exactly, they are objecting to.

I look forward to learning more about this from anyone who might comment from actual expertise.

Gary, now you have me wondering what the long-term effects of eating non-GM food might be, and what might constitute non-GM food in the first place, for that matter.

hairshirthedonist: You could stick to Zea mays ssp. parviglumis, aka Balsas teosinte.

[...] The domestication of maize is of particular interest to researchers — archaeologists, geneticists, ethnobotanists, geographers, etc. The process is thought by some to have started 7,500 to 12,000 years ago. Research from the 1950s to 1970s originally focused on the hypothesis that maize domestication occurred in the highlands between Oaxaca and Jalisco, because the oldest archaeological remains of maize known at the time were found there. Genetic studies led by John Doebley identified Zea mays ssp. parviglumis, native to the Balsas River valley and also known as Balsas teosinte, as being the crop wild relative teosinte genetically most similar to modern maize.
Be sure to avoid this.

Plenty about the EU stance and database here.

People who worry might want to read this.

But might be best to stick to calabash.

[...] Recent research indicates an African origin and two unrelated domestications: the first one 8–9 thousand years ago in Asia, the second one 4 thousand years ago in Africa.

The mystery of the calabash – namely that this species of African origin is traceable in America surprisingly early – has made it quite difficult to understand how its domestication happened on the American continent. Genetic and archaeological research published by the National Academy of Sciences in December 2005 indicates that the domestication of the calabash and dogs is earlier than that of food plants and other domestic animals, and that both were brought into the New World at the end of the ice-age by Paleo-Indians, when they populated America. It is supposed that they were carried by people in boats or on foot, on the then-existing terrestrial route between Asia and America. It is also possible that the thick-walled calabashes simply drifted across the Bering Strait. They were already cultivated across America about eight thousand years ago.

But I wouldn't recommend actually eating it.

I'd go with wheat.

Genetic analysis of wild einkorn wheat suggests that it was first grown in the Karacadag Mountains in southeastern Turkey. Dated archeological remains of einkorn wheat in settlement sites near this region, including those at Abu Hureyra in Syria, confirms the domestication of einkorn near the Karacadag Mountain Range. The earliest carbon-14 date for the einkorn wheat remains at Abu Hureyra is 7800 to 7500 years BCE.[12] Recent genetic and archeological discoveries indicate that both emmer wheat and durum (hard pasta wheat) also originated from this same Karacadag region of southeastern Turkey. Remains of harvested emmer from several sites near the Karacadag Range have been dated to between 8800 and 8400 BCE, that is, in the Neolithic period.[13]

Cultivation and repeated harvesting and sowing of the grains of wild grasses led to the creation of domestic strains, as mutant forms ('sports') of wheat were preferentially chosen by farmers. In domesticated wheat, grains are larger, and the seeds (spikelets) remain attached to the ear by a toughened rachis during harvesting. In wild strains, a more fragile rachis allows the ear to easily shatter and disperse the spikelets.[14] Selection for these traits by farmers might not have been deliberately intended, but simply have occurred because these traits made gathering the seeds easier; nevertheless such 'incidental' selection was an important part of crop domestication. As the traits that improve wheat as a food source also involve the loss of the plant's natural seed dispersal mechanisms, highly domesticated strains of wheat cannot survive in the wild.

But only, of course, if you stick as close as you can to something resembling the original, unmodified, grass.

If you can find any.

Yes, I'm being a bit cute; there are certainly genuine and reasonable concerns about various possibilities with contemporary transgenic manipulation.

But meanwhile, tens of millions of people aren't starving, because of the evils of modern GM food, so I'm going to go, for now with the known good of nourishing tens of millions of people, including babies, today, and keeping up with the research, and, of course, the best possible safety precautions, over the unknown threat that few other than experts can actually explain what it is they think they're worried about.

Not to mention all the people who wouldn't be alive without, say, synthetic insulin, and the list of medicines and so on that are products of these techniques is very long indeed.

As I said, if we want to start getting into the, uh, weeds, there are plenty of technical aspects that are, I think, perfectly reasonable concerns.

But they're fairly technical, and for now, highly theoretical.

I'm a bit more concerned with feeding people today, and in the next twenty years, and known problems.

But that's me, and I said, if someone actually knowledgeable about the topic, pops up, I'd love to learn more.

Of course, if we're then going to discuss what laws should be passed, we need to bring in some lawyers who are also trained geneticists, or well enough informed to be able to translate from one area to another.

There are such people -- one of my cousins was an engineer turned patent lawyer -- but not a huge number specifically expert in genetic engineering and law, so far as I know.

But I could be wrong on this. I'm too tired at the moment to look into the question at the moment; I'm just going with what I already know.

It could be an interesting post, but I prefer to stick to topics where I really know what I'm talking about, rather than just dabbling based on the bits and pieces I know.

I'll leave the legalisms to the lawyers and stick to what I can address -- that it is wrong for someone else to be the one who determines what is safe for me to eat (particularly someone who's looking to make a profit). If I'm paying for the food, shouldn't that decision be left to me? I may not like GM food, but I do recognize that a company has a right to create and sell it. Likewise, shouldn't I have a right to know how my food is made? That's all I'm asking for: clear labeling.

That's all I'm asking for: clear labeling.

How would that work for, say, a frozen pizza, with lots of different ingredients, some plant and some animal, from disparate sources using different methods? Should this apply to restaurants? Prison cafeterias? Hot dog vendors on street corners?

Even if you stick to basic stuff like, say, bell peppers or cherry tomatoes, how much do you want to know about how your food is made? Pesticides, fertilizers, water sources, soil conditions, grafting methods, crop rotation?

You'd have to find some way of describing food that's unambiguous, meaningful, yet doesn't require so much work that it raises the price of a frozen pizza by 50%.

The overlap between people who eat frozen pizzas and people who are really, really concerned about having GM foods in their diet is relatively small, hopefully.

If there was a way of defining GM so that it precludes millenia of hybridization & other breeding-induced changes but focuses instead on things like insertion of grasshopper genes into a plant (yes, I'm kidding with this, but Roundup Ready plants have a gene sequence cloned from a bacterium, so: not such a stretch), I'd guess it would have already been done.

I know even less about this kind of thing than Gary does, so weight accordingly.

I think debbie's goals could be achieved by letting producers label food as NOT GM, rather than GM.

Where "not GM" means no gene splicing, or use of other techniques other than deliberate cross pollination and/or breeding between plants and animals that are actually capable of reproducing sexually without human intervention.

Unlike, for example, wheat and worms.

If you make your product out of stuff produced by other people, and you can't vouch for the "non-GM-ness" of the ingredient, you don't get to claim no GM.

It's not a ban on GM food, it's simply letting people who care about it know whether it's GM or not.

We do this now for stuff like no-bovine-growth-hormone dairy. We do it for kosher and halal food. We do it for folks with allergies (no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, no nuts, etc etc etc).

Some people care, some don't. If you do, you have the information. Whether someone *should* care or not is not really anybody's concern but their own. If producers see a market and want to serve it, I fail to see any good reason to not let them do so.

I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem like that high of a bar.

I think debbie's goals could be achieved by letting producers label food as NOT GM, rather than GM.

I can see that working, too. A producer will have to decided if it is worth it to go to the effort to verify that it uses no GM ingredients in what it produces, or that it is worth not producing GM ingredients or products before applying a "GM-free" or "non-GM" label (assuming the definition of GM can be nailed down to the satisfaction of those concerned).

My guess it that the market won't yield much beyond a small niche in the way of non-GM food, though, unless someone mounts a campaign to scare enough people into caring. (For me, the "we just don't know" argument isn't very compelling unless someone can at least propose a specific, science-based mechanism by which GM food might cause long-term harm - harm which has yet to surface in any noticable way, of course.)

The producers of genetically modified food and their fronters in government (in the FDA) have made it illegal to label food as GM free. The Monsanto-friendly Clinton administration and the Monsanto-friendly Obama administration, as well as those other guys that came between, have taken the position that such labeling implies that there's something wrong with genetically modified food, and we can't have that implication.

There is something demonstrably harmful to non-GM crops and farmers in the growing of GM crops; it's not all or even primarily about the effects of GM food on the people who eat it. Just as in buying organic, shoppers may be motivated by a desire not to support a system that relies so heavily on chemical fertilizers, soil sterilants, and pesticides.

It was a huge battle during the Clinton administration, late in the process of issuing the final USDA organic labeling standards, to have them exlude genetically modified organisms; for now, USDA organic labeling is a proxy for the forbidden 'GM free' label.

However, between cross-pollination and the Monsanto crackdown on seed cleaners, it's become increasingly hard for organic growers to assure that their own crops are free of GM contamination. Monsanto's dream world is almost here...

There is something demonstrably harmful to non-GM crops and farmers in the growing of GM crops;

Okay, but what is that? (I'm not being snarky; I just want to know.)

labeling implies that there's something wrong with genetically modified food

But labeling doesn't imply that there's something wrong with food that's not certified organic, does it? Maybe it does, but the labeling has taken root anyway.

Granted, the "organic" label has been folded & mutilated to some effect, but I think things are getting better in that regard. I could be wrong about that, of course, not being strongly fixated on organic anything.

Okay, but what is that? (I'm not being snarky; I just want to know.)

Modifications that breed true can be passed on via passive pollination. IOW the field next door might become GM whether it wants to or not.

The producers of genetically modified food and their fronters in government (in the FDA) have made it illegal to label food as GM free.

There's the heart of the matter.

Okay, but what is that?

I understand you're not just being snarky here, and I hope somebody provides a good answer (I don't have the time right now to do so).

But to some degree it begs the question.

What's the harm of non-kosher food? Or non-halal food? Or non-"fair-trade" food?

The reason folks label their products as kosher, or halal, or fair trade, or any of the 1,000 other niche market qualifiers that you can find on grocery shelves, is because somebody somewhere wants it enough to seek it out and probably pay extra for it.

Folks who are interested in whether their food is GM or not don't have that option, because producers are *prevented* from labelling their non-GM products as such.

Folks who are interested in non-GM food, and the producers who want to provide it to them, should not be obliged to demonstrate tangible harm done by GM processes. Although those harms can be shown.

The fact that *that is what they want to buy*, for whatever reason, should suffice.

The shoe is on the wrong foot here.

How would that work for, say, a frozen pizza, with lots of different ingredients…

I think debbie's goals could be achieved by letting producers label food as NOT GM, rather than GM.

They do this very same kind of thing with milk that is produced without hormones. They also indicate when foods are produced near allergy-inducing materials, like peanuts. They could do the same thing with GM.

labeling implies that there's something wrong with genetically modified food

This is what milk producers were screaming about, but I've noticed both kinds of milk still selling in the stores.

It's not a ban on GM food, it's simply letting people who care about it know whether it's GM or not.

Exactly! Are consumers too stupid to handle making their own choices? This seems like the conservative version of the "nanny state."

I have this reading comprehension glitch, only on the computer screen for some reason, in which entire words and phrases can disappear. So when I read Russell's sentence above: "If you make your product out of stuff produced by other people, ..." I thought it read "If you make your product out of other people, ....", which I thought was going to lead to labeling recommendations such as: "Soylent Green is people".

Just list the ingredients so the wary buyer can beware and exercise personal responsibility, like we're told life should operate. See, was that so hard? Well, yes, if you want the soylent green business to be successful and reward investors and shareholders.

I mean, there might be a marketing meeting or two in which it was decided that Soylent Green could still serve a niche market, say, Sharron Angle's dinner table.

This article (Via Andrew Sullivan) is fascinating, for many reasons, but for the subject of this thread, the art of salesmanship as a tissue of lies is the relevant bit, whether its the effect of vaccines on autism, the ingredients of that bag of Cheetos, that funky mortgage with its worldwide distribution of esoteric and prevaricated-about damp basement derivatives, or that engagement diamond:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Lie-Guy/125582/

I don't know the answer to the food labeling dilemma, but my sense is that the real problem is that Buyer Beware is very simply an impossibly time-consuming mission for the individual in this highly specialized world-enveloping economy in which the faceless producer sells faceless chickens to the faceless consumer over 5000-mile distances and then we ask faceless bureaucrats to determine the degree of facelessness in the entire transaction, and then the faceless bureaucrat is demonized by faceless lobbyists and politicians who you get the feeling if you see their face, there would be two faces and the they'd be smiling like a realtor with the mouth but the eyes would be working overtime on other agendas, to your detriment.

George Bernard Shaw said, "Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity." To which I would add that the conspiracy finds its surest expression in the vast sales force sweeping the world, made up of all of us telling little white lies to each other to close the deal and build that commission, until the edifice of lies becomes so great that trust goes out Glengarry Glenross window and civilization collapses.

Or something.

@hairshirtedonist:
Slarti answered the question about one of the harms of GM crops, and I alluded to it in my comment: contamination of non-GM crops by cross-pollination. This has been extensive, and has shown up far from the planting areas (which have also grown a lot over the last 15 years). One alarming example was the finding that older varieties of corn deep in Mexico, a center of genetic diversity (and origin) for corn, have crossed with the GM varieties.

Another concern has been harmful effects on insects that feed on, pollinate, or rest on the plants, or plants in the (sometimes vast) vicinity.

One example is Bt corn and Monarch butterflies. Wind-blown pollen from corn engineered to contain the bacterium Bacillus thuringensis (to kill corn earworms) lands on milkweed that is the main food plant for the caterpillars that become Monarch butterflies. A Cornell experiment in 1999 found that the caterpillars who ate from Bt-corn-pollen-dusted milkweed suffered ill effects and death. That study itself, now ten years old, set off a huge cycle of controversy, but you can see how different kinds of trans-genic manipulation could have uncontemplated and undesirable effects.

In the realm of political economy rather than science, a harmful effect of the spread of GM crops is Monsanto's zealotry in stamping out the ability of farmers to avoid buying its seed by crushing seed cleaners.

Bt is easily sprayed on crops, but also easily washed off by rains. I've never used it on corn, though. Never needed to.

GM crops associated with Bt only contain a gene that lets them produce Bt toxin; they don't produce the bacillus itself.

debbie makes an excellent point about milk, where the big ag/food processing powers that be didn't want to allow producers to label milk as free of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) because it would imply that there was something harmful about milk from cows given the hormone.

At some point the FDA or whoever allowed the labeling (I followed this a lot more closely in the late 1990s than recently).

Just yesterday I got a bitter chuckle from an ad in a cheese magazine from a big Wisconsin producer, who make some prize-winning artisanal as well as mass-merchandised varieties. They note that their prize winner is made with rBGH-free milk, but add an asterisk footnote: No studies have shown that rBGH milk is harmful. That's not verbatim, I don't have the magazine in hand. Other ads in the same publication just say "made with rBGH-free milk" and don't bother to qualify it -- but they're from much smaller companies.

In the realm of political economy rather than science, a harmful effect of the spread of GM crops is Monsanto's zealotry in stamping out the ability of farmers to avoid buying its seed by crushing seed cleaners.

That's more a problem of Monsanto's behavior and not one of GM crops, per se.

I was away from the computer for a while for a lunch-time walk, but I more or less thought through what I thought the response to my question might be, and I was right.

What it leaves us with is a world in which you cannot have both GM food and (easily grown and know-to-be) non-GM food. If that is the case, the djini is now out of the bottle, so the discussion is moot. Or, assuming for the sake of argument that the djini could be put back in the bottle, should it, and according to whose wishes? GM food has its benefits, aside from what it does for Monsanto, right?

The value of growing non-GM crops as opposed to GM crops ultimately goes back to what the problem is with GM crops, aside from their effects on trying to grow non-GM crops. (Worrying about the inability to grow non-GM crops is circular, since, if GM crops aren't problematic in the first place, you don't need non-GM crops.)

It appears that someone is necessarily going to lose here, since the GM crowd and non-GM crowd can't both have their ways. I'd prefer that they could, but what if that is, in fact, not possible?

Just realized that my comments about Monsanto crushing seed cleaners may be incomprehensible to those not familiar with the seed business. Google 'Maurice Parr';
This is a short article to give you a feel for the context.

Slarti, thanks for the correction about the Bt corn. I realized as soon as I posted that I'd been inaccurate, but decided that people who followed the Cornell link would get the facts.

Bt is an excellent tool for those who want to protect cabbage-family crops; I've used it for years. Its relatively narrow range of action and its solubility make it much safer for people and the ecosystem in which the plants are growing than chemical pesticides.

@hairshirthedonist: Monsanto's role in the development and spread of GMO crops makes it hard to draw a distinction between their behavior and the effect of the GMO crops.

The massive scale on which they were introduced with minimal testing, the fact that for most of a decade Monsanto was the only producer of commercial GMO crop seed, the extent to which the U.S. government policy on GMOs was identical with Monsanto's desired policy... There's a possible universe in which the two things are separable, but it's not this one.

Monsanto and other GMO producers and advocates are using the very scale and damage done to assert just the idea you raise: It's too late. We can't co-exist, so you (non-GMO producers) have to go.

"I'll leave the legalisms to the lawyers and stick to what I can address -- that it is wrong for someone else to be the one who determines what is safe for me to eat (particularly someone who's looking to make a profit)."

Debbie: I take it you grow all your own food?

Where did you obtain your seeds from, what do you know of their genetic history, and what means of testing have you used to assure yourself of their "safety"?

What's the metric you use for "safety"?

I'm not trying to be obnoxious about this, please believe me. But I do suggest there are some assumptions you're making that might bear additional examination.

[...] that it is wrong for someone else to be the one who determines what is safe for me to eat
How does anyone else force you to let them do that?

And unless you grow your own food, how are you not letting "someone else" determine what's safe?

And if you grow your own food, how are you not letting "someone else" determine what practices are safe?

And if you grow your own food, what do you know about the genetic history of the seeds, which is the concern you are stating you have, along with food safety in general?

And if you know and understand the genetics of your seeds, are you expert on all the environmental circumstances of your soil, the air, and the water of your plants? Have you tested them?

If you've done all this, where did you get the knowledge that assures you you're "correct"? Books and teachers who are "someone else"? How do you know they're not working with outdated or erroneous information without your own testing, or at least research?

It all ultimately comes down to what you're willing, in practice, to take as "sufficient authority," and where you personally draw the line. Trust the government? Or who or what do you trust? I can't answer that for you, or anyone else. All I can do is make suggestions, ask questions, provide what information I think is reasonably reliable as best I understand it at any given moment, and keep updating myself as best I can on contemporary best information at a given moment.

Which, given how science works, changes every day in many cases.

None of which is definitive, unless some of us are, indeed, omniscient. I certainly am not, don't pretend to be, and all I do is estimate what degree of confidence I personally find reasonable to apply to a given piece of information that I can confirm from as many sources I think are as reliable as possible.

But we all have to make these decisions for ourselves.

(particularly someone who's looking to make a profit).
You get all your food from people who don't make a profit?
If I'm paying for the food, shouldn't that decision be left to me?
It is.

I'm assuming you're not buying groceries, or growing your food, or raising your animals, and getting them their food, or anything involved in obtaining food, at gunpoint or threat of force. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

Now, what is it you would you like others to do for you, or be prevented from doing for or to you?

I can't tell, I'm afraid. Perhaps you could be a bit more specific?

The GM producers aim to privatize and profit from the common inheritance of the human race, plants that generations of people worked like slaves to improve and preserve.

I have as much respect for them as I would for someone who got a law passed granting him exclusive rights to all Shakespeare works because he made a pop-up-book version of Hamlet.

Russell:

We do it for kosher and halal food.
Agreeing with much of what you've said -- as usual -- it's only interesting to find the stuff to quibble with. :-)

And on the above, I note that we're talking pure ritual, and, again, acceptance of the word of an authority that the ritual has been properly done.

And I know enough about both practices to know that they're often as sloppy and riddled with corruption as every other human endeavor.

So I don't find the comparison particularly reassuring, myself. It's nice to now that a box is stamped with a label, and it's alleged that certain practices took place, and that someone else is allowing their literal stamp of approval to be place on the box, but that's all that I know takes place when commercial products are labeled and sold as kosher or halal.

And goy, er, boy, could I produce links on corrupt kosher and halal factories, rabbis, bribes taken, indifference, just as one can of innumerable other food producers. And humans.

[...] Some people care, some don't. If you do, you have the information. Whether someone *should* care or not is not really anybody's concern but their own. If producers see a market and want to serve it, I fail to see any good reason to not let them do so.

I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem like that high of a bar.

Are you familiar with how this as worked with use of the word "organic"?

I absolutely agree that laws very much can be tightened in many regards, and should be, as regards food safety and labeling, in ways that would be better for all of us, extremely important ways, that would save many lives, and prevent vast amounts of unnecessary illness and related problems.

But there are a lot of bars to cross, setting aside the political influence of money on Congress and economic and therefore political considerations.

Which we can't.

Nell: a) I solicit from you a guest post for ObWi which I'll post under your name, via my password and posting.

You can ask me to do it with
a) only possibly comments on clarity of punctuation or wording, or

b) simply unqueried unless I think there's something I absolutely have to ask you a question about; you're a good writer, or I wouldn't be asking.

So, off you go. :-)

But if not, or until: meanwhile:

[...] There is something demonstrably harmful to non-GM crops and farmers in the growing of GM crops;
Please demonstrate?

[...] However, between cross-pollination and the Monsanto crackdown on seed cleaners, it's become increasingly hard for organic growers to assure that their own crops are free of GM contamination.
Science happens. Even by big corporations. Not all that big corporations do is wrong or evil. One has to demonstrate that a specific practice is harmful, not just assert guilt-by-association.

That Monsanto or ADM, or whomever, have invented, patentend, sold, pushed, or lobbied for something, while utterly reasonable, and desirable, to examine, question, be skeptical of, and test, is indeed absolutely necessary.

So: demonstration?

Slart:

[...] Granted, the "organic" label has been folded & mutilated to some effect, but I think things are getting better in that regard. I could be wrong about that, of course, not being strongly fixated on organic anything.
Briefly, yes, I'd like a cite on that, before I'd agree.

I imagine you can live without my yet agreeing, so I'm not asking you to drop anything to support your opinion. :-)

Russell:

[...] Folks who are interested in whether their food is GM or not don't have that option, because producers are *prevented* from labelling their non-GM products as such.
I'm completely amenable to proposed laws -- which need not yet be put into legal language, of course, though they have to be presented in language that can eventually be put into legal language that is practical and clear and doesn't cause more legal, economic, and social problems than they cause -- and that's a point I'll agree with libertarians about -- if someone presents them. If they sound like good ideas, I'll, of course, agree.
[...] The fact that *that is what they want to buy*, for whatever reason, should suffice.
Sure, but any definition has to make sense, and be testable.

There isn't one for "organic." How do we get one for "GM-food"?

If there are definitions for either that are largely agreeable upon, that work, what are they?

Okay, gotta go now; back when I can be.

Nell: The massive scale on which they were introduced with minimal testing, the fact that for most of a decade Monsanto was the only producer of commercial GMO crop seed, the extent to which the U.S. government policy on GMOs was identical with Monsanto's desired policy... There's a possible universe in which the two things are separable, but it's not this one.

Jacob: The GM producers aim to privatize and profit from the common inheritance of the human race, plants that generations of people worked like slaves to improve and preserve.

Don't get me wrong. I agree that these suck. And I don't really see how Monsanto should be able to prevent some small farmer from growing crops with seeds that contain a sequence of genes Monsanto "developed" if that farmer obtained those seeds from his own crops and the genes got there by random cross-pollination or by other unintended contamination.

It's one thing to say, "We're growing our stuff, and if it gets on your stuff naturally, that's life." It's another thing to say, "We're growing our stuff, and if it gets on your stuff naturally, you can't grow your stuff anymore, because that means it's our stuff now, and you can't have it."

Sure, but any definition has to make sense, and be testable.

I offered a simple definition upthread: the food in question has not been developed through the use of gene splicing or other genetic modification technique, other than those that living organisms themselves use to combine genes when they reproduce.

In other words, sex. Pollination and, for animals, breeding.

IMO that's more than sufficiently clear.

The fact that other labeling schemes are vulnerable to gaming is not really a strong case for *legally disallowing* labeling of non-GM food.

My personal argument for wanting to know whether food is GM or (more specifically) not GM is that I think the ability to make scads of money off of genetically modifying food provides a big incentive to processors to lie their freaking @sses off about the benefits and risks.

It happens every day.

So, I don't trust them, and I place the burden of proof on them to demonstrate no harm, rather than on me to demonstrate harm.

But net/net, if my personal reason for wanting to know if food was non-GM was that the archangel Gabriel appeared to me in a dream and told me to only eat non-GM food, that's all the reason I need. If I'm willing to seek it out and pay for it, and somebody's willing to provide it to me, that's what should happen.

There should not be a law *preventing* producers from stating that their products were made in a particular way that may be of interest to consumers.

And the reasons that law exists are transparently self-serving in the interest of GM food producers. There is no broad public good served by the law.

Those are all good questions, Gary.

During the months and years it will take her to learn the answers to those questions, I suggest Debbie have three squares a day to avoid starvation.

But this: "I'm assuming you're not buying groceries, or growing your food, or raising your animals, or getting them their food, or anything involved in obtaining food, at gunpoint or threat of force."

No, the threat of starvation is probably sufficient for Debbie to do one or several or all of those things without the benefit of a bullet to the head or flogging or water boarding.

Just saying the "Well, no one is forcing you to (insert whatever life-sustaining activity)" seems irrelevant to me.

The State of Pennsylvania is the only state in the Union apparently that doesn't regulate the practice by oil and gas exploration companies dumping vast quantities of water polluted with heavy metals, etc into lakes and streams, where it finds its way into private wells and the public water supply.

I'm pretty sure any attempt at regulation by those adversely affected will have to listen to years of political posturing and litigation by the oil and gas companies along the following anti-regulatory Randian lines (probably with NRA members in attendance):

"No one is forcing you at gunpoint to drink that wellwater. You could use the public water supply."

Citizen Cleanwaterseeker: "Well, that's true as far as it goes, but you're polluting the public water supply too."

Attorney: "Well, that's subject to debate, but no one is forcing you at gunpoint to partake of the public water supply either, which we are neither confirming nor denying has been polluted. If you don't trust any source of water in Pennsylvania, you could move to a state with stricter regulation. (smiling broadly and avuncularly while glancing around the room at the NRA members nonchalantly fiddling with their NRA pins.) Are we holding a gun to your head to stay in Pennsylvania?"

Citizenscleanwaterseeker: Uh, no, but water pollution can cross state lines so I don't see ..."

Attorney: "You are free to find a non-contiguous state to live in, are you not?

Etc.

But net/net, if my personal reason for wanting to know if food was non-GM was that the archangel Gabriel appeared to me in a dream and told me to only eat non-GM food, that's all the reason I need. If I'm willing to seek it out and pay for it, and somebody's willing to provide it to me, that's what should happen.

There should not be a law *preventing* producers from stating that their products were made in a particular way that may be of interest to consumers.

But, if the government has to make sure that the labels are accurate, and that's going to divert resources and tax dollars from elsewhere, don't you need something more compelling to everyone else who pays those taxes and may need those resources than your conversation with Gabriel? Or are you proposing that the law allow labels with no government oversight as regards their accuracy? I'm cool with that - the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval model, maybe.

Briefly, yes, I'd like a cite on that, before I'd agree.
Sure, but any definition has to make sense, and be testable.

There isn't one for "organic." How do we get one for "GM-food"?

It sounds almost as if you're agreeing with me already :)

But no, I don't have a cite. Probably anything that I'd heard on the topic of abuse of the "organic" claim is over a decade old, and thus at least partially irrelevant even if I managed to exhume it.

But there is a USDA organic certification process in place. You've probably been aware of that for some time; if so, look at it as another moment where Slart gets to discover what most other people have been aware of for years.

There is, though, some current level of exploitation of the desire for people to be less hostile to the environment. "Natural", for example.

But no other cites, alas.

It's another thing to say, "We're growing our stuff, and if it gets on your stuff naturally, you can't grow your stuff anymore, because that means it's our stuff now, and you can't have it."

I think it's more like: your food crops (and also anything that you reserve as seed stock) has our IP all over it, and you therefore owe us a licensing fee.

It'd be just stupid if Monsanto failed to anticipate this eventuality and is trying to put the genie back in the bottle (or, in the parlance of my ancestors, unsh!t the bed). It'd be evil if Monsanto did anticipate this eventuality and is using circumstances to arm-bar other farmers into paying its license fees.

A sane court system would find that, by inserting a gene sequence that breeds true and cross-pollinates, Monsanto had failed to properly protect its IP, and thus loses all rights to IP other than being able to charge a premium for seeds that it, Monsanto, produces.

Gary: I don't have the time or the inclination to write a guest post on this subject, or get into it here in much greater depth. There have been studies showing harm in the field (as in the Cornell one cited in an earlier comment), and at least one that showed harm from consumption (in Australia; rats eating GM grain having lower fertility). There have also been a lot of counter-studies. The GM industry has put and continues to put a lot of money and pr into trying to prevent any conclusion on the part of anyone in a decision-making capacity that there is harm in the field or at the table.

The U.S. government has supported the Monsanto view every step of the way except for the single victory in USDA organic standards, and that was a huge pitched battle (and public, because of the Federal Register commenting). This includes the continued refusal to permit food products to be labeled as "GM free".

Wrt definition of organic: There is no one definition that suits everyone, but there have been explicit standards used by state and regional organic-certifying bodies for decades. Larger producers wanted a national standard (USDA certification), and one was developed in the late 1990s. It is a specific set of conditions that allows food to be labeled 'USDA organic' or some such.

When the Clinton USDA first proposed these regs, they allowed GM ingredients to be considered organic. I and several hundred thousand other citizens objected, and our comments were heeded. The USDA standards can be looked up by anyone who's interested.

I see now that Slarti covered this, with a helpful link. In his next comment, wrt Monsanto's course of action, they IMO did anticipate this eventuality and exploited it to strong-arm farmers. Others may look over the sequence of events leading up to Monsanto's suit against Mo Parr and see a more innocent picture.

Last comment for a while:

Whatever the purported problem is with allowing producers to label food as GM free, it's not an inability to define what GM food is. Many (all?) EU countries require sellers to identify food as GM free or not (this has been true for about a decade but I could be wrong about that), and the U.S. government is pressuring the EU to reverse that.

But, if the government has to make sure that the labels are accurate

The government is already involved. Genetic modification of food already has to jump through the FD&C hurdle.

All that is being asked is that the government not *prevent* people from stating that any of the quite crisply defined genetic modification techniques were not performed on food they produced.

That is apparently currently against the law.

It'd be just stupid if Monsanto failed to anticipate this eventuality and is trying to put the genie back in the bottle (or, in the parlance of my ancestors, unsh!t the bed). It'd be evil if Monsanto did anticipate this eventuality and is using circumstances to arm-bar other farmers into paying its license fees.

I find it equally likely that they didn't anticipate it, but are just looking at it as a stroke of great good luck.

Global IP via serendipity!

Go straight to "profit!", no imaginary second step required.

Gary: No, I do not grow my own food, so that settles that discussion.

However, I'm unclear why you think it's unreasonable that I, as the consumer, should be able to decide what it is I want to eat.

I don't know about you, but I'm a label reader. If a product's got stuff in it I don't like, then I don't buy it. It's as simple as that. All I'm asking is that I be the one who gets to make the choice, not some corporation looking to get my money.

An example: frozen puff pastry. Some brands contain lard, others contain butter. They're both puff pastry, but the taste will be different. Don't I have a right to know which is which and to make the choice I want to? The only way for me to tell which is which is to read the lable. By not labeling GM, that choice is not mine; it's the food producer's.

Another example: trans fat. Companies can list trans fat level at zero if the actual trans fat content is less than .5 mg. But it's in there! And now, instead of partially hydrogenated whatever, they're using something called "interesterified" fat which is supposed to be even worse.

All I'm asking for is truth in labeling. Sell what you want with whatever ingredients you want, but at least label what's actually in it. Let me make the choice as to whether I want to eat it or not.

From russell's link:

The policy also makes clear that labeling will be required if the composition of the genetically modified food differs significantly from what is expected for that food, or if the genetically modified food contains potential allergens.

Would that be sufficient?

I thought this was funny for some reason:

Similarly, if a copy of a new gene introduced into a carrot produces a protein that significantly changes the composition of the vegetable, the name "carrot" may no longer accurately describe the product and a new name would be required.

Carrotique?

Carrotcature

Would that be sufficient?

My personal opinion would be "No".

If you f**k with the food, you gotta let me know.

I eat some ridiculous crap, it's not like I'm a food purist. But if you're going to sell me an oyster that's somehow been cross-bred with a pine tree, or a banana that's been cross-bred with a sand worm, you gotta tell me.

I want to know I'm eating a Douglas fir oyster, or a banana whose great-grandpa was bait. That way I, not Monsanto, can decide if that's something I want to do, or not.

That's all I ask. It's not a lot.

So, it sounds like you don't have much problem with this (emphasis mine):

The new gene splicing techniques are being used to achieve many of the same goals and improvements that plant breeders have sought through conventional methods. Today's techniques are different from their predecessors in two significant ways. First, they can be used with greater precision and allow for more complete characterization and, therefore, greater predictability about the qualities of the new variety. These techniques give scientists the ability to isolate genes and to introduce new traits into foods without simultaneously introducing many other undesirable traits, as may occur with traditional breeding. This is an important improvement over traditional breeding.

but you do with this (emphasis mine, again):

Second, today's techniques give breeders the power to cross biological boundaries that could not be crossed by traditional breeding. For example, they enable the transfer of traits from bacteria or animals into plants.

If I'm right about that, I'm probably with you. (It's very Frankensteinish, no?) I would tend to think, though, and I may be wrong about this, that plant foods developed using bacterial and animal DNA would be caught by "if the composition of the genetically modified food differs significantly from what is expected for that food."

a banana that's been cross-bred with a sand worm

See, my first thought was how one of those couple-of-hundred-meter-long things was going to mate with a banana. But then I thought that maybe you weren't thinking along Dune guidelines for sandworms.

Debbie:

[...] However, I'm unclear why you think it's unreasonable that I, as the consumer, should be able to decide what it is I want to eat.
I wrote no such thing, and think no such thing.

I fully and utterly agree with you. I apologize that I haven't made myself clear about that.

[...] I don't know about you, but I'm a label reader.
I read everything obsessively. Always have. I tend to read blocks of a page as a whole, or if not, paragraphs as a whole. But, of course, sometimes only sentences and sometimes only words at a time, depending upon the need and my ability at present.

I have always read every label I can. It's important. Aside from the fact that it's largely involuntary, it's also, for me, a necessity; I tell people about as few of my medical issues as I can. They're not relevant to anyone else unless, in some cases, they are. but now you know what I do about labels. Read them all. Completely. Understand them as best I can. Act accordingly according to my own best judgment. Tell people what I know, when I can.

[...] All I'm asking for is truth in labeling. Sell what you want with whatever ingredients you want, but at least label what's actually in it. Let me make the choice as to whether I want to eat it or not.
I couldn't agree more. I'm sorry I haven't communicated that more successfully. I hope this clarifies.

Have a great day.

Russell:

[...] All that is being asked is that the government not *prevent* people from stating that any of the quite crisply defined genetic modification techniques were not performed on food they produced.
I fully agree with your always wise words, and specifically these, and most of what you have said in this thread.

So, it sounds like you don't have much problem with this... but you do with this

What I have a problem with is precisely this:

A lot of folks would like to know if the food they are eating is the product of genetic manipulation other than what the beings in question are capable of carrying out for themselves.

The law says we're not allowed to know.

With respect, f*** that.

Yeah, the folks who are in the business of doing this stuff want us to know it's ever so much more precise and free of undesirable side effects than traditional methods like cross-pollination and cross-breeding.

I think they will say whatever they need to say to make themselves a lot of money.

Maybe what they say is so, maybe it ain't. Your guess is as good as mine. If they want to f*** with my food, I want the folks who *do not want to f*** with my food* to be able to tell me so.

That is all. It is not a lot to ask.

If you don't care, you don't care. We all get to eat what we want. All I'm asking is that *we all be allowed to eat what we want*.

But then I thought that maybe you weren't thinking along Dune guidelines for sandworms.

I'm talking about these guys. My grandfather and I used to use them as bait when I was a kid.

You gotta watch your step when you thread them on the hook, they'll bite you. I used to make my grandfather do it, they used to freak me out with their weird ferocious sharp little extruded mouth parts.

Amazing that a work can be nasty, but a worm can be nasty. Plus, I was a little kid, it hadn't occurred to me yet that, when it came to worms and humans, humans could actually be the boss.

Grandpa didn't give a crap, he was a tough old bird. He once threatened to hang my up by my handle, which gave me considerable pause, although it made my old man laugh out loud.

Sweet guy, though, under all the bluster. He took me and my cousins fishing every summer, to the ball game too. He wore a stingy brim straw fedora in all seasons and smoked smelly cigars.

Good times.

Russell, thanks for the sandworm reference, I did a bit of googling and found this research project and this guy's photostream

"All I'm asking for is truth in labeling. Sell what you want with whatever ingredients you want, but at least label what's actually in it. Let me make the choice as to whether I want to eat it or not. "

While I tend to agree, and would let food labels include anything that's actually truthful, (The government's practice of barring statements that, for instance, milk came from cows that weren't given a certain hormone, is wrongful, provided the label is phrased accurately.) genetic engineering is not "what's actually in it". Not unless you're getting down to the level of detail where reading the food label would require a PHD in biology and a few years of spare time.

Genetic engineering frequently causes over-expression or under expression of already native proteins, and thus would not change "what's actually in it" at all. (It's generally, though not in some instances, no different from breeding in this respect.) This is, at least theoretically, the basis for the government refusing to let milk be labeled "BST free"; There ain't no such thing as BST free milk, BST is naturally present in cows.

OTOH, if genetic engineering causes expression of non-native proteins, (Say somebody genetically engineered chickens to include some shellfish proteins in their eggs.) there could be serious issues for people with food allergies, and this should certainly be noted.

Just saying the whole subject is a lot more complicated than, "Just tell me what's actually in it!", and I suspect you'd be complaining if every tray of hamburger you bought came with a complete listing of the ingredients. As the label would outweigh the meat, and you probably wouldn't understand it, unless you're a biologist.

genetic engineering is not "what's actually in it". Not unless you're getting down to the level of detail where reading the food label would require a PHD in biology and a few years of spare time.

No, it merely requires something to the effect of, "This product contains ingredients which include the ABC and DEF genes, which are patented by Monsanto Corp. and intended to do ___________ ." Or, alternatively, "This product contains no patented genes or otherwise genetically modified ingredients."

This is, at least theoretically, the basis for the government refusing to let milk be labeled "BST free"; There ain't no such thing as BST free milk, BST is naturally present in cows.

It is my understanding that, at this point, nobody wants to label milk "BST-free," they want to label it "rBST-free" or "rBGH-free." rBST does not occur naturally in cows, obviously, and is a patented product.

Brett wrote:

"Just saying the whole subject is a lot more complicated than, "Just tell me what's actually in it!", and I suspect you'd be complaining if every tray of hamburger you bought came with a complete listing of the ingredients. As the label would outweigh the meat, and you probably wouldn't understand it, unless you're a biologist."

Agreed. Same thing goes for mortgages, health insurance policies, and, um, legislation. Even the small print has explanatory, obfuscating, and exculpatory smaller print.

Why, the fact legislation is 1952 pages long has most people off their feed altogether.

It's getting so we may need one day off per week nationally just to read the small print, but I don't think that would pass constitutional muster, without a close reading of the small print.

It's all DADT sausage to me. If you ask and then someone tells, then the next thing you know you've got a swishy male hairdresser sashaying into Osama Bin Laden's cave and lisping: "Sthcuse me, are you that basthard, Osthama?" and putting a bullet into his head.

And then where would the boys and gorls in fly-over country be?

Thing is, if we admit that we can't negotiate the world's increasingly arcane ans specialized small print and the prevaricating armies of suited quants confusing the matter, whither that old American standby -- personal responsibility?

Our parents tried to prepare for this eventuality.

Mother, placing a serving of Monday casserole with mystery meat in front of the 12-year old son at the dinner table: "There you go."

Son, eyeing the casserole in front of him and leaning over and sniffing it: "What's in it?"

Mother, unfolding her napkin and neatly arranging it in her lap with one motion: "The same ingredients that were in it last Monday, and the Monday before that."

Son: "No, there's something different about it. It doesn't smell the same as before. Is that chicken in there? Tell me what's in it -- it's constituent ingredients as my science teacher would put it."

Father, thus far silent, chewing ferociously, without looking up from his plate: "I'll tell you what's in it: the sweat of my brow, your mother's slaving over a hot stove, and your role of shutting up and eating it. And by the way, tell your science (sneering the word 'science') to mind her own business. The world doesn't owe you an explanation."

Mother: "Oh, Frank, the boy's just curious. Kid's ask questions."

Son: "yeah, it's my right as a ..."

Father, now looking up, interrupting this train of conversation: "Yes, well, curiosity killed the cat. And I don't see the words "tell me what's in the casserole" in the Constitution, at least not at the State level, not that's it's any business of yours. You'll eat your dinner, or you'll sit there until hell freezes over."

Son, cogitating on the mention of the cat while studying the the serving of casserole a little closer: "Where is the cat? Come to think of it, I haven't seen the cat in a couple of days,. You know, (pushing way from the table) I'm just not hungry right now. You can't force me to eat this."

Dad: "No one is holding a gun to your head! You wanna starve, then starve. Now sit up, and eat that dinner!"

Son: Well, then it's not my fault if I get sick and die from this."

Dad: "The hell it's not! (Jabbing his knife in the kid's direction) Now, eat!"

Countme--In: that was a great comment by you.

a complete listing of the ingredients

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, with dibs and dabs of phosphorus and trace metals in approximately these proportions.

Or, more simply: up and down quarks in roughly equal proportions, plus electrons.

Probably ingredients of concern to the consumer would be a better requirement.

There is a full list of ingredients on the tooth paste tube that's a good deal longer than that on most pharmaceutical products I consume.
Admittedly such stuff is simple since it is in essence a mixture of simple compounds unlike solid food.
But unless one has studied chemistry the list is rather pointless as far as most people are concerned.
One problem that people with serious food allergies have to battle even absent any lab genetic meddling is that it is usually not possible to get the family tree of esp.vegetables. People have died (or come close) due to not knowing that their turnip's great grandmother was a celery that infected the sap line with the substances their organism reacts to fatally.

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