The dumb "No on 37" campaign to defeat labels on genetically engineered food

"No on 37" is a campaign to defeat "California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food," which is up for a vote in the November election. I ran across the ad shown here on the LA Times' website and didn't find it particularly persuasive.

When I visited the site I was impressed by processed food conglomerates' desperation to defeat this bill. Monsanto is one of the corporations spending money to defeat 37 (According to Yes on 37, Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, Dow, BASF and Syngenta have donated $19 million to No on 37). Why does it care? Could it be because a peer-reviewed health study revealed massive tumors in rats fed Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn? (UPDATE: Thanks to the commenters who linked to articles critical of the study. The study sounds very problematic, I mainly thought the ad was dumb.)

Here's a list of companies in favor of Prop 37.


    1. Whether or not the study is bogus is irrelevant to the campaign to defeat Prop 37.  The labeling just says that there’s GM material, not that it will cause you to grow another head.  Trying to defeat simple labeling is mala in se.

      1. But how many of the studies saying “Yeah, this GMO shows no ill effects” have you ever read about in the news? Or on BoingBoing? None. However, a terrible, terrible study showing the opposite makes it onto the front page. Mark’s post is a PERFECT example. Couple that with a label, and you aren’t informing, you are demonizing.

        1. I’ve read a few. They don’t make the news because they are pretty boring. (Genetic engineered foods: As safe as eating regular foods, news at 11!). I wish I could link to some but right now I’m behind a firewall. I’ll try to seach and post links later.

        2. How is knowledge “demonizing”? 

          This is so simple it freaks me out that someone would fight against it. I deserve to know what I am eating. That it’s being hidden from me – for any reason – is insulting to the intelligence of the public and takes away their right to know. Why could you possibly want to keep that information out of people’s hands? 

          Are you afraid they won’t buy your GMO product? Well, that’s the free market for you. If people decide they don’t want to eat that totally-safe™ GMO chicken, then some other entrepreneur will come along to offer a competing product and may the best brand win and be profitable. This is what america promises with it’s free market economy. But here you are saying that it should be run another way… are you a socialist?

          1. So I can expect your support for my new “This food may have been handled by muslims and/or atheists” label?

            I mean, I just want to know? How is knowledge demonizing? 

            Yours is the same argument used in Dover when it came time to slap labels on Biology textbooks about their content on evolution.

            I see it as something very similar to Kosher labeling. The government doesn’t handle kosher certification, because there isn’t a sound scientific reason to do so. A GM crop has made it past FDA, USDA and EPA certification. It is safe, as far as our regulatory agencies has been able to determine.  That not good enough? I have no problem with third party certification.

            I actually support people knowing that their food is GM. What I don’t support is forcing producers to use a scientifically unsound label.

          2.  No one has suggested a scientifically unsound lable. Have you read the proposition?

            You are characterizing a right to know so I can have a choice with racial profiling. Um… Rediculous to say the least.

            The issue is that GMO foods are NOT labled here in the united states.

            They are labled in other first world civilized nations and the only reason they are not here is because michael taylor (Monsanto lobbyist and lawyer) has been appointed to the FDA as deputy! Conflict of interest much?!?

            Bottom line is that we have a right to know and monsanto and other poiosn manufacturers are concerned that their product may be unsafe so they dont want people to know as they may lose revenue.

            Do you care more about knowing whats in your food and having a choice or poison manufacturers profit margins?

            Ask yourself why.

            I feel I have a right to know if its in there. No need for a warning lable just put it in the ingredients list like everything else. If nothing else GMO’s have bio-engineered poisons in them that explode insect livers (cant be good for us) OR they are sprayed with much more pesticides as the crop has been engineered to resist the poison. (Cant be good for us as its poison that kills living organisms). I dont need proof. Im just not an idiot who is going to wait for his liver to explode to believe that poison may not be good for my health and its my right to know if these poisons or GMO’s are in my food and its my right to choose weather or not I want to put it in my body.

            anyone who says different is a tool for monsanto.

        3. Untrue. Labling is mandatory and has been for many decades. It isnt demonizing when you get to see High fructose corn syrup on your lable or are informed that someone uses pesticides (see poison) on your vegetables is it?

          To equate a right to know with demonization is a dishonest characterization at best.

      2. Not if it’s your reason for wanting the label in the first place. It’s what this editorial focuses on.

    2. 1) Forbes is not a scientific peer.

      2) The Forbes article starts right off with a major lie:

      “This study by a team of French researchers in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology is the first to seriously challenge the scientific consensus.”

      Not true. There have been many other studies to do so.

      1. 1) Correct, but are the reasons and sources scientific? Yes. Also do they corroborate with other scientifically literate sources? Also yes (As pointed by another user above: )

        2) There have been other studies and most are ambiguous or show little evidence that genetically engineered foods are harmfull. This is the first one with attempts to paint a truly negative picture. Also, even if it wasn’t, how does that discredit the rest of the article. One mistake does not invalidate the unrelated premise.

      2. Generally speaking, if Forbes comes out against something, I consider that almost as good as a second peer-reviewed study that agrees with the thing.  Seriously, if Forbes printed an article asserting the sky was blue, I might go visit an optometrist just because it looks blue to me too.

  1. hmmm. Full Disclosure: I work for the Bioengineering Department at UC Berkeley, and am an ardent Maker and Synthetic Biologist. So there you go. Now. That study is very dodgy and while it presumably was “peer-reviewed” in some sense, the majority of peer (scientist) reactions to it *after* publication have been negative. Labeling is fine in principle but there’s a climate of stupid hysteria here that may limit the growth of an important technology. What’s the deal with California setting the threshold lower than everywhere else that does labeling. What about all the other peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate the general safety of genetic engineering. What about the fact that the statistics of this latest study are very dubious & have generally been panned by scientists, e.g. see reactions here You can’t pick and choose science: the consensus behind genetic transformation is that it’s safe in principle. If the consensus goes one way, what basis is there for claiming exceptional insight? Isn’t that what the climate science deniers do? Regarding labeling. Wouldn’t a better option be to have a label for *every* species and *every* strain, rather in the way that Europe handles chemical additives in food by assigning them ALL “E-numbers” whether they are burnt sugar or ground insects or natural coloring or whatever. All species used in food could be labeled whether it’s a recent genetic innovation, or a slightly less-recent innovation (remember for example that corn is an only-recent evolutionary derivative of maize: it has been heavily modified by selective breeding techniques and, like most foods we consume en masse, was not part of the “Stone Age diet”). When the planet is collapsing under a population explosion – can we really afford phobias about where the digital information in DNA sequences came from. I’m all for intelligent labeling, but not this punitive atmosphere that says (for example) that we have to set the threshold of contamination lower than everywhere else in the world, just to set an example, or something. And since the overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed science says that genetic transformation is not inherently dangerous, I would really prefer that we focus our collective concern on things that are dangerous rather than passing stricter-than-necessary legislation intended to regulate a new technology essentially by scaring consumers away from it (which is the undoubted tone of the Yes on 37 campaign and most of its advocates).

    1. “Labeling is fine in principle but there’s a climate of stupid hysteria here that may limit the growth of an important technology.”

      This attitude has led to a largely uninformed population.  The hysteria probably comes after information is withheld.  I like the idea of GMO’s but as it stands the people supporting GMO’s want to use them to make money, not to save the world.  Not to say that labeling them will suddenly alter the track that GMO’s are on, but at least it will get us somewhere that isn’t just conglomerates trying to use GMO’s to make money with disregard to the impact they have on the world.  That’s not to say that Monsanto will ruin the world if everything people eat comes from GMO, but I’ll take my chances with a company that cares about something other than cents on the dollar.

      1. The hysteria probably comes after information is withheld.

        Yeah, I think that labeling will ultimately lead to acceptance. Most people don’t read labels anyway. After a few years, the Daily Mail will report that you’ve been eating GM food all along and nobody dropped dead, then people will stop worrying about it. Launching a big anti-labeling campaign makes it look like a reptilian, sprinkler-rainbow conspiracy.

        1. But there are enormous logistical hurdles with labeling, and they are mostly the responsibility of the retailer and the growers – and smaller scale ones will have a much harder time complying. It’s an unintended consequence of a poorly written bill. It actually increases the advantages of the bigger food manufacturers, since it’s easier for them to comply in a standardized way. 

        2.  They do if they’re freaked out yuppies using this as yet another marker of how freakin’ rich they are.  In some areas, feeding your kid “conventional” veggies gets you looks like you’re poisoning them.  And Recombinate Bovine Growth Hormone, anyone?  Another “no evidence but let’s label it like it’s risky anyway” thing.  People assume you wouldn’t label it if it wasn’t a risk to at least some people.  Peanut warnings are there for a reason, after all.

          I think education will have to come first otherwise you’ll end up with a witch hunt, though it might be too late for that.  Hysteria seems to be catching.  I do think that genetically modified crops will become more important in the future, so demonizing them would probably not be a great plan.

          1. “A witch hunt”? Against Monsanto? How fanciful. I think that you’ve accidentally reversed the polarity of existence.

          2. It’s not that it’s not a witch hunt, it’s just that Monsanto has those flying monkeys hanging around their headquarters which has made everyone REALLY suspicious.

          3. It’s a witch hunt against genetic engineering, the technology. Not Monsanto, the company. It’s too bad you can’t see the difference (or can rationalize it away). Genetic engineering is very promising tech, and conflating it with Monsanto is like saying that software companies are all Microsoft.

        3. Most people don’t read labels, therefore we shouldn’t oppose it because that would look like a lizard conspiracy, and besides labels can only lead to acceptance…

          It seems to me that you just don’t think this is a big deal. I’d go along with that – I don’t think it’s a *huge* deal – but I don’t think you should use nonsense arguments as a proxy for that (not meaning offense, but none of those arguments really stand up: labels DO influence behavior, often negatively, and it IS worth debating bad regulatory legislation)

      2. No, I think the hysteria comes from misinformation about “frankenfoods” etc. If we’re going to label genetic transformation, I sure hope we’re going to slap big labels saying “GROUND INSECTS INSIDE” on any food containing cochineal. We should probably do that if there’s even a 0.3% chance of insect contamination. So that’ll be pretty much everything, then. Also, to keep conservatives happy, we should have big labels saying “ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS HELPED PICK THIS PRODUCE”. Then consumers can decide, right? Just to be safe, any food that is processed should have a big “PROCESSED FOOD” label on it. We need not worry that we are labeling the wrong things, or creating hysteria, because California’s boundlessly wise process of direct democracy will ensure that only the most important warning labels lacking any scientific basis whatsoever will appear on our food products.

  2. This is a confusing issue to me.  It’s certainly not like global warming where a consensus exists.

    The author of the study said, “”This is around the level [that] the American population may eat.”

    If his rats reflected the exposure Americans get to GMO corn, why aren’t we seeing explosions of tumors?

    Anyway, I do think that the self-interest of the groups supporting and opposing GMO’s is less important that the quality of the science.

    I’d appreciate reactions to this essay. 

    1. Despite its flaws the study looked at exposure over a rat life-time. This is much shorter than a human lifetime. GMO corn has not been around long enough (to my knowledge) that the outcome they are trying to see in the study to be shown in humans.

        1. Which is why the problems with the statistics are more troubling if one is already dealing with an elevated cancer rate in the line.

          However not seeing it in humans yet does not invalidate their hypothesis. The rat selection and statistics in particular low numbers in the control group cast doubts about their conclusions.

      1. The green revolution was the first massive scale early exercise in what would now be considered primitive GMO – it happened over a span, but it would be fair to peg it at 50 years old continuing to this day.  A couple billion people are eating the product, many for their entire lifetime.  GMO isn’t a specific evil modification, but rather an evolving toolbox of many techniques to express particular traits in crops (like crop yield and heat resistance)

        And “despite its flaws” is a pretty pointless thing to say in this case since the flaws in the study were essentially fatal to its relevancy.  The rat population and group distribution alone negates any tumor based results since he basically used rats engineered to grow tumors and then created an incredibly small control relevant to treatment groups.  He could have not treated any of the groups at all and very likely would have seen the very same tumor distribution.  The tumor distribution is best explained by completely random group allocation, making the link between tumor and GMO outright dishonest.  But bigger than that, the fact that at no point in his study did he actually explain a mechanism that would generate tumors basically relegates his study to irrelevancy.  It is really crushingly terrible science, the anti-GMO equivalent of Andrew Wakefield’s BS Autism study

        1. Are the techniques of 50 years ago what was being tested (I do not know – my knowledge of plant modifications has numerous holes) I seem to recall going “huh?” when i read what they were testing for thinking – that does not sound right I should get around to reading the original.  The article I read did not have a link to the full paper so I have not been able to review it for myself. 

          1. Quick look suggests that the Modified corn was originally tested in 2004. So humans have not not been eating that one for a life time. Whether they have been eating GM foods with that particular protein over expressed I don’t know. Also could they not have used the whole word “Round-Up” in their article rather than just “R”.

            I still think that the concept of testing over longer term exposure and in conjunction with the pesticide it is supposed to accommodate is valid. Be nice to see it done properly.

          2. The abbreviation of compounds to a single letter is fairly common in literature, though usually the compound they are abbreviating is of scientific nomenclature rather than a brand name.  Every journal has their own quirks that largely don’t seem to make much sense even to folks accustomed to other journals (my personal peeve is the insistence that Data is plural – it isn’t the 1850s anymore, can we please drop that anachronistic definition)

      2.  I was looking to see when GMO corn first showed up in the food supplies and all I could find was this: Since 1987, over 9,000 United States Animal and Plant Health Inspection
        Service (APHIS) permits have been issued to field-test GM crops.

        (admittedly, this was in a two minute Google search).  So assume maybe 10 years from field testing to actual marketing and that’s ’97, so about 15 years.  You’d think SOMETHING would have shown up.

        1. So assume maybe 10 years from field testing to actual marketing and that’s ’97, so about 15 years. You’d think SOMETHING would have shown up.

          How many decades did it take for margarine or the carbohydrate revolution to be debunked?

  3. I just find it too convenient / very suspicious that the French study said the tumors popped up at 4 months, but the study that deemed Monsanto’s methods safe was only for 3 months.  If Monsanto really wanted to prove the worriers wrong, they would conduct their own long term study and publish the proof.

    I live in California and until it is truly proven safe to genetically modify my food (I don’t believe either side has fully proven their point), I want the food labeled so I can make my own choices. 

      1. So, hypothetically speaking… What if there is a risk, but it’s tied to excessive consumption of GM foods? Since no one knows which of the foods being consumed do and don’t contain GM products, this claim is impossible to test. Your particular dietary preferences might put you at risk, and you’ll never know.

    1. Let’s flip that for a moment: “Until it is truly proven that God did not create everything, I want my science books labeled so I can make my own choices.”

      I also hope you don’t care for bananas, corn, seedless grapes, seedless watermelon, and so on. There are a large number of foods that have been “genetically modified” over history by means of selective breeding. Ignorance of this fact is so widespread that a certain creationist pastor didn’t realize an object he was using to try and support his argument was in fact modified by humans through selective breeding so as to no longer resemble a wild variety of that object.

      (edited: I am getting tired of that space disqus adds to clear out the text box when you put focus on it.)

      1. Hybridization and natural selection are radically different processes from GMO. Please feel free to make a valid point.

        1.  I thought I made a very valid point. We should not be applying labels that imply a scientific basis just because of popular opinion with no basis in scientific fact. The only studies I am aware of on the issue of GMO have been widely discredited. The proposition language starts off with emotional fearmongering. How is this any different than when creationists get laws enacted to place labels in science textbooks discrediting evolution because it doesn’t fit with their scientifically-unsupported world view?

          1. The labels state that there’s material from genetically modified organisms in the product. It’s the truth. What benefit do you get from comparing a simple factual statement to Creationism?

          2. The prop37 labels would indeed be truth about GMO, except for a wide variety of exceptions to the label requirements. However, the proposition is worded to use popular fear to get it passed, and the presence of the label will again lead to decisions made on fear that GMO is bad, rather than facts of it being bad.

            Why do I keep bringing up creationism? Because of the parallels I see in this argument to arguments for labeling textbooks. Using scientifically-unfounded beliefs and fears to argue for labeling in a scientific context.

            I do not like Monsanto and the like, but more because of their crazy use of “intellectual property” and litigation over nearby crops that wound up being pollenized from their modified crops.

          3. But we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that Creationism has absolutely no validity. We also know the long term effects of vaccines on public health. We do not have any certainty about the long term effects of GMOs on the ecosystem. As to their effects on the human body, I refer you to margarine and the carbohydrate revolution as evidence of the value of taking claims of safety or superiority with a grain of salt.

        2. “Hybridization and natural selection are radically different processes from GMO.”- but the end result is the same.  I could create two varieties of tomato, one with selective breeding and one with GMO, and you would never be able to distinguish them.  I would argue that you don’t want a label on the process that creates the variety, you want a label describing the end product.  I’m not arguing that our food and mainstream agriculture shouldn’t be vetted; I’m arguing that putting a red GMO label on food will incite an ignorant panic/fear of an otherwise promising technological advance.  It would also distract folks from asking relevant questions- such as whether or not the consumption effects of the food has been vetted.

          I really disagree with even linking/referring to GMO as “GMO may have caused tumors”.  If anything, and there appears to be much evidence against it, it is appropriate to say that the particular variety of corn was likely to cause tumors.  Focus on the product, not the process.

          And don’t argue that natural selection is better than artificial selection.  Natural selection is great for life in general- there is absolutely no reason to think that natural selection is great for mankind.  There is no reason to think there is some evolutionary rule that plant-life wants humans to flourish and live a long life.  There’s also no reason to think that natural selection would vet out negative effects in a plant over several human generations.  We need to actively use science to anticipate and measure as opposed to “wait and see”.

          1.  Exactly. Mutations caused by chance are selected for by “traditional” breeding, and hybridization introduces foreign genetic material from another species rather willy-nilly.

            GMO techniques with many commercial plants are performed by inducing mutation in a large batch of seeds, the seeds are germinated to see if any interesting and useful traits popped up, and then they’re selected for by… breeding. Source of the mutation doesn’t matter, you’re not eating seeds soaked in mutagens – that gets you random crap, not a stabilized commercial product.

            Introducing foreign genetic material from another species via an organized process can hardly be considered more risky than by “natural” hybridizing, when in both cases there’s a “and see what comes out” step.

            The process isn’t magical.

        3. They’re radically different only in that they’re faster and better. And perhaps because you subjectively see them as different. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that genetic transformation *in general* is radically different from the perspective of the person eating the food, compared to plant breeding (which by the way is NOT natural selection; you conflated two things there).

          And the point about picking & choosing your science is valid. You’re welcome to deviate from scientific consensus in your own personal opinions – most people do, in one way or another. But policy should be set by good science – and despite what opponents of genetic engineering say, there really is no convincing evidence that genetic engineering has systematic ill effects.

  4. Why not have labeling the way we do for organic foods? If the foods fit the legal definition of organic, then you can label it that way. If not, not. We don’t have a law that says all non-organic foods must be labeled non-organic, which helps prevent a lot of needless hysteria.

    1. How will you, as a manufacturer or processor, ever be able to make such a claim? None of your suppliers are required to tell you the truth.

      1. Makers of organic packaged and prepared food made from ingredients from multiple suppliers manage to do it.

          1. Then set a standard and let producers label foods as GMO free. It seems to work for kosher and halal foods. We don’t have a law that says all non-kosher and non-halal foods must be labeled that way.

          2. You’re not really getting this, it seems: The standard must be set by either a significant portion of the industry or by the government — most likely federal. The government has demonstrated a lack of interest in doing so. That goes double for the big agricultural players.

            Worse yet, the standard must affect *all* levels of the food production chain, down to the packager — who will have to use a separate processing line for non-GMO foods to avoid cross-contamination. All this means significant investment on the producers’ part, both in terms of process separation and in terms of testing. How much of a premium are you prepared to pay for your non-GMO foods? How much is the average consumer prepared to pay?

            It doesn’t matter a whit whether you label food as GMO or as non-GMO; both require significant expenditure. Without monetary incentive, whether positive through higher margins for a niche products or negative through government-imposed fines, this won’t happen.

  5. I don’t think labeling of genetically engineered foods is the right way to go. It is arbitrarily focusing on only one form of genetic modification, ignoring herbicide resistant hybrid crops, crops produced through radiation induced mutation, and other forms of breeding with can move entire chromosomes between plants, not just a few genes. There is no scientific reason to label GE crops and not these other forms of modification. The proposed labels are also uninformative, they do not say the specific modification made, are we to assume all modifications are equally as bad, cisgenic and transgenic?  GMOs should not be held to a lower standard than other labellings issues such as allergens.

    In the end, labeling is just a ploy by anti-GMO activists similar to the labels warning against evolution placed in biology books by intelligent design proponents/creationists to create fear, uncertainty and doubt about evolution. Anti-Gmo activists want to create undue create fear, uncertainty and doubt about GE food among the public. Many of these
    activists have stated that the goal of labeling is actually to force GE crops off the market, so for these activists at least the GMO labeling campaign as presented to the public is disingenuous.

    1. The point is that you and Monsanto and the Republican Party (who are sponsors of the anti- campaign) don’t get to decide what other people learn about the food that they eat. If GM food is labelled and there aren’t ill effects after it’s been on the market for a while, people will stop caring.

      1. No, the POINT is that lefty equivalent of creationists can’t force the cost of labeling, auditing, and enforcement without being able to demonstrate actual scientific evidence that there is a reason to do so.  The anti-science crowd doesn’t have that because  GMO is not a physical quality of an end product, it is a technique to introduce feature in crops that is more efficient than previous techniques to do so.  It would be akin to wanting a label for crops harvested by Hitachi tractors rather than John Deer – entirely irrelevant to the end product.

        Though congrats, you have made Kashi and SIlk allies of Monsanto – well done buddy

          1. I hate  the concept “evidence based” – it is an intentionally misleading concept that arose out of the medical profession that allows for assertions based only on weak correlation and no actual explanation of mechanics (patients that took this drug seemed happier, even though we can’t explain how it would even pass the blood/brain barrier nor have we accounted for the effects of other variables).  Under evidence based criteria I can claim that an increase in cell towers leads to an increase in number of births in an area, because those two ARE correlated (of course the actual linking element is population size which both increases number of births AND number of cell towers)

            The metric for any claim of effect should be science based, not evidence based.  They are not the same thing though they are often lazily used as synonyms – science based demands a plausible explanation of mechanics and at least strong directional correlation.

            And no, the Anti-gmo crowd is not evidence or science based.  They can’t even show correlation between GMO and health issues, much less actually offer an explanation for why GMO would cause health issues

        1. Josh has made what I believe is the most important point in this thread- GMO is physically and chemically and practically irrelevant to the actual food.  At the molecular level, GMO products are indistinguishable from any “natural” organism.  GMO is simply a technological advance that allows us to circumvent the previously required generations of selective breeding.  The end result is identical.

          There’s still and important debate here- it just has nothing to do with GMO.  Any food product introduced into the mainstream ought to be vetted- even naturally occurring vegetables.  It’s weird, because I think people have a negative bias towards anything man-made, but would be in favor of ingesting some obscure ancient vegetable from a local indigenous tribe.  The dangers are exactly the same.

          I think a real danger is that due to globalization and the quick adoption of large trends in agriculture, any foodstuff or pesticide or fertilizer or practice can be immediately injected into the world’s diet.  And even if something passes a clinical trial- it doesn’t mean there isn’t a significant minority of the population that could be affected by it- think gluten allergy or lactose intolerance.

          Also note, there is an extreme difference between “organic” and “sustainable”.  There’s a real threat of a food shortage within the next several decades.

          And there’s probably plenty of reasons to hate Monsanto- but GMO itself isn’t one of them.  Again, a GMO label on food tells you  nothing practical.  In this case, labeling is not information- it is a marketing ploy.  Labeling is a biased view of information, it says, “Hey, look here- this is GMO- the fact that it is GMO must be important!”

          1. You pretty much nailed my viewpoint – the danger of what we eat isn’t a function of how it is produced, but how it’s composition interacts with our physiology and THAT is what we should be scrutinizing regardless of source. (also, I share your magic quote view of “natural” – it’s sort of ridiculous to think any of our crops are anything but artificially engineered by man)

            I want healthier food, that is less unsustainably grown (I cynically don’t thing we have a 0 impact option, just varying degrees of negative), with more ethical business practices.  We will soon have 9 billion people, and feeding them well while not running the earth dry is going to be hard ESPECIALLY as climate change lowers traditional crop yields (a 1 deg C temp change will drop rice yields 10% unless specifically engineered resiliency is added to the crop).  We shouldn’t target abstract techniques but rather specifics that are counter productive to that goal – Monsanto is a ruthless, self interested organization, but that’s a flaw in our  investor driven market rather than in GMO.  Let’s target real problems, not demonize incredibly useful innovations, especially as the damage of that profit driven approach is hardly limited to the food supply.

            It is so utterly frustrating to share the goals with folks like the prop 37 sponsors, but to find their actual means to be so abhorrent and distracting.

          2. “At the molecular level, GMO products are indistinguishable from any “natural” organism.” Sure they are. We are seeing enzymes used out of species or out of natural proportions. If you have a cod protein in a vegetable it is distinguishable from most “natural” organisms – except from that unmentioned congress between a cod and a potato.

            If its expressing an enzyme at 10x (number out of air – may have no relation to anything) the level in a “Natural” variant it is distinguishable. Ask the cyclists and the epo doping testers.

            Whether these differences impact us is a different issue. Also whether the labelling is useful or practical is different from being able  to tell the difference at a molecular level.  

        2. lefty equivalent of creationist

          Don’t half fancy yourself, do you.  Apparently, you’ve neglected to notice that big business rather regularly funds and then cherry-picks studies in order to put things on the market which later prove to be unsafe.

          1. Also, the USDA, FDA, and numerous NHI and NSF funded research in academia.  But it’s a lot easier for you to cherry pick criticism if it’s just big business (and yeah, business conducted studies are pretty much worthless, but aggri has nothing on pharma in that arena)There is a lot of flaws in our vetting of food, but that isn’t unique at all to GMO.  Just because a product is “natural” does not in any way mean it is safe – just that it hasn’t been produced under the benefit of scientific understanding.  There is nothing novel about GMO that makes it more or less dangerous than any other crop.  Nothing about small aggri ensures any more safety than big aggri (and one could argue it is worse because there is at least *some* oversight, albeit relatively terrible, of big aggri but none for small)That’s my criticism of your stance – labeling isn’t free.  Every effected food producer has to be able to understand their sources and be able to audit them for this – that costs money.  The state of California will need to be able to audit and enforce, and last I checked it was having a hell of a lot of funding problems.  And all of this for a label that doesn’t actually provide any insight into the actual safety of the food it is applied to – that’s a terrible waste.  GMO is not a quality in the food.Seriously man, I suspect we share a disdain for a whole hell of a lot of the abusive business practices in the world, and a similar skepticism that consumers and their safety matter much to them.  But this approach is terribly misguided – it isn’t how you address the problem.  It is counter productive  – you will use a meaningless label in place of actual scrutiny over safety

          2. The reason that we “need” GM crops is that Monsanto and its ilk have used threats and bribes to get people across the globe to abandon traditional strains that worked in their climate in favor of planting things that grow in Iowa. It’s like Monsanto stole your car and is now trying to convince you to buy it back from them.

            The reason that there is famine is not that we “need” GM crops; it’s that the world is arbitrarily divided into nation states that are run by corporate kleptocracies like Monsanto.

            We’ve had modern medicine for quite some time now and most of the world still has zero or limited access to it. The idea that Monsanto is doing anything other than a power and cash grab is just a talking point from Monsanto PR flacks.

        3. The kindly folks at Monsanto (to name one interested party) aren’t pursuing genetic modification out of altruism. They patent their seed, and they’ll go after a farmer whose crops have been inadvertently crossbred for patent violation. If the GMO producers expect financial reward for their efforts, they should expect to bear the costs. That would include labeling, auditing, and enforcement. 

          Yes, GMO is an end product. If its traits are “more efficient,” that makes the product successful. Your tractor example is completely external to the seed/crop and has no bearing in this discussion.

          1. Please stop thinking this is all about Monsanto – it is like saying that email is exclusively the province of IBM. You just haven’t heard of smaller groups doing genetic engineering, but believe me, it is getting cheaper all the time & a massive wave of startups is just around the corner.

  6. Labeling is information. Good old information.
    Why such a push-back against labeling?

    Oh, because:
    “… passing stricter-than-necessary legislation intended to regulate a new technology essentially by scaring consumers away from it (which is the undoubted tone of the Yes on 37 campaign and most of its advocates).” (As Ian Holmes wrote, above)

    Yeah, right.  THAT, my boy, is a scare tactic, not a reasoned argument. 

    Please, let’s just know what we are eating.

    1. > Please, let’s just know what we are eating.
      if you want to avoid GMO foods, you already can by limiting yourself to foods labeled “certified organic”.

    2. I would have seen your answer more quickly if you’d replied to me, rather than posting a sarcastic comment elsewhere. There’s nothing in what I wrote that’s a scare tactic, as was patently obvious to most people reading it.

      If you really think all labeling is an unqualified and unquestionable good, ask yourself why we don’t insist on mandatory labels for the presence (as opposed to elective labels signifying the absence) of all sorts of other things, e.g. use of factory machinery, use of pesticides, use of allergenic ingredients, use of synthetic additives, etc. Several of those have a much better scientific basis for concern than genetic engineering, while others (e.g. factory machinery) are equally neutral.

  7. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I wonder how labeling GM food has worked out in the EU.  I think it’s the law there, isn’t it?  Have food manufacturers been forced out of business?  Have cancer rates changed?

      1. I guess that means they feed it to their goats, but not their children.  Makes sense.  If the goats don’t drop dead, maybe it’s safe.

  8. I understand that the science generally favors GMO’s safety, but most of the boosters and supporters of that science are beneficiaries, which takes some of the sheen off of it, and more importantly to me, it is a pretty radical change of process that is not necessary to meet some pressing food crisis in America.  With that in mind I think it should be labelled.  If people make bad decisions based on the labeling (i.e. avoiding it when it is actually safe), that’s fine, but enforced ignorance to ensure that Monsanto profits aren’t threatened isn’t okay with me.

    Unfortunately, the “Yes on 37” campaign has organizations like “AutismOne” on it’s supporters page, so it’s hard for me to get very excited about them.

    1. So if those people’s bad decisions destroys the market for a revolutionary technique that allows for a more controlled and predictable manipulation of plant genomes than the previous technique of randomly mashing genes together through sexual reproduction, that’s fine?

    1. Why stop with food. Heck, I seem to have read a few studies that say electronics like WiFi and cell phones cause various illneses. I think we need a warning label on all new electronic devices, light bulbs included: “This device is known to emit radiation”. 

      1. False equivalency. These things aren’t new or different from what people have been using for decades.

        1. I’ve probably been eating GM soybean since it was deployed commercially in 1996. What was cell phone and WiFi market penetration then?

        2. “these things” that Punchcard listed are in fact new or different from what people have been using for decades.  Consider the burns people using some CFL’s replacing incandescent bulbs for reading lamps sustained to their faces. wi-fi, about fifteen years since inception. My first cellphone was as big as a hoagie, with an external antenna placing the radiation well above my head, and at one third the frequency of my present one.

    2. Ever read a product safety data sheet on, oh, let’s say, an organophosphate? No need to carry things to the extent of ol’ Norm’s silliness… 

  9. But what are these young, starry-eyed start-up companies going to do if we make them disclose what’s in their products? Don’t let Big Organic crush Monsanto before they even have a chance to flourish!

    Hysteria, I tell you.

  10. Full disclosure on my part: I’m a biophysicist; most of my relatives are in biotech.

    While I am all in favor of useful labeling, the actual text of this proposition ( ) makes it clear that this is obviously intended as a very biased and backward anti-GMO measure, not something to “inform” consumers. Section 1 is entirely anti-technology scaremongering, insisting that genetic modification techniques are imprecise and can produce unintended consequences (in theory, but traditional breeding is far less precise and far more likely to cause unintended consequences), and, since all but one (widely disputed) study has shown current GM foods to be safe, stating that government scientists say GM techniques “can” be dangerous (yes, and so can traditional techniques and almost everything else). 

    Rather than make an argument that all farmers should be able to choose whether they want to grow GM foods or not, Section 1 chooses only to talk about organic farmers, and that the labeling should be required so that consumers can punish GM growers because they “could harm the state’s organic farmers” through accidental contamination “damaging public confidence” in organic foods. And yet the changes to the law themselves seem like they make that potential issue worse: certified organic foods are exempted *entirely* from the requirements, as is any unintentional use of GM crops. A lack of a GM label would have absolutely no bearing on whether there may have been unintentional inclusion.

    And, of course, there’s the additional part of the proposition that prohibits any GM food from being described as naturally grown, even if the GM food were actually grown entirely naturally, with no pesticides or anything similar. I fail to see how this part is at all beneficial to consumer and isn’t just GM-bashing.

    Also, the bill adds a number of exceptions that make the lack of a GM label misleading. Have a non-GM animal, but inject it with GM drugs and feed it GM food? No need to label. Use GM processing aids? No need to label. Alcoholic beverage? No need to label. Use only small amounts of GM ingredients? No need to label, even though scientifically, considering the fears the supporters seem to have, this doesn’t seem to make much sense. 

    I would be in favor of GM food labeling. But 110809.1 is entirely unacceptable, the exemptions seem ridiculous, and Section 1 is essentially entirely misleading propaganda. 

    Frankly, it seems likely that this will pass, just like Prop 65. It just seems too good to voters who don’t spend much time researching the Proposition. It may end up like Prop 65, too, with everyone just deciding to add a “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” label regardless of content. How will this be any more useful to consumers than the Prop 65 warnings that just disclose the fact that there may be something, somewhere in a business that may cause cancer?

    1. When I lived in California I had the rule of thumb of “when in doubt vote ‘no’ on propositions”  because they were so frequently not drafted well.   I’d do that even if I  generally supported the issue, and especially if I couldn’t figure out exactly how the proposition worked.  
      Looking over the text of  Prop 37  I realize that I frankly don’t know enough about how the food industry works to make an intelligent decision.  Section 1 of the proposition does look like a bunch of organic propaganda, and to me that bodes ill.

      Doing a little Googling it looks like its not just Monsanto opposing Prop 37, it looks like most of the American food industry is chipping in to the opposition.  I think I also found a non-nefarious reason why they are too – the official analysis of the proposition says, “Given the way the measure is written, there is a possibility that these restrictions would be interpreted by the courts to apply to some processed foods regardless of whether they are genetically engineered.”

      1. this is ABSOLUTELY the case – the thresholds are too low and they will likely affect farmers who don’t use genetically modified foods.

        Labeling sounds like a good idea (and probably could be if done right – e.g. labeling ALL species used in foods, not just ones that have been constructed using one particular narrowly-defined technology).

        However there’s no denying that this proposition is created as part of an anti-GMO scare campaign by pressure groups which, though they may not be as big or well-funded as Monsanto, nevertheless prove that Big Agrobusiness holds no monopoly on propaganda and misinformation.

  11. So I really don’t understand that ad. Do they want your steak to be labeled or do they want your dog food to not be labeled?

      1. yeah, I remember hearing a radio ad on an NPR story on this the other day. One of the arguments was something like, “they want to label frozen pizza but not delivery pizza??” … if you use this argument, why bother showing ingredients, nutritional information or anything on a frozen pizza if delivered pizzas don’t have to?

        1. If there’s ever any discussion about changing the traffic laws in my town, I’ll be sure to use this tactic to object, “So I park on a driveway and drive on a parkway? What’s the deal with that?”

      1. “…….as the sinister hand of Big-Label snakes it’s way from behind the vail.  Suddenly it grasps it’s sticker-gun, brandishing it wildly.  A dark voice cries out: ‘woe unto the users of Sharpies, for their children shall be marked for all eternity.'”

        Thought I’d try my hand at literature.  As you can see, I suck at writing off the cuff.

  12. If there is nothing wrong with the food then what is so wrong about labeling it? California is not the only State that millions of dollars or threats of lawsuits have been used to stop the labeling of GMO foods. $19 million dollars buys a lot of advertising and from what I see of these post a lot of fake web sites and public relation firms to push them and their message.

    If the GMO company’s had intelligent people running them they would realize that the few million dollars they would lose by labeling food as containing a GMO product would actually shield them from the inevitable lawsuits if the product is in fact a health risk as they could simply say “but we labeled the food your Honor so the consumer is at fault here”. That would be far less than the billions upon billions of dollars lost in the obvious negligence lawsuits coming down the road. Just look at the butter flavored popcorn lawsuits being lost now because there was no label warning the consumer not to smell the popcorn.

    1.  Because requiring labeling implies a government endorsement that the label is needed for safety reasons.  Which misleads consumers into thinking that it must be harmful and should be avoided.

      It’s not just a label.  It’s a statement of belief.

      1. Because not requiring labeling implies a government endorsement that the label is not needed for safety reasons. This misleads consumers into thinking that it must be safe and should not be avoided.

        It’s not just a label. It’s a statement of belief.

        So there!

        1.  I think it depends on the type of label, myself. Make a field in the nutrional box that says “This food contains genetically modified products”, a note for the people who care but not something that’s presented as a “bad” thing (any more than listing peanuts is in the ingredient list is a bad thing) and I’m cool with that.

          But that isn’t what they want. I support labeling GMO foods, I understand how labeling can be important to people, I use it constantly to avoid the things I want to avoid (which is surprisingly hard, as a vegetarian, since you’ve also got to memorize the various names they use for meat products).

          But I really don’t like this proposition – it goes too far in some places (requiring prominence and front-of-box labeling), and then completely fucks over the point by listing a page of exemptions, all situations where I’d want to know if I cared at all. For example, “Organic” GMO food is fine, and doesn’t need to be labelled, and the label doesn’t needed to be added to GMO beers. That’s kind of wonky to me

          So Ultimately? I dunno.

    1. No, it’s not. Pro-GMO crowd is arguing with Anti-GMO crowd. Equating either side with trolls is intellectually dishonest.

      1. And then there are others that are ambivalent towards GMO, but object to the proposition on other grounds. There’s the anti-hysteria angle, as well as a concern over the costs of auditing and labeling.

  13. I did read about the rats / cancer study recently…

    From the “Science is Awesome” facebook page:

    “I read the paper (which for once, was published in full online), and I have to say I’m really not impressed. Other members of the scientific community have said the same thing – the control group was tiny, the statistical analysis was dodgy and the strain of rats used are prone to developing tumours when fed unrestricted diets. I’m also severely unimpressed by the ‘the author declares there is no conflict of interest’ part – the author is a well known anti-GMO campaigner and has written books about the topic, which seems like the very definition of a conflict of interest to me. Combine that with the fact that no blinding methods were discussed in the methodology, I’m left with the impression of a very, very flawed study.
    Maybe GMO’s are dangerous – but if they are, this study doesn’t show it.”

  14. The problem with Prop 37 is that it is another windfall for the class-action asshats who sued every coffee shop in California to the tune of $5000 per cup of coffee because they didn’t have a Prop 65 warning about acrylamide in coffee.

    I have no problem, in general, with providing consumers with more information, although the heat over GMO food far outweighs the light.  But let’s not create another shakedown machine that benefits class-action lawyers.  Let the state enforce the rules, not lawyers.

  15. I’m not opposed to consumers being informed, but considering all the potentially more harmful things that are unlabelled GM seems to be a very political choice.

    Another thing to consider is the overhead involved in determining the GM-ness of a food product, the costs associated are going to hit smaller farmers and businesses disproportionately.

  16. Why can’t we apply the precautionary principle in the U.S.? Why do we need to take greater risks with our health than the EU? Big corporations being only motivated by short-term profits cannot be trusted to ensure the long-term safety of anything. Organic food didn’t destroy the conventional food industry. Not everyone will be able to afford non-GMO food just like not everyone can afford organic food. Labeling is an aspect of transparency that should be a part of the free market system if it’s not meant to only serve corporations.

    1. If something is actually dangerous then shouldn’t it be dealt with by legislation rather than labelling. or do you think that its ok to let the poor eat toxic food?

  17. “… requiring labeling implies a government endorsement that the label is needed for safety reasons. ”

    I’ve read lots of food labels. They describe what’s inside in decreasing order of proportion. There is ZERO implication of risk on any ingredient – that’s up to you to look it up. 

    What it comes down to for me is that, as a consumer, I should have the right to know what’s in my food. Industry should not be allowed to trick me, lie to me, misinform me, or obfuscate on ingredients in food, just because people with a vested interest in my ignorance think I can’t be trusted with information. 

    I vote for the truth. I vote for having the information on the food. If Monsanto is afraid their frankenfood won’t go over well with the consumer, then they have some PR work to do. But they shouldn’t start by trying to cover up what they are doing. 

  18. all i keep coming back to is the thought that maybe people should be allowed to know what’s in their food, so they can avoid the things they want to. isn’t that what this whole freedom thing is supposed to be all about? who cares if they’re basing their choices on things that are ridiculous? doesn’t being free entail being able to make those choices?

  19. So, “vote NO because you don’t understand it!” is a terrible argument, but so is “look at all these rich people who want you to vote NO”. Oh well. At least yours isn’t anti-intellectual.

  20. Labeling of genetically engineered foods, or the lack of it, shows how capitalism really works as opposed to how it’s sold to us.

    In theory, as a consumer I have the liberty to choose to buy or not to buy any product for any reason, whether those are smart reasons or dumb reasons, and capitalists will tell you that’s a Good Thing.  Indeed, lots of conservatives would like to tell you that we don’t need ANY product safety laws, all we need is me, making decisions in my self-interest, to protect the public from bad products, for arbitrary values of “bad.”

    In practice, the companies that do genetic engineering have actively intervened in politics to make it ILLEGAL to distinguish a product with GE ingredients, from a product without GE ingredients.  And they do it because they are afraid I will exercise my liberty not to buy GE food.  They want me to choose between Coke vs Pepsi, not buy vs not-buy.

    Never mind my opinion on the safety of GE foods, never mind my strong opinion on the impact of GE farming on organic farming.  Any corporation that has tried this stunt is my enemy, and I choose not to buy their products.  Who thinks I don’t have that right?

  21. Has anyone noticed that bumble bee foods is on both lists?  The companies for and against. Well, one is bumble bee health foods and one is bumble bee foods llc.

  22. The issue of mandatory labeling is not just about food safety. The labels can also tell us about the social and political impacts of food. After all, companies genetically modify food so that they can patent the seeds.

    1. That is a fair argument for labeling. As long as it is just an informational thing by the nutritional information that people can check for it in the case that they care, for whatever reason. There is still the problem of the added cost from the auditing.

      This proposition, however, is built on using fear to try and stop genetically modified foods. It calls for a noticeable label on the front of the box, which is meant to connect with uninformed media hysteria over the health effects of GMO. It also has a large list of exemptions from the mandatory labeling.

    2. If that were indeed the argument for labeling, we would see a lot of labels for other things as well, and there wouldn’t be a punitively low threshold that forces farmers to adopt expensive quarantine measures on non-GMO foods.

      This labeling proposition is an anti-GMO tactic. It is only superficially about consumer benefit.

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