Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fear of Frankenfoods

Just in case you were looking for a new way to practice pagan idolatry, the state of Vermont has passed a law that will permit you to eliminate genetically modified foods from your diet.

Beginning in 2016 a new labeling law will force food producers to  designate any foods that have been genetically modified.

The Economist reports:

Vermont … takes its food very seriously, says Andrea Stander of Rural Vermont, a group that advocates a “local food system which is self-reliant and based on reverence for the earth”. Per capita, Vermont has more organic farms than any other state. Montpelier is America’s only McDonald’s-free state capital.

It’s not about the science. Then again, is it ever about the science? Beyond the fact that they offend the religious beliefs of radical environmentalists, genetically modified foods are perfectly safe, even nutritious:

Repeated studies have found no threat to human health from GM ingredients, which are found in up to four-fifths of processed food in American shops; nor have any ill effects appeared during the 20 years in which Americans have been eating the stuff. Indeed, ever since the genetically engineered Flavr Savr tomato reached supermarket shelves in 1994 Americans have taken a more relaxed approach to the technology than much of the rest of the world. 

As it happens, most Americans favor “compulsory labeling.” Not so much because of the hysterical claims of the environmentalists, but because they like the idea of consumer choice.

And yet, if foods are labeled, The Economist continues, Americans might conclude that there is something wrong with GM foods:

Yet if the government requires labels, consumers may assume that this is an official health warning, even if it isn’t. Europeans shunned GM food after labels were introduced, and many European supermarkets declare themselves (not entirely accurately) GM-free. The same could happen in America. “The activists did a great job of scaring people about their food sources,” sighs Norm McAllister, a farmer (and Republican state senator) who grows GM corn in Vermont.

Nothing quite like a little mass hysteria over a non-issue.

By framing the issue in terms of the purity of what people put into their bodies, activists in industrial countries are threatening an industry that feeds the world’s people.

The Economist explains:

Genetic modification is one of the most promising tools for feeding a global population that will one day hit 9 or 10 billion. Yet its development depends partly on consumers in rich countries, since the 842m malnourished people don’t have much spare cash. As with other technologies, the techniques honed in rich countries tend eventually to spread to poor ones. But if greens scare Americans into rejecting GM food entirely, that benign process may be interrupted.

Aside from the fact that different rules in different states would disrupt the food chain, it is worth mentioning and underscoring a point that The Economist makes with a chart:

 In truth, this will lead the world’s people down the path to malnutrition and starvation. Try digesting that.

The Economist concludes:

Food scares are easy to start but hard to stop. GM opponents, like climate-change deniers, are deaf to evidence. And the world’s hungry people can’t vote in Vermont.


Ares Olympus said...

Fear works both ways. Using global starvation as an excuse for labeling of GMOs seems a bit dramatic. Maybe we can compensate by giving insect-content statistics on organic food?

It's understandable why sellers don't want labeling, and irrational fears can wreck market shares, but why are they so greedy that they can't afford a little competition?

It's not like poor people are going to pass up cheap food here or elsewhere in the world. An Aldi's chain grocery opened up near my house a few years ago, and I can't understand how they can price food, even fresh veggies so cheaply. Cheap prices worry me more than labels!

I've never looked into GMOs science, but WHAT if superstition really did lead to a global veto on GMOs? As much as I fear Carl Sagan's "Demon-haunted world" where blind emotion leads collective decisions, there's a fair question WHY we can't afford to be conservative and not actually allow a few multinationals gain a 90% share of world food production. Is that really the ideal?

No, I just can't get the picture of out my mind - scientists slaving away in their laboratories slicing genes so Africa can finally have some crops that can grow there sufficiently to support their current populations. And they'd better hurry, Africa's population is expected to rise from 1 billion to 3 billion by 2100, so scientists better keep those future people from starving!

Something is just wrong to me that multinational are required to feed people who haven't been born yet.

Anonymous said...

I once had a headache from eating GMO contaminated food.

I have a degree in Postmodern Genderqueer Theory (with a minor in Puppetry) from an Ivy League school so I am clearly more intelligent than any of you.

GMOs must be banned. Besides, they make me and my friends feel icky.

When capitalism is overthrown all those malnourished little people will be fed - and then they can start studying Gendergueer Theory too and start to overthrow the patriarchy.

Anonymous said...

They should genetically modify veggies to taste like beef.

Anonymous said...

"I once had a headache from eating GMO contaminated food. I have a degree in Postmodern Genderqueer Theory (with a minor in Puppetry) from an Ivy League school so I am clearly more intelligent than any of you."

How about if we genetically modify the meat to be homo?

Homosher may be next big thing after kosher.

Leo G said...

They missed a big piece of that chart, "deaths by organic foods per year"

In Europe a few years ago, did not about 600 people die from bacterial contaminated organic sprouts?

And don't get me started on the Golden Rice issue.....

Bill Jones said...

Ares Olympus , We had an Aldi open near us last year. One thing I discovered was that if you keep their potatoes too long in a dark space they actually sprout eyes and grow, I planted a couple and reaped a modest crop. Unlike the supermarket ones, Aldi's spuds are not chemically treated to prevent growth. The supermarket ones are, of course, not labeled so you have no idea what you are ingesting.
That's why I support compulsory labeling.

The Dark Lord said...

so how can the Economist be so right on this issue and still think it is the global warming skeptics are denying the science ...

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Great question... for which I don't have an answer... it continues to puzzle me.