Am I Taking Crazy Pills?



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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203 Responses

  1. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    Whole foods is establishing a “voluntary” mandatory requirement to label GMO ingredients if you want to sell in their stores… so I guess that answers your question about whether there is a market for this.

    I don’t think your post is an all-out call for a defense in depth of taking a slow and informed route to GMO’s… I’ll just assert that this is neither a liberal nor a conservative concern, but one that crosses ideological boundaries in both directions.Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think people on the left like GMOs for a few reasons:

    1. A knee jerk anti-Corporatism to do anything that annoys Mosanto.

    2. The are the hippy type of liberal and believe that GMOs represent a serious health risk. Not all liberals believe this.

    I have no problem with the warnings even though I am skeptical about the risks of genetically-modified foods. I see it as being comparable to the Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarettes and alcohol. Some compelled speech is fine as long as it is reasonable and not too much of a burden. A little sticker saying genetically modified is a rather small burden.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I thought about Surgeon General’s warnings, but those are based in sound science and, if I understand correctly, are there largely because of years of false advertising on the part of those companies.

      If GMOs were a proven threat, I’d be much more comfortable with mandated labeling.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        I think the better analogy is to Bovine Growth Hormone. Milk provided by cows who’ve been administered BGH to boost their milk production must be labeled as such. The labeling arose because of consumer outcry over the issue, even though it’s not been proven conclusively that BGH poses a health danger.

        As for GMOs, I think the jury’s still out and I’d prefer not to experiment with my own health. As such, I want to see labels, so I can decide whether or not I want to buy a GMO product. We have a right to know what’s in our food. I applaud Whole Foods for requiring labels from their suppliers.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          Milk provided by cows who’ve been administered BGH to boost their milk production must be labeled as such.

          In fact, producers are not required to label milk from cows which have been administered rBST. Milk producers are using precisely the system Kazzy and I have been advocating with respect to GMOs: Voluntary labeling by producers of milk from cows which have not been administered rBST.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            rBST labeling isn’t the same, because there’s nothing preventing rBST-free dairies from using the next hormone that comes down the pike and keeping the rBST label. Kinda like drug testing in sports, really.

            A better example of a voluntary system is LEED.

            Of course, one of the differences between LEED’s success and the failure of a lot of other voluntary systems is that LEED is largely a system where the voluntary part is between relative peers, from the standpoint of power dynamics. If I want a green building, and I have enough money to buy a building, I have enormous buying power and I’m an attractive buyer to a large market of construction companies.

            I’m not sure I can think of an example of voluntary certification systems between entities with very large power differentials that are successful.

            At least, not off the top of my head.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              Then they can just say “From cows not treated with hormones or preventive antibiotics,” or something general enough that it covers all the things people might worry about. The rBST-free label isn’t something that’s specially blessed by the government. As long as it’s provably true, you can say whatever you want on your package.

              And this is hardly an argument for forced GMO labeling. A GMO-free label would be far more general and thus work better than the rBST-free label.

              Food producers can and do print all kinds of non-required information about their food on their labels in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition. Organic. Fair-trade. Grass-fed. Lactose-free. Gluten-free. Contains 12 strains of probiotic bacteria. 50% more product than the leading brand. Made in the USA. Product of Italy. Kosher. Omega-3-fortified. And on, and on, and on. This system works fine.

              Kosher certification seems to work particularly well. When people care about something enough that it makes a real difference in their purchasing decisions, the market will find a way to get them what they want.

              I have no idea what your point about power differentials is. I’m not saying I disagree with it—I just don’t know what you’re trying to say.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    It’s insane and you’re not. Every food we set our teeth into is genetically modified. Every single molecule of it. We’ve been genetically modifying out food since primitive agriculture at the latest, probably earlier. Our tools have just gotten more sophisticated.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      In fact, recombinant DNA genetic modification is likely safer than the “traditional” methods we use today since we don’t have to rely on random mutations (controlled by cross-breeding, but even so), but instead undesirable or dangerous traits can be removed one gene at a time.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I’d lump GMO opposition in with vaccine denial except GMO activists aren’t directly responsible for dead children. It’s the same family of superstitious nonsense to my mind though.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Yes. But, as far as I know, vaccine denialists aren’t arguing for laws banning vaccines.

          Both groups are uniquely crazy.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            Genetic modification of food has gone through three stages.

            The first stage was watching, waiting, and selectively breeding.

            The third stage is where we take useful genes and put them into food crops one at a time.

            Do you know what the second stage was? Ionizing radiation.

            Sooo… yeah, it’s silly to insist that suddenly third-stage GMOs need labels.

            It’s also silly for another reason – the interesting thing about any genetic modification is not that the food has been “modified” at all. It lies in what the modification is. Rather like someone saying “I’ve been taking drugs,” where “drugs” might be caffeine, aspirin, penicillin, LSD, amphetamine, or heroin.

            If we labeled all “drug takers,” we wouldn’t get very useful results. The same applies here.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I knew putting up the libertarian sign would work!Report

            • Avatar Fnord says:

              Stipulate that GMO foods are in no way harmful. Heck, suppose they’re beneficial to your health, happiness, and sexual performance.

              So what? If people don’t want to eat them, they don’t want to eat them. I thought that making policy based on our personal assessments of the validity of other people’s preferences was the opposite of libertarianism.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                If these foods are harmless, and if people still don’t want to eat them, then they can bear the costs of avoidance for themselves, through voluntary agreements.

                Less like avoiding rotten meat. More like avoiding treyf.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                and if people still don’t want to eat them, then they can bear the costs of avoidance for themselves, through voluntary agreements.

                I agree with this, but I want to note that preference theory (subjective utility blah blah blah) can in fact be defeated by objective properties. Even preference theorists agree with this. So it’s not a complete theory, nor even the grounding of a theory. It itself is a preference.

                But every time I try to point that fact out, preference theorists (Hanley and Roger, in particular) tell me how stoopid I am.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Jason, I don’t mind them bearing the cost of avoidance themselves, but… they kinda… need to know… what to avoid?

                If you label GMO foods, then yes (some) people will avoid them, and they will pay a premium price for non-GMO foods.Report

              • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

                Or maybe the answer is to establish a regulatory requirement for something to be labeled “non-GMO food”, and allow people who prefer non-GMO food an easy way to determine what doesn’t have it.

                Remember Prop 65? Remember how that was supposed to usher in a huge flood of lead- and chemical-free products and buildings and such? Remember how the actual result was that nothing changed except for everything within the state of California getting a “Prop 65 warning” sticker?Report

              • Avatar Fnord says:

                “Avoiding treyf”, of course, is a special case, since it implicates separation of church and state, too, since that would require creating an official government standard of interpretation of a religious rule.

                But in most cases labeling like this seems to be a fairly minimal burden to impose. As you say, it’s not like avoiding rotten meat: selling rotten meat would be illegal, not merely a matter of labeling.

                And if it’s implemented via the democratic process, that seems like prima facie evidence that a significant number of people care about it. Not something I’d vote for, but not something that seems like a major imposition or rights violation against the minority.

                It’s not like a expect laws like this to be a big hit with libertarians. Certainly no one who would prefer nutrition and content labeling to be handled by voluntary action (a position Kazzy endorses below, because in his opinion it implicates a fundemental freedom, just like the kosher issue does) is going to support a law like this. But bringing up the “GMOs are safe” thing is still a red herring, unless they’re rebutting a claim that GMO labeling is more important than nutrition labeling (which doesn’t seem common).

                But whenever this comes up, libertarians end up concealing there distaste for divergent preferences as poorly as any nanny-state liberal.Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                But whenever this comes up, libertarians end up concealing there distaste for divergent preferences as poorly as any nanny-state liberal.

                Speaking for myself, I fully support products being labeled GMO-free, and people choosing to buy them. I do not support warning labels being required on products without evidence that they are harmful.

                The anti-GMO groups would not be campaigning for laws requiring “contains GMO” labeling if they did not think it would discourage people from purchasing GMO-containing products. They are attempting to legislate a change in the status quo, so they need a strong justification to compel speech that will potentially damage sales. As long as products can be advertised as GMO-free, the consumer has the choice to seek GMO-free foods. That leaves them free to avoid foods that are not labeled.

                If the argument for compelling speech is simply information asymmetry, there are many things that we are not informed about. It would be impossible to give 100% of information about how a product is produced. Again, there needs to be a justification for singling out this particular characteristic.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor says:

              Sooo… yeah, it’s silly to insist that suddenly third-stage GMOs need labels.

              I don’t see how this follows. If we think about your three stages of GMO in terms of humans, stage 1 would be in-breeding (which is bad but generally non-fatal), stage 2 would be exposure to massive radiation (which is generally fatal), and stage 3 would be replacing one of your chromosomes with that of a fish (which is always fatal). Of course, stage 3 could be used to simply repeat the effects of stage 1 or 2, but that is not what’s typically done, and in the typical case I don’t see anything “silly” with saying that the more significant changes you introduce into the genome the higher the risk that it will become harmful in some uncertain way.

              Now personally I believe the studies done showing that this is not the case, but if I had to place a bet on which stage has the potential for more danger I definitely wouldn’t be betting on Stage 1.Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                I disagree. Stage 1 and 2 result in RANDOM changes to the genetic code. You hope you get something good, but there is no guarantee how the results will turn out. Stage 3 is targeted mutation. There is much more control, so the result is less likely to be something unintended.

                I do not believe something like Golden Rice could easily be attained through either Stage 1 or 2 type methods.Report

        • I dunno. Opponents of golden rice could quite well be responsible for dead children all too soon.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      North spiked this one into the ground. I cannot think of anything more that needs be said.Report

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    I don’t think there is any evidence of danger from GMO’s and i don’t have a problem with having to label foods as having GMO’s. The entire “won’t companies voluntarily label products” idea is silly. They might or they might not. If they think it will damage their profits, then likely no. Its not like companies don’t already try to make labels confusing. If enough people have a strong concern about something new and different that could theoretically relate to health then i don’t really have a problem with making them label things.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I don’t think companies will voluntarily label as containing GMOs. But GMO-free foods can label themselves as such. And foods containing GMOs cannot, because that would be false advertising.

      If so many people want GMO-free food, it seemed there’d be a market for selling such food. Just like organic food. We didn’t need laws for that labeling, did we?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I think there are some laws regarding what can be labeled organic, at least by the USDA. My, very yummy bread Dave’s Good Seed Bread, has a USDA Organic label. I think it is reasonable for the gov to set some definitions and minimum standards.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        I have seen foods advertised as GMO-free.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

        This is my thought in the matter. If food is GMO-free, it can advertise itself as such. Forcing GMO labeling give the impression that there is a risk, when there is no clear evidence of such a risk.Report

  5. Your disorientation is probably just a side effect of all the GMO foods you’ve been eating.

    This is clearly a free speech issue, but (at least in Canada) it’s been well-established that forced labeling of food and other things we consume is allowable. Ingredients are listed, nutritional information, health risks for cigarettes, alcohol percentage for booze, volume, etc. I assume that these sorts of regulations exist down south as well, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong there.

    This isn’t just a health issue (or “health” issue, depending on who you believe), it’s also, potentially, a market issue. One of the requirements for a perfect free market is information symmetry, if withholding GMO-related information is significantly distorting the food market, there is a justification for forced labeling.

    All that being said, I’m a little ambivalent, myself, but I can certainly understand the argument in favour of it.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I should make clear that I believe in truth-in-labeling laws. If you do put something on your label, it better be true. And I’d support increased penalties for failing to do so.

      I think of GMO-labels the same way I feel about organic. We shouldn’t require non-organic foods to label themselves as such but we should bar them from falsely labeling themselves as being something other than what they are.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        We shouldn’t require non-organic foods to label themselves as such but we should bar them from falsely labeling themselves as being something other than what they are.

        It seems like this isn’t a principle as much as an appeal to convention, yes?

        I mean, what principle would justify this? That government doesn’t have the right to require truth in advertising for the products people consume? (Surely not that, right?) Or that the generally applicable authority of government to require truth in advertising can be defeated? (That makes sense, to me, anyway.)

        So … is your argument that in the absence of any compelling evidence that GMO’s are harmful to consumers, government doesn’t have a compelling interest in forced labeling?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          It is a principle. For me, truth in advertising laws are ultimately a function of contracts. If I agree to buy $2 worth of organic grapes, agreeing to pay that price because I want organic grapes, and it turns out you’ve sold me something other than organic grapes, you’ve breached our contract. It may not have been a written contract with witness and signatures, but it is an agreement nonetheless.

          Generally speaking, I think food makers should be free to put whatever they want on their label… or nothing at all. But what they do put on their should be accurate because their labeling is a form of contract.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Ahh. Maybe I’m finally getting it. Is it this?: on your view, a contract between a consumer and a seller only emerges if there is a label on the item being purchased?Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I don’t know if that is the only circumstances under which a contract emerges. Your phrasing there is throwing me off,

              I will say that a contract, or perhaps better stated as an obligation, emerges when specific claims are made.

              If I label a hunk of shit as ‘Filet Mignon’, I have taken on an obligation to supply you with Filet Mignon.

              If I just put a hunk of shit on a shelf and you think, “Man, that’s a great price for filet mignon!” I have no obligation to you, even if I didn’t explicitly say that it is a hunk of shit.Report

          • Avatar Michelle says:

            So, you’d do away with laws that require food makers to post things like calorie, fat, and sodium content? We try to avoid processed foods in our diet but, when we do buy them, we read the label for sodium content because my husband is on a low sodium diet.

            Personally, I think labeling requirements are a boon to consumers trying to make better decisions about what they eat.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              A number of products I buy do lack this information. So it seems to me that the requirements are inconsistent.

              And I do think that labeling is beneficial. And if people want it or feel they need it, they’ll buy only foods that offer it.Report

  6. Avatar Russell M says:

    I dont care about the labeling one way or the other.

    but i do want to stop before corn starts talking about taking over other fields.Report

  7. Avatar Murali says:

    Kazzy, my thoughts about GMO labelling are like this:

    Initially, I think GMO foods guys are on the side of angels. They create crops which have higher yields, pest resistance, the ability to grow out of season and faster maturation rates. They lower the price of foods and help feed the poor. We shouldn’t be alowing people’s irrational preferences to interfere with this.

    But, then, I realise that informed consent is important, and that I shouldn’t manipulate people’s choices by withholding information from them just because I think that their slightly more informed choice is irrational or based on mistaken beliefs. If don’t not in the business of picking winners and losers then we should not enter it merely because in this one case we can pick the angels to win.Report

  8. Avatar Morat20 says:

    I don’t have a real problem with GMO’s (I have some worries about genetically modified crops in general, but not because it’s Franken-crops. I’d happily modify my OWN genome if I could. This is more along the lines of some of the modifications can introduce second or third order effects into the biosphere. Plus there’s the sustainability thing. Can understand how standard plant reproduction is a problem for genetically modified seeds — specifically the people who sell them — and how it would absolutely kill them profit wise, but still got some worries there).

    Being absolutely okay with GMOs in general, I am also absolutely okay with requiring labelling.

    It’s information. As long as it’s (1) true and (2) universal (ie: no lying about not being GMO when you are, and no opt-out of labelling to imply you’re not GMO when you are), it’s a absolute pittance of a price (the cost of, basically, slightly redesigning a label that already contains things like nutritional information) and it means consumers can see it right there when they’re going to buy.

    Information makes the free market go round, after all.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      But where do we stop? There is a ton of info I’d like to know about certain products that I’m not given because it can quickly become unreasonable.

      I also worry about companies that don’t necessarily know if their products are GMO free. Will the laws apply to the small, owner-operated bake shop that orders flour from a middle man? It seems it quickly could become onerous if every company is expected to know the genetic profile of every ingredient.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        But where do we stop?

        Slippery slopes!!Report

      • Avatar Fnord says:

        Will the laws apply to the small, owner-operated bake shop that orders flour from a middle man?

        Won’t the flour be labeled?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I don’t know if the laws apply to everything sold or just retail products. Also, I understand these are largely being done on a state-by-state basis, meaning there might be different standards.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Why does “where does it stop” have any bearing on whether “Requiring producers to add this to the label” is a good or bad idea?

        As for your example: Um, why do you think those small shops are going to be getting label-free stuff? They buy the same sorts of flour as I do. They just buy bigger bags. It’ld have the label right on it.

        Seriously, small business owners? They can read. They can also handle the transitive property. Out of all the hurdles, problems, and headaches of the beleagured small business man, I think having to read a label is probably near the bottom.

        Frankly, they’re probably too busy being hoisted on pedastals as examples in regulatory or tax arguments. Right up there with family farms and dying grandmothers.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          “Why does “where does it stop” have any bearing on whether “Requiring producers to add this to the label” is a good or bad idea?”

          Two reasons…

          1.) Because if we identify a stopping point, that will require us to clarify the principle under which we act and how we decide what ought to be required and what need not be.
          2.) There is a limit to how much information can be reasonably accommodated on a package of food. If we don’t have a stopping point, things will become cumbersome for both the producer and the consumer and likely eliminate whatever gains might come from the requirement.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Yes but “where does it stop” is, in this case, an attempt to avoid giving a reason.

            I’m not trying to mind read, but can I assume that while you find the whole GMO labelling thing quizzical at best, you don’t actually feel that adding “GMO” to a label is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

            People use ‘slippery slope’ arguments for both good and logical reasons (say, talking about grey morality issues or issues with feedback into themselves or boiling frog scenarios) but they also use them as basically “I don’t like this, but either I can’t really spell out why or you won’t accept it or no one else buys it, so ‘slippery slope’!”

            You’re not arguing X is bad. You’re arguing Y is bad. However, to bring in a slippery slope you have to argue that X will or can somehow lead to Y.

            Which is often hard to do, and you haven’t tried. Until you do, slippery slope arguments are basically “I have no argument here, just a preference” (which is totally fine, this isn’t a legal brief).

            So I’m pretty comfy saying “Slapping a GMO label on things is pretty easy, costs basically nothing, and basically gives consumers more information, to do with as they will”. Slapping a GMO label on something is far easier than testing for nutritional value. You just mandate it’s slapped on from the crop outwards and apply the aforementioned transitive property.

            Corn marked GMO turns into creamed corn that gets marked GMO that gets turned into a horrible frozen meal with a GMO label on the corner.

            Sure, defining GMO might be a bit of a headache, but that’s the sort of thing the government already has an entire apparatus built to do (it does it for food all the time), and given modern agriculture the individual farmer or corporation doesn’t have to bother — they’ll buy their seeds labeled GMO.Report

            • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

              “Slapping a GMO label on something is far easier than testing for nutritional value. ”

              This is the part where you explain how it won’t turn into Prop 65.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I appreciate much of the feedback. The arguments being put forth here are much better than what I’ve typically seen (no surprise there). Part of what boggles me about the issue is the proponents of such laws who argue for them on the basis that we have a right to know about GMOs. I can’t really get behind that idea as a right. I think you have a right to expect honesty in transactions and a course for remediation if that is violated. But a lie of commission is different than a lie of omission, and I don’t know that anyone has a “right” to be sheltered from any instance of the latter, which would simply be unenforceable.Report

    • Avatar Fnord says:

      I guess the flip side of that is I don’t think anyone has a “right” to commit a lie of omission, either. So I can’t really get worked about anyone being “forced” to truthfully label their products.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Don’t we have a right to freedom of speech? Which includes not being compelled to speak?

        I’m not saying they should be able to falsely label their products. But we don’t require companies to label those products which are made on assembly lines to cater to folks who only want hand-made products.Report

        • Avatar Fnord says:

          I’m not seeing mandating the disclosure of certain facts about commercial products as a free speech issue. And if it is, there’re an awful lot of existing regulations that need to be examined. It’s not just the Surgeon General’s warning on tobacco products. There’s all sorts of mandatory nutrition and content labels on food products already (among plenty of other things).Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          So you’re against nutrional labels, right? I mean, it’s forcing companies to put the actual nutrition facts on their goods. It’s undoubtably cost them business, as people went “Holy cow, that’s a LOT of fat. I think I’ll just put that back”.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            As I said elsewhere, I already see lots of product that do not contain this, so the rules are hardly universal.

            And, yes, I do object to them being required.Report

            • Avatar Fnord says:

              If you’re against mandatory nutrition/content labeling for food, I think we’d need to have that discussion before we can reach any sort of understanding on this discussion.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Let me be clear…

                I like that most* products have nutrition content and ingredient lists. I use them quite often. I think it is better that they are there than that they aren’t. But I don’t think they ought to be mandatory.

                We don’t require the guy selling hot dogs on the street to offer calorie or ingredient information, in part because we recognize that buying a hot dog on the street for a buck only guarantees us so much.

                * I have seen many products in the super market that do not contain this information. Produce and meats seem to most often lack it, even those that are packaged.Report

              • Avatar Fnord says:

                Note that I’m using nutrition/content labeling broadly; even foods exempt from rules about including the specific “nutrition facts” label frequently have their own rules about labels (and not just foods, at that).

                And I take the fact that we don’t require the guy selling hotdogs on the street to provide nutrition information as a positive sign that we’re smart enough to write regulations reasonably. We can exclude him from the GMO labeling requirements, too.Report

              • Avatar Fnord says:

                And since we’re being clear, I think that GMO labels are slightly less likely to influence my buying decision than labels explaining whether the cow that my beef comes from was born on a Monday. I just don’t see that they’re particularly harmful.Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller says:

                Of course, larger versions of the guy selling hot dogs on the street (e.g. Mickey D’s) are obligated to post nutrition info. This just seems like a case of tailoring regulation to not be overly burdensome and balancing the interests of consumers and small businesses.Report

            • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

              Are you sure you are not a libertarian?Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

        But there is a ton of information omitted about products we buy. Sticking with agriculture, there is no label on my produce telling me what sort of pesticides or fertilizers is was treated with. There is nothing letting me know when it was picked. I think produce provides a country of origin, but not specific location such as state or province.

        What is it GMO that its disclosure needs to be compelled?Report

        • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

          What is it about GMO . . .Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Our recent salmonella outbreaks (and the hugely over-reaching recalls that were necessary) shows that maybe including at least region-of-origin on the label isn’t a completely batshit crazy idea.

          I have almost zero problem with requiring pesticide labeling, although cost here may be an issue because different pesticides may be used in different regions.

          There is plenty of evidence to suggest that farmers use much more pesticides and fertilizers than they’re actually supposed to use, if they follow the product’s guidelines. They do this because the stuff is, basically, too cheap.

          Requiring pesticide, or inorganic fertilizer labeling would provide a very good incentive for farmers to cut down as much as possible on pesticide and fertilizer use, which has a number of advantages.Report

          • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

            I am not a big fan of mandatory labeling, but if we are going to require labeling, I see these as more important and potentially useful than GMO labeling. These are things that have current, real, observable effects. They are not some theoretical harm that could occur.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      But a lie of commission is different than a lie of omission, and I don’t know that anyone has a “right” to be sheltered from any instance of the latter, which would simply be unenforceable.

      Insofar as there is a demonstrable harm involved, then the two are morally equivalent, it seems to me. Think “Big Tobacco” here.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        As I understand it (and I’m not a lawyer), Big Tobacco’s sin was not that they remained silent on the health risks, but that they actively lied and deceived folks about the harm done.

        If I were to call Cookie Co and said, “Do you use GMOs?” they would have to answer truthfully. But if I don’t ask, they shouldn’t be required to tell.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          They actively (aggressively!) omitted certain relevant facts. Isn’t that a lie of omission?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            How do you aggressively omit? Do you sit there being intensely silent?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              A “lie of omission” is the failure to provide all the information known about a state of affairs. People omit the relevant facts, then aggressively defend themselves from the accusation that they were/are lying. Pretty straightforward.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Perhaps I was using a looser definition of lie of omission then.

                My point is that there is a difference between saying something you know to be false and simply not saying anything at all.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That’s a good point, and useful too. It was certainly Alberto Gonzalez’ take when he was being grilled by Congress.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I do think there is a bit of a difference between the USAG and the people who make Skittles.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                I think you can make the case that food – nearly alone of all products – is so vital/basic a human need that we should usually err in the direction of maximal labeling; after all, you can choose not to buy “cigarettes” (any brand, labelled or not, any ingredients) but you cannot choose not to buy “food” (any type) for more than a few days. So infringing food producers’ liberty a bit, in the service of maximizing consumer information, seems a fair trade to me.

                But I don’t really want to expand this to cover everything in the world.

                For ex., I don’t think motorcycles need a sticker saying “This thing will probably cripple or kill you sooner or later” (or even, “This is not a car”).Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I certainly wouldn’t trust any Skittles made by Alberto Gonzales.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                “We never said the wheels would stay on above 40 MPH!”Report

        • Avatar Shannon's Mouse says:

          Why would Cookie Co have to answer at all? Wouldn’t requiring an answer be “compelled speech”?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            I would consider “No comment” a truthful but incomplete answer; it would be acceptable.

            If eating GMO foods was important to me, I would not eat Cookie Co’s product.Report

            • Avatar Shannon's Mouse says:

              “No comment” is a response. It is not an answer to the question. Thanks for the clarification.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                That’s fair.

                “Don’t say anything untrue” should be the rule. And I’d extend to say you can’t make unsubstantiated claims. If you say something, be prepared to back it up or face penalties.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            That’s an extension of the argument that isn’t warranted, it seems to me. The argument may only be that if labeling were mandatory, Cookie Co. could answer the question. And if they refused to do so we could only accuse them of dickishness.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        But we didn’t label them as not containing ammonia and additives that are known carcinogens!Report

        • Avatar Shannon's Mouse says:

          I am looking forward to the golden age of freedom where ingredient lists on the food I consume are replaced by Unilever’s version of the software shrink-wrap license where they takes 20 paragraphs of fine print to obfuscate the fact that they’re saying, “Caveat emptor, muthafucka!”Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            And once you unwrap the food, you’ve implicitly accepted everything in the fine print, including the fact that there is no warranty, express or implied, that the contents are safe for human consumption.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            They take 20 paragraphs of fine print to obfuscate the fact that they’re saying, “Caveat emptor, muthafucka!”


  10. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    I refuse to buy these organic bananas unless you can describe the complete gas-exposure history of each and every fruit tree on the farm that made them, as well as an independently-verified record of the environmental conditions they have been kept under throughout the entire packaging and shipping process. If the seller obstinately refuses to do this, then it’s up to the government to force them to do it.

    What? This information is important to me! I have a right to know what’s in my food!Report

  11. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Everyone here is so wrong that I’m writing a post.Report

  12. Avatar Kazzy says:


    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      They’re probably sitting this one out since you’re doing all the heavy lifting and you identify as a liberal. I get your argument here (I think). Or at least, I’m sympathetic to the argument that mandatory labeling requires meeting a heavy burden in order to be justified. For my part I don’t think it’s a heavy burden; I think more informed consumer choices are good for people generally, and I know far too many people who are non-GMO eaters to think it’s not an important cultural/health/envirnomental issue.

      I could go on and on about my dislike for GMOs and monoculture crops and Roundup Externalities and whatnot, but that’s not issue you were wondering about.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Glyph makes a strong argument that food is a unique consumer product and perhaps requires unique rules. And maybe folks don’t articulate that in their arguments because they assume it goes without saying but… given liberals’ (AND I AM ONE!) tendency to advocate for a host of questionable “rights”, I think they can’t really assume anything goes without saying.

        If advocates talked about the way in which food is necessary for human life and is not something we ought to take changes with, I’d probably be less frustrated with the entire movement. But when they march on Monsanto talking about their “right” to not only information, but to GMO-free food, I want to start hippy-punching.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Oh, um. My problem with GMO mandatory labeling is that I imagine that the majority of folks don’t know what GMO actually means in practice and so we’ll see a lot of “CONTAINS NO GMO!” labels on foods where this was never an issue in the first place… so it’d be like slapping a “CONTAINS NO ALUMINUM SULFITE!” sticker on it.

      Oh, I’m going to buy this bottled water instead of a Brita… because it has no Aluminum Sulfite.

      Now, of course, there *ARE* foods out there that do have GMOs in them and, I suppose, it’d not be bad to put GMO labels on them… but, again, I suspect that people don’t know what GMO means. If you said to people “WE GENETICALLY MODIFIED THIS FOOD!” they howl and weep but if you said “we took the frost resistant gene from iceflowers and added it to beets in order to make our beets have an effective second growing season in a year”, they’d ask about taste, nutrition, cooking modifications, that sort of thing.

      So my issues with mandatory GMO stickers is that it’s a tactic used by anti-GMO folks to leverage ignorance out there in order to get as many people as possible to not purchase GMO food… people who, if you sat down and explained what GMO *MEANS*, would say “oh, I guess I would want these beets after all!”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Shiiiiit, bro. Now THAT’S what I’m talking about.

        For a long time, I equated “organic” with “healthy”.


        But now I know better. I doubt everyone does.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        it’s a tactic used by anti-GMO folks to leverage ignorance out there in order to get as many people as possible to not purchase GMO food…

        First, who are these people of which you speak? I’ve never met anyone like that. And I live in Boulder!

        Another: towards what end are these people so desirous of having others not purchase GMO products?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Really? Because I’ve heard the argument “if people knew what was in their food, they wouldn’t buy it!”

          towards what end are these people so desirous of having others not purchase GMO products?

          If GMO products stop being profitable, people will stop making GMO products and we can go back to organic cookies.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            So, you’re saying there is a faction of people who want to destroy the GM food industry, full stop. They just want it gone. Full stop.

            No, I don’t know anyone like that.

            I do know people who think that labeling GMO foods will change peoples eating habits (and I think the food industry knows that too, else they wouldn’t really care!). And I know people who think Roundup Ready is not an effective way to produce food for people. But I don’t know of anyone who opposes GMOs out of a desire to destroy the industry.

            Sometimes I think you don’t understand liberals very well, Jaybird. Very few of us conform to your conception.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              So, you’re saying there is a faction of people who want to destroy the GM food industry, full stop. They just want it gone. Full stop.

              Yes, there are not only a few people like that, there are a large chunk of people like that. In the “groups of kooks” scale they’re bigger than the antivaxers and bigger than the 9/11 truthers, I’d guess.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Citations? Evidence? Something for me to hang on to…?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                In 2002 the Zambian government rejected 35,000 tons of food aid because of the possibility that it could be genetically modified (GM). During this time roughly 3 million people in Zambia faced severe food shortages and extreme hunger.


              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Kooks! Conspiracy theorists!!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                No, Zambians!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Are you not on Facebook, Stillwater?

                Here’s $8 million dollars’ worth of places to start.

                All you have to do is google “Monsanto” or “ConAgra” to find other examples.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                So, your evidence that anti-GMO people are wild-eyed delusional conspiracy theorists hell bent on destroying the GM food industry is that they want … GMO labeling?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Sorry, combox context removal problem.

                No, most anti-GMO people are just folks. There are, however, rabid anti-GMO people, who are hell bent on destroying the GM food industry.

                Well, not hell-bent, since they’re not firebombing Monsanto trucks or anything. But they certainly consider GMOs to be a particularly undesirable portion of the undesirable industrial food complex.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                No, most anti-GMO people are just folks. There are, however, rabid anti-GMO people, who are hell bent on destroying the GM food industry.


              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                Well, not hell-bent, since they’re not firebombing Monsanto trucks or anything.

                What about the ones that destroy GMO fields?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                what about the monstersanto people destroying people’s fields because pollen blew in???Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:


                If you want to get into a discussion of the evils of IP, I would be glad to engage 🙂Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                All of the cases I’ve heard of people destroying fields of GMO crops are in other countries (India, Germany, Hungary, France).

                If there are cases in the U.S., I haven’t heard of them.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’m not sure what our point of contention is, here, Stillwater.

                Are you suggesting that there aren’t any rabid anti-GMO people? Are you saying that there are fewer of them than the antivaxxers? I ‘m not sure.

                (In any event, I did say, “In the “groups of kooks” scale they’re bigger than the antivaxers and bigger than the 9/11 truthers, I’d guess.” re-emphasis added to indicate that this is totally opinion, here)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                people are getting their fields burned for collecting seeds, and then reseeding fields. In America. because they weren’t growing GMO stuff, but pollen blew in. and thus they’re “illegally” growing GMO cropsReport

              • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

                Kimmi: That didn’t happen. “pollen blowing in” maybe resulted in a hybrid or two, for one season. It doesn’t grow dozens of acres of genetically-identical plants for three seasons in a row.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                are you familiar with the cases currently being discussed? I know dailykos had a few writeups on monsanto a while back…

                naturally not every plant grows from the next field over’s pollen.
                But Monsanto has for all practical purpose made “collecting seedcorn” into a crime, if done anywhere near its plants.

                And your neighbors aren’t required to tell you that they’re using roundup ready either.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Let’s be clear here. Are you saying that all people who oppose GMO’s are kooks on a grander scale than 9/11 truthers, both in size and craziness? I live on anti-GMO central and I don’t know one person who wants to destroy the GM food industry, full stop.

                I think there’s some nuance issues between us, but I’m not sure what they are.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                No, not on craziness. On size, yes. There are more anti-GMO folk than there are anti-vaxxers or 9/11 truthers. A very good chunk of those anti-GMO folk are dispositional, not religious; I know lots of people who won’t eat GMO food but they also don’t eat anything but cage-free chickens, and they’re not freaks about it.

                There are some seriously crazy anti-GMO folks though.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Like the organizations that have been persuading african countries to turn away food aid because it contains GMO crops? Cause in that case they’re not even preventing it from being sold, they were preventing it from being given away for free to starving people. I guess it’s okay if they starve, so long as they do it organically.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        So don’t put labels on things because people are ignorant? Is that an argument? Yeah people are ignorant often, but why is that an argument to NOT put a label on something. If anythign that is an argument for more labels and information. If something is a good idea, its still a good idea even if its a tactic used by a group that is unpopular or eccentric.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          It’s not “don’t put labels on things because people are ignorant”. If you think that I am giving a “YOU SHOULD DO THIS” or “YOU SHOULD DO THAT” argument, I’m failing to make my point.

          I am saying that the vast majority of “CONTAINS NO GMO” type labels would be on the level of interest as “CONTAINS NO BOTULISM”.

          Someone might think “ok, they’re distinguishing themselves from the other brand” but they’re not really.

          In the same way, a food product saying “we have GMO ingredients!” may as well be saying “contains descendents of Gregor Mendel’s Green Beans!”

          It’s exploiting a level of alarm that is unwarranted.Report

      • Avatar Fnord says:

        So the libertarian argues that people can’t be trusted to make informed decisions about food?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Heh. I was gonna pick on that comment too, from another direction – that because people are so stoopid they need to be protected from their betters! – but I won’t!!Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            “By” their betters. Whatever. I didn’t make that comment anyway.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I’m not suggesting anyone be protected. I am, however, suggesting that people not be told to have heightened scrutiny against things that are not threats.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                People aren’t being “told” to be fearful. They are being given info. Hell lots of people would have to go to the effort of googling GMO just to find out what it means.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Have you ever heard the term “frankenfood”?

                When you did, did you think that it was talking about the Honorable Gentleman from Minnesota’s lunch?Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Is the gov forcing people to label nacho cheese sauce as Frankenfood or non-frankenfood?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Personally, I think that Velveeta is perfectly capable of getting past the GMO Police (“Guys, guys! This petroleum-based food product contains nothing that ever contained genes in the first place!”).

                This strikes me as a bigger problem than the GMO one.Report

              • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

                It’s sort of like the way that, for a while, bottles of Hershey’s chocolate(-flavored corn) syrup had a sticker saying “fat free”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Yeah, when we were on South Beach, we learned that “FAT FREE!” salad dressings had a lot of carbs. “LOW CARB!” salad dressings had a lot of fat.

                When we noticed this with salad dressing, we noticed that this trick was used EVERYWHERE.Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                Yes, they are being given info. However, simply saying “This product contains or is derived from Genetically Modified Organisms” is meaningless info. It would be no better than saying “This product contains chemicals.”

                GMO can be harmful, neutral, or beneficial. To label everything, without distinguishing, would result in people avoiding that which is beneficial or neutral along with that which is harmful.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Not if the purpose is to express disapproval for schemes that stand a good chance of causing massive food failures worldwide.

                Me? I know what’s good and what’s bad. And monstersanto et alia are not on the side of the angels.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Heh. It’s more like I suspect that people are alarmist. If you put a large label “WARNING CONTAINS HFCS” on every single thing that contained HFCS, you’d see a downswing in the number of products purchased that have HFCS in them.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        i’d fucking not ask that, i’d ask who did the work, and how responsible they were.Report

  13. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    I’m not a fan of information asymmetry, so I don’t have a problem with labeling GMOs as such, even though I’m fairly certain that all the hubbub about GMOs is wild hysteria.

    I generally agree with Jason and the Doctor, above, that we’ve been genetically manipulating food since we started agriculture (pre-human-modified corn is pretty much inedible).

    I don’t buy the “it’s forced speech” framing, though. Generally speaking, I think “forced speech” which reduces information asymmetry in the marketplace is sufficiently justifiable to be okay.

    The economic arguments against it are… they trigger all my bullshit meters.

    As for “what constitutes a GMO”, I think the most useful definition is “any biological organism, be it seed, fruit, vegetable, or animal, which has a genetic profile which qualifies as patented intellectual property”.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      The economic arguments against GMOs? Or against the laws?

      If you mean the latter, than I’d again point us towards organic food labeling, which I think should be highly instructive. We do not mandate anything, yet that industry seems to work pretty well because there was a need and someone stepped in to fill it.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        The economic arguments against labeling requirements. One of the bandied about complaints is that “it’s too expensive”, which is… yeah, I don’t buy it.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Oh… yes, that is silly. I can’t imagine it would add a cent to production costs. The only cases it which it might would be very tiny packaged goods and only then if there was a size requirement on the label. If you required a half-inched size label, that could prove problematic for Bazooka Joe. But otherwise, the economic arguments are weak, which is why I didn’t really rely on that.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        That “industry” led to substantial portions of the Peruvian rainforest being burnt to the ground.

        I’m not impressed.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      This sounds like the right take.

      It may be the case that labeling GMOs will hurt their sales a little bit in the short term, not because people are too stupid to learn about GMOs, but because there is a sizable faction that thinks GMOs are evil (it’s not always because they may cause harm when eaten; most of the anti-GMO arguments I hear have to do with sustainability in agriculture). However, sellers of GMO products will just have to work harder at educating people.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        That and let’s be serious, almost all of the market for GMO crops is pre-processed.

        Nobody is going to stop buying Fruit Loops because they have “contains GMO products” on the label.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Frankly I think that you’re underestimating the potential costs.

          What Anti-GMO people are advocating for is that GMO products be treated like peanuts. Food that is made with peanuts has to be labelled. Food that is processed in the same even general area as foods that are processed with peanuts have to be labelled accordingly.

          This is done because some people are very allergic to peanuts. This is done because some people can flop over and die if they eat foods containing peanuts.

          What anti GMO people are advocating is that GMO foods be labelled just like foods that contain peanuts. This is despite the fact that over a decade of desperate search, study and scouring the anti-GMO crowd has failed to pin any deaths on GMO crops.

          This strikes me as problematic.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            You know what’s funny?

            Peanut butter, Reese’s pieces, Planters Nuts, Snickers Bars, just about everything labeled Frito-Lay, they’re all labeled as containing peanuts or being manufactured at a plant that contains nuts.

            I don’t notice that Snickers Bars can’t compete with Hershey bars, which are nut-free (in fact, Hershey bars are made on their own dedicated production line so that they don’t have to be labeled as “manufactured at a plant that contains nuts”).

            The cost difference between those two products is zero, to the consumer.

            That, alone, indicates to me that it’s likely the labeling requirements for nuts aren’t very expensive for producers. So I’m… well, let’s say you have to convince me that it is expensive. I ain’t buyin’ it.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            If anti-GMO folks want to equate the non-risk of GMOs to the real risk of peanuts, they’re even battier than I thought.Report

    • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

      What is it about GMO content that demands its disclosure? There is no way that every bit of information about the production of a food product can be disclosed, so there will always be asymmetry.

      If we are going to compel disclosure of GMO content, then we need a standard better than “some people think it might be harmful, even with no hard evidence to back it up.”Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        What is it about GMO content that demands its disclosure?

        A goodly number of these things are not tested in a rigorous fashion. To be clear, I don’t believe that this is warranted in almost all cases; it’s sufficiently unlikely that splicing a gene from one plant to another is going to produce much in the way of unintended consequences (at least, when it comes to nutritional value/effects; there may in fact be ecological effects). There are exceptions, though, and longitudinal study would be required to actually show that they’re not going to have long term effects on people.

        I think this is insufficiently probable to warrant holding up the use of the seeds/food, but I don’t think it’s insufficiently probable to warrant holding this back from the public.

        Put another way, if you don’t disclose information, the hysteria can be worse than if you *do* disclose.

        If we are going to compel disclosure of GMO content, then we need a standard better than “some people think it might be harmful, even with no hard evidence to back it up.”

        I don’t think this is the right way to look at it, because I’m not convinced that mandatory labeling is sufficiently burdensome on the food producer to indicate that there needs to be hard evidence to justify it. Acquiring hard evidence for the safety of GMOs would require decades of longitudinal studies, so it would be very hard to say to the American public, “Hey, sorry, we screwed up, maybe we should have told you asbestos wasn’t know to be safe before we told manufacturers that they could sell it to you for twenty years without telling you in was in the stuff you were buying.”

        I think “decades of study” is sufficiently difficult for the anti-GMO people to meet, as a burden, that it’s an unreasonable burden to require them to meet before requiring pro-GMO producers to start labeling stuff, since the effective liberty-loss to the pro-GMO producer is pretty freakin’ marginal.

        In any event, there are plenty of reasons for the informed food consumer to not want to encourage intellectual property advances in the food industry (given all the perverse incentives that go on, there). So I think that, alone (outside of safety) is sufficient for the consumer to demand labeling.Report

      • This. The biggest problem with forced labeling of GMO content isn’t that it’s “forced speech” – it’s no more forced than other labeling mandates; instead, the problem is that there’s a limit to the amount of information that can reasonably be provided to the consumer on a product label. Absent a showing of some sort of direct health hazard or benefit to the consumer from GMO or non-GMO content, such a mandate inherently does more harm than good. It dilutes the value of information that is disclosed on the label, and and makes it more difficult for a manufacturer to disclose – or, for that matter, be required to disclose in the future – additional information that actually may impact a consumer’s health.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Absent a showing of some sort of direct health hazard or benefit to the consumer from GMO or non-GMO content, such a mandate inherently does more harm than good.

          I’m not sure that this is the case. Yes, I understand that there are people who will reject GMO foods out of hand, but I honestly don’t think that there are many of them.

          “Phenylketonurics – contains phenylalanine”

          That warning label has zero information content for most people. But… most people just ignore it.

          “Contains patented genetically modified food products” may be basically zero content as well, but I expect that… people will just ignore it. And I don’t think that it will raise the bar for information processing should it occur in the future that more nuanced disclosure is necessary.Report

          • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

            So the likely options are that people will be dissuaded from buying GMO food, even though there is no evidence it is harmful, or people will ignore the label. I see either result as bad outcomes for a law.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              In what way would consumers not buying GMO food because of the label be a bad outcome, and in particular, a bad outcome for the law? If people – for whatever reason! – don’t want to consume GMOs, then having readily accessed information seems like a boon, yes?

              I’m not sure about the legal part of your comment. Could you elaborate why you think it’s bad for a law?Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                I was not very clear in my thoughts. There was a lot in my head that I left out.

                I assume now that people who are concerned with non-GMO foods look for foods marketed as GMO free. They will not be affected. However, there are people that are not concerned with GMOs who are likely to become concerned with GMOs if there is required labeling. Such labeling would appear as a warning label.

                Such a law would be at best neutral, and at worst harmful, to those who would be required to put such labels on their products, with no real justification. I see that as problematic. There is no reason to label food as GMO containing when there is currently nothing (as far as I am aware) to prevent GMO-free food from being labeled that way.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Deception and need to test.
                You can have GMO genes in your food simply because pollen blew in.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Such a law would be at best neutral, and at worst harmful, to those who would be required to put such labels on their products, with no real justification.

                I’m not sure there’s no real justification, just that the justificatory burden might not have been met. So I get that argument. Harm seems like a clear (or clearer) standard to employ here. And if not harm, then the burden grows. Of course, one type of argument is consideration is the cost relative to the benefits (an instrumental argument, of course). I think that one’s relatively open.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              The likely options are that people will be dissuaded from buying GMO food, even though there is no evidence it is harmful

              “GMO” is broad enough that “no evidence that it is harmful” is a pretty crappy standard.

              Again, the problem is that “no evidence” is by definition something you can’t have without a longitudinal study. In order for us to have evidence that it is harmful, in your proposed model, we’d have to have those products in the marketplace for decades (also, since they’re not labeled, we’d have a bitch of a time actually showing that they were harmful even epidemiologically). At which point, if we have evidence that they are harmful, all we can say is, “Whoops, sorry you all have cancer! (or whatever)”

              Again, insufficiently likely to demand that the government step in and start treating GMOs like medications. That level of scrutiny isn’t warranted.

              You can genetically modify an organism to have it not halt production of a growth hormone at a certain age bracket. If the growth hormone, itself, is either not analogous to anything the human body produces or not transferable to the food product, you have almost no reason whatsoever to expect that it will cause side effects in people.

              On the other hand, you can genetically modify an organism to have it produce specific proteins that make it more resistant to bug infestations, but also make it produce gluten, which would be very bad for Celiac disease sufferers.

              You can do all sorts of things using gene replacement therapies, some of which could be very likely to be harmful.

              This isn’t like a single pesticide, which can be tested and vetted. It’s an entire domain of potential interventions.Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                The broadness of GMO is one of the problems. Certain modifications could be harmful, but that does not mean that GMO as a whole should be flagged. Deal with these things on a case-by-case basis.

                The GMO thing reminds me of the way many people refer to the presence of chemicals, without understanding what they are talking about.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Monstersanto burning down fields because they got contaminated with pollen seems pretty bad to me.Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                I agree, but that is not related to the labeling issue.

                Fields being burned down because of contamination? It is an evil, but that is an issue with IP law.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                think you’re missing the point of these regs then. Putting a bit of pressure on some truly evil companies, hitting them a bit in their bottom line… and showing that someone is paying the fuck attention to them.

                … well, that’s certainly not why whole foods is backing it.

                I think people tend to underestimate exactly how big the … conspiracies… are. It’s a bad word, I know. But people operate together, and sometimes a larger scale agenda can be pushed with small steps (anti-smoking provides a lot of justification for seatbelt laws, which were both insurance company driven laws).Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t think a “IPGMO” sticker on fruit or a seal on a box is really a big deal.

                Certain modifications could be harmful, but that does not mean that GMO as a whole should be flagged. Deal with these things on a case-by-case basis.

                That probably is a much better way to go, but I’d guess that actually would be expensive.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Absent a showing of some sort of direct health hazard or benefit to the consumer from GMO or non-GMO content, such a mandate inherently does more harm than good.

          I agree with the first part, disagree with the second. It’s an easy thing to display. If your suppliers use GMOs, then you say that on the label. If your suppliers use a mix of GMO and non-GMO products, then you say “it may contain GMOs”. It’s pretty simple, really.Report

          • But the point is, at least in part, that: (1) there’s a limited amount of space on labels, so every item you require be put on a label is that much less space for additional information to be placed on the label; and (2) every additional piece of information you put on a label proportionally dilutes the information that is already on the label. As it is, consumers only rarely consider nutritional information on labels; every additional piece of information you require be put on a label makes the pre-existing information on the label proportionally less effective.

            I’m less opposed to the idea that manufacturers be required to make publicly available whether they use GMO content in particular products for those who ask. But to actually require it be placed on the label without evidence that GMO content is even a potential health hazard just makes no sense to me.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              But to actually require it be placed on the label without evidence that GMO content is even a potential health hazard just makes no sense to me.

              That’s the part I agree with. Not that it makes no sense, but that I think it has to meet the burden of demonstrable harm to be justified.

              In fact, I think the libertarian solution to all this is the correct one. It’s not necessary to require labels, but we don’t want gummint intervention gumming up the organic/non-GMO markets either. There are healthy, functioning markets for both. And right now I think the burden is on anti-GMO consumers to be active participants in their food choices. Which, for the most part, they already are.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          there’s a limit to the amount of information that can reasonably be provided to the consumer on a product label. […] It dilutes the value of information that is disclosed on the label, and and makes it more difficult for a manufacturer to disclose – or, for that matter, be required to disclose in the future – additional information that actually may impact a consumer’s health.

          My bolds.

          This is likely to be true if we are talking about requiring that the information be included the primary product information label. But this needn’t be the requirement. The requirement could be that an additional label be added saying that the product contains GMOs (and other labels for other concerns). Most products are large enough that space won’t plausibly become a problem unless we go waaayyy down that road. Where it does, there could be regulations for how products would have to display the information, as well as a process for appeals relating to lack of space for some products.

          I’m not advocating for this requirement. I’m just saying that, where the concern is great enough, these space and information-crowding issues can almost certainly be managed. The issue is really one of how one judges the validity of the concern: thru deference to the expressed concern of a community, or by a technocratic standard of some kind (“a showing of some sort of direct health hazard or benefit to the consumer”) or other. And any given technocratic standard doesn’t really eliminate the fact that the community will have opinions as to what might or might not meet that standard. “[A] showing of some sort of direct health hazard or benefit to the consumer” isn’t a description that is self-evidently correctly or incorrectly to any given purported such showing. Adpoting such a standard just changes the terms by which these discussions over community concern over these issues are hashed out.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        *snickers* GMO isn’t harmful. Not by a longshot.
        Monstersanto, on the other hand, is killing family farms.

        Label it!Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        we have to disclose all ingredients except rathair (and rat feces). Why not disclose GMO? Organic is a nice catch-all, so too is GMO.Report

  14. Avatar Kimmi says:

    So. Nu. You can tell the whacko GMO people from the nonwhacko by how crazy they are about yellow rice… If they’ll eat properly tested stuff that is designed to prevent kids from going blind, then they’re all right.

    Being all against Monstersanto is just good sense.Report

  15. Avatar Rod says:


    Remember a few years ago when some company announced the development of a non-allergenic cat? They did this by altering the normal genetic profile of a standard issue cat. That is a GMO.

    Genes encode for proteins and allergies are triggered by exposure to specific proteins. GM foods, practically by definition, contain some different proteins than their un-altered counterparts. Therefore the GM version of a food has the potential for triggering an allergic reaction when the usual version doesn’t. And that reaction is likely to be novel and unexpected.l

    Just like genetic mods can produce a non-allergenic version of

    • Avatar Rod says:

      … an animal that commonly provokes a reaction, it’s entirely possible to do the opposite as well and in unexpected ways.Report

  16. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    I’m opposed to requiring labelling of foods as GMOs. There’s no danger associated with them, and I don’t want laws that feed into the “frankenfoods” anti-science crap that’s put out about them. GMOs have vast potential for increasing and improving the world food supply; that’s something that should be welcomed, not feared.

    Now, there are absolutely issues with unethical behaviour by companies that produce GMOs – stealing intellectual property from First Nations and patenting it, for example – but the technology itself is not bad. It’s an expansion of what humanity has being doing – and benefitting from – for centuries.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      *snort* they’re also about ten steps away from ending the world as we know it. Maybe less, my data is a few years old. Do you think they would hesitate to cause a widespread crop failure in their competition??

      And I like -gmos- when done by responsible scientists not incorporated into large CEO-driven amoral companies.Report

  17. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    Also, there’s some bootleggers-and-Baptists going on here. Whole Foods Inc. was the primary backer of Prop 37 in California. And when you get a giant corporation calling for more regulation on its business activity, your first question should be “who’s the sucker?”Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      If they already try to avoid GM foods, then it’s in their benefit if all the other groceries stores start having to label their fruits and vegetables as GM.Report

  18. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    You took the red pill, didn’t you, Kazzy? Take a couple of blue pills and you’ll be back to left-wing orthodoxy before you know it.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I probably need to reevaluate how I self-identify. I am definitely left-of-center, but on issues when I tend not to be, I either assume all the other liberals have it wrong or that my libertarian streak is coming out. The reality is, there are probably some issues on which I’m conservative but simply don’t identify with that term. Ultimately I try to just look at situations and try to determine what seems “right” based upon a broader set of principles, which sometimes come into conflict.Report