I don’t think I’ve ever written about GMO labeling. I’ve always thought it was pretty clear why anyone opposes it. Today someone asked me why a company would work so hard against regulations like this, and I answered as best I could at the time, but class was beckoning and my response was more of a survey than any kind of in depth commentary.
If GMOs are the bee’s knees, why wouldn’t you want … a label to tell you if it contains them or not? Why would a company fight so hard to resist labeling if they think it is genuinely in the consumer’s best interest?
Those are good questions, and it’s really easy to see how some could interpret the fight against labels as an attempt to hide something. Trust me when I say that there’s nothing to hide. I probably sound like the biggest shill ever, but the beard doesn’t give a fuck. I hate labels. Well, I hate pointless labels that don’t convey any useful information. More on that later.
Before getting into why I and so many others are against labeling, we need to look at who’s running these campaigns and why. One might think, and rightfully so, that it’s just concerned citizens taking on Big Ag or Big Food or Big Whateverthehell. That’s understandable because those regular citizens are the ground troops. I’m hesitant to say they’re pawns, but… Anyway. As with any good story, there’s layers, and layers this one has.
I’ve touched on the front groups leading the charge against biotech before, but some may need a refresher. I’m just going to plagiarize myself for a bit to save time.
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) seems to be well-respected among progressives. commondreams.org links to them and compares the OCA to foundations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU according to Biology Fortified. Awesome, right? Not so fast.
Some might ask if there’s anything wrong with supporting organic agriculture. Honestly, nothing. I buy organic from time to time. If the produce looks better, I don’t care who grew it. But the OCA isn’t as magnanimous as I am. Their website states that they want “The conversion of American agriculture to at least 30% organic by the year 2015″ and a “global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops.”
Now why would anyone want to halt production of GE crops? OCA explains:
“GMOs are created in a lab, by inserting a gene from one organism into another unrelated organism, producing plants and animals that would never occur in nature. No long-term safety studies have been done on humans, but animal studies link the consumption of GMOs to an increase in allergies, kidney and liver disease, ADHD, cancer, infertility, chronic immune disorders and more.”
OCA is fairly open about representing the interests of corporations in the organic market, and based on what I can tell, around 1/3 of their funding comes from these businesses. They couldn’t possibly be into advocacy for the money, right?
“The burning question for us all then becomes how – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws.”
Ronnie Cummins, President/CEO of OCA
Maybe they are only interested in our health. Maybe they’re just misguided about biotechnology. Maybe I should stop wondering and dig a little deeper.
OCA began as the Pure Food Campaign, started by
JoelJeremy Rifkin, a bit of a crusader against technological advancements. While he did well to make us aware that global warming is a serious problem, he’s opposed to biotechnologies and nuclear power. I’ll never understand the picking and choosing which sciences to accept, but what can you do?
In 1998, Ronnie Cummins took over the campaign and has continued to use it to smear anyone who dares not to drink the organic Kool-Aid. Since then, they’ve formed various coalitions with the deceptively named Center for Food Safety (The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition is awing of the FDA.) and the Institute for Responsible Technology. OCA has also run anti-GMO campaigns that received funding from Whole Foods which, for a group with such an anti-corporate stance, makes them come off looking like a bunch of assholes. It’s not like they needed help in that area, but I’m going to help anyway.
Cummins, at a 2001 protest outside of a Starbucks (They’ve been doing the Monsanto milk song and dance for over a decade. What a bunch of dicks.), said “[M]ost consumers aren’t smart enough to know what they want.” Brilliant, that coming from someone who declares we have a right to know.
One of OCA’s partners in crime, as mentioned above, is the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT). This is a weird one, and there’s waaaaaay too many heads on this hydra to even begin effectively taming this beast. Let’s start at the center.
Jeffrey Smith, a flying yogi, seems to be at the heart of this tangled web of who knows what. As part of the now defunct Natural Law Party, he ran for senate in 1998 on a “vedic science” platform. The NLP was the political face of the Maharishi Institute, a transcendental meditation cult based in Fairfield, Iowa of all places. Smith now controls the IRT which is part of the GMO Inside steering committee. Academics Review also has this to say about Mr. Smith and IRT:
“Some of the sources of IFRT’s annual budgets can gleaned from financial sponsors acknowledged on Jeffrey Smith’s website. They include a range of organic, natural products and alternative health providers that mirror reported contributors to GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and other states. Among the largest donors are Organic Valley (George Simeon), Stonyfield Organic Yogurt (Gary Hirshfield), Natural News Insider (Mike Adams) and Mercola.com – alternative health and nutraceuticals (Joe Mercola).”
Oh yeah, he also worked at Genetic-ID with John Fagan.
Fagan is a molecular biologist who used to work at the National Institutes of Health before moving to Fairfield, Iowa (uh-oh) to practice transcendental meditation and take a professorship at the Maharishi University. He was a cancer and gene therapy researcher before he decided tinkering with genes is dangerous. Obviously, this revelation came with his opposition to biotechnology/GMOs.
1996 saw Fagan founding Genetic ID, a genetic testing lab that seems to specialize in finding GMO DNA in food. Genetic ID is responsible for the Starlink corn scare way back in 2000. Purported to be an independent lab, its links to Jeffrey Smith, the Maharishi Institute, and the IRT bring that independence into serious question. Did I mention John Fagan is also on the board of GMO Free USA? Yeah. GMO Free USA also got started with the help of OCA.
Genetic ID also has another curious connection to an anti-GMO group. Or should I say a Non GMO Project? I feel more than comfortable saying that Genetic ID is the mysterious independent lab that GMO Free USA and GMO Inside refer to when they “discover” GMO DNA in random food products. They couldn’t possibly stand to benefit by proclaiming such discoveries and stirring up fear in their bases.
Damn. I forgot just how tangled all those groups are. Not mentioned up there is that Millions Against Monsanto is part of the OCA. You probably already know that. It’s not some secret, but oh well.
As you can see by their own comments, it’s about banning GMOs and taking over the food market. Why does anyone want to take over a market? $omething tell$ me you know the an$wer to that already.
Obviously organic can’t compete with conventional farming, and… Wait. I need to back up for just a little bit and talk about the Maharishi cult that seems to be pulling the strings behind all of this hullabaloo.
Organic isn’t exactly their endgame. Biodynamic farming is what they’re really after.
So what’s the big deal with biodynamic farming? Who cares if they’re beholden to “lunar rhythms”? You tell me if these are the people who need to be making our agricultural decisions. Here’s an example of what biodynamic includes:
Making Biodynamic compost, using the Biodynamic compost preparations, is a very deliberate process. Rudolf Steiner described this as a process of literally making the compost pile inwardly sensitive and receptive. In this sense it imparts a cosmic intelligence to the pile and ultimately to the soil the compost is applied to.
Don’t get me wrong. Believing that a pile of rotting shit can have some mystical sense of self doesn’t mean that said pile isn’t good for fertilizing crops. This sort of thinking just leads to other, wilder beliefs about how to farm such as this method for keeping away field mice:
Thus you obtain your burned mouse-skin at the time when Venus is in Scorpio. And there remain, in what is thus destroyed by the fire, the corresponding negative force as against the reproductive power of the field-mouse. Take the pepper you get in this way, and sprinkle it over your fields. In some districts it may be difficult to carry out; then you can afford to do it even more homoeopathically; you do not need a whole plateful. Provided it has been led through the fire at the high conjunction of Venus and Scorpio, you will find this an excellent remedy. Henceforth, your mice will avoid the field. No doubt they are cheeky little beasts; they will soon come out again if the pepper has been so sprinkled that a few areas remain unpeppered in the neighbourhood. There they will settle down again. Undoubtedly the influence of it rays out far and wide; nevertheless, it may not have been done quite thoroughly. But the effect will certainly be radical if the same is done in the whole neighbourhood.
Yeah… This doesn’t work and it sure as shit isn’t economical. If these fuckwits think magical mousedust and horoscopes are where we need to take farming, I’d hate to see their ideas on modern medicine.
So to sum up who’s behind the labeling – mega-hippies and luddites that want to corner the food market. It’s not about a right to know but their desire to cash in. I’d love to be wrong about that but I can’t always give the benefit of the doubt to everyone. Sometimes we have gut feelings that just feel right. I know that’s the antithesis of skepticism, but it’s inescapable.
Now, I’m not a contrarian. Just because a bunch of folks who got way into fake eastern culture want labels, that’s not a reason to oppose them. They’re attacking my wallet though, and Bobby don’t play that.
Labeling GMOs will require already labor-intensive farming to be amped up to eleven. In the interest of brevity, I’ll just include the steps required with no further explanation on my part. This post by a harvester goes into more detail and explains just how much of a burden will be placed on farmers and harvesters. And believe me, they aren’t going to add all this unnecessary labor without upping their costs. They want us fed, but they have to eat as well.
Step 1: Corn seed is delivered to the farm.
Step 2: The seed is planted.
Step 3: A combine harvests the corn.
Step 4: The combine pours the corn into a tractor-trailer.
Step 5: The corn is then delivered to grain bins where it’s stored until sold.
Step 6: When sold, the corn is loaded back into trucks and delivered to grain elevators where it’s once again stored by the purchasers until needed.
Steps 7 – ?: The corn ends up on your plate.
That’s the barest boned way to explain how food gets from field to producer. Now, add several hours of cleanings and inspections between each step that weren’t there before, and suddenly we have farmers unable to work as quickly. This is because farmers don’t segregate every brand of seed they have. Some do because of the customers they serve, but that cost is put on them. With labeling laws, every type of seed will have to be separated, and with that separation comes regulations that only allow so much contamination across those brands.
“Well, they’re all GMO,” some might say. Yeah, and that’s a term so broad that it means next to nothing. I’ll get to that in just a second, but for now, know that grains will have to be segregated to meet several certification standards.
Since farmers are being slowed down by all the new inspections, cleanings, and whatnot, they’ll need to hire more laborers, buy more machinery and trucks, and build more bins. Not to mention, they’ll need to buy more fuel for the added machinery. Oh, and certification isn’t free either. Inspections also have to paid for. The costs start adding up really quickly, and guess who gets to pay for it all. No, not the shit-stains demanding labels on food they don’t eat anyway. Don’t be so silly. You and I get to pay for it all because it’s our food being labeled for no apparent reason. Yay!
A new grain bin cost approximately $2/bushel to buy and install, so a 50,000-bushel bin will cost $100,000. If we currently have sufficient storage for commingled grains and seeds, what will be the astronomical figure to segregate them by trait? That answer is dependent on how we are going to segregate. In order to have true traceability, GMO seeds and grains would have to be segregated by trait, so Roundup Ready–traited grains would have to be segregated from Bt-traited grains, and the stacked or combined traited grains would have to be segregated from those that are just Bt or just Roundup Ready, and the combinations of traited grains would have to be segregated by the combination or stack of traits in the seeds, too, because otherwise, you don’t have “truth in labeling” to say which GMO is in the product.
I mean, surely, we need to label grains and seeds by GMO trait, right? Because otherwise “we don’t know.” This is the premise of what the activists say is the problem, right? The uncertainty of GMO? We can’t commingle traited seeds and grains, because then we no longer have true traceability. Absolute and utter segregation by trait or combination thereof is required to meet the demands of what is being called for in GMO labeling legislation across the U.S.
This brings me to a my last reason for opposing GMO labeling. What the fuck is a GMO?
Obviously that means genetically modified organism, but which ones get labeled?
Is the label only for hybrids? Or will it cover radiation breeding? Are chemical mutagens regulated by this new label? Induced polyploidy? What about cisgenic crop? Transgenic?
Where do we draw the line and decided that one particular breeding technique requires a label but not the others? (All but two of those are allowed for use in certified organic farming. Care to guess which ones?)
“Contains GMO” offers no information to a consumer. GMO doesn’t identify any nutrition content (unless it’s biofortified, but those are being blocked by ecoterrorists, so don’t worry your pretty little heads about it), nor does such a label identify any allergens. GMO corn isn’t the same thing as GMO papaya which isn’t the same thing as GMO soy.
“Sugar-free” is a sensible label. Diabetics need to know what to avoid.
“Contains phenylalanine” is a label phenylketonurics definitely need.
“Gluten-free” is good for those with Celiac disease or other (legitimate) sensitivities.
Are you noticing a pattern with these labels? They’re intended to warn customers.
Why do GMOs need to carry a warning? It’s already been established that all GMOs are not created equally. An apple that doesn’t brown is in no way similar to corn that produces Cry proteins. Hell, this year’s RR corn isn’t the same as last year’s RR corn. We’ll need a lot of labels if we want to do this correctly.
And that’s my main point. Label supporters don’t want to do it correctly. By slapping arbitrary labels on products, we’ve done nothing for anyone but the organic groups that want to increase their market shares. They want to demonize all GMOs except the ones they can and do use. Once the labels are in place, then the boycotts of labeled products can begin. Boycotts of products they don’t buy anyway because they already have a goddamned USDA Organic label of their own (and Non GMO Project Verified). That’s actually funny to me because the USDA can’t be trusted about GMOs but they’re spot-on with organics. But that’s not enough. They have to pay out the ass for some pointless burden they’ve imposed on themselves, so everyone should have to pay out the ass.
It’s childish. It’s petulant. It’s totally fucked up, and I can’t be in favor of anti-science fearmongering.