The zany and madcap world of the GMO labeling crowd

The GMO labeling crowd seems to be quite the wacky bunch.  Out in front you have a yogic flying dance teacher, a snake-oil salesman, a professional protester, and an alternative  health knucklehead who claims GMOs are the equivalent of Zyklon B. Oh, and GMOs are the new thalidomide as well. All are in the anti-vaccine camp and all of them are anti-GMO. All are anti-science and say The Man is out to get them. They have ways for you to avoid the poison of GMO.  Just buy  their health supplements that will counteract the GMO poison. But this is just a right to know campaign, right?

Then you have the schizoid messages the campaign is peddling:

  1.  It’s just a right to know.
  2.  We’re not saying we want GMOs banned.
  3.  GMOS are dangerous which is why we want them labeled.
  4.  No long-term studies have been done as their safety.
  5.  They’re not safe and here are the discredited studies to prove it.
  6. It’s just a label, we don’t want GMOs banned even though they are responsible for all health problems.
  7.  They label in Europe,  China et al. Why not here?

Let’s look at number eight.  Labeling supporters always point to other countries that require labeling as if that is a legitimate reason to do it here…  Hey, here is some timely news:   Italian scientists guilty of manslaughter in 2009 earthquake. 

Yup, you read that right. “Italian prosecutors say that the scientists gave inaccurate and incomplete information about whether smaller tremors before the April 2009 quake should have been grounds for an official warning.”

Among those convicted were some of Italy’s most prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the national Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

I’ll  just leave that there.

Oh wait, there is this from last year… EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration.    “EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.”

China? They require labeling but have been found to be exporting toothpaste, food  and other products found to contain high levels of lead.

Yeah, we should follow their scientific lead.

The latest coup of the campaign is they got over 300 celebrity chefs to endorse Prop. 37. That’s right, celebrity chefs who are well versed in the subject of transgenics.  Such experts like Mario Batali who recently settled for $1.5 million in a lawsuit which accused him of stealing employee tips.

And that’s another thing about these kooks.  They chose to fight for a dubious cause against a process that has never been proven dangerous, just that they think it is. If food is your fight, why not choose real world problems, ones that we know affect real live human beings? Oh I don’t know, like farm workers’ rights? I wrote about this in an August 4th post

United Farm Workers spokesman, Mark Grossman told, “There’s a common conventional wisdom by a lot of consumers, especially at the higher-end stores, that just because it’s organic the workers are treated better. “And that’s simply not true.”

Urban Habitat, in a 2011 survey of 500 organic growers in California found, “only 7.5 percent were in favor of labor standards. Forty-seven percent felt strongly that organic standards should not include labor standards and over 50 percent felt that organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize.”

Why do 47% feel strongly that “organic standards should not include labor standards?” Why do over 50% feel that “organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize?”

Considering this campaign is heavily promoted by the Organics industry, I guess I can see why they wouldn’t take on an issue like that.

The more you look at it, the more this campaign is nothing more than an attempt to do at the ballot box what they can’t do in the marketplace. In fact, as I’ve written before, one of the big donors to the campaign, Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Union has admitted as much in an open letter to supporters.

It’s also a venue for the snake-oil salesmen, conspiracy theorists and other lamebrains to advance their tinfoil hat agendas.

Site after site promotes the same talking points and in many cases, they re-publish the very same articles over and over again without vetting them to decide if they are correct or not. There is very little original thought that goes into this campaign among supporters.

I find I have a conundrum with this issue.  Despising as I do corporations, I find it unsettling to be on their side on this issue.  Well, I guess I’m not so much on their side as I am against this badly written, bad science law. And the fact of the matter is, even with the Miller controversy and the misleading mailer quote with improper use of the FDA official seal, the industry has more valid points than the labeling side. You can argue whether food prices will rise due to the law, but one thing is not arguable and that is that the supporters have relied on bad science and a worldview rather than facts and evidence.

As a life long progressive, I find that disturbing. It’s disturbing because what it says to me is that the crackpots have gained major influence among progressives. Over at ScienceBlogs,  David Gorski, a surgical oncologist who goes by the nom de blogger, Orac, weighs in on the issue.  “When it comes to GMO, I don’t really have a dog in the hunt, so to speak, but brain dead studies like this one certainly prod me towards the view that much of the “science” behind anti-GMO activism just doesn’t hold water, and the easy acceptance of such nonsensical results as valid by “progressives” is just plain depressing.” ( He was speaking of the widely discredited Seralini study).

And Orac isn’t the only one in science who feels that way. Many scientists tend to hold progressive views and it is those very scientists who are disturbed by this trend toward nonsense.

Orac also writes this:  “Next up, I anticipate that someone, instead of calling me a “pharma shill,” will call me a “Monsanto shill.” It’s coming. You know it is.”

Oh boy, ain’t that the truth. I’ve had that lobbed at me on more than one message board and so has every single person who has the temerity to contradict the anti-GMO party line.


7 thoughts on “The zany and madcap world of the GMO labeling crowd

  1. I think you are really barking at the moon on this one. I haven’t read all your numerous blogs on this subject; but this one definitely smells of hysteria. You seem to argue that California citizens shouldn’t have a right to know if their food is GE because the people who are arguing for that right are a bunch of goofball left-wing fanatics.
    I would make these points:
    1) Do I understand that you are partial to the “precautionary principle”? (Good: so am I, as any good progressive should be, in service of the idea that we should not allow thousands of people to be harmed to secure big profits for a handful of rapacious business interests.) From what I read, the issue of GMO’s is a CLASSIC case of where the precautionary principle should be enforced. You blog that several studies of the dangers of GMO’s have been “discredited.” But the precautionary principle exactly means that, where there is plausible risk of danger, the burden of proof of safety is on those who would impose the danger; the precautionary principle does not contemplate a “burden of proof” of danger. Am I wrong? You may not have been convinced that GMO’s are evil; but any reasonable person would admit that there is a plausible case that they may well be seriously dangerous..On the basis of the PP alone, I personally would be for full-on prohibition of GMO’s in the food supply until they are proven safe. But how a self-identified “progressive” can be opposed to providing consumers information about their food supply makes me wonder….
    2) We really don’t know that widespread proliferation of GMO’s doesn’t impose grave dangers to the ecosphere, do we? Are there studies that I don’t know about that have established that safety to the satisfaction of a reasonable person? If so, why is it that scores of countries around the globe require labeling?
    3) It is not a cabal of left-wing kooks that wants to know whether they are buying food products that are GMO’s; it is a broad and deep cross section of consumer groups, farmers, food marketing interests, health organizations, and even local Tea Party groups. Add in concerns about the safety of GMO’s from libertarian and fundamentalist Christian groups, and you can see that there is little ideological content to the support of this California proposition, despite your hyperventilation. Again: why would a practicing progressive possibly object to requiring relevant information on food products?!
    4) And, by the way, why are you going to all this trouble to counteract a perceived “leftist anti-science hysteria”, when the “right-wing” denial of evolution, global warming, carcenogenicity of tobacco, etc., are much more consequential ?!
    5) Ad hominem attacks are pretty weak. After all: if the pope says that evolution is true, that doesn’t invalidate the fact of evolution.

    • No. I am not a fan of the precautionary principle if the body of scientific evidence doesn’t warrant it. There is no “plausible” risk of danger from GMOs. No “reasonable” person would see a risk if they looked at the body of evidence. And nothing can be proven “safe.” The best we can do is use the FDA’s criteria of “generally regarded as safe.” We operate on a risk/benefit principle. That means do the benefits outweigh the risks? That applies in every area of life.

      Yes we do know how GMOs affect the environment. The reason so many countries require labeling is to due public fear and mis-perception of GMOs.

      This campaign was planned, developed and run by the cranks and the kooks, as I pointed out. Their deliberate misinformation has hoodwinked normally intelligent people who bought into the fear. Saying a product may have been made with GMO ingredients tells you nothing. The FDA requires labels if a product contains potentially harmful ingredients, like allergens.

      I care about the anti-science mindset of the left because they should know better. They keep crowing about the anti-science right but don’t see they have the same mindset in their ranks. Creationism is a non-starter. It has no effect on society unless those people want a career in science. And a Gallup poll from May found 41% of liberals believed in it. And, a study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication this found that just over half of Republicans believe climate change action should be a priority and 84% of Republicans believe clean energy should be a priority.

      As far as consequential, the group that is the most anti-vaccine are well-educated liberals. The highest areas with non-compliance are areas with high concentrations of liberals. On the the other hand, the areas with the most compliance are the so-called red areas.

      It’s not an ad hominem attack if it’s true and those people are having an influence. One of the big proponents of the law is an anti-vaccine freak who believes GMOs are the new Zyklon B and they are a genocidal plot. His stuff gets republished on left/liberal websites all the time. The yogic flying dance teacher with no scientific credentials is routinely invited to liberal/left events to spout his nonsense. The largest donor to the campaign is against being required to label his supplements. Progressives have really abandoned their critical thinking skills on this issue.

      Everybody Panic: GMOs and vaccines are the new Zyklon B

      GMO labeling supporter doesn’t want his products labeled.

  2. Here’s a (pre)cautionary tale:
    Freon was invented in 1928. Because Freon is non-toxic, it eliminated the danger posed by refrigerator leaks. In just a few years, compressor refrigerators using Freon would become the standard for almost all home kitchens. In 1930, Thomas Midgley held a demonstration of the physical properties of Freon for the American Chemical Society by inhaling a lung-full of the new wonder gas and breathing it out onto a candle flame, which was extinguished, thus showing the gas’s non-toxicity and non-flammable properties.

    Completely safe, right? No need to invoke the precautionary principle, right?

    (Side Note: Thomas Midgley secretly suffered from lead poisoning because of his invention of leaded gasoline, a fact he kept hidden from the public.)

    In 1973 Chemists Frank Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, then at the University of California, Irvine, began studying the impacts of CFCs in the Earth’s atmosphere. They discovered that CFC molecules were stable enough to remain in the atmosphere until they got up into the middle of the stratosphere where they would finally (after an average of 50–100 years for two common CFCs) be broken down by ultraviolet radiation releasing a chlorine atom. Rowland and Molina then proposed that these chlorine atoms might be expected to cause the breakdown of large amounts of ozone (O3) in the stratosphere. Their argument was based upon an analogy to contemporary work by Paul J. Crutzen and Harold Johnston, which had shown that nitric oxide (NO) could catalyze the destruction of ozone. Crutzen, Molina and Rowland were awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their work on this problem.
    The environmental consequence of this discovery was that, since stratospheric ozone absorbs most of the ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation reaching the surface of the planet, depletion of the ozone layer by CFCs would lead to an in increase in UV-B radiation at the surface, resulting in an increase in skin cancer and other impacts such as damage to crops and to marine phytoplankton.

    But the Rowland-Molina hypothesis was strongly disputed by representatives of the aerosol and halocarbon industries. The chair of the board of DuPont was quoted as saying that ozone depletion theory is “a science fiction tale…a load of rubbish…utter nonsense”. Robert Abplanalp, the president of Precision Valve Corporation (and inventor of the first practical aerosol spray can valve), wrote to the Chancellor of UC Irvine to complain about Rowland’s public statements.

    Then, in 1985, British Antarctic Survey scientists Farman, Gardiner and Shanklin published results of abnormally low ozone concentrations above Halley Bay near the South Pole. They speculated that this was connected to increased levels of CFCs in the atmosphere. It took several other attempts to establish the Antarctic losses as real and significant, especially after NASA had retrieved matching data from its satellite recordings. The impact of these studies, the metaphor ‘ozone hole’, and the colourful visual representation in a time lapse animation proved shocking enough for negotiators in Montreal to take the issue seriously.
    Also in 1985, 20 nations, including most of the major CFC producers, signed the Vienna Convention, which established a framework for negotiating international regulations on ozone-depleting substances. After the discovery of the ozone hole it only took 18 months to reach a binding agreement in Montreal.

    But the CFC industry did not give up that easily. As late as 1986, the Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy (an association representing the CFC industry founded by DuPont) was still arguing that the science was too uncertain to justify any action. In 1987, DuPont testified before the US Congress that “we believe that there is no immediate crisis that demands unilateral regulation.”

    So it took 57 years after the invention of Freon for its widespread use to be identified as a clear and present danger to the biosphere. With DuPont claiming the whole time that it was as safe as a baby.

    Still believe Monsanto on the impossibility of very dangerous long-term unintended consequences of GMO’s?

    • I’m not believing Monsanto. I’m believing the hundreds, if not thousands of studies done by independent scientists. There isn’t one legitimate study that shows any cause for alarm. There hasn’t been one instance of any negative health effect associated with GMOs in 16 years. All the major scientific organizations have agreed there is no danger. Those are the facts.

      As to the precautionary principle, if we applied it to everything, we would never advance.

      It’s not like this tech is in its infancy. It’s been around since the 1970s. In fact, when it was first invented, scientists found some disturbing possible effects. So, what did they do? They instituted a self-imposed moratorium until they could figure out how to prevent bad outcomes. Well, they did figure it out and a few years later, research resumed.

      Also, the science of genetics (and science in general) has advanced dramatically in the last 30 odd years. They understand it now. Fear of GMOs is irrational. If it genetic engineering is okay for medicine, why not food? I don’t see this crowd agitating for a ban on insulin or stem cell research.

      But you make the same mistake that most progressives do who oppose GMOs. You equate the tech with the business practices of the corporation. Business didn’t invent it, they just use it. Your freon example is a bad one. Freon was invented by a corporation. GE of plants was invented by two university scientists. Big difference.

  3. Wow: so many errors, so little cyberspace…. Where do I start?
    You said: “Your freon example is a bad one. Freon was invented by a corporation. GE of plants was invented by two university scientists. Big difference.”
    In fact, the Freon example is an extremely apt analogy for a technology that seems safe at first, but can prove to be terrifyingly dangerous when fully implemented. In fact, Freon was not invented by a corporation, it was invented by Thomas Midgley, (notwithstanding that “corporations are people, my friend..” ), and taken to scale by Dupont. If GE plants were “invented by two university scientists”, and then taken to scale by Monsanto, it is just FALSE to claim “big difference”. And I think you know that. And to fail to acknowledge the aptness of the analogy based on a trivial and FALSE difference just seems obtuse.
    You said: “But you make the same mistake that most progressives do who oppose GMOs. You equate the tech with the business practices of the corporation.”
    Absolutely not! I am very skeptical of the “need” for, and value of, GE irrespective of who’s doing it. But I am not so naïve as to fail to appreciate how the corporate imperative can lend a confirmation bias to the evaluation of the relevant science. That’s not an equation, it’s an association; and it’s valid, as I think you know.
    You said: “If it genetic engineering is okay for medicine, why not food? I don’t see this crowd agitating for a ban on insulin or stem cell research.”

    Non-sequitur: I’m pretty sure that “this crowd” would be extremely agreeable to labeling of any insulin and stem cell research consumer products. I know I would..

    You said: “As to the precautionary principle, if we applied it to everything, we would never advance.” But of course, you also said, in a different blog: “Because of this, I very might very well earn the wrath of the authors as believing in the precautionary principle which they claim too often impedes progress when no clear risk has been shown. I’ll cop to that in this case, but that’s only because I don’t have all the relevant facts to make a decision one way or the other.”
    Leading one to wonder, which is it? It is a clear exaggeration to say that if we applied the precautionary principle to everything, we would [never] advance. Surely we would “advance” more slowly, and I would argue that that’s OK. I am not so naïve as to fail to appreciate the tension between the precautionary principle and the “cost-benefit” metric that applies to all technologies. I think erring on the side of the precautionary principle gives us the better chance at a sustainable ecosystem into the future; which, I would argue, is the “progressive” sensibility.
    By the way, you claim that you are a “life-long” progressive. Really? What could you tell me that would make me believe that?! Decrying the “anti-science mindset of the left” isn’t doing it for me…I’d be less inclined to believe that you are just a right-wing troll if you could say a thing or two commendable about the progressive worldview…

    You said: “There is no “plausible” risk of danger from GMOs. No “reasonable” person would see a risk if they looked at the body of evidence.” And “ All the major scientific organizations have agreed there is no danger.”

    But this from the World Health Organization:
    Q8. Are GM foods safe?
    Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.

    Between the acknowledged risks of allergenicity, gene transfer, and outcrossing; and the more untested risks of monopolization of seed supplies, evolved immunity, and other unforeseen disruptions to ecosystems, there is puh-lenty of plausible risk that a reasonable person could imagine. I’m glad that there is a system in place to manage the risks of this technology; I just fear that the biosphere is too complicated to circumscribe our bureaucratic efforts to manage the risk. And I believe it is a rational fear, like the fear of nuclear terrorism. To paraphrase an old Jackson Browne song: You can’t say it won’t happen just because it hasn’t happened yet.

    You said: “Saying a product may have been made with GMO ingredients tells you nothing.”
    For you to say that tells me nothing. I leave it to you to crank through the ramifications…

    You said: “It’s not an ad hominem attack if it’s true and those people are having an influence.”
    In fact, it’s an ad hominem attack if you do not dispute the argument, but merely the character of the person making the argument. The reason that the ad hominem attack is a weak argument is because it is essentially irrelevant to the issue under discussion. I may agree with you that a yogic flying dance teacher isn’t going to be my first choice as an authority on genetically modified organisms; but if his arguments are sound, I don’t care what he does in his spare time.
    You said: “And, a study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication this found that just over half of Republicans believe climate change action should be a priority and 84% of Republicans believe clean energy should be a priority.”

    I guess Jim Imhofe and Jim De Mint and Tom Coburn didn’t get the memo.
    Really? You’re pulling my leg, right?

    I’m tired now…

  4. I knew Prop 37 would fail the moment rightwing nutjobs such as Alex Jones and Joseph Mercola hopped on the bandwagon. I had VERY high hopes for Prop 37, but once I saw and heard Jones and Mercola promoting “Yes On 37”, I knew right then and there Prop 37 would be defeated.

    • Yeah, I guess that was it, and that the $46 million spent by Monsanto, DuPont, et al, to oppose didn’t really have much to do with the outcome.
      I have a feeling that we have not heard the last of this issue (it was a very close vote in California), but it’s just a feeling..

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