The following is a guest post from a friend and former student at Etna High School, Charles Peckham.
Suffice to say that my life and my politics make me the sort of person whom those opposed to genetically modified foods would presume to be playing for their team.
And, my concern with Prop. 37 is that the subject of genetically modified foods is misrepresented, not that Prop. 37 is wrong wrong wrong. There is no scientific evidence to support that genetically engineered foods have negative health effects, and admittedly, the sort of evidence that would be necessary to show long-term health effects of food are difficult to obtain. Statistical data is prone to being legitimized by outside factors, and laboratory experiments conducted on animals have limited utility, since the lifespan of most lab animals is different to the lifespan of humans. Furthermore, the field of genetic engineering is relatively new. By contrast, statistical data to support the theory that excessive alcohol consumption leads to long-term health problems is quite solid, because booze has been around forever, so we’ve had sufficient time and sufficient examples. A quick Googling says that genetic engineering has been around since the early 1970’s. That means science has to determine what will happen to people fifty years from now if they use technology that hasn’t even been around for fifty years. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Regardless, it’s up to science to determine what the health effects of genetically modified food are. Admittedly, genetic engineering seems like a bad idea. There’s a perhaps inherent fear of tampering with genetic material. Plenty of black and white mad scientist movies have played on this fear, and even as recently as Jurassic Park (1993), frog DNA was combined with Tyrannosaurus DNA, with disastrous results (well, disastrous for the people the T. rex ate, at least). But the goal of science is to reach beyond these inherent presumptions. As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, ‘(Humans) are poor data taking devices. That’s why we have such a thing as science, because we have machines that don’t care which side of the bed they woke up (on) in the morning, don’t care what they said to their spouse that day, don’t care whether they had their morning caffeine. They’ll get the data right.’ The same applies for how aesthetically troubling the subject matter is. Science gives us a system by which we can determine how bad something really is, so we needn’t rely on how bad something seems.
I’ve already voted, and I admit I voted yes on Prop. 37. If I had to do it again, I’m not sure which way I would go. It’s not because I think genetically modified food is unhealthy, that remains to be shown, and it’s not because I have faith in the corporate food industry to have my best interests in mind. With Prop. 37, it’s a question of information. Prop. 37 is asking for food to inform consumers what’s inside, and I think it’s both responsible and personally preferable to have more information rather than less, even if the information is irrelevant.
And, to the best of our knowledge, information about genetic modification is irrelevant to the health of consumers. The only problem is that labeling genetically modified foods is misleading information. It plays into previously mentioned apprehensions about eating food with an otherworldly quality, and this stands to detriment the food industry infrastructure for a silly reason. In effect, the panic over genetically modified foods is (until science shows otherwise) making an issue out of a non-issue. It’s giving people just enough information to confirm their knee-jerk reaction, and doesn’t give them the full picture. The issue is unpleasantly similar to the dihydrogen monoxide hoax, in which propaganda is distributed about a chemical that’s being sold over the counter at your local grocery store named ‘dihydrogen monoxide” (AKA water). The propaganda is full of startling facts about what would happen if, for example, dihydrogen monoxide were to enter one’s lungs, and how dihydrogen monoxide is the primary chemical in acid rain. It’s a good gag. If I hadn’t been told it was a practical joke when I first saw it, I might very well have fallen for it myself.
So the real question is, what is the government’s responsibility when there’s a strong movement turning a non-issue into an issue? Part of me says, if the people want labels, let them have labels. Still, to really get to the bottom of this issue, it would behoove both government and anti-genetic engineering activists to come up with sufficient funding to determine any possible health issues. It’s pointless to stir up more panic over the issue before even demonstrating the issue is there. It would be nice if we could have put the horse before the cart on this one.
Proposition 37 is plain and simply a bad law….for multiple reasons.
- Prop 37 would require labeling for non-harmful ingredients.
- Prop 37 does not require ALL products to labeled.
- Prop 37 is a California-only regulation on food.
- Prop 37 provides loopholes for imports to evade the labeling requirement.
- Prop 37 would increase food costs in California by over $400 per year.
- Prop 37 would create additional bureaucracy and cost tax payers millions.
- Prop 37 would open the door to frivolous lawsuits.
- Any proposed regulation, that will have such overreaching impact, should go through legislative and economic analysis, not through the proposition venue.
I fully support the consumer’s right to know if anything harmful is in a product that they might buy. If a product is harmful, it should be labeled, but directed from the FDA, not the state.
Labels informing consumers of the ingredients should be voluntary. There is already an organic label to identify non-GE products.
If there is strong support to identify ingredients in non-organic foods, I would encourage someone to take advantage and create a niche label. It would seem to me, to be a wonderful opportunity.
I support a NO vote on Proposition 37.
Yesterday, while the Verizon towers were down in Siskiyou County, a newsletter from within the USDA, Greening Headquarters Update, was released and had a suggestion to implement the Meatless Monday Initiative within the agency. There was a quick uprising among many in the agricultural community, within the social media world. By 1:07 in the afternoon, the USDA retracted the statement in the newsletter as released in The New York Times. Now, most folks would think “Excellent, we accomplished our objective,” and move on. However, this is not the case with some, as I continue to see several rant on and now I understand several industry organizations are considering a ‘unified response’ to the matter…yes…after it has been retracted and the USDA’s position clarified.
To those who are still ‘worked up’ over this, I respectfully ask you to stop for a minute and take a deep breath. Allow the emotions to settle down and let’s take an objective look at what further actions, if any should be taken.
First, I am a beef producer and admittedly was not a big fan of the Meatless Monday Initiative. However, after taking some time to look at things objectively, I completely support the idea of encouraging folks to eat more fruits and vegetables, most do not eat enough. We should all be supportive of people eating better balanced meals that include all the food groups.
Second, let’s take a look in the mirror. What does it look like to our customers when agriculture is constantly ‘on the fight,’ ‘whining,’ and complaining on a daily basis? Folks, certainly we face challenges, but think about all we have to be thankful for. We should spend some more time showing gratitude for positives.
Third, I agree with a dear and respected friend who said, “I just don’t think people in Ag stop to think for a minute how bad they look every time I see the hunk of meat Monday’s, etc. it’s just as adversarial to me as the anti-meat campaigns.” We should be celebrating that people are now posting and sharing recipes of all kinds through a plethora of blogs and social media platforms. What could be better than more people taking the time to return to the kitchen and actual start cooking again? Think about it. If they start cooking vegetable dishes, they will most certainly expand to include meat. This is a positive, not a negative, in my humble opinion.
Fourth, to those considering continuing to beat the proverbial ‘dead horse,’ I offer the following suggestion. Be gracious to the USDA for retracting the statement and clarify their position. Recognize that the USDA does not just represent the 2% of the country that produces food, but also 100% of the customers. Politely share the current information that refutes the UN study and close with a smile and a thank you.
In my humble opinion, this continued negativity, does not promote healthy relationships with customers and will only serve to hinder the efforts of the USFRA and other organizations that are working so diligently and sincerely to encourage dialogue. Celebrate. Be thankful. Be Happy. Stay positive.
** After receiving a number of messages from those in the ‘Hunk of Meat Monday’ crowd, I want to be clear about a couple of things. First, I support your endeavor and believe it has been very successful and informative. Second, hindsight is always 20/20, consider this….what if ’Hunk of Meat Monday’ had been ‘Satisfying Steak Saturday,’ or ‘Fabulous Meat Friday.’ Rather than coming across to some as being ‘combative’ or ‘un-supportive’ of the idea of eating more fruits and vegetables, it may have been even more successful, promoting higher quality protein later in the week. What if ‘Hunk of Meat’ Monday had been first and ‘Meatless Monday’ had been launched after? Would we have considered that to be combative? Finally, while the premise behind ‘Meatless Monday’ in regards to health and the environment is ‘off base,’ in my humble opinion, the objective of getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables and think balance in diets is one that I do support. Please, realize that I am not trying to promote any single way of doing things…merely offering suggestions to think about and perhaps help shape a more positive effort on another issue in the future. Keep up the great work!
Whenever I pass a freshly plowed field it gives me the same thrill as an unopened book–full of potential, surprise, and pleasure. And just like that book beckons me to peek beneath its cover, the sight of that rich, dark earth ready for planting beckons me to curl my feet into the freshly tilled layers and feel its coolness between my toes.
My connection to farming is a gift I cherish from my childhood spent on a dairy surrounded by Holstein dairy cows, an assortment of dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional jack-rabbit my father found orphaned while cutting alfalfa. For me, there was no more peaceful place on the planet than lying on a bale of freshly bound hay, inhaling the heady aroma of alfalfa, while staring up at a sky so blue it made my eyes squint.
One of my favorite places in the dead of summer was the peach orchard. I remember that first peach of the season. How my fingers sunk into the soft flesh when I plucked it from the branch. With the first bite, peach juice made race tracks down my arm. Nothing ever tasted as good. Like a piece of heaven to my taste buds.
We didn’t have much, but neither did anyone else we knew. I wore hand-me-downs. We canned most of our fruits and vegetables. Fresh, clean air and the farm provided a plentiful playground. I scampered through fields and hay barns. I cuddled newborn kittens with their eyes sealed shut. I roamed sweltering orchards while my mother picked peaches.
At our house, milk didn’t just materialize from the store. It came from the milk tank after the cows were herded to the milking parlor, washed, milked and turned back to the pasture. Milk came from an abundance of hard work before it arrived at our table.
Perhaps I view my childhood through rose-colored glasses. And certainly kids raised in urban areas had experiences I didn’t, but the difference is, back then the majority of kids who didn’t live on farms had family or friends who did, and they had the opportunity to visit them. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, makes this same comment in his book. He said that baby boomers may be the last generation of Americans to share an intimate and familial attachment to the land and water.
My parents sold the dairy when I was ten, but farming stayed with me. My husband and I bought land, planted an orchard from the ground up and currently grow table olives. We raised our children on a farm, and I’ve worked as a freelance photojournalist specializing in agriculture for the past 15 years.
Every day I become more aware of the limited exposure children have to farming. Statistics show the U.S. farm population is dwindling, and 40 percent of the farmers in this country are 55 or older. I see this every day when I’m interviewing farmers, and I wonder who will raise our food when they’re gone? What happens if today’s youth is not inspired to farm?
Ultimately, the answer begins and ends with parents. Our children need to be inspired to farm. They need hands-on time with agriculture. They need to see, touch, taste, smell and hear farming in all its noisy, dirty, sweaty, smelly glory. Along with the hundreds of thousands of college graduates going into medicine, law and business, we need equal numbers of agriculture graduates ready, willing and eager to farm.
I believe the best way to achieve this is by providing children, at a young age, with frequent exposure to farming. Children need to know how food is produced, and they need to read books with agriculture themes. Last Child in the Woods lists 100 actions parents can take to get children into nature. One of his suggestions is to take them to U-Pick farms or join a local co-op where the kids are involved from planting to harvesting. Every child should know the joy of whiling away a warm summer afternoon in a barn, an owl snoozing in the rafters and a litter of newborn kittens sandwiched between bales of hay.
Kathy Coatney has worked as a freelance photojournalist for 15 years, starting in parenting magazines, then fly fishing and finally specializing in agriculture. Her latest project is the Farmer Guy/Gal series of children’s picture books with an agriculture theme.
View her photos at: www.agstockusa.com.
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It is the 25th of May
And we are all eagerly waiting to begin cutting hay.
The thermometer says it is 34
As I return soaking wet, from changing water, carrying firewood in the door.
I can see the snow falling in hills across the way,
Time to reevaluate my plans for the day.
It is hard to believe I can see my breath in the air
So I settle down next to the fire, coffee in hand, in my big leather chair.