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.
Several weeks ago, when the New York mayor proposed the ban on large sodas, it started turning the wheels in my head. Is the next step going to be the banning of cases, 12 packs and 2 liter bottles in stores? Are grocery stores going to be linked in order to keep track of the quantity of soda being purchased? Is sugar now considered a controlled substance?
If soda is banned what is next? Why not limit the quantity of alcohol that can be purchased by one person? Are we going too soon see single serving cans and bottles, whether they be hard alcohol or wine and the elimination of cases, 12 packs and kegs? Are stores going to keep track of the quantity that we buy and once we have reached our limit we will no longer be able to purchase?
Why did the mayor choose soda? Doesn’t tobacco cause more health ailments? Doesn’t alcohol have more of a negative impact on society? Was this just a first step? Is this just the beginning of what is soon to be an out of control nanny state?
What other consumables will become rationed? How will the limits be determined? Are we seeing the beginning of a pre-determined creation of new state and federal agencies?
I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t sit well with me. Have we really reached the point in our society where individuals are no longer able to make their own decisions whether they are good or bad? Do we really want to go down this path? I do not. You should not. What happened to individual responsibility? What has happened too common sense?
Just some thoughts weighing on my mind…
A friend of mine on Twitter sent me a link to an article titled “First ‘test-tube’ hamburger to be produced this year” and wanted to know my thoughts, so…
The idea of being able to take bovine stem cells, growing muscle tissue in a lab and then taking that tissue and turning it into “hamburger” is an intriguing idea. It makes me think of a science fiction movie or even Star Trek.
Those who know me and have followed my blog also know that I am a supporter of utilizing technology to improve the ability of agriculture to provide safe and wholesome food in the most efficient manner possible while also being environmentally friendly. This endeavor could potentially provide an option for people to choose, when it comes to choices of “meat.”
After being intrigued by the initial presentation of the idea, I then reached the point in the article where the author begins describing the “benefits” of having being able to create “hamburger” in a test-tube. Yes, I am putting the word hamburger in quotations…I just have a tough time calling something hamburger that comes from lab.
Some of the benefits listed included:
“Conventional meat and dairy production requires more land, water, plants and disposal of waste products than almost all other human foods.”
It is important to realize that most of the land utilized to raise cattle is of very poor quality and not land that is favorable for growing “human foods.” Particularly in the west, cattle run on mountain and dessert range, where elevation and length of growing season limits production to grasses. Additionally, where cattle have been managed properly, beneficial grasses actually increase, for both the cattle and wildlife, fuel loads are reduced and organic material in the soil is increased. Read more…
Demonizing companies and individuals through the use of misleading and false information is never productive. More times than not, fissures are created, within families, communities, states, the country and even the world. It is very acceptable to question actions and results, but let us remember to remain objective in our assessment, research the origins of the information and pass on only that which is true. Passing this type of information along, without doing research on it, is just as irresponsible as passing along an email that says the world will end if you don’t forward to your whole address book.
I have seen a number of people posting on Facebook and Twitter lately, that they have signed one of a couple of petitions currently circulating with a host of claims against Monsanto. Many of these people I consider to be friends and respect. I felt inclined to write this post to provide some additional information in order to clarify several of the accusations that are being claimed. I, for one, as a small farmer and rancher, am very grateful for the work that work that Monsanto and others are doing to help farmers be more efficient and holistic in their management opportunities.
Off and on, over the past few months, I have seen and participated in several discussions relating to labeling and specifically, labels relating to GMO’s. Twitter is not the best place to have this discussion, in my opinion, so I have put together my thoughts on the subject here.
GMO vs GEO
I catch myself using these two terms interchangeably and I should not be. There is a major difference between genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and genetically engineered organisms (GEO’s).
Modify: to limit; to make minor changes in; to make basic or fundamental changes in often to give a new orientation to or to serve a new end.
Engineer: the creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures; to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions.
All biological organisms, plants, animals, bacteria, etc., have been modified, or changed, since the beginning of time. In some cases it has been through natural processes, outside of the direct influence of man. In other instances, man has directly modified through selection. For example, keeping wheat that had more grains per head, grass that could tolerate drought, cattle that gain weight quicker or more efficiently are all manners in which man has modified organisms.
GEO’s, on the other hand, have been engineered my man to exhibit specific traits. Plants have been engineered to withstand drought, repel insects, disease and the infamous herbicide Roundup. Arizona State provides a fairly clear dissertation on Plant Genetic Engineering. Read more…