Labeling, GMOs, GMEs, and COOL

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.

My Philosophy

It should come as no surprise that I am not a fan of regulations, especially when they only serve to generate revenue for an agency and place more economic hardship on businesses that lead to higher costs for consumers.

When it comes to labels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes the determinations as to what is required on labels and also how it is to be displayed.

Labels should be based on science and facts. If a product, ingredient or additive poses a health risk, it is the responsibility of the FDA to let the public know.

My Position

I feel it is first important to understand the difference between the act of volunteering and the act of regulating.

Volunteer: an action not founded on any legal obligation to act.

Regulate: to control or direct by a rule, principle, method, etc.

Support

I fully support entities that want to voluntarily label their product as being “GEO Free.” As with any USDA/FDA approved label, it should also be verifiable by traceability and/or a third-party audit. There is a demand by some consumers that want to be able to buy products that are “GEO Free.” I believe there is great potential for producers and some companies to add value to certain products by pursuing this endeavor and that the value can also be realized by the producers.

I would also fully support entities that want to voluntarily label their product as “Contains GEOs.” According to USDA on Genetically Engineered Crops, with 94% of all soybeans being a GEO variety, if a product contains soybeans, the product likely contains a GEO.  Additionally, if a product contains corn, of which 65% of the varieties are GEO, it is also likely that the product contains at least some GEO.

Opposition

I do not support the USDA/FDA regulating producers/companies to add to label “Contains GEO” for two reasons. The FDA could and should require labeling if GEO’s posed a health risk. However, science has not shown that GEO’s do and so they are unable to require the labeling for this reason (See FDA Labeling Guidance and Regulatory Information).

Second, if the FDA were to require labeling, for the sole reason of it being a specific plant variety, it would open the gate to require all varieties of all plants to be listed. I do not think this is necessary and it would only serve to increase the number government employees to needed to inspect, audit and verify, costing the consumer through taxes and price of final product.

The Additive Argument

Some make the statement that GEO’s should be considered an additive, but they are not, they are a variety.

Additive:  a substance added in small amounts to something else to improve, strengthen, or otherwise alter it.

Variety: a taxonomic category consisting of members of a species that differ from others of the same species in minor but heritable characteristics

The “Consistency” Argument

Some question how I can be a supporter of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and not a supporter of a “Contains GEO” label. While the two may seem to be similar, they are very different. COOL would require a label to state the country or countries, from which the meat came from, not the breed or breeds, in the case of it being from a cross-bred.

However, for the same reason I support a “GEO Free” label, I also am very supportive of the Certified Angus Beef, Certified Hereford Beef, Harris Ranch Natural Angus and others. These are voluntary endeavors, which have verification measures in place and also yield a noticeable added value to the product that the producers also realize.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I fully support voluntary labeling, especially when it adds value to a product, value that is also passed on to the producer. I am also strongly opposed to the FDA regulating a label requirement that is unnecessary, that would lead to more government employees, more wasted tax payer dollars and higher costs for consumers.

Added on November 23, 2011:

Here’s a link that just appeared on food labels from UC Berkeley and Good magazine. An interesting contest resulting in an approach to change labels to make them more informative. Hope you enjoy.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1664668/infographic-of-the-day-a-food-label-that-actually-teaches-you-about-food#6

  1. November 21, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    About the GEO labeling- is this something the USDA/FDA is trying to pass, or just discussing. Personally I agree it’s their responsibility to protect the consumer, but we don’t need unnessasary cost added on to our food. As far as the COOL labeling, I definitely like knowing the country of origin. There is food sold in supermarkets that because of where it originates I won’t purchase . Thanks again for the insight.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 22, 2011 at 9:45 AM

      Thank you for posting Alyse. This post was merely a response from my perspective to a discussion that has been taking place on several SM platforms. Some want all food that is GEO labeled and some don’t think any labels should used. I can see great potential for voluntary efforts to both meet the demand of those who want labels and also provide an increased return for producers.

      Thanks again for posting 🙂

  2. Rob Jones
    November 21, 2011 at 8:13 PM

    Jeff, your point that GEOs haven’t been shown to pose a health risk seems to miss a more important point. GEOs were never shown to be safe in any study prior to being approved. In fact, the approval (in the Bush I era) was done in a back-handed kind of way by declaring there was no substantial difference in conventional seed and GEO seed, therefore GEO seed must be safe as well. If safety to health would have been established prior to approval, we would not be in this discussion almost twenty years after the fact.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 22, 2011 at 9:55 AM

      With all due respect Rob, GEO’s go through a very vigorous process before being approved for consumption by humans and livestock. This link will take you to a very complete guide on the process that is used, provided by one of the universities that I attended, Colorado State: http://cls.casa.colostate.edu/transgeniccrops/evaluation.html

      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and concerns. It is essential that we have this conversation.

  3. M.Davis
    November 21, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    I agree with Rob above. No one would find a penny on the ground if they never looked down. Claiming safety with no testing is absolutely bogus. Tests clearly show a difference between GMO seed and other seed, including traditional, hybrid, and organic. But again, someone is convincing the powers that be, not to look for trouble. How can you be so trusting after all the other things that have been proven dangerous after 30, 40, or even 50 years. The other side is during that time span Big Ag and Big Pharma have become much richer..to our detriment!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 22, 2011 at 10:04 AM

      Thank you for taking the time to post. I greatly appreciate it. First, I hope you take the time to visit the link I shared with Rob. It does a great job of explaining the process that new varieties of transgenic crops go through before they can be approved for consumption. Second, in response to how I can be so trusting, all I can say is that perhaps it is simply timing. My generation has enjoyed tremendous advances in both technology and science which also occurred at the same time that government was going “crazy” with implementing new regulations. Having attended both Colorado State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, two of the best agricultural science schools in the world, I was essentially on the front line of many of advances that we enjoy today. I have seen the work first hand and so I trust. I also have faith in man to do what is right.

      Thank you again for posting.

  4. November 22, 2011 at 6:55 AM

    I agree, especially when labeling is the only way for us as a customer to know what is exactly inside the product!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 22, 2011 at 10:08 AM

      Thank you for posting. I hope you too visit the link that I posted for Rob. I totally support accurate labeling and the ability of the consumer to know what is in products. I also believe that unless it impacts the nutritional value of the food or is a potential hazard for consumption, it should not be regulated. Instead, I see a great opportunity for value to be added to products through voluntary efforts.

      Thanks again for taking the time to post.

  5. Rob Jones
    November 22, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    “Vigorous process” does not automatically equal right. The IBC just deals with handling GE products protocol. The USDA is mainly concerned in the pest potential of these crops. USDA, FDA, and EPA rely almost entirely on “the applicant’s” data. All three agencies have their own scientists but their jobs are only to examine “the applicants” data and determine if it’s plausible. For example, the Broncos and the Rockies could win world championships the same year. Plausible but unlikely although I’m a big Tebo fan. 🙂 The main point here is there are NO independent studies being done apart from the “applicant’s”. The fox is clearly in the hen house. Looking back at the RR alfalfa process, the reason for the delay in it’s approval was that the “vigorous process” was bypassed and I would contend that the process is badly flawed. I would say the fox is feeling right at home. Also I would like to apologize for only commenting to posts I take exception with, you do an excellent job of posting and I commend you for your efforts.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 25, 2011 at 7:31 AM

      Always appreciate your thoughts Rob, thanks for the kind words. I am Raider fan, so completely despise the Broncos, but do appreciate Tebow, I think he has a fairly bright future. 😉

      I hear what your concerns are regarding the testing of GEO products. Having been involved directly with both the federal and state government and their attempts at “science” I personally place much more trust in university and private verification.

      Perhaps I have this trust in the science of the “developers” over the government because I personally know many of the individuals involved in the testing for for these companies. They are honorable folks, with out any agenda…they are simply testing and looking for objective results.

      One major difference between products being developed today as opposed to 50 years ago is that today, companies are working directly with farmers and ranchers to develop products that the growers and consumers want, Before, companies were trying to “sell” the latest “greatest” thing. 50 years ago, universities were developing new varieties, today, they are the “third party” testing and verifying the varieties.

      Is it a perfect system, probably not. However, in my opinion, if we were to rely entirely upon the government for “scientific” approval and testing, we wouldn’t be doing ourselves any favors and likely more damage than good.

      Thanks again Rob for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  6. commonsenseagriculture
    November 22, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    (The following comment was on another post. I copied it and moved it to this post.)

    Submitted on 2011/11/22 at 6:29 PM

    Jeff,
    My getting involved in the GMO debate came as a result of self-discovery. I found out last year that GMOs were introduced into our food supply in 1996 under a fraudulent pretense. This is separate from the health and scientific considerations regarding GMOs, and this is a whole discussion unto itself, but suffice to say that GMOs are not what the industry and FDA say they are. I’ll explain.

    A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States. The basis for all patent eligibility is that the invention must be “Distinct and New.” On this basis, the idea that GMOs are substantially equivalent is false. Sure, it looks like corn, soy or canola, but at a protein level it is NOT THE SAME. May I suggest a best selling book called “The Unhealthy Truth” by Robyn O’brien….It explores the rampant incidence of auto-immune system dysfunction in the USA which she equates to the introduction of bio-engineered food and additives in our food supply. She goes on to explain correlation is not causation, but her corollary research is rather stunning.

    Changing the instructions for life to become part of a pesticide delivery system was an evolutionary event. Humans and animals co-evolved with our surroundings over thousands of years. Adaptation went both ways and occurred over multiple generations. With GMOs introduction into our food supply, without human food safety testing, we were quite literally treated as lab rats. The new GMO proteins could, and I believe does, cause untold health consequences. But we don’t know because without labels traceability is impossible. The deceit and lack of transparency of the biotech industry and complicit actions of the regulatory agencies was unforgivable in my opinion.

    The fact that over 25 nations ban GMOs or require labeling supports my argument that GMOs pose a risk. There they employ the precautionary principle choosing not to expose their citizens to risk until the technology has been proven safe. Here in the US the end consumer is the last consideration, profit is the first. We have a long list of class action lawsuits representing our litigious after-the-fact way of addressing gross injustice…after the damage has already been done. Tobacco. Asbestos. Agent Orange. I hope that GMOs are not the next class action. But considering that they likely touch every American citizen, I suspect that there are more than a few class action attorneys licking their lips at the prospect of a payout of damages for 300,000,000 Americans. It’s a very risky proposition all the way around. And without any human safety testing, I don’t buy the biotech line at all. Calling a patented product the same as normal food is like saying a peddle cart is a Ferrari.

    GMOs are not the same as normal food. A patent confirms they are novel and distinct.

    GM Know (@GMKnowBoulder)
    twitter.com/GMKnowBoulder x
    GMKnowBoulder@twitter.example.com

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 25, 2011 at 7:49 AM

      Thank you GMKNowBoulder for sharing your thoughts. I was a bit occupied and apologize for not responding sooner. I see GH responded to many points, though not exactly in the manner which I would have.

      I do have a question for you, however.

      I can understand your concern with humans mechanically altering the DNA of a plant to allow it the ability to resist specific herbicides, diseases and even repel certain insects.

      My question is this, knowing that plants naturally exist that exhibit these traits already, would you have the same concerns if soy, corn, cotton, alfalfa and other plant varieties were bred for these traits through traditional selection?

      That is, if we took the soy, corn and alfalfa plants that were naturally resistant to a herbicide or were resistant to certain diseases, would you be opposed to them being used for consumption?

      Technically, these modified varieties could also be sold as being organic, could they not?

      Just posing the question.

      Thanks again for commenting 🙂

  7. GH
    November 24, 2011 at 2:00 AM

    To those saying that GE crops are either not tested, or not tested independently, see this http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/ To say that they are not tested is, well, not an exceptionally accurate statement. And I’ll note that, yes, it is true that much of the studies are done by the companies seeking approval. But consider, this is the same way thins are done when trying to get a new pharmaceutical on the market, and GE crops are by no means pharmaceuticals (by which I mean that drugs are specifically designed to be biological active, whereas with GE crops, the handful of proteins they have inserted most definitely do not have any affects on the human body and there is a grand total of zero evidence to indicate that there is anything else different in those crops). However, I bet the companies would be absolutely delighted if the regulators were to do the testing instead. Consider that the cost of jumping through all the (quite excessive IMO) regulatory hoops amounts to millions and millions of dollars. I’m sure the companies would love if the taxpayers were the ones footing the bill for the testing.

    I’d be interested in voluntary labels, although as it presently slants, its usually pretty easy to tell what is and isn’t GE. Corn , canola, soy, and cotton are the four main ones, with sugar beet and alfalfa being the newer ones. Due to the way most of those are processed, if anything has them in it, you can say to a pretty high degree of certainty that it is GE. Papaya is sometimes GE, but if you look at the country of origin, you’ll be able to tell, since only American ones from Hawaii are GE (and almost all of them are due to the papaya ringspot virus). Some summer squash are. Though I don’t see how it would matter in some of those cases. I mean, in the case of canola oil and cottonseed oil, it is still going to be the same molecule that makes up the oil. Same thing with sugar from sugarbeets. Meat fed GE alfalfa isn’t going to be any different…I’d be extremely surprised if it was even detectable in the meat. But anyway, the only times were you won’t be able to make a pretty good guess as to what is and what isn’t GE is when you eat sweet corn and summer squash, since right now I’m pretty certain that only a minority of those are GE. So, with a little understanding, even if there was mandatory labeling, it wouldn’t tell you much.

    Then again, I’d be interested in knowing lost of things about my food. When I buy an apple for instance, am I getting an original red Delicious, or a sport? When a tree grows a new branch from a bud, sometimes the founding cell will have a mutation. this mutation gets passed to the rest of the branch, and if it is useful (like a mutation that makes a bunch of spurs, short branches that fruit), then it is propagated. No testing, no labeling. There’s also a similar thing called somaclonal variation, where they select a mutant from a tissue culture. Or what of mutagenesis, when they treat something, like a seed or budwood, with mutation inducing radiation or chemicals. IIRC, 80% of the world’s wheat has a line produced this way in it’s ancestry..Again, no labeling, no testing (well, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did test it just to be safe, but I don’t think there’s any legal testing required, unlike GE crops, which is kinda baffling considering that if you insert a well understood gene into something it will have more legal restrictions than just making heaven knows how many changes with radiation). Then there’s polyploid crops, which have extra chromosomes. That’s how they produce a number of seedless fruits. Or what about wide crosses? Back in the 60’s they crossed a wild potato with a commercial variety. The end result was the infamous Lenape potato. It was poisonous. Guess what kind of regulation wide crosses have? Yep, none. I note with some irony that an experiment in the Netherlands, doing basically the same thing but using GE to move the genes from wild potatoes to cultivated ones (thus ensuring that the dangerous genes didn’t come along for the ride), was destroyed by vandals (although I can think of a few more descriptive words for people like that). What I’m getting at is that (besides the fact that there is more to plant improvement than traditional breeding techniques and GE) is that there’s lots of things you could know about any give crop you’re eating. I for one would love to know what the story is behind all the things I eat. But keeping track of all that would cost money, money that I’m not interested in spending, and I certainty don’t have the right to make others subsidize my curiosity. It’d be pretty rude of me to do so, don’t you think? It is a lot like labeling for Kosher or Halal (or vegan, or accordance with Hindu dietary restrictions, or Buddhist, or Jainist, ect.). If you want to buy those labels, and bear the extra cost of doing so, good for you, but I don’t want to pay for it for you, and I really wouldn’t like paying for non-Kosher/Haram labels so that others can avoid that food, meaning they themselves aren’t even paying into it! I don’t see how it is any different with respect to genetic engineering. You want the label, feel free to create a market demand for it. That’s your right. However, forcing it on people so you can avoid it (even though it isn’t hard to avoid already and you’ve already got the organic label) is not your right.

    I’ll add that I love that GMknowBoulder thing. You could write a book on how wrong whoever wrote that is. The second paragraph is just baloney. Changing the DNA to make a pesticide is bad? Gee, I wonder if that person ever wondered how it is that plants manage to not get eaten by the billions of bugs all around them? The answer is the myriad of natural pesticides they produce. Altering the level of those pesticides is one way breeders produce resistant varieties. Anyone who thinks getting plants to produce a pesticide is exclusive to GE probably doesn’t know much about the topic. Then to say that humans co-evolved with our food? I don’t know where that person’s ancestors came from, but mine didn’t eat corn, quinoa, sunflower seed, blueberries, mangos, bananas, oranges, lychees, kiwis, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, macadamia nuts, ect. Many of those are relatively recent additions to most of the world’s diet. We most certainty did not ‘co-evolved’ with them, and they have who knows how many unique proteins and chemicals in them, whereas the additions made by GE include only a handful of genes (that seem pretty benevolent if you actually know what they are). Why do other countries ban GE crops? My guess is because it is a good way for politicians to score some votes. That and blatant protectionism is illegal under WTO policies and the US and Canada has a strong comparative advantage in agricultural production, so by banning our seed other countries can enact de facto protectionism. And of course if you are an exporter to one of those countries (like many African nations are to Europe) you might want to ban them simply to ensure access to that market. Think about what that means for starving people who need this tech the most. Then to cite the precautionary principle, which demands that you prove a negative (a concept that flies in the face of all rationality), then comparing GE crops to Agent orange ect (which is a specific thing…GE crops are not, nor do they contain any specific damage causing compound, making the comparison nonsensical). Then the patent thing…Since when does legal status affect scientific fact? That’s like using the Efficient Market Theory in an argument about Hess’s Law. So I guess my absolute favorite apple, Snowsweet, is also suspect because it is patented and illegal to propagate without a license (it is non-GE by the way).

    Speaking of apples and patents, some sports are patented. I wouldn’t be surprised if whoever wrote that eats patented ‘not normal’ yet still organically grown apples. I swear, that anti-GE stuff gets weirder and the arguments more confusing & convoluted every time I look at it.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 25, 2011 at 7:55 AM

      I appreciate your taking the time to respond to GMKnowBoulder on the GME/GMO testing concerns and posting your thoughts. You bring up some excellent points.

      I share your thoughts on the labeling issue. Essentially, if a product isn’t labeled “Organic” and contains soy, corn or cotton, it pretty safe to assume that it contains at least some GEO. In this case, not having a label is essentially being labeled as “containing.” This is one of the reasons I support the voluntary labeling of “GEO Free” as opposed to requiring the GEO label.

      Thanks again for posting.

    • November 25, 2011 at 8:46 AM

      GMOs are first and foremost a planting system. They apparently work quite well making planting easier for the farmers. It’s also a way to sell lots of pesticides and chemicals. There have been lots of testing on this aspect. There’s also lots of new findings that expose problems associated with GMOs: water shed pollution, super-weeds and pesticide-resistant insects. Farmers, in general, have known about GMOs for some time. Consumers were literally kept in the dark. As a consumer, I reject GMOs. My reasons are many and I don’t have to justify them here or anywhere else. Period. The deceitful claim that GMOs are the same as normal food, addressed in my prior post, stands on its own. We have an unalienable right to choose what we eat. When companies conspire to fundamentally change the food without the benefit of labeling their work, the public has been duped.

      In terms of GMOs as a food, they fail the single most important test regarding their intended purpose: nourishing people. They’ve never been proven to be safe for human consumption.

      2,4-D, one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, and which has already been stacked in numerous upcoming GMO seed offerings, has proven and well-documented health risks:

      http://www.fs.fed.us/foresthealth/pesticide/pdfs/093006_24d.pdf

      New GMOs will continue to be introduced with more and more virulent and unsustainable chemicals. With each new trait the environment will be further contaminated with patented DNA that will force-out natural species. A grand experiment fraught with peril because nobody really knows what this stuff does. Only the test of time will expose the folly. Until then, I choose the safe route, that which mother nature provides. Man’s guiding hand is always part of that equation, but when it delves into life’s DNA to manipulate it for unnatural ends, I reject it. It’s my right.

      • GH
        November 25, 2011 at 8:16 PM

        Since you’re involved in the Boulder thing, I’ll say this:

        Your first sentence is not only wrong, it doesn’t make sense. Plant improvement methods and cultivation methods are very different things. There’s no rational way you can possibly lump the two together. You appear to be attempting to divide things into clearly delineated black-and-white categories. This is a false dichotomy. Nothing could be further from the truth (for reference, see Tomorrow’s Table, a book whose author promotes the concept of ‘genetically modified, organically grown’). Sure, there are GE crops out there that are designed to resist herbicides. There are also conventionally bred crops out there that have been bred for this trait. You’re condemning GE for something that is neither exclusive to GE nor is describes all GE crops. By your logic, you should also condemn conventional breeding, as it too can produce herbicide tolerant crops. As for them being a way to sell pesticides and chemicals, the insect resistant GE crops are an alternative to pesticides. If you don’t like pesticides, you should love GE crops. It might interest you to know that the patent of glyphosate has expired. You can buy generics now.

        You bring up watershed pollution, the so called superweeds, and insect resistance. Hitting each of those individually, I have heard little of the watershed issue, however (quickly going over the abstract of the paper I believe you are referencing), it appears that in that study they simply proved that the cry proteins (the proteins produced by the Bt GE crops) persist in corn leaves and stalks that had made their way into waterways. I’m no stream ecologist, but I fail to see how that is either surprising or significant. Even if it were, you have to also consider any benefits that may provide to the environment, for example, any pesticides that were not sprayed as a result of the Bt trait. It isn’t GE crops vs. perfect world where nothing bad ever happens and all the bugs politely go eat something else, it is pros and cons of one alternative vs pros/cons of another. You should also consider that, in the case of the herbicide tollerant crops, there is good reason to suspect them as being quite advantageous for aquatic environments, as they have facilitated the spread of no-till agriculture and as such have prevented tillage from contributing to fertilizer runoff (which causes algal blooms) to streams and lakes.

        As for the so-called superweeds, they are by no means super. Here’s how I like to describe it: if Superman could not be hurt by bullets, but he could be hurt by clubs, swords, fire, and everything else, and he could not fly nor stronger than a locomotive nor anything else noteworthy, we wouldn’t call him Superman, we’d call him Bullet Resistant Man. Same thing here. Those weeds you speak of are glyphosate resistant weeds. Nothing more. Certainly a problem to be certain, but they can still be managed by any other control technique. The term superweed, IMO, is just an emotional weasel word. The threat here isn’t these out of control weeds attacking every field, but rather, that they threaten to errode the benefits already provided by GE crops. This makes it a bit strange that they are brought up so much by those opposed to GE crops. If you’re not using glyphosate, they don’t much apply to you anyway. I’ll also note that, yet again, this is not something unique to GE crops. Went you apply selection pressure to any fast reproducing population, you inevitably will create a shift in the population’s genetics. This is basic population genetics that has further reaching implications than just weeds (antibiotic resistant bacteria being the big one, but you can see it in commercially fished species, or moths during the Industrial Revolution, or plenty of other things). Herbicide tolerance is not exclusive to GE crops either, and was a problem well before GE crops were on the scene. I could say much the same about insect resistance. These are issues that merit discussion, but they are not something that suddenly sprang into existence with the advent of two lines of GE crops, so the fixation on these issues with respect to the merit of genetic engineering is not justified.

        You say you were being ‘kept in the dark’. Tell me, what kind of blackout is there on this information? Because you make is sound as if it was being purposely hidden from the public, as opposed to simply not being announced. There is a large difference between censorship and just not learning about something. For example, most people don’t know that the cherries in their pies are not even the same species as the cherries you buy fresh in the produce aisle (one is Prunus cerasus, the other is Prunus avium). No one is being ‘kept in the dark’ about this fact by the cherry industry. Most people just don’t know, and no one is going out of their way to make it public knowledge. You could say much the same about every other plant improvement method out there. Most people don’t know what polyploidy is. Most people don’t know what grafting is. Most people don’t know what mutagenesis is. Most people don’t know what embryo rescue is. Yet, all of these things are in the food supply right now. A lack of public announcement of these holds no relevance.

        I consider it quite deceitful to say that GE food is not ‘normal’ food. You’re kind of begging the question here. You’re presupposing something that is not true. Inserting a gene does not ‘fundamentally change’ the food and more than any of the other plant improvement methods I listed, although I’d be curious for a precise description of why you feel that is so. Plenty of non-GE crops out there have been modified to have new proteins. That doesn’t make them ‘not normal.’

        I don’t think anyone is saying you need to justify your actions to the world. For example I’m wasting way too much my time typing a massive reply that will probably never be read by more than one or two people when I could be doing something productive (or at least watching TV, which I’ve found often amounts to just as much as trying to change a made up mind), so I can get where you’re coming from here. It is kind of a red herring argument to bring this up. If you don’t want to eat GE crops, then that’s your call. I’m not going to get on a Jew’s case for keeping Kosher or harass a Muslim for following Halal. You have a right to do whatever makes you happy. You’re entitled to your own opinion about GE crops, however, you are NOT entitled to your own facts. You can go ahead and feel however you want, but when you make a factually inaccurate statement, doesn’t be surprised when you’re corrected. And furthermore, while you have the right to choose what you wish to eat, farmers have the right to choose what they wish to grow, and (some essentials aside) food processors and distributors have the right to choose what they wish to label. your right does not trump anyone else’s right. I do agree that someone’s duping the public, namely the large factless fearmongering campaign being waged against biotechnology for heaven only knows what reason.

        You again state that GE crops are unsafe. I suggest you look over the list of studies I linked too. If they are for some reason insufficient, please explain why and state in plain terms what would be sufficient to consider them safe. That last part is very important. I have seen so many people say that they do not believe that GE crops are safe, yet refuse to propose clear criteria for what would constitute safety. In other words, they don’t want to describe how they can be proven wrong, and all good science must have a way of proving it wrong (for reference, I suggest reading the story of Carl Sagan’s invisible dragon). I believe that the currently approved GE crops are safe and that the process of genetic engineering poses no more inherent risk than other methods of plant improvement (provided the inserted genes are known to be safe of course). Here’s how you can prove me wrong: clear, specific evidence of harm backed by repeated studies preferably describing the agent that causes the harm and its mode of action, and (if it is a novel protein or compound rather than the protein produced by the transgene) its chemical structure, the details of the biosynthetic pathway that produce it and/or genetic basis of the causative agent. How can I prove you wrong? Because if you can’t say, then you have set yourself up to be essentially immune to falsification regardless of any and all facts.

        Furthermore, the nutritional content of GE crops is the same as their non-GE isogenic counterparts. Unless you consider Golden Rice, which was engineered to produce beta carotene and could save millions of lives in developing countries, and other biofirtified crops like BioCassava, BioSorghum, iron enriched corn, anthocyanin enriched tomatoes, ect. None of these have been released of course, but they’re still worth noting. And this brings me to another point. Why in the world would anyone treat genetic engineering like some monolithic entity? It is a process, not a product, with tons of potential applications. Even if we assume that the three types of GE crop currently in use, the insect resistant, herbicide tolerant, and virus resistant ones, are somehow not worth using for whatever reason, then that says nothing about GE crops with traits for biofortification, drought tolerance, frost resistance, nitrogen use efficiency, ect. Such blanket opposition fails to consider any nuance at all and promotes ignorance. If you think that a GE non-browning apple (which are real and called the Arctic Apples, which will hopefully get approved soon) is eve remotely the same as a soybean with modified oils like Vistive Gold, then there’s some real gaps in your understanding.

        For your next point you talk about 2,4,D. First, why do you bring up Agent Orange. 2,4,D is not dioxin. Why did you bring up Agent Orange? Did you assume the mere mention of it will scare people, so you seek to associate things you dislike with it? Because that is what it looks like, and while that tactic is no doubt effective is swaying public opinion, whether you intentionally mean for it to be or not, it is intellectually dishonest. Guilt by association is also fallacy. I’m sure 2,4,D is toxic to some degree. Just about everything is. Dose makes the difference between pleasantly spicy food, painful pepper spray, and death by capsaicin (which can indeed be deadly if you take enough of it, in fact, I do believe it has a lower LD50 than 2,4,D, which indicates greater toxicity). I don’t see why I should treat 2,4,D any differently. As far as I can tell, if properly applied by the grower, there isn’t much to worry about. It is already used in agriculture, and I do believe it is you can buy it in weed & feed mixes for your lawn. If I’m not mistaken the 2,4,D resistance trait you speak of was developed in crops by conventional breeding, meaning that you really couldn’t have chosen a worse example to support your anti-GE stance.

        As for the route that ‘Mother Nature’ provides, you’re 8% virus. Yep. At least 8% (although I’ve heard much higher estimates) of your DNA came from a virus. There are numberous proven examples of organisms that possess DNA from completely different organisms, like aphids with fungal DNA, or witchweed with DNA from sorghum. I would highly doubt that anything is transgene free. And don’t forget tons of things have transposons, which are a lot like antisense genetic engineering. Even if the appeal to nature fallacy had merit, you’d still be wrong. There is nothing that biotechnologists have invented that bacteria and viruses, the original genetic engineers, were not already doing. Agrobacterium is completely natural. And you still seem to be missing that every modification alters the DNA. That’s why the term GEO is so much better than GMO,

        I notice that you’re not worried about any other gene escaping into the environment. That’s kinda inconsistent, don’t you think? It is also inconsistent to focus on GE patents while the also patented Snowsweet (among many others) gets a free pass simply because it is not GE. No one is saying that GE is without risks. Here again, you state out with a false assumption. Of course it has risks. However, neither are any other plant improvement methods, or just about anything else in life for that matter. But those risks should be rationally considered and weighed against the benefits and alternatives. Explain to me how corn, a crop pretty much created by humans, poses any risk of gene ‘contamination’ as you put it, if it is grown in, say, Germany? If it were to cross with anything, the genetic alteration in the population of whatever it crossed with is already altered, GE or not. Also, fact is, GE crops have reduced carbon emissions, fertilizer runoff, and pesticide usage. This is plain and simple fact. The environmental disaster never manifested itself, and just the opposite occurred. I suppose it is, technically, possible, and that is why judgment should be carried out on a case by case basis. Opposing all GE crops is just as wrong as supporting them all, and make no mistake, there’s a handful of GEOs that I’m against But back to environmental concerns, arming has an environmental impact, always has and always will. That’s the very nature of replacing field and forest with cropland. If you can’t see how improving plants could have the effect of lessening that impact, particularly in developing countries where tropical forests are commonly burned for farmland, then, well, at this point I guess I don’t know what to say.

        I hope you and all the other people involved in Boulder give these matters serious thought. Since I trust you sincerely care about getting to the truth, whatever it may be, at your next meeting you can discuss these issues with others maybe? I’m sure you wouldn’t want to keep anyone ‘in the dark’ about the other side of this story, right?

      • GH
        November 25, 2011 at 9:02 PM

        Oops, turns out I was mistaken in paragraph 9. Looking into it, it actually is a GE trait that Dow plans to incorporate into soybeans to give resistance to 2,4-D (which is what I assume you’re talking about there). I was thinking of some other things, though nonetheless it is still true that herbicide tolerance in crops is far from new and exclusive to GE crops., which makes going after that particular type of GE crop while ignoring non-GE examples pretty inconsistent IMO.

  8. Mike Haley
    November 24, 2011 at 5:05 AM

    Hi Jeff,

    I will have to disagree with your assessment of COOL. Since it was I acted in 2008 it has caused undue costs to cattlemen across North America, worse yet it has provided no benifit to US cattmen and their customers. I do see a value to customers that choose to support products from certain countries and still think that COOL are a great thing, however they should be on a voluntary basis for the me reasons you argue about GMO labels.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      November 25, 2011 at 7:56 AM

      Thanks for posting Mike. Going to have to respond to this a bit later…sun is up and cattle are anxious to get worked 🙂

      I’ll respond tonight…hopefully 🙂

      • Mike Haley
        November 27, 2011 at 7:06 PM

        ….?

  9. November 25, 2011 at 6:38 AM

    In order to truly live organic we need the tools and resources to point us in the right direction. We can’t expect the USDA or corporations to teach us, it’s not in their “financial” best interest.

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