Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

Labeling GMO’s: Why?

A few months a go I wrote an illustrated post explaining what a genetically modified plant is. I described conventional plant breeding, the molecular biological techniques used to alter the genome of a plant, and talked about the genes that scientists have been using to improve the nutritional value of staple grains or reduce the use of pesticide sprays. It was a very neutral post, in which I tried to ignore the polarized opinion on human consumption of GMOs (genetically modified organism) or the vilification of large companies invested in this technology.

But, as we all know, presenting information for information’s sake isn’t necessarily engaging or persuasive. A couple of people told me that post had made them rethink the perceived dangers of eating GMOs, but that they still just “felt wrong” about the idea. Others are convinced that buying organic means they are eating the “best, most natural” food. And then there is the mantra of “I have the right to know what I put in my body”. With the proposition 37 vote in California immanent (which would decide whether foods containing GMOs would have to be labeled as such) I wanted to know why there is such fear surrounding these foods. After all, in most cases GM crops have been shown to be safe for human consumption, and those instances in which a danger has been suggested, serious conflicts of interest have been uncovered.

The Survey

I therefore decided to use the power of the internet and the magical abilities of SurveyMonkey to test a couple of my hypotheses on the matter. First, I wanted to find out if there is a correlation between education level and acceptance of GMO foods. Secondly, how do political motivations, such as an ethical concern with the agricultural giant Monsanto, impact how people view food? And finally, is it just a gut instinct that makes people uncomfortable when it comes to eating GMOs, or are people actually researching the issue and making an informed decision?

I should make a couple of things clear right now: I am not a statistician and this is my first such attempt at data collection. However, I am well trained in data analysis and the scientific method. With this in mind, I can tell you that there was a bias in my data in that 89 of the 192 respondents hold a graduate degree. This is likely due to how I publicized the survey (on Twitter and Facebook) and reflects my audience. Nonetheless, I observed some interesting trends. Education level does appear to be important, with the more educated tending not to be concerned with eating GMOs. Unfortunately, however, instead of asking a questions that would accurately assess whether the respondents knew how GMOs are made, I simply asked whether people knew. Novice mistake, as apparently 90% of people replying to the survey were familiar with these methods. Perhaps this is the case, but having thought about how I phrased the question I do not think those data are necessarily reliable.

Education level affects attitudes towards eating GMOs (Click to enlarge)
Education level affects attitudes towards eating GMOs (Click to enlarge)

One of the favorite battle cries of the pro-labeling lobby is that the majority of people want to see GMO labels. My data would suggest otherwise, with an approximate 50:50 split between the pro- and anti-labellers. I even removed the responses of those with graduate degrees, in case those data had introduced a bias, and this trend was maintained.

Only those without graduate degrees
Only those without graduate degrees
Entire sample
Entire sample

Interestingly, people who identified as selective in their dietary requirements, tended to express concern about eating GMOs, with those preferring to, or who exclusively, buy organic products showing the strongest objection:

Maintaining a selective diet correlates with unease regarding eating GMOs
Maintaining a selective diet correlates with unease regarding eating GMOs

After posting the survey to Twitter, a couple of people expressed surprise that I had singled out Monsanto in one of the questions. I did this because Monsanto is often used as a proxy for GMOs, and there are a number of rather egregious skeletons in Monsanto’s past that could color consumer opinion. In my survey, 23 out of 192 people responded that they support labeling of GMOs precisely because it would allow them to boycott Monsanto products. That’s around 12%. 61 out of the 192, or 32%, however indicated that labeling of foods as containing GMOs would be terrible, either because it represents a waste of money or because it would have a negative impact on research into ways to improve food production for the exponentially increasing human population.

So, who’s right?

Unfortunately, probably no one and everyone. Personally, I have no problem eating GMOs. I know what they are, I know how they are made, and I am comfortable with the testing that suggests they are safe to eat. I also appreciate the need for us as a species to figure out more sustainable ways to produce food, and conventional agricultural practices just won’t cut it as the planet fills with hungry people. It’s already not keeping up. I know these things based on fact, research, and my own ability to digest scientific information.

Wild Banana
Wild Banana
To the people who argue that GMOs are “not natural”, I would say what is? The domesticated crops that we eat are a far cry from their wild ancestors. Conventional breeding methods and intensive agriculture have made the food we eat what it is now. Take bananas, for example. Wild bananas are full of seeds and not particularly appealing to our delicate palate.But through human intervention a hybrid plant was generated that produced the soft, fleshy, fruit we enjoy. That hybrid is sterile, meaning the only reason we have bananas is because humans figured out how to propagate the plant without seeds. Where do you draw the line at what is “natural”?

To the people who argue that more safety testing is needed, I would say in what way? Is it really feasible to wait the decades it would take to truly test the effects of GMO consumption on human beings? And why are you so convinced that non-GMO crops have no negative effects on our diets? I would argue that they do. In the US today we are dealing with an obesity epidemic, likely as a result of our dependence on processed foods, and type 2 diabetes costs the US government over $150 billion a year. Where do you draw the line at what is “safe”?

To the people who want the right to know what’s in their food, I would say do you think you do now? While

Monsanto may not have squeaky clean policies, neither do some of the large companies controlling organic and “natural” brands. A recent article in the New York Times highlights how labeling has been co-opted, and is often meaningless. Labeling, while giving the impression of transparency, is generally exploited to get people to buy something. In a word, it is often just spin. Where do you draw the line between labels you trust and labels you don’t?

But will labeling foods as containing GMOs actually have a negative impact, regardless of how useful or useless it may be? My data, though a small sample, would suggest not, with only 7 of the 192 respondents saying they would completely boycott such products. However, this then completes a circular argument and would suggest that labeling is indeed a waste of time and money.

How labeling will affect buying habits
How labeling will affect buying habits

In conclusion

While I of course respect an individual’s right to choose what they eat, I do wonder if the GMO labeling question is a step too far. There are no definitive data showing these foods are dangerous, and yet the issue is polarizing. The similarities between this issue and the anti-vaccination movement (where de-bunked studies are touted as fact and a personal “right to choose” or “gut feeling” takes priority over what has been shown to be true) are striking, which makes me wonder if once again we are seeing a public reaction to “science”. Why is this? Where does this fear and skepticism come from? And, most importantly, what can we do to change this? Because as a population, as a species, we cannot afford to ignore the technological advances being made to increase the capacity of our planet.

Featured image source: http://www.salute-the-sun.com/2012/08/genetically-modified.html

Katie

Comments

CelloMom
Reply

Cool post, and thank you for spelling out the possible pitfalls in your survey, which turned out very interesting!
Personally, I’m not so much concerned about genetic modification itself (for the record, I’m CelloMom, PhD). But I cannot forget that Monsanto, the best-known producer of GMO seed, is first and foremost a manufacturer of pesticides. Their Roundup-Ready seeds are just a vehicle for them to sell more of the Roundup, which has been implicated in rather a large number of modern ailments. It is residues of Roundup on my food that worries me, and the reason why I would like to see GMOs labeling as part of the nutrition fact labels.

z1ncy
Reply

@Cellomom: The active ingredient in Round Up is glyphosphate. What it does is inhibits the enzyme EPSP via the shikimate pathway. EPSP is only found in plants, that means animals (humans included) are not affected. Pesticides on the other hand target insects – whom we are more similar too – and poise a much greater health threat.

Eva
Reply

Just because animals don’t have EPSP doesn’t mean that the chemical glyphosate doesn’t harm humans. That’s a ridiculous statement.

capriox
Reply

You’re right about the biochemistry, z1ncy, I just wanted to clarify the terminology a bit.
Pesticide is actually the generic/umbrella term anything applied to a plant that you want (crop, backyard roses, etc.) to get rid of any biological nuisance (“pest”). Specific terms are ones like insecticide (pesticide specifically aimed at unwanted insects, like salting to kill slugs), herbicides (pesticide specifically aimed at unwanted plants, like RoundUp for many plants), fungicide (pesticide specifically aimed at unwanted fungi), etc.

CelloMom
Reply

I do realise that glyphosate is a herbicide hence works to kill plants rather than animals; but a number of studies have shown that it causes birth defects in mammals: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/24/roundup-scientists-birth-defects_n_883578.html.
Since I am a mammal I’d rather stay away from glyphosate. Precautionary principle, and all that.

Another recent study says that the Bt technology has backfired, and pests are now Bt-resistant: “”To stop corn and cotton insects from developing resistance to Bt, farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace.” http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/02/us-usa-study-pesticides-idUSBRE89100X20121002

Those pesticides may or may not be endocrine disruptors: I’m not hanging around to find out: This is one experiment that will not be done on me, thanks.

Jennifer
Reply

Fascinating survey, although I think the generally ‘green’ (whatever that means — I’m starting to be less and less sure) crowd I hang out with would have responded very differently. Green moms seem to be the most freaked out about GMOs. I wonder if that would be an interesting additional breakdown — level of concern by gender and/or parenthood status.

In my experience, the more I’ve learned about GMOs — through biology classes and professors and books — the less scary I find them, and the more I see genetic engineering as a neutral tool and alternative approach to problem-solving. I think I really started to change my mind when I interviewed Dennis Gonsalves, who developed the rainbow papaya and gave out the seeds to small, independent Hawaiian farmers who were facing the loss of their livelihoods. I don’t particularly like big ag, but I can draw a distinction between Monsanto’s business policies and GE technology.

becca
Reply

After learning about the intimate details of food microbiological testing and allergen testing, I am only too aware we don’t know what’s in our food now. And, honestly, yeah, GMOs are pretty far down on my personal list. But your argument that “other people also have terrible practices, not just Monsanto” strikes me as about the same as the guy who tweeted back to me “yeah well what about iphones?” when I called him out for tweeting what was basically advertising for ChickFilA.
When lousy corporate practices are endemic in an industry, it behooves us to work for regulatory measures that can curtail this. But I still think there’s a place for boycotts, and for letting certain companies know that their name is mud. I feel positively warm ‘n fuzzy about GMOs, but appalled by Monsanto’s IP lawyer’s habits.

Katie
Reply

@CelloMom Thanks for stopping by! As you saw on Twitter, it’s difficult to find numbers on this, but since Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate (Roundup) expired in 2000 several companies started manufacturing and distributing the herbicide. Given their reputation, your skepticism towards Monsanto’s motivation is understandable! However, the assertion that glyphosate is toxic to humans is perhaps overstated. The most recent review of the literature came to the conclusion that glyphosate represents at most a minimal risk to human health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22202229). One of the critical components of a toxicology study is to figure out HOW a given compound is toxic, and, at least as far as I can tell, for glyphosate no such evidence has been reported. I don’t mean to suggest you shouldn’t be concerned about what is in your food, simply to point out that you may not need to worry so much about this particular chemical!

@Jennifer You raise an important point…that my survey may contain a second bias based on the kind of people who tend to follow me online. I couldn’t control for that, unfortunately, but it is an important proviso to keep in mind. I also didn’t collect gender data or parent-ness (?) which would have been interesting. Next time!

@Becca My intention was not to imply that Monsanto’s policies, past or present, are fine because other people do it. I meant to suggest that boycotting GMOs in order to boycott Monsanto is short sighted, and that products assumed to be squeaky clean and “all-natural” deserve just as much scrutiny.

Eva
Reply

I think that you missed a lot in your article. But there are some items that seem pretty major if you want to go the logical “geek” route.

Combining genes from animals, bacteria, and viruses into plants is nothing even remotely close to cross-breeding. To say that with a straight face is like saying that water and deuterium are the same. Um, no. Sure, cross-breeding similar plant breeds can certainly have ill effects on health and the environment as well, but we’re talking about breeds of plants that could never find their way into existence naturally.

Not to mention the fact that we’ve been a part of a huge food experiment for the last 20 years, but without any sort of health tracking. For all you know, that obesity epidemic that you mentioned may very well be partially a result of the GMO’s… but guess what? No one has been tracking any of it (unless there’s some magical elf sitting somewhere with a whole slew of notes somewhere? Yeah, didn’t think so). How can you say definitively that there isn’t anything showing GMO’s are harmful… (that’s exactly what they said about cigarettes, by the way)… when studies have shown countless illnesses that have spiked in the last 20 years. What, because they weren’t specifically tied to a research study, they don’t count? Because there wasn’t a control? Allergies have never been higher, infertility has never been higher, dermatitis has never been higher… what kind of evidence are you waiting for exactly? Or does this evidence need to grow legs, walk, talk and get their college degree? Occam’s Razor, Ms. Katie… this isn’t a conspiracy theory, just simple logic.

And the “conflicts of interest” you mentioned in regards to the studies on GMO’s that showed health issues? Well, if that’s not just the pot calling the kettle black, I’m not sure what is. There have been countless occurrences of not only biotech coming out with shoddy, biased, unscientific research, but of those large corporations (like Monsanto) warning off anyone who tries to do any independent studies – for pete’s sake, they’ve threatened universities, pulled funding, and had people fired for that. Plus, do you really think that companies like Monsanto are EVER going to release negative results on a product that cost them millions to create? As long as the side effects don’t outright kill or hospitalize people like that Starlink Corn debacle, then they’re home free. If it takes a generation or two to see the infertility pop up.. or if it’s just some silly thing like allergies… well those things can be written off to something else. How is someone supposed to directly prove cause and effect exactly? It’s genius, if you ask me. (A little cold and greedy, but still genius.)

But really, what humans don’t seem to realize in their “vast and infallible wisdom” is that we’re NOT perfect. I’m not against taking chances out of necessity, solving problems or simply discovering something new and moving forward with science… but what I am against, as a science lover, but also a realist and logic-driven individual, is when humans think that they’ve come up with this brilliant idea and “outsmarted” the planet, and “hurrah hurrah look how great we are”. Releasing these new species into our environment unchecked, unmonitored, uncontained… we’re stupid. We’re so caught up in our own self-love, pride and ego, that we can’t see the forest for the trees. This isn’t some small thing we’re doing, we’re changing our ecosystem and genetics forever – it’s not a domino effect, it’s Chaos Theory. We cannot even begin to fathom the repercussions.
Just like when some idiot is fishing in a lake and thinks to himself “Gee, I’d really like to fish for something bigger”… so he brings a bigger fish over to the lake. It breeds like mad, eats every small fish in the lake, unbalances the entire ecosystem in and around the lake and guess what? The lake dies. And why did it die? Because someone decided that they had a brilliant solution that wouldn’t hurt anyone – in fact, they thought they were doing something awesome!

Well, these companies aren’t modifying these crops to accomplish larger yields, or to stand against drought, or to “feed the world” (what a well-marketed PR line of horse dung) – they’re doing it to withstand more and more pesticides, to BE a pesticide, to own something living that only they can have the rights to.

My thoughts as a huge science geek? Heck yeah I’m going to avoid these things like the plague. Because they’re nothing more than humans seeking instant gratification that will ultimately end up blowing up in everyone’s faces. And yeah, I want labeling because not all people are as apathetic and uninformed as the people you interviewed. Yeah, many people may not care at all here in the U.S. – unlike in Europe where they’ve seen a significant decline in GMO demand – but that’s their choice. There are a lot of people who still smoke cigarettes despite the fact that they know they can kill you… human beings really aren’t the brightest crayons in the box, after all. But I can still hope that those of us that do in fact care about the bigger picture will become contagious eventually… maybe we’ll start a trend (yeah right).

On a side note – I deal with a lot of parents who are doing the elimination diet for their children with allergies and one of the ingredients (classifications) to eliminate is GMO’s. These labels will make this a whole lot easier on them. A lot of doctors around the country are prescribing a non-GMO diet for people with allergies. Did you know that?

Katie
Reply

Eva, Thanks for commenting. You make a lot of interesting points. However, the knee-jerk reaction to label something as BAD is just as likely to be harmful to progress as labeling something as GOOD. As you mentioned, we have no data on the long term effects of GMOs. We also have no data on the long term effects of an awful lot of things. We, as humans, therefore make calculated risks every day of our lives. This post was intended to highlight that labeling for labeling’s sake is a two edged sword.

Maximilian Haeussler
Reply

There are no data that indicate that flour or eggs are dangerous, yet they have to be indicated on the package of most food. Why not remove all labeling, if we trust the companies that produce our food?

Modifying plants with plasmids is significantly different from modifying plants with mutations induced by irradiation or chemicals (most current crops). Try to get a CP4 EPSPS gene (the roundup-ready gene) with random mutations – you’d need millions of years. Modern genetics can do things to plants that would have been impossible with older methods. I understand that people are reluctant to embrace these techniques while there is no need for it at all – food is so cheap that there really is no economic pressure to use these technologies.

Labeling is common in Europe. It hasn’t changed anything. Supermarkets are still there. Food is way cheaper than in the US.

GMO Labeling is not less irrational than the crazy gun laws, the death sentence or budget cuts to schools. Laws are often not very rational.

If someone claims that cigarettes are safe, I don’t care wether that’s true. I don’t smoke. But I eat food.

People have made bad experiences with big companies and are worried about what they put into their stomach. People do care about food. Especially if someone is changing it without telling them. This is funny, because then they eat so much greasy crap that they mostly die of heart problems anyways. But in that case, at least they had the pleasure of eating fat in return for the risks. With GMOs, there are no advantages to the consumer and the uneasy notion that someone is changing the ingredients without changing the label.

Viet
Reply

One other potential source of bias might be that your blog audience is already science-inclined (independent of their education level). That might color their opinion on whether GMOs need to be labeled or not. Interestingly, “a USC Dornsife / Los Angeles Times poll released Thursday showed 44% of surveyed voters backing the initiative and 42% opposing it. A substantial slice of the electorate, 14%, remains undecided or unwilling to take a position.” http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-prop37-food-poll-20121024,0,2778912.story

Sarah
Reply

Interesting articles and comments. I was going to write a detailed response but I will just second everything Eva said. I agree with her and am shocked that so many people are lackadaisical about a serious issue like this! Bottom line is there is NO problem with producing food on this beautiful planet, in fact there is enough food for everyone. It’s an issue if distribution of resources. People are getting sicker and sicker in this country and the old saying “you are what you eat” keeps running through my head. The GM corn crops are primarily used for pet food, fast food and processed food. How does planting thousands of acres of this barely edible corn contribute quality food to our food supply? The farmers in Iowa are nearly all planting GM corn and now Iowa farmers can no longer feed themselves. The food system that Monsanto, Dow, Coca-Cola and others are perpetuating is only good for them. It is not sustainable for the earth or us! “He who controls the food supply controls the people” Henry Kissinger. There is no good reason why we the people should be so disconnected from our food, except for our own ignorance. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!

Amir
Reply

I’d like to object to two tihgns:=========== In Europe, it is mandatory to label anything that is genetically modified as such. There are intense restrictions on imports that are genetically modified. Result: no one eats genetically modified foods. They simply don’t exist because there is no market for them. All foods in Europe are “real” (excluding processing and I’m sure chemicals, but to a lesser extent than here in the US). ===========1. I live in a European _developing_ country which kind of has GMO regulations, but, as of summer 2010 when I researched the topic,a) the imported products weren’t checked for GMO (the government had no money for this), so for the tihgns which are frequently imported in wholesale (like, rice from India and you might know that a lot of rice there is GMO), there was a chance that we actually were getting GMO-containing products which were just marked as no GMO.b) the organization which had to do random test checks of the products hadn’t been getting any money for this from the government for several years, and then finally got some last year, but SOME.You might say come on, people are mostly honest, but the trick is that test checks for other tihgns (sausages on how much soy they actually contain, milk products on bad bacterias and % of vegetable oils, blueberry-containing vitamins, etc.,) always give surprising results regarding at least some of the manufacturers in our local market.2. We have quite a lot of local farmers markets. There are 3 types of sellers:* those that just sell the products (they buy them wholesale from the farmers)* farmers or their employees* old ladies with low pensions who keep a near-city for-rent garden or live in a small farm house which always have gardens (it’s happened that pensions in my country are low for most old people, so the way these people are able to support themselves is either by taking money from their well-adjusted grownup kids, or by keeping a garden. Or having a job, if they have the opportunity to.)The products are sold* on official food markets (in theory, the product there are tested by the local laboratory, but bribing is still quite popular in the country, so there is no 100% guarantee in this case)* in vegetable/fruit kiosks* in high-trafficked places, on ad-hoc basis (old ladies, some farmers growing/selling short-seasoned products) obviously their product isn’t tested by laboratories.=== But the trick is:* the farmers (amateur and professional) aren’t educated about safe farming and also don’t test the soil before renting/buying the garden/farm.Example on substance misuse: the local news mentioned a farmer whose produce was rejected (several tons of melons containing 10 times more nitrates than allowed) from the official food market. But our legislation doesn’t force the laboratory to destroy the produce in such cases, so obviously the farmer, to avoid going bankrupt, sold his produce on more friendly’ markets after this.* some territories in the city and near-city have above-the-norm radioactive soil contamination because of the specifics of our local manufacturing company (which actually feeds a big part of the city, so nobody will go against this company ever), and the people aren’t educated on where these spots are.* near-city for-rent gardens are just several big fields divided in patches, so if one of the farmers is using something bad, their neighbouring gardens get contaminated too (via the soil+water cycle or via the air).What I’m saying is each country and maybe even city has its specific local issues Naturally, this doesn’t mean they don’t have to be managed.============ I just bought these two peaches from a supermarket. The small one is organic, while the large one is a conventional peach. I wonder…. how do they make it so large? Chemical pesticides and fertilizers? Probably. ============I don’t really want to object here, I’ll just elaborate on the Probably part, just in case:First, there are different sorts of peaches and because of this and also different climate+soil richness conditions, their sizes can vary. Very basic example: look at the open-air cactuses in Mexico and at the cactus which is a houseplant.Second, there is an artifical selection/selective breeding thing, which is a non-GMO way to get better (bigger, stronger, etc.) animals and vegetables/fruits.Which means that big peaches don’t necessarily contain bad tihgns.

Sarah
Reply

One more point I’d like to make. In your analysis you found that college educated people were less likely to be concerned about eating GM foods. Do you find it at all suspicious that Monsanto and others provide lots of funding for colleges across the country? UC Davis is basically owned by Monsanto and they are criticizing those who want to know what they are eating. The liberal college system can sometimes produce people who are almost incapable of critical thinking and that may be why you found those results…just a thought!! I am a college graduate along with my large extended family. The only person in my family I know for sure is voting no on Prop 37 is my uncle, who works for UC Davis. Coincidence?

Katie
Reply

Sarah (and Eva, I suppose some of this may apply to your comment also),

First of all, you make the point that there is plenty of food for every person on our planet. While this may well be true (and is, according to a study published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in 1996) there is far more to it than simply “distribution and resources”.

Food is a commodity, and for farmers to make a living it needs to be traded as such. While our culture in the west is an extremely wasteful one, if farmers start producing less for any reason (drought, flooding, disease) then supply drops below demand and prices increase (this has happened a couple of times over the last 5-10 years). Food production in the west is at a considerable advantage over that of developing countries, since farmers have access to the best fertilizers, pesticides, and seed varieties (organic or otherwise). A particularly interesting experiment has been underway in the UK for over 50 years and has tracked how different methods of farming affect crop yield, and emphasizes the stark differences seen when wheat is grown with and without the help of traditional breeding and chemical treatment.

And so we are in a situation where yes, there is a lot of food being grown on planet earth, but it’s not in the right place. Import/export in addition to the complexities of a world market mean prices that seem reasonable to us are prohibitively expensive in other countries. For a more detailed description of this issue please see this article at The Economist.

To address this, agricultural research often tries to figure out ways to increase yield despite poor soil quality and access to fertilizers and pesticides. Producing seeds that make their own pesticides, or that need less water to yield, or are fortified with nutrients, may seem “unnatural” to you, but from a global perspective these are the kind of advances that our growing population needs, as they cut costs to farmers and do a better job of feeding a starving population than importing organic grain from the US would.

Secondly, I would like to address your accusation that Monsanto “owns” research in the US. According to data from the National Science Foundation this seems impossible for a number of reasons. The federal government (NIH, NASA, NSF, DOE etc) provides around 59% of all research funding. Another 20% of funding comes from University and Institutional endowments, and 7% comes from local and state government sources. A total of 6% of research funding in the US comes from industry. According to Monsanto’s website, their annual budget for R&D totals around $700 million dollars. Compare this to the NIH R&D budget of $30 billion annually. But if we’re going to directly compare other sources of research funding in the private sector, drug companies like Pfizer ($8 billion annually) spend far more than Monsanto. Even Eli Lilly, who controversially purchased the rights to manufacture recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, invest around $4 billion annually in research.

I would not be surprised if there is a larger proportion of research at UC Davis is funded by agricultural R&D money, because the campus is focused on agriculture and biotechnology. However, to assert that Monsanto “basically owns” UC Davis seems hyperbolic.

Finally, the implication that scientists can be bought insults an entire profession, and underscores my conclusion that the pro-labeling campaign is likely driven by fear, and at times aggressive skepticism, of the academy and private research institutions.

Links 11/1/12 | Mike the Mad Biologist
Reply

[...] by How Much? On the hunt for research dollars (must-read) Blue sharks don’t care about polls Labeling GMO’s: Why? Tsunami response warnings: another thing Republicans think we don’t [...]

Tim
Reply

I unfortunately did not have time to participate in the survey. I’m only a high school graduate. Not willing to go in debt and not willing to burden my family with tuition bills I decided not to further my education. That being said I would like to think of myself as an intellectual. I’ve been vegan for 17 years and for the past 5 years have improved my desire to eat a healthy vegan diet not just eating pasta, beans, and veggie burgers. As you can imagine labels have helped me over the years figure out exactly what I can or can not consume, so my opinion of labeling may surprise you.

I would also state that I’m an outspoken opponent of Monsanto’s business practices. For a long time I perceived their products as I do their practices. After a debate with some friends whom I hold in high regard intellectually and reading a bit about the science behind it, my position on GMO’s has softened. I’m not 100% convinced as I’m sure no one can be that there is no danger, but I’m not as adamantly against GMO’s as I was before.

As far as labeling is concerned I actually agree that the resources and money going into labeling foods as such.. may be a waste of time. Seeing that Monsanto is throwing huge amounts of money against this idea I would normally vote yes to the idea, but perhaps for once I may agree. My reasoning behind it may admittedly be naive but everyone has an opinion and since I only have a high school degree I figure my opinion may be useful.

If I want to eat organic foods.. they are labeled as such and if they’re not labeled they probably aren’t.. simple enough. I realize the product (ingredient) may even be organic but the producer can’t afford the organic certification. At this point grocery stores in most major U.S. cities have organized and labeled their produce so that consumers can pick what they want.

For the conscientious “eating healthy” consumer they will probably refrain from purchasing the box of Oreo cookies, even if they are labeled organic. Other times it boils down to taste. Newman’s own cookies are organic and an example of this, …last time I bought a box of them was probably years ago, last time I bought a box of Oreos was definitely sooner than that.

The benefit of organics in my opinion may even have less to do with the ingredients’ origins or plant raising and more to do with the processing. Even some “better for you” processed foods can remove some of the nutritional value it may other wise have. The tendency of many businesses focused on organic food also tend to be stricter about every ingredient aspect and even in their business practices, which can sometimes be apparent in the price difference between organic and processed foods. That reason alone has me usually choosing the organic product more. I may not eat meat but since carnivores aren’t changing anytime soon I appreciate the meat producers that have a more organic approach to their meat production. Certainly stuffing tons of cows or chickens into a tiny space is a space saver but it certainly isn’t an environmentally friendly one. I also can’t imagine that raising meat for slaughter the conventional way produces good meat.

On a side note, I was talking with a friend of mine, he informed me of people that have the job of removing the flavor of products to preserve the food, and then adding the flavor back into it. THAT to me seems far more alarming.

Based on Katie’s research the bottom line on the debate over GMO’s really boils down to education for the uninformed so consumers can decide for themselves intelligently. Labeling GMO’s would raise awareness, but not necessarily informed decisions.

But even after saying all of this I still have great disdain for Monsanto. I’d offer this deal to them, if we take the labeling question off the ballot, they take those millions going into fighting the question and give it all to the farmers globally (organic farmers or otherwise unconditionally and after taxes), we’d have a deal. I mean after all, that would save Monsanto money on the labeling and it would improve the lives of our nation’s food suppliers to not feel like they HAVE to use Monsanto’s Round Up Ready or Tyson’s slaughterhouses as a means to stay in business. As I know this deal will never take place because its obviously ridiculous and I’m relatively just a peon in this country, and although I agree with Monsanto on labeling, I still hate that company, so out of spite, I’m voting against myself. They can waste all the money they want to fight the ballot question and then to label all their foods as GMO when they lose. I’ll be in the food market isles picking out organic food and not because its organic, but because I know, as its clearly labeled GMO, that at the very least Monsanto didn’t help to produce it.

Sunshine Blogger Award « Man Fuel – a food blog
Reply

[...] food blogging metaphors). Food-related posts include a discussion about the controversial Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMO’s”) and the results of a survey performed by the author. Share [...]

Sarah
Reply

I just came upon this article again and it is interesting to look back at it. Respectfully Katie, your article has a lot of bias behind it (nearly unavoidable I understand) and it seems irresponsible for you to talk authoritatively on a subject you are not an authority on, does it not? Eva made many interesting, logical points that you seemed to ignore…From where I stand you are basically saying: we have no long term studies on the effects of GMO’s so f%^k it, let’s just throw it on the market, not tell anyone and wait for something bad to happen…that’s what lawyers are for!! I am being sarcastic of course, though for someone with little to no knowledge of the subject you present a convincing argument to discredit those who are concerned…You seem like a caring, intelligent human being and it surprising to see your position on such a serious issue. Do you feel the same way now that the non-GMO movement is catching on?

Katie
Reply

Hi Sarah,

If you are talking about the bias in my survey, I agree, and I openly addressed those biases in the text. If you are referring to my assessment of GMO safety, then any bias you are seeing simply reflects my opinion on the topic. This opinion is not something that is, as you assert, irresponsible. I hold a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and come from an agricultural background. Science and farming, therefore, are absolutely things on which I feel comfortable voicing an opinion on.

I addressed many of Eva’s points in an earlier comment, however I refrained from engaging with some of her more hyperbolic rhetoric. Such hypothetical hand-waving often does more harm than good on polarizing topics like this one (see the final paragraph of my post).

Lastly, as someone who possesses significant knowledge on the subject, my opinion has not changed “now that the non-GMO movement in catching on”. I would also say that I did nothing to “discredit those who are concerned”. Concern is always valid. Being concerned, however, should not allow a person to ignore the population of the rest of the world for selfish reasons. Being concerned should not exempt a person from educating themselves.

Leave a comment

name

email (not published)

website