Monthly Archives: September 2014

GMOs – Labeling

First, allow me to apologize – a family issue prevented me from being able to devote time to writing.  But, we’re back now!  Thank you to all that have been following this blog.

If you take an initial look at the issue of labeling, you might wonder what could be controversial.  I mean, letting the public know seems the right thing to do, right?

So why are the big-ag companies doing back flips to keep labeling laws from going into effect?  Unfortunately, part of the reason is because they know that people are still widely uneducated when it comes to GMOs.  If a label says anything like “contains or may contain GMOs”, an automatic assumption  may be made that GMOs are bad.   Also, the more the anti-GMO groups put out information on GMOs and stages protests, etc, the more influence this will have on the fears of consumers.  (Please keep in mind that this post DOES NOT mean to imply that GMOs are safe or unsafe – merely just perusing the thoughts and feelings of the public and what might go on in their minds.)

book cover for Sam Merwin Jr book, "A Matter of Policy - An Amy Brewster Mystery"
book cover for Sam Merwin Jr book, “A Matter of Policy – An Amy Brewster Mystery”

You see, friends – fear tactics are not a tool solely for Republicans – Liberals sometimes practice the same fear tactics.  Playing to people’s innate tendency towards fear works, despite being a sleazy way to get people on your side.

But, this issue isn’t about fear.  It is about informing people about what they are buying.  Cigarette pack warnings are an attempt to instill fear and make people reconsider buying cigarettes with negative messaging.   GMO labels are not implying any negative – they are simply telling you what is in your food.  A better comparison would be allergen statements or even ingredients – both are simply telling the consumer what is in the product.

Labeling GMOs is really a debate over labeling process attributes.  Should food processing, of which GMOs are one process, be labeled?  There are several ways to go here:

1.  Legislation that does not allow any GMO process statements – either containing or not containing GMOs.

2.  Legislation requiring all foods containing GMOs to be labeled.  A statement would accompany such label that disclaims government judgment on the safety of GMOs.

3.  Voluntary labeling with the use of GMOs or the absence of GMOs.  This seems somewhat arbitrary, leaving consumers confused.

4.  Voluntary labeling of the use of GMOs, but again, requiring a statement accompanying the non-GMO label that disclaims government judgment on the safety of GMOs.

The first option no longer seems viable as anti-GMO groups are not going away and neither is the issue.  By not allowing any labeling of process attributes, consumers could make a judgment call with little to no information.  (Yes, you might say that many people already do that when they go out to vote, but I digress! ;-)).  Lack of information leaves a ripe ground for conspiracy theories!

The second option might work as some of the onus is no longer on the small manufacturer to get verified, even though they will still have to go through the work of getting in house paperwork on ingredients to make sure they are not using GMOs.   But either way the issue goes, no longer are we going to be able to ignore the issue, so this could be the best option.

originally from sustainablepost.com
originally from sustainablepost.com

Under the anti-labeling guise, the third option above would be a continuation of what we have now.  However, that option – in my mind – is the least viable.  The confusion it creates in the minds of consumers is unfair, not only to the consumer, but to smaller manufacturers.  If one product is labeled non-GMO and another product is NOT labeled non-GMO, the natural inclination of a consumer is to believe that the product not labeled does contain GMOs.  But the cost of getting verified non-GMO is prohibitive to many manufacturers that might actually be non-GMO, but can’t afford to get verified.

Gringo Jack’s is going through the process of getting non-GMO verified and I can attest to several things:  it is very expensive and it is extremely time consuming and frustrating.  The requirements for paperwork are over the top (more on that in another post!) and it is a continuing cost every year once accomplished.

So, we’ve presented the beginning of the labeling issue, but there is so much more – evidenced by the many dollars being spent on the part of the anti-labeling campaigns as well as local governments fighting the groups fighting the labels.   Money is being poured into lawsuits, campaigns, advertising, marketing etc and so this issue deserves more time.

Next week will delve into what both sides have to say about the labeling.

GMOs and Food Sustainability – Part IV

Here are some crazy statistics:

  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in a 2011 report, about 25% of the world’s agricultural land is now highly degraded.  The Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that climate change is going to further exacerbate the problem.
  • According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 70% of global water use is used in agriculture.  However, the share of water is going to dramatically drop to 40% by 2050.
  • By 2001, the FAO food price index more than doubled its level from 2000-2002.  We’ve now had the longest cyclical rise in food prices in the last 50 years.
  • As population continues to grow, food supply demand will continue to rise and therefore prices will continue to rise while supply will continue to decline.

Whole-Foods-940x626

Taking these statistics into account, we know we have to do something as the dismal future looms ahead.  The GMO proponents feel they are doing something to help the situation.  According to these groups, some of the benefits of GMOs include:

  • Increased crop yield
  • Increased nutrition in existing crops  (read about the GM anthocyanin tomatoes)
  • Improved food production efficiency
  • Improved shelf life (about 60-70% of all processed foods you buy have GMO)
  • Decease resistant crops  (read about the late blight resistant potatoes)
  • Pest resistant crops

Those seem like some pretty cool benefits!  While some of these characteristics can be achieved using traditional or classical breeding methods (as they’ve been doing since the beginning of agriculture), not all crops are easily bred for the desirable traits.  The late blight resistant potatoes are an example of this.

However, the GMO community is trying to tell us that using biotechnology and genetically modifying crops is the same as cross breeding (the practice of thousands of years).  It is not the same.  And the claims of sustainability due to decease resistance and  pest resistance may or may not prove out.  Many of the GM crops are developing new and improved insects and deceases which could be strike one against sustainability.  During a time when we are learning about antibiotic resistance, we should consider the same with our food supply.

There are also indications of the following:

  • GE crops require more water and can not depend on rainwater
  • GE crops are more susceptible to secondary pests
  • GE crops depend on the chemicals developed by the bioengineer companies and therefore, crops become more costly

So, the questions of sustainability are a lot more complicated than the GMO community would have us believe.  However, one of the biggest issues might actually be – not whether or not GMOs can help the world’s food ills, but rather, if we rely on GMOs, are we going to ignore the myriad of OTHER proven techniques to sustain a quality food source (ie:  urban vertical farming as just one example in my mind)?

If we use seeds as our sole solution to the problems in food production, we must also consider that these seeds are going to be patented (yes, corporations can actually now own food sources!) and study all the potential problems that will bring.  Those problems could go a lot way to mitigate any potential gain to sustainability.

I could go on for pages citing studies on both sides of the sustainability argument – there are many.  However, trying to weed through these studies to find which ones are flawed, which ones are “industry funded” and which ones are put forth solely with an agenda in mind, is almost an impossible task!   Suffice it to say that we are ALL for safe and effective methods for feeding the world in the coming hard times.  However, I am not nearly as convinced that GMOs are a long term effective and safe method.

Obviously, technology plays an ever increasing role in the quality of life and its ability to improve quality of life.  However, just because genetic engineering is technology doesn’t make it the be all and end all solution.  Further, there are other technologies being developed that might not have the potential risks involved with GE.  But that being said, there very well may be a place for GE in a comprehensive solution to the world’s food problems.  IMHO, however, if we do use GE as a part of our plan, it should be for the benefit of our species and NOT for the benefit of a corporation.  I do not ever want a corporation owning any part of the human condition.

Next week – GMOs and food labeling.