What’s so bad about labels?

organic-gmo1Over the last several years, the issue I’ve probably been most heavily involved in — and certainly most heavily associated with in skeptics circles — has been dispelling anti-vaccine propaganda. And a year ago, I wasn’t very involved in the debate over Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs). And it wasn’t a subject I knew an awful lot about. But over the past year, as it became more and more clear that the media and most people of any consequence have stopped taking the anti-vaccine movement seriously, I’ve sort of shifted my focus onto advocating for GMO’s. This decision was largely fueled by the bombardment on my Facebook feed of anti-GMO posts by my fellow liberal Facebook friends.

Now recently, someone asked me why I object to laws imposing labels on GMO products, and it occurs to me that the answer to that question is very nuanced.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with labeling GMOs in theory, but the primary objection to them is that they’re just a Trojan horse for ideologues who will use them to do the opposite of their stated purpose for the labels, that they’ll be exploited to misinform the public about their food rather than educate them. We already see constant propaganda about how because some European countries have banned GMO products, that that’s in and of itself evidence they’re dangerous when it’s much more a product of scientifically ignorant or pandering politicians. There’s every reason to believe that once labels are imposed on GMO products (for no good reason because they’re as safe as their non-GMO counterparts), that anti-GMO activists will insist that the existence of labels is an admission by the U.S. government that GMOs are less safe. This is the Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire Fallacy.

And we’ve seen this logical fallacy used before by anti-vaccine activists who insist that the removal of Thimerosal, the ethylmercury-based anti-fungal and anti-septic agent once contained in some flu vaccines, fifteen years ago is evidence the substance is inherently harmful. However, the reality is the chain of cause and effect was the reverse. Thimerosal was actually removed because of that very political pressure by uninformed citizens groups insistent that it was harmful. Now, anti-vaccine fanatics exploit their own success in getting public officials to change policy to then claim we wouldn’t have removed it if it was truly safe. A very devious tactic, and sadly, often very effective.

Now if the GMO issue was all just a matter of personal preference, it wouldn’t be such a serious concern among scientists. But the problem is that by 2050, the world population is projected to reach 9 billion people, and we’ll need to increase food production by 70% to feed that many people. GMOs are not only one of the most important means of making that happen, but they’re also better for the environment and can save lives today in communities that lack certain forms of nutrition. For instance, a genetically modified banana, which has the potential to dramatically reduce infant mortality and blindness in children across Africa, is undergoing its first human trials. In those regions, the local bananas don’t contain enough Vitamin A, so hundreds are dying from Vitamin A deficiencies. This particular GM banana contains much higher quantities of Vitamin A, and will literally save lives. But those who are biased against transgenic foods refuse to accept these live-saving benefits and will inevitably use these labels as a pretext for pushing their ideology in a similar way to how creationists use the pretext of “academic freedom” to push their ideology in schools.


4 Responses to What’s so bad about labels?

  1. Raiden says:

    The idea of a banana solving vitamin A deficiency in Africa is a joke. A trojan horse designed by Monsanto to win the public over. Who will then willingly sign over their food freedom.

    [Once you sign the freedom over, you don’t get it back. This is the idea. Solution? Don’t sign it the fuck over in the first place.]

    The Vitamin A problem is being tackled, and has been slashed massively since the turn of the millenium. This has used vitamin pills in sunflower oil, of high dosage. Enough to last 3-6 months. This has been a very effective solution in the most deprived areas (where people are so poor they cannot afford to eat fat. Vitamin A is fat soluble so a banana is useless in this respect, even if the bioavailability was good which it may not be).

    In other areas, *education* as to the value of vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes that were commonly being fed to animals, while children suffered (because these people don’t know a fucking thing about nutrition) have had a very great effect.

    The main reason behind this problem is the same reason as always, it’s not about vitamin A, but vitamin M. Money. There is no profit in preventing vitamin A deficiency alone.

    But the *means* to do it already exist, fucking low-tech vitamin capsules and veggies. You don’t *need* a fucking GMO banana.

  2. mjr256 says:

    Citation needed for every single claim you’re making.

    And every single alternative solution you suggest would put money in numerous other people’s pockets, so based on your overly simplistic logic, that makes all them false solutions too. Cause if anyone makes any money off of anything, it’s a evil conspiracy. Death itself would be entirely avoidable if funeral directors weren’t engaged in a giant conspiracy to cause death for their own profit. It’s all as you said, just Vitamin M. Money. Except for you. Obviously, you live a simple existence where you have no use whatsoever for money and it’s 100% inescapable influence on everybody who isn’t you. I bow to your greatness and look forward to reading your research once it’s published.

  3. David Welch says:

    Let me attempt a comparably nuanced response. It’s clear to me that there is nothing inherently wrong with GMO/bio-engineered products or crops. There is no plausible mechanism by which the way genetic material gets into an organism can make that organism dangerous or its products unwholesome. The problem, if any, is in what genetic material is introduced. The manority of applications of the technology seem clearly harmless and/or beneficial. But not all. The major application of the technology to date is to produce herbicide resistant crops that allow for much larger applications of herbicide than were previously possible. I’m not convinced that this is harmless. In an ideal world we could count on neutral regulators to examine the proposed uses of GMO technology and weed out the dangerous ones. But the regulatory capture in that field is so complete – due to the revolving door and common outlook between the companies and the regulators – that no such neutral regulator exists. So labeling becomes a “least worst” – though very unsatisfactory – option in the absence of effective regulation.

    • Michael R says:

      I agree with you up until the point where you seemingly arbitrarily declare labeling the “least worst” option just because there’s no guarantee of some mythical perfect regulatory body. There’s an absence of perfect regulatory bodies in every arena; I fail to see why GMO make any form of special example, especially since we agree there’s no current evidence of harm, and not from a lack of looking. Certainly researchers will continually investigate any hypothesized health risks that may be associated with GMOs, so why put the cart before the horse and play directly into the hands of an ideological movement that’s every bit as committed to misinforming the public about the products as the anti-vaccination movement is with vaccines?

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