Wednesday, July 30, 2014

GMO Labeling: Caution or Paranoia?

So, I guess I'm making this into a blog post, because my thoughts are more numerous on this topic than I originally anticipated. I've felt this way for a while, but was never emboldened to chime in on this topic until I saw this clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking off-the-cuff about the matter.

Thank God I wasn't the only one.

So, people want GMOs to be required by law to be labeled as such? Sounds like a bad solution to a valid concern.

Now, I can understand wanting to know whether a specific growth hormone was used on the cows you got your milk from because the science might still be out on whether that hormone is potentially harmful to humans. That makes plenty of sense.* What I don't understand is how anyone intends to label all "genetically modified" foods when that term is too vague to possibly be useful to anyone.

I will confess ignorance on this topic, as I do not know the specifics of what new techniques are being used to modify plants and animals. If any aspects of these techniques could pose a potential health risk to the public, that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. How do we do that? Scientific studies on the techniques in question (funded by neutral parties, of course, to avoid conflict of interest), and presentation of the findings of those studies to the FDA.

Pushing for all "genetically modified" food to be labeled as such is a pointless endeavor. Proponents of this claim they just want people to have the right to choose for themselves. This assumes the average consumer knows fuck-all about these advanced genetic techniques, and that a label on a food item would somehow inform that consumer's choice. Not only is this unlikely to help people, I have proof from my own life of how useless such labeling can be.

Are you familiar with the advent of "organic" food in the grocery store? The intention is to help people buy the kinds of products they want to, which I guess mean ones from local farms that haven't been exposed to pesticides and hormones. The key phrase there is "I guess."

I bought a bag of "organic" bananas at the grocery store the other day. I put about as much thought into it as I would any other bunch of bananas. They cost more per pound, but I know they're supposedly better than non-organic somehow. It really just made me feel like I was being taken advantage of, being sold purely on the goodwill that's meant to follow "organic" foods. I didn't actually know why they were better, because the packaging didn't make it clear. And that's the whole fucking problem.

The word organic simply means it's made up of plant or animal matter, or any other compounds containing carbon. When I see the word "organic" stuck on the front of a package, it tells me little about the product I'm buying. If the whole intention of this labeling trend was to inform the consumer about what they're buying, it failed hard. I didn't know a damn thing about these supposedly "organic" bananas. Not where they're from, not how they were grown, not what strains of banana seeds were used, not what cultivating and pest control techniques might be employed.

The problem is the criteria for what qualifies as an "organic" food are not clearly defined. Without strict guidelines for what can be advertised as "organic," the term means as much as Hot Pockets advertising they contain "Real" cheese. Sure, it's Real cheese. As opposed to imaginary or hypothetical cheese. Doesn't really tell me if that "real" cheese is any good for me.

*: Another note on the above. If the offending growth hormone is actually harmful or at least convincingly so, why would you push for labeling it at all? If you found out 40% of milk on store shelves contained traces of rat poison, you wouldn't ask that they be clearly labeled as such and let consumers decide for themselves. You'd rightly want the stuff banned outright, which the FDA would likely do for you if you had any fucking credible scientific evidence that the milk in question is dangerous.

It just pisses me off. If people really care about what they're putting into their bodies, they should be advocating for more funding for academic studies on the foods we eat and the compounds that are used in their processing. Instead, people just want to act like fucking know-it-alls. They pretend their paranoia of new technology and distrust of big faceless corporations makes them smarter than other people, and evidence be damned because they already know they're right. They share half-baked infographics and inflammatory Internet articles and think they're informed by them. They hold up Monsanto as the evil pariah of food distribution, using the unethical practices of a few to justify the vilification of the many. They can't just address specific concerns they have with specific products or techniques, they have to build a giant multi-national conspiracy out of it.

And what does this extreme inclusive us-versus-them paranoia accomplish? Why does everyone who disagrees have to be accused of either being a sheep or in on the conspiracy? Two simple reasons: so the people arguing the point can be as smug as they want, and more critically, so the people selling the alternative products can make their money.

I'm meant to believe a local family-owned farm would never use cutting-edge and potentially dangerous techniques to save money or increase their yield? Give me a fucking break. Small or large, family-owned or not, they're all business owners trying to get by. Since when does having fewer employees and being less successful make you more virtuous? It's never that simple.

Alright, it's getting late and I think my already-tenuous argument is starting to fall apart. If anybody can link me to some information on the actual techniques for rapid genetic modification, or for that matter an actual scientific study that even vaguely implies a correlation between GMOs and cancer (yes, somebody actually claimed GMOs have been linked to cancer in humans and didn't fucking cite it), I'd like to see those links.

And if you'd like to tell me I'm a stupid blind sheep-person for taking this stance, well I appreciate your input. They say you are what you eat, so go eat shit.

As always, thanks for reading. I really do appreciate that some people enjoy what I do here, or at least like me enough to sit through it. I promise I'm not as angry and insane as I come across in some of these posts. If anything, I'm much more of both.

That's it. Peace and love, you crazy kids.