Genetically Modified Food

What is the debate surrounding the labeling of Genetically Modified Food?

Anyone for labeling/why?

Anyone against/why?

As the spouse of an organic farmer, I am for labeling genetically modified in large red letters and a skull and crossbones. Why? Because more people will be inclined to buy the food grown on our farm, and we can retire to the Bahamas.

Okay, I was kidding about the skull.

Seriously, yes, I would like to see genetically modified food labeled. Why? Simply put, because there are people that are uncomfortable with the idea of GMO foods, and they have a right to be informed, and to not purchase those foods that concern them.

I would have to say that yes, I am for labelling, though I would rather it was the farmers decision and not mandatory. While I personally don’t see what the big deal is for some people, there is a large enough percentage of the population that feels this is an issue that it seems to be the responsible thing to do.

Humanity, mammals in general, and secondary consumers in even-more-general, have been learning what is and what is not safe to eat through experimentation on the order of hundreds of millions of years. You eat the yellow berries and you die. You eat the blue ones and you get a nice sugar buzz. Millions of years later, we’ve discovered that it’s better to cook a potato before you eat it. That’s progress, folks.

By contrast, GMOs in America have to pass tests by the FDA to be approved for human consumption. Anyone remember the scare from Taco Bell brand taco shells which contained corn only approved for animals?

That happened because some of the corn, which was intended to be used for livestock, was unlabeled or improperly labeled. This corn was combined with non GM corn to make flour for the shells. Trace amounts of an unusual protein which would only have been in this GM corn were found in the shells. Was this harmful? Probably not. But it did show that one, there are some regulations in place, and two, they aren’t sufficient.

Why have GM foods in the first place? Well, there’s an excellent reason why you might want to buy them, and it’s not just because farmers may find them to be cheaper. It’s that - gasp - less pesticides need to be applied to fields of GM crops which have additional (artificial) defenses against natural and introduced pests. So maybe the tomato you had in your salad at lunch had 50% fewer pesticides applied to it - that means less of any potential (real or imagined) residue on the tomato going into your body, and less runoff (extremely real) into streams and rivers.

Clearly, GM crops have the potential to solve many of the world’s hunger problems. At this point, are they the best choice? Probably not. I would say, first and foremost, that would be to reduce meat consumption, as all those grains being fed to your steak and chicken dinners would be much more efficient fed directly to you the first time. Being conservative, you could feed three times as many people with that grain as you can with the meat it produces.

Specifically to the topic: no, GM foods should not require labels. That’s why there’s an Organic label. There isn’t any reason why GM foods are inherantly unhealthy, and giving the public a reason to belive that’s not the case wouldn’t be wise for the future of the industry (which is very much what it is). But more testing and better regulations are probably a good idea.

Labels are required for valid health concerns. Nutritional information - that’s a valid concern. Contains peanuts, yes, valid concern. What’s the concern for GM food? Well, some people would like to know. That’s all.

But there are other people who would like to know if the food is grown by “organic” techniques, whether it was picked with union labor, or whether the farmer is a minority owned business. We don’t require labels for any of these. If the seller wants to put a label on, he’s certainly free to. That’s how it is now with GM - if you grow crops from seeds that are genetically modified by older techniques, then you can put a label saying “No GMO” on your stuff. But the law shouldn’t require the converse. With all the things people might want to know about their produce, each tomato would need a binder of documents.

How long will you be able to honestly claim your crops are not genetically modified, sandythecur? After all, if your neighbour grows them, soon you will be, too. The way things go, very soon nobody will be able to grow anything of which he can be absolutely sure it’s the original stuff.

I would like to see all genetically modified products labeled. Yes, every product except the first evolved RNA strand in the primordial soup, I want labeled. Then people who fear GMF more than they can parse logic will starve, and the rest of us might just see the connection between existence and the rather common phenomona of changes to DNA.

Can you explain further what you mean, T. Mehr ? I’m not trying to be obtuse; I want to fully understand your question.

Actually, nobody can grow anything these days and it be “the original stuff”. I’ve seen what are likely to be the ancestral corn and tomato–you wouldn’t want to eat them.

Everyone should have a choice…some might consider it against nature or their religion etc…

I think in part we already do that…for example we eat foods treated with chemicals for appearance sake (tomatoes, apples etc), this seems to be akin to that…we eat food coloring that are man made etc…so I do not see the big deal….but sure , they should label it…

I am assuming that he’s referring to the issue of cross-pollination, and that it’s virtually impossible to keep a ‘pure’ strain when you are dealing with open air , adjacent farms. Though I could be wrong.

Hmm. Well, yes. However, if I understand correctly, the hybrid corn that is grown on many large farms does not produce viable seed. Both parent strains produce seeds that are viable and indeed make the hybrid seed, but the product seed of the hybrid, if planted, will not produce a viable plant.

Doesn’t this mean that the hybrid seed, even if cross-pollinated, will not be perpetuated in the seed of the non-hybrid? (This is the way I understand it, but I’m not the farmer in the family, and I’m definitely not Mendel.)

Of course Dogface is right, what we eat has been bred and it’s way from the ‘original’ stuff. But that was not what I meant, actually.
If you, sandythecur, say that GM crops do not produce viable seeds, then I might not have a point at all. But I recall a discussion some time ago when farmers wanted to lable their food as ‘ecological’ meaning ‘not GM’ to attract health conscious customers. Politics didn’t want this to protect the big farms. Here is the trick they used:
The rules for this ‘eco’-lable were set so strict that it was virtually impossible to folow and get the label. As a result even environmentalists demanded that a certain level of GM has to be allowed since anything would be cross-contaminated after a while since GM crops are widely used.
I’ll have to do a little research on this.
If there is no viable seed, it’s not an issue I guess.

T. Mehr , I don’t know if that’s true for all GM crops. I do know it to be true for many types of hybrid corn. In our case, organic corn is mostly what we grow (along with hay, which has never, to my knowledge, been GM’ed or even sprayed), so it’s what I know about.

**sandythecur **
This page, (which is useless unless you speak german) states:

Since 1996 when transgenic seeds were used for the first time in the US an almost complet contamination of ecological and traditional farming has taken place. A lot of ecological farms lost their certificate and had to give up.

The Problem:
There is no cite and the page is maintained by vegans…

I don’t speak German (my years of high school study being far behind me), but I’ll take your word for it. :slight_smile:

This does make me curious, though: how does the label “ecological” in Europe relate to the label “organic” in the U.S.? Is there also an “organic” label in Europe, and if so, how are the organic and ecological designations related? (I ask because the page you cite refer to ecological farms in the U.S., and as far as I’m aware, there is no particular designation for this in the U.S.)

I did recall some more information about cross-pollination, as well, which might be interesting for you.

When you wish to become certified organic, you must prove that you have not used chemicals, banned fertilizers, treated seeds, etc. on your land for 3 full years (this is the barrier to entry that stops many farmers cold). During certification, which is re-assessed annually, your borders with other farmers are a major concern. If you are bordering another farmer who has passed organic certification, both you and the inspectors are very happy. However, if you border a “conventional” farmer, you are required to maintain specified buffer zones. I do not have specific information about the length/breadth of the buffer zones (the one who knows is too busy dealing with corn right now to look it up), but they are intended to stymie cross-pollination and other possible contaminations (spray, etc.).

At that point, it becomes a question of how effective you think the regulations are, and I can’t speak in an informed manner about that.

Special bonus information about our farm in particular: we have good relationships with all of our neighbors, and verbal agreements with them that our crop rotations will always be opposing, as extra insurance against cross-pollination. I.E., if we are growing corn in a field, the neighbor’s field will be in soybeans, and vice versa. I don’t know if other organic farmers with friendly neighbors have the same agreements or not. I would imagine some do and some do not.

Hope some of this is informative, or at least mildly interesting. :slight_smile:

“It’s that - gasp - less pesticides need to be applied to fields of GM crops which have additional (artificial) defenses against natural and introduced pests. So maybe the tomato you had in your salad at lunch had 50% fewer pesticides applied to it - that means less of any potential (real or imagined) residue on the tomato going into your body, and less runoff (extremely real) into streams and rivers.” - aesth

  • this is truly deceptive. There are 2 main genetic modifications being performed:
  1. The food OOZES its own pesticide. While, yes, you can put less on the actual plant, it OOZES it’s own pesticide!! I’d be much more comfortable with a coating of pesticides on the surface of the vegatable (that can be cleaned or peeled) - than a vegatable that contains pesticide thru and thru.
  2. The food has been engineered to resist pesticide (meaning it won’t kill it). Look for any ‘Round-Up Ready’ plants. These plants are covered with EXTRA pesticide, because now, it won’t kill the plant. Gee that’s fun.

Another point on contention, at least as far as I’m concerned, there’s a HUGE difference between selective crop breeding/hybriding, and jamming a chunk of DNA from a fish into a tomato. One can be considered more natural. Can you figure out which one? Also, most of the hybrids that we eat have been around for 100’s, if not 1000’s of years. If a new hybrid was toxic over the long term, a population would have abandoned it or died off. Since GM foods are fairly new to our biology, we are still in this trial and error phase. Unfortunately, GM plants contaminate nearly all nearby farms. If we find out in 20 years that a GM product is toxic, or causes cancer - we’re screwed in a big way.

I can figure out which one you mean based on the tone of your post, but just based on the evidence, I can’t. In fact, I think I could make a case that GM is more natural. After all, we’re inserting a gene that already exists in nature, not trying to force the plants to have random genetic mutations which likely have never existed before - that’s what selective breeding does.

Are you really so stupid as to believe that all “pesticides” are identical? Please give the cites to the real science that demonstrates that all “pesticides” are utterly identical in biological activity.

Another point on [sic] contention, at least as far as I’m concerned, there’s a HUGE difference between natural recovery from a disease and jamming antibiotics or chemotherapy into a person who is sick. Letting people die from plagues is natural, curing them with modern medicine is not.

Therefore, plague is good. Medicine is evil.

Quite proud of your ignorance, aren’t you? Most of the hybrids you eat, unless you hunt down heirlooms, are no more than 50 years old, and of them, the majority are no more than 20 years old, or even younger.

You may now resume running around in your superstitious manner screaming about how the sky is falling.

Another point to consider is that generally organic food cannot be grown on a large scale with any kind of per acre yield that is achieved through modern high intensity farming techniques. Thus, if everyone was to switch to organic food, more land would need to be devoted to agriculture. Presumably that land would be from forests and other undisturbed areas. The other alternative would be to develop better food distribution systems and methods of spoilage reduction, but simply devoting more land to farming seems more in line with the way economics in the real world seem to work. Thus, from my viewpoint, mass popularization of organic food is an environmental nightmare.