Tuesday, May 27, 2003

labelling
In a relatively reasonable discussions of the "myths" hampering debate on GM food, [ASPB News May/June 2003, v.30, No. 3 -- sub. only, but text available here], Pamela Ronald & Steve Strauss have this to say about labeling:
Labeling and process knowledge is a consumer right, regardless of its scientific basis and social cost [this is the "myth"]. Although labels themselves are inexpensive to print, the identity segregation, tracking, and testing systems that a meaningful labeling system requires can be very costly to society. This is especially true when, as in the European Union, very small levels of GEO ingredients must be carefully identified in all derivative products. Societies therefore choose not to label many trace ingredients or specific aspects of crop and food production that may be of some nutritional or environmental relevance, even though this information would be of interest to many consumers (e.g., pesticide residues, varieties, fertilizers, irrigation practices, origins of processed foods).

Labels also tend to be viewed by consumers as 'warnings' and thus can stigmatize crops that may have economic, health, or environmental benefits. Under current law, the FDA seeks to avoid information on labels that consumers may find 'misleading' with respect to nutrition and safety. For example, a label on a genetically engineered papaya indicating that it contains 'trace amounts of papaya ringspot viral DNA' would be accurate but misleading because the average consumer does not know that the non-genetically engineered fruit is likely to be virally infected and would therefore carry higher levels of papaya ringspot viral DNA as well as protein.

Generic GMO labels are also of negligible public value, as the variety of genes, insertion events, and products makes such a system nearly useless for tracking epidemiological patterns or for inferring personal risk or benefit. Finally, there has been no public uprising to label conventionally bred crops, even though their nutritional and toxicological properties vary widely and have been far less well studied than GEO crops. The decision whether to label GEO products is both scientifically questionable and fraught with social and economic tradeoffs. It is anything but simple and clear, nor is it an inalienable right.

Now first of all, exactly how costly to society is an accurate labeling regime? There is a lot of hot air blowing around this subject, but I haven't seen any hard numbers. Second, does your right to impossibly cheap flavorless food outweigh my right to know what I'm eating? I don't know -- I don't normally give a shit about this kind of moral philosophy, but it seems to me a legitimate question. Third, why not let the market decide? Impose the labeling laws and see if 4�/lb. or whatever number it ends up being is worth bothering about, or if some producers decide to label everything just in case, while others charge a premium for the knowledge of what you're eating. Finally, this is why people are inclined to distrust everything "scientists" say:
There has been no public uprising to label conventionally bred crops, even though their nutritional and toxicological properties vary widely and have been far less well studied than GEO crops.
Are you a disingenuous corporate tool, or just hopelessly stupid? People don't want to label conventional tomatoes because their name is their label. They know what a tomato is. If the tomato has a piece of papaya [not flounder!] in it they might want to know about that. It's so lame that the the people actually equipped to talk intelligently about this stuff end up with retarded non-arguments like this.

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