AS228: Should We Label GMOs?

In today’s show, I’ve got two siblings! We’ve got Melonnie, a listener of the show and someone wary of GMO products. Also on is Derek, her brother and a scientist who has some expertise on GMO foods. Will Melonnie’s concerns about labeling change Derek’s mind or will Derek be able to convince Melonnie that the technology is safe? Only one way to find out!

Here are some links:

With 2000+ global studies affirming safety, GM foods among most analyzed subjects in science

14 thoughts on “AS228: Should We Label GMOs?”

  1. Before I start listening I don’t think a scientist is the best representative for a public policy question. The topic of the discussion isn’t are GMO’s safe, we know they are, it’s should we label them. That isn’t a scientific question. I hope despite that he is able to make the argument against the fear mongering, and paranoia that feeds the labeling movement.

    1. And right from the get go exactly what I’m talking about. She’s talking about the whole roundup controversy, and Derek basically knows nothing. It’s a stupid argument anyway. She’s arguing she wants to know what company is making the GMO, not that it’s a GMO. Labeling something GMO is not going to tell her it’s specifically from Monsanto so she can boycott it, and the governments job isn’t to make it easier for someone to boycott specific companies. It’s to protect our safety, and our safety isn’t at risk.

  2. Derek was incorrect about Kevin Folta. He is NOT a spokesman for Monsanto. He is a science professor at the University of Florida whose work is in the realm of biotechnology. What was not covered is this: GMO is a breeding technique not an ingredient. If you favor labeling GMOs then we should label all breeding techniques such as hybridization, mutagenesis (process of subjecting the seed to chemicals or radiation to scramble the DNA and produce different traits, allowed even in organic!), etc. Okay to say people have a right to know what’s in their food. But GMO is not anything “in” the food. GMO crop is virtually identical in every way to organic or non-GMO conventional counterparts. That plus the fact that labeling would further stigmatize something and impede progress in feeding the world, because it would fuel the fire of ignorance and fear mongering, makes labeling GMOs a really bad idea.

    1. I was about to point out that Kevin has no relation to Monsanto :o) (I don’t really care about that donation to his university).

      Wanting to label GMO is like trying to “teach the controversy” but only about evolution. Exactly the same arguments we use to dismiss this BS are the same we should use to dismiss GMO labeling. So as is Micheal saying label all or label none (method).

      And where are those who worry about products of those other techniques of breeding, how do we know they are safe?

  3. I really feel like these people had no idea what they were talking about. Please please please reach out to Kevin Folta, he will certainly come on your show. He does NOT work for Monsanto, he works at the University of Florida. He has never worked for Monsanto.

    Labeling GMOs will not tell you where they are from, Monsanto sells to organic farmers as well, Monsanto isn’t the only company that sells GMOs.

    There are no antibiotics in meat or milk, if a cow needs antibiotics it is taken out of the rotation until all the antibiotics have been metabolized. Every truck load of milk gets tested before it’s sent to market and if it is found to have antibiotics in it, it is thrown out. It is illegal to have antibiotics in meat or milk.

    Why should we label GMOs but not mutagenic crops that have been blasted with radiation and gamma rays? Well because mutagenic crops are considered organic.

    Sorry about the rambley nature of my comment, I am at work and just thought I would throw some ideas out there. Love the show Thomas!

    Also, watch this

    It is a 5 minute video that really shows the absurdity of labeling some things but not others.

    1. That first sentence reads a lot harsher than I meant it to be. I guess what I meant to say is that the information that I think is so so so important in this conversation was not expressed clearly enough or wasn’t covered at all.

      I would also like to say great comment from Michael Fogler. Really summed everything up well. GMO is not an ingredient, so what really are you labeling? Furthermore, should we label medicine that is GMO? Seems silly.

  4. Going to eat my words a bit. I think ultimately Derek did quite a good job making the public policy argument as well as the science arguement. Good show, and kudos to Melonnie for her open mindedness.

  5. I feel I must offer comment after hearing the interesting exchange between Melonnie and Derek I like the idea of opposing views openly shared with intent to clear up misunderstandings and to possibly shift conclusions held by each prior to the exchange. But! (sigh, always the qualifier, which unfortunately for my p.o.v., typically leads deeper into murky waters.)

    I’ve commented at length at as221, the Tommentary in which ‘liberal anti-science bias’ was pegged as worthy of examination. I agree anti-science bias is worthy of examination, but so too is unquestioned acceptance of information presented as “scientifically inarguable”.

    Rather than tackle scientific vs unscientific validity re application of GMO technologies, I want to remind that we humans are not fully rational. Studies and research in psychology will help reveal why and how we are likely to remain ‘captured’ by assorted biases in our thinking. Our psychological intuitive ‘awarenesses’, and equally inborn cognitive capacities are ‘conditions, and tools for dealing with the conditions’.

    Our psychology is an inescapable reality of our ‘beingness’ as a species. Psychology can help reveal the deepest elements of “human nature”. We do not, as it turns out, operate by pure computer-quality rationality.

    So! In my examination of ‘who we are as a species’ and in my effort to sort through aspects of psychology that best lead to universally experienced ‘well being’, vs more troublesome aspects that lead away from universally experienced well being – I find much comes down to “world view” held by an individual, shaped in earliest childhood. Compatible world views of multiple individuals become ‘truth’ beliefs for a subculture or dominant culture and are encouraged, taught, and re-taught across generations.

    So! How to at least attempt to crawl outside the container of ones own world view, or outside the often socially forceful container of ones apparent cultural world view? Identifying ‘my’ world view deeper beliefs, and how I acquired these, is a critical but largely missing, unpopular and unpracticed, kind of ‘literacy’ about human nature.

    ‘Deconstructing’ ones own personal psychological ‘nurtured world view’ may seem daunting but it can be done. I’ve done quite a bit of work to ‘get to the bottom of’ formation of my personal world views. As a consequence I’ve discovered some of how early childhood experiences are influenced by human actors who themselves have no idea that ‘early acquired world view’ is operative in assertion of ‘truths’.

    It’s my assertion that IF we hope to find wisdom that might let us shift from extreme mis-handling of ourselves and our ‘spaceship earth’, then many more individuals will need to accept a distinction between ‘at birth hard-wired psychological capacities’ and overlaid acquired truths. So – Who are we before we pick up habits shaped by complex cultural experience? We need to ask and even enjoy trying to answer this species-defining question. Anything we can study and learn about original human survival (small groups sharing survival interests through hunting/gathering) should be informative, IMO.

    Who are we? We are unarguably pscho(individual)-social(group). This hasn’t changed from earliest hunter-gatherer practices. We are also irremediably vulnerable – within context of immediate environment, and species-wide in context of ‘spaceship earth’. This vulnerability also has not changed – ever.

    As vulnerable creatures, ‘fear’ is among our life-saving responses. Responses to fear can include cooperation to keep the whole (small roving group) alive, or can – once things get more ‘sophisticated’ – include ‘us/them’ aggression against even our own species. Innate capacity for empathetic ‘feeling’ for other living beings tends to lead to a ‘truth’ that cooperation for mutual survival and thriving is a good idea. Once things get more sophisticated, it’s increasingly easier to dismiss empathy as ‘risky’ for survival of ‘me and mine’ vs ‘those others’ and/or vs ‘that animal, that tree, that forest, that habitat’.

    Hugely sophisticated and complex cultures such as we now experience are pretty enthusiastic in justifying brutality and reduced empathy for 2 reasons: one is survival (period) and one is “fun, entertainment, wealth accumulation, dominion over” and so on — i.e. beliefs and habits that eventually bring accusation of ‘human arrogance’ against both other humans and against nature itself.

    I’m trying to suggest a challenge to our thinking minds without getting too deep in the weeds (an odd expression since I think we need to wander in those weeds! I’ve encountered cultural attitudes that condemn entire aspen forests as ecosystems of ‘a weed tree species’ … a revealed culturally acquired ‘belief’ if there ever was one!)

    I don’t find the pro-GMO use arguments persuasive on matters of harm to ‘unvoiced’ farm workers, small land holders, or re harm and great risk to biodiversity. As a life-long ‘up close and personal’ livestock producer as well as a life-long woods/prairie walker I do not find reasonable or even psychologically healthy that we might dismiss ‘incidental suffering’ and/or ‘biodiversity risk’ as uninformed. As a target-shooter with both gun and bow I hung out for over a decade with dedicated hunters and came away agreeing with those who argued bow-hunting is more cruel than the quick dispatch of a well-placed rifle shot. — We have choices, and significantly we guide ourselves by deep commitment to world views that encourage us to think ourselves “on the right side of logic and rationality”, even when sometimes that may not be the case.

    It is true that only a few may be aware of, and troubled by, ‘collateral suffering’ for instance of those who slave to mine rare earth elements for I-phones. But we don’t really *have* to have I-phones – not in a different vision of human potential and capacity. Our contemporary dominant world views, including our models for ‘an economy’ that ‘lets us thrive’ (except for the miserable unfortunates), sits atop largely unrecognized rooted notions of hierarchy and ‘inevitable’ need to ‘conquer’ that goes to back to early developments, including settled communities. These views do not encompass the whole of human nature; they are built on unavoidable ignorance of ancient times – back when a concept of how psychology works didn’t exist, and the gods did.

    I do not in any way argue we must abandon all lifestyles but that of traveling in small bands to forage for food and shelter! I argue that NOW, in this time when social sciences are part of our body of study and understanding, we can do far better than talk ourselves out of belief in sky-gods. We need to also discover additional ‘unexamined beliefs’ and examine them.

    Thomas, your work to let us hear the discussion is important and is part of where we need to ‘go’ in our investigation of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we can maybe achieve’. Thank you! As for me – so far – I still think there’s a tendency among skeptics to not take seriously the need to better understand ‘world view’, each of us as an individual, on our own ‘dime’ of deep contemplation guided by insights offered through psychology.

    (I don’t know why sometimes my comment details include info from a past blog and sometimes don’t, but I mean in either case to post as Maggie!)

    1. “I agree anti-science bias is worthy of examination, but so too is unquestioned acceptance of information presented as “scientifically inarguable”.”

      I don’t think anyone is saying anything is scientifically unarguable, just that there is no good scientific argument for labeling GMO’s.

      “I don’t find the pro-GMO use arguments persuasive on matters of harm to ‘unvoiced’ farm workers, small land holders, or re harm and great risk to biodiversity. As a life-long ‘up close and personal’ livestock producer as well as a life-long woods/prairie walker I do not find reasonable or even psychologically healthy that we might dismiss ‘incidental suffering’ and/or ‘biodiversity risk’ as uninformed.”

      Those are all different arguments that can be had, but they have nothing to do with labeling GMO’s due to potential risk to the consumer issue. My biggest problem with many pro-labeling arguments is that they often quickly devolve into arguments that are unrelated to the question at hand.

      1. Re “Those are all different arguments that can be had, but they have nothing to do with labeling GMO’s due to potential risk to the consumer issue. My biggest problem with many pro-labeling arguments is that they often quickly devolve into arguments that are unrelated to the question at hand.” Touche?! 🙂

        The reason I am pro-labeling is admittedly perhaps significantly ‘social/political’. But it’s also that I’m not convinced by GMO promoters that some or many of the developed plants are safe long-term to biodiversity. Super weeds are a known post-GMO/pesticide development, and safety to micro organisms as well as beneficial insect life is not assured to my satisfaction. There are complaints in farm communities, including in North America, of needing to increase toxic chemical herbicides as common but vigorous weeds develop resistance. Complaints are of rising production costs due to need for greater herbicide application. There are also economic and health issues too for farmers and employed farm workers who use the seed then need to also apply pesticides, (reports out of India and other regions.)

        The problems aren’t with eating the final food produced. I lament that “is it safe for us humans” seems thought the only meaningful question with regards to food production and processing.

        This same question has driven acceptance of the horror of milk-boosting hormones in dairy cattle. Breeds well established through traditional selection methods were/are already pushed to limits by breeding alone, true of Holsteins in particular. Even before the hormone practice, they were susceptible to udder infections and other ‘maxed out’ health issues. Use of rBGH exacerbates cow vulnerability, increases misery of udder infections, makes a ‘drying up’ period difficult or prevents it, contributes to eventual lameness and shortens the animal’s life. These beautiful creatures first give all possible without much choice, then may find themselves “no longer economically viable”, unable to walk, and pushed along into the slaughter queue by a forklift or front end loader This while the magnificent beast bellows her protests, attempts to somehow survive what’s happening to her. (The distress bellow is painfully and poignantly very similar to the one sometimes heard with a final push in calving.)

        How do American dairy industry power-players respond? (1) By successful lobbying for regulations that disallow labeling other than a statement “Milk products from rBGH treated cows has been found unharmful to humans.” We are to be reassured that the only important risk (to humans) is negligible, and (2) We are prevented from knowledge of unimaginable harm to living magnificent creatures by passing ‘ag-gag’ laws that make it illegal for a factory farm or factory slaughter worker or visitor to document abuse.

        Why do I beat a drum that we need to know ourselves psychologically? Because in another long-term experience I’ve worked with young school children in a rural high-need district and have witnessed in them something that was once in each of us adults. Along with tendencies to sometimes show less than helpful attitudes and feelings, the young children have quick intuitive urge to empathy and cooperation. They desire to experience themselves in a world as free as possible from harsh injustices. They cannot trust that such a world is available if the adult community tells them “life is cruel and unfair get used to it”. Learning and creativity are hampered by anxiety, thoughts turn to “how to win” instead of “how we can mutually support all of us”. The kids took to solutions such as conflict resolution and mutual effort ‘like ducks to water’. Anxieties melted away.

        I argue that a great deal of our adult world’s cruelty and injustice (along with anxiety and fear) is due to mistaken world-views deeply rooted in social and economic practices that reject cooperation and empathy in favor of allowing hoarding and top-down management. These dominating practices can infantalize us, and can make trust and cooperation nearly impossible except in small groups.

        Here we are, earth itself under siege, and groups of humans within and among nations not doing so well with empathy and cooperation. By my observation and assessment, labeling GMO as part of a food’s production is a tiny step in honesty required to build trust.

        If the problem is lack of consumer knowledge about how the procedures work then the solution is honest explanation, even if complicated. All the concerns about health care of farm workers and about risk to biodiversity must be answered or – the procedure may need to be used less or even not at all.

        As a species, we don’t have a long window of opportunity to get our act together. We have accomplished a lot but at great cost, usually to ‘them’ over there, to some set of ‘lessers’, who hopefully won’t disturb our comfort. Yet, at our core, we’re a cooperative, ‘hunter/gatherer’ species with psychological yearnings to experience thriving in a thriving community – an experience that requires a thriving earth.

        I never intend to go on at such length!! Yet again I have! To me the anti-labeling arguments seem to mask an underlying ‘need’ to assert an authority that – given doubts of safety in all concerns – is not earned. I am skeptical of the official arguments when it’s also true that commanding millions or even billions in wealth as ‘at stake’.

  6. I also meant to include mention re feeding multitudes to ward off starvation.

    History runs deep on themes ‘land grabs’ to shift people and land from food production that allows survival even thriving. Even the Irish potato famine is a story complicated by British land use for global trade.

    I first came across modeling of wealth commandeering productive ag. land for financial gain via the 1975 book ‘Food First: Beyond Scarcity”, authored by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins. The practice continues, as we speak a number of major American university endowment funds as well as other international profit seeking ventures are finding and purchasing land from smaller holders for reasons much complicated by global economic policy. NAFTA’s consequence to Mexican corn producing communities also a case in point.

    Arguments that we ‘must’ commandeer land and food production methods “for sake of the starving” is a little akin to our penchant for explaining war as necessary to usher in peaceful experience in freedom and democracy. My point while staying out of more weeds: Neither the problems we profess to solve, nor the solutions, are simple.

    ‘Global land grab’ is a good place to start rounding up info on this. Here’s a Guardian 2012 article but there are numerous dedicated and well informed NGOs and ‘earth watch’ groups.:

  7. This is a late response to the episode, but I just listened to it, along with a block of others. I simply wanted to say that GMO labeling is an irrational thing to support and is anti-science. The desire for GMO labeling is born out of a visceral fear reaction that originates in people’s understanding of biology coming from movies and television; it shares this with the anti-nuclear-power thread also found on the left. I don’t really buy the “people have a right to know” argument for two reasons; first, because it is disingenuous, relying on a background emotional reaction, imply that information is actively being kept from the public, i.e. The public is being victimized. Secondly, since it is an irrational belief rather than a sound rational position, it seems to me that you could simply replace “GMO”labeling with “halal slaughter” labeling in order to expose the flaw. In essence:

    ‘Look, halal slaughter is cleaner and healthier than other forms of slaughter. Everyone has a right to know if something hasn’t been halal slaughtered, which is why we need to label everything with that information. It isn’t harming anything.’

  8. Bit late on the party here, but just wanted to chime in with a few things.

    This discussion really bugged me lol – I’m not sure on what is the most critical point to draw forward, but right now I want to emphasize the following;

    skepticism is the practice of not believing something without a good reason, at least in the sense that should be valued by the skeptical community.

    A bunch of times in this episode, another use of skepticism, that of mere doubt, was used as though it was a virtue – this is only true if applied consistently and valued for its end effects, which are more informed beliefs. This was obviously not the context within the episode.

    A key point that was not critically examined in this episode is that there was a perceived danger to GMOs, and that this danger does not in fact exist. The idea of labeling is a red herring until this is addressed – it is only once it’s acknowledged that there is no apparent danger to GMOs or at minimum none available to the interlocutor that the conversation about labeling becomes meaningful. Because labeling would be a nonissue if nobody cared, which should be the default position to GMOs.

    It’s not a skeptical position to be concerned about something without reason, you have been convinced that there’s something to be concerned about, and there’s no good reason for that, that is the failure to exercise skepticism, not the application.

    Derek was also not particularly well equipped to answer the questions, and he had little restraint in expressing some pretty terrible opinions not based in reality lol especially near the end with his anti-GMO comparable views of industrial slaughter… could go off on a seperate rant on how people are so absurdly backwards on this… the large companies are large targets, and have considerably more oversight and ethical consideration – and there’s also the remarkable absurdity of thinking a messy or stressful life and death is somehow industrially advantageous. Temple Grandin did a series of video walkthroughs of major slaughterhouses, where she shows from start to finish what actually happens. They bend over backwards to ensure the animals are not stressed, and experience no awareness of what is going on. (also if you’re not familiar with who Temple Grandin is, go watch the movie)

    I thought the apple analogy was fantastic lol, might be worth noting the incredibly dishonest and unethical practices of many ‘natural’ ‘organic’ gluten-free corporations that push these GMO labelling narratives.

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