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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

GMO Labeling

[It is only somewhat tangential to the below, but this essay on how the Ebola outbreak (as applied to this country, "outbreak" is not appropriate, but there is one in Africa) shows how anti-government rhetoric can be dangerous is useful overall.  The author is an economist and notes how in society a "free market" still is one regulated by the government in a range of ways.] 

I disagree with the sentiment that GMO labeling laws are misguided because it gives "too much information" and misleads the public. As a participant at a blog in part concerning science issues noted recently:
GMOs have, at best, not been proven harmful, which is different from having been proven safe. GMOs have not been tested for long-term health effects, much less been tested with independent oversight, and each GMO is different, so each new GMO brought to the market must be tested. Plus this statement makes no mention whatever of the increased use of pesticides with many GMOs or the evolution of pesticide resistance in plants and animals as a result of that increase pesticide use.
As I noted in comments, even one of the links provided in the piece provided some reason to be concerned about GMOs, suggesting to me that it is acceptable if people wish to know about them being in their food.  Prof. Adler also was on the case, guess around a year ago now, and he provided links that again suggest at least for certain people GMOs might have negative effects.  They are still in their infancy and some precaution principle is appropriate.  The "has been around for centuries" bit:
true to a certain extent -- for example, a pluot is a human created plum-apricot hybrid -- it is misleading, both because the techniques of genetic engineering are different from those used by hybridists and because those techniques allow the introduction of genes from one species to a very distantly related species. 
One comment in response the original post made basically a right to know / democracy argument that is not merely answered by citing science. I think unreasonable labeling has problems as a matter of policy, but there is something to this.  Also, there are basic "right to know" issues here and GMOs are not just a matter of science, but value laden policy:

The reasons for developing GMOs in the first place were all value laden, whether you think those reasons were making money for large corporations and their shareholders, feeding the hungry, developing new and exciting strains of food, or reducing pesticide and herbicide use.  Furthermore, the question over whether to label is a question about the public's right to know what they are eating -- again, a value-laden issue.  Even if it turned out that GMOs were the best thing since sliced bread, citizens arguably have the right to the information necessary to decide for themselves if they want to eat them.  Does science tell us what our rights are or what our values are?
I have read up on this subject to some extent, including a few books for the general public, and my gut view is that GMOs as a whole are safe but that there are various possible concerns especially perhaps in certain cases (e.g., certain GMO products might have negative effects on health or the environment to some extent). The penultimate link includes a comment with a mini-bibliography.  And, the situation is still in flux.

Overall, seems to me, that labeling is acceptable, including mandated by the government. Voluntary labeling is suggested. That's fine, but doesn't seem like every company wants to do that or calls for this would be redundant and opposition a tad overblown. Labeling also would -- like kosher and halal labeling -- help those with moral or religious opposition. Why not inform those given safety is not assured, even if "safe" some restraints and pressure to do so might be helpful and it would help people make choices following their own personal values?

A libertarian might even support such laws since it advances freedom of choice though some might say the market should do the work there. So, even some of them might sign on! Anyway, I think labeling is a good idea.  It is at least not harmful.

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