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Thursday, August 23, 2012

6 More Reasons To Vote No On California Prop 37





I’ve posted a blog about why GMO labeling is basically illogical.  If you take the time to read the actual proposition, there are at least six more reasons that proposition 37 on the California ballot this fall is a really bad idea that voters should reject.  

1.    This is asking for something that is a great deal harder than it sounds.
Almost all GMO crops are commodity grains.  To understand what labeling these crop ingredients means means, think of a river.  When it rains, little rivulets of water begin to run off of the ground, and then combine into small creeks.  These combine to make streams that eventually combine to make a river. By the time the water is in the river, it is so mixed that you could never know which drop came from where. The commodity grain industry is much like that river.  Many fields are harvested using the same harvesters and grain wagons (see first image above). That grain then goes either to a grower's silo or to a local elevator, which combines the harvest from many farms and fields.  


The grain is later moved in things like 110-car freight trains or giant barges or ships, which again mix various sources. Along that path, some of the grain is processed into ingredients for human food, while most of it goes to animal feed. 




Along this complex, but highly efficient path, there is so much mixing (“co-mingling” in grain-speak) that a question like, “did this come from a GMO or non-GMO field,” is impossible to answer.  In all those steps, keeping GMO and non-GMO grain separate is inefficient (e.g. different harvesting equipment, partially filled trucks, dedicated bins, paperwork…).  That makes it costly.  It would also be very difficult to prevent a little bit of onetype of grain out of the other because a little can be left behind in a harvester, truck, bin, etc.  In theindustry that is known as “adventitious presence.”

The 0.5% threshold specified in the legal text of prop 37 would be highly problematic from a practical point of view. Considering that biotech traits are used in a very large percentages of the soybean, corn, canola and sugar beet crops, it makes much more sense to allow something that has been expensively segregated to be labeled “non-GMO,”as is already the case. 

2.    This initiative would create a field day for lawyers.  If this initiative is passed, anyone who wants to can take acompany to court if they think they are selling unlabeled GMO foods.  They don’t need to go to any governmentagency with oversight  - just straight to court.  There don’t have to be any damages in question.  The courts are also allowed to award the accusing party compensation for courtcosts and for the costs of investigating the food in the first place.  Given the practical challenges described above, this initiative would create a thriving litigation industry for exactly the kind of lawyers who wrote this proposition in the first place.

3.    This initiative would effectively restrict the use of the marketing term, “natural.”
Any foods which are even minimally processed (e.g. milling of wheat to make flour) cannot be marketed as “natural” under this potential law unless they are either specifically tested for GMO status or come from a highly segregated channel complete with an audit trail and sworn affidavits.  That would even be true for foods made from crops that don’t even have commercial, biotech traits.  Thus, unless a food is certified Organic (specifically exempted in this initiative), it becomes expensive and legally risky to call it “Natural.”  Arguably, the marketing term “natural” is over-used, but the answer to that isn’t to create an uneven playing field through a proposition that is promoted for a completely different reason.

4.    It will be virtually impossible to fix any unintended consequences of this law.  This initiative is designed to be difficult to change.  It says that if any part is stricken in the courts all the remaining sections are in force.  Even worse, it requires that any changes require a 2/3 majority in both houses of the legislature –something that is highly unlikely based on the extreme polarization of California politics.  If we pass this initiative, we will likely be stuck with it no matter what expected, or unanticipated problems it creates.

5.    This is another example of the California initiative system being gamed by special interests from out of state.  It is common for special interests to use the Californiainitiative system by paying people to collect signatures and then buying advertisements.  This has nothing to do with the original concept of a grass-roots, citizen-driven process.   In this case the major fundingcame from the notorious food-fear merchant, “Dr.” Mercola, and also from some of the Organic food companies that employ distorted, negative descriptions of non-Organic food topromote their products.  It was also driven by activist lawyers who stand to gain financially.  The initiative is being promoted as a common sense requirement for consumer benefit.  Common sense should actually drive California voters to follow the money.

6.    It is worth asking, “why do farmers like these crops so much?” There is a bit ofa spoiled child flavor to statements like, “hey, I’m the consumer so I shouldget any information that I want.” We who actually depend on farmers for something as non-optional as foodshould at least ask, “why are GMO crops so overwhelmingly popular with any group of farmers with who has ever been given the opportunity to grow them?”  Farmers that manage to stay in business in that risk-laden enterprise do so by making rational economic decisions.  Biotech crops are something that has made good business sense for them, and by extension, a less costly and more reliable food supply for consumers.  If this initiative has the disruptive effect on the food system that its writers are hoping, we may discover the downsides of ignoring the interests of people on whom we depend.
 If you are a scientist, you can add your name to a petition against proposition 37 that has been organized by university and foundation researchers.  Its not just industry scientists (like myself), who are opposed to prop 37.  Its people who understand the science and its benefits.


You are welcome to comment here or to email me at savage.sd@gmail.com


Credits:
Corn combine image from bohnsack
ship image from 62518797@NO4
Train image from RoyLuck
Silos image from spiesteleviv

32 comments:

  1. Hi Steve,

    I've been assuming the lack of tracing you bring up in your first point would mean that if the law passed it would simply result in every single food product carrying a "contains GMOs" label just to avoid the sorts of lawsuits you bring up in your second point. So in the end consumers wouldn't know any more than they know now (many foods _might_ contain GMOs) and might actually know less since just-to-be-safe labeling would make genetic engineering look even more common in the food supply than it actually is.

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  2. James,
    You are right - food companies may do just that because of the lawsuit risk. Some already source non-GMO just to avoid potential controversy. It will be interesting to see if they start labeling as such.

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  3. Steve,

    Great points surrounding a heated topic. I always love your logic.

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  4. I think the 0.5% adventitious mixture allowance is only until 2019. Or is there a different part you're referring to?

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  5. Rachel,
    You are right. After 2019 there is not even an exemption for 0.5%. Considering that most GMO crop-based ingredients are processed to the extent that there would be little or no DNA or Bt or modified ESPS, it is unclear how one would determine the percent. Even so, in 2019 this would go to a zero tolerance. Nice.

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  6. You don't get it. The objective is to make food more expensive. The objective of all environmental initiatives is to increase the cost of things as to lessen the standard of living. This is because the standard of living is correlated to humanity's loss of innocence.

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  7. 1) If it's hard to segregate--that's fine. You can use a mixture as long as you indicate that it may contain GMOs.

    2) Fear mongering.

    3) As it should be. GMO is not natural.

    4) Laws should be hard to undo, and you fail to mention what the possible unintended consequences would be, if any.

    5) The rest of the US is holding its breath that this passes. Smaller states like Vermont tried to pass a similar law, but had to back down from a lawsuit threat.

    6) Under the current system, farms have no choice but to join the race to the bottom in quality and cost cutting.

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    Replies
    1. Awesome!! Thanks for making the comment I wanted to say for me :)

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  8. Anon,
    I wouldn't go with your assertion that all environmental initiatives are to lessen the standard of living. There are actually a lot of Win/Win options

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  9. I don't grow GE crops, and I do very little shopping at the grocery store, so I don't encounter those foods very often. And yet, I'm very much in favor or developing biotechnologies.

    On the issue of labeling, I really don't care one way or the other. I do think this referendum will pass by a mile, given the ignorance of the general public on scientific issues and the way the issue has been framed: Big Ag versus "Das Volk."

    What if Das Volk wanted a referendum on teaching creationism over evolution in the classroom? On denying anthropogenic climate change? On eliminating vaccines?

    There's a part of me that wants this to pass because I think there's a good chance the effect could be the opposite of the one intended by Mercola & co. If these foods that contain genetically engineered products become openly known, the effect could be like gays coming out of the closet: What people come to see and know on a daily basis will lose its threat.

    Another parallel with the gradual acceptance of gays: The "unnatural" argument Anonymous mentions above (Naturalistic Fallacy) was (and often still is) one of the chief smears against homosexual rights. But "Natural" is an empty term, neither good nor bad. It is basically meaningless. Moose tracks ice cream is also unnatural.

    If the referendum passes, people will clearly see genetically engineered products being consumed by people who are healthy and who remain healthy in spite of eating them. The "monster" will be revealed as an illusion.

    Who knows: perhaps labeling GMOs will have the effect of making them popular. The backers of the referendum have not thought this through enough, I think. They might be in for a big surprise.

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    1. Michael,

      An interesting speculation. My guess is that we will get to see whether your guess is right. It may well depend on whether major food companies have the nerve to openly use products that are improved by biotechnology. "Brand Protection" is an extremely powerful motivator in the food industry, so it will be interesting to see how they react

      Steve

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  10. Californians are committed to economic seppuku. Don't get in their way!

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  11. Let cali go down the tubes. Good object lesson for the rest of the nation and the world. Give the greens and envirowackos their way and watch them self destruct.

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    1. Lol, yea keep eatting that frankenstein food anonymous, enjoy cancer! i'll take greens and good health anyday!

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  12. Patented killer crops, the American way! GMO's need to be completely outlawed period. Anyone notice the stuff going on in India with this stuff?

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    Replies
    1. Millions of Indian farmers are continuing to use the biotech-improved crop options available to them. The whole suicide issue in India related to GMO varieties has been quite well debunked. Millions of Indian farmers quite logically use Bt cotton

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  13. Mr. Savage, I just posted a link to this blog on the comments section of a friend who REALLY has his knickers in a twist over GMO's. He's currently apoplectic.

    Thanks!! If we ever meet in real life, I owe you a beer.

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  14. Not much real logic going on this article. Unless you are paid by one of the big six, it makes sense to label GMO's.

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    1. Explain why the logic is faulty. BTW I have not been paid by anyone to write this

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  15. So your reasoning is that its just a huge pain in the ass, and waste of time so we shouldn't even do it. Plus it makes growing food really easy? Ya, that's smart. You know what else is a pain in the ass? Going to work, paying your bills, brushing your teeth and taking vitamins..but guess what you do it cause it betters you! DURR. As for the farmers they been growing regular crops for a very very long time, and most of the ones i know rather not use GMO seeds. ( i live in nebraska ) But lets try it your way, shit! lets not label anything, its just pain in the ass and is some big conspiracy right? Matter of fact lets not regulate any food, then for all we know our box of raisin bran is nothing but bran, and something similar looking to raisins....*EEEW* Ya maybe not. We have to regulate, we have to make laws to make sure our food is healthy and safe, because if we don't I have no doubt in my mind that a business would feed us Rat Shit, and say its just fine..as long as they make money off of it. VOTE YES ON PROP 37

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  16. Sly gal,
    OK, I published your rant. The farmers you say you know are not very representative of those in Nebraska, or China, or India, or Brazil, or Argentina, or Australia. I'm not saying "lets not label anything." I think it is great that we finally label transfats. I wish we would label food that comes from places like China and India where they don't have the sort of regulation and food company awareness that protects us here. As for rat shit, I know of no scheme by which anyone is selling that to anyone. Do you?

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  17. 1) GMO crops should not have been railroaded thru the system by big agri-business prior to "thorough" testing.

    2) Watch "Genetic Roulette" then come back and debunk the film ... honestly.

    3) Just because someone is highly educated and experienced in a field does not mean they should be blindly trusted (Doctors used to pitched cigarettes). Highly educated people will take money to compromise the truth.

    4) see #2

    5) Large corporate interests have been known to hide the truth if it will hamper branding and the bottom line. Let's start with Big Pharma or the tbacco industry. If I started a list I would be here until 2013.

    6) see #2 again

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    1. If you want to buy the conspiracy theory fine, just eat organic food plus all the fruits or vegetables except sweet corn and papayas. Leave the rest of the food supply alone for the rest of us and don't vote in a ballot initiative written by trial lawyers for the benefit of trial lawyers

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    2. you forgot canola, potatoes, squash, soy (tofu, etc.), rice, beets, tomatoes, chicory, etc. in the list of things to not eat organic of because there exist GMO varieties that are no longer regulated by the USDA. And remember by-products of all of those food items as well. (http://www.nbiap.vt.edu/search-petition-data.aspx)

      And eucalyptus was recently approved for field testing, so add that on there too.

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    3. J.M. Otis,
      There are no longer GMO potatoes or tomatoes on the market. McDonalds effectively eliminated the potatoes out of brand paranoia. The tomatoes that were approved were not commercially successful. There is a new GMO tomato that has been developed which simply has a gene from peppers for resistance to a bacterial disease, but it isn't through the process yet. Yes, sugarbeets are GMO. Farmers almost immediately adopted those to 95% because they are so much easier to grow. I don't believe there are any GMO rice products. Never heard about chicory. When the USDA deregulates something, it is only a given "event", not the entire crop. Farmers know what they are planting and whether or not it has been modified.

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    4. Farmers know. I don't. Isn't that the entire point?

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  18. Steve,

    Delete my other post. Basically it comes down to this with me. I keep hearing "illogical", "logistical nightmare", "food costs rising" ... mostly economic reasons. What I don't hear from the "No's" on this issue is health. They can't because there has not been enough time to produce sound research. The "Yes's" say there are health concerns. Just watch "Genetic Research" and let's have experienced folks debate it. NO's vs the Yes's. Bottom line, if there are health issues, it should be paramount to any bottom line because we are talking worldwide, mankind health problems. Not some isolated issue. Plus, you know that corporations have a history of using money to get politicians to support favorable laws and college researchers/scientific experts to distort facts to favor their objectives. The public is aware of this and are tired of being blindsided. Again this is not about a product recall, its about health and this nation is drowning in poor health. They are sick and tired of the BS. They see the revolving door between big business and the USDA and FDA. They see big pharma pushing drugs out that have to have more of the TV commercial time spent on side effects. They see the AMA continuing to support protocols such as chemo and radiation which are absurd. They don't see government support for the root cause, just patches from big business. It seems the "plan" is to keep people sick enough to not die so that all these expensive bandaids can be sold. You know cradle to grave. The AMA should be pushing back and research money should be put into the root cause. It seems the AMA is more concerned about revenue than health. Speaking of logic, we are what we put in our body. The illogical part is the fix - drugs, poisoning (chemo), burning (radiation) etc. When you step back, you have to scream - WTF! doesn't anyone care. Mankind did not survive the ages on any of this, so therefore, you have to give value and you have to nurture mother nature and learn from her. GMO is an issue we need to take seriously because it is powerful enough to effect a species. We have one world, let's not f**k it up.

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  19. I'd like to see you send Congress a comment about the riders that the biotechnology companies want to pass with the farm bill, saying that they don't have to pay any attention to any law that they don't want to. For example, they wrote in their rider that neither NEPA nor the Endangered Species Act applies to them. They want an approval deadline of one year from the USDA and only the USDA, and if the deadline is missed, the crop automatically gets approved. (How many generations can you get out of a crop in one year?)

    That is, if you're serious about point no. 4 and not being able to fix any unintended consequences of a law. Only what you forgot is that it is possible to eventually fix unintended consequences of a law (in court). But, not nature's law. Once you screw with the genes, you're screwed if you made an unintended mistake. Oops.

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  20. GMO'a = In a sense playing god , these foods are un-natural, long term studys have not been done showing safety, in fact numerous 2-10 year studys done in europe are showing terrifying cancerous effects in lab animals, our youth will show this in as little as 10-20 years. BOTTOM LINE: LABEL GMO's , EUROPE AND MOST OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE LABELED / BANNED GMO's , Why is America behind on this? Multinational companies protecting their profits and paying off our lawmakers, lets get with the program, and LABEL GMOS!

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  21. I agree. Thanks.

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  22. Meet the "experts" that say GMO's are safe - http://www.appetiteforprofit.com/2012/09/12/meet-the-scientific-experts-claiming-gmo-foods-are-safe/

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