Re: question on labelling genetically modified foods

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Thu Jan 06 2000 - 09:57:07 MST

On Thu, Jan 06, 2000 at 01:21:48PM -0500, Robert Bradbury wrote:
> There are a number of reasons that mandatory labeling has problems.
> (a) It may be difficult or expensive to confirm that the foods are

Irrelevant. Products are traced from source, with the onus for labelling
consistency at each stage in the chain. Any batch manufacturing process
has to be able to do this, for proof of liability in event of a dispute.

> (b) We have been brainwashed by the greens to think "natural" is good,
> "unnatural" is bad.

Agreed, but this is still irrelevent to the argument about mandatory

> (c) We have a policy of labeling things for their known possible "positive"
> benefits (nutritional labeling) or known "possible harms" (fat labeling).

We also have policies on other labelling; advertising regulations,
trademark abuse, that sort of thing.

Personally, I want to see mandatory labelling of GM ingredients in foods --
so that I can seek them out. (In general they'll be cheaper, due to consumer
stigmatization, and healthier, due to corporate attempts to address their
bad reputation.)

> There is a secondary safety argument involving the possible presence
> of antibiotics in GM foods, but these are at very low levels compared
> to the probable consumption of antibiotics by the average individual
> given their presence in milk or annual prescription levels.

... Which actually makes them much _more_ dangerous, because they're
more likely to produce antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains when present
in low concentrations (as opposed to simply killing everything that comes
into contact with them).

On the other hand, better, non-antibiotic gene tracer techniques now exist,
and I expect these to be deployed rapidly.

> Yep. You have to "trust" that the process of developing and getting the
> foods approved and to market makes them "safe", just as you do now.
> Presumably anyone who develops something toxic and makes it through
> the approval process without it getting caught is going to be on the hook
> from a liability standpoint. Manufacturers have a big incentive to be
> very conservative when it comes to things like our food supply.
The trouble here is that companies are limited liability operations, and
furthermore their interests (maximize profit) differ from mine as a
consumer (stay healthy and wealthy). This means that some form of
regulation to handle this implicit conflict is inevitable. The issue
at stake is how to minimize the conflict of interest and minimize the
amount of regulation required.

Not mandating labelling for GM crops is basically going to spread FUD in
the food chain. I live in the UK, where we've weathered the BSE scare;
I don't believe you (being american) have any idea just how corrosive
a loss of public confidence in the food industry can be. Honesty in
trade is a first step towards rebuilding trust between producers and
consumers. It may not be profitable in the short term, but in the long
term the food industry can't survive and prosper without it.

-- Charlie

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