Re question on labelling genetically modified foods

From: Brian D Williams (
Date: Fri Jan 07 2000 - 08:26:45 MST

From: Robert Bradbury <>

>>On Thu, 6 Jan 2000, Brian D Williams wrote:

>> Having read the same article, I have the same questions. There
>>are two basic kinds of GM foods, those that are created to
>>enhance nutrition (micronutrient rice) and benefit consumers
>>directly, and those designed to rake in profits for agribusiness
>>by dumping huge quantities of pesticides into the environment.
>>(roundup soybeans)

>Actually, that isn't quite right. Roundup is a herbicide, not a
>pesticide. The engineering is to add an enzyme that makes the
>plants roundup tolerant so you can kill the weeds using roundup
>(a standard strategy with crops that are "naturally" roundup

>Fundamentally this is being done to increase yield (allowing the
>food crops to grow at the expense of the weeds). If it didn't
>benefit the farmers (and indirectly the consumers) through
>higher yields (= lower prices), then they wouldn't sell any
>of the seed now would they?

Robert is correct, Roundup is an herbicide, a very effective one.
It kill virtually all weeds, and all grasses as well.

My concern is about runoff, especially with the increased use of
Roundup such crops allow.

This kind of agriculture is nonsustainable in the long run.

>The last time I went shopping and looked at milk, the "organic"
>milk was costing 1.5-2x the regular milk. Those kind of price
>differentials make a big difference to people around the poverty

>Here is an exercise for those of you who want to put your
>extropianism into practice -- go to the grocery store and
>really *study* what the price differentials are for "organic"
>foods, then compute the difference in your food budget based
>on going organic, then figure out what fraction of the population
>is simply unable to afford that.

I shop organic all the time, yes it is more expensive, and you may
need to change your lifestyle to afford the best.

>Now, makeup an argument that would justify having poor people
>eat "sub-standard" food, if in fact that were really the case!
>The problem with labeling is that it is creating the impression
>that there are real qualitative differences between GM and non-GM
>food, ignoring the huge amount of plant breeding that has been
>done for millennia that has effectively "engineered" most of
>the food supply we now have.

I never said GM food was substandard, or even bad. I'm sure you are
well aware that talented gengineers (C) like yourself can insert
genes into plants that no amount of crossbreeding could accomplish.

Crossbreeding involves co-evolution in an ecosystem, which adds
considerable checks and balance to the new forms.

>The entire trend in agriculture is to produce more food at a lower
>cost. Inherent in that process, the producers at the margin
>are going to get squeezed. Their approach to that problem is to
>attempt to create a new "organic" market that they want to extend
>into a "natural" (unengineered) market, so they can produce
>at higher costs and still compete. Its like Pepsi asking the
>government to put a warning on Coke-a-Cola products -- "Warning
>this product may cause indigestion". Whether or not Coke
>does that, the net effect will be to drive Coke drinkers to Pepsi.

Actually that's only one trend, the agribusiness trend. There is a
whole foods other trend, including heirloom gardening, urban
gardening, market gardening, etc. New seed companies like "Seeds of
Change" are not only saving lost varieties but producing new
varieties that open pollinate. The goal is more nutrition per acre
rather than simply more crop.

Your agribusiness companies have made it a crime for farmers to try
and save seed.....

>Its unextropian because its a marketing ploy, not a rational
>scientific discussion. I will freely admit that the anti-GM
>food people do have some legitimate complaints (e.g. antibiotics
>in the food), but they are stretching the arguments to the
>breaking point. If you read between the lines, it is *no*
>GM-food, *no* pesticides, *no* herbicides, and while we are at it
>lets get rid of the "green" revolution (since those crops don't
>work without high fertilizer levels), then don't even think
>about going to your nice programming job today because you've
>got to turn over a couple of hundred square meters of dirt
>in your back yard so you can plant your crops so you have
>something to eat this winter. Oh, and the millions of people that
>starve to death on our "back to nature" drive, well heck, they're
>just road-kill.

As I've already said, the paternalistic attitude of "they aren't
smart enough to understand" is unextropian.

You are correct, some of those who are against GM crops have these

I separate GM foods into those that are good for me, and those that
are good for agribusiness.

I still want all foods labeled, so I can make the decision.

>Most of the people on this list are sitting in nice suburbs or
>cities in the U.S., Europe, Australia, etc. and don't have a
>clue what agriculture is like at the margins. I'm sitting in
>Russia and almost every Russian I know *has* to grow food at their
>Dacha (country house) if they expect to survive above the
>poverty level. It is wonderful when those of us who are
>successful enough can grow our own food as a hobby or because
>we don't like the taste of mass-produced agriproducts (Russian
>Dacha-grown tomatoes are much better than U.S. mass-produced!),
>but it is quite different if you *have* to grow that food in order
>to simply survive. You show the people here a GM-food that has
>better nutrition (improving their health) or can tolerate the
>application of a relatively inexpensive, moderately safe herbicide
>(reducing their labor) and you will have them lined up in queues
>to purchase your product (if it is available cheaply enough).

I live in an apartment, and grow herbs and a few select vegetables
on my window sills just to remind me of the real effort and costs

Russia couldn't even make conventional agriculture work, so I have
my doubts about any miracle GM cure. Anyway if people want to buy
GM foods I say fine. I just want them labeled so I know what in

>>It easy to understand why agribusiness opposes mandatory
>>labeling, their products will be unpopular with consumers any
>>fail economically.

>Precisely, but you don't explain *why* those products will fail.
>They will fail because of public "perception" manufactured by
>the environmentalists that these foods are unsafe or harmful.
>Since there isn't very much evidence for that, it would be
>unextropian (irrational) to support practices that promote mass

Your back to the "people are to stupid to understand" paternalism
argument again.

I want to be able to separate GM foods created for enhanced
nutrition from those designed merely to make the most money for

>> Are they safe? Corporations have limited liability remember.

>Huh? Tell that to Dow-Corning. I haven't researched it
>completely, but my impression is that the scientific evidence
>found silicone breast implants harmless and they still lost a big
>chunk of the company. What happened to all of the asbestos
>manufacturing companies? (Even though they didn't know they were
>producing a harmful product until dozens of years later.) And let
>us not forget the tobacco manufacturers. I will grant that in
>some cases it may be difficult to prove "liability", but it does
>seem to me that the legal system is getting better in this
>regard. Its going to be quite interesting to see if the
>"limited liability" claims of closed-source software vendors
>hold up in the long run.

I don't believe silicon breast implants are harmful, and god help
anyone suing a tobacco company if I'm on the jury.

How about Bopohl (sp?) India, thalidomide?

>>Given the situation, why is this un-extropian?
> Nothing un-extropian that I can see, the paternalistic attitude
> that "We know better than you" is un-extropian.
>If that were the problem, I would agree, but I don't think it is.
>The problem is the sales job that has been done on John Q. Public
>that if "green" is good, "more green" is better. Unfortunately
>things like the Delaney clause (regulating the exposure to
>substances that might cause cancer) and the "public's impression"
>is that of "zero tolerance". The problem is that to get toxins,
>carcinogens, etc. to the level of "zero", when our detection
>capabilities are now up in the parts-per-billion level, means
>that our food, water, etc. will get very expensive. Its
>unscientific because you have 30+ genes in your liver designed
>to do nothing but get rid of toxins *normally* found in your
>diet (now-a-days they do more work metabolizing drugs).
>So long as you do not exceed the detoxification capacity of
>those genes, you probably have minimal health effects.

If I remember correctly Dr Bruce Ames said as much as 20% of the
weight of a fruit or vegetable are plant derived toxins. Plants
fight biological warfare.

I'm not for letting agribusiness off the hook on advertising by not
labeling their products.

Like I've said I don't like the idea of Roundup soybeans, and like
a good little capitalist, I want to know products that contain it
so I can vote against them by not purchasing them.

>The two greatest "controllable" health risks experienced by the
>average individual are tobacco smoke and alcohol. Everything
>else is orders of magnitude less significant. If the greens
>were really concerned about improving health they would start
>with those substances. Since they aren't, we should assume
>there is some amount of "religious faith" involved in their
>approach and listen quite carefully when they lobby for changes
>in labeling under the disguise of "free speech".

I have never been able to justify alcohol from an extropian
standpoint and in fact quit 5 months to the day from using it.

There are many types of greens, including the latest, Bruce
Sterling's Viridians.

>As I mentioned before, I am *not* against complete information
>being available to the consumer. It should be available more
>along the lines of "drug" information, where presumably you have
>a qualified professional (e.g. nurse, physician, etc.) who can
>explain to you the terms, risks, benefits, side effects, etc. In
>that situation the marketing tactics of the
>"environmentalist"/"green"/"natural" camp would be clear for all
>to see.

I favor a very simple additional to the contents, like "contains GM
(37) soybeans." (37 being a made up number for Roundup) BHT,BHA,
used muffler cores, clove cigarette butts, uranium mine tailings
and Natural sea salt..... ;)

The consumer could look up the appropriate info on their own.

I oppose leaving it up to experts or any other form of paternalism.


Member, Extropy Institute,
Adler Planetarium
Life Extension Foundation,
National Rifle Association,, 1.800.672.3888
Mars Society,
Ameritech Data Center Chicago, IL, Local 134 I.B.E.W

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