Re: Re question on labelling genetically modified foods

From: Robert Bradbury (
Date: Fri Jan 07 2000 - 21:05:35 MST

On Fri, 7 Jan 2000, Brian D Williams wrote:

I will note that Brian's replies on this subject clearly indicate
that he is an "informed" consumer with regard to GM-foods. That
being said, I'll address a few points.

> 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.

We would have to go into a long discussion regarding ultimate
breakdown products, downstream concentrations, etc. to come to
some "concrete" conclusion regarding "nonsutainable". I will
simply grant that it is "undesirable". Since I can see a relatively
clear path to engineering food proteo-carbo-lipo-mass production
facilities that would entirely eliminate both current agricultural
production methods and "weeds", I don't think extended discussion
is worth the time.

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

My only point that as extropians, we should not throw out the baby
with the bathwater. You Brian, should be free to puruse an informed
shopping agenda. At the same time, that pursuit should not "in effect"
deny the poorest segment of the population the access to most affordable
nutritious foods that might be made available.

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

This is a point worthy of consideration (and one I've been thinking
about). Ultimately in GM crops, we would want to engineer in suicide
genes in relative proximity to any "enhancement" genes. That way if
for any reason these genes get loose in the environment and are determined
to have negative consequences we would potentially have a means for easily
eliminating them.

> 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.

You will never get an argument from me on efforts to increase and
preserve diversity. I view all agro-variety as a unique collection
of nanomachines that may have potential use. I also would concur
that the scientific evidence to date argues that "agricultural"
variety increases areal productivity. The problem that we face
(from a resource standpoint) is making this productivity useful
to us as humans. (It might be useful to cows, but cows are ~10%
as efficient as other plants in converting sunlight into useful
food sources.)

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

Well, that was discussed for a while and Monsanto finally saw
the light. I ultimately think that the rate of innovation will
get so fast that "saving seed" will become a relatively irrelevant
argument. [Economically it comes down to whether or not the
added market value for the GM crops exceeds the seed cost
relative to the value of older crops (GM or natural) derived
from "saved" seeds.] Provided the agri-business companies are
innovating fast enough (driving up the value of the crops), the
seed-saving mentality should become relatively unimportant.
> As I've already said, the paternalistic attitude of "they aren't
> smart enough to understand" is unextropian.

I don't mean to imply they aren't "smart enough", I do mean to imply
that we all draw conclusions with limited information. Most individuals
don't understand molecular biology or the human immune system. That
doesn't mean they "can't" it just means they don't currently possess
the knowledge required for that understanding. If they don't have
that knowledge, then they are *not* qualified to make an informed

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

I would argue that you may be splitting hairs. Unless you argue
that there is no benefit to the farmer (ultimately meaning no
benefit to the consumer), then what is good for agribusiness is
good for the *average* consumer. If you define yourself as a consumer
who *only* cares about nutritional content and not about price then
I would agree that is a valid concern on your part but not one that
should disallow others from making distinctions based on price.

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

If this were accompanied by a campaign by the government educating
people as to the *real* differences in GM/non-GM foods and/or a
public disclosure by "green" organizations on the true "harms" (if any)
of GM foods, I would most likely be willing to agree with you.

> 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
> there.

Actually, Russia couldn't make "industrial" agriculture work.
"Self"-agriculture works and is highly productive. My only
point was that when people see the savings/benefits provided
by GM crops, then the "green" argument starts to seem strained.
You have to realize that most "personal" farming done in Russia
is *inherently* green already. What people want is ways to increase
the productivity/nutritional benefits of such farming.

> 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
> agribusiness.

I agree, from a market standpoint, we should be promoting nutri-benifits
vs. simple production efficiencies. However in other countries the
production efficiencies may be more important than the nutri-benefits.

> >> Are they safe? Corporations have limited liability remember.
> How about Bopohl (sp?) India, thalidomide?

I'm unsure of how this finally got resolved. My general feeling
would be that individuals should have been compensated for the
harms they were exposed to. Thalidomide is a good example to
bring up. Those cases dictated much of our current drug regulatory
environment. The problem is that there are drugs that are beneficial
to minorities, that may be neutral or harmful to majorities that are
now unavailable as a result of our previous history. If you are going
to adopt "buyer beware" with regard to tobacco (I'm not sure whether
you intended this emphasis), then you must certainly extend it to
drugs as well. It raises some very interesting questions as to
the degree of "liability" a company should be exposed to, if they
have product that clearly benefits one segment of the population
while harming another segment.

> 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.

Quite possibly. Plants are at war with the bugs. What most people
do not realize is that some of those chemical weapons are carcinogenic.
Entirely "natural" plants, that have been created over the millennia
to be insect resistant are likely to contain high concentrations of
these insecticides (carcinogens).

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

Nor, am I in requiring the Greens to do full and open disclosure
with regard to the "weakness" of their arguments.

> 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.

I do not object to your right to make informed consumer decisions.
Especially because they *are* informed.

> 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.

This type of approach would be acceptable, IMO, esp with a URL
for the explanations page. Since we have now crit/counter-crit
it would be easy for the agri-business/greens to present their

While you may dislike paternalism, I would argue that many people
prefer having most of their decisions made for them. Most people
don't want to think about how pure their water is, they just want
assurances that their water is safe. Assurances always come with
some cost. Government & regulatory agencies are out to strike
a balance.


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