Re: Health risks

Robert J. Bradbury (
Tue, 24 Aug 1999 12:49:33 -0700 (PDT)

On Tue, 24 Aug 1999, Brian D Williams wrote:

> I trust agribusiness as much as I trust bill clinton.

I'd probably trust agribusiness more. You probably have a better chance of winning a suit against them if they kill somebody or cause significant damage.

> Lets simply require labels indicating genetically engineered
> content and let the consumer decide. (something agribusiness
> opposes)

I *will* agree that the agribusiness suit *against* a farm or business labeling their product as "organic", non-hormone enhanced, etc. was pretty stupid. But I also suspect that *requiring* labels that the consumer is ill-qualified to interpret may be just as bad. [To give *full* disclosure would require that every food product you buy come with a little booklet like prescription drugs do.]

Do you want you computer monitor to come labeled with warning -- !!!DEVICE PRODUCES X-RAYS AND HAS HIGH-STRENGTH MAGNETIC FIELDS!!! what are your children going to think of that (even if you know the risks are low)?
Daddy, are X-rays dangerous?
Yes, sun, they cause mutations that can kill you. Daddy, then shouldn't I not use the computer monitor? No, son, its been certified to be safe. Daddy, then why is there the big warning label on the monitor? ...


Come on. Here is what works -- you certify consumers (by exam) to be able to interpret or not interpret correctly the contents of labels of varying complexity. If you can *prove* you understand what the label says you can buy the product, if you can't prove you can understand it, you get the product labeled at the level you can understand. Most likely the immigrant fresh off the boat buys the can that says simply "BEANS" in 47 languages.

So, someone who proves they can understand the statistics of dose-response relationships, and a variety of other factors involving human physiology, medicine, genetics, etc. can buy the products that say:
"This product contains/does-not-contain growth hormone"

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Its like giving a child a g*n, if they aren't trained and/or supervised they could end up hurting themselves with it.

> A few years ago Dennis Miller made a good bit out of one of the
> first controversies (strawberries as I recall) showing a picture of
> the field and a man dressed head to toe in a protection suit.
> "Maybe I'd have a little more trust if they didn't dress like they
> worked for waste management!"
I don't recall it, but it sounds like a cheap shot. I would bet they dressed that way to keep from tracking foreign pollen into the crop. Or it might have been very early on in the trials when they were still unsure of the safety. You might recall the early debates about genetic engineering (mid-'70s). Many people thought it was very dangerous and should be stopped. They came up with some sensible systems for classifying the levels of danger (P1-P4 containment) and now you have high school kids doing gene transfer experiements.

> I agree, lets require truth in label laws for genetically
> engineered content and let the consumer decide.
I'll have to agree to disagree. Whether we are arguing product labels or education (such as giving people belief systems that explain "evil" and have magical fantasy places where everything is nice (and boring)); you should not give people information that they are not qualified to adequately judge. Wait until someone is 18 (or maybe even older), then give them all the religious systems in the world and let them pick one.

With regard to technical scientific discussions I would say that the people should trust the scientists to weigh the evidence and make reasonable recomendations. The problem with the Ag-Bio debate (unlike the early genetic engineering discussions or even say the nuclear armament discussions, is that it doesn't appear to me that there are many qualified scientists on the side of the luddites).

Now, if you want that system to work, you have to make sure that the government is aware of the problem, is watching the industry to make sure they aren't sneaking a fast one by us, has the authority to regulate things reasonably (something they can't seem to get right on the internet), and has methods for enforcement, etc.

I'm *not* sure whether this is true with Ag-bio because I don't know it well enough. I would say they seem to be reasonably prudent in producing, testing and introducing things and the government seems to be watching them to some degree. Any complaints that the industry is acting in its self-interest (in engineering sterile seeds, producing herbicide resistant plants, patents, etc.) can only be fixed in a capitalistic system (assuming government regulation is undesirable) by the introduction of competition (e.g. the production of fertile seeds) from organizations with the interests of the population as a whole in mind (e.g. non-profit foundations *or* the government itself).