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edward long

Association of Old Crows

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Should genetically modified foods be labeled by law?

California voters will decide by Proposition 37 on the upcoming ballot if foods utilizing genetic modification technology must be labeled as such.
"Sure, why not?" seems to be the knee-jerk reaction, but perhaps more is at stake than first appears.
Prof. Jason Lusk teaches Agricultural Economics and offers the following thoughts:
"Everyone wants to know what’s in their food. That issue is not at stake. The real question is how much consumers are willing to pay. . . and whether it makes sense to force companies to provide information. If consumers really value information about the biotech content of their food, there are plenty of opportunities for enterprising farmers and food manufacturers to provide the feedstuffs consumers want. . . . there is a small but healthy market for organic foods, which do not use genetically engineered ingredients. There are many products (for example, soy milk) on the grocery shelf that carry products with labels certifying the absence of genetically engineered ingredients.
Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods advertise their private-labeled products as being made without genetically engineered ingredients. Each of these examples illustrates the free enterprise system working at its best." [ Prof. Lusk blogs at www.jasonlusk.com]
--The question for debate: Do you expect, and are you willing to pay for, mandatory clear and specific marking of foods that are produced using genetic modification technology?--

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Closing Statement from edward long

Four votes for comprehensive, exhaustive food labeling and three against. A microcosm for sure. We will see how the voters of California feel about it. There is much more to the issue than we touched on here. Perhaps other similar conversations will arise soon.Thanks for the venue TED!

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    Oct 28 2012: Yes, of course. And why should anyone pay for it? What additional cost do you see here?

    As long my cash money is perfectly labeled, stating the right amount of its 'value', I expect the same in return for all ingredients within all goods and products I can buy with it.

    Or is bying 'pigs in pokes' becoming our new role model for a honest and fair trade system? I thought we passed the dark ages already, didn't we?
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      Oct 28 2012: That's four votes for Prop. 37. People want their food honestly identified by label as to EVERYTHING in it. Thank you!
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        Oct 28 2012: I am no US citizen, so I assume my vote does not count legally, but morally it sure does... :o)
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          Oct 28 2012: Your vote counts! As to additional costs: First, researching every ingredient to determine if it has GE, or GMO content. As it is now no one knows (or cares?) exactly what is in their product. Second, packaging (labeling) costs which could change from batch-to-batch of product. Third, enforcement costs (inspection, prosecution, penalties). Fourth, manufacturing/processing costs to control and identify every ingredient. Fifth, etc. etc. Remember, every cost gets passed-on to the consumer.
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        Oct 28 2012: Ok, thank you, I now understand the cost issue. Yet my view on it is different as I put the 'pyramid' just upside down to look at it.

        If any product at the large 'top-line' was to be researched, I agree, that would be very expensive.
        And in order to avoid those expenses, the labeling got to start at the 'bottom tip' of this upside-down pyramide, namely the producer of GM and GMO seeds and crops.

        Farmers who grow those labeled crops have to tranasfer this labels the moment they sell it and they have to ensure and guarantee that mixing with non-GM crops will never take place, in case, they grow both types.

        (Whoever spent some time at a farm, may know, that this is almost impossible. And also cross-pollination is inevitable, but more on this, later...)

        This way, intermediate trade (crop-dealer) and direct sales (farmer) has to pass the lables to the processing industry by which intermediate products and final products get their lables as well.

        This 'chain reaction' of information transfer spreads bottom-up this pyramid and will finally end on any single product within this pyramid.

        Spot testing, independent and unannounced will be implemented for quality control, and any label-violation would immediately stop sales of any affected product and spawn a fearsome lawsuit.

        Now, to avoid cost explosion within the chain of production by each company safeguarding themself by expensive testing, the label guarantee and legal responsibility was transferred to the subcontractors.

        So while the spread of information by labeling goes up the pyramid, its responsibility goes down the pyramid - and this is crucial!

        This way, and at chain's end, there are just a view companies left at the bottom-tip, the GM/GMO producers, who hold the whole responsibility on what they are selling. And to me, that's were it belongs and nowhere else!

        Weighting profit against risks I am quite sure there will be no GM/GMO crops anymore, and the labeling issue renders itself obsolete.
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        Oct 28 2012: There is a lot of power in 'reversing the argumentation' and we are using it already within the pharmaceutical industry, not as effective as we could, and most likely currupt in many cases, yet better than nothing to the protection of the customers, which are nothing but people at days end...
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    Oct 27 2012: what if people would not buy a product if not accurately labeled. what if people would not buy anything from a company that was caught misrepresenting its product once. what if people actually visited homepages of products and look for information. what if people asked for these information if they don't find on the homepage.

    then we would not have this conversation.
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      Oct 28 2012: How do I know if a product was not 'accurately labeled' if it isn't labeled at all, or maybe spared some information? So consumer boycott doesn't work here.

      As there are more consumers than producers on this planet, the law of least resistance becomes obvious.

      I do not intend, and so do most people, to undertake a 360° product and company screening on the internet for three hours just to find out to rather purchase product A, B or C. This information has to be found on a product itself. Complete, standardised, readable and understandable.

      On all this packages, boxes and bags in the supermarket, big colorful letters, symbols and pictures are screaming out their brandnames to my attention. If there is space for this sort of communication, then there is space for crucial informtion too.

      And if a manufacture refuses to fully inform its customers about the product he is selling, he got to be put out of business, by law, and this immediately and irrevocably.
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        Oct 28 2012: I understand, and agree with where you are coming from, and I am for prop 37... and live in California, so I count. I would actually argue it does not go far enough, I want to know if my cows are corn or grass fed, as cows were not designed to digest corn... That said...

        Americans never thought Burger King, was feeding them healthy grass fed, drug free, genetic modification free beef... for 99 cents a quarter pound burger. We knew what was being thought up in universities, and farms, we knew it was making our food cheap, but possibly unhealthy... and we chose price over quality. People have to take responsibility for the fact that they wanted to be ignorant here.
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          Oct 28 2012: I think you be overestimating the average person's awareness. Not that they are innocent, but they do often act out of ignorance and apathy.
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          Oct 28 2012: Just what we need another/more bureaucracy in Calif. The state is bankrupt, hmm what is the most important thing to do ah let me see, oh I got it lets label food better. Give me a break.

          If beef is grass fed the producers fall all over themselves to label it as such. I know that you feel big evil business cannot be trusted with such a noble task, the reality is that no producer wants to ruin his good name with false advertising.
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          Oct 28 2012: @ pat

          And due to the fact, that 'no producer wants to ruin his good name with false advertising' this is were the dirty game begins. False statements and information, corruption, veiling of the truth, etc.

          Not anyone, pat, blindly believe and trust in big business like you do - and rightly so!
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          Oct 28 2012: A one eyed man is king in the land of the blind?
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        Oct 28 2012: how do you know anything? how do you know the government enforces the correct labeling? how do you know the testing is efficient? you jump to conclusions here. you just state that you have no idea how would one solution work, therefore the other solution must be chosen. but you don't know how would that work either.

        in reality, if there is a demand, there will be a supply. if people demand accurate, relevant and tested information, and they are willing to pay for it, someone will step up, and provide that service. indeed, quality control is old. there are many forms to it, ranging from old and trustworthy brands, to 3rd party certifiers issuing badges to courts that might order a full refund if the labeling was misleading.

        if there is a demand. but there is no.
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          Oct 28 2012: Any 'How do you know anything?' argument is recursive, can be applied to any subject without adding any value to discussions and decision making processes.

          How do we know that the surgeon who is going to perform a difficult operation on us, actually is what he or she claims to be? Is it just the white lab-coat what makes us feel convinced, or the fact, that we almost understand nothing they say if they talk in their technical vocabulary? I assume none of us ever asked a doctor to verify their abilities to us, so that upon this evidence we would finally grant our permission to be healed. And even if we would, how do we know the certificates shown are real and no spoof?

          As you may see, this sort of argument does not lead anywhere but to confusion and paralysis, as of a matter of philosophical facts, we almost know nothing for certain, etc...

          If food labelling was required by law, ONLY then it can be claimed by customers to be performed correctly by the industry under all consequences within the legal system, and it would become as efficient as all the rest of all legal issues.

          And even though we will never avoid any fraud and illegal actions, the important difference is, that it becomes legally pursuable if it gets discovered. This is what makes a crucial difference.

          If you would take a closer look into the GM food discussion arround the world, you will find a huge demand for prohibition and labelling of those products, actually the web is full of it!

          One of my favourite whistle blowers is Vandana Shiva, and she is only one of many:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi1FTCzDSck

          I do not share your 'reality', in which this 'invisible hand of demand and supply' will fix it all.In fact to me, it doesn't, it can't, as this 'invisible hand' is nothing but a myth, a believe and a denial of a complexity we happen to life in.

          GM food is no matter of quality control. It is a question of principle about risks, profits, market control and dependencies and thereby crucial.
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        Oct 28 2012: tl;dr

        be more brief
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        Oct 28 2012: so you get more than a tl;dr. if you don't want, also fine for me
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          Oct 28 2012: I see. Sorry. I didn't know that you have no interest in a conversation about your comment.
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        Oct 28 2012: not enough interested to dig myself through that very verbose comment. be straight to the point, and don't be lost in details. if you want others to follow. still waiting.
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          Oct 28 2012: Keep waiting then, as it is not on me to motivate or spark anyones interest. My points consist out of details, as in a discussion I appreciate variety over simplification.
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      Oct 28 2012: There's an opinion on the question in there somewhere, I'm sure of it. I'm counting you as the second vote for Prop. 37. Correct me if I'm wrong. Thank you!
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        Oct 28 2012: those questions are more important than the opinion stems from them.
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          Oct 28 2012: Very good sir. You are going beyond the purely ideological assessment to the actual implementation, which you feel is unlikely to be ethical and efficient. You may move across the aisle to the Against side. The vote is now 4 to 2 in favor of the proposition.
  • Oct 27 2012: Yes, the issue of labeling genetically modified foods is just one small part of the bigger problem of accurate labeling.

    I would like all food products to have clear, specific and meaningful labels.

    To start, all of the following terms should be specifically defined by the government and there should be inspections or other methods to ensure that they are used only as defined: natural, organic, modified, whole grain, whole wheat, local, atificial, preservative. I am sure there are many others terms

    Marketing people are running the corporate world and they have demonstrated that they are willing to put ANY words or images on a package that increases sales, with no regard for truth or ethics.

    Deceptive practices are a form of fraud and should be illegal.

    The juice in my refrigerator is labeled: "100% Vegetable Juice" in big bold letters followed by "from concentrate with added ingredients" in much smaller letters. This is complete nonsense. It is deceptive and should not be legal.

    It is scary that we have developed a culture where telling the people the truth is controversial.
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      Oct 28 2012: That's 1 vote for California's Prop.37. This question will probably be impossible to limit to genetically modified foods. I hear you saying you want to know EVERYTHING contained in food you buy. Thank you!
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    Oct 28 2012: I am a huge fan of accurate labeling, as I used to be very obese, and have since become a bit of a health nut. I will definatley vote fore prop 37, and wish it went further. Like Kris however, I wish it had never come to this. For over a generation business minded farmers have been choosing price, over health, and we have let them. We love to see cheap drive through food. It's a shame the free market didn't sort this out a bit better.

    The biggest problem, in my mind, is that the working class, must now fight for the wages required to buy organic healthy food, because right now, many can not. I hope proper labeling, might help lead that charge. I think very few people know where most food is coming from nowadays, and it will aggravate them, hopefully enough to nudge them just a bit harder towards whole foods and trader joes.

    Is this picking a winner and loser, and kind of underhanded... maybe, a bit... but I believe this might be one of the few instances of government authority where both the intent and outcome might actually be a good one, and relatively cheap. I actually think you should need 75% for a vote, for something that directly impacts the business community like this... I think it should have to be obvious that the intent and outcome will be good, but I'm glad we're voting on it, and I think it will pass with a hefty majority.
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      Oct 28 2012: Kind words for the government? Wow! Here's hoping the intent and outcome survive the rigors of politics. Well said sir. That's five votes for and none against. See Mr. Brown's Greenpeace link. Thank you!
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        Oct 28 2012: I agree with both comments... with the one below... I would just suggest, that since about 2000, you've almost had to "try", to remain ignorant. Our food got really cheap, and tasty, really fast. People have suspected that something was up for awhile, and they didn't really get involved... but yes, to suggest they all knew exactly what was going on, is false as well.

        I think the people are swinging into the high 60-70%'s on this in California though, and to me, that's when you're actually allowed to get government involved, when there is real concensus. I think on this issue business fell a bit behind the taste of the average Californian, and now we're kicking them in the butt to catch up. Hopefully that turns out to be the case, and it's not just another bureaucracy and loophole filled debacle.
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          Oct 28 2012: I guess it will be the FDA who gets the added power and authority to enforce new labeling laws. As bureaucracies go it could be worse. The overall impact of 100% honest and complete food labeling is colossal . This really is a big deal. I think an effective strategy to defeat the proposition would be the old scare tactic about "food costs will soar!" I wonder how the opponents of Prop. 37, whoever they are, have been advertising there in the Land of Fruits and Nuts? (strictly an agricultural reference).Thanks David.
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    Oct 28 2012: I think most labels has bar codes but i don't have a smart phone with net access, too expensive in nz for the phones and the plans, it's not worth it.

    EDIT

    Oops, I'm not a U.S citizen so i'm in like Lejan, a moral vote.
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    Oct 27 2012: If one was to label all the products, then one might want to look at this before you go ahead with it.

    http://gmoguide.greenpeace.ca/shoppers_guide.pdf
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      Oct 28 2012: Certainly a relevant link, Mr. Brown, thank you! Am I correct to count you as the third YES vote on Prop.37?
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        Oct 28 2012: That's a YES for me ED.

        It's just, I haven't looked at California's proposal but here in Nz labeling doesn't state that it's GM, instead they can say "Preservative" or "Extracts" or "Gliadin6" or "Modified starch" The Labeling can be swamped with useless small print all over it. I personally think it's a ploy to distract the eye with positive qiups for attraction experience, so when you do look at the labeling for ingredients used there isn't a long list, in fact some labels have next to nothing.

        I wonder if that proposal actually says it will enforce the words "GM" to be written on the labels?