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Thursday, April 28, 2005

GE Again

Genetically Engineered crop technology is ten years old, and that ought to be a cause for celebration, according to Not PC. Personally, I don't care to celebrate. All I've seen over the years is a continual push, push, push by various interest groups and others to inflict this technology on the unsuspecting consumer.

I really don't care if people want to buy this stuff - let's loose the forces of Darwanism there. What I do care about is my ability to choose GE or not GE. I don't want to have to explain to someone about my right to choose what I put into my body. I don't want to have to tell someone I'm not a friggin' greenie. I just want to go down to the shop and know when I'm buying something, whether it's GE or not. So I can exercise my right not to buy. I don't care if you want to buy it - that's got absolutely nothing to do with what I want to buy.

Because you see, just by looking at a fruit or a vegetable there generally is no visible sign - no obvious indication that the thing has been genetically manipulated. I have to rely on information given out by the seller as to whether or not the item in question has been tampered with.

But what, you say... GE is safe because it's not found to be unsafe ... ok. Fine. It's safe, whatever you say. Go ahead and eat it. I still want to decide on my own if I want to spend my money on it, without you or some other supposed authority deciding for me. I don't want it hidden from me. I don't want someone else to take that decision out of my hands because I might [gasp!] make the wrong choice and deprive some biotech company out of their livelihood!

This subject has got me insensed enough to post the following on Not PC's blog:
There already has been a massive consumer backlash against GE overseas. I remember writing to Sanitarium in Oz a number of years ago asking if they used GE products in their products and they just sent me some sort of marketing crap about how they adhered to current food standards, etc. About a year or so later they proudly announced that they were GE free.

I personally will never buy GE food willingly. Having two children with food allergies, I'm already an avid ingredient reader. I have to make sure that there's nothing dangerous for them in anything I buy. With GE, there is a potential for dangerous food being sold under the guise of safety ie food spliced with genetics of something some people are allergic to. Like if peanuts were spliced with apples for instance, and there was no warning, my very peanut allergic son, who loves apples, could die from the the reaction.
I leave you to read the moonbat reply to this, because I then had to write again:
Brian S wrote: If what you are concerned about was a risk, it would have happened by now.

Failed attempt at logical thinking Brian S - try again. One DOES NOT EQUAL the other. Lookup up logical fallacies on the web.

No, my point does not apply generally. My children have not to date had allergic reactions out of the blue to foods they normally eat. Maybe they might in the future. That is always a risk. Pesticides to tend to affect wider populations than specific allergies do, so hopefully if that ever became an issue, it would be picked up pretty quickly by the people in the orchards getting affected first. I also know that particular pesticides are no longer in use because they have been shown to be harmful as well.

Brian S wrote: If peanut genes spliced into apples did cause a problem, the market would soon respond, labelling or no labelling.

And where would that leave my son, Brian, if he were to have an allergic reaction? Quite possibly dead. Oh, but that's ok in your book, because the market will respond. Pardon me if I don't agree on that point.

Food is what we all need to live on. No food, we die. This is not a choice about something trivial, this potentially life or death for some people. Do you get that? By being against labelling, you take away the choice from people to avoid potentially dangerous food.
What I don't get is why Libertarians are for genetically modified food. I thought the prime reason for a Libertarian's existance is freedom for the individual. Unlabelled genetically modified food takes away that freedom, that right to protect your own body from harm. Instead you have to rely on outside forces to be benign enough to not accidentally kill or main you. Their argument that genetically modified food is safe just doesn't cut it, it's still not in wide enough use to be proved without a shadow of a doubt. That's just way too anarchistist and fatalistic for me.

Posted by Lucia Maria | 4/28/2005 09:49:00 pm


Blogger reid said...

My sister has the same sentiments as you do Lucyna and if I had kids I think I would share them too.

However, I look at the GM issue like it's a tool, like no other, that has untold potential in so many areas.

I have in the past done work in the Ag Science field and have a passing understanding of the wealth engine that drives NZ. NZ as a country is first-world wealthy mostly because we have round about a few thousand scientists. These scientists however are highly trained specialists who are world leaders in various esoteric fields like aphids, clover, etc. That's what allows us to produce high quality cheaply. We export 98% of our dairy. That is, multiply all you see in the supermarket, times every supermarket in the country, times 98/100 and that's what we export on a weekly basis. That's where our wealth is. And that's just dairy.

So you can see that if we as a nation lose our scientific knowledge leadership, we are, as a nation, in big and I mean massive, trouble.

In my experience, all scientists want, is to do advanced (leading edge) research. That's what they do - that's what science is. And if they can't do it (because we have no company funds or govt funds that will give them the chance to do that), they are out of here. Just like that.

And your children and my nephews and nieces suddenly start living in a different, poorer land. You may not see it now, but if it happened tomorrow, you wouldn't see it for 10 years, and by then it is way too late to rectify.

So somehow, if we as a nation want to keep our wealth, we have to give our scientists, who I think and hope really do want to stay in this great little land of ours, a way to both play with their matches, and keep the results of their research out of the food chain. And the question is, how can we do that, cause in America, their food chain is in big trouble because Monsanto etc have really screwed it up.

4/28/2005 11:55:00 pm  
Blogger Lucyna said...

Hi Reid, you know it really wouldn't be such a big deal to me if there was more transparency with the whole GM thing, like if foods created that way had to have a code number that you could look up (maybe online) and trace their geneology. What freaks me out is the potential of not knowing what I might be eating, as you probably gathered.

4/29/2005 12:03:00 am  
Blogger Lucyna said...

BTW, funny you should mention dairy. Both my kids are allergic to dairy products.

4/29/2005 12:07:00 am  
Blogger Nick said...

Those of us with longer memories will recall the late 70s when early genetically modified organisms were under a strict protocol 'not to be let out of the laboratory'. The reason? Because it was impossible to gauge the impact of release. Then someone realised that there was a lot of oney to be made out of doing so . . . You are right in one respect: the enthusiasm for GM has nothing to do with libertarianism . . .

4/29/2005 06:26:00 am  
Blogger Kimble said...

I have no problem with the Greenies pushing organic food, that is their right. What I hate about the whole thing is how they want to take away my ability to make a decision.

I also hate how they always seem to advocate actions that cost them nothing but everyone else heaps. For example, the labelling issue. They want all GE food labelled so that people know what they are getting. I dont think it ever occured to them (and this is why i hate them soo much) that it would be simpler, less costly and more reliable to label all food that DOESNT have GE material in it. The only difference with the two options is that one will cost a hell of a lot of people time and money and the other would cost Greenies a little time and money.

Greenies are greedy bastrds and always have been. Its not "save the world", it is "Save my world" for them.

BTW, if GE food is labelled in the future I will be making an effort to live on a Frankenfoods only diet. Will it kill me faster than "normal" food is now? Probably not. Will it make me feel good doing the exact opposite of what greenies are advocating? History would indicate yes.

4/29/2005 10:01:00 am  
Blogger Bernard Woolley said...

I think it could be difficult to clearly identify GE/not-GE. After all, isn't selective breeding, which has occurred for hundreds of years in crops and animals also a form of genetic engineering? What about other forms of control such as cross-species hybridisation that don't involve direct manipulation of DNA, but uses other techniques that some may deem more acceptable.

GE is a whole spectrum of techniques, and because people will have different views on what is and what isn't acceptable, it will be very different to take a one-size-fits-all GE/non-GE approach to labelling.

4/29/2005 10:25:00 am  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

I've been busy on Not PC's site. Would love to comment here too, but life outside the blogosphere calls. Back later.

Jump over there for extra comments, and maybe later we can do a summary post covering the main points made to date on both sides!

4/29/2005 10:46:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Lucyna -

It seems to be your problem is with the right to know what is in your food rather than with GE. So I don't know why you ask "why Libertarians are for genetically modified food" rather than "why Libertarians are against the compulsory labelling of genetically modified food"? In answer to the first question, the risks of putting the dampeners on GE research far outweigh the risks of developing the technology. Bernand Wooley has given a good indication of the problems with regulating labelling. See also PC's latest post on food labelling.

4/29/2005 11:23:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Brian S. makes another good point in answering Lucyna's question "Why are Libertarians are for genetically modified food?" but let me answer the substantive question.

It's true that many libertarians (small 'l') are in favour of capitalism, technology and genetically modified food, but as a political party Libertarianz (big 'l' and an 'NZ' on the end) is neither for nor against GE.

The Libertarianz position is that the issue of GE food is not one for politicians who know nothing - who should butt out - but for scientists, consumers, farmers, manufacturers and the like; the only political issue is a legal one, that there should be laws that protect against fraudulent labelling and objectively proven damages. After that, politicians qua polticians should be silent.

I answered the particular question about legal protection some years ago here, and gave a speech some more years ago here outlining why I approve of the technology.

The Royal Commission made a similar point about the necessary legal protections in its report, specifically in its discussion of common law.

In fact, the Royal Commission went much further than this: "Technology is integral to the advancement of the world," they said. "Fire, the wheel, steam power, electricity, radio transmission, air and space travel, nuclear power, the microchip, DNA: the human race has ever been on the cusp of innovation. Currently, biotechnology is the new frontier. Continuation of research is critical to New Zealand's future."

Not my words, or those of Ayn Rand, but those of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, which I would be proud to have written. The Commission adds, "As in the past we should go forward but with care."

And as Lindsay Perigo clarified at the time: "The only "care" that needs to be exercised here is that at no stage are the rights to life, liberty & property violated. Otherwise, I say to the geneticists, tamper away - from your work will come more & better food, new medicines, & the unlocking of more of life's secrets. I hope you make bucket-loads of money from it."

4/29/2005 12:32:00 pm  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

As in the past we should go forward with care"

Agreed. Pity it is often hollow words.

I am for GE. Great stuff. Good potential benefits. Etc. Etc. But we need to go forward with care.

As in the past, leaded petrol was a great technical advancement, but we did not go forward with care.

Smoking was considered healthy but we did not go forward with care.

CFCs solved a problem but we did not go forward with care.

A European Rabbit virus helped control rabbits, but scientists were uncertain of any side-effects on the unique Australian fauna. But we did not go forward with care.

Lets do GE. But I haven't heard from enough sources to be sure we are going forward with care.

So this comes back to my point information is critical on issues like this that have no ability to wind back the clock.

Let's go for GE and reap the benefits, but let's ensure information flow and a person's right to decide for themselves if they want to eat certain types of foods.

I'm not seeing that here. I'm seeing stonewalling and a bunch of people arguing that its too much trouble to know where and what goes into food, and because its all good and profitable it will all work out OK.

Yet, in the case of food poisioning we can trace food back to batches within ingrediants.

The current GE acceptance strategy seems to be more a campaign to be allowed to HIDE information. To put up barriers to explain why they do not need to bother, why it's not really an issue, why it is really all OK.

Perhaps an acceptable first step is to clarify how keen people are for this. If free choice is as important as progress...

I agree with Bernard W. We also need to provide tighter definitions of the different types of GE modifications going on. It's a broad area, and some research and GE mods are not a big deal. Others are.

How about we start labelling things: New Improved with EXTRA GE modifications. Because you asked for it, we've modified it. Glow in the dark cereal allows you to eat breakfast in the middle of the night.

4/29/2005 05:32:00 pm  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Here is a good review which summarises some of the issues raised in the book Seeds of Deception.

Review of Seeds of Deception

What could go wrong?

Free information exchange, and then let people decide for themselves. That's not too much to ask.

Organisations with vested interests are doing their best to make that choice impossible.

Doesn't that get you just a wee bit annoyed, or like the Nanny State, do you believe in Nanny Corp?

4/29/2005 06:06:00 pm  

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