Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quote of the Day - Trust in Science edition

William Newman left a comment pointing to this marvelous article:
I think the “right to know” [labeling on Genetically Modified food] is a lot like the “show me your data and your code” wing of the climate skeptic community, and that people on the side of good science on both GMO’s and climate change should listen to it.
Releasing computer codes and data on climate does a lot to allay the fears that we’re all trying to hide something or are making things up. If our code and data is open to the public, anyone who wants to can look at it and examine it for errors. Similarly, if GMOs are safe (as I believe they are) we shouldn’t be afraid to label them.
With the climate data and code, the vast majority of people have no interest in examining it, but knowing it’s there for anyone to examine makes them trust it more and defuses a whole line of attack. Similarly, if GM food is labeled as such, I really believe that most consumers will buy it anyway and it will defuse the “what are they trying to hide” line of attack.
I think that this is bang on.  The more transparency we have, the more trust we have.  We've seen a closing down of transparency with most of the public institutions: government, the media, the scientific establishment.  We've also seen a drop in trust in these institutions.

This has actually made me think about the whole GM food issue.  There are obvious benefits to a lot of what's being proposed: plants that don't need fertilizer (or as much fertilizer), plants that are pest-resistant, etc.  On net, this will reduce the cost of food which is A Good Thing.  However, the question is who will benefit from this cost reduction.  If the savings go to the patent holder (e.g. Monsanto), then I might not really be too interested in buying these myself.  After all, while I don't think there's much risk, there may be some.  If a GM apple costs the same as a non-GM apple, then what's the point?

Which is to say that the market itself will see to the success or failure of this technology.  If there are cost benefits to consumers, then the technology will prosper.  If not, it will wither.  Feedback FTW!


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't have any problem with GM food, but some of Monsato's corporate practices are either shady or downright douchey.

Goober said...

Deadman dance- like what, for example?

Anonymous said...

The way they go after farmers who save their seed to replant the next year--like people have done since the dawn of time. I get that they have to protect their patents and whatnot, but the way they do it is, well, douchey.

Not that it means anything [citation needed], but it is somewhat telling that 3/4 of the wikipedia article is about legal and political actions against them.

Goober said...

I never understood why Monsanto going after farmers who violated their mutually agreed upon contract in protection of their patent rights is "douchey" but to each his own.

If someone agreed contractually to not steal my product and then proceeded to steal it, I'd sue their ass too.

Unknown said...

Before anything else, let me say I currently work for an agricultural company in a department that tests products for regulatory submission to the EPA/FDA. That being the case, I am probably somewhat biased, but I also have a better idea than the average person of how the process works.
Anyways, I do somewhat agree with the original premise of the post, which was that GM foods should be labeled as such. However, this should have been done about 15 years ago when the first ones came out. See, if this had been done then you would be so used to seeing the label on your products by now that it would be a non-issue. This is because some GM crop is a component of just about everything made with corn or soy these days. So almost anything that has high fructose corn syrup in it has GMO material in it. The majority of this is herbicide resistance to allow farmers to selectively kill weeds easier. So if you want to be specific, you could say that we have done the largest experiment in the world where people have been eating these things for around 15 years and there have been no confirmed cases of adverse reactions due to the inserted genes.
The other side of this is the actual testing that they make us do for all of these things. As an example, one of the other researchers here once calculated that you would have to eat 5 tons of corn to get the equivalent dose of this particular protein that they gave to a mouse to test acute toxicity of a particular protein. The mouse was just fine.
In summary, I would agree that it might be good to label foods containing GM products, but would like to see the government dial down the regulatory burden for GM food approval at the same time.