Yesterday I wrote a Hyppo and Critter about a ballot initiative in The Great State of Washington. (See the clickable inset image top right.) I wish to elaborate.
According to the official ballot measure summary:
This measure would require foods produced entirely or partly with genetic engineering, as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale in Washington, beginning in July 2015. The labeling requirement would apply generally to raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, and seeds and seed stock, with some exceptions, but would not require that specific genetically-engineered ingredients be identified. The measure would authorize state enforcement and civil penalties, and allow private enforcement actions.
The Washington legislature failed to act on this item, so it will be presented to voters on the November 5, 2013 general election ballot.
Let them eat yellowcake! But let no force in the universe require us to tell them what we used as ingredients. (Hint: It rhymes with spit.)
–Yellowcake Producers of Abyss Hidden Crevice Ranch
I live in Portland, Oregon, so I’m a poor son of a bitch getting blasted by big money advertising in regards to this issue. That’s how it pierced my filter bubble. But more on that later.
We common folk tend to think of the United States of America as a “democracy.” But technically it’s not. It’s a “republic.” Does that confuse you? Try to think back to the words of the Pledge of Allegiance which you repeated by rote about 2,400 times during your schoolin’.
… to the Republic for which it stands …
So, what’s a republic? It means powers of government are reserved to the public as opposed to private entities like royalty or dictators. But, more specifically, the United States is a representative democracy. Under this system the public does not generally have direct access to governance. Those functions are normally performed by representatives elected by the public.
Another word for public is “mob.” Ex: “Things would quickly go to shit if we had mob rule.” Thus, theoretically, the representative process is somehow assumed to be better.
The initiative process is an end-around those elected representatives. It’s a method of the public having direct say in the legislative process. It cuts out the middleman, like Congress, which currently has a reported approval rating of about five percent. Hell, I think even I can do better than that. Fools.
The initiative process can exist at the city and state level. Amazingly, it does not exist in all cities nor in all states.
Fun Abyss Fact
Only 24 states (and the District of Columbia) currently support the citizen initiative process.
One thing the framers of our system of government left out? Yep, the initiative process at the Federal level.
Fun Abyss Fact
There is no citizen initiative process at the Federal level. None. Goose egg. Zip. Nada. Bupkis.
Think it’s a good idea to force Congress to participate in the same health plan as the people they govern? Do you think they are paid too much? Would term limits or campaign finance reform be a good idea? By definition none of them would ever in good conscience (oxymoron) vote on such things due to an immense conflict of interest.
If there was such a thing as a Federal citizen’s initiative process, though, perhaps the people of this great nation might have the gumption and the political will to get ‘r done. Ya think? How’s that five percent approval rating working out for ya?
How might things be different if we citizens had something like that at our disposal? Sure, it would be perverted by corporations, big money and special interests, but it still might be possible accomplish something that Congress never would.
There is an actual effort underway to establish a national initiative. It’s a grand idea. The only problem? It would have to be approved by Congress. Game over.
Abyss Fun Fact*
They are currently working on a potato that will also grow round patty-shaped beef-based animal protein. When the fully mature plant is microwaved it will result in a hamburger and french fries, ready for condiment assembly and bunning for fast, efficient presentation to the customer. They’ll cost about one penny each and will be sold for $2.99. That’s a real time saver!
*This one time the fun fact is based on my fertile imagination.
So how is the initiative process working in Washington with our old friend I-522?
According to the TV commercials a woman who is a farmer strongly opposes I-522. She repeats all of the standard talking points. But my take? “I think it’ll cost us money so we hates it.” Yup, yup. That’s politics.
Who supports I-522? Food activists, food co-ops, natural stores like Whole Foods Market, the Organic Consumers Association (who have called for a boycott of Safeway stores), and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps (largest single donor). (Source: Wikipedia.)
Who opposes I-522? Large chemical corporations, Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, Northwest Food Processors, Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the Washington State Farm Bureau. (Source: Wikipedia.)
Public records of initiative donations are listed at the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission website. The largest contributors so far are Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer with $4.6 and $3.2 million in opposition, approaching the previous state record against a state-wide initiative. Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps is the largest single contributor in support, with a total of $1.5 million.
Reportedly most of the money donated regarding I-522 is the dreaded “out of state” variety.
Monsanto works on many fronts to oppose food labeling laws. No big secret there. Hell, it almost seems like they’d oppose a label that said, “This is food.” (I think their lawyers advised them they can’t use that phrase.) Reportedly they hope to achieve a worldwide ban on GMO labeling via something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But that’s a whole other can of genetically engineered super worms.
It makes me wonder. If Monsanto is so opposed to labeling, why might that be? Using logical deduction I reason: Because we might not like what they’d say?
What are the other arguments against I-522?
- “Costly.” How? For foods already labeled you add a bit of text. For foods not currently labeled, you add a label and pass the cost on to the consumer.
- “Misleading.” Does the food contain GMO? This seems to be knowable information. It’s binary. True/false. I agree the meaning of GMO must be defined. Pick a definition, just like we do for organic, fat free, etc. and stick with it. Create a standard and tell the truth.
- “First of it’s kind.” Irrelevant. By this logic humans wouldn’t do anything. Ever. This is a logical fallacy red herring.
- “Requires special relabeling.” No, the law doesn’t. It merely requires certain labels in the state of Washington. There is no requirement that food producers use one label in Washington and different labels everywhere else. This decision is left up to the food producer. They could, for example, easily one-size-fits-all labeling and solve all organizational problems in one fell swoop. There is nothing in the initiative that prevents this. The fact that they don’t like it does not constitute a “requirement.”
- “Sworn statements.” Just tell the truth and you’ll have no problems.
- “Confusing.” No system is perfect. But that doesn’t mean you do nothing at all. Create a standard, even if imperfect. It’s better than nothing.
We need to be nice to our farmers. After all, they make our food and that’s important. We want them to be profitable. To that end perhaps a discussion about big farming corporations would be more suitable? Anyway, an initiative like I-522 isn’t about punishing farmers or increasing their costs. It’s about human beings having a basic right to know what is in their food.
Labeling laws in our country are already so weak as to be practically meaningless. If you want to turn your stomach look up a list of things food producers are allow to glom together under the heading “natural flavors.” (Hint: I flush natural flavors almost every day of my life.)
The truth is that telling the truth about what is in food won’t actually kill anyone. It will, perhaps for the first time in centuries, allow people to know what they are putting in their mouths.
I would so vote for you.
And I would tirelessly fight day and night to look out for you. That’s exactly why I’m so dangerous.
Public referenda posits that the public is actually informed enough — and smart enough — to make a reasonable decision.
I’m afraid I’m with Monsanto on the GMO labeling. It’s the tree-hugger “All Giant Businesses Are Always Evil”** mantra, backed by fear (usually used by the GOP more effectively) with really no data to support it.
**except for Google, and Apple, and Starbucks because we like their stuff.
The public referenda standard is so high that, I think, it minimizes the mob mentality. Just minimize, though. Mistakes are still possible. In general I think it’s a good thing, especially when it comes to actions that are needed but will never be acted upon by the ruling elite.
I’d accept “all giant businesses are always evil” as an axiom. It’s a self-evident kind of thing. It happens at the exact moment that any entity puts self-interest above things like the public good and truth. In theory, companies exist to service a need. Free markets and all that claptrap. But in practice they grow beyond that function rather quickly.
You know me to be a fan of science. It may be that the TomTato is the savior of humanity and delays our eventual conversion to the insect-based diet. I, for one, am not looking forward to our insect overlords on my dinner plate.
On the other hand, there are two points I find a little disturbing about the Monsanto delivery system for GMO. (Key elements I forgot to include in my article, of course.)
First, do people have a right to know what they are eating? Regardless of science or safety, do they have that right? Some people choose not to eat meat. Do they have a right to know if a food product contains meat? Dairy? Eggs? Rodentia feces? Natural flavors? Beaver anus?
What, if any, labeling do companies like Monsanto support? If the answer is “none” I have a problem with that.
In some cases, like peanut allergies, not knowing what’s in your food can literally kill you, like what happened to a young girl at a carnival who asked if the carmel apple had peanuts. The minimum wage employee hired by the vendor who didn’t give a shit mistakenly replied “no,” when in fact the food had been prepared in an area that contained peanuts. That was enough to kill the little girl.
Are GMO allergies possible? Is the food really safe for human consumption? Is the product backed by sound science? Monsanto says yes. Are they being honest or are they, perhaps, subject to a profit motive? There have been GMO studies on lab rats but not humans. Meanwhile all of the people in the United States are already consuming GMO foods.
Secondly, GMO foods admittedly have not been tested as safe for humans.
My emphasis added:
No one is saying outlaw GMO. All that’s being asked is a label. Consumers are supposed to choose wisely. They can’t choose at all without information. That’s something that companies like Monsanto oppose with every fiber (heh) of their being. I guess it’s not in their DNA.
I do agree to the distinction between whether GMO foods are safe and Monsanto’s motivations — absolutely. They’re out to maximize profits — perhaps at whatever costs — but that doesn’t always mean that they’re incorrect.
I thought that this essay (and the accompanying referenced article) by Scientific American lays out the pros and cons of labeling pretty well
Thanks! I look forward to reading it. I mean, it would be creepy if I agreed with you about everything, right? Except that cats rule and dogs drool. 🙂
I read the article. I’m trying to remain openminded. I have a few thoughts on what I read.
First, it is very true that humans have been crossbreeding plants and animals for a long, long time. There have been many benefits. I would point out, though, that there is a big difference between taking advantage of what is naturally possible vs. making direct changes in DNA. It seems logical to assume the latter has greater risk of something going wrong. (Although this may not be true. I’m reasoning with my gut.)
Second, it’s possible that consumers can infer GMO choice with existing laws. By limiting their consumption to foods certified as “100% organic” they can be fairly certain the food does not contain GMO. This is a law at the federal level in the United States. However, tiny loopholes and errors are possible. This can happen due to contamination or by human engineering, like lobbying and pressure brought to bear. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) makes decisions about what is considered organic or not. Those are human-level standards. Not necessarily scientific ones.
Also, the organic certification is about the process of food, not what’s actually in it. There is no testing done to ensure that organic foods actually meet any kinds of organic standards.
Third, the article seems afraid of the free market because they don’t like the outcome. Namely that in European countries there is very little GMO because the public doesn’t want GMO. That hardly seems like a valid argument to me.
The article does tout a lot of benefits of GMO, no doubt most of which is valid. But if the public doesn’t want if, even if due to a false “stigma,” isn’t that the way the GMO cookie crumbles?
It seems to me that people have a basic right to know what is in their food. Ultimately there are only two choices. Provide all of your own food or include in your diet food where the contents and methods are unverifiable and outside of your direct control. The former option is, of course, unachievable to 99.99999999% of the people on Earth (my estimate). And even if you were one of the latter and were totally self-sufficient, it would likely still be out of your hands due to factors like pollution. We are constantly reminded, “It’s not safe to eat these fish from the river. It’s not safe to eat from this section of the ocean.”
Maybe eating from someone else’s food chain won’t kill me (and may actually have some benefits) but one thing history has repeatedly proven is that people are willing to play fast and loose when deciding what is acceptable for people other than themselves.
Thanks for the link!