Debate Forum, 12/4

Debate Forum, 12/4

Should there be a law requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled?

Last month in California, a statewide ballot initiative to label genetically engineered food known as Proposition 37 was defeated on Election Day. The initiative was defeated by voters statewide 53 percent to 47 percent.

Those voters who opposed Proposition 37 were worried that passage of the initiative would put family farmers in California at a competitive disadvantage. Supporters of Proposition 37 said Wednesday that efforts to require labels on genetically modified foods are now shifting to other states. Signature gathering is under way for a similar ballot initiative in the state of Washington in November 2013. There are also legislative efforts to require labeling of these modified foods in Connecticut and Vermont. A petition effort is also under way to get the Food and Drug Administration to take up the issue of labeling.

This ballot initiative was really a proxy fight between environmentalists who worry about the safety of genetically altered foods and the huge agribusiness concerns like Monsanto and DuPont who stand to make billions of dollars from the development of agricultural biotechnology. Proponents of this developing science agree that there are billions of dollars to be made by these huge agribusinesses, but argue that world hunger can be cured in the process.

Agricultural biotechnology uses genetic engineering to enhance the output and value of many agricultural products. Environmentalists argue that agricultural biotechnology poses too many risks to human health and the environment and that its use should be sharply curtailed, or even banned altogether. However, some scientists from around the world dismiss these objections as unfounded.

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Just as food labels indicate organic ingredients where applicable, should food labels also be required to document when ingredients or the entire food product itself originated from a genetically engineered plant or animal?

How to turn opportunity into adversity

 By Ben Tomkins

I wholeheartedly support the idea that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should have some kind of an identifying label, but unfortunately the writers of California’s Prop 37 used a shotgun instead of a dart to hit the bull’s-eye.

GMOs are both a boon and a burden on a planet with increasing human population and decreasing biodiversity. As a result, the content contrast between the grocery store and the fast food chain has never been wider.

McDonald’s, for instance, produces their burger patties exclusively from feedlot cows, and frankly, they wouldn’t be able to do it any other way. The same goes for eggs. McDonald’s is the number one egg purchaser in the entire world, and those eggs don’t come from Uncle Bob’s backyard chicken coop. (By the way, advertising that your chickens are “all vegetarian fed” isn’t a good thing. Chickens eat grubs and bugs. It’s BS that appeals to hippies with “all vegetarian fed” brain cells.)

I’ve seen where these burgers and eggs come from, and not just on YouTube. There is a feedlot between Denver and the Kansas border next to I-70 that’s enough to make you puke, cry and then puke again. It’s horrible. It’s an endless sea of cows standing shoulder-to-shoulder in what looks like a diorama of Verdun composed entirely of feces, jacked full of antibiotics to keep them alive and almost all of them are bound for the inside of an environmentally-friendly cardboard Big Mac box because the old styrofoam ones were just awful on Mother Nature.

This place is so gross it literally forecasts the weather. If you can smell it in Denver, it means the wind patterns have changed and it’s going to snow. That is not a joke.

So that’s bad in my mind, but I can also see the upside of GMOs. I happen to have the most organic apple trees on the planet in my backyard and virtually every single one of them has a worm inside. My apple juice is not getting an “all vegetarian fed” label any time soon.

For me, GMOs are about picking the ethically rigorous question to answer when one creates them. If your business model is to use genetic engineering to create beak-less chickens, I’m probably going to hate you. However, if you invented the cow that pumps out hypoallergenic milk, then hey – high five to you.

Besides, a little sticker that says GMO doesn’t stigmatize anything. Rather, it invites one to do a little research and find out if one is supporting the hypoallergenic cow or Monsanto, which rigorously prosecutes organic farmers who accidentally end up with proprietary Monsanto GMOs whose pollen inadvertently blows onto their field.

Oh yeah, that’s by far the biggest reason people hate GMO companies like Monsanto. It’s not the GMOs themselves so much as the litigation against small organic farmers who accidentally infringe on their patents. Seriously, mention GMO to granola-man and you get a conversation. Then say “Monsanto” and see what happens.

And that – I’m very sorry to say – is where Prop 37 takes it on the chin. It is a perfectly wonderful idea that overreaches to an untenable legal degree. Under “Labeling of genetically engineered food – Exemptions,” section (b) reads:

A raw agricultural commodity or food derived therefrom that has been grown, raised, or produced without the knowing and intentional use of genetically engineered seed or food. 

Yeesh. What a nightmare. I dislike Monsanto as much as the next guy, but the addition of that one stupid section would create a proprietary ownership battle that would cause more legal gastrointestinal distress than Agent Orange. It’s a real shame, too, because if they could have just compartmentalized and let their activism unfold in due time, they might have actually achieved something. Instead, it tweaked all the farmers in California who use GMOs.

And that, my friends, is why nobody likes hippies. Their quasi-religious, over-zealous self-righteousness doesn’t allow them to operate moderately for long-term gains and it ruins everything for the rest of us. Thanks guys.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Let them eat “genetically engineered food”

by Rob Scott

Food is always a controversial topic in our society and has been for some time. The quality of food and the safety of our food are critical to the health of humans.

Many have died due to food poisoning, disease and other infections transferred through food. Within the last 100 years, there have been major strides in food regulation, specifically the contents, safety and labeling. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Food and Drug Act in 1906, creating the precursor to Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to regulate safety standards for food and drugs in the United States.

The law prevented the interstate transport of food that had been “adulterated.” Also, the act required that food be examined for adulteration and misbranding. Immediately, the law was used to go after manufacturers who added chemicals to their foods due to the detrimental effect on those who consumed them.

Since the recent defeat of California’s Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would have required labels on any genetically engineered food, there has been discussion about the food labeling double standard.

Genetically engineered foods are not required to release that fact in their label. However, any organic foods are required to have special licensing as well as labeling requirements. On top of the normal FDA requirements, in order for organic farmers to be licensed, they must apply and pass a stringent inspection and certification.

According to a report by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the U.S. organic market in 2011 surpassed $31 billion for the first time, representing 9.5 percent growth from the prior year. The organic food industry generated more than 500,000 American jobs in 2010.

Genetic engineering (GE) refers to a set of technologies used to change the genetic makeup of cells to produce novel organisms that exhibit a desired trait, such as pesticide resistance. This technology, also referred to as genetically modified organisms, is in our food and farming system and is now commonplace in grocery stores. Examples are soybeans, corn, canola and rice used for shortening, margarine and selected cooking oils.

The FDA approved the use of GE crops over 20 years ago. Today, GE soy and corn make up more than 90 percent of the acres planted. There are 40 countries that require genetic engineering labeling on food.

According to various polls and surveys, the vast majority of Americans feel they have a right to know what is in their food. According to Just Label It, voter support for labeling of GE foods is nearly unanimous, according to the political opinion poll of 1000 voters. The survey found nearly all Democrats (93 percent), Independents (90 percent) and Republicans (89 percent) in favor of labeling.

In Ohio, organic labeling restrictions have been rescinded in some foods, specifically milk and dairy products. Ohio has yet to determine GE labeling. However, last week Cincinnati became the first city in Ohio to pass a resolution to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods, citing that consumers should have the right to know what is in their food.

Ultimately, Cincinnati is correct. The issue comes down to whether the public should know what is specifically in their food. When foods are organic, they state as such directly on the label. The FDA requires labels to identify the ingredients, nutrition facts, quantity and more.

Industry leaders may be frightful of the label, but there are added benefits to having the label. Consumers want to know exactly how many calories are in their food or the specific food ingredients in case they have allergies or for other reasons. Many times, consumers buy a specific product based upon the label or the type of nutritional value in the food.

If consumers want to know if any of the ingredients in their food are genetically engineered, then so be it. Industry can and should capitalize on it.

Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party and the founder of the Dayton Tea Party. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or www.gemcitylaw.com


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