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Frankenfood: The implications for today and the future

 
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 06:57 am
Well, Thomas, not on labelling. The "may contain peanuts" label IMO was absolutely necessary, as we are talking a death allergy here. Perhaps the GM labelling is in more of a "grey area", but I feel that a fickle and picky public do have the right to know. The compromise seems to be that if it says "organic", it is not GM. Thing is, with the studies on both sides of the fence regarding GM foods, only time will tell. I lean towards the side of caution, based on similar cases of supposedly 'safe' products going horribly wrong years later. GM foods are a very new invention, but as of yet, not "proven" to be safe, despite the evidence on the "yes" side. Just as the "no" side touts the soybean/brazil nut crossbreed as evidence of the horrors of GM crops, it was indeed never released to the public. I have to assume there is a little bit of that going on on the other side, from the producers of GM products. It may turn out to be red herrings on both sides, but again, only time will tell. I might add, I am in favour of genetic engineering for medical research all the way. I just get a bit suspicious when this new science is touted as a "deus ex machina", to solve all the world's problems, and personally, I don't want it in my food.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 07:56 am
cavfancier wrote:
Well, Thomas, not on labelling. The "may contain peanuts" label IMO was absolutely necessary, as we are talking a death allergy here.


It's quite possible that the label was necessary, though I have my doubts. For a counterpoint, consider my cousin, who has a serious gluten allergy. As you probably know, gluten is part of most grains and therefore part of most products that contain flower -- which is very hard to tell in most specific cases. My cousin's allergy is serious because it keeps her intestine from absorbing any nutrients for several days after she eats flower-containing products. Chances are she'll basically starve a decade or two or thre before her time as a result. This condition isn't untypical for gluten allergics.

Nevertheless, I don't know of any major effort of the gluten allergic community to lobby for any labelling laws. They do quite fine with just newsletters, internet newsgroups, and voluntary cooperation with the food industry. The peanut problem might be completely different for all I know. But the "absolutely necessary" claim strongly depends on the alternatives you consider. And in my experience, it usually turns out to be based on arguments from lack of imagination once you give it a good, critical look.

cavfancier wrote:
Just as the "no" side touts the soybean/brazil nut crossbreed as evidence of the horrors of GM crops, it was indeed never released to the public.


I don't understand this sentence on several levels. 1) What was so terrible about the soybean/brazil nut crossbreed? 2) Crossbreeding happens even in the absence of modern gene manipulation. (Think mules) What's so different about doing it the new way? 3) If a GM product turns out to be hazardous, it won't be marketable and producers won't sell it -- as this case demonstrates. Same as with conventional foods. Why not take GM products on their own merits, one by one?

cavfancier wrote:
I might add, I am in favour of genetic engineering for medical research all the way. I just get a bit suspicious when this new science is touted as a "deus ex machina", to solve all the world's problems, .


So do I. For example, I have no sympathy with the marketing effort to portray GM as the solution to the worldwide starvation problem. Starvation is mostly caused by counterproductive governments. If the problem is that governments drive all the competent farmers off their farms as Mugabe does in Zimbabwe, the fine points about the choice of crops get a bit ridiculous.

cavfancier wrote:
and personally, I don't want it in my food.


Fair enough. Nobody keeps you from buying organic then.

-- Thomas
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 08:10 am
I do buy organic and local, when I can, when I feel it is from an 'organic' supplier I trust Smile Sorry if I was unclear about the soybean/brazil nut cross...it was never released to the public because it was proven in tests to be hazardous to people with serious peanut allergies. However, it has been used as an argument by the "no to GM foods" lobby as proof that GM foods in general are a hazard, a misguided choice, I think. As to peanuts, the problem in the food industry, especially when it comes to bulk and packaged foods, is that the same mixing equipment, ovens, trays, whatever...are used to make a huge variety of products, many of which contain peanuts, a lot that don't. However, many of the products made, even if they don't actually contain peanuts, may contain peanut residue. Someone with a serious peanut allergy who consumes a non-peanut product that contains peanut residue from production, could go into anyphalactic shock and die, hence my feeling that the labelling was needed. Shellfish allergies are the same, but shellfish is a lot easier to spot than peanuts, when it comes to doing your shopping, so no labelling requirements there. As to gluten allergies, there are actually many breads and products that are made specifically for gluten allergies, and are also labelled as such, quite clearly. Now if this small group of producers are willing to clearly label their products 'gluten free', at their own expense, why shouldn't the GM producers do the same?
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 08:16 am
buy local organic produce when you can - that's the ticket.

Unfortunately there has been some pollen drift, which GMF producers are working on as stated in the links I posted above, but that drift contaminated organic non-GM produce.

Thomas is right, it is hard to keep track of, right down to seeding the fields. So, to me that means we should stop planting the GM stuff until we know better how to control it from field to table.

I used to think that GM stuff was great. Wanted to invest in it, I learned very quickly that it was more scary than a good investment should be.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 08:53 am
cavfancier wrote:
However, many of the products made, even if they don't actually contain peanuts, may contain peanut residue.


Sounds familiar. The problem for my cousin is that she substitutes starch-using products for flower-using products as best she can, but many starch products contain flower residue because of equipment reuse.

cavfancier wrote:
As to gluten allergies, there are actually many breads and products that are made specifically for gluten allergies, and are also labelled as such, quite clearly. Now if this small group of producers are willing to clearly label their products 'gluten free', at their own expense, why shouldn't the GM producers do the same?


I'm not saying they shouldn't. What I'm saying is that the government shouldn't force them by law to do it. Apparently I didn't make clear enough that when I oppose mandatory labelling, the emphasis is on "mandatory".

littlek wrote:
Thomas is right, it is hard to keep track of, right down to seeding the fields. So, to me that means we should stop planting the GM stuff until we know better how to control it from field to table.


I disagree, because I don't want the frightened and the conservative to hold back the rest of society. My solution would be to allow GM crops, but also allow organic farmers to sue for damages if too many GM seeds reduce the value of their crop on the organic food market. If the source of the contamination can't be identified, you could adapt property rights to land to seperate land ownership from the right to grow GM crops. That way, if you don't want me to grow GM food on my farm, you can buy the right to grow it from me, and prohibit me from doing it. If the price for GM growing rights turns out to be low, that's pretty much like allowing it. If it's very high, it's pretty much like forbidding it.

I would predict that the price would turn out to be pretty low.

-- Thomas
0 Replies
 
gozmo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 10:39 am
Thomas,


I see you are determined to decide the labelling issue by market analysis. That is fine but you must apply yourself to the real food market rather than the squeaky clean text book fantasy you are using. Do you really think the food market is one in which consumers at all levels are totally informed? I doubt it. Food suppliers are not loathe to give us information but are very particular about which information. They misinform us in many ways. Do you understand what the fat content statements mean and when was the last time your cornflakes box was more than half full?
From school we are drilled with the concept of rational economics, no value judgments here boys, but the real world is full of seriously flawed markets. Are you aware that here in Australia I am supplied by the same food companies that supply you in the States. This is an industry obsessed with accumulating market power and we both know that is anathema to competition. The market is flawed and ripe for regulation. Let me suggest that Compulsory Accurate labelling may restore a little integrity to this market.
0 Replies
 
gozmo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 11:02 am
Thomas said:

"Printing a label is inexpensive, but informative labelling isn't. For that, you have to monitor all your suppliers. And because there is no test telling you if a specific breed of potato has been created through direct DNA-manipulation or old-fashioned breeding, this monitoring can require a significant amount of paperwork. Just because you (or I) don't see the cost, that doesn't mean it isn't there."

gozmo replies:

A food company which does not monitor its suppliers is dicing with human disaster and financial ruin. The costs you refer to are already incurred as "quality" control wich is a necessary step in food processing. I certainly would not willingly buy food from a company that does not already take this action regardless of how informative their labelling.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 11:20 am
This might a good place to interject a question about what "cholesterol free" and "fat free" really mean, while on the topic of misleading information on the part of the food companies....
0 Replies
 
gozmo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 11:46 am
Thomas wrote:

"I disagree, because I don't want the frightened and the conservative to hold back the rest of society. My solution would be to allow GM crops, but also allow organic farmers to sue for damages if too many GM seeds reduce the value of their crop on the organic food market. If the source of the contamination can't be identified, you could adapt property rights to land to seperate land ownership from the right to grow GM crops. That way, if you don't want me to grow GM food on my farm, you can buy the right to grow it from me, and prohibit me from doing it. If the price for GM growing rights turns out to be low, that's pretty much like allowing it. If it's very high, it's pretty much like forbidding it.

gozmo replies:

Thomas,

I think you are presumptuous and approaching rudeness in this post. Are you suggesting the contributors here are "the frightened and the conservative". Let me suggest that they are alert and without illusion. You are obsesed with the notion of the market as a magic hand as it is portrayed in economics story books. Thomas, remember that economics is the quasi science which rather inadequately concerns itself with the way humans use resources. There are disciplines that concern themselves with a wide range of human behaviour and response, a strong suggestion that we are more complex than the economists would have you believe. We are capable of having values and making judgments without consulting the stock and commodities market. Sometimes we anticipate problems before they occur. We learn from experience and experience has taught us that authorities do lie, enterprises do put profits before people and those who invest will go to extraordinary lengths to protect THEIR interest. Maybe the most important lessons we learn are we humans are very fallible and nature is an unforgiving mistress.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 11:50 am
gozmo wrote:
Thomas, I see you are determined to decide the labelling issue by market analysis. That is fine but you must apply yourself to the real food market rather than the squeaky clean text book fantasy you are using. Do you really think the food market is one in which consumers at all levels are totally informed?


No, I don't. Consumers will stay ignorant of the issues if the information is worth less to them than the cost of getting it. What I do assume is that every individual involved wants to maximize their own welfare, and that they don't usually miss obvious opportunities of doing so. Do you disagree with that?

gozmo wrote:
Do you understand what the fat content statements mean and when was the last time your cornflakes box was more than half full?


Yes to both.

gozmo wrote:
From school we are drilled with the concept of rational economics, no value judgments here boys, but the real world is full of seriously flawed markets.


Maybe so, but apart from rhetoric, you haven't yet provided any reason to believe that the food market is one of them.

gozmo wrote:
Are you aware that here in Australia I am supplied by the same food companies that supply you in the States.


I'm aware that that you can buy from multinationals if you chose to, and that you can buy local if you chose to. Is that consistent with your state of awareness?

gozmo wrote:
This is an industry obsessed with accumulating market power and we both know that is anathema to competition.

Again: Novartis, Aventis and Monsanto have huge market power on the market for GM crops. They don't have much market power on the market for crops whose genes got manipulated the traditional way -- by selective breeding. If you choose to be in the latter market but not the former, Monsanto has no power to override your choice.

gozmo wrote:
The market is flawed and ripe for regulation. Let me suggest that Compulsory Accurate labelling may restore a little integrity to this market.


You mean regulation by politicians to whom they have donated major campaign contributions? I don't see how that increases integrity over the market solution. Consumers may be more gullible than politicians, but at least they are much harder to corrupt.

-- Thomas
0 Replies
 
gozmo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 11:53 am
cavfancier wrote:
This might a good place to interject a question about what "cholesterol free" and "fat free" really mean, while on the topic of misleading information on the part of the food companies....


I think they have about fifteen different methods and choose the one that will best fool the target market. No, that is too cynical. Wouldn't it be great if these things were standardised and properly explained .
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 12:02 pm
Yeah, I agree. "Cholesterol free" on chips...well, still deep-fried and full of trans-fatty acids, which reminds me, "Cooked in pure canola oil", yeah, hydrogenated, most likely...."fat free"...hope you aren't diabetic, check the sugar count....the list goes on....sigh...
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 12:05 pm
I think Thomas assumes that people are smarter than they are, which is great, I only wish it were true.
0 Replies
 
gozmo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 12:06 pm
Thomas,

I detect a note of chagrin in your last post. It is not necessary, this is a discussion and you should not feel that I am attacking you. I think your contribution here is excellent though we do not agree. It is 3.40am here and I must to bed. I will respond later today.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 May, 2003 12:55 pm
gozmo wrote:
A food company which does not monitor its suppliers is dicing with human disaster and financial ruin. The costs you refer to are already incurred as "quality" control wich is a necessary step in food processing.


Not necessarily. The producer's responsibility is that the end product be reasonably safe -- the intermediate products don't have to be. There was a huge debate about this in Europe with regard to French raw milk cheese -- a high quality end product whose input, unpasteurized milk, contained too many microbes by EU standards. The solution, I think correctly, was to hold producers accountable for their products and leave it to them to deal with input security. Why shouldn't the same logic apply to GM foods?

cavfancier wrote:
This might a good place to interject a question about what "cholesterol free" and "fat free" really mean, while on the topic of misleading information on the part of the food companies....


Speaking for nobody but myself, I'd find out if I was interested, but I don't care, so I don't know. See how nicely this illustrates my former point about being rationally ignorant? Wink

gozmo wrote:
I think you are presumptuous and approaching rudeness in this post. Are you suggesting the contributors here are "the frightened and the conservative".


I'm sorry you think I'm presumptuous. I believe that the effect of implementing what littlek suggested would be to put the frightened and conservative in control. I have no reason to believe that this is her, or your, or cavfancier's intention, and no, I am not suggesting it is.

gozmo wrote:
You are obsesed with the notion of the market as a magic hand as it is portrayed in economics story books. Thomas, remember that economics is the quasi science which rather inadequately concerns itself with the way humans use resources.


Thanks for informing me about my obsessions. Would you care to support derogatory terms like"quasi science" and "story books" and "rather inadequately" with evidence? Also, if you know a better approach, I'd be delighted to hear what it is, and why it is better.

gozmo wrote:
We are capable of having values and making judgments without consulting the stock and commodities market. Sometimes we anticipate problems before they occur. We learn from experience and experience has taught us that authorities do lie, enterprises do put profits before people and those who invest will go to extraordinary lengths to protect THEIR interest. Maybe the most important lessons we learn are we humans are very fallible and nature is an unforgiving mistress.


All of this is true. But ... a) It is also addressed in every major undergraduate text book on microeconomics. b) experience has also taught us that consumers can drive even large companies into bankruptcy with their buying decisions. Why not solve the problem by using this power? c) Companies don't exist to lie, they exist to make money. If they can make money by labelling their products more informatively, there's no reason they won't do it. You, for sure, haven't offered such a reason. d) I agree we are fallible. But people aren't less fallible just because they work for the government, so bringing the government in does nothing to fix this particular problem.

gozmo wrote:
Thomas, I detect a note of chagrin in your last post.


You mean because of the part about "Apart from rhetoric, you haven't provided any reason ..."? No, that wasn't because I'm angry, it's because you express strong opinions with strong rhetoric -- both of which are fine! -- but you're a bit short on evidence for these opinions. At least this is how it comes across to me.

cavfancier wrote:
I think Thomas assumes that people are smarter than they are,


Quite possible. Mostly though, I believe that there's just one (or very few) ways of being smart, while there's a lot of ways of being dumb. Therefore, when trying to predict the behavior of large numbers of people, my best bet is to assume they're smart, and that the dumbness component somehow averages out.

Thanks for staying with me during this jumbo-sized, high colesterol post Smile

-- Thomas
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 May, 2003 04:51 am
cavfancier wrote:
I think Thomas assumes that people are smarter than they are, which is great, I only wish it were true.


Sorry about this off-topic post, but I've spent quite some time pondering cavfancier's above point. I now think he's right. I do assume people are smarter than they are. But while I concede that my assumption isn't true, there are two reasons I believe it nevertheless works.

The first reason is what I said yesterday. As Tolstoy's Anna Karenina might have put it, all smart decisions are alike, but every stupid decision is stupid in its very own way. To the extent that we can predict human behavior at all -- and I agree with gozmo that we're imperfect at doing it -- our best possible prediction is that they'll be smart. On top of that, we can hope the dumbness averages out in great numbers.

The second reason is political. I agree it's a problem that people are sometimes stupid. But having other people override their decisions isn't the solution, because the overrider is just as likely to be stupid as the overridden. Discuss with people, persuade them, threaten not to do business them -- all of this is fine, and all of this is likely to improve on people's individual decision. But why persuade with arguments if you can use government to persuade the other side by force?

And this is why I'm such a market-loving, big-business-hugging, philocapitalist prick -- including when it comes to gene manipulation. Wink

-- Thomas
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 May, 2003 04:55 am
As Tolsty's Anna Karenina might have put it: Choo Choo! <splat> Very Happy
0 Replies
 
gozmo
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 May, 2003 05:17 pm
Thomas posted:


Not necessarily. The producer's responsibility is that the end product be reasonably safe -- the intermediate products don't have to be. There was a huge debate about this in Europe with regard to French raw milk cheese -- a high quality end product whose input, unpasteurized milk, contained too many microbes by EU standards. The solution, I think correctly, was to hold producers accountable for their products and leave it to them to deal with input security. Why shouldn't the same logic apply to GM foods?

Gozmo replies:

Thomas we agree. The end producer is responsible and if not informed about inputs cannot vouch for his own product. Were you in this business would you take that risk?

Thomas wrote:

Thanks for informing me about my obsessions. Would you care to support derogatory terms like"quasi science" and "story books" and "rather inadequately" with evidence? Also, if you know a better approach, I'd be delighted to hear what it is, and why it is better.

Gozmo replies:

With regard to your obsession, my comments are based on what you have said here. Yes I have a very poor opinion of the text books that were available in the five years I studied Economics. It is hardly news that economics is not an exact science, I think you will find that reported in elementary text books as well.

Thomas wrote:

All of this is true. But ... a) It is also addressed in every major undergraduate text book on microeconomics. b) experience has also taught us that consumers can drive even large companies into bankruptcy with their buying decisions. Why not solve the problem by using this power? c) Companies don't exist to lie, they exist to make money. If they can make money by labelling their products more informatively, there's no reason they won't do it. You, for sure, haven't offered such a reason. d) I agree we are fallible. But people aren't less fallible just because they work for the government, so bringing the government in does nothing to fix this particular problem.

gozmo replies:

I'm sorry Thomas but this one is such a dog's breakfast that I hardly know where to start. Let me suggest that fallibility does not mean you are always wrong. Government officials are more likely to be disinterested than company officials. No one exists to lie, but it is done even by company executives.

Thomas wrote:

You mean because of the part about "Apart from rhetoric, you haven't provided any reason ..."? No, that wasn't because I'm angry, it's because you express strong opinions with strong rhetoric -- both of which are fine! -- but you're a bit short on evidence for these opinions. At least this is how it comes across to me

gozmo replies:

It is chagrin.
0 Replies
 
cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 May, 2003 08:37 pm
Cavfancier writes:

Raw milk cheese is awesome, however, pasteurized farmhouse cheeses have come a long way, and in a recent blind tasting, it was hard to tell the difference. Also, if your cheese goes a bit moldy, just cut it off and quit worrying...
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 May, 2003 11:05 pm
And Walter Hinteler writes:

Raw milk cheese is very subtle and individual in its flavour and aromas and depending on various factors such as season and maturity, will always taste different.
0 Replies
 
 

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