Tuesday: A big day for Genetically Modified Food

Update: California disappointed me. Prop 37 did not pass.

I’ve been diving into the history of Genetically Modified foods lately. I find the difference between attitudes in Europe and those in the U.S. really striking (Yep, we’re an easy-going bunch of eaters in comparison). Here’s a snippet from an article titled Europe angers US with strict GM labeling posted in Nature Biotechnology in 2003 right when Europe began establishing its import bans on Genetically Modified Organisms:

…the new regime—agreed to in late November 2002 after lengthy negotiations between ministers of individual member states—extends labeling to end-products such as sugars and oils even when GM ingredients cannot be detected in them because they are physically and chemically identical to products derived from non-GM crops. Even meat suppliers who feed their animals with transgenic grain will have to GM-label their products.
Food items will be exempted only if they were derived from crop material of which less than 0.9% was genetically modified. Comprehensive tracing of GM corn shipments will be essential to verify this. The effect will be that North American manufacturers will soon find their corn- or soy-based foodstuffs—virtually all of which are GM-derived—tagged with what the National Grain and Feed Association (Washington, DC) has likened to a “skull and crossbones on the packet.”

The CFR put out a great report in April of 2001 with a great introduction to the rampant skepticism of GMOs in Europe. Paints us Yankees as corn-dog scarfing ne’er-do-wells. To remedy this, Californians will vote Tuesday whether Genetically Modified food must be labelled in the state — a right Europeans have enjoyed for a decade. Also within the bill are restrictions on use of the word ‘Natural’, ‘Naturally made’, ‘naturally grown’ and ‘all natural.’

It’s amazing that entire aisles of our supermarkets cannot be fed even to the swine of Europe.

The Corn Aisle

On a related note, I recommend watching the film (or even just the trailer) of Genetic Roulette and reading Michael Specter’s take in the New Yorker. I agree with the idea that seeds are at the root of the issue, but I have a huge amount of faith in the growing popularity of organic seed libraries sprouting all over America.


Today we salute Donovan for clearing up food bill e-rage (The Food Bill Modernization Act)

Not as shitty as some make it out to be...
Not as shitty as some make it out to be...

When sharp minds correct untruths on the Internet we must salute them. Today I salute Donovan Bramwell for clearing up the ‘Food bill makes sharing food illegal’ claim (it won’t). He spoke out on a terrible site whose domain I cannot utter here.  Quoted below in wonderful stream-of-consciousness-flow, we have the gem of truth every late night truth-seeker should stumble upon:

first, my qualifications: i am literate. i studied literature at the university and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree; i worked 18 years as a science/engineering writer/editor; i am a professional writer with experience in political writing.

i just now spent more time than i should have trying to sort this out. i reviewed S510 at the web site specified above, and i have come to the following tentative conclusions:

the World’s Prophecy article makes scary claims about the dangers of the bill without quoting a single phrase from the actual bill; i find this hugely offensive and irresponsible.

quoting the summary of the bill (as some of the reviewers above have done) is meaningless. the summary can say whatever it wants, and can easily consist of propaganda, and i believe that this particular summary does indeed consist of propaganda; the stuff that matters is in the text of the bill, not in the summary.

the snopes article cited above on this topic is not reliable. for one thing, the snopes article addresses HR875/S425, not S510, and though there are significant differences, i do not know what all of the differences are. snopes needs to revisit the topic and address the most recent version, which appears to be S510. snopes correctly discredits some outlandish claims about the dangers of the food safety modernization act, claims other than and more exaggerated than those made by the WP article above. however, snopes cites Rep. DeLauro’s myths and fact sheet for HR875, and i found the fact sheet to be plainly inaccurate in relation to S510. besides, Rep. DeLauro is the primary sponsor of the bill and clearly has a motive to promote it, disingenuously if need be. further, the snopes article fails to actually quote a single phrase from the bill that might actually support the claims of its opponents; such phrases do exist, even in HR875. Further, S510 includes provisions far more alarming to its opponents than any i was able to find in a quick review of HR875.

S510 plainly gives a lot of authority to the bureaucrats to write new regulations. this phenomenon is always a problem to people who cherish their freedom, and concern in this regard is fully justified.

S510 specifically applies to small businesses and even, in at least one instance, to “a very small business,” whatever that means. for example:

“(3) CONTENT.—The proposed rulemaking under paragraph (1) shall—
“(A) provide sufficient flexibility to be applicable to various types of entities engaged in the production and harvesting of raw agricultural commodities, including small businesses and entities that sell directly to consumers, and be appropriate to the scale and diversity of the production and harvesting of such commodities;
“(B) include, with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, packing, and storage operations, minimum standards related to soil amendments, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment, and water;
“(C) consider hazards that occur naturally, may be unintentionally introduced, or may be intentionally introduced, including by acts of terrorism;

another example:

(b) Regulations.
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (referred to in this Act as the “Secretary”) shall promulgate regulations to establish science-based minimum standards for conducting a hazard analysis, documenting hazards, implementing preventive controls, and documenting the implementation of the preventive controls under section 418 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (as added by subsection (a)).
(2) CONTENT.—The regulations promulgated under paragraph (1) shall provide sufficient flexibility to be applicable in all situations, including in the operations of small businesses.

another example:

(2) EXCEPTIONS.—Notwithstanding paragraph (1)—
(A) the amendments made by this section shall apply to a small business (as defined by the Secretary for purposes of this section, not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act) after the date that is 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act; and
(B) the amendments made by this section shall apply to a very small business (as defined by the Secretary for purposes of this section, not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act) after the date that is 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act.

i found evidence that S510 regulations that will apply to domestic food production will not apply to imported food. in other words, it is likely, for example, that imported food will be subject to regulations far more lax than those imposed on domestic producers, handlers, and marketers. specifically:

Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed in a manner inconsistent with the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization or any other treaty or international agreement to which the United States is a party.

in summary: the fear mongers have a good case, but they represent themselves and their case very poorly, and thus detract significantly from their credibility.

thank you for your time and interest
donovan bramwell

No. Thank YOU for actually doing some reading and not retweeting something you know nothing about (I’m so guilty of that, but nevertheless you can find me on Twitter here.)

Essentially tomorrow we need to be certain the ‘Tester’ amendment (pdf) stays in there, or else small farms are going to have to go through a mess of extra paper work.

Read the bill.
Read more about this issue.
Print out a picture of Donovan.

Global Collapse linkpiece [recommended reading]

Unfortunately this is a serious post.

Jan Lundberg on a post-petroleum future:

The trucks will no longer pull into Wal-Mart. Or Safeway or other food stores. The freighters bringing packaged techno-toys and whatnot from China will have no fuel. There will be fuel in many places, but hoarding and uncertainty will trigger outages, violence and chaos. For only a short time will the police and military be able to maintain order, if at all. The damage that several days’ oil shortage and outage will do will soon wreak permanent damage that starts with companies and consumers not paying their bills and not going to work.

After an almost instant depression seizes the modern industrialized world, and nation-states break down, the frantic attempts of people to feed themselves, stay warm and obtain fresh water (pumped presently via petroleum to a great extent), there will be no rescue. Die-off begins. The least petroleum-dependent communities will survive best. These “backward” nations will be emulated by the scrounging survivors of the U.S. and the rest of the “developed” world, as far as local food production will be tried – in a paved-over, toxic landscape by people who have lost touch with the land…

Serious reading for a petroleum-heated afternoon in San Francisco:

  • Automatic Earth –  “40 ways to lose your future
  • Also from Automatic Earth: “Renewable Power – Not in your life time
  • Blog: Baseline Scenario
  • Blog: Zero Hedge
  • GlobalCorp (FTW Archives)
  • And below “United States Healthcare Spending” via National Geographic

  • health_spending_graph