"This is an issue of obfuscation, lies and mistrust in the food system," admit anti-biotech crop activists.


What the anti-biotech and organic lobbyists are really after

Sadly, the headline is really what anti-biotech crop activists are actually trying to achieve in their campaign against modern biotech crops, not what they say they are doing. The New York Times today quotes Stonyfield Farms CEO and organic yogurt purveyor Gary Hirshberg as saying, "This is an issue of transparency, truth and trust in the food system." What he and other anti-biotech crop activists are trying to do is convince consumers that something is wrong with foods made using ingredients from biotech crops. Their nefarious plan is to get state and federal government agencies to mandate labels on such foods, e.g., "Warning: May Contain GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms.)" 

The Times identifies anti-biotech vandals, e.g., one Cynthia LaPier, who go around sneaking their own hand-made labels on foods in grocery stores. So what's wrong with labeling foods in this way? This is where the obfuscation, lies and mistrust being peddled by anti-biotechies come into play. In the United States regulators only require labels on foods that provide either nutritional or safety information. In the case of foods made using ingredients from biotech crops, neither applies. Every independent scientific panel that has ever evaluated biotech crops finds that the currently available varieties are nutritionally indistinguishable from conventional crops and that they pose no health risks to human beings. No nutritional differences and no risks mean no labels. 

By the way, organic labels are entirely voluntary and are basically used as a marketing technique to extract extra money from unwitting consumers. 

However, anti-biotech activists and, dare one add, organic crop and food production competitors know that some signficant portion Americans would innocently mistake required labels on foods made using biotech crops as some kind of safety warning and thus steer clear of them. Because they want to encourage this mistake in consumers, the goal of anti-biotech and organic foods activists can be reasonably characterized as profitably promoting obfuscation, lies, and mistrust. 

In the future some biotech crops will provide improved nutrition, e.g., soy beans improved to supply additional health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, at which time foods using these ingredients will be usefully labeled with this nutritional information. 

In a comprehensive review of the scientific literature and of the claims made by the organic foods lobby, Rutgers University food scientist Joseph Rosen concluded [PDF]: 

Organic food proponents do more than act as unreliable sources of information; they actually cause harm. … Any members of the media who rely on organic food proponents for information without checking the facts are complicit in defrauding their readers. And any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money.

It's clear that the organic lobby promotes disinformation to sell its products. It's about time that consumers and reporters wake up to that fact. 

NEXT: J.D. Tuccille Sounds Off About Cops Tracking Your License Plate

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  1. Yeah sure Bailey, whatever. You probably don’t believe that vaccines cause autism either.

    1. I can’t believe how many people actually believe that – even after the people who wrote that article years ago admit it was a lie and a hoax. Seems the media was all in a frenzy to report a hoax, but not quite in the mood to admit the mistake and get rid of irrational and unread people’s fears.

      1. Maybe the best ever “Penn and Teller’s Bullshit” was their episode on vaccines/autism a couple of years back. It should be required viewing for anyone with children at vaccination age.

        Just the other day I was reading a comments section under a story about ex-playmate, former Mrs. Jim Carrey, and current Brian Urlacher girlfriend Jenny McCarthy, who claims she “cured” her son’s ‘vaccine-caused autism’ with a gluten-free organic diet. The usual loonies were out. The best wacko comment was someone complaining that “Big Pharma keeps insisting on only relying on large randomized, controlled, double-blind studies, and won’t listen to the personal testimony of parents and other experts.”

      2. Imus lied, babies died.

  2. I think all anti-biotech activists should be required to wear a label:

    WARNING: Contains Toxic Levels of Ignorance and Smugness

  3. So Bailey is against people having information because he thinks that some people will not use the information the way he wants them too.

    1. I think he’s against people posting lies and unsubstantiated beliefs as factual.

    2. Let’s mandate slapping a label on your forehead saying “WARNING: May Fail at Reading Comprehension.” Or are you against people having that information?

    3. No, he’s against the government forcing producers to use these labels.

      1. He did not seem to have any problem with the government forcing them to put on nutritional or safety information.

        1. What gave you the impression that he doesn’t have a problem with that either? He was simply citing current U.S. regulation.

          1. Around here reporting a fact is the same as approving of it. Or something.

    4. You aren’t entitled to force producers to provide irrelevant information. Whether a product is GMO is immaterial to its efficacy or risk.

  4. I wish Organic Girl would drop by. Or at least someone registered as Organic Girl. *meaningful cough*

    By the way, Stonyfield Farms CEO and organic yogurt purveyor Gary Hirshberg: your yogurt sucks.

    1. It is overwhelmingly sugary, too. That’s the ultimate kicker for this talk of what is and is not healthy.

      1. Try the plain, BT.

        1. You know what kind I like? Trader Joe’s European Style. Whole fat, fairly high protein, not impossibly thick like Greek, and really inexpensive.

          1. Yogurt. Why don’t you all just lick a Petri dish.

            1. Does the petri dish have yogurt in it?

              I used to absolutely hate yogurt, thought it tasted like vomit, but you do get used to the flavor and it does seem to aid in digestion and general gut comfort.

              1. aid in digestion and general gut comfort.

                You can get that in a pill now, that’s what I do.

                1. Accuflora is so awesome that I would ask for the autograph of the guy who invented it.

              2. Zeb, Do I understand correctly…? You forced yourself to eat something that tastes like vomit until you got used to it?

                1. Emetophilia is a hell of a drug.

                2. When you put it that way… yeah, weird huh?

                  I started with drinkable, though, so I could get it over with faster.

      2. Mayor Giuliani should investigate.

  5. The issues here really lie with the patent issues and certain unethical practices in biotech engineering. Biotech companies should not be able to patent genetically modified crops. Not only did they not create anything new, even the genes they used were not genes they themselves designed. Furthermore, many of the genetically modified crops being put out today are engineered to be sterile. That’s bullshit.

    1. A lot of the time the sterilization thing is a requirement for Genetic Modification. It is there out of a fear and if someone creates a genetically modified plant, but doesn’t totally predict a bad outcome, it can take over native populations of plants. For example, someone creates a species of corn that accidentally builds the Abrin protein, but because the plant is far more hardy will outcompete and take over the native population of corn. Now you have a bunch of deathly toxic corn that took over the native population.

    2. I tend to agree about patents (though it is important to realize that you can also patent conventionally bred cultivars of plants). But without patents, sterile plants are a way for companies to protect their investment in developing the product. If people don’t like sterile plants, they can buy seed somewhere else.
      Also, a lot of the more reasonable complaints about GMO plants is that they are not sterile and contaminate contaminate other crops whose owners want non-GMO stuff only. So you can’t please everyone, I guess.

      1. Paging robc on the Coase phone.

      2. I think there are WAY bigger scumbags in medical genetics than in agriculture. I have read cases of private individuals having THEIR DNA sequences patented. I will look for a link, but a man’s DNA sequence was patented by a third party company because of antibodies he created that they wanted to replicate.

        1. I’m not completely anti-IP, but patenting naturally occurring genetics definitely crosses a line into unreasonable, if you ask me. That is just messed up.

        2. I fully agree with that. If they were patenting a process of modifying the genes, patenting a processes where they took X protein to cut at Y point on Z DNA, then reattached it using A protein – that CERTAINLY should be IP. But, finding that some schmuck naturally creates some random antibody that you want to sell and then patenting THEIR gene sequence, just because you took the time to read it is complete and utter bullshit. The fact that you can patent a sequence of DNA that belongs to an individual person is preposterous. Doesn’t the person who’s DNA it is own their own DNA?

          1. Not to mention that they don’t isolate the gene sequence that creates the antibody they want to sell, they effectively use a brickbat in their patent application and literally patent the ENTIRE gene sequence.

    3. The terminator gene which is what makes the crops sterile, has not be placed into production afaik. Plus, even if it were, the situation of farmers having to buy new seed every year would be exactly the same as the situation they have faced for the past 100 years buying F1 hybrid seed.

  6. I just saw a FB update from a very attractive redhead I know from the bar who apparently works for an organization named Earthjustice. I think they are some sort of legal aid/advocacy group. But the post was about Ommegang Breweries being worried about fraking runoff in their water supplies.

    I’m thinking that any water that gets sucked up a pipe in Brooklyn probably doesn’t have to worry so much about trace amounts of VOCs from fracking so much as the literally tons of human shit that dumped upstream of them.

    Then I went to the website. Dear sweet, organic baby Jesus.

    1. ny water that gets sucked up a pipe in Brooklyn

      Isn’t Ommegang in Cooperstown or something?

      1. Sorry, you’re right. The mentioned Brooklyn Breweries, too and I got confused.

    2. Because the Earth needs a good lawyer

      1. I’m not totally unsympathetic to conservation, but judging by the website, every problem they address is a nail to be hammered by government regulation.

        1. I’m quite sympathetic to conservation. I even think that there is some proper role for government there (For example, a lot of the eastern national forests are really quite key in keeping rivers and drinking water supply clean and healthy. Filthy rivers were a lot of the reason for their creation in the first place, after paper and timber companies clear cut everything.) But these fucking watermelon assholes make it very difficult not to be hostile to much of the contemporary conservation movement. Hunting and fishing groups are about the only conservation groups worth a shit these days.

        2. If you are interested in conservation, but are interested in solutions that don’t involve government regulation, check out the PERColator blog. It touts itself as the free market environmentalism blog. Very interesting articles, with positive, voluntary solutions to environmental and conservation issues.

          1. That looks interesting. I’ll have to check it out some more.

    3. Earthjustice smushtice. I dont want to look at their site, I wanted to see the redhead. I have a thing for redheads.

      1. No way am I sharing with you guys. I have such a thing for readheads, I’m still trying to figure out how to date someone with whom I cannot talk about either work or politics (which pretty much leaves drinking as our only safe topic as best I can tell).

        1. and you’re trying to figure it out still?

          1. I know. Its just that I can’t STFU and just let absolutely false statements go unchallenged. It seems to be able to even override my desire to get laid after a number of drinks. So, that’s the real problem. Its kind of interesting to watch from the inside as your brain frantically screams “STFU! STFU! You’re blowing it! Goddamit, just let her be wrong until after you start screwing!”

      2. Me too. Ever since “Still Life with Woodpecker.” Ended up marrying one; didn’t know then about the hot temper goes with the red hair color.

  7. “”‘By the way, organic labels are entirely voluntary and are basically used as a marketing technique to extract extra money from unwitting consumers. “‘

    Bailey also seems to be against voluntary labels.

    1. I think I’m going to have to second what Trespassers W said above regarding warning labels.

  8. How do you get that from Ron pointing out that the organic label is used as a marketing gimmick? He’s written many times that if consumers want labels then they should bear the cost but labeling should not be enforced by the government.

  9. Hell, a smart producer would be slapping “100% Organic” labels on every product they sell. Price their goods somewhere between the unmarked “non organic” product and the overpriced “official organic” product, they could make a killing.

    1. There are regulations on what can be labeled organic. Just no requirement that anything be so labeled.

      1. Which is pretty stupid based on the meaning of the word organic.

        1. Indeed. While I think that there is some value in organic farming, they could have picked a better word for it.

        2. Seriously, copper sulfate is ok, but ammonium sulfate is not. Magnesium sulfate is ok but potassium nitrate is not. W..T..F???

  10. Is Bailey one of those Libertarians who think that companies ought to be able to sell methanol as liquor, and the market will sort it out?

    Telling people that a food is genetically modified, so they can make up their mind whether to buy it, strikes me as not too onerous.

    There is a role for government here. The Pure Food and Drug Act was helpful; the Harrison Act, not so much.

    Mr. Bailey is super-concerned that capitalists dressed as hippies will generate mistrust in the marketplace. But he doesn’t seem concerned about giving people information and letting them make up their minds what to buy. Now I thought that was a good Libertarian principle.

    1. The onus is on the superstitious consumers freaked out by GMOs to seek out their GMO-free products, and the marketers selling the products to them to label them as such. Just as the government doesn’t force companies to label their products “non-kosher” as a service to the orthodox Jewish community, so shouldn’t companies be forced to label their products “non-GMO”. Deal with your food hang-ups on your own goddamn dime and time.

    2. Telling people that a food is genetically modified, so they can make up their mind whether to buy it, strikes me as not too onerous.

      The let producers decide if they want to or not.

      There is a role for government here.

      No there isn’t.

      But he doesn’t seem concerned about giving people information and letting them make up their minds what to buy.

      So you’re saying putting a label that starts with “WARNING!” is going to get people to look further to see what the big deal is? You don’t know many people do you?

    3. As someone said below, it is analagous to kosker – a religious belief – not a nutritional statistic because there is no nutritional difference. The government has no role in enforcing your religion.

      1. below above

    4. If the information contained panders to irrational phobias, then I am opposed to mandates too. I am generally opposed to mandates, but if we are to have them, they have to be rational. Would you support labeling food with “PACKAGED BY BLACK PEOPLE” so the racists don’t have to buy it? I mean, hey, that’s information a consumer might want to know, right?

      1. This example is saturated with awesome.

    5. But he doesn’t seem concerned about giving people information and letting them make up their minds what to buy.

      Forcing is not the same thing as giving.

    6. Selling methanol as liquor ought to be criminal because it is poison and selling it for consumption is fraud and possibly assault.

      I think that a better way to deal with food safety would be to have laws setting standards (simple stuff, like “your food can’t be poisonous or carry harmful bacteria”). Let producers figure out how to meet those standards on their own and be punished if they fail. The insane number of regulations which micromanage every aspect are just wasteful and inefficient. And they give producers who comply with all of the regulations an out if their food does harm people.
      To put it briefly, a results based food safety system would be better for consumers and for general freedom than the current process based system.

      1. Also, while ethanol and methanol are both alcohols, only ethanol is liquor.

      2. “… a results based food safety system would be better for consumers and for general freedom than the current process based system.”

        I totally agree, and every time I’m audited by the FDA/USDA/Dept. of Ag., they prove this out with their ignorance and anachronistic reg’s. It always blows me away that they NEVER test our stuff in a lab as part of their regular audits. They only look at processes through the tunnel-vision of their little checklist.

        I had one ignoramus mark me off for having duct tape on a duct, saying taping things was a temporary repair.

        1. In what industry do you work? Just curious.

        2. Yep, that sounds like exactly what I was thinking of.

    7. Is Bailey one of those Libertarians who think that companies ought to be able to sell methanol as liquor, and the market will sort it out?

      Are you one of those trolls whose strawmen building skills are +10?

      Telling people that a food is genetically modified, so they can make up their mind whether to buy it, strikes me as not too onerous.

      Then you might as well label every, single item in the store, since none of it is primordial and has been genetically modified for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

      1. It has been proven that 100% of all factory-farmed foods contain atoms.

        And that’s what they use in atom bombs.


        1. Wait, what? And so am…I….

          HOLY SHITSNACKS!!!!!1!!!1!!

        2. We are all atom bombs now.

        3. I’m always amused when someone starts with, “I don’t want my food [or household cleaning products or clothing] to contain any chemicals.”

          To which I reply (if I get a chance), “Oh so where do you get your [list above] that is made from pure spiritual matter?”

          1. As if there aren’t thousands of naturally occurring chemicals that will kill you just as dead as any synthetic cleaning product.

          2. Isn’t all food organic? I don’t recall seeing any silicon-based strawberries.

            “Horta Foods. It BURNS!”

          3. I really want a t-shirt that says, “made entirely of chemicals.”

    8. Should we let the conventional ag producers force the organic folks to put a label that says, “grown in animal feces,” on everything?

  11. I would have hoped that a mag such as reason would focus on the issues of trespass (subsidies, genetic patent liabilities, public ag insurance programs, public ag marketing programs, licensing fees for organic/non-gmo producers, etc) w/ in the the ag industry rather than promote the narrow collectivist viewpoint that subsidized agriculture is working for the greater good.

    1. Try actually reading more of the magazine than this post.

      And don’t commit the fallacy of composition next time.

      1. OK – Please strike the opening thirteen words of my previous comment and replace them with “I would have hoped that the author of this article had focused on…”

        The problem isn’t the labeling, it isn’t the info/dis-info: it’s the subsidies and taxes. Libertarian minded folks should agree that the problem begins there.

        1. This article is about the “organic” food producers rent-seeking. It’s a solid libertarian issue.

        2. Hey messi10, maybe you are not familiar with the term rent-seeking?

          Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_seeking

          And an excerpt:

          In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth, for example, spending money on political lobbying in order to be given a share of wealth that has already been created. A famous example of rent-seeking is the limiting of access to lucrative occupations, as by medieval guilds or modern state certifications and licensures. People accused of rent seeking typically argue that they are indeed creating new wealth (or preventing the reduction of old wealth) by improving quality controls, guaranteeing that charlatans do not prey on a gullible public, and preventing bubbles.

          1. […] by improving quality controls [and] guaranteeing that charlatans do not prey on a gullible public […].

            Can’t let consumers decide whether to trust what a vendor’s selling.

    2. That’s quite a large leap you take there. I don’t see him promoting anything about subsidized agriculture. Just reporting and refuting the lies of big organic.

    3. Reason has had a lot of posts lambasting those very things – what’s wrong with a single article focusing on the propaganda organic-food pushers use to scare people away from GMOs?

      Besides, enviros trying to force GMO labels on ag. products through the government is a libertarian concern.

  12. improved nutrition, e.g., soy beans improved to supply additional health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids,

    Soy intake has been associated with all sorts of health problems, dramatically reducing testosterone, low sperm concentration, high Lp(a), breast cancer, increased blood pressure and a 2.3 fold increase in bladder cancer risk.

    If you want omega 3, eat fatty fish and nuts.

    1. Commercially produced soybean and canola contain significant amounts of trans-fats. Over a third (testing found levels as high as 37%) of the omega-3 fatty acids become trans-fats during commercial processing, according to testing done by the University of Florida. The more unsaturated a fatty acid is, the more likely it will be damaged during processing. More omega-3 = more trans-fats!

  13. “By the way, organic labels are entirely voluntary and are basically used as a marketing technique to extract extra money from unwitting consumers. ”

    That is an example of editorializing. I would argue that eating corn, for example, that is not bio-engineered to release its own pesticide just doesn’t fall into the category of a marketing gimmick.

    1. eating corn that is not bio-engineered to release its own pesticide just doesn’t fall into the category of a marketing gimmick.

      So you know a lot of people that have gotten sick or died from eating GMO corn? That sentence is near impossible to follow.

      1. Considering it’s only been around since the 1990’s, i would say that the data is incomplete – though the fact that the US has one of the highest cancer rates of any industrialized nation – and some of the lowest food standards – should be reason for pause.

        1. The data is incomplete so the government should go ahead and act on it anyway.

          The US has the highest cancer rate so it must be because of GMO food.

        2. Right, but the studies where they dose the hell out of rats with bt protein and nothing happened is reason to hit play again.
          The precautionary principle kills.

      2. but again, I’m just arguing that all subsidies and taxes should be removed. let the cost of bringing a non-gmo food product to market have the same opportunity as a gmo food product. i don’t believe anyone can construe that as an unfair position.

        1. You’re actually just picking apart bits of Ron’s column. One nice thing about the comments section here is that it isn’t Twitter. You should feel free to spend a couple sentences putting together a readable point.

          I agree that all subsidies and tax penalties should be removed.

        2. No one does. I (and I assume others) are just confused why you can’t see how Big Organic demanding the government intervene in GMO labeling is not a libertarian concern.

          Specifically attaching a “Warning” prior to reporting a product’s GMO content is where I have the most beef (har har) with this issue. It sets up in the consumer’s mind, “Oh, a warning label; GMOs must be bad.” If the data are incomplete concerning the health risks of GMOs, this warning label is nothing but BO propaganda, designed so it can label its products “GMO free,” thereby attracting consumers to its products. In the end, as Bailey notes, BO designs these methods to increase its market share, not to honestly inform consumers.

    2. Lol if you are afraid of bt you must be a lowly, crawly, insect. There is no mechanism for it to hurt mammals and the protein (let’s be specific instead of editorializing with pesticide) is broken down very quickly in the gut. But if you want corn labeled as containing bt, than all organic produce would also have to be labeled as having bt.

      1. Not to mention that bt is what organic farmers use to reduce the insect population on their crops.

  14. “Warning: May Contain GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms.)”

    Also known as FUD.


  15. the US has one of the highest cancer rates of any industrialized nation

    Could you please produce some evidence to support this claim. Googling has so far failed to produce any such substantion for me.

    I have found out for example that the Netherlands has something like nearly a third more cancer deaths than the USA and that the US is in the top three countries for cancer survival rates.

    I’m also not sure exactly how subsidies (which any regular reader of either reason or Ron Bailey knows are routinely lambasted by both) relate to GMO. France has higher rates of subsidies and protectionism than the US and has done everything it can to try to block the use of GM.

    1. Oh, and as for:

      – and some of the lowest food standards –

      There are very few countries in the world that have inspection routines as onerous and intrusive as those of the FDA and USDA.

      Not to mention every local health department.

    2. Maybe he means the rate of cancer diagnosis. Which might be true (I don’t feel like looking it up), but even so, that could be attributed to how U.S. healthcare specializes in cancer diagnostics and mitigation relative to other industrialized nations.

    3. the US has one of the highest cancer rates of any industrialized nation

      My guess is we are really good at finding cancer while other nations lag behind.

      Lots of cancer is benign and lots of cancer will kill you at age 100 even though you died from a stroke at 76.

      1. Since messi10’s last comment was at 3:52 PM, I’m kind of assuming he doesn’t have any answers.

        There are many reasons why different countries and cultures have different health outcomes. Often diet does seem to be implicated but since no one has ever produced any evidence that GM foods have anything harmful. I’m going with US cancer rates (which as near as I can tell are in the middle of a cluster of western countries have absolutely zero to do with GM food.

  16. By the way, organic labels are entirely voluntary and are basically used as a marketing technique to extract extra money from unwitting consumers.

    bah…one does not have to be anti-organic to be pro-GMO. I think you went too far in writing “technique to extract extra money from unwitting consumers.” voluntarily informing people about choices they have is a good thing.

    1. In order to qualify for the USDA “Organic” label foods must be GMO-free in addition to all the other bwazwah they require..

  17. My understanding is that the anti-bio crowd is mostly concerned with repealing laws that prohibit organic (and even conventional, but non-GMO) producers from labeling their food as NON-GMO.

    Now, they may be over-reaching in their response by arguing for warning labels, but that’s a valid negotiating/lobbying technique, isn’t it? Ask for more than you want so you can get to a reasonable solution?

    1. Really, I thought they were concerned with lying to Haitian disaster victims and convincing them to burn the GMO seed that was donated by Monsanto regardless of the threat of those poor Haitians starving later on while the activists sip cuba libres in the hotel.

    2. If there’re any “laws that prohibit organic (and even conventional, but non-GMO) producers from labeling their food as NON-GMO”, it’s news to me, and anyone else, who has been in Whole Foods or any other place that sells organic or other “health” foods.

      Or are you trying to tell me that all those products that say NO GMOs are in violation of some law.

  18. It’s clear that the organic lobby promotes http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei…..-c-15.html disinformation to sell its products. It’s about time that consumers and reporters wake up to that fact.

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