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My diet is not my politics

The ingredients list on my breakfast is 38 words long. 12 of those words are "Organic". The front of the box advertises "NO GMOs" "NO BIOENGINEERED INGREDIENTS".

As a result, I feel just a little bit guilty.

The whole flexitarian thing has worked out smashingly well. I'm eating almost no meat at all, and not missing it a bit. I absolutely love veggie burgers, soy milk, and just about every product that Amy's puts out.

Unfortunately, the food that I like seems to frequently be wrapped up in social/political positions that I oppose. I do not subscribe to the idea that "natural = better". I recognize that mankind has been engineering our crops for millennia, and that genetically modified food is the key to feeding humanity, to say nothing of potentially improving the overall quality of our food. I understand the fallacy of "organic" food. I'm also a big supporter of nuclear power and food irradiation, and think that our world is significantly worse off as a result of the ill-informed political efforts against them.

I place no intrinsic value on something being "natural" or "organic". They are descriptors (and fuzzy ones at that), not value judgments. Neither word means "beneficial". And yet I can't seem to buy the types of food that I enjoy without also supporting this marketing spin to which I am opposed.

If I could find, for example, soy milk that was advertised as "Irradiated with Cobalt-60!" or "Made using transgenic soybeans engineered for better nutrition, higher crop yields in poor soil, and pest resistance!" or even just "Luddite free!" I'd probably drink that brand exclusively. :-) (Okay, that last one gets into fuzzy marketing spin, but you get the idea.)

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
h_postmortemus
Sep. 28th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
While the term "organic food" is certainly misleading, there's a lot of value in foods that are not synthetically produced.

HFCS versus Sugar: Sugar tastes better. Pretty much anyone can taste the difference. And HCFS is not Kosher, sugar is.

Milk & Beef: Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is a naturally occuring compound, which is then increased in unnatural quantities to boost production. There are scientific studies indicating possible links to rBGH and cancer in humans. Organic milk has a much longer shelf-life than non-organic milk, so less waste.

Vegetables: Organic farming does use pesticides and fertilizer, which no one has ever claimed otherwise. But the claim that there is no linkage to synthetic pesticides and human health is false. Many pesticides have been banned by the FDA because of research showing linkage to cancer, birth defects and other health issues.

Artificial Food Supply Deficiencies: Very large companies control the majority of food supply in the US, and those companies have effectivelly installed Analog Rights Management into the food chain. In addition to natural disasters interfering with the food supply (floods, plant diseases, pestilence, etc), we
have LEGAL obstructions in the food supply. Farmers have been sued because genetically modified plants were found on their land, literally because seeds blew off plants FROM A DIFFERENT FARM. In other words, naturally occuring processes become the basis for lawsuits to drive competitors out of business.

Local Economics: When we buy from the farmers market and local produce stands, we don't pay sales tax. The money goes directly to the small business owners. Small Business owners and entrepreneurs are the biggest creators of jobs in the US right now. Money spent locally stays around locally. Money spent in big chain stores goes to distant economies and doesn't help locally. This is a well-documented economic.


Now I agree with you that irradiation is a critical food preservation method, and ultimately is no different than other methods. And humanity has been genetically engineering food for thousands of years. There's no way for modified genes in a foodstuff to affect a human's health. OTOH, you do have the ARM issue, and the valid concern that a modified foodstuff could crowd-out a naturally existing foodstuff, but then die-out because it has built-in controls TO DIE OUT. Then you have the extinction of both the natural foodstuff and its artificially created replacement.


P.S.
I am not a hippy.
joreth
Sep. 28th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
A couple of the points you make are not entirely accurate. For example, Brian Dunning, of the podcast Skeptoid, did an episode on locally-grown food that had some surprising results, particularly in where the money goes and the increased amount of pollution and other negative side effects of supporting so-called "locally-produced food".

Also, an awful lot of the "natural" products are *also* owned by large corporations, which do the kinds of things that large corporations do. Often, a single corporation will own both a processed food and a "natural" food because, hey, they get money no matter who's buying. The solution here is not to avoid buying synthetics to punish the large corporations, because they'll get your money anyway. The solution is to regulate the corporations better (which is a very complex subject, and one I'm not intending to provide an answer for here).

The claim that there is "no" linkage to synthetic pesticides and human health is false, but the claim that there is "no" linkage to non-synthetic pesticides and human health is also false. The vast, vast, VAST majority of human health issues that are linked to pesticides have to do with improper handling and storage of the chemicals, which affect mostly migrant workers and workers in third-world countries where regulations are poor or non-existent. And that goes for both natural and synthetic pesticides.

And, the most compelling argument against "natural" foods is that the genetically engineered foods are simply better. They take up fewer resources, they provide more edible product, they are hardier for both environmental conditions and storage/shipping conditions. Plainly, they feed more people with fewer drains on the planet. Look up Norman Borlaug, one of the greatest men who ever lived.
sylvar
Sep. 28th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
But the claim that there is no linkage to synthetic pesticides and human health is false. Many pesticides have been banned by the FDA because of research showing linkage to cancer, birth defects and other health issues.


I don't have a particular axe to grind here, but as the partner of a critical-thinking teacher and the beneficiary of a UF class on ecology and human intervention...

Assumption: All or most of those banned pesticides are synthetic.

Assumption: No non-synthetic pesticides have been banned by the FDA.

Assumption: The health issues caused by the use of synthetic pesticides outweigh the health issues caused by pest-related crop failure and starvation. (In that sense, there is most certainly a linkage between synthetic pesticides and human health -- probably a positive correlation, if you look at human lives saved versus human lives damaged/destroyed.)

Even with these assumptions, you still have nothing of the form "if (synthetic pesticide), then most likely (negative health effects)".

And -- okay, here's where I *do* have an axe to grind -- the FDA can't prohibit the use of any pesticide in another country, only the sale of those imports. As a result, a pesticide that has horrible effects on the people applying it, or working where it's been sprayed, will probably only be banned if the pesticide causes problems for the FDA's constituents. So when one sees pesticide-treated produce in an American supermarket, it's tempting to conclude "This pesticide must be safe, or else they wouldn't be allowed to sell these bananas." The problem is that safe to eat doesn't always mean safe to produce, and I think some consumers of organic produce choose it because of its effect on farmworkers.
datan0de
Sep. 28th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC)
I won't rehash other comments, but I do have a couple of points and a question:

Farmers have been sued because genetically modified plants were found on their land, literally because seeds blew off plants FROM A DIFFERENT FARM. In other words, naturally occuring processes become the basis for lawsuits to drive competitors out of business.

I'm not doubting you, but can you provide an example where this has actually happened? And do you know what the outcome was? It doesn't seem like such a case would make it through discovery, but I'm no expert on the legal system by any means.

Regardless, your point is tangental to mine, and I'll freely admit that I have mixed feelings regarding terminator seeds. On one hand, companies invest billions in R&D to develop a superior product, and if their product is self-replicating (plants!) then it can become impossible to recoup their investment. They have a right to profit from the fruits of their labor (pun intended), and a business climate that promotes further innovation and bioengineering is better for everyone in the long run.

On the other hand, allowing them to control the price and restrict propagation of a basic requirement of life (food) raises its own ethical issues. I can't say that I'd be bothered if, every now and then, seeds for a non-terminator variant of a GM crop managed to "somehow" find their way to a starving region.

There's no way for modified genes in a foodstuff to affect a human's health.

Huh? I actually disagree with this statement. It's certainly possible for modified genes in food to affect the health value of that food. That's part of the point. And it can go both ways, which is why we have FDA controls.

and the valid concern that a modified foodstuff could crowd-out a naturally existing foodstuff, but then die-out because it has built-in controls TO DIE OUT. Then you have the extinction of both the natural foodstuff and its artificially created replacement.

Given that terminator crops are designed specifically to not reproduce I don't think that this is a valid concern. They'll grow where they're planted and then die out at the end of the season. Even taking into consideration the possibility of incidental wind spread to unintended locations, there's no mechanism by which they'd be able to wipe out the natural variants in a single generation. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
aclaro
Sep. 29th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
While I haven't had the time to extensively research terminator seeds, on a basic level, I find the idea to be abhorrent.

It reminds me of when Nestle would go to third world countries and, wearing white lab coats, give out samples of formula... samples which would last just long enough for mothers milk to dry up. At this point, new mothers would be dependent on formula, and a lot of babies ended up dying as a result.

There seems to be similar things happening in Ethiopia, where "aid" turns into corporate dependence. I'm not sure if this is happening now, but it's trivial to think of a situation where terminator seeds are provided as famine relief and farmers end up having to buy new seeds every year, leaving everyone worse off than they were.

From my perspective, when it comes to food, it's public domain. We can get plenty of innovation in bioengineering by having publicly funded research which benefits the public good (where do you think most of the GMO research started out anyways?)

I'm open to debate on this as I haven't extensively researched it, just going with my gut and a bit of reading this morning.

In terms of the whole "organic"/"GMO" thing, I know what you mean. The only kind of toaster waffle which is vegan has a gluten free kind, an organic kind and a low fat kind. I just want a fucking waffle!! However, I will say that I don't resent buying organic/non-gmo, it's just not a selling point for me, especially if it costs more. The one thing that I do like to support are heritage grains, because there are very few farms left growing things like spelt and quinua and all this corn and wheat isn't so good for my digestive system, and I want to support farmers who are growing some of these other grains.
datan0de
Oct. 1st, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
I'm open to debate on this as I haven't extensively researched it, just going with my gut and a bit of reading this morning.

You're not likely to get much of one from me, since I agree with you in principle.

Side note: I've heard about the Nestle scheme before. The only word I can think of for it is "evil".
h_postmortemus
Oct. 6th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
Man, too bad I had to go on vacation for a week, this was a good debate!

Ok, to my statement "There's no way for modified genes in a foodstuff to affect a human's health.", I did not express my thought clearly. I was trying to say "Genes in the good we eat don't get incorporated into our own genes, so the modified genes don't represent any sort of threat to our health". This is a mis-conception that many people seem to have (present company accepted).

Of course a genetically modified food may have negative health impacts, but so can natural, non-engineered food. Just remember, the FDA regulation of GM foods is pretty lax, and as Sylvar pointed out, only applies to stuff made in the US.

As for the farmer getting sued, you can read about it here. You can quickly realize how extraordinarily dangerous the idea of self-terminating seeds are. Fucking around with such basic underpinning of our food supply is scary.

It's not the genetic engineering that's the issue though, it's the ethos of those who are doing it.
(Deleted comment)
slouchinphysics
Sep. 28th, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC)
I'm tempted to make a pile of stickers that say "Luddite Free!" to put on products and places that deserve the appellation. I have to agree that having that as add copy would sell me a product.
radven
Sep. 28th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
Great post.

I'd just like to find products marked with a sticker saying "all engineering, development, and marketing decisions have been run past a really smart person with no political or social agenda".

I nominate you for that job. :-)

khepra
Sep. 29th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
That's now how marketing decisions in America work.

THIS is how marketing decisions in America work...



(thanks fangly)

Edited at 2009-09-29 12:25 am (UTC)
h_postmortemus
Oct. 6th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
BWAHAHAHAAH!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )