Quickies: Non-GMO Labels, Environmental Whistleblower Tyrone Hayes, and Losing the Middle Class

  • How Your Food Gets The ‘Non-GMO’ Label – “To receive the label, a product has to be certified as containing ingredients with less than 1 percent genetic modification. Westgate says that’s a realistic standard, while totally GMO-free is not. She says natural foods stores began the process of defining a standard, involving other interested players along the way, including consumers. Now, General Mills is just one of the big food companies selling non-GMO products.” This whole anti-GMO thing is just full of LOL WUT.
  • The Secret to Smart Groups: It’s Women – “A fleet of MIT studies finds that women are much better at knowing what their colleagues are really thinking. It’s another reason to expect the gender wage gap to eventually flip.”
  • Cool pope still isn’t cool with birth control. Most Catholics think that’s uncool – “Pope Francis is now urging ‘responsible parenthood.’ But unlike a majority of Catholics, he’s against birth control.”
  • Parents Who Shun Vaccines Tend To Cluster, Boosting Children’s Risk – “If these parents were distributed randomly, their decisions would be less likely to harm others, especially babies too young for vaccination. But parents who use personal belief exemptions to avoid school vaccination requirements often live in the same communities, studies have found.” I want to be sarcastic right now but I’m really just too busy headdesking.
  • How Black Middle-Class Kids Become Poor Adults – “Once they’ve grown up, African American children are more likely than their white counterparts to backslide into a lower economic group.”
  • “Dude, why didn’t you just sue these people?”: Portrait of an environmental whistleblower – “Salon speaks with embattled biologist Tyrone Hayes, subject of a new mini-documentary by Jonathan Demme.” I just watched The New Yorker Presents on Amazon and I really like it–I hope it survives the pilot season!
  • What If Heaven Is Not For Real? – “It’s easy to see Malarkey’s case as an example of how religion can be used by the unscrupulous to fool people (of course, lots of things can be used by the unscrupulous to fool people). Thinking more broadly, however, what the story really highlights is how deeply we human beings fear the end of our lives — and lengths we’ll go for solutions to that fear.”
  • What bigots do on MLK Day: How hateful extremists tried to co-opt the holiday – “From harassing Muslims to invoking MLK as a gun rights advocate, here’s how some “patriots” degrade a holiday.”

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Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. The ignorance on display in the comments of the GMO article is sickening.

    Having said that the voluntary label is the right approach, no public health concern=no government labeling mandate.

    1. My frustration with this whole thing though is that even “voluntary” is stupid, if the only criteria is, “is it GMO?”, and not what the hell that means, or was done to it. The best example I have seen, recently, was the article posted on potatoes – the non-GMO ones contain a carcinogenic chemical, which *may*, we don’t really know, contribute to cancer, and.. well, they also bruise. The GMO ones knock out both the genes that cause the effects of the bruising (dark/bad spots), but **also** the carcinogenic genes.

      So, these, “Oh my god, I need to eat healthy, and gluten, plus GMO, plus 50 other questionable things, lies, distortions, and/or just delusions, is what I need to do that!”, will automatically throw out the GMO potatoes, in favor of the bad ones. And, this is a good idea, why? Half the companies out there are already scared to death of the business they will lose, if they buy the GMO potatoes, and have rejected them. Its bad enough that the geneticist working on them may lose his shirt, and the product will never even see it to the market. And, we want people, voluntarily, or otherwise, slapping labels on these things, when companies are scared to death to sell them in the first place?

      Yeah.. if any of this labeling was being done sensibly, or for the right reasons, I wouldn’t mind. But.. no, its about isolating what a lot of confused, badly informed, people or just flat out kooks, have gotten scared silly by. Its not sensible, or even vaguely useful, at all, to have any do this.

      1. I agree, the labeling is misleading. Even if it’s voluntary, it’s a perceived advantage and companies will do anything to make a profit.

        1. Perhaps, but there’s a point for pragmatism. I know we can’t stop “no GMOs” labels, and for a certain type of mind “You’ve been eating this stuff for 20 years.” is not reassuring.

      2. It might make more sense if they were labelled individually; like E numbers, you could have G numbers.

        Each with its own set of (marginal) pros and cons – like the potatoes you mentioned.

        But it makes no sense at all to lump them all together.

      3. I agree it is unnecessary scientifically, but if it makes some people feel at ease and the burden of paying for it falls on those who actually use it I see no harm. If the “health risks” are not scientific a voluntary label is the best approach.

        Remember the “Real seal”? It was a marketing ploy by dairy manufacturers to get people to trust only those who had paid for the privilege to certify their dairy products as real (as opposed to imaginary? imitation), Kraft (who makes real cheese, however processed, despite their reputation) refused to play along striping it of some of its teeth, but it was a similar useless label. It still is I guess though I don’t know of anyone who still cares.

        It is a marketing ploy and will go over swimmingly at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I see no issue with it unless supermarkets decide to stop selling anything that is not labeled. I doubt that would happen outside of the snootiest retailers.

        1. Except.. As I said, its already happening. This isn’t some case of, “Will I pick a few GMO products to have on my shelf, or go all non-GMO?”, its a case of public paranoia, where even otherwise sane people are listening to the nuts. Its… douching, or the vitamin craze, etc. Its something that has coopted most of the public imagination about what we **need** to be scared of, or just have to buy. Sure, those trends, eventually, falter and fail, replaced by saner information, but right now, the insane information is on the rise, and *every* business is jumping on it.

          When you have something like the potato thing.. where just having it “in” the market at all is dependent on companies having the courage to buy it, instead of listening to the detractors among its customers, its not going to matter if its a temporary trend. Sure, maybe some less stupid companies will buy this guys engineered spuds. But, so far… it sounds like its been a near 100% rejection. His “actually better” product has, for no reason, become the rubber tomato, from the lab in the second Gremlins movie, which, “That is the best news, a major airline is interested in it.” The joke being, obviously, that no one else in their right mind would touch the things.

          Yeah, I think maybe the real response needs to be a clear, public, campaign, to get all the non-nuts to understand that these things are not automatically dangerous. Maybe even making it absolutely clear that all the “safe” stuff has, often, literally *never* been tested at all? But something.

          A labeling system that includes pros and cons.. would be nice, maybe, but.. what would be the con in some cases, “Ignorant people think this will kill you.”? Yeah, I can see leaving the con off, and being accused of not telling anyone of the imaginary danger, as going over just about as well as stating that it **is** imaginary.

          1. What you are saying is true perhaps in Europe but it is really just the crunchy granola crowd that is hung up on it here in the US.

            What I do find disheartening is the amount of otherwise rational skeptic that seem buy the whole “it hasn’t been tested” line of BS. Those same people would see right through Pascal’s wager but when it comes to “frankenfood” all of a sudden “but what if you’re wrong” trumps science.

            And it really isn’t a matter of public policy at this point anyway, if the industry decides there is a market for labeled products they will label products. That will not stop Monsanto, Arthur Daniels Midland, Dekalb, BASF, and the like from developing new varieties any more than a few anti-vaxxers (another issue that seems bigger then it is because of how loud the detractors are and the damage that can be caused by a small shift in consumer actions) stop new vaccines from being developed.

            At this point GMO is a foregone part of our future, the 7+ billion occupants of this tiny blue dot make it a certainty, any noises from the privileged few on the sidelines (and believe me, this is the privileged making all that noise) will, at best, simply shift the use of said products to the undeveloped world until non-GMO shortages cause a clamoring for them regardless of how modified they may be. I suspect however that this whole labeling brouhaha is merely a fad that will pass like clear beverages, low carb diets, and bacon in everything. Businesses, even those that consider themselves socially-conscious, will not stand idly by while potential money walks away.

          2. Maybe.. But even in the US, people have done some pretty damn stupid things for “fad” purposes and ignorance, and there is always the damn Congress and Senate to get involved, so.. even if most of the US is sane about it, the government did pass the Snake Oil Protection Act, and create part of this vast “alternative medicine/food supplement” idiocy in the first place… You can always look forward to them, in some cases, creating a problem that wouldn’t have existed at all, without them, if enough of the fruit loops push the right buttons.

          3. The whole point of this article is basically that the FDA is not getting involved, that is why there is a private company certifying these labels.

            As to the senate embracing alt med, it is appalling I agree. But least you think the entire congress is overrun by woo merchants let me tell you how that happened. Tom Harkin was a Democratic Representative turned Senator from Iowa who just retired, he was a very liberal legislator and pro-science (he was instrumental, for example, for getting funding for stem-cell research amid controversy) for the most part. He believed he had been “healed” of allergies by alt med and happened to be in the right place at the right time to push through creation of CAM boards and agencies by sweet talking his fellow congresscirtters and President Clinton. It’s snowballed to where it is today and Harkin is seen as a savior among woo-merchants, but it says more about the way legislature can be pushed through then the mindset of the congress.

            I would look to the recent testimony of Dr. Oz to see where the current congress is, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri drilled the quack TV doctor on his insistence on pushing “miracle” cures and Oz doesn’t fair well.

            With Harkin’s retirement CAM has lost their biggest cheerleader in the congress and I see a significant reduction in funding coming soon.

          4. Well, I honestly don’t know how many alti med types are in congress, but it takes three to tango in this country, so regardless of the Senate decision to come up with the SOP act, to protect vitamin companies from having the FDA actually verify what is safe to take (the rest is just a nasty side effect), it had to pass congress **and** be signed off on by the President. At bare minimum, this made everyone involved clueless and gullible. Does it really matter if, on top of that, some of them where actually nuts?

      4. Maybe GMO’s will start to take off when they are made to benefit the consumer more. Like if there was a GM potato that when boiled tasted like it had been roasted in goosefat yet had a real low glycemic index and was high in vitamins and minerals. I’d like to see that!

          1. I was being flippant because we were talking in the context of the West. Are Indian farmers embracing GMO’s with enthusiasm then?

          2. Oh, I know. I was adding to your flippancy.

            As for how successful golden rice is, I’d say it looks mixed. There are still the real concerns of how Monsanto and the like operate (although they are allowing royalty free use to any farmer making less then $10,000) and the possible effects on biodiversity, but with well-meaning but misguided opposition from Greenpeace among others, India and other countries are being pulled into the GMO=bad way of thinking.

            I personally find Greenpeace to be over reactionary on most subjects but in this instance their actions are unconscionable. Instead of addressing actual concerns (financial dependence, biodiversity, etc.) they are fomenting unfounded fear of the dreaded GMO. They have lost a lot of respect in my eyes.

  2. “backslide |?bak?sl?d|
    verb ( past backslid;past participle backslid or archaic backslidden |-?slidn| ) [ no obj. ]
    relapse into bad ways or error”

    Backsliding, also known as falling away,[1] is a term used within Christianity to describe a process by which an individual who has converted to Christianity reverts to pre-conversion habits and/or lapses or falls into sin, when a person turns from God to pursue their own desire.

    1. But according to Merriam-Webster the second definition is : to revert to a worse condition – retrogress.

      Having never been religious this was the only definition I was aware of, you learn something new every day.

    2. Lots of words have more than on meaning. Like this particular meaning that no one actually uses for this word. I’ve never heard it. Looks like I’m not the only one. IT’s fine.

  3. See? This article actually makes sense. Unlike a lot of things I’ve seen about white Twitter activists trying to inject ‘nuance’ about Charlie Hebdo. (Read: Victim-blaming.)

    And always remember, white people hated Martin Luther King.

    Of course antivaxxers cluster. Bullshit spreads from one concerned parent to another, possibly more effectively than it does from concerned parent to very serious person to other concerned parents.

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