Friday, October 05, 2012

Who do you trust?

Matt Ridley writes that there is almost no new risk from growing or consuming genetically modified foods.  In fact, progress in food cultivation saves people from starvation.  It is also an environmental boon.

But acceptance is opposed by protectionists, holding hands with the usual Luddites.

What exactly is the risk that we are being protected against? More than a trillion GM meals have been eaten worldwide and nobody is known to have had a tummy upset as a result. Genetic modification is a technique, not a product. To say it carries risks is like saying cooking carries risks so you should ban cooking. The older alternative to genetic modification - gamma irradiation of crops - is neither banned nor its products subject even to safety testing. Its products are used by the organic movement without a murmur. 
Nor is there a risk to the environment from genetic modification: indeed, the reverse. GM crops are proving to be unambiguously, spectacularly good for wildlife. Insect resistant crops mean half as much insecticide is used: all over China, India, South Africa, the birds, bees and butterflies are coming back into cotton crops. Higher yields save wilderness. Even the "spiritual" (or "yuck factor") arguments have been exploded. Geneticists now know that genes cross species barriers in nature too.
And this is just the first generation of GM crops. In the pipeline are ones that use less nitrogen; hoard water better; have added nutrients making them better as feed for pigs or salmon; and have omega-3 fatty acids in them, giving us all health benefits. North America, South America, China, India, Australia and increasingly large parts of Africa are now growing these crops and are delighted at the impact on yield, price and wildlife. Only Europe and some African countries that Europe has managed to bully are digging in their Luddite heels. 
Americans merrily eat not only 100 percent pure GM seeds in their food, but also the animals that eat these seeds. Yet we in Europe are not allowed to eat 0.01 percent GM food. This is not just ludicrous; it is scandalous. The bully boys of the environmental movement, whose chief interest in the subject was that it enabled them to get on the TV news for a while, have found common cause with the Eurocrats who love enforcing rules so they can justify trousering more of your money doing so. 
I recently walked out of a restaurant because its menu boasts of not serving GM ingredients. I support a technology that gives cheaper food and cuts down on insecticide use and the destruction of virgin forest.

On November 6, California voters will be asked to vote on Prop 37 which would require labeling of GM foods.  This is in spite of the fact that most people who shop for food have access to Google and can read what Matt Ridley and many others have to say; they can also find reader discussions of almost anything available at the local grocer. I doubt that politically inspired labeling will add anything useful.  In fact, it may even be misleading.

On the same ballot, I will have the opportunity to vote on LA County Proposition J, "Accelerating Traffic Relief Job Creation. To advance Los Angeles County traffic relief, economic job growth by accelerating light rail/subway construction. ... "

Let's see.  We have had light rail and subway construction in the County since the early 1980s.  In the last thirty years, no on has found any evidence that these activities have benefited the County's jobs picture or that traffic has improved.  There is a labeling problem when it comes to Prop. J.

It's safe to say that I do not want these guys in charge of labeling my food or anything else.