Friday, July 18, 2014

Scary Words

So today I'm sharing a reply to a Facebook thread. Sorry Valerie! :)

It was a thread about GMO food myths that started a rather lively debate. One that I just had to jump in to. Here is what I had to say about it.

It is merely important for rational ideas to be the foundations of policy and public discourse, and very little of the GMO fear mongering I see demonstrates any of this in practice. 

I certainly won't argue that corporatism isn't a huge and foundation
al problem in this country with far reaching and detrimental ramifications. But by the same token there is hardly any real credible evidence that GMO foods present any health dangers in and of themselves. What few legitimate concerns there are, are in reality monoculture concerns when examined critically.

Sure there are other concerns with GMO's, real ones. But those are primarily political and economic ones. Having basic foodstuffs become legal entities of intellectual property for one. This is of course true worldwide with seedstock, and true regardless of whether the stocks are a GMO variety or not. GMO's however do make the issue more intractable from a legal perspective.

The deeper issue here is one of deciding how we're going to feed people. Even today we live in a world where an astonishing number of fellow human beings go to bed hungry. Most of the people that don't owe practically their very existence to one agricultural geneticist, Norman Borlaugh. If ever a person gets my vote for being the greatest human being who has ever lived, he is top of my list.

Ever heard of him? I suggest learning about him. And I'd suggest learning more about how food "works". I work in a food related industry, and it is quite eye opening to realize how popular trends in foods play out within public discourse, and how we all pay the price to varying degrees for good sounding ideas that fail to materialize as anything remotely good when attempted at the scale of a society.

Organics? Here in particular is an area of food where naivety comes into clear focus. When you walk a produce rack and compare organics and non organics you naturally notice the organics are more expensive. And while it is true that organic farming is more expensive (and land intensive and usually water intensive) this is only a part of the story. Organic methods tend to lead to less attractive produce on a pound per pound basis, and *THIS* is primarily what drives up cost to the end user. That less attractive looking produce simply doesn't end up on your local produce rack. We are jaded and let our eyes and decades of expectation determine whether or not something is "good" or "nutritious".

It gets worse. Because organic methods are intrinsically less safe at scale, and because imported organics from asia, central america and the e.u. face less legal scrutiny than international mail.....AND BECAUSE POPULARITY DRIVES PEOPLE GIVING A CRAP IN THE FIRST PLACE, our markets are flooded with excess "organics" that end up as food ingredients. 

As someone who sees manufacturer and FDA driven product recalls on a regular basis I can say with certainty two things. Most safety related product recalls today are driven by food ingredient country of origin issues. It is an ironic twist given our countries huge problems with monoculture, corporate dominated farming (from political and price stability standpoints) that most of our food safety problems now exist because of public backlash against big AG. The second thing? As these are safety related issues, we in the food industry react IMMEDIATELY, because of liability concerns. Maybe 40 years ago most of these recalls would be headline news, but today with our monolithic media only a handful of these ever see major coverage.

...and don't get me started on "gluten free" of the largest public health scams of the century...

People like "feeling" like they're a part of something important. They want to "feel" like they are making good choices. And unfortunately this often leads to "joining" things, like movements. And equally tragic this often means people latch on to ideas because they have a community to be a part of. It is however equally important that what you believe be based on reality, and reality is usually more complex and less forgiving than a tshirt.

As one of my favorite people once said, "If feeling good and wasting your time sounds like a good idea, maybe Heroin is for you!" 

There are legitimate concerns with GMO. And indeed there are hugely legitimate concerns with corporatism. But they are not the same concerns. It's best to at least begin wrapping your mind around the real complexities here before you let scary words bamboozle you into valuing the wrong ideas.