Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Slashdot Deals: Deal of the Day - 6 month subscription of Pandora One at 46% off. ×

Comment Re:Salmon's now on my "foods to avoid" list (Score 1) 513

But, even then, a lot of FDA mandated labeling is neutral. If I am told how many carbs or how much fiber my cereal has, it is neutral, because all other cereals have those ingredients.

Not true. There are plenty of products on the store shelves with labels like "Fat Free", "No Added Sugar", "12g of Fiber". These are being used to target a subset of customer that may not include you, but it is intended to communicate something about the value of the product to those customers motivated by these labels.

For example, the label "Natural" implies that their competitors products are somehow unnatural. That is how the "Organic" label started out. In order to bring clarity to the consumer space the USDA instituted the National Organic Program which defined what practices and ingredients could be used and remain eligible for the organic label. These kinds of certifications cost money, and they wouldn't spend the additional money if people weren't willing to pay a much larger premium for products bearing the label.

Whether harmful or not, as a consumer, I should know where my food comes from.

You have EVERY RIGHT to ask, but unless there is a valid health/safety reason the vendor has EVERY RIGHT not to tell you. I'd like to know the exact recipe for Coca-Cola Classic. Right down to the mg. Doesn't mean the Coca-Cola company has to tell me, or that I can use the FDA to force them to release that information without good cause. Same goes for GM foods. You can choose to only buy products where companies disclose on their labels the GM status of all ingredients, but that is as far as your rights go unless there is a valid health/safety reason for you to know.

Assuming the products are indeed safe (and I have no reason to suspect otherwise), shouldn't they be labeled like everything else and those companies wanting to produce them educate the population? After all, if they have nothing to hide with GMO, then why hide that it is GMO?

Lets unpack this a little. First you are correct that the products are safe. Otherwise the FDA wouldn't have approved them (that is their job after all).

Second, you are approaching the labeling discussion from the "Why Not", when in fact the FDA must approach it from the other side, as in "Why Should They". As I pointed out above, there is a cost associated with labelling (supply chain segregation, verification testing, certifications, inventory management and demand projections, etc.). These costs may seem trivial from the outside, but as someone who's been involved in this stuff at work I can assure you that they are anything but trivial. Under the law, if the FDA is going to institute a new policy they need to conduct an economic analysis to determine the cost of their new policy and the benefits. Mandatory labelling of GM status has NO MEANINGFUL UPSIDE, and as all cost. Voluntary labelling on the other hand requires does not require this economic analysis, and can be supported through user fees (those seeking to get the label pay for the federal expenses associated with overseeing the label).

Now from the consumer side, it is perfectly reasonable to request that AquAdvantage label all of its GM salmon, and based on the unprecedented levels of transparency the company has demonstrated thus far, it is entirely possible that they will. I, for one, would like to buy their salmon to support them and say a big "FUCK YOU" to the anti-science fear mongers out there (plus I like salmon!). However, that is a MARKETING decision, not a SAFETY or REGULATORY decision. As someone who has had direct dealing with the FDA, it is very important to make sure they don't put my products at a disadvantage by trying to make marketing decisions for me. That is my job not theirs, and in my experience they are not very qualified to make those types of decisions.

Comment Re:GM producers are shooting themselves in the foo (Score 1) 513

What is "proper" is defined in-part by the government. Since labeling is a form of compelled speech there are limits on the circumstances in which the government can mandate a label, as well as limitations on the information that they can require be put on the label. Public health and safety are the justifications for the ingredients list, nutrient composition labels, and allergneicity statements. However, since there is no public health and safety difference between GM and non-GM salmon (if there had been a difference, the salmon would not have been approved in the first place), they cannot force AquAdvantage or their customer to label the GM status of their salmon.

However, what they can do is *enable* voluntary labeling of GM status. That is why they released 2 draft guidance documents to address how companies can legally label their plant and salmon products as GM-free.

Comment Re:Salmon's now on my "foods to avoid" list (Score 1) 513

But GM meat creates a problem: A(n) (American) corporation owns the food supply. So it can reduce supply to keep profit margins high. The advantage will be a lot less if other corporations create other supplies of quick-grown meat. Or, they can all keep prices as high as the market will bear.

They still must compete against other farm raised salmon, much of which is located in the continental US, which is not the case for these fish. They have no ability to increase market prices, only to push them down due to their (presumably) lower cost of production. They were handed a patent for fish they already own, not all of the salmon in the US. In fact, the current approval only authorizes them to use 2 manufacturing sites. One in Canada for the breeding animals, and one in Latin America (Panama I think).

I wouldn't assume that but it is certainly suspicious: There's nothing wrong with the meat (at the moment) and they're already trying to avoid responsibility. What's the point? If, far in the future, GM foods do become defective, no corporation can undo the 50 years worth of disease already foisted onto its customers. When dealing with an unknown cost, the cost of honesty is low because the cost of the truth is fixed.

Complete mischaracterization. We are not looking at no risk (not approved) vs risk (approved), but at 2 scenarios that both pose their own risks. Someone could incubate Salmon eggs with radioactive isotopes today to try and create a new strain of salmon and the FDA would not need to be notified at all. That salmon could be marketed tomorrow. The risk of the current breeding programs are equivalent to the risks posed by this new GM salmon. And since the risks are the same, the relative increase in risk is unchanged.

In the "Rama" trilogy (AC Clarke), there are several sentences that I remember. One sentence mentions that a planet that embraced genetic engineering soon became extinct. In the 'Star trek' universe ('G' Roddenberry), WW 3 is fought over genetic engineering. Visionaries have assumed that genetic engineering will be bad. The reason may be the greed and deception built-in to the supply chain of most industries.

Are you seriously throwing up science fiction as an argument? In the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy series there is a cautionary tale about a consumerist society collapsing because of their obsession with designer shoes, and they eventually evolved into birds so that they wouldn't have to set foot on the ground again. So. Fucking. What. does the HHGG book mean we should ban all designer shoes because we ,might get carried away and cause civilization to collapse based on the imaginings of a beloved fiction author?

Comment Re:Salmon's now on my "foods to avoid" list (Score 1) 513

You must not have any product marketing experience. If my product is labeled differently from yours, from a marketing perspective (which is based on the psychology of people when they are buying things) one is better than the other. Back before the USDA Certified Organic program existed marketers were putting the word "organic" on everything because it didn't mean anything legally (so they weren't lying) and it increased the perceived value of a product (thus increasing sales volumes or sales price). Marketing team are always looking for the next buzzword, as well as looking for the next term to avoid because they have the opposite effect on perceived value. Natural is another term that doesn't have a legal definition and so is getting slapped on everything despite meaning precisely nothing.

Due to all of the fear mongering about GM products by Big Organic et al., labeling your product as GM means to most consumers that it is unsafe. Nothing is stopping anyone from labeling their product as containing GM, and the FDA released 2 guidances to industry at the same time as the GM salmon announcement to address voluntary GM free labeling.

The difference between these salmon, and the newly revised food labeling rules come down to justification. Mandatory labeling requires justification. It is the government compelling speech, and that power cannot be abused on a whim. "I'd simply like to know" is too low of a bar, and that is the only really valid reason I've seen put forward in support of a GM-status label. With the nutritional labels, on the other hand, there is definitive health and nutrition concern being addressed. Public health and safety is a sufficiently high bar, and that is the basis for the nutritional guide labeling revisions recently pushed out.

The FDA is a food safety organization that is part of the federal government. They can oversee voluntary labeling plans to ensure that they are accurate and safe, but they cannot impose new labeling requirements based on a popular vote. That is why they are proposing new rules to address the desire of a subset of consumers to know the GM status of their food. Furthermore, they must (by law) consider the cost/benefit of any new regulation. There is a cost associated with labeling, and it is higher than most realize. Since there is no health and safety benefit to GM labeling, the cost/benefit is entirely one sided. If you want to voluntarily increase the cost of your product to cover certifications and labels, they can support you, but they cannot force your competitors to do the same without a good reason, which in this case there isn't.

Comment Re: Regulation please (Score 1) 161

There's quite a bit of regulation on food, animal feed, and drugs for both. Unfortunately there was a large campaign to free the supplement market from having to comply with most of those regulations. It is why homeopathy can claim to cure shot when it does nothing. There is an old video from the campaign that basically says the FDA is going to arrest you for taking vitamins, complete with cinematic production quality and a celebrity so you know you can trust them.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is going to address most of the remaining loopholes in food and feed, but it still doesn't touch the dietary supplements market unfortunately. They have too strong of a lobby in congress. Hopefully shot like this will erode their support.

Comment Re:How do they define GM? (Score 1) 330

Well I'm already 99.9% sure, and so are all of the worlds top science organization and regulatory bodies.

If you applied the 2 human generation requirement to all other new products and chemicals, you would be limiting yourself to the state of the art medical science circa 1965 (average human generation interval is about 25 years). If you are unwilling to give up the last 50 years of medical advancements, I can understand. I wouldn't want to give them up either. Fortunately there is a way to determine the multigenerational impact of a new chemical, drug, or treatment regime WITHOUT having to wait 50 years to be sure it is safe. This is achieved by the use of Surrogate Models. Basically we use animals with much shorter generation intervals that are measured in weeks or months instead of decades, expose them to very high levels of the chemical every day for several generations, and look at the 2nd or 3rd generation and see if they are any different from the control animals who were NOT exposed. This is a basic requirement for safety testing for a range of different industries such as GMO seeds, pharmaceutical testing, chemical hazard testing for the chemical industry, etc.

That you are apparently unaware of this concept suggests that you should probably learn a bit more about the testing performed and the requirements for regulatory approval before deciding it is inadequate. I'd suggests the USDA/APHIS website as well as the FDA website.

Comment Re:How do they define GM? (Score 1) 330

I did not make that up, though I'll admit that I did mis-remember the magnitude of the difference. I thought it was more than a single percentage point. Would have been more accurate to say that they were essentially equal, instead of one being stronger than the other. Doesn't really change my point much 88 and 89% are both pretty high.

BSE - Has nothing at all to do with GMO. No GMO has ever inserted a prion protein into a plant so BSE and other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (Kuru, CJD, and variant CJD in humans; chronic wasting disease in deer, etc.) are not relevant. EXCEPT that some researchers have developed a gene knock-out strain of cattle that does not contain the gene for the prion protein in the first place. Clearly a GMO that could make food safer.

Thalidomide - lots of chemicals can affect fetal development by interfering with the genome. That's why multigenerational genotoxicity studies in lab animals are part of the normal battery of tests to which a GMO are subjected before they can be considered safe. Generation interval for humans (disregarding the moral issues raised by testing on humans) is measured in decades. Generation interval in mice is measured in weeks. We can therefore look at multi-generational outcomes, with controlled doses, much more quickly and thus make decisions as to the safety of a new GMO in years instead of decades.

I've got no idea what you were getting at with regard to the jellyfish gene. All GMO at this point are based on well characterized single gene traits. The presence or absence of a single gene, producing a single protein, which performs a single well characterized action. It's not like companies are inserting random DNA segments to see what happens (that's what viruses do every day BTW). It is certainly *possible* that something could go wrong, which is why companies perform extensive internal testing before they decide to seek regulatory approval. The pipeline for developing gene traits is ~ 10 years from first concept to commercial approval, with the majority of that being internal testing. It's not like a new gene is discovered today and in seeds next year for sale.

Finally, you are essentially advocating infinite testing, which is both impractical and unnecessary. Testing under all possible permutations, no matter how similar they may be to permutations already tested. That is not science, that is paralysis based on irrationally high fear. This kind of testing is not really a call for testing, but a backhanded way to prevent approval. To pull out the tired old automobile analogy, cars kill thousands of people every year in the US yet we don't DEMAND that auto manufacturers make a perfectly safe car. We don't call for them to be tested on every single road in American at every single conceivable speed. Instead we've developed a battery of safety tests that we believe are highly predictive of the ultimate safety of a car. We simulate specific driving conditions and specific accident conditions, and base assessments on that. The same thing is done for GMO crops, with a much better success record thus far since no death or harm has ever been attributed to consumption of GMO food. Ironically, the same cannot be said for non-GMO organic foods.

Comment Re:How do they define GM? (Score 1) 330

What is special about the 80 to 120 year post-market approval date? Oh, you didn't know that the first GM seeds hit the market ~20 years ago?

Also, you may not be aware, but Monsanto tested their first GM seeds for several years before they received approval to sell them from the USDA/APHIS, FDA and EPA. How many years of testing is enough for you, and what do you base that requirement on?

Comment Re:How do they define GM? (Score 2) 330

Since the scientific consensus on the safety of current GMO crops is HIGHER than the scientific consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming, YES it is anti-science.

If you don't like gene patents, get involved in politics and lobby to have laws passed that strongly curtail or eliminate gene patents (I'd be right there with you, BTW). But blaming a technology because you don't like the ways in which one company is using it, is a little like railing against incompetent hammers because the contractor you hired to renovate you bathroom fucked it up.

Aside #1 - The original patent on glyphosate resistance should be expiring in the next 12 months (if it hasn't already), so we will see how reviled that particular technology is once everyone can use it free of charge.
Aside #2 - Much of the practices documented by politically biased film makers like Polan have been industry standard practice for longer than GM technology has been available. For example, no-seed-saving clauses have been pretty standard in contracts for generations. Farmers consider them a fair trade because dedicated breeders can improve seeds much faster (even without modern molecular GM techniques) than busy farmer can do it themselves, and there are plenty of places one can buy non-contract encumbered seeds if one is so inclined. The fact that the vast majority of farmers have chosen the GM seeds (despite the higher costs) should make it pretty clear that farmers consider them worth the cost.

Comment Re:How do they define GM? (Score 1) 330

This idea that anybody who has reservations on going to town with GMO technology is a stupid luddite, because GMO is a technology that cannot possibly cause any unforeseen harm, is pretty idiotic in it self. I'm all for science but deregulating GMO and allowing greedy corporations to do anything they want without any oversight because GMO is a supposedly such a safe technology is not something I'm prepared to do.

No-one is claiming that having concerns about GMO is stupid, but in order to have strong reservations about the technology today you do have to be largely ignorant (as in unaware, not stupid) of the vast body of knowledge that currently exists as to the safety of the GMO products currently on the market. The fact that most of this information can be found with a simple search of pubmed or the USDA's website.

I can't speak for all nations, but no one is attempting to deregulate GMO in the US. Not mandating a GMO label is not the same thing as not regulating GMO. Each and every GMO variety has undergone Individual Review before being allowed to be sold commercially. The USDA/APHIS, FDA, and EPA all weigh in on the safety within their bailiwick before the product can be approved, and then post them on their website (linked to above). No one is even trying to prevent companies from labeling for GMO status voluntarily. What is happening is that regulators are trying to strike a balance between the costs and benefits of a label, by making sure that those paying the cost of the label are those who want it. I should not have to subsidize the irrational fears of my neighbors if they are fully capable of footing the entire bill themselves.

Finally, greedy corporations, are a completely separate issue from GMO. If you don't like the way the US seed industry operates (professional seed breeders have required contracts that preclude seed saving for many years before GMO seeds came along) then pass laws that change that aspect of their business, not some other, completely unrelated aspect. Monsanto et al. sell both GM and non-GM seeds, and there are non-profit companies developing GMO crops that can literally save lives and plan to GIVE AWAY the seeds they develop.

Comment Re:How do they define GM? (Score 2) 330

No, Monsanto is actually doing both things. Some traits are improved more rapidly through transgene technology (ie herbicide resistance or insecticide production in the roots), whereas most traits that they farmer actually gets paid for (ie yields) are more rapidly improved through "traditional" cross breeding. Monsanto does both. May sound like a nitpick, but it shows your ignorance (as in lack of specific knowledge, not stupidity) on this matter.

Also, they are not "entirely different". The same technology that can be used to insert a transgenic trait can also be used to transfer a single gene between cultivars within the same species. IIRC, the LPA (low phytic acid) allele was original discovered in corn by accident, and then using the same gene insertion technology was inserted into more productive strains of corn. The product ultimately failed on the market due to practical considerations (lower viability of the plant, and problems associated with segregating LPA corn from commodity corn in order to be able to get a higher price). More recent work along this line has solved the first problem by delaying the activation of the LPA allel until after the plant is fully grown so that it primarily affects phytate P deposition in the seed (which is desirable), but that doesn't adequately address the basic logistics question of how to get the higher priced corn to someone who will pay the higher prices. Especially since feed enzymes (phytase) can be used to break down the phytic acid in cheaper commodity corn just fine.

Furthermore, new CRISPR technology will make it possible to edit genes in place with no need to transfer DNA from another plant or species in order to get the desired gene into the genome. It is expected that this will be used to modify plants in all sorts of ways without crossing the species barrier. The future is here, and it has been shown to be safe thus far. At some point you need to just get over the fear and accept that we've got this covered, so you can worry about something that might actually hurt you.

Comment Re:They brought it on themselves (Score 1) 363

Very different. For one thing there is a lot of research being done by people who are far more concerned with the welfare of the animals than they economics for the humans. These people are driving the animal welfare research agenda. People like Joseph Garner or Temple Grandin. Temple is world famous for her work on improving welfare in cattle slaughter plants. I met Joe back when he was a professor at Purdue. He has spent a lot of time working through the moral implications of various management techniques, cage size, environmental temperatures (performance ideal vs animal preferences), etc. His whole group at purdue were some of the most compassionate researchers I've ever known with regards to their research animals.

Your jaded view is just not consistent with the actual work being done by actual people I know in the field, or the actual changes I've witnessed in the last 15 years. I won't argue that we didn't need a kick in the ass, but there is a point where we should start to get credit for the progress we've made and the things we were already doing right, and I think that time has already come.

Comment Re: Good! (Score 1) 363

As I said, there are farms that do use anesthetic. Usually based on the animal welfare section of their production contract. I'm sure with a little research you can find out which brands require this sort of thing, if you are interested. Of course 6 years a vegetarian is quite a time, so you probably are not interested.

Comment Re: Good! (Score 1) 363

I was talking about their relative ranks, not trying to imply that they didn't have them. Animal perceive pain, but it's power as a motivator is not as strong. Hunger for hogs on the other hand is a much stronger motivator than for humans. Cattle are incredibly curious, they've been known to lick the grease off of a crank shaft just to feel the sensation, but sheep flee from novelty. Each animal perceives the world differently, and places different emphasis on different stimuli. The relative importance of each differ

All power corrupts, but we need electricity.