Saturday, May 17, 2014

Maybe it is the media...

I have commented on several occasions about my bafflement over the strength of the GMO labeling movement. (I still think this is a war we could "lose" with little damage). Reading this analysis of what is really bugging people about the issue offered some reasons for the power of the pushback.
But I suspect that the substance of the issue are incidental. Ball writes about the fact that the anti-GMO movement is cross ideological, but then so surely is the pro-GMO contingent. And what unites them is not so much support for genetically modified food but rather contempt for what they perceive the anti-GMO movement to be. Ball quotes an organizer, “I talk to Tea Party people, Occupy people, churches, everybody. Everywhere I go, people want labeling.” What unites the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, the religious? They are all groups that are typically treated with derision by media elites. They’re too grass roots, too passionate, too uneducated, too defined by cultural and social signifiers that are anathema to the bourgie, educated, arty-but-not-pretentious-about-it, smart-but-anti-academic types who write the internet. The anti-GMO movement ticks the right boxes: associated with both crazy Christian homeschool types and crunchy Whole Food liberal types, conveniently labelled as anti-science with all of the pretenses to objectivity and intelligence using that label brings, and generally not a threat to your professional or social standing if you criticize them. They’re an easy target and a risk-free one, if you’re a professional journalist or political writer.If anything unites the presumed readership of our national newsmedia, it’s not ideology, but rather cultural and social positioning– the ideology of the elite. And the anti-GMO labeling position unites liberal journalists and writers, conservative journalists and writers, and libertarian journalists and writers in a shared distaste for the political machinations of those who they don’t deem up to their cultural standards. You can have whatever stance you want to about abortion (to pick one example) and function as a media elite, but you cannot, by definition, be a non-elite media elite. That is the underlying, tacit bias that pulses within our media.What makes all of this dangerous is that our  media has no vocabulary for talking about this. However useless it may sometimes be, there exists a long and passionate conversation about partisan and ideological bias in media– complaints about our liberal media, complaints about Fox News, complaints about coziness between foreign policy journalists and the governments they cover. We have people like Jay Rosen to write and think about bias and neutrality. But there’s far less conversation about what it means that essentially everyone who writes for prominent national publications went to college, likes the same kinds of music and movies, has the same attitudes towards food and fitness, and speaks with the same vocabulary, the same codes. And since proving you can write for one of these publications typically means proving you can use that vocabulary and those codes, it’s hard to imagine a lot of people getting into the conversation and forcing a real discussion about this type of bias. [More]

Now that I think about it, the ideological lines are kinda blurry on this issue. It's not a Fox/MSNBC split. DeBoer might be on to something.

Another thought that occurred was the defense that you shouldn't have to label stuff that's not harmful - that labeling automatically stigmatizes GMO ingredients. But we label all ingredients now. Doing so hasn't stigmatized lecithin or soy flour. Possible harm is not the issue, full disclosure is. 

Color me more convinced we're going to make this a bigger headache for ag than it needs to be.


Anonymous said...

Hi John,
From Australia where we have GM labeling laws. I support our existing laws and had hoped it would defused this talking point of those opposed to GM. This has not occurred and the argument continues around lower limits, labeling products such as sugar, or oils where there is no method to distinguish GM and non GM except an audited paper trail.

We already feel our time we can devote to farm management is impacted by regulatory requirements. However, our workload in this area is light compared to many European countries yet significant compared to US farmers.

Other comments, the limits on packaging space to print information means useful information is now too small for my eyes to read.

We also have occasions were commercial companies voluntarily print non-gm labeling, as is their right, but link the remodeled product to campaigns with unsubstantiated claims of safety issues by activists financed by the company.


John Phipps said...


Well that didn't help my strategy at all. Seriously, thanks for the first person feedback.

Anybody got other viable options?

Anyone? Bueller?

Anonymous said...

With as much as you read I'm sure you've slogged your way through this paper. It's pretty dry. I'd recommend having a cup of coffee handy before settling in.

John Phipps said...


I did wade through it. Like other scholarly efforts it made a solid case against labeling, but since when does that count?

Notice it passed unremarked for the most past in the media.

Thanks for the pointer though.

Anonymous said...

There are several academics including this one that have concerns about GMOs and expect that the seed companies given their arrogance on this issue will eventually insert a gene that has unexpected consequences and does harm to livestock or humans. They are novice toxicologists with a new tool that they do not completely know how to use. Time will tell when they are eventually humbled given their hubris.

Bill Harshaw said...

Did you see this piece in today's NYTimes. I don't think ag is going to win this.