— Part two of a two-part investigation —
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GMO LABELING – PART TWO
In part two of our investigation into GMO Labeling, we’re shifting away from labeling cost questions, and instead looking at big picture economics, particularly focusing on how America’s free market has affected the GMO controversy. Let me give you a hint right up front here… it hasn’t. If you’re not familiar with the term “free market”, a quick dictionary definition is this:
Free Market — an economic system in which prices are determined by unrestricted competition between privately owned businesses.
When it comes to the economics side of the GMO situation, America is supposed to thrive on a free market. It’s what determines winners and losers, something Republicans tend to tout even more than Democrats. So you know something is up when Republicans are spearheading some free market-killing, anti-GMO labeling legislation.
But they’re really just continuing a 20+ year culture in our government that’s been suppressing the free market when it comes to biotechnology, and actually an even older culture that’s been suppressing the free market when it comes to US agriculture in general.
LET THE FREE MARKET REIGN
You’re about to see just how smart and shrewd Monsanto really is, because their foray into GMOs was a big, BIG deal, in large part because they managed to pull it off by evading free market forces. But to see that, first we must take a look at the older, government culture I just mentioned — the legislative culture behind government subsidies.
Government subsidies quietly control which crops are grown in this country, essentially creating some areas of farming that, much like we saw with banking, may be considered “too big to fail.” Prime examples of this are corn and soy, two staple crops in America that are closely tied to factory farming, since they’re largely used for animal feed. And if we don’t have enough, for better or worse, all the meat we eat in America can take a hit (particularly in price).
And this is a BIG reason why Monsanto chose the crops they did when first creating GMOs. A clear part of Monsanto’s plan was to target the biggest crops, and thanks to these farm subsidies existing since the Great Depression, the biggest crops in America (corn and soy) are the ones receiving the most government support. Yes, the government largely dictates our farm outputs. True story.
If you want to learn more about subsidies, the late Peter Jennings did a great investigation on the subject back in 2004, which you can view below. I highly recommend watching it after you’re done reading this post (start at 3:18).
So when it comes to corn and soy in general, there hasn’t been a free market in this country for decades. By design, subsidies completely upend the free market concept, essentially encouraging farmers to grow one crop over another. That’s the American farming world we’ve created.
Looking at these subsidies makes it easy to understand Monsanto’s targets when they first tried to crack the GMO code. If you look at subsidies from 1995-2014 (and remember, GMOs started in 1996), farmers growing corn, wheat, cotton and soy were the top 4 crop subsidy recipients during that time, and all 4 crops have had GMO varieties at one point, although wheat currently does not.
See Subsidies Data – http://farm.ewg.org/region.php?fips=00000&progcode=total
CORN, CORN AND MORE CORN
And since GMO corn stepped into the picture, corn itself, already by far the #1 crop in America, has taken over another 16 million acres of farmland, according to the most recent data from 2012. It was grown on over 87 million acres of land that year. Remember that – over 87 million acres were dedicated to corn as of 2012, and the only crop even close was soy, with 76 million acres. In fact, acre-wise, corn, soy, and then wheat absolutely dwarf all other crops grown in America (excluding forage land used for hay, etc.).
Meanwhile, almost every other crop we grow has seen its acreage and output reduced during this same time frame, as more and more farmers were driven to the key subsidized crops of GMO corn and GMO soy. See the USDA Farm Data here: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/usv1.pdf
It is crystal clear where biotech set its sights – they wisely, from a financial standpoint, targeted the crops we grew the most, and we grew the most of them because they’re subsidized by the government. They went for crops that would deliver the greatest market penetration, and would receive the most support from the government if things went south.
Monsanto knew that if they could get farmers to start buying into GMO crops, they would then wield a huge influence in our agricultural system… and it worked amazingly well. When now over 90% of our two biggest crops, corn and soy, are of the GMO variety in the US, that’s pretty much a slam dunk.
HOW A FREE MARKET SHOULD WORK
But how exactly did Monsanto manage to evade free market forces?
Well to answer that, let’s talk about how the free market is supposed to work. Normally, when you’re creating a new product for the marketplace, you need to clearly show that new product’s value to your potential customers, so they want to buy it.
Every time a new Apple or Samsung phone comes out, you see TV commercials immediately touting what makes that new phone the latest and greatest. Now, in the case of GMOs, it’s a little different proposition, because the first line customer of biotech companies like Monsanto is the farmer, not the grocery shopper.
But a crucial difference here is that, back in the early 1990s, Monsanto unequivocally knew GMOs would be controversial. They knew this wasn’t just any ordinary new product, and they knew it should be handled with kid gloves. From a logical and ethical standpoint, the right way to handle GMOs was to sell both farmers and consumers on why they ALL should want GMOs in the food supply.
They weren’t just adding a little beet coloring to candy canes here folks, this was a BIG change to our food, and the opportunity was right there for the company to scream from the rooftops exactly why their Roundup Ready corn was so amazing. Monsanto could have easily done the right thing from the very beginning.
But as we now know from our earlier research and previous GMO TRUTH podcasts, Monsanto has a hard time doing the right thing – which greatly contributes to the whole “they have something to hide” mantra constantly surrounding them.
Regardless, they did address a big part of the marketing equation by gradually selling more and more farmers on using GMOs. If they hadn’t, 90% of corn and soy wouldn’t be GMO right now. So yes, they certainly sold farmers on it. And you can be as anti-GMO as you want, but the fact is, farmers all over America are growing GMO corn and soy on millions of acres of land. So Monsanto is obviously doing something right, or that wouldn’t be the case.
What they also needed to do, however, was sell the consumer on GMOs – specifically on both the new, added value of the products, and on the safety of the products, because yes, you can be as pro-GMO as you want, but the fact remains, this is new science. You’re talking about a brand new and much more elaborate method of genetic manipulation, and when you say the words “genetic manipulation” in the same sentence as food, people will be prone to freak-outs (just ask Nile Rodgers).
DODGING THE FREE MARKET WITH SUBSTANTIAL EQUIVALENCE
Instead of doing things the right way and openly addressing that perception from the start, Monsanto went all in to push a regulatory concept known as substantial equivalence, something we’re investigating right now as one of our research sequences here at Walk a Mile. And although we haven’t wrapped that sequence up yet, we don’t need to go too far down the rabbit hole to know this probably wasn’t the right way to release GMOs into the world. Which brings us to the 2nd part of our GMO Labeling argument here –
GMOs have never been fully subjected to free market forces, thanks to the zero transparency that resulted from the adoption of substantial equivalence.
Here’s what you need to know about substantial equivalence. First, this was declared as policy by the FDA way back in 1992, in a document titled –Statement of Policy: Foods Derived From New Plant Varieties
Here’s what the policy says (yes, it’s a crazy mouthful):
The scientific concepts described in this guidance section are consistent with the concepts of substantial equivalence of new foods discussed in a document under development by the Group of National Experts on Safety in Biotechnology of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This guidance section is also consistent with the principles for food safety assessment discussed in the Report of a Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Consultation (Ref. 6).
First, if you’re like me, you probably laughed out loud a little when you just heard that the FDA was basing policy on a document that’s, “under development”, which is a huge red flag right from the start.
But the document they refer to eventually wound up being called SAFETY EVALUATION OF FOODS DERIVED BY MODERN BIOTECHNOLOGY, by that OECD organization they mentioned.
Now early in that document, the OECD describes substantial equivalence, saying –
“The concept of substantial equivalence embodies the idea that existing organisms used as food, or as a source of food, can be used as the basis for comparison when assessing the safety of human consumption of a food or food component that has been modified or is new.”
Then in the document’s conclusion, they summarize the use of substantial equivalence, saying –
“The main conclusion of this report is as follows: if a new food or food component is found to be substantially equivalent to an existing food or food component, it can be treated in the same manner with respect to safety. No additional safety concerns would be expected.”
Now at the very end of this document, there’s a list of all the participants, and one of those participants just happens to be Dr. James Maryanski, from the FDA itself. If you’ve been listening to the GMO TRUTH, you’ve heard from Dr. Maryanski before. He openly admitted that pushing the substantial equivalence concept was based on politics, not on science. We’ve shown this clip before, but since it’s really short and just extremely powerful, it’s worth a quick look again –
So Substantial Equivalence essentially prevented GMOs from instead being treated like a food additive, or even like a drug, when it comes to testing requirements, and an argument can be made that either of those classifications would’ve made much more sense than just using “substantial equivalence” as the go-to regulatory solution. If I ask for proof of safety (and efficacy) on a new drug, I can see clinical trials done on humans. What do I see for GMOs?
ZERO TESTING ON HUMANS, YET A “SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS”?
Well, taking the substantial equivalence route meant no testing was required on humans. Yes, you heard that right, we have done ZERO testing on humans, despite the widespread penetration of GMOs into our food supply – where yes, humans do indeed eat them every single day.
But because the FDA decided to take this route, GMOs were not held to the same rigorous standards as other new substances, and it paved the way for the regulation we now know today. Yes, it started over two decades ago, but make no mistake, substantial equivalence helped bring us to the point we are at right now with the Senate.
Now, even with these lower testing requirements for GMO crops (this lesser burden of proof, so to speak), lately we keep hearing about a scientific consensus on GMO safety. And in particular, there’s constant mention of hundreds of studies that PROVE GMOs are safe. And if GMOs are clearly 100% safe, then substantial equivalence might not really matter anyway, right? If they’re 100% safe, then maybe the FDA was right to use substantial equivalence back in the early 90s.
But here’s the thing – when I first started discussing GMOs online publicly at The Walk a Mile Project, almost right out the gate I ran into a very, very pro-GMO advocate who spent a fair amount of time trying to rip other perspectives to shreds, regardless of merit (yes, he may very well have been a shill, I don’t know). And in the course of our conversation, as he realized what I was working on, he proudly declared that well over 1,700 studies had been done absolutely proving GMO safety. So I of course immediately asked him for the data, and he sent me a spreadsheet listing 1,787 studies on GMOs. There you go, 1,787 studies!!! Safety proven, right?!
DIGGING INTO THE DATA
Well… since we have this pesky habit of actually checking facts and data here on the GMO TRUTH, I decided to look at a random sampling of 10 studies on the list just to see what angles the researchers were taking, and what conclusions were being drawn. And lo and behold, 2 of those 10 studies actually questioned GMO safety, instead of touting it. Not exactly the undeniable proof my YouTube comments buddy was selling. And that’s just flaw #1.
Now this spreadsheet, which is still being passed around and I believe is now at about 2,000 studies, has one other serious, serious flaw in it, and it ties us right back to substantial equivalence. GMOs hit the marketplace in 1996. That means, obviously, that their safety needed to be proved prior to 1996. You don’t release something this big into the environment and the food supply without some serious due diligence. Even the uber pro-GMO side recognizes the importance of this, because they keep referencing the 2,000 studies spreadsheet as the end-all-be-all of GMO safety – they know it’s important.
There’s just a slight problem, however. The earliest date on ANY of the studies noted in that spreadsheet is the year 2002. That’s 6 years after GMOs were already introduced to the marketplace.
Dear FDA and Monsanto – we kind of need to see studies that were done prior to 1996, not ones that started trickling in 6 years after market penetration. For one thing, that timing creates the potential for a huge testing bias, because if you’re Monsanto or any of the other GMO companies, you have a BIG, BIG vested interest in seeing those studies come out in your favor. If they don’t come out in your favor, you’ve got an epic problem on your hands (like say PCBs – The Sequel).
So showing us testing from 6 years after a product’s launch, not so good. And if you come across someone preaching about the 2,000 studies, feel free to toss those two points right back at ’em immediately. #1 – not all the studies actually tout GMO safety, and #2, the studies started 6 years after GMOs already entered our food supply.
Now there’s one last thing that gets thrown into the mix with all the GMO safety talk, and it’s the final piece to our investigation on whether or not we deserve GMO labeling in America. You hear this mentioned all the time, and it was even brought up by State Rep Marsha Blackburn to start off one of the House of Representatives hearings…
A 20TH CENTURY TECHNOLOGY
It’s the argument that we’ve been doing genetic modifications for centuries, and these GMOs are simply no different than anything we’ve done before. It’s a key pro-GMO argument, and it’s one that’s essentially repeated over and over again.
But here’s the little, tiny problem with that argument… it’s not true.
In fact, it’s a blatant lie.
We’ve already wrapped up our line of research on that question, and it’s all made crystal clear in a new PDF report we just released, which you can download for free over at WalkaMileProject.com, it’s even on the home page.
That’s way too much to cover on a GMO Labeling podcast, but the bottom line is completely clear – prior to the 20th century, NO, we NEVER did any genetic modifications of this nature or complexity. It is a new science. Period.
The 20th century brought us another controversial genetic modification technique known as mutagenesis, which you could just as easily question along the same lines as GMOs (even though you’ve probably never heard of it)… but prior to that, we did nothing along the lines of modern GMOs.
This whole “We’ve been doing it for centuries” defense is a blatantly deceitful statement, and if you hear anyone make that argument, please feel free to forward a copy of your PDF their way to clear that up! If we’re going to make headway on the GMO controversy, we need to stop all the lying – from BOTH sides.
MORE LIES IN THE SENATE
Alright, we are almost ready to reveal our 2nd GMO TRUTH from The Walk a Mile Project, but before we do, let’s wrap up the whole free market issue by tying right back into, what has very sadly become a just ridiculous pattern of lying from our politicians. With these two federal GMO labeling bills, we’ve watched our policymakers try to pass important legislation under false pretenses. Now that you’re armed with the truth when it comes to GMOs and the free market, I want you to listen to what Senator Pat Roberts said in his opening statement at the Senate Ag Committee meeting, where he first put forth the legislation to ban mandatory GMO labeling –
Ain’t that a daisy? Actually, it’s pretty disgusting… for Senator Roberts to so cavalierly mention the words “free market” in his opening remarks like that, specifically related to GMOs, well, to put it bluntly, he’s full of crap. The words FREE MARKET shouldn’t even be thought of in this situation, let alone spoken aloud. And once again, we see one of our policymakers starting off a key meeting with a blatant lie.
Hiding something in our food, something that obviously a large contingent of people are concerned about, DETRACTS from the free market (as it has for the past two decades) – it doesn’t help preserve it. So when it comes to FREE-MARKET, Senator Roberts, I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean.
Even without everything we’ve discussed here, you probably knew already that a free market is NOT undercut when people know what they’re buying – it’s enhanced.
So that’s the big takeaway here when it comes to GMOs and the free market. Back in the 1990s, GMOs were much more controversial than your average new product, and they should’ve been handled with the appropriate sensitivity and transparency from the start.
Just like when any other new product hits the market, the onus is on the product creator to sell the world on the benefits, and if applicable, on the SAFETY, of that product. Full disclosure, that’s what gives you a free market. Samsung didn’t create the Galaxy phone series and then secretly replace all of our iPhones with it when we weren’t looking. That’s not how it works. But that’s basically what happened with our corn, and soy, and sugar beets.
And yes, this is a little different – because Monsanto’s first line customer is actually the farmer – that is most definitely true. But guess what? If we don’t eat the food the farmer grows, or if we don’t eat the animals fed the food that the farmer grows, then that food does NOT succeed in the free market. And in order to gauge whether or not it should succeed, the marketplace needs to know what the product is. Consumers need to know when they’re eating it, and don’t tell me that the farmer should be responsible for selling consumers on GMOs – that is most definitely not a farmer’s job. They’re simply growing what works for them… and what’s been approved for planting by the USDA.
It’s the exact opposite of what Senator Roberts said in his opening remarks regarding the free market, and it’s what each of you listening to this podcast should call or email your Senator about right now, because they will have no ethical rebuttal to what you’re asking.
In the meantime, I’ll be back soon to close this sequence, after we see how things play out with the Senate in the next month. At that point we’ll then present the 2nd GMO Truth of The Walk a Mile Project.