Quotulatiousness

January 15, 2016

QotD: The temptation to “shade” the truth toward the consensus

Filed under: Environment, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As I am fond of saying, it works like a stock market bubble. There is no need to posit a conspiracy. David Friedman’s view that this is a matter of a build up of many little lies rather than a few big ones is a more realistic as well as a more charitable picture of the mechanism at work.

I am yet more charitable than Professor Friedman. Though I completely agree with him that there are almost certainly many scientists shading their conclusions, it might well be the case that they are not doing so consciously at all. All it would take is for a lot of people with jobs to keep and mortgages to pay each to see which side their bread is buttered when the time comes round to apply for grants. As the American socialist author Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” On the unbuttered side of the bread, when a scientist observes that colleagues who raise doubts suffer for it, she would be acting much like the rest of humanity if she, while never aware of feeling fear, somehow finds herself more comfortable out of the intellectual proximity of these pariahs.

In a way the Rosetta scientists had it easy. All they had to do was hit a moving target half a billion kilometres away. Succeed or fail, there is no kidding yourself and no kidding others. Twenty-eight minutes later you and the world will know.

Natalie Solent, “Bubbles, lies, and buttered toast”, Samizdata, 2014-11-13.

December 13, 2015

The TPP is pretty far from being a genuine “free trade” deal

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Economics, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last week, Kevin Williamson attempted to explain why the Trans Pacific Partnership isn’t all that similar to an actual “free trade” agreement (and why that’s so):

Prominent among the reasons to look askance at TPP is that its text calls for the incorporation — sight unseen — of whatever global-warming deal is negotiated at the conference currently under way in Paris. It is one thing for a trade deal to incorporate changes to environmental practices — regulatory differences are an inhibitor of truly liberal trade — but there is a world of difference between incorporating specific environmental policies and incorporating environmental policies to be named later.

It would be preferable if we could simply enact a series of bilateral “Goldberg treaties,” so called in honor of my colleague Jonah Goldberg, who argued that an ideal free-trade pact would consist of one sentence: “There shall be free trade between …” But the unhappy reality is that the snouts of the nations’ sundry regulatory apparatuses are so far up the backsides of various industries and economic sectors that sorting them out requires thousands of pages of text. Consider, for example, the problem of defense-acquisition practices. Some countries have rules mandating that defense procurement be restricted to domestic firms, and some countries don’t. Coming up with a harmonized, one-size-fits-all approach is difficult; we Americans, accustomed as we are to operating in an economy that produces the best of almost everything in the world, sometimes forget that there are countries with no domestic aerospace industry or sophisticated manufacturers of military materiel. Of course Kuwait goes abroad for military gear; if memory serves, at one point their air force uniforms were made by Armani.

[…]

All of which is to say, we should expect trade deals, especially multi-lateral trade deals, to be complex, and we should expect environmental and labor standards, along with government procurement procedures and the like, to be part of the accord. There’s no getting around it. And, again, there is nothing wrong in principle with using trade accords, which have real economic bite, as a critical instrument for enforcing environmental rules and other regulatory reforms that are incorporated into trade relationships. But using TPP to commit the United States to whatever is cooked up in Paris, without an additional vote in Congress, is a poor tradeoff. It’s not often that I will turn up my nose at a trade deal — even far-from-perfect trade pacts are generally desirable — but here we should draw the line. TPP was negotiated, Congress and the public have had a chance to review the text, and Congress should reject it. That’s the system working, not the system failing to work. It’s why we have votes.

December 11, 2015

Mark Steyn on the “decorum” of the US Senate

Filed under: Environment, Government, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Steyn writes about his appearance before the Senate sub-committee on Space, Science and Competitiveness:

On the morning of the event, Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat and Ranking Member, sent a message, warning me that I was obligated to “respect the decorum of the Senate”. I’ve been invited to Buckingham Palace, the White House and parliaments around the world, and nobody has ever felt it necessary to pre-issue such a warning. In the event, the US Senate has no “decorum” worthy of respect, as we’ll get to in a moment.

[…]

I said above that the Senate had no “decorum” to disrespect. By that I mean that, when my pal Ezra Levant and I gave evidence (as we say in the Westminster tradition) in the Canadian Parliament, members from all parties turned up and asked thoughtful and engaged questions. When we run into each other in Montreal, the representatives of the Bloc Québécois and I do not even agree on what country we’re in. But that afternoon we had a pleasant and civilized exchange, and one that had some rewardingly non-partisan after-glow in the months that followed.

In the US Senate, at least on Tuesday, senators wander in and out constantly. Their five-minute “question” sessions are generally four-minute prepared statements of generalized blather followed by a perfunctory softball to “their” witness, after which they leave the room without waiting to hear the answer – and then come back in when it’s their time to speak again at which point the staffer feeds them the four-minute blather they’re supposed to be sloughing off this time round. The video doesn’t capture the fakery of the event because under Senate rules the camera is generally just on whoever’s speaking. Whether this meets the “decorum” of the Senate, it certainly doesn’t meet the decorum of life; it’s a breach of the normal courtesies – and, frankly, Americans are the chumps of the planet for putting up with it. Since the 17th Amendment, senators have been citizen-legislators like any other, and so their contempt for the citizenry who have graciously consented, at their own time and expense to appear before them, demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the relationship.

Take this guy Brian Schatz, the Senator from Hawaii. He did his shtick, lobbed a softball at his witness, Rear Admiral Titley, and stood up to leave. I said I’d like to respond, and he demurred on the grounds that he was outta there, he had to get back to washing his hair or whatever. I said I’d still like to respond to what he said, and so I did – to an empty chair. A pseudo-parliament is a fine place in which to debate pseudo-science, but “decorum” has nothing to do with it.

There is another kind of basic rudeness, which I have never experienced in a real parliament. If you’re moderating a panel discussion on C-SPAN with five panelists, it’s generally considered polite to distribute the questions broadly. In this case, the Democrats asked no questions of anyone other than their guy – Rear Admiral Titley. For example, there was some extensive discussion of the satellite record: They have the scientist who created and developed the satellite temperature record sitting at one end of the table: John Christy. This is a remarkable scientific accomplishment. Yet they directed all their questions on the subject to the bloke down the other end – Rear Admiral Titley, who knows no more about the satellite record than I do. This is like inviting Sir Isaac Newton to a hearing on gravity and then only asking questions of Mr Timeserver sitting next to him. It may represent the “decorum” of the Senate but in any other area of life it would be regarded as insufferably ill-mannered.

December 3, 2015

Even the IPCC agrees that corn ethanol is a waste of effort and resources

In Forbes, James Conca wraps up the latest IPCC Working Group reports’ comments on the viability of biofuel production from corn:

OK, can we please stop pretending biofuel made from corn is helping the planet and the environment? The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released two of its Working Group reports at the end of last month (WGI and WGIII), and their short discussion of biofuels has ignited a fierce debate as to whether they’re of any environmental benefit at all.

The IPCC was quite diplomatic in its discussion, saying “Biofuels have direct, fuel‐cycle GHG emissions that are typically 30-90% lower than those for gasoline or diesel fuels. However, since for some biofuels indirect emissions — including from land use change — can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products, policy support needs to be considered on a case by case basis” (IPCC 2014 Chapter 8).

The summary in the new report also states, “Increasing bioenergy crop cultivation poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity” (WGIII).

The report lists many potential negative risks of development, such as direct conflicts between land for fuels and land for food, other land-use changes, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity and nitrogen pollution through the excessive use of fertilizers (Scientific American).

The International Institute for Sustainable Development was not so diplomatic, and estimates that the CO2 and climate benefits from replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels like ethanol are basically zero (IISD). They claim that it would be almost 100 times more effective, and much less costly, to significantly reduce vehicle emissions through more stringent standards, and to increase CAFE standards on all cars and light trucks to over 40 miles per gallon as was done in Japan just a few years ago.

November 5, 2015

The high-church organic movement is feeling under threat

Filed under: Business, Environment, Health, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Henry I. Miller & Julie Kelly on the less-than-certain future of the organic farming community:

The organic-products industry, which has been on a tear for the past decade, is running scared. Challenged by progress in modern genetic engineering and state-of-the-art pesticides — which are denied to organic farmers — the organic movement is ratcheting up its rhetoric and bolstering its anti-innovation agenda while trying to expand a consumer base that shows signs of hitting the wall.

Genetic-engineering-labeling referendums funded by the organic industry failed last year in Colorado and Oregon, following similar defeats in California and Washington. Even worse for the industry, a recent Supreme Court decision appears to proscribe on First Amendment grounds the kind of labeling they want. A June 2015 Supreme Court decision has cleared a judicial path to challenge the constitutionality of special labeling — “compelled commercial speech” — to identify foods that contain genetically engineered (sometimes called “genetically modified”) ingredients. The essence of the decision is the expansion of the range of regulations subject to “strict scrutiny,” the most rigorous standard of review for constitutionality, to include special labeling laws.

[…]

Organic agriculture has become a kind of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a far cry from what was intended: “Let me be clear about one thing, the organic label is a marketing tool,” said then secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman when organic certification was being considered. “It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.” That quote from Secretary Glickman should have to be displayed prominently in every establishment that sells organic products.

The backstory here is that in spite of its “good vibes,” organic farming is an affront to the environment — hugely wasteful of arable land and water because of its low yields. Plant pathologist Dr. Steve Savage recently analyzed the data from USDA’s 2014 Organic Survey, which reports various measures of productivity from most of the certified-organic farms in the nation, and compared them to those at conventional farms, crop by crop, state by state. His findings are extraordinary. Of the 68 crops surveyed, there was a “yield gap” — poorer performance of organic farms — in 59. And many of those gaps, or shortfalls, were impressive: strawberries, 61 percent less than conventional; fresh tomatoes, 61 percent less; tangerines, 58 percent less; carrots, 49 percent less; cotton, 45 percent less; rice, 39 percent less; peanuts, 37 percent less.

October 9, 2015

Recalculating the impact of carbon dioxide in the climate models

Filed under: Environment, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

A few people sent me a link to this article, which may be of interest to those following the ongoing climate debates:

It turns out the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has over-estimated future global warming by as much as 10 times, [Dr David Evans] says.

“Yes, CO2 has an effect, but it’s about a fifth or tenth of what the IPCC says it is. CO2 is not driving the climate; it caused less than 20 per cent of the global warming in the last few decades”.

Dr Evans says his discovery “ought to change the world”.

“But the political obstacles are massive,” he said.

His discovery explains why none of the climate models used by the IPCC reflect the evidence of recorded temperatures. The models have failed to predict the pause in global warming which has been going on for 18 years and counting.

“The model architecture was wrong,” he says. “Carbon dioxide causes only minor warming. The climate is largely driven by factors outside our control.”

There is another problem with the original climate model, which has been around since 1896.

While climate scientists have been predicting since the 1990s that changes in temperature would follow changes in carbon dioxide, the records over the past half million years show that not to be the case.

So, the new improved climate model shows CO2 is not the culprit in recent global warming. But what is?

Dr Evans has a theory: solar activity. What he calls “albedo modulation”, the waxing and waning of reflected radiation from the Sun, is the likely cause of global warming.

He predicts global temperatures, which have plateaued, will begin to cool significantly, beginning between 2017 and 2021. The cooling will be about 0.3C in the 2020s. Some scientists have even forecast a mini ice age in the 2030s.

October 7, 2015

A Deeper Look at Tradeable Allowances

Filed under: Economics, Environment — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 18 Mar 2015

Since the passage of the Clean Air Act, SO2 emissions have decreased by 35%. Part of this is due to tradable allowances, which created a market solution to the external costs of SO2 emissions. In this video, we look at the lessons of tradable allowances for SO2 and see if a similar market-based solution could work to decrease other pollutants, such as CO2.

October 5, 2015

Trading Pollution: How Pollution Permits Paradoxically Reduce Emissions

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 Mar 2015

In an effort to reduce pollution, the government tried two policy prescriptions under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The first — command and control—mandated that each power plant lower its pollution by a determined amount. However, different firms face different cost curves and, because information is dispersed, policymakers don’t always know those costs. The second policy prescription — tradable pollution permits — empowered firms to use knowledge of their cost curves to buy or sell pollution permits as needed. Under this policy, the invisible hand of the market helped discover the lowest cost way of reducing pollution.

Much of the recycling you do is sheer wasted effort – or even worse

Filed under: Economics, Environment, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Everyone is in favour of recycling, right? It’s good for the earth, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for everyone! Except, as John Tierney points out, that’s pretty much all nonsense:

If you live in the United States, you probably do some form of recycling. It’s likely that you separate paper from plastic and glass and metal. You rinse the bottles and cans, and you might put food scraps in a container destined for a composting facility. As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?

In 1996, I wrote a long article for The New York Times Magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful. I presented plenty of evidence that recycling was costly and ineffectual, but its defenders said that it was unfair to rush to judgment. Noting that the modern recycling movement had really just begun just a few years earlier, they predicted it would flourish as the industry matured and the public learned how to recycle properly.

So, what’s happened since then? While it’s true that the recycling message has reached more people than ever, when it comes to the bottom line, both economically and environmentally, not much has changed at all.

Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it’s still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies. The mood is so gloomy that one industry veteran tried to cheer up her colleagues this summer with an article in a trade journal titled, “Recycling Is Not Dead!

[…]

The future for recycling looks even worse. As cities move beyond recycling paper and metals, and into glass, food scraps and assorted plastics, the costs rise sharply while the environmental benefits decline and sometimes vanish. “If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront,” says David P. Steiner, the chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States. “Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?”

October 4, 2015

The federal NDP and the triumph of the “Tommunist Manifesto”

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Regina Leader-Post, Christine Whitaker talks about “life without fossil fuels” and what it might mean for Western Canada:

Author Naomi Klein and her supporters, promoting their Leap Manifesto (otherwise known as the “Tommunist Manifesto”), proudly assert that they now have 10,000 signatures to this document, most of which are “celebrities” and left-wing politicians, including, of course, David Suzuki.

This document starts from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory. The basic concept is that we must put an end to the use of fossil fuels; that we could live in a country powered only by renewable energy; that we could get 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable resources within the next two decades.

I wonder if these people realize that, to achieve this goal, there would need to be hundreds of thousands of wind turbines across the land. There would not be a single acre of rural Canada free of those monstrosities. Someone would also need to invent commercial airliners powered by clean energy, and there would no longer be any trucks to deliver food to the city stores. The whole manifesto is ridiculous.

So this is my counter-manifesto. It is equally silly, but I make no apologies. This is how Klein and company want our children and grandchildren to live.

Article 1: All persons who sign the Leap Manifesto, including Suzuki, should be immediately placed on an international no-fly list. They must never again be allowed to travel on planes powered by fossil fuels.

Article 2: All signatories will immediately have all their gasoline-powered vehicles confiscated.

Article 3: All public utilities (power, natural gas, water, telephone lines) will be disconnected from their homes.

As they say, read the whole thing.

September 12, 2015

QotD: “Carbon offsets are dumb”

Filed under: Environment, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“Well if you want to be greener perhaps we could look at carbon offsets.”

“Carbon Offsets,” I say, working up a head of steam, “are dumb. I could word it better than that but it’s so dumb that the people that support it wouldn’t understand those words.”

“What’s wrong with carbon offsets?”

“Analogy-wise, paying someone in South America to grow trees so that I can burn trees is a bit like me paying someone in Uganda 10 quid to be good to someone else so that the PFY can punch you and the Boss here in the face.”

“I think that’s being rather simplistic — carbon offsets will negate the harm you do in the shorter term while you look for better alternatives,” says the Architect.

“Yes, but it doesn’t cancel it out geographically. If that were the case I could pay someone in Africa to filter water while I pee in your bathtub!”

“They could pay me to do their carbon offsets,” the PFY suggests.

“You don’t have sustainable forestry plantations,” the Architect blurts.

“Yes I do, I have acres of them in Scotland,” the PFY lies.

“Are they CDM approved?”

“Of course.”

“So I could actually go and see them?”

“Absolutely. In fact I would insist upon it. You, me, possibly the Boss, a shovel, some lime — it would make a great day out!”

It appears stupidity does know some bounds as our greenie takes on a little of the colour after doing some mental arithmetic.

“I think we’ll just stick to the original plan.”

“Well, have at it, maestro!” I say, gesturing for the PFY that it’s time to be moving on.

“Nutters!” the PFY says as we exit the meeting room.

“No,” the Boss says. “It’s very important to the board. They want to be carbon-neutral by 2040.”

“You mean after they’re all dead — with some token greenification stuff to happen in the next 20 years and all the major changes left till the last few years?” I suggest. “I’m surprised they even stumped up the cash for the consultation.”

“Oh, they didn’t,” the Boss says. “Our director put up 70k of our equipment budget, given that IT is one of the highest power consumers.”

“70k — of OUR budget you mean.”

“It’s not really your money, it’s the company’s!”

. . .

Ten minutes later I’m sending 100 quid to Uganda and the PFY to the Director’s office…

Simon Travaglia, “BOFH: On the PFY’s Scottish estate, no one can hear you scream…”, The Register, 2014-03-21.

September 8, 2015

Pessimism and doom-mongering still sells books and movies

Filed under: Books, Environment, Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Gregg Easterbrook reviews The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey:

Outside your window, living standards are rising, crime is declining, pollution is down, and longevity is increasing. But in pop culture, we’re all doomed. The Hunger Games films have been box-office titans, joined by World War Z, Interstellar, The Book of Eli, Divergent, The Road, and other big-budget Hollywood fare depicting various judgment days. Over in primetime, the world is ending on The Walking Dead, The Last Ship, The 100, and Under the Dome.

The same outlook obtains in nonfiction literature. Books that foresee doomsday — Collapse by Jared Diamond, The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett among them — win praise from commentators and sell briskly. Books contending that things basically are fine don’t do as well. One might think that optimism would be marketable to contemporary book buyers, who live very well by historical standards, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Readers prefer material that depicts them dwelling in the final generation. Perhaps declining religious belief in Armageddon has been replaced by an expectation of some natural-world version of the event.

Into this adverse market steps The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey, an impressively researched, voluminously detailed book arguing that the world is in better shape than commonly assumed. Bailey deflates doomsday by showing that human population growth does not mean ecological breakdown; that food supply increases faster than population and probably always will; that, far from depleted, most resources are sufficient to last for centuries; that air pollution in the United States is way down; and that cancer is in decline.

Specialists will argue about some of the studies Bailey cites to support these contentions. So much environmental research exists today, for example, that one can find a study to prove practically anything. But in the main, Bailey’s selection of research is fastidious and convincing.

Bailey spends too much time, though, on discredited trendy bleakness from the 1960s and 1970s — such as Paul Ehrlich’s global-famine predictions and the 1972 Club of Rome report. One can practically hear dead horses saying, “Stop flogging me.” The End of Doom redeems itself with a clever chapter on how precautionary principles boil down to this rule: never do anything for the first time. “Anything new is guilty until proven innocent,” Bailey writes, but he goes on to chronicle how many new ideas denounced as dangerous turned out instead to make life less risky.

August 28, 2015

QotD: The unusually lucky 20th century, meteorologically speaking

Filed under: Environment, History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… I read a lot of history and thus know a fair bit about how weather impact has been perceived by humans over time. It is a fact that the 20th century was an abnormally lucky hundred years, meteorologically speaking. The facts I managed to jam into tweets included (a) the superstorm that flooded 300 square miles of the Central Valley in California in the 1860s, (b) rainfall levels we’d consider drought conditions were normal in the U.S. Midwest before about 1905, and (c) storms of a violence we’d find hard to believe were commonly reported in the 1800s. I had specifically in mind something I learned from the book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, which relays eyewitness accounts of thunderstorms so intense that travelers had to steeple their hands over their noses in order to breathe air instead of water; but a sense that storms of really theatrical violence were once common comes through in many other histories.

We had a quiet century geophysically as well — no earthquakes even nearly as bad as the New Madrid event of 1812, which broke windows as far north as Montreal. And no solar storms to compare with the Carrington Event of 1859, which seriously damaged the then-nascent telegraph infrastructure and if it recurred today would knock out power and telecomms so badly that we’d be years recovering and casualties would number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly the millions.

(I’m concentrating on 19th-century reports because those tended to be well-documented, but earlier records tell us it was the 20th century calm that was unusual, not the 19th-century violence.)

The awkward truth is that there are very large forces in play in the biosphere, and when they wander out of the ranges we’re adapted to, we suffer and die a lot and there really isn’t a great deal we can do about it; we don’t operate at the required energy scales. For that matter, I can think of several astronomical catastrophes that could be lurking just outside our light-cone only to wipe out all multicellular life on Earth next week. Reality is like that.

Eric S. Raymond, “Heavy weather and bad juju”, Armed and Dangerous, 2011-02-03.

August 20, 2015

One of the slickest marketing campaigns of our time

Filed under: Environment, Europe, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Forbes, Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen explain why they think organic farming is, as they term it, a “colossal hoax” that promises far more than it can possibly deliver:

Consumers of organic foods are getting both more and less than they bargained for. On both counts, it’s not good.

Many people who pay the huge premium — often more than 100% — for organic foods do so because they’re afraid of pesticides. If that’s their rationale, they misunderstand the nuances of organic agriculture. Although it’s true that synthetic chemical pesticides are generally prohibited, there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act, while most “natural” ones are permitted. However, “organic” pesticides can be toxic. As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a 2012 Scientific American article (“Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.”): “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.”

Another poorly recognized aspect of this issue is that the vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume are in our diets “naturally” and are present in organic foods as well as non-organic ones. In a classic study, UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that “99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.” Moreover, “natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.” Thus, consumers who buy organic to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on just one-hundredth of 1% of the pesticides they consume.

Some consumers think that the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires certified organic products to be free of ingredients from “GMOs,” organisms crafted with molecular techniques of genetic engineering. Wrong again. USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free. (In any case, the methods used to create so-called GMOs are an extension, or refinement, of older techniques for genetic modification that have been used for a century or more.)

August 17, 2015

Food fears and GMOs

Filed under: Environment, Health, Media, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen on the widespread FUD still being pushed in much of the mainstream media about genetically modified organisms in the food supply:

New York Times nutrition and health columnist Jane Brody recently penned a generally good piece about genetic engineering, “Fears, Not Facts, Support GMO-Free Food.” She recapitulated the overwhelming evidence for the importance and safety of products from GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms” (which for the sake of accuracy, we prefer to call organisms modified with molecular genetic engineering techniques, or GE). Their uses encompass food, animal feed, drugs, vaccines and animals. Sales of drugs made with genetic engineering techniques are in the scores of billions of dollars annually, and ingredients from genetically engineered crop plants are found in 70-80 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves.

Brody’s article had two errors, however. The first was this statement, in a correction that was appended (probably by the editors) after the article was published:

    The article also referred imprecisely to regulation of GMOs by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. While the organizations regulate food from genetically engineered crops to ensure they are safe to eat, the program is voluntary. It is not the case that every GMO must be tested before it can be marketed.

In fact, every so-called GMO used for food, fiber or ornamental use is subject to compulsory case-by-case regulation by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of USDA and many are also regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during extensive field testing. When these organisms — plants, animals or microorganisms — become food, they are then overseen by the FDA, which has strict rules about misbranding (inaccurate or misleading labeling) and adulteration (the presence of harmful substances). Foods from “new plant varieties” made with any technique are subject to case-by-case premarket FDA review if they possess certain characteristics that pose questions of safety. In addition, food from genetically engineered organisms can undergo a voluntary FDA review. (Every GE food to this point has undergone the voluntary FDA review, so FDA has evaluated every GE food on the market).

The second error by Brody occurred in the very last words of the piece, “the best way for concerned consumers to avoid G.M.O. products is to choose those certified as organic, which the U.S.D.A. requires to be G.M.O.-free.” Brody has fallen victim to a common misconception; in fact, the USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free.

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