“Monsanto Protection Act”: Liberal Outrage or Herd Behavior?

Liberals gone wild

Liberals gone wild

I’ve been seeing a number of fiery comments from my liberal bretheren regarding the recent “Monsanto Protection Act.” Normally, I try to be sympathetic to liberal politics, but sometimes I can’t help but shake my head in disgust. I expect ignorance from the listeners of Rush Limbaugh. It’s disappointing when the supposedly better educated fall prey to the same gimmicks. It’s worth pointing out that even conpiracy nut Alex Jones has taken on the same position liberals have.

First, there is no such thing as a “Monsanto Protection Act” anymore than there is any such thing as “Obamacare.” This is a term created by the item’s opponents to rile up opposition, rather than foster critical analysis. I think that Liberals should be well aware of the political problems associated with demonizing and reductionist labeling of things they don’t like.

Second, though Presidents can veto any bill that comes across his desk, the veto of appropriations bills are rare, and have often been overridden by Congress in the past. It may be a shock to liberals, but Presidents aren’t kings. Conservatives often don’t seem to understand the three branches of Government. Liberals often appear to understand it even less.

Third, there was hardly “no debate.” A Google search will reveal that discussions of this particular item go back at least to June of 2012 and the “Famer’s Assurance Provision” as it is correctly known is part of another Ag Appropriations bill which passed last year. Anyone who tells you this is new, is either lying, or doesn’t know what they are talking about. (Even Snopes took this on.)

Fourth, there is no evidence (that I’m aware of) that GMO’s, which are already in our food supply, are having deleterious effects on human health or the environment. There have been some studies on mouse models that I know of, but it appears that no one can really agree on what a “GMO” really is. Until we can nail that down, and have more informed discussion of which GMOs are “bad” and which are “good”, I don’t think that screaming about GMO’s is any more productive than poorly informed discussion of complex issues such as climate change.

I’m not trying to suggest that there are no effects of “GMOs” whatever they may be. I am saying that lefties are accepting that there are broad effects without question and are relying on less-than-scientific and politically motivated sources such as Salon and the Huffington Post to inform them. That’s a very, very dangerous position to take.

Fifth, I think we should all know by now that rightists use issues like this to weaken Democratic Presidencies. I was of the opinion that much of the furor over controversial portions of the 2012 NDAA bill was stoked by right wingers hoping for a Achilles heel in the 2012 Obama campaign. When we buy into this type of sensationalist reporting without examining the evidence, we play right into their hands.

Sixth, well, I had a sixth, but lost it. But back to GMO’s: It’s interesting that discussions of GMO’s in Sub-Saharan Africa are opposite of what we hear in the US. People view the American and European opposition to GMOs, some of which have the potential to increase food yield while minimizing inputs, as an infringement on developing countries’ rights of self determination. It’s easy to dismiss their concerns as uninformed. However, people and policy makers in developing countries face competing issues of immediate economic needs and broad environmental concerns. Lots of things seem obvious to us, but then we have most of our basic needs already met.

I mean this not as a defense of the Farmer’s Assurance Provision or anything else having to do with GMO’s (so chill out). The endless (and perhaps deserved) vilification of Monsanto has reached a point where examination of the facts is secondary to screaming like a blithering idiot. To me, this is dangerous. When we reduce ourselves to merely accepting positions without criticism, we allow ourselves to be manipulated by just about anything. Not everyone has the time to read all that is required to create a truly informed and reasoned opinion on all subjects, I realize. Striving toward obtaining as much information as is reasonable, however, and acting critically should be a priority for everyone, however.

Liberals are the smart ones. We can do better.

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About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

15 responses to ““Monsanto Protection Act”: Liberal Outrage or Herd Behavior?”

  1. Art Damage says :

    “(that I’m aware of)” is the operative term for demolishing your argument -if you choose to hold your head under the sand, then you can always say ‘we don’t have any evidence’ that there are problems with GMOs. But there is plenty of evidence to have grave concern about the wily-nilly application of this technology with little oversight of its introduction into the biosphere. The problem is that the FDA gave a blanket “OK” back in the 90’s, and as a result already 90%+ percent of corn and soy product is GMO. If you bother to read the labels of the food you eat, then you’ll note that corn and soy product is in practically all processed food (a consequence of the over-subsidizing of corn and soy).

    If you’re alright about being a test subject for this relatively untested product, then go ahead be my guest. But some of us are not willing subjects, and we have a big problem with being forced as subjects – it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid the stuff.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    I thank you for taking the time to comment.

    I looked for peer reviewed scientific studies that test the hypothesis that any GMO’s negatively impact human health. I could find none that presented any rigorous results. I have seen some scientific speculation that there is no danger in the elements of typical GMOs, and some information on mouse models, but, again, nothing rigorous regarding human health. If there is something out there, I am happy to know about it.

    The lack of evidence, however, does not confirm their safety. Relevant to my post, it also does not confirm their danger.

    It is important to be skeptical of large money-oriented actors. It is also important to maintaining skepticism toward political groups of any type (which is why I’m never a member). Ibecome highly skeptical where I hear statements such as “GMOs are killing us” presented as fact when the evidence simply isn’t there. To me, a call for increased research on the safety of GMO’s (and exactly what about GMOs is dangerous) would be far more productive.

    As an aside, you mention food subsidies. I am opposed to any food subsidies in the United States (outside of EBT and WIC), though for reasons that have nothing to do with GMOs.

  3. Art Damage says :

    The risk factors in opening this Pandora’s box have not been adequately considered. It was back in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s when it was opened, so it may be already too late. A similar case is made about global warming along with the geo-engineering proposals intended to counteract it: even if the risks are low, if the consequences are too disastrous in the unlikely but nevertheless possible case of bad outcomes, then the greatest caution should be exercised.

    One of the main concerns about GMO’s is the potential for horizontal gene transfer (HGT), whether between organisms in the field or between organisms in the gut (GMO’s to eubacteria). In the former case, there is the possibility of severe corruption of ecosystems and the biosphere overall. In the latter case there is the potential to disrupt the internal “ecosystem” as intestinal flora have been found to influence the nervous system (the enteric system in fact has more neurons than the brain itself!) and the immune system, and hence it has been considered that the introduction of GMOs may be connected to the rise in everything from autism to irritable bowel syndrome, though these issues have not been adequately studied.

    More on HGT here (with plenty of citations)…


    A highly recommended documentary on why GMOs have not been adequately studied…


    And for some of the history and politics behind the introduction of GMOs (finding a contiguous link from the eugenics programs of the early 20th century to the GMOs of the present via Rockefeller funded foundations)…


  4. Art Damage says :

    Yes you probably hate that cover, and indeed the hyperbole that is often exercised in combating GMO’s is a bit excessive – Alex Jones frothing at the mouth and such. But, given the potential for disastrous consequences, it’s not too uncalled for…

  5. Art Damage says :

    What happened to my first reply?

  6. Art Damage says :

    …nevermind, something’s screwed up with this browser…

  7. Pete Larson says :

    Honestly, I do become incredibly alarmed when my friends start teaming up with Alex Jones.

  8. Pete Larson says :

    Don’t know. Is there something missing?

  9. stumpwater says :

    Nobody’s teaming up with Alex Jones. But, remember (regarding Jones), just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you (see also: a broken clock is right twice a day).

    Here’s a question for you: given the short period of time GE foods have been on the market for human consumption, could you design a study that would produce meaningful results regarding human health that might have been published at this point in time (presumably, most observational studies would be ruled out because of the short time frame)? What would you test for? How would you even know what to test for? It seems to me that at least a couple of decades would be necessary to produce any meaningful data, and even given that, there would be no way to control for anything in a human study, given the ubiquity and lack of labeling of GE foods.

    But impacts on human health due to ingestion is not what bothers me about GMOs. It’s the agricultural system they are part and parcel of that scares me. One of the worst things happening on the planet right now, in my opinion.

  10. Pete Larson says :

    It really wouldn’t be possible to design a study to test whether GMOs have any effect on human health, for a number of reasons.

    We can assume that GMOs have little to no effect on immediate health. If they did, we’d know about it already.

    Measuring long term effects would be tricky, for the same reason that studies on potential carcinogens are so difficult. The time between exposure and onset would likely well exceed 30 years. Following a cohort that long is tricky under even the most simple of exposures (smoking).

    Food studies are difficult because people don’t just eat one thing. In fact, they eat so many different kinds of things in so many different combinations in so many different quantities that it would be incredibly hard to isolate exactly what food is causing what health outcome, at least without some prior. Like, fatty meat intake and heart disease is a pretty simple one, since there’s already a pathophysiological basis to assume that meat eating and heart disease are linked. With GMOs, there really isn’t one, as far as I can tell. Moreover, all of the components of GMOs are already in the food supply.

    Again, though, nutritional studies are extremely challenging. You have to follow a daily and inconsistent behavior of a number of humans over a long stretch of time and hope they comply.

    This is why mice are convenient. They have short lifespans. For cancer studies, they are a challenge because the time until onset is so long (30 years+). Unless you really dose them up, they won’t live long enough to get the disease you’re after and if you dose them up, you’re giving them levels of exposure within a time window that no human would ever experience. So even if you see something in mice, it may not be 100% applicable to humans. This is why a GMO study on mice is pretty suspect (notwithstanding the physiologic differences between mice and humans).

    So, after doing some reading in the past couple of days, it’s a pretty tall order for me to come out swinging against GMOs from a public health standpoint. There’s no evidence that anything in common GMOs isn’t already in the food chain. Since the introduction of GMOs there hasn’t been any increase in particular health events (of a common variety). There is no plausible mechanism to suggest that GMOs are any worse than the foods we already eat. In fact, all cause mortality is down and cancer rates are down (among others). Again, my knowledge is limited, but to me there’s just no smoking gun.

    As an environmental and an economic issue, I just don’t know enough to decide either way. Slogans like “GMOs are killing us,” however, have no basis in reality.

  11. Art Damage says :

    Yes -there’s a longer comment with links before the “yes you probably hate that cover…” referring to the one of the links. When I logged in the message suddenly appeared. I guess it needs to be approved because of the links?

  12. stumpwater says :

    I agree with you about the likelihood of GMOs not being a health threat. I also agree with you about misguided slogans and battles (that whole business of freaking out over ignitable faucets in the fracking debate drives me nuts!). And I’m glad you admit to not knowing enough about the environmental effects to pick stance. I could bend your ear on that account, if you’d let me. I do believe there are less destructive ways to bring food security to developing nations.

  13. Pete Larson says :

    Yes, I found it. It got caught in the queue for some reason.

    I’m definitely not in the habit of deleting comments. I don’t get enough anyway!

  14. Pete Larson says :

    I am happy to listen. For the record, I don’t think that GMOs are a panacea to Africa’s agricultural problems.

    Understand that the point of the post wasn’t to defend GMOs. I think I stated as much in the post.

    My frustration is that people who should know better readily accept positions with little consideration of the evidence. I expect that of, for example, right wing Christians. I’m disappointed when I see left leaning people with college degrees following the exact same behavior (though the issues differ).

    I have been guilty of this in the past myself. I find that taking to right wingers (i.e. people I don’t agree with) really helps to solidify one’s positions. You start to realize how much of what you’re supposed to “know” is actually light fantasy and how much is actually grounded in reality.

  15. stumpwater says :

    I share your frustrations, as you can imagine, given my location.

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