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"Bill Maher: Anti-Science Knuckle Dragger?"

[Correction: it's not the Daily Kos staff, but a "member", which I think means anyone with an account who can blog. Took DK out from the title.]

This is nice. I was watching Maher's show tonight after a while to see what he's up to these days. I'd thought even though he'd never recanted publicly all his anti-med and that sort of rhetoric, that brushing up with scientists like Dawkins and Krauss (who was there just a few weeks ago), at least he'd learned that maybe, just maybe, the fact that the science blogosphere considered him a sort of clown almost on a par with Jenny McCarthy, would be deterrent enough to make him think twice before doing another self-mouth foot-putting.

In last night's episode he compares California voters, who rightly rejected a proposition that would have forced companies to label GM products, to people who don't want to know if there is horse meat in their food.

It's very nice to see a very prominent lefty site take him to task. I wonder if even the anti-GM people here would agree with that comparison. His exact words:

New Rule, if you're one of the millions of Californians who voted against labelling genetically modified foods, you can't complain when it turns out there's horse meat in your hamburger, and your sushi is made out of lost cats and condoms.

Also, I'm mad cause I think he just called me stupid. Really, watch that New Rule (video embedded in the DK article), it's unbelievable how many fallacies are in there (game: name them!).



I've never understood why people are repulsed at the thought of eating horse meat. Is there something unhealthy about it? Is it the pet factor?

I get that people want to know what they are eating, and I agree we deserve to know, but what's wrong with it?

Maybe cause a horse is just a genetically modified cow.

Nice one Andyo.

I think the horsemeat problem is that in America it's often cheaper, lower quality meat, possibly contaminated with human-unfriendly medication. Or just hysteria.

And yeah, what's the argument against labeling GM foods? Bureaucratic cost?

The main thing for me was that it was dishonest, and unnecessary. The whole "right to know" campaign had several flaws. I dug up a couple of previous threads where we discussed this:

... I looked through those old posts and I didn't see the flaw or flaws in the argument for labeling brought up, can you sum it up in a point or two?

The flaws in the arguments against GMOs are something else - they are many. But there are also valid crits of GMOs, particularly the uses of pesticides and questionable capitalism.

I'd happily buy food labeled "GM food, fair trade, pesticide free!" ;-)

I'm in Germany though, where all GM foods are banned.

The best looking veggies come from Turkey, which I've been told has all been contaminated by Chernobyl, whatever. Man's gotta eat.

Basically, the arguments against GMO labelling in CA (and in general, IMO) generalize GM as if it were one product. It's useless for the purpose of "knowing" what's in the food.

But the worse thing was that it is dishonest, because it presumes and gives the impression that GMO's are harmful (though they have learned not to say it in so many words). You can check for yourself those official websites I quoted on the second link and what I thought of them.

And also, my own comments on the first link, referencing that something similar has happened before a couple of times, with the unnecessary banning of Thimerosal and silicone breast implants. I'm willing to bet the majority of people still believe they're harmful. This wasn't an outright ban, but it wasn't for "information" either, it was an implied warning, and they knew it.

BTW, I would probably oppose an "Organic" labelling campaign if it was like this one, as well. The Organic movement can label their own foods with their own money, but if there's no evidence of harm or benefit that the generic labels "Organic" or "Genetically Modified" would inform you about, the government shouldn't get involved.

Hm, I suppose if one is discussing processed or pre-packaged foods, labels are a bit of a waste of time. "What sort of garbage is this anyway..." ;-)

But for fresh foods, meats, vegetables, knowing something about pesticides, genetic modification, fair trade and handling are sensible and not difficult to track and label.

In our grocery store, fresh food is labeled organic and by geography - from spain, israel, etc. It's not to say that veggies from Spain are bad, it's just that one should know where the food has come from. Germans joke about some labels - what's the point of organic bananas from Brazil? Was it flown in with organic linseed oil?

Also it's a common mistake to think that organic food is chosen because of nutritional value - It's not. It's more to do with environmentally-friendly practice. Well... unless one is a bit wacky.

I find it a weak argument to say that labels are bad because people are too ignorant.

Is there an expression that's like "Even a working clock is wrong twice a day?" or something? Cause, Maher definitely fits into that category. He's hilarious, and he's usually right. But clearly, this past week's final New Rule was an exception to the latter. I'd still say it was pretty funny though. I mean, I did laugh as often as I cringed at some of the "reasoning" he presented.

I'm pretty sure it goes "Even a broken clock is right twice a day." which is a much more appropriate comparison to Maher.

"In last night's episode he compares California voters, who rightly rejected a proposition that would have forced companies to label GM products..."

Rightly? Why Rightly? Why shouldn't people have full disclosure to information like this? What if they don't want to support Monsanto, say?

Because, again, it was not about that.

And is not wanting to support a company a good reason for the government to mandate it to label its products?

Andyo's arguments against GM food labeling, if I may:

  1. Labeling generalizes GM as if it were one thing, which it isn't.

  2. The government shouldn't be interfering in the labeling of food.

  3. Labeling implies that the substances being called out (GM ingredients) are harmful.

My issues with these points: 1. Valid, but not a reason not to label something.

  1. All labels are government mandated - this is a governmental role, labeling food. Even McDonalds will give one a list of ingredients if one asks. This point is simply false.

  2. again, ignorance should not be a reason for secrecy.

It may be that labeling something "Is or contains GM food" isn't enough information (add: organic, free-range, non-irradiated, etc.), but companies should know these details, and they are putting labels on things anyway, so where's the rub?

I didn't say number 2 at all. I said that the government shouldn't be mandating labelling for which there's no evidence of harm. Those were my references to silicone implants, which relatively recently only have become legal again after all the manufactroversy in the 90's, and of course the Thimerosal scare, which has had the antivaxers salivating for a lot of years now. There was no evidence of harm, but there was evidence of safety, for both.

As for number 3, these people you refer to who don't know better, are purposefully being made more ignorant by most of the anti-GM crowd, specifically in this case the Prop 37 group. The same kind of people who will warn you about "toxins" and for whom everything "natural" is better. For this group, science is blatantly out the window, and you could see that here in CA pretty clearly, and also on their own website.

It may be that labeling something "Is or contains GM food" isn't enough information (add: organic, free-range, non-irradiated, etc.), but companies should know these details, and they are putting labels on things anyway, so where's the rub?

If companies who want to sell the idea that "organic" is better are putting labels on things anyway, then where's the rub?

Ah, now I get you re: #2.

Companies could put whatever labels they want on food I guess, but without government regulation the labels would be meaningless.

Maybe it is anyway, see "Horsemeat".

I'm with you that labeling shouldn't be used as a lever to allow the ignorant to avoid GM foods - it's interesting how the discussion has devolved.

If Genetic Modification is some kind of advantage, either for price or nutrition - as it should be, otherwise why use it? Anyway where is that marketing push? By trying to hide the GM element, they have made themselves the boogeyman, with Monsanto as spokesman.

GM foods are some serious science, or they should be. They could save us or kill us, not by poisoning us, to be clear, but via the dangers of monoculture and possibly cross-pollination, the evolution of superbugs to match our superplants, some really interesting stuff which calls for some cleverness.

It seems really strange to me that the discussion is trapped around what sort of labels are on the end product - where in Germany the products are simply banned. Both strategies are not very democratic or forward-looking.

For the record, I did write: 1 - 2 - 3 for the three issues, but something interesting happened... That'll teach me not to preview.

I wouldn't call DK a "lefty" site.

My argument for labeling

  1. What is a carrot if it isn't the offspring of two carrots. How much carrot genetics define a carrot. Until there are legal rules for those things, the only way to know you are eating a less than 100% carrot is if it says so on the label.

  2. As a Celiac sufferer I have done so e reading that so many folks have had to stop eating wheat because modern wheat strains have been altered for productivity and that alteration also increased gluten content. Altering our food can have negative consequences and some consequences take years to become obvious and if suddenly 90% of your seed has a genetic trait that is disadvantageous to public health it takes a lot of time and money to reverse the effect.


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