The ‘Right to Know’ is an Imposition

Over at the Genetic Literacy Project, there was a delightful article recently written by Jane Palmer on the GMO labelling campaign. As many know, it was recently defeated in Colorado 55% to 45%. In this article, Jane writes what may be the most lucid, at least to my eyes, sentences that aptly sums up the implications of the Right to Know movement. For context, Jane was once for labeling, and over the course of the article, she shares how she started to doubt the proposition, and eventually change her mind. Here it is:

“I realize that my ‘right to know’ might affect someone else’s ‘right to choose’, or even worse their ‘right to eat.’”

That is a wonderful distillation of the potential consequences of what might occur if a Right to Know campaign actually wins. There are precedents too: in Europe, when legislation required GM food to be labelled, Europeans subsequently disavowed their purchase. Consequence: food companies simply swapped their GM ingredients for more-expensive non-GM ingredients. Those who cheer such a change are invariably of the 1% of the food movement for, as usual, those who bore the brunt were the poor. Suzy do-gooder could afford the increase in foodstuffs (if she wasn’t already shopping organic to begin with), the average Jane on the street suddenly has less money for her children’s daycare, transport, insurance etc.. This is a serious concern those higher up the social ladder are often oblivious too.

Jane goes on to catalogue the various studies and the increased cost of a labeling campaign for the average family, with low estimates at $48 and going as high as $1556, with a more commonly accepted view that the average cost will be around $500. What’s more, a rather funny consequence that Jane distills is that the majority of the burden of such a law would fall on those producers that sell non-GMO produce writing:

“The debate over this issue and this study ignores other costs that could add hundreds of dollars or more to each person’s yearly food bill: the potential for tort litigation if products are found to exceed whatever threshold is legally established for trace existence of GM ingredients. Any food that does not have a GM label but is found to have a trace amount above the arbitrary cutoff point set in legislation will undoubtedly be hit by a law suit. That could result in hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in legal defense costs or adverse judgements.”

In the end she sums up the dilemma perfectly eschewing the popular solipsism that the left have become fond of recently:

We [those who choose to not eat GMOs] can choose between conventional unlabeled goods, organic foods and voluntarily labeled GMO-free foods. So, if we are prepared to pay a little more, we can choose GMO-free foods by choosing organic or GMO-free foods. Another consumer can choose cheaper options by choosing unlabeled, non-organic foods.”

In this way, everyone’s interested are served. However, if, as in Europe, labeling is passed and many consumers pass on GMOs due to the unfounded propaganda of decades past and present, the poor and those who can’t afford to pay double for organic food lose a valuable option to feed themselves and their families. As Jane points out: currently, the ‘Certified Organic’ and ‘non-GMO project verified’ labels provide exactly what the anti-GMO movement wants, if information—not politics—is their goal. There is neither rhyme nor reason to label everything else raising prices across the board for rich and poor alike. If you’re shopping at Whole Foods, let’s face it: you’re rich, don’t assume everyone else is, but most of all, don’t make others choose between food and electricity or gas. They have it hard as it is without piling on superfluous regulations that have nobody’s interest at heart—except, of course, the organic industry’s.

So in investigating for this piece, I exercised my ‘right to know’ by analyzing publically available documents. I believe that the ‘right to know’ as it refers to the mandatory GMO labeling of food is not something that I want on my conscience.

With that, I’ll cap it off with a happy new year!


  1. Right. Truth and knowledge may seem like good things, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Some people just can’t handle the truth and those of us blessed with superior wisdom need to make sure that the less fortunate don’t get more than their proper dosage of truth. Sure, the unwashed masses like to think they have the right to their own choices, but sadly, they aren’t capable of making good decisions without help. It is the duty of the elite to control the flow of information to the peasantry so as to steer them along the correct path.

    The values of democracy have become very popular in America, but Fourat, you have bravely turned out thinking to a classic era, some centuries ago, and you champion a higher and more realistic principle, “noblesse oblige.” Of course the new aristocracy is the corporations, profiting wherever possible, but generously feeding the ignorant serfs. “Let them eat GMO. We rule by divine right, and what they don’t know can’t hurt them.”

    1. Your comments have continuously degraded in terms of informational content and the validity of your argumentation, and I see no point in continuing to respond to your ignorance. (Though I do wonder how low it can go…)

      1. Your piece here is despicable. My comment simply reflects the arrogance and monarchistic contempt at the heart of your thinking. Finding validity in my comment would involve a long, cold look in a mirror you don’t want to see. It is hardly surprising that you don’t choose to go there.

        1. Finally, you elaborated instead of just being a windbag. It only took 38 comments.

          Arrogance and monarchistic? Ha! It’s funny how projection works: so, since GMOs are safe and there is no evidence to the contrary (except to postmodernists such as yourself), and to label them for the apparently noble purpose of the ‘Right to Know’ (when, btw, two such labels exist already! so what is the Right to Know really for), and which will only add to the cost of food for millions and perhaps billions of people around the planet solely to satisfy the delusions of a small internet elite among whom you are counted (and solely to then organise everyone to not buy them, so a Right to Know becomes a call-to-arms) is not the very same thing you just accused me of? Are you delusional? If you don’t want to eat GMOs, you have the option of eating ‘Certified Organic’ and ‘Non GMO project verified’. Why is a 3rd label required?

          Let me ask you another simple question, one that involves a one word answer of the following three options: yes, no, or maybe.

          Is there anything, anything at all, that can change your mind about the science or safety of genetically modified organisms? Whether it be (even) more independent studies, more stringent regulatory requirements etc..

          1. Well I must say I am thrilled by the level of service here on this blog. Not only did you count my comments, but you checked all 38 to see if I had “elaborated”…wow! While my content started off void of elaboration, you have also found that it has continuously degraded, meaning it started bad, and then you tracked 38 subsequent levels of degradation. This attention to detail is astonishing and you should give serious consideration to making yourself employee of the month.

            As it happens, no, I am not delusional, but thanks for asking. Actually I get that question a lot, but usually from fairies and elves. Since you and I are both human (presumably), let’s take a moment to stop and appreciate the privilege of insulting each other online. We’ll never meet, but I can call you arrogant and monarchistic and you can chime in with your own retorts, or claim “projection” to just mirror back what I say if you aren’t capable of thinking of anything new on your own. (I’m just taking a moment to smell the roses here, and inviting you to join me.)

            Anyhow, you propose a mind changing question with a one-word, multiple choice answer? Ok, I will pick “No.” Does “No” work for you? I believe that DNA is the work of God and vandalizing and sabotaging His handiwork is a sin. So NO, nothing can make me change my mind about GMO; it is the work of Satan and you can burn me at the stake, but I will not consider any new information you might have, now or ever.

            Oh, no, wait, sorry, that is just the windmill against which you would like to tilt, your idealized idiot opponent. And since you just rechecked my 38 previous comments, you know that yes, my mind is subject to change, but I do have some very specific reasons for not being comfortable with the GMO industry. You may disagree with those reasons, and you may disagree with people who would choose not to buy food labeled GMO, but your idea for how to deal with people who disagree with you is what I object to. Your thought is that if most people know the truth, they will do what you think is the wrong thing, therefore the truth should be hidden from most people. Ok, ok, there is no such thing as “the truth,” of course, and really what we are talking about is just some information, taken out of the larger context in which you would like to present it.

            The problem here is that few people want your larger context, your “Yes, folks, the juice here at our healthy natural juice bar is from GMO carrots, but wait, that is a good thing for the following reasons….” Nor do most people want my larger context regarding why the GMO industry is a bad thing. Most people just want the bare basics: “is this food I am about to buy GMO?” And if it is, they want to be able to choose to buy something else. You want to stand in their way and manipulate their choice by controlling the flow of basic information to them. You don’t trust them to go beyond the basics and get the extended information set that you would want to select for them, and you don’t trust them to act as you see fit.

            This is exactly the kind of thinking that leads the Chinese government to restrict the flow of information on the Chinese internet. They don’t want their citizens to just go get the information those citizens want. They fear that Chinese people will access the “wrong” information, and then be too lazy to read all the related party propaganda and too stupid to do what is truly best for themselves, and their country…and their party officials.

            “Let me ask you another simple question, one that involves a one word answer of (sic) the following three options: yes, no, or maybe.” Would you like to be the Communist official in charge of controlling information about GMO in China?

            1. Your comments are often vague, elaborate jabs in response to a misunderstanding of my concerns and arguments. You never actually just state your argument plainly and simply with the intention of rebutting one of my arguments and engage in a productive back and forth. Hence the “windbag” and I stand by it. Just look at your above comment…you do it again. You go off on a tangent about satan, fairies, and elves in an attempt to smear the way I look at you. I have very good reasons (I think) for thinking you’re an ideological opponent: you’ve misunderstand every argument I have ever made about GMOs (on those posts you’ve commented on, least). For the longest time, I honestly could not tell whether you were serious or a troll. It’s not until you started commenting at Atheist Enquiry that I thought you were genuine.

              Anyway, to your argument: you think I object to people knowing the truth. I have no such objection, I object to people being told fibs and distortions by an industry (the organic industry of course, which equals, if not exceeds, the biotech industry in cash bought in–but you’re only afraid of the biotech industry because industry bad, just not all industry bad). The fact of the matter is that GMOs = bad because of activism. Plain and simple.

              Now, here are the givens underwriting my argument:

              1- >80% of food in a supermarket contains GM ingredients
              2- ‘Certified Organic’ means GMO-free and the label is regulated by the government
              3- ‘Non GMO project verified’ also means GMO-free and is regulated by the free-market
              4- In the last half-decade, the amount of people on food stamps and suffering from food insecurity has risen (these are people for which minor cost increases reduces the amount of food they eat)
              5- Currently-approved GMOs are safe–the science of biotech is 52 years old, and in food, it is almost 30 years: it’s not new and testing has been rigorous by all parties involved

              Given the above facts, it simply makes no sense to put a label, historically used to warn the consumer of documented health risks (trans fat to name one). Considering that it will raise the price of foods, segregate the food industry (even more), bring libel suits against GMO and non-GMO producers alike, and, studies have shown when the price of foods increase, the poorest amongst us substitute less healthy, cheaper foods to increase their calories (think fast foods). There is no good reason to do so, when the positives are so miniscule, and the detriments potentially so bad. It makes even less sense to do so when the labels you want are already in existence; two of them, in fact. I can think of no possible reason for a third, nor have you elucidated one. A quick tangent on the food insecurity: Europe being GMO-free means they have to import food from all over the world… in doing so, they increase food insecurity in places like Africa where farmers get more money from selling to Europeans instead of to their own countrymen. If Europe didn’t eschew GMOs, their yields would most likely be high enough to be self-sufficient, leaving Africa alone; or at least, with more food for itself. This is a black-and-white case of the world being worse off because of an ideological preference. The European scientists who work for the EU gov’ts are unanimous in their message too: GMOs are safe. It’s the politicians pandering to the irrational preferences of the public. Should we repeat that here? Who cares about brown people in Africa, right?

              I’ve said it before Producto, I know you’re an intelligent guy from reading your comments over at Atheist Enquiry (if a little too sarcastic, often, to the point of inducing eye-rolls waiting for you to get to your point).

              So, do you care to elaborate on why the biotech industry is a bad thing? I mean, you just say it, and have done so often, but never with anything more than vague epithets about profits (though above you say you have very specific reasons)… as if it is in a shareholder owned company’s interest to poison the people who buy their foods (and will do so again in the future).

              Sure, people have irrational preferences: some hate Monsanto, others think immigrants should be forced to leave, other think it a Christian nation and should act as such, and the list goes on. Who cares what people’s irrational preferences are… It is not the job of gov’t to indulge everyone’s desires and the want of a GM label is an irrational preference regardless of what people want. The evidence says one thing, and if the people want something else, bad things tend to happen, as history will show. That is why I am against GMO labelling despite the fact people want it. I don’t care that people want it, everybody wants different things and they simply cannot all be indulged. The fact of the matter is that only 7% of people want a GM label (when the question asked isn’t leading the poller to the questioners desired conclusion). The other 93% of people are more concerned with other things like eating, having affordable food, health insurance and so on. In the end, it doesn’t matter what people want when their choices hurt other people or restrict other people’s choices (as labeling did in Europe). There is a reason we don’t let corporations discriminate on gender, religion, and ethnicity. Should we let them because there is a sizable portion of people who wish to? Of course not, so what makes it different when the subject is changed to food, or how that food was made? As long as there isn’t a health issue, then gov’t should not be involved. If you still have a preference, then as said earlier, buy foods with only the labels that already exist and which satisfy your preference.

              Even in Europe, the tide is swinging back to GMOs because of their potential benefits, the necessity of growing more food (hopefully without destroying the remaining rainforest), and the reductions in farming’s footprint.

              In answer to your last question: No. To give my reasons for that answer: a government is a man-made entity that is concerned with its own survival, often against the wishes of its people. Bioscience is inanimate, it just is and evidence will judge whether it is safe. Nature has a monopoly on what’s true; it behooves us to accept that, and such is not the case with the communist gov’t of China (or any gov’t). False information will always hurt; that GMOs are dangerous is false information (so far), and to present it as such will hurt people whether you like it or not.

              Believe it or not, I’d like to engage you with in a productive format. If you look at my other comments with other commenters, you’ll see that I actually engage with them. I don’t with you because generally your comments are maddeningly vague, infuriating, and often misunderstand the argument I am presenting. If you wish to engage back, please do so, and we’ll carry on with a jolly good argument, otherwise, I return to my first comment in which I will ignore you.

              [UPDATE] Oh, by the way, I misunderstand your question on China and being in charge of controlling the information on GMOs. The answer is still no, but my policy would still be based on the evidence, regardless of what the people wanted. On our side the pond, it would be similar, democracy is not a tyranny of the majority. Anyways, only 7% of people when asked what other information they wished to see on food labels asked for labels for GM, so we are not there yet.

              1. You seem to have forgotten that this is a game, a sparring match. We aren’t solving the problems of the world, just positioning and jabbing in an “I’m smarter than you contest” that has no winning except “you aren’t engaging so I will ignore you… FTW!”

                My ‘tangent” was just to remind you to enjoy this sparring for what it is. My point about fairies and elves was about me, not you. Should I ruin that self-deprecating joke by explaining it?

                You are so sure you are right about your “black and white” perception of GMO that you can’t seem to see other opinions as anything other than a misunderstanding of the TRUTH of what you are saying. This arrogance carries to the point of restricting information, “regardless of what the people wanted” if you were a communist official. Many of us find such an attitude problematic.

                In any case I do get what you are saying about GMO, just think there is more to it than you have considered. Humans are exceptional, so maybe we aren’t heading towards a Malthusian destiny, but maybe we are, and GMO run by self-serving corporations may be a big part of the reason that we will feed a population explosion right up to end game.

            2. Your 38 comments have been intertwined with a certain Kiliman Journal. That you? If not, then I am mistaken in my attribution to you of 38 comments.

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