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Sen. Amy Klobuchar can’t seem to find the right vote on GMO labeling

REUTERS/Jason Redmond
Currently, there is no national requirement for food producers and manufacturers to label genetically modified content.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar is known as a consensus-builder in D.C., someone who frequently praises the virtue of political opponents compromising on difficult issues. The two-term moderate Democratic senator has basically staked her political reputation on it.

But in the past few weeks, Klobuchar has had a difficult time finding common ground on one divisive issue developing on Capitol Hill: the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.

Both chambers of Congress have considered a law that would establish a voluntary national standard for the labeling of GMO foods, but would also ban states from enacting their own — potentially more stringent — labeling standards.

The bills come as states have considered, or are considering, legislation mandating that food products with GMO ingredients be labeled as such. Vermont passed such a law, which will take effect on July 1.

Some food giants, like Minneapolis-based General Mills, have gotten on board with labeling after fighting it. General Mills said it would label its products nationwide in order to comply with the Vermont law, though it says it’s still hoping Congress will pass a national standard.

That’s also the solution preferred by farmers, agri-business and food industry interests. They argue that a 50-state system with up to 50 different labels would confuse consumers and raise prices on food products.

But advocates, who maintain consumers have the right to know if food products contain GMO ingredients, believe the federal effort is a blatant attempt to stifle robust local labeling laws by establishing a weak national standard.

Unfortunately for Klobuchar, those two constituencies — agriculture interests, and the often liberal activists who antagonize them — are important in Minnesota politics, and have helped get her elected by large margins, twice. And as her two seemingly opposite votes on the issue — and the vocal reaction from both sides — show, finding consensus on this issue may evade even one of Washington’s most dedicated compromisers.

Klobuchar votes to advance the bill…

The latest Capitol Hill food fight began last summer, when the legislation, titled the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, was introduced to the House of Representatives. In July, that chamber approved the legislation by a relatively wide margin, with Democrats like Reps. Collin Peterson, Tim Walz, and Betty McCollum joining Republicans in the yes camp.

The bill’s backers marketed it as a win for those in favor of labeling GMOs. It does provide for a national labeling standard: lawmakers have proposed placing a QR code on food labels, which smartphones could scan to access GMO information, or a 1-800 number to call for information.

Many activists believe those standards are too weak, preferring instead a “one-second” standard: a label that instantly tells consumers if the food product in their hands contains GMO ingredients.

Whatever standard is established, though, would be voluntary. Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, chair of the Agriculture Committee, proposed a 70 percent participation rate within two years; an amendment was proposed to make the standard mandatory if that rate were not achieved, but it didn’t go anywhere.

Months after its passage in the House, the bill was taken up by the Senate. On March 1, the Agriculture Committee, upon which Klobuchar sits, voted to send the measure to the floor by a count of 14-6. Klobuchar was one of three of the committee’s nine Democrats who voted to advance the bill.

At the time, Klobuchar suggested that the bill wasn’t perfect, but said she she wanted to advance it so that the amendment process could play out, according to the Star Tribune, which also reported that her vote was hailed by prominent Minnesota food industry companies like Cargill and Land O’Lakes.

It didn’t take long for anti-GMO and right-to-know advocates to pounce.

“Amy Klobuchar moves to the DARK side on GMO labeling,” read a headline from Minnesota blogger Mary Turck, referencing critics’ preferred name for the bill — the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.

“Klobuchar votes against Minnesota consumers,” read a press release from advocacy group Just Label It. “We are disappointed that Sen. Klobuchar did not stand up for the rights of states and consumers by rejecting this bad bill,” the statement said.

Some DFLers seized on the senator’s vote, which was cast hours before party members met across Minnesota to caucus for the presidential primary. More than 30 precinct caucuses voted to adopt a resolution condemning Klobuchar for her vote and urging her to reconsider her position.

According to Heather Flesland, who runs the advocacy group Right to Know Minnesota, activists mounted a robust effort to get Klobuchar to reconsider her position — one that paid off.

In the weeks after the Agriculture Committee’s vote, Flesland says her group coordinated hundreds of phone calls to Klobuchar’s D.C. and Minnesota offices, met with her staff, and organized a demonstration outside her Minneapolis office. “We had 50 people show up on short notice, with signs. We’ve done a lot to really let her know we’re watching.”

…then votes against considering the bill in the Senate

Those activists were encouraged last Wednesday, when the labeling law, attached to another piece of legislation as an amendment, was put to a cloture vote in the full Senate — a procedural measure that would allow debate and a passage vote to take place. Klobuchar voted against that, and the bill ultimately failed 48-49, requiring 60 votes to proceed. Only three Democrats voted to advance the measure.

The response from the food and ag industry, which had previously praised the votes of Klobuchar and her committee colleagues, ranged from outraged to terse.

The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Zippy Duvall, told the trade publication AgriPulse, “to say we are angry with those senators who abandoned farmers and ranchers and turned their backs on rural America on this vote is an understatement… Their votes opposing this measure ignored science, threw our nation’s food system into disarray and undermined the public’s understanding of the many benefits of biotechnology in feeding a growing and hungry population.”

The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation was more measured. In a statement to MinnPost, a spokesperson said that the group supports Congress’ GMO labeling legislation, and will continue to work with Minnesota’s elected representatives.

“Congress and the administration must act to protect interstate commerce… and ensure investment in future agricultural innovation so consumers are not left with confusing labels that will increase food costs and limit choice. We are hopeful that conversations are ongoing to find a common sense federal solution.”

Cargill, the Minnetonka-based agribusiness giant, struck a similar note. “We appreciate Senator Klobuchar’s support in the Agriculture Committee in advancing the bill through the legislative process,” company spokesman Mark Klein said. “Now we are watching as talks continue among lawmakers in hopes of finding a compromise.”

Activists were cautiously pleased, and interpreted Klobuchar’s more recent vote as a sign she is listening, after concern that she was going to align with the food and ag business on the issue. “We’re happy that she listened to constituents and voted no on cloture… She has been very connected to the other side, I would say,” Flesland says.

“There’s absolutely some hope she will continue to stand with the people, but our work is not done,” Flesland says. “It’s clear we have work to do to get the message across, why we want mandatory on-package labeling. [Klobuchar] is in an influential position in Washington, and we want her to be advocating for us.”

Reconciling two irreconcilable positions

In a statement to MinnPost, Klobuchar explained her rationale. “I voted in committee to advance the bill while stating at the time that it needed more consumer provisions,” she said.

“My vote last week was a procedural one, which simply meant that I believe that changes still need to be made to the bill. I remain hopeful that we can reach a compromise on a bill that avoids subjecting our entire food supply to a patchwork of state laws while creating a national uniform standard that works for consumers.”

Senators will likely continue to work behind the scenes to strike a satisfactory deal, and GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the ability to bring up the legislation again.

It’s unclear what the compromise Klobuchar and others are after would look like. Activists hoping for a strong labeling standard are firm on the position that states have the prerogative to pass their own laws if their officials believe the federal system to be insufficient.

Four Democratic senators introduced a bill that would establish a national labeling framework while allowing states like Vermont to maintain their own laws.

That approach is likely a non-starter on the other side: the food and ag camp won’t accept a compromise that would continue what they call the “patchwork” of state labeling laws. Klobuchar’s statements have indicated she agrees with that standpoint — even using the “patchwork” language, which makes activists wary.

For a Democratic politician representing all of Minnesota, progressive activists and the food and ag industry are two important constituencies. The former, who comprise a major element of the DFL base, are deeply passionate, and clearly have an aptitude for organizing their troops and earning publicity. They could cause headaches for Klobuchar in the future.

At the same time, Klobuchar has proven popular with agribusiness companies and with farmers in the state. Since 2011, some of her top campaign contributors have been Minnesota food industry companies, such as Cargill and Land O’Lakes, and she has worked hard to cultivate a pro-agriculture profile. If farm advocates like Duvall are to be believed, they are not treating even this procedural vote lightly.

However the issue proceeds, it’s hard to imagine both camps being satisfied with whatever the Senate’s final product is — if it produces one at all.

According to Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College, it was a no-win situation for Klobuchar from the get-go. “This is a classic example of a senator caught between two sets of constituents, trying to satisfy both and instead offending both,” he says.

“Ultimately, Klobuchar has to make some enemies when deciding about this legislation — farm interests or environmentalists.”

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Comments (62)

ALL domestic agricultural products

are genetically modified.
That's what domestic breeding is: genetic modification.
It's only the details of how products are genetically modified that differs.


Genetic modification is not the same as selective breeding.

Here is an article which editorializes a bit, but basically does a pretty good job of laying out the distinctions between the two:


but little evidence.
They do cite a Union of Concerned Scientists report (a group that I respect and support) -- unfortunately the link is broken. Since I have read a lot of UCS material, I suspect that their report is slightly more nuanced.


This isn't about "assertions" and "evidence". It's about definitions. It is a misnomer to apply the term "genetic modification" to what is actually no more than selective breeding.

Selective breeding involves nothing more than putting together a "boy" and a "girl" of whatever organisms you are working with and letting them do what comes naturally. Nature also comes into play in that certain organisms will never succeed in procreating on their own, no matter how hard they try. It's a natural process with naturally-induced limitations.

But when humans begin to intervene and utilize the tools of modern biotechnology (gene insertion or deletion, gene splicing, etc.) to create offspring between two organisms that would never have been able to procreate without such assistance, now you've moved beyond what Mother Nature can do on her own and have entered the realm of genetic modification.

That doesn't automatically make it "good" or "bad". But it DOES make it different than selective breeding.

Yes, but in the same way that...

falling is falling. The only difference between falling from a chair and a 10 story building is the detail of how high.

We can play this game ad nauseam. The fact is that genetic modification accelerates the speed and extent of modification that the natural controls and limits of domestic breeding cease to exist.

There may well be benefits to genetic modification. But equating it to domestic breeding vastly underestimates the potential impact and is a recipe for disaster.


So everyone understands that almost everything people have been buying in grocery stores for the last 100 years is genetically modified right? From dairy cows to sweet corn and apples farmers have been modifying food on a genetic level for a very long time.

So I have to ask, what exactly is the definition of "GM" being promoted here?

Monsanto link

When gmo first came out, you couldn't get away from the Monsanto side of coating all seeds with chemicals that destroyed weeds and everything else including our environment.

The question seems to be 'where is the line between gmo and chemical usage in association with growing our food'. We can't be sure, so labeling food as gmo/non-gmo is one way for the customer to know.

Without GMO food 10% of the World population would starve

Without GMO food about 10% of the World population would starve to death. GMO increases yields 20 to 50%. With out GMO

Any Good Conservative Economist

Would tell you that more information makes markets work better. So why are trans-national corporate giants trying to keep information from the market? Are they afraid of something? Why the need for secrecy?

Understanding GMOs

So while genetic modifications are the basis for life not he planet and humans have manipulated the results of these modifications for centuries there has been a big shift which needs to be acknowledged. The GMOs of concern are those which have been developed by physically modifying the genetic material directly and not through selective breeding or grafting of living plants. This is an important difference in that it eliminates the natural restrictions and vastly accelerates the potential changes being introduced in to the ecosystem. This speed precludes any natural organisms or systems any hope of adjusting or keeping up with these man made changes.

The arguments about the increased yields don't provide much real sway either because those yields come at a cost and really don't provide any long term solutions. Humans like almost all organisms will produce a population that matches the available resources. As we increase the food available our population simply increases to consume it. Unfortunately this increased production comes at the costs of greater environmental degradation of soil water and air as well as increased energy consumption. Just producing more food so populations can increase doesn't solve all the other issues that come along with it.

So how do you propose

that we go about reducing the population?
And it's not clear that most organisms (including humans) will match their population to the available resources. There are many more factors involved, and most organisms will over-reproduce and let natural selection sort it out.

Long term thinking.

There isn't any need to reduce the population as you seem to insinuate. We only need to stop subsidizing population growth and over time the problem will be greatly reduced. No more farm subsidizes or tax breaks, no more breaks for agriculture on the damage they dobro the environment, no more tax breaks for having kids, and more stringent environmental protections including a carbon/sales tax replacing income taxes.

We need to shift to a system where people pay the full cost of thier consumption rather than one that encourages ever more of it under the guise of economic development.

When You're 75

And your current doctor is retired or dead, you'll be glad that someone's current child has become a doctor and has the skills to care for you. Same for a plumber, nurse, auto mechanic, accountant, etc. At that age, you will be relying on lots of people for you to survive, nearly all of them younger than you.

Be careful what you wish for. The population of several industrial countries is in free fall, and they face dire consequences.

Easier to deal with problems early rather than late

Population growth isn't needed to take care of older generations. As far as "free fall" I don't know a single industrial country where that is true. A few have populations which are fairly stable or have seen very minor declines. Not that it really matters though. If we can't solve the issue you mention, if it were an issue, without growth we will eventually run out of resources and reach the point of a catastrophic collapse. Smarter to deal with it now and avoid a larger problem later on. Subsidizing growth simply avoids the issue in the short term and makes the long term problem worse.

Yes, and furthermore,

Some substantial proportion of arable land is used not to produce food, but to produce commodities as feedstock for industrial production of food substitutes, non-food items, and the extemely inefficient production of food in the form of meat.

If first priority for arable land were to feed people properly, I suspect we'd have plenty of land to do so without arrogating yield limits wholly from Mother Nature. And then if people had enough to eat (and otherwise had basic needs met), population growth would be a lot slower.

OK but...

"The GMOs of concern are those which have been developed by physically modifying the genetic material directly and not through selective breeding or grafting of living plants. This is an important difference in that it eliminates the natural restrictions and vastly accelerates the potential changes being introduced in to the ecosystem."

Given that fact that nearly every kind of food you buy has been genetically modified, how do you distinguish, on a label, the difference between the kind of modifications you're talking about the and existing modifications? And what's the point? Has someone determined that the food with these new labels is dangerous to eat?

On TheFlip Side

Has it been proven safe?

Proving a negative

'Proving something safe' really means proving the absence of harm -- a negative. This is nearly impossible since even a single case of harm can negate it.
More to the point is whether significant harm has been demonstrated; are people who eat food produced with direct genetic manipulation more likely to be ill or malnourished than those who eat food produced by selective breeding of the conventional variety?

Actually yes it has been proven safe

We've been eating this food for decades.

Eating it isn't the main risk.

Eating the food isn't the primary risk. The primary risk is environmental.

My objection to GMO food isn't what it may do to my body.

It's that it represents, and accelerates, control of global land and ecosystem management, food production and consumption, and intellectual property in the hands of a very few - if you will, Marcuse's "desublimation" of life pathways writ very, very large.

Dan and Charles

Well, we don't put environmental concerns on food labels, and even if we did, what would you say?

No reason not to

We require labeling do to the value we believe it has on a societal level. Simply labeling items for GMO (potentially as a percentage by weight) poses no real additional costs above and beyond current requirements. It does provide those who are looking to reduce their environmental impact do to the food they eat a method of doing so.


Genetic modification is not the same as selective breeding.

See my earlier comment with an article that does a pretty good job explaining the difference.

Actually Pat

Mendelian genetics IS genetic modification, it produces new variations with unique genes.

Neither your earlier comments or the article explain or describe what kind of genetic modification your talking about or what you want to put on labels, or why. You could tell people that the product they're buying contains some DNA that was actually spliced in the lab, but that's not really information anyone can actually use. That's like telling people "chemistry" was used to make their medication.

It's all about the definition

As long as people keep muddying up the understanding of what constitutes "Genetic Modification" (changes induced via deliberate human-induced changes via modern biotechnology rather than simple animal husbandry) with what is actually simply selective breeding, then labels will be problematic.

If we quit mixing up the two (deliberately, it sometimes seems) then a GMO label becomes meaningful.

And "chemistry" is far, far more generic a term than "Genetic Modification".


The term "GMO"becomes meaningful when YOU define it. You appear to be flat out refusing to do that. If you're going to put something on a label you NEED to define it. If you have a coherent definition why don't you just show us?

See my post below

I found a document that offers what I think is a pretty coherent definition.

Sooner not later ...

people need to accept the reality what is best for everyone are fewer humans on the planet.

Finding the Middle Ground

I laud our senator for trying to find a middle ground when both sides are lobbying verbal grenades at her. The ag industry prefers to have a single national standard. Lacking one, General Mills dook the standard of Vermont and applied it to its packaging. That is what I call a pragmatic but temporary solution. They are voluntarily trying to answer some consumer's desire to avoid GMO products.

Look at the definition of organic. It is much more complicated that one might think. The definition has evolved and improved as people have more experience.

Consumers need to ask themselves, if they are sparing their bodies the potential risk (not really well defined) of GMO - and do any of the following (don't wash their hands regularly, smoke tobacco or marijuana, use other recreational drugs, drink high levels of alcohol, eat lots of sugar and use products that are inherently unsafe - such as unpasteurized milk products or raw meat) are they really nullifying the health benefits by going clean by insisting on GMO free products.

So, I say come up with some kind of national standard for GMO on product labels, and place some limits on what states can impose additionally. Here is an middle ground that I'm not aware that anyone has suggested. If a state wants a additional warning,let the manufacturer clear a space on the package where where the wholesaler or retailer affixes a small stick on label just in that state.

Make it the responsibility of the state to apply the label and take the food manufacturer out of it. That way a state can do more if they want, but the state's residents bear all the costs. This doesn't impose additional costs due to additional complexity on the manufacturer or other states that don't want any extra labeling. Let's say the sticker increases the cost of the item by 5-10 cents - certainly a state who wants something different or better should be willing to pay for it..

Nobody is suggesting this as a solution, because few people other than our Amy is trying to find the middle ground. Frankly, with two parties that aren't going to agree, if one imposes a little responsibility/pain on both parties, they will have more motivation to quit fighting and get along.

No confidence in Amy....

My sense of Klobuchar is that she sees all issues in purely political terms and has little interest in the underlying merits of issues.

Wouldn't a strong national labelling standard ....

... provide the national consistency food industry people need, while satisfying those of us who want to know what's in the stuff they sell us as "food" .... thus fixing Senator Klubuchar's political problem?

PMC...Politically Modified congressman?

I'll place my criticism on politically modified politicians who dare or care not to actively pursue a progressive view when voted in as political activists; but then become standardized politicians who take a narrow path...might even say, sit on their assets to ensure reelection...but it won't work next time, maybe, who knows?

When faith in our elected officials becomes 'fate' of our elected officials it's a sad day and congress primarily becomes a rest home of politically modified legislation that fails to reflect the views of the people who put them there....essentially gives the people nothing they hoped for ?

Klobuchar's votes on GMO labeling.

It seems that given the "50 states" opportunity for confusion and inconsistency, Amy is exactly correct in First, getting a nationion-wide law on the books and then working to toughen the standards. The reverse approach simply won't work.

It's Not About a SIngle Standard

For agribusiness, it's not about a single standard. It's about setting the bar as low as possible.

Misplaced faith in consumerism

First, I have to say it's kind of amazing that GM lablel champions have such a hard time answering basic questions, i.e.what are you talking about exactly and how do you put in on a label?

Beyond that the idea that we can address the very real concerns that some of these modified organisms present with new food labels is kind of silly. No matter what you want to put on the label food producers like General Mill's will find a way to work with it and turn it to their advantage... think "Glutton", "Organic", "All Natural" etc. Consumer activism is the most ineffective intervention you could attempt.

If you want to do something about "GMO's" you need to do the science and regulate them accordingly and directly. If they're an environmental hazard, you need to identify the hazard and address it directly. Not change labels on food and hope that people will save the environment by buying something else.

In the meantime . . . .

In the meantime, why don't consumers deserve to be kept informed as to whether the food they're eating has been artificially genetically modified via modern methods of biotechnology so that they can make their own decisions? Or do you think it's better to keep them in the dark (which is exactly what agribusiness wants to do).

I went and looked at the "Non GMO Project" website shown in the illustration at the top of this article. They have written a document called the "Non GMO Project Standard" which has been revised and updated (most recently February 2, 2016) and this document contains the following definitons (

"GM – Genetically Modified or Genetic Modification—A term referring to products or processes employing gene splicing, gene modification, recombinant DNA technology, or transgenic technology, and referring to products of the gene-splicing process, either as inputs or as process elements.

"GMO or genetically modified organism – A plant, animal, microorganism, or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing), gene modification, or transgenic technology. Cloned animals and their progeny are also considered GMOs under this Standard, as are the products of synthetic biology. Any organism or input from an organism—whether used as inputs or as process elements in the creation of substances or materials—is a product of synthetic biology if it is associated with synthetically created nucleic acid sequences and/or genes."

That looks like a pretty good definition to me, and it's certainly not referencing Mendelian genetics or selective breeding. As long as efforts are not made to muddy up consumers' understanding of the distinctions between those, then a label stating "GMO" according to a definition such as that shown above should provide a clear enough delineation for a concerned consumer to make an informed decision.


As Paul asks, what is it that you are afraid of? I'm well aware of the potential for environmental harm, but that's what we have the EPA for. If there's some other terrible consequence to the consumption of these products, by all means, let's hear it. I for one am curious to hear what the latest bogeyman for the "natural foods" crowd is. In case you haven't guessed, I lump this in with the antivaxxers, the positively weird homeopathy movement, and the new age snake oil of the supplement industry as the "naturalistic" (for lack of a better term, as opposed to the religious one) side anti-intellecutalism, or simply as anti-science.

Never said I was afraid

I just think that consumers have a right to know. I guess I always thought that progressives were in favor of transparency as an issue of fairness and providing people with the tools they need to make their own decisions about how they conduct their lives.

Strage comparisons

Strange that you would lump this in with the anti-science crowd. The damage done by large scale conventional agriculture is fairly well documented and conventional ag couldn't survive without the GMOs and supporting chemicals (much of which is petroleum based) and government policies used to grow their product. Agriculture in general has been excused from the damage it has caused and in fact even subsidized while using unsustainable practices. Agriculture has been as a whole the largest polluter in human history and is currently has a large impact on global warming.

Look at DDT and more recently neonicotinoids. Both were produced and applied according to the science of the time. Unfortunately what the scientists engaged in developing those items failed to see was the larger picture and the impact they would have. Those chemicals did the job they were supposed to do but had side effects well beyond what was originally understood. Add to this the multitude of other impacts which ripple out from having huge chunks of land be stripped of natural growth and large numbers of organisms in order to make monoculture production more predictable.

Scientists who look at the larger ecosystem understand the risks involved and aren't simply charlatans like Dr. Oz seeing homeopathy or antivaxxers. From what I have seen however those who dismiss the environmental damage tend to be fairly closely connected to or directly paid by the conventional agriculture industry. Sort of like an oil company scientist denying the fact global warming is to large degree man made. Sure CO2 isn't a problem in and of itself but in large enough quantities it sure has an impact. The scientists hired to develop theGMOs and supporting products aren't real motivated to see the negative impact of their work.

Apart from growing up in a rural community

I have zero ties to ag, big or otherwise. I simply find it funny when those who claim a concern for the environment think there's gonna be some magic bullet to turn back the tide of modern agricultural practice. For all your talk of population reduction, what do you peg the percentage chance of your seeing it in your lifetime? 1%? Less?. Meaning that if we abandon convential ag, with all its flaws for, lets say everyone's favorite, organic ag, what do you think is gonna happen? I can tell you, mass starvation, but probably not for you and me. So which is the better, more morally responsible approach? I'll take the trade off of higher yields, and different pollution (organic still pollutes as you know), over mass suffering every time. Doesn't mean I don't want ag to improve its practices, doesn't mean I don't care about the environment, just that on this particular issue folks I'd normally agree with are misguided.


If you want to solve something you need to be able to admit that there is an issue rather than use cheap ad hominem attacks by comparing those who show reasoned concern with the impact of GMOs with anti-vaxxers and homeopath advocates. It would also be helpful to give others credit for a little nuance in points of view and not assign claims to other people when they haven't made them. Nobody has stated a desire for an immediate and total ban on GMOs or all conventional agriculture. I and others have simply brought up the idea that continuing down the current path very well might have serious long term consequences and that labeling products which contribute to this long term problem might be one step toward greater consumer knowledge. Nobody has claimed any magic bullet, just you, as a completely dishonest attribution.

Continually subsidizing population growth is not sustainable and the moral dilemma with that is much greater than acknowledging the issue as it stands in hopes of finding solutions which can be applied with the minimum negative impact to human and other life. Borlaug was brilliant and well intentioned but ultimately myopic and caused more harm than good. He solved a short term issues by mortgaging the future of the planet. Increasing the food supply is only beneficial if the population doesn't change and doing so at the expense of the larger ecosystem quickens a more tragic collapse.

The ever increasing population requires more than corn, wheat, and soybeans. They need land, water, iron, wood, energy and other resources as well. Borlaug's disciples and the massive industry he spawned wouldn't exist if it weren't from the protection given them against the damage they cause to the environment. Conventional ag based on GMOs and their ideals of chasing ever bigger yields has no positive end game. Just a promise of more/cheaper consumption while we waste a massive portion of what we produce. They defend themselves with the unfounded claim that if they were held accountable for their negative impact on the planet or if we were to stop subsidizing their industry that there would be massive starvation. Fear based extortion tactics similar to those of the defense industry.

You aren't gonna solve

The population issue by asking nicely. As your whole argument depends on it, what's the plan? Its all fine and good to rail on about how unsustainable everything is but never, in this debate or others, do you get into the nuts and bolts of how we should do that. At best you talk about disincentivizing population growth. How? We can't feed what we've got (spare me the talking point about how there's plenty of food its just distributed poorly until you can solve that issue too) and you're talking about reducing output.I fail to see the part where massive social and economic unrest is avoided. I get it, you're a hyper rationalist, complete with debate school retorts. That still doesn't solve any issue outside of rhetorical theory, and it doesn't mean squat in the real world where other people live. So tell me, how do you plan to break it to the world's population that one of the primary biological imperatives, reproduction, is now off limits? Then, when they tell you where to put your demands, how do you plan to solve all the issues that will still exist if you've decided that the only way forward is to adopt the standards and practices of the preindustrial age? Hate to break it to you, but non-convential (whatever that means) Ag doesn't mean folks are out there with a horse and plow, and it means even more acreage under the till, too bad for all that wildlife currently in need of habitat, or all those wetlands needed for water quality. Its a losing proposition, one borne out by a hundred years of human history. If it's calmity you're looking for, say so, it would at least be a defensible position.

Now or later?

So the question still comes down to do we start now or stick our heads in the sand and wait for the big collapse. Nothing I have actual stated as an option is actually more than adjusting policies we already have in place, primarily eliminating subsidies that encourage growth and enforcing environmental standards. Nothing overly theoretical or outside of the realm of possibility about that. How we make adjustments starts with the discussion and admitting that there is a huge risk to constantly subsidizing growth due to the overall impact it has on the environment. This is the same type of discussion that started years ago on global warming. One we would have been better off starting in ernest sooner and with more vigor. Your arguments parallel the deniers of global warming. First continually deny or ignore the fact that there is a problem. Then, attack those who do see a potential problem and dare speak of it as kooks or elitist, just make sure they are the scary "other". Reinforce this by a shotgun approach of false attributions. After that continually attempt to reframe the discussion by setting it up as an all or nothing argument where doing something is worthless and doing everything is too costly.

Just like with global warming the most likely way to calamity is to ignore the problem. So do we admit there is a potential problem and look at making incremental adjustment now or simply close our eyes and hope for the best?


Analogy. Global warming is a societal level concern where the greatest impact in mitigation comes from societal level solutions. Population is a societal level problem where the solutions become very personal, very quickly. Things like a carbon tax or industrial emissions reduction can be made to appear almost invisible in practice to the general population, and as such become far more palatable. There will be the nuts railing on about freedom and the like, but as we humans tend to take much more stock in individual effects resulting from such things, it will pass. It's easy to encourage "responsibility" when it really won't affect you much. Start telling folks that they need to have fewer kids, or worse yet start penalizing them for doing so. See what the response is, and from what quarter. It's apples and oranges, just because it seems logical and incremental to you doesn't mean that it will be received as such by those folks whose cooperation you'll need for success. A better parallel would be abstinence only sex education, which works about as well as one could expect. Applying rational solutions to the essentially irrational human condition is a recipe for failure, always has been, always will be.


Again, you respond by arguing against statements I never made. I said we need to stop subsidizing growth, not create artificial barriers to it or simply preach a form of abstinence. I most definitely never stated any desire to try and control individual decisions about somebody wanting to have a kid, whether on purpose of not.

Global warming and population are inextricably linked, as is how we deal with food supply. I'm not interested in making things "invisible", quite the opposite. Bing invisible reduces the link between the cost and the behavior and is hiding it is fundamentally dishonest and a reason we are currently in our environmental predicament. We have created policies which detach consumption from its costs. A carbon tax simply is a way of attaching the price of a persons consumption to its true costs. I am talking about doing the same thing with the food supply. Integrate the total cost in to the price, including the environmental impact. Both have an impact on the expenses of basic resources we need to live and therefore increase the price of having kids.

Subsidizing consumption on anything will contribute to larger population increases than we would see otherwise. Whether it is food, fuel, transportation, housing, education or anything else. Since failing to provide education or medical care is likely a no go the others remain. There is no reason or moral imperative to subsidize food, transportation, housing or other consumption beyond some basic level for those truly in need. (The more refined definitions of "need" and "basic" is another discussion all together.) The general population can't expect that their consumption be subsidized. Especially that which has a negative impact on the environment.

What this means is not that every couple has one fewer child but that over a large population, there will be some, maybe just a small percentage, of people who do have one fewer because of the costs involved. This, over time, can hopefully shift our culture enough to have a positive impact, or at a minimum reduce the scale of the potential risk. There is no magic bullet and I have never claimed there was.


Apart from the precautionary principle (i.e., why is the burden of proof on those who argue for constraint in accelerating nature's pace of change?) I agree with you completely that labeling isn't the place to start, and that those who oppose it will do everything they can to make it feckless. But when all you can mount is a rearguard action, you mount a rearguard action. The goal of the agribusiness community in opposing labeling is to keep the public from being able to distinguish between unethical elements of the food production industry, and those producers and processors that wish to demonstrate the possibility of an ethical approach. The label doesn't need to lay out all of the relevant arguments. It just needs to contain a reasonably reliable indicator, at least for those "early adopters" of ethical purchasing.

All you can do?

So we're embracing defeatism as a strategy for change? God save us from those who would be our champions eh?


I am disappointed with her performance on this issue. As a consumer, I want to be able to choose for myself whether I want to buy a GMO product. If there is nothing wrong with GMO's, why the big fight to not require labeling? What are they hiding? And why is Amy Klobuchar complicit in it? If an organism has been altered at the genetic level, it is modified. This is not the same as breeding plants and animals to encourage certain traits. This is genetic tampering and everyone knows that that is. If it no big deal, then why is Monsanto so protective of its seeds? No one is being fooled here. It needs to be done at a national level with national standards, and now. No more BS excuses about how "difficult" it is. The agribusinesses know if they are altering the genetics through artificial means. It's time they label this Frankenfood for what it is.

Why is Monsanto so protective of its seeds?

Here we have a perfect example of why this mindset is so pernicious. The issue, seed patenting, is a very real one, and one that is harmful by jacking up the input price all along the line from farm to table. Yet instead of attacking it as an economic problem, (I wonder why a multibillion dollar corporate entity would want to ensure its ability to make more money?) it is instead framed as some part of a grand conspiracy to what, kill us, sicken us? That question goes unanswered, and any action on the ACTUAL issue gets swept away as just more conspiratorial hogwash. This also applies to the environmental problems that could potentially arise from the use of GMO agriculture. Its hard to focus on them, when so much of the anti GMO movement is built on keeping "toxic poison" (no matter how unsubstantiated the çlaims might be) put forth by a grand conspiracy, out of the food supply. Real problems are obfuscated by ridiculous fear mongering. Then again, it also doesn't help that many of the fear mongers just so happen to have something to sell, as well.

Consumers have a right to know what?

We're talking about labels on food here, we don't list some peoples general anxieties about the environment on food labels. Food labels have to contain useful information that's specific to the food item or they're meaningless noise. What? You wan't to put your name on food labels: "Joe Quackinthebush thinks something about this food item is bad for the environment"? How does that in any way shape or form "help" the consumer?

Telling people genetic modification was used to create their food is like telling them that chemistry was used to make their medication or physics was used to manufacture their car or microwave... it just doesn't tell you anything.

Food labels aren't some kind of virtual telephone pole that you get to staple you're anti-whatever flyer to.

We don't debate or settle policy issues by putting stuff on food labels. Consumers have a right to helpful and informative labels, not mumbo jumbo that someone wanted to put on there because they have environmental concerns.

And I'm still waiting for someone to clearly explain what exactly they mean when they use the phrase: "GMO" and how they're going put on a label in any useful way. I'm looking at an entire source article and 40 comments and I'm not seeing it. If I've missed it would someone please cut and past it into a comment?


No, you're still muddying up "selective breeding" with "GMO" when you try to claim the term "GMO" is equivalent to "chemistry" or "physics". What is meant by "GMO" is FAR more specific than that, and one set of definitions I found and posted can be seen here:

I'm not obscuring anything

I'm asking for clarification, and you're not really providing it. If we go and look at the document you're linking to it turns out that it's some kind of source document for a project that appears to be attempting to create some kind of labeling requirement that would let producers claim that they're product does not contain "GMOs". Frankly there's a lot of mumbo jumbo in this document, whatever.

Look, it's not that I don't know what you're talking about, it's that in order to put it on a label it has to make sense, this doesn't make sense.

Any scheme that certifies a food item as GMO free is just another marketing gimmick for producers because the vast majority of food products currently do NOT contain the kinds of GMOs you're trying to talk about, think: "glutton free", "sodium free", "organic" etc.

And unless your claiming that the presence of GMOs makes the food dangerous to eat, the certification is just taking up label space. The reason we certify "organic" food is because an effective case was made that food with pesticides, and antibiotics, etc. could actually be dangerous to eat for some people. And those label changes were made AFTER policy decisions were made regarding chemicals and medications.

You're tying to take a shortcut, change the label BEFORE policy has been made.

And you still have the problem of definition, like or not selective breeding IS a method of genetic modification. Mules ARE GMOs. Let's look at the definition in the document being cited:

"GM – Genetically Modified or Genetic Modification—A term referring to products or processes
employing gene splicing, gene modification, recombinant DNA technology, or transgenic
technology, and referring to products of the gene-splicing process, either as inputs or as
process elements.

GMO or genetically modified organism – A plant, animal, microorganism, or other organism
whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene
splicing), gene modification, or transgenic technology. Cloned animals and their progeny are
also considered GMOs under this Standard, as are the products of synthetic biology. Any
organism or input from an organism—whether used as inputs or as process elements in the
creation of substances or materials—is a product of synthetic biology if it is associated with
synthetically created nucleic acid sequences and/or genes."

And conversely:

"Non-GMO or Non-GM – A plant, animal, or other organism or derivative of such an organism
whose genetic structure has not been altered by gene splicing. A process or product that does
not employ GM processes or inputs. Cloned animals and their progeny are considered GM, as
are the products of synthetic biology."

Since selective breeding IS a GM process you're still not differentiating the food we're buying now from the food you don't want us to buy in the future. And again none of this is really more informative than telling people that biology was used to produce their food. Look, if your problem is gene splicing than just say: "gene splicing".

I'm done

You asked for a definition and I gave you one. I didn't offer the entire document - just the definition. If you don't like that definition, I'm not going to keep hunting until I find one that meets your requirements.

And by the way, how do you make a food "glutton free". The glutton is the one who *eats* the food, not the other way around . . . . . .

We have been Geo-engineering

We have been Geo-engineering the planet since we started agriculture, and we're not about to stop as we quickly pass 7 billion people. Judge the proposals on their scientific and engineering merit.

Geo-engineering vs GMOs

What does geo-engineering have to do with the transparency provided by GMO labeling?

I guess I'm missing the connection.

Not to nitpick but

So now you're complaining that I read the whole document? At any rate, it's not about providing a definition I or anyone likes or agrees with, I accept your definition, I simply point out that it's not helpful to consumers, doesn't actually work or settle any policy issues, nor is it appropriate for a food label.

Nice catch on the glutton by the way, I frequently embarrass myself with poor spelling.

Of course not

Of course I'm not complaining that you read the whole document. You can read whatever you want.

However, I wasn't *submitting* the entire document for the purposes of the discussion - all I was proposing was consideration of the definitions contained therein. That's all, and other than that clarification, I'm not continuing to discuss with you those definitions' validity.

Any reasonable scientist will

Any reasonable scientist will tell you that there is no evidence that
GM food causes any harm. GM farming is our only realistic hope to feed
the world's growing population.

Any reasonable scientist will tell you that the earth's atmosphere
and climate is being changed by greenhouse gasses and that human
activity is at least partly to blame. The continued release of
greenhouse gasses threatens to alter the climate in very negative ways.

Two completely opposed groups are prepared to ignore reasonable
scientists, accuse them of conspiracy and pay-offs, blame the media,
politicians and big business, and act irrationally. I hope the climate
change denialists and the Frankenfood scare-mongers take a moment to
consider the perspective that the other battle vs. science should give


How does your comment relate to the consumer information transparency that would be provided by labeling?

national voluntary law?

a national law, but one that makes adherence entirely voluntary?

that smells like the pretense of doing something with deliberate intention to deceive.

not fair to consumers. we're supposed to be "king" in capitalism.

a lot of consumers want to know what's in their food in full detail.

yes, drawing boundaries around what constitutes "full detail" is a herculean political task

but free market capitalism has not created many producers willing to offer enough info

so .... we offer regulation by We, the People.

Tell us what's in our food, accurately and in sufficient detail to help us make informed free choice.

not just if the food vendor feels like it. we really want to know

Health impacts

I can't believe the lack of information presented in some of the comments. GMO seeds (soy, corn, sugar beets, etc.) are genetically modified so that the plant will not die when sprayed with Round-Up (glyphosate) herbicide or corn root worm pesticide. This means that (1) any crop grown from GMO seeds comes with a large amount of herbicide/pesticide residue, and the crop also contains within it the engineered gene. We do not know how ingesting this altered gene is affecting human health--because no long term studies have been done. We do know that people are experiencing increasing health issues such as leaky gut syndrome, food allergies, immune deficiency diseases, etc.
(2) The large amount of herbicide use is killing off all pollinators--native bees, honey bees, butterflies, etc.--in part because there is nothing for them to feed upon as flowering food supplies are dead--except for monoculture fields of corn, soy, etc. In addition, the chemical herbicides can be lethal.
(3) Corn root worm is becoming resistant to the pesticides used. This is also happening to some of the weeds-now called superweeds--that are becoming resistant to Round-Up.
(4) Monsanto is seeking permission to use stronger herbicides, such as 2-4D, which was used to defoliate Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
(5) Farm workers are being exposed to large amounts of toxic chemicals.
(6) Soy and corn are ubiquitous in most processed foods and are fed to factory farm animals.
A portion of the population is waking up to the dangers of GMO's for our own health--thus wanting food to be labeled. Others want to avoid GMO foods that are ruining our soil, killing off our pollinators, and in general contaminating our environment. There is also a movement to eat better foods in general--due to the obesity epidemic, and high rates of diabetes and cancer.
Consumers are demanding better food whether Sen. Klobuchar and the Farm Bureau like it or not. GMO labeling is a part of this new food movement, and food co-ops and other grocery stores are already carrying products with such labeling.
It's only those who are making big money off GMO seeds/crops who are resisting.