I write letters: Urban myths about HR 875

Note: This one is a little old, it took Anastasia’s recent post on food selling laws to remind me to post it.
In the discussion about the food safety bill, HR 875, there are many urban myths going around. From our friend Stephen Lendman’s characterization of it as a “GMO proliferation bill,” to the claim that it will ban backyard gardens, many of the myths seem to follow a similar pattern. And almost no one who promotes these myths has even bothered to read the bills.
Point of fact – if you read the text of the bill, there is absolutely nothing in it about genetic engineering, so where do they get this idea?
Nevertheless, myths such as these have traversed the intertubes and the lack of fact-checking combined with the sensationalism (and perceived plausibility?) of such a bill have put it on youtube, blogs, and some news sites.
Linn Cohen-Cole, who reads half of what she writes about genetic engineering, understands half of what she she reads, and fact-checks half of what she understands, wrote a prolific piece for OpEdNewsBlogs called Monsanto’s Dream Bill, HR 875. It was short, (not just short on facts) and spread very widely on the internet. The folks at the Monsanto Blog ended up writing a post explaining how their company doesn’t even have a position on the bill.
Marion Nestle wrote a post about the chain emails that went around trying to scare up opposition to the bill, and even after she pointed out the dubiousness of the claims, people kept opining on what the bill must be really about – still without ever reading the thing.
So it came as no surprise that when I commented on this other post at OpEdNewsBlogs, I got what would otherwise be characterized as a bizarre denial – but in internet food politics it seems to be standard fare. I said:

Currently, Monsanto is behind a Federal Government bill to stop all organic farming. Introduced by Rosa DeLauro, HR 875 is ultimately about one thing: defining ONLY Monsanto’s GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) products as “safe.””
I would like to direct your attention to Snopes.com – the internet repository for debunked hoaxes. http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/organic.asp And this comes straight out of the hoax chain emails that are going around.

And the response I got from the author Barbara Metzler was:

I would also like to remind Karl Haro von Mogel that there is a distinct possibility that Snopes.com could be wrong.  What proof is there that Snopes.com is always 100% correct?  Get rational, Karl!

My counter:

The facts behind the Snopes.com article are widely available – everyone connected to that chain email that has been going around has denied the link. The point is that you do not have a source for this claim that you repeat – that is poor scholarship and bad journalism. It is your responsibility to determine that something is true before you put it into print. Get rational! (What does that even mean in this context?)

Sorry, but ‘rational’ is not code for any particular political or social viewpoint – it refers to the means by which we reach our conclusions. You start with something that you can verify is true, and logically proceed from that information to drawing conclusions. Your conclusions are only as good as your starting information and your logic – even if your logic is sound, the facts need to be true in order for your conclusions to be acceptable. Starting from your conclusion and steadfastly denying the need to verify the source is, well, not rational.
Several of the myths about the bill have been addressed by Rosa DeLauro’s office, and the Las Vegas Review Journal corrected one of its stories here, pointing out that it has been ten years since DeLauro’s husband’s firm had Monsanto as a client.
So when I came across this letter to the editor on BlueRidgeNow.com, I felt I had to respond.

Ag Biodiversity could be destroyed.

To The Editor: HR 875 is not about food safety, it has the potential to destroy agricultural biodiversity.

An extremely potentially dangerous bill is before Congress right now, in the sheep’s clothing of so-called “modernization” of food safety. HR 875 (text of bill) is a bill lobbied for by Monsanto and other corporations who’s interest is to control all agriculture.
It was introduced by Rosa DeLauro, whose husband works for Monsanto, and is ultimately about one thing, defining only their own GMO (genetically modified organism) products as “safe.”
What makes the bill so dangerous is that it is heavy on penalties including prison time, while at the same time being incredibly vague about what would actually trigger those sanctions. There are problems with food safety we can talk about, but HR 875 is not going to make us safer.
It must be stopped.
Kythera Grunge
Black Mountain

Letter passed on urban myths

To The Editor: Re: “Ag biodiversity could be destroyed” (T-N, April 27).

In the letter, the food safety bill HR 875 was discussed, which the writer seems to think is about “one thing, defining (Monsanto’s) own GMO (genetically modified organism) products as ‘safe.’”
I would humbly suggest that the writer actually read the bill before making such declarations, because it doesn’t do that at all. For one thing, there’s no need, because the USDA, FDA and the EPA already regulate genetically engineered crops effectively, and peer-reviewed studies that support their safety number in the hundreds.
If you’ll check out www.snopes.com, you’ll find a collection of mythology that has already sprung up about HR 875. To wit, that it will outlaw organic farms, make your backyard garden illegal, ban farmers markets, or that all farm animals would be tracked by GPS. Yes, even the writer’s claim that the husband of the person who introduced the bill works for Monsanto is false — he does not.
If we are to ever have a rational discussion over food, we are going to need to adopt a higher standard of evidence — something above the level of chain e-mails at least!
Karl Haro von Mogel
Madison, Wisc.

Personally, I don’t know much about this bill, nor the merits of its specifics. But one thing I do know, it is incredibly easy to spread false rumors in politics, whether it’s about ‘death panels’ or genetic engineering. I wonder who would have actually benefited by stopping HR 875? Or was it just a viral claim based upon popular food fears?

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Written by Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is a Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Riverside and works on Citrus genetics.

6 comments

  1. Myth? You would like this to go threw. More money in your pocket.
    GM corn hurts my body and makes me very sick. Look at what Monsanto has done to India.

  2. Wes, I have nothing to financially gain nor lose by the passage of HR 875. As I stated above, I have no position on it because I do not know enough about it.
    As for your YouTube video, again, you are perpetuating the same myth that these laws are going to go after your backyard garden. I have a backyard garden, too, and I would be among the first to campaign against this law if it actually did that. Where in the act does it actually say it will do what you think?
    By the way, your backyard garden plants are indeed genetically modified, just not by genetic engineering.

  3. I grow heirloom plnats. I dont see how they are GM.
    But how can you comment on HR 875 if you have not read the bill? I have read it front to back.You should do the same.

  4. Wes, all of our crops have had their genetics modified over the milennia by one means of another. Genetic Engineering is one of the latest means to do that. Before that, though, breeders have used mutagenesis, crosses with wild relatives, polyploidy (duplicating all the chromosomes in a cell), and more. My comment was to point out the misnomer that only genetically engineered crops are “genetically modified.”
    Fabulous! I’m glad to hear you have also slogged your way through the bill. Please enlighten everyone by pointing out where exactly in the bill, quoting the text, backyard gardens will be affected. You say that you will have to pay $500 just to garden in your back yard.
    In addition, in your video, you make this claim: “If you read these bills they want to pump all these chemicals into our food now.” Where do they say that?
    You (and others) make some pretty outlandish claims about these bills, so the onus is on you to demonstrate where they say what you claim they do. My main point is that there are a lot of people who have very passionate opinions on this bill (amongst others) but have not taken the time to read and understand them in the context ot food safety regulation, instead relying on urban myths passed around by chain emails.

  5. “I’m glad to hear you have also slogged your way through the bill.”
    Seeing how you have a “Ph.D” maybe you should learn how to do resarch. Lazy?

  6. Hehe, you’re funny. You go to the effort of producing and uploading a video, and you come here to promote it. When I ask you to provide evidence for your claims, you call me lazy! I’m ready and waiting to spend my time evaluating your evidence, all you need to do is provide it. Lazy is as lazy does.
    I’ll leave you to consider the irony of how you are trying to criticize my ability to do research while saying that I have a Ph.D… if you actually read my short bio above, you’ll see that I’m just a Ph.D. student… still a few years to go on the degree!

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