Interviews: Getting the facts on Proposition 37

Three days ago, I announced that I would be interviewing the proponents and opponents of California Proposition 37, which if passed would require labels on foods made from genetically engineered crops. There has been a lot of debate about this issue, for as long as genetically engineered crops have been around.
I participated in a chat last week that Mercury News put on, which had both Stacy Malkan and Kathy Fairbanks answering questions and debating each other, and it was pretty hectic, disjointed, and somewhat uncivil. It didn’t answer any of the questions that I had about the proposition – so I was inspired to contact the two campaigns to do an interview for the Biofortified Blog. Stacy Malkan agreed to represent the Yes on 37 campaign, and Kathy Fairbanks agreed to represent the No on 37 campaign. I’m happy to say that the interviews, recorded on Monday and Tuesday, have now been [minimally] edited and are now up for you all to enjoy.
Initially planned as two 15-20 minute interviews, they ended up taking half an hour each. The reason for that is that I had some questions that I wanted to have answered, and I persisted on them rather than accept memorized campaign statements. This is something that journalists need to do more often, because otherwise you’re being more of a stenographer. It is much harder to do, but the result is much more pleasing and everyone learns more. I didn’t get to every question I and our readers had. Some were on the tip of my tongue, but I had to set them aside and move on as the conversations shifted topics. But there are some good things in there for either side to consider, and one doozy of a response if you can find it.
Support for the proposition was initially high at 67%, while opposition was low at 20%. At the time that these interviews were conducted, support had dropped and opposition had risen to a statistical tie at 44% and 42% respectively. The latest poll now pegs support at 39% and opposition at a hair above 50% – a dramatic change. Whatever the final result, it is sure to bring more widespread debate. I touch on this issue in my conclusion. Not every issue was addressed, and there is still more that can be learned about it – indeed there’s a good discussion going on in the previous post about it.
There are several different ways you can listen to the interviews. First, I have uploaded it to YouTube in its entirety, so you can stream that directly to your ears. Or if you prefer to download it as one mp3, you can do that as well. you can also listen to my introduction, each interview, and my conclusion separately. If for instance you want to get to what one side said first, you can do that, see the links below. Without any further ado, on to the interviews!

Full-length show (66 MB): Download mp3
Introduction (2 MB): Download mp3
Yes on 37 Stacy Malkan Interview (30 MB): Download mp3
No on 37 Kathy Fairbanks Interview (30 MB): Download mp3
Conclusion (4 MB): Download mp3

License information:  Anyone may download and play these interviews for individuals or groups, provided that it is for a nonprofit purpose. Radio stations may broadcast these interviews in whole or in part, with proper attribution. Biology Fortified, Inc. retains the copyright on these interviews and reserves all other rights for their reproduction, editing, and playback. If you wish to use these interviews for a purpose not outlined above, please contact us – we will probably say yes!


  1. Well, that was a valiant effort Karl. And I appreciated you sticking to the specifics of the claims.
    It still looks like a chasm between perceptions there, with little hope of the reality coming out in a large and meaningful way before people vote on it.
    But warehouse of wha???
    It’s only clearer to me that the Yes team is really not about actually knowing anything about the contents of a package. It’s the usual bucket of I hate Big Ag sort of stuff.
    (hey–can I have a preview button back? I miss it.)

  2. Thanks Mary. I can tell you listened to it because you found the doozy! I was as surprised as you that that warehouse comment came out. I think it’s very quotable, and it illustrates the fear that motivates some people.
    Hmm, I’ll look into the comment preview, I didn’t realize we didn’t have it anymore.

  3. Quite a divide. As expected, Stacy (Yes) was all over the Monsanto idea, which leaves me to believe that “right to know” id really just anti-Monsanto. On the other side, however, I notice Kathy (No) never explicitly said the “M” word (nor did you), instead opting out to the softer general term “biotech companies”. Stacy was very pointed about what was wrong with the “No” side (they lied, they had to change ads, they misquoted others), but she almost gasped when you mentioned Jeffery Smith. She seemed afraid you might pursue that. It was notable that Kathy did little to attack the “Yes” side and instead did a lot of direct supporting of the “No” argument (Science is on our side, notable persons agreeing with No, and detailed legal arguments against P37).
    It was clear that Stacy has little idea of what is involved in running a business, often saying all that was required of retailers and producers was a “piece of paper”. She wrote off the whole concept of the required book keeping and paper trail behind that piece of paper. She was really hung up on the idea of WalMart being the retailer, but didn’t seem to acknowledge smaller entities.
    Kathy was a bit dodgy on the question of whether any kind of GMO labeling would be acceptable, instead repeating that this was only about P37.
    Sorry for the Clif Notes version here, I’m just writing things out as they come to mind. Thanks for your efforts!

  4. I think I know about that warehouse… it’s got a lot of binders in it too.
    sorry 😛

  5. Good job with the interviews! I wish more interviewers would be so persistent.
    A couple of things I thought of while listening:
    -Stacy Malkan mentioned that an NAS report said that “unintended effects” might result from certain foods. Understandably, she didn’t give a citation, but the Yes on 37 campaign on its website gets the citation wrong for a similar claim on its website. The claim on the website is

    A National Academy of Sciences report concludes that products of genetic engineering technology “carry the potential for introducing unintended compositional changes that may have adverse effects on human health.”

    If you follow the link to the report, you see the quote actually refers exclusively to non-GE methods of genetic modification, which kind of undercuts the case for singling out genetic engineering.
    -It seems to me that Stacy Malkan largely missed the point about supply-chain management. Don’t the costs have more to do with keeping GE and non-GE ingredients separate (i.e. not being able to store all the corn in the same silo) than with the actual pieces of paper? The Yes campaign likes to talk about transparency, but part of the point of having commodities is to increase interchangeability by sacrificing some transparency. Perhaps it is not coincidental, then, that one of the speakers at the Yes on 37 Teach-In I attended last week explicitly opposed commodification in agriculture (here is the text of his remarks). That speaker, it should be noted, is in the business of selling almond butter at $19 per pound. Transparency has its cost to consumers and commodification its benefits.

  6. Some comments:
    * I found Malkin’s attempt to assert that a “piece of paper” couldn’t possibly cost money to be unbelievable. Paperwork doesn’t cost anything? No one has to actually keep track of that paper? Just admit it will at least cost a *little* bit (but it’s worth it) and be on with it. I don’t think it actually loses anything to admit that.
    * Monsanto’s warehouse full of data?! That’s amazing. But I guess that explains all the screenings of Genetic Roulette promoted by the campaign.
    * The trial lawyer thing just doesn’t seem convincing to me (boogie man really) but combining it with state budget issues seems pretty effective as a campaign message.
    * While I think Karl did a pretty good job, I think maybe Fairbanks got to speak a bit too long without interjections about the lawyer stuff. Or maybe I was just bored by it. 🙂
    * The idea that manufacturers would have separate labeling for California and thus it would increase costs is just not really believable.
    * I wish instead of talking to Kathy about the label not saying which trait, that had been discussed with Malkin. Wishes were horses, etc.
    * The wrapup was great. Need a revised version written up in a post.
    I’m sure I’m not the only one who was disappointed not to see their questions. 🙂

  7. Thank you Karl for doing the interviews. No easy or pleasant task.
    I have been following the Yes on 37 board to find out why people want the “the right to know” about GMOs but don’t seem to care about other (actual) food safety issues. The Yes on 37 group has some interesting arguments. One of the major arguments is that Monsanto wants to rule the world, take our money and then kill us. I was accused of being a Monsanto shill when I asked about the morbidity and mortality rates from GMO foods. All I can say is Monsanto has a huge public image problem 🙂 I tried to explain that many universities and non-profit orgs were working on/with GMOs and GE. It always came back to Evil Monsanto and Big Ag.
    The other major concern from the Yes on 37 side is the “poisons” in the food. The two studies that they always point to are the “Canadian” study (Aris/Leblanc?) and the “Rat Tumor” study (Seralini?). I tried to point out why those studies are questionable and the reply I got was “You’re getting all tangled in your facts.”
    When I started investigating prop 37 I had no idea how much fear and hatred were being used to influence people. No one for prop 37 wants to discuss the the real issues of GE. Actual science seems irrelevant to the yes on 37 group. I’m finding it really hard to make a connection with them.
    Disclaimer: I’m not paid off by Monsanto 🙂 My main interest is in the food supply chain and food safety – I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening up by investigating proposition 37.

  8. Yes it was interesting how the Yes side spent more time attacking the No side than stumping for the proposition. I’m sure the No side’s claims are high on her mind, but that leaves people without the positive case for the proposition. Yes, a piece of paper requires someone to fill it out, record it, store it, follow up on it, and do that for every ingredient of every product for every year.
    Yeah it was funny that Kathy didn’t mention company names, and I inserted the biotech companies in there just make sure people knew that. In retrospect, since the M word was dropped plenty of times in the previous interview I’m not worried about not dragging out company names.
    In truth, Kathy’s job is to argue against this proposition, and it would probably be more appropriate to ask the funders directly about what their opinions are about some kind of label. But I did want to try asking!

  9. Thanks, I have learned from past experience with interview question-dodging that if I want a question answered I have to keep asking! 🙂
    The NAS report is great – it provides a lot of context and information that puts things in perspective. At least they linked to it, but I’m not surprised that they left the context out. I mean, they purposefully removed “as with all other technologies for genetic modification”! It is not the first time that the NRC report has been quote-mined, I’ve even seen Doug Gurian-Sherman at the UCS do it.
    Good point about the trade-offs with commodities. I really haven’t thought about it in exactly that way.

  10. Yes I really don’t understand why the claim has been zero cost to consumers. It doesn’t make any sense, and leaves you open to easy criticism. I mean, they could have highlighted the $9-22 figure and compared it to the $400 figure, and then it becomes a debate between numbers – rather than one number and no numbers.
    You are right, the trial lawyer thing is kind of a boogie man, although it is odd that a food labeling regulation would be policed by lawyers and not the government itself. I wonder if that was a way to reduce the fiscal impact, or whether that was simply all the prop 65-drafting lawyer knew how to write? 🙂 I think at the time I was also trying to highlight questions I needed to get to, and changed the subject when I could.
    Yes, I had several questions about the “right to know” and whether the proposition really matched with the slogan, but I was running long already. I’ll save it instead for a blog post. I also was planning to ask part of Ken Roseboro’s question about the specifics of the $400 figure given by the No side, but I felt that the $400 figure had been addressed enough and wanted to get to other questions.

  11. I have been thinking to call proposition 37 the “Monsanto Shill Full Employment Act” because I have heard that one of the things that might happen is that the food manufacturers might step up and spend lots of money on marketing GMOs with the label. Think about it, if Food Megacorp of California has to spend billions each year switching out its ingredients to avoid labels, they could save money by instead paying plenty of monsanto shills (obviously they are being churned out of Academia for this purpose at the instruction of the USDA and Michael Taylor) a decent salary to just go around marketing GMOs and flooding chatrooms with tales about how they improved their health by switching to GMOs. Commercials extolling the virtues of science and corn and soy monoculture will go along with saturday morning cartoons. Observance of “Transgenic Tuesday-Thru-Thursday” will be a staple and become more popular than Meatless Monday. Do they really want to give “the junk food companies” a reason to start marketing this aspect of their products?
    Sorry to hear about how frustrating it was to investigate, but I think you learned something about motivations!

  12. The prospect of over exuberant trial lawyers is a scary boogie man but not a pretend one, I think. I also think the claimed added cost of $9-22 per year is way too low. It may not be $400 but it’ll be closer to $400 than $22.
    The proposition is written in such a way that anyone could challenge any business selling food (with the exception of ready to eat, alcohol, and animal products, of course) in a lawsuit that alleges they were selling GMO containing food without a label. It doesn’t matter whether there’s GMOs in the product or not, because the person being sued has to decide whether to settle (pay out to whoever is suing) or to go to court to try to prove the food in question really doesn’t contain GMO. Either way the person/company being sued has to spend money that they would not have needed to spend if the proposition does not pass.
    So, businesses small and large have few options. They can meticulously add “may contain” stickers to everything. They can stock more expensive products that have been verified to be GMO free. They can stop carrying products from outside of California. They do not have the option of carrying products that aren’t labeled because then they are vulnerable to a lawsuit.
    In my humble opinion, this will be a boon for companies like the Non GMO Project that do third party labeling as well as various GMO testing companies.
    Another thing to consider is the type of business. Big chain groceries have the money to do the stickers, seek out gmo free, and/ or they can stop offering products from other states/countries.
    What about smaller, non-chain, and ethnic grocers? Will they be able to do these things well enough to keep lawsuits at bay? Maybe some of them.

  13. Ok, so Yes 37 has a page about this.
    They say there are protections for retailers in the proposition. Yet, when I read the proposition, I don’t see any protections.
    Well, I was gonna do a blow by blow of the proposition but that’s a bit much for a comment. I’m off to write a post, then.

  14. On the page about it, search for a comment from Stacy Malkan that addresses the “protections” which are apparently not in the proposition, but depend on other standing laws. Subjective determinations such as whether it was “intentional” or not appear to be half of the ‘protections.’ This would only be determined after going to court, which would cost money I should think.

  15. My point exactly! The person suing has to have zero proof, but it’ll still cost the grocer to settle or prove they are innocent! Protections? I don’t think so.

  16. I just investigated one of the claims that Kathy Fairbanks made about being awarded damages in lawsuits. While the proposition lists attorney’s fees and investigative costs in the Enforcement section, (Section 4b) it does not specifically mention the awarding of damages. However, in the preceding section, in 110809.4, another enforcement section, it states that violators “shall each be deemed to cause damage in at least the amount of the actual or offered retail price of each package or product alleged to be in violation.” So if there is no reward, why give a dollar value to damages? I looked a little further. In the same section, it specifies that they may be prosecuted under “Title 1.5 (commencing with section 1750) of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code”, which states right away that the consumer who brings the action is entitled to damages, including punitive damages. Now of course, this only applies if the act is declared unlawful under Section 1770 of the Civil Code, which of course, the same paragraph in the enforcement section defines it as.
    So it appears, from my non-lawyerly reading of the enforcement provisions of this proposition, that the claims made by the No side on this matter are correct, that you can indeed be awarded damages by suing someone over the lack of the labels specified by this proposition. And the dismissal of this purposefully-written-in enforcement provision by the Yes side strikes me as, well, deceptive. Again I am no lawyer, but I can read.

  17. Like the debate over costs, where they could acknowledge that it would cost some money but that it is worth it, why not acknowledge that the proposition has enforcement provisions which result in damages awarded? I mean, if it is violating people’s Right To Know, then people should be punished for violating that right. I mean, sue the bastards, right?

  18. Thanks for checking this detail. The Yes campaign page posted by Anastatia above implies penalties will go to the state, not the plaintiff (claim 2). From what you say, this seems to be wrong.

  19. The more I learn about this, the more convinced I become that the law will pass AND that it will absolutely backfire on its supporters.
    It will pass not because of its inherent wisdom but because of the utter simplicity with which supporters have touted that law.
    It will backfire because labeled foods will make it absolutely clear that people are eating genetically engineered foods without any harmful effects.
    I don’t know why Monsanto, et al., are not all over this labeling scheme. It amounts to ubiquitous advertising.

  20. Adam asked the Yes campaign about it on Twitter (@CaRightToKnow), and they dodged by bringing up that those being sued would have 30 days to correct it, and if they do, there would be no damages. However, that implies that there will in fact be damages should the 30 days run out. When asked again, rather than answer this directly, Adam was referred to their @CaRightToKnowPR twitter account.

  21. Quite simply, I think Monsanto, Pepsi, etc, did the math and combined with the perception that consumers would reject them, and/or that other producers would reject them, that they would lose at least some small part of the market share. The amount donated to defeat the measure is small in comparison, and makes it financially worth it for them to pursue. I would very much like to explain to them how they are overly fearful of consumer rejection, but taking that message to all producers would be difficult. People say they must fear the consumer – I think it is actually fearing producers who fear the consumer. It’s all based on perceptions of rejection.

  22. Yes, I just caught up with that. Thanks. Maybe someone should ask Wheaton.
    PS, Sorry for the miss-spelling Anastasia.

  23. The only way it would work is if all packagers moved together and implemented gmo labeling (voluntary or mandatory) at the same time. Then consumers would only have the more expensive non gmo and organic options to turn to. Some will go ahead and pay more but most won’t (IMHO).
    If they don’t implement in a unified fashion then the ones that either 1) drag their heels and label last or 2) are 1st to go gmo free on a large scale will benefit financially at least in the short term.
    Long term is harder to predict as consumers may just ignore the labels.

  24. A month ago I was sure it would pass. But I was shocked by the last polling numbers: Proposition 37 losing in late Business Roundtable-Pepperdine poll
    But I agree. If it does pass it’s going to backfire. Well, if it makes it past the inevitable court battle first. But that will be another huge waste of time and resources.
    I understand that people hate Big Ag. It’s just sad to see them aim at the wrong target. They are going to be disappointed when it doesn’t change anything.

  25. I am livid that the Yes on 37 would so grossly misrepresent the 2004 NAS study on the Safety of GE Food. That study said very clearly there was no scientific basis for singling out GE for special scrutiny, and also, on pg 8, that “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” Is there any way to have them remove their false assertions from their webpage and any other advertising? I am one of the panelists/authors of that study. And yes, it was peer reviewed and no, not by Monsanto or any other non-public entity.

  26. No only have I read Huber’s arguments, I have talked to him on the phone about it for 2 hours, and I’m unconvinced. What now? I just can’t seem to shake my training as a scientist to seek reliable evidence and base my opinions off of that.
    Understanding why some people believe certain conclusions, however, is a different thing, and you are right that people should check out those sources to understand the phenomenon.

  27. Karl,
    I was directed to what seems to be an inaccurate representation of what you call purposely removing some of the context concerning an NRC report. Since you do not provide a link, or any context yourself, I can’t respond the the specifics. It would be helpful if you actually supply a link so that anyone can see what you mean.
    It is possible that I cited something from NRC without talking about conventional breeding risks, or other genetic technologies, if I did not think it relevant to the point that I was making.
    But the most recent citation of the NRC that I use is in a recent blog post criticizing the AAAS Board statement from Oct 20, and it provides the context you are talking about.
    This is what I wrote:
    “For example. the National Academy of Sciences through its National Research Council (NRC) wrote in its 2000 report, Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants, that transgenic crops, like classically bred crops, could pose “…high or low risks…” (p. 6). The report went on to support regulation of GE crops, writing: “There is an urgency to complete the regulatory framework for transgenic pest-protected plant products because of the potential diversity of novel traits that could be introduced by transgenic methods…” (p.13).
    Similarly, a 2002 NRC report, Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants: The Scope and Adequacy of Regulation, notes that both conventional methods of crop improvement and GE can introduce traits that “…can pose unique risks.” (p. 5).”
    The blog post is at:

  28. Hi Doug,
    Thanks for asking, and I should have been more precise in my description, or just not named you at all in this discussion without checking on the specific instance. I have seen you misrepresent the perspective of the NAS NRC reports in some instances, if I recall correctly this would be one such discussion, and we have had debates over references that did not assert what you said they did, such as the Neonicotinoid/Honeybee/GMO discussion which got so drawn out over word choice when the real issue was an unsupported claim of yours. In thinking about the labeling post instance, I think it was more of a misrepresentation than a “quote mine.” My advice, which I note with irony for myself, is that the best thing to do is make sure you are reporting exactly what someone said. I also note that the “Just Label It” post is a discussion where you called me a technocrat and put words in my mouth without ever understanding my position, and without ever apologizing. It seem as if we misunderstand each other frequently – I wonder how that can be helped?
    If you would like a specific example, here is one quote of yours:

    Karl argues that I am inconsistent in suggesting that there is a difference between pest resistance genes, for example, from breeding vs. pest resistance genes from GE. But this is not my assessment alone. The study I linked from the National Academy of Science (in 2000) confirmed that GE should be regulated, and did not similarly suggest that other types of breeding should be, although it recognized that breeding can on rare occasions have harmful results.

    This implies that there is a scientific difference between pest resistance genes introduced through breeding and GE, and that the National Academy of Sciences agrees with this opinion of yours, and that they did not decide that conventional crops should be regulated for that reason. However, the study in question said this on page 5:

    While there is a need to reevaluate the potential environmental effects of conventionally improved crops, for practical reasons, the committee does not recommend immediate regulation of conventional crops.

    They made it clear, and in bold text as well, that their decision was based on practical reasons, not scientific ones. This appears to be a misrepresentation, whether based on misunderstanding or on other reasons. Since only one is required to demonstrate that you have misrepresented NAS NRC reports, I’ll leave it at that.
    I think there’s a misunderstanding going on about my comment above and the comment thread that it was in. I did not say that you purposefully removed a reference, I was talking about the Yes on 37 campaign – they purposefully removed the part of the sentence that said “as with all forms of genetic modification” to make it sound like genetic engineering was a unique risk. I can see how you misunderstood though, because I stuck the comment that mentioned you in the middle of another train of thought, so I have rearranged the sentences in my comment so that it is more clear that I was not talking about you purposefully removing that part, sorry about the misunderstanding. To be clear – my opinion is that the Yes on 37 campaign purposefully excluded the context of the NAS NRC report.
    When I first saw your comment I thought that it was a remarkable coincidence because I have been sitting on a future comment, written during lunch, that addresses the parts of the reports that you excluded from this recent post of yours. I always regard extremely short quotes as being suspicious, especially when they don’t include a complete clause – so I looked them up. Your page 5 quote is part of a larger statement that says something rather different about regulations:

    Based on a detailed evaluation of the intended and unintended traits produced by the two approaches to crop improvement, the committee finds that the transgenic process presents no new categories of risk compared to conventional methods of crop improvement but that specific traits introduced by both approaches can pose unique risks. There is currently no formal environmental regulation of most conventionally improved crops, so it is clear that the standards being set for transgenic crops are much higher than for their conventional counterparts.

    Your page 13 quote isn’t even on page 13, it is on page 11. And it continues on into page 12 objecting to the EPA’s scientific arguments about excluding conventional breeding from regulation as a rule:

    However, the committee questions the scientific basis used by EPA for this exemption because there appears to be no strict dichotomy between the risks to health and the environment that might be posed by conventional and transgenic pest-protected plants.

    The National Academy of Sciences NRC reports are a great resource for information on the consensus of the scientific literature of the day, recommendations for the future, and even roughly a decade later for these two mentioned, they are still very relevant, caveats and all. I just wish that you focused more on putting them into context and not dismissing their conclusions on these distinctions in favor of a few very small quotes.
    I will consider posting my fuller comment to the UCS blog, although I will take the time to pause and review it first, for obvious reasons.

  29. Karl, after re-reading parts of the NRC reports, I think you are right that I did not accurately represent their position in my comment on the blog post that you cited. These reports were explicitly neutral about the relative risks of GE vs. other forms of genetic modification. However, they make some distinctions that are relevant.
    For example, your attribution of the NRC declining to recommend regulation of conventional breeding for practical considerations is not the whole story. Part of the “practical reasons” from p. 12 of the 2000 report for exempting regulation of conventionally bred pest resistance are “…based in part on historical experience of safe use of, and the benefits provided by these crops.” So what the 2000 NRC meant by “practical reasons” was not that it was just too difficult to include all of these crops, but rather, they had the safety of breeding in mind as part of their reason.
    They go on to say there is no “strict dichotomy” between the risks from GE and breeding. The qualifier “strict” cannot be ignored. They could have simply written “no dichotomy”. Including the qualifier seems to suggest that they recognized that there is overlap between the two technologies, but not necessarily identity in terms of risk.
    I agree with NRC on this. By contrast, they were anxious to get the EPA regulation of GE pest-protected crops in place, and did not make a similar familiarity argument about these GE crops. Of course, they really could not, because there was so little experience with them. But they could have argued from general biology, biochemistry, and molecular biology principles, and the testing on the first commercialized GE crops, that GE was safe, and that there was no pressing need for regulation. But they did the opposite.
    The 2004 report on unintended effects, by the way, essentially did make rough arguments about the relative magnitude of the risks from various types of conventional breeding compared to GE. If you read through that report, you find almost no direct experimental comparisons on the relative risk between breeding and GE. As with the 2000 report, that is probably because there really was very little. In my opinion, the 2004 study is considerably weaker for trying to project relative risk magnitudes on breeding and GE without adequate data.
    In several places, the 2000 NRC report says that GE crops have the same risks “in kind” as conventionally bred crops. Or put another way, on p. 6 and 46, they say that GE has the “same general categories” of risk (toxicity, allergenicity, and so on), but are careful, as far as I can tell, not to equate the magnitude of risk of the different technologies. They mention magnitude of risk on pages 6 and 46, for example, but only to say that it will vary on a product-by-product basis. They do not venture into saying whether particular products of GE or conventional breeding can have greater risk magnitude than the other technology.
    So contrary to what some vocal advocates of genetic engineering have been saying over the years, the NRC in the 2000 and 2002 reports do not say that the risks from GE and breeding are the same, without qualification, NRC says that the risks are of the same type (the 2004 report is about a different class of risks, from unintended effects, so it does not have bearing on the direct risks from the transgene/gene product).
    Putting all of this together, my take is that the 2000 NRC committee did not feel it had enough data to make distinctions about the relative magnitude of risk between GE and breeding, but felt the uncertainties about GE—lack of safe history of use—led them to feel some urgency about regulating GE.
    I think that the statement on page 5 of the 2002 report is also relevant: “Transgenic and conventional approaches are in a period of rapid change. This makes it difficult to assess the potential risks of specific traits that each approach will be able to alter in the future.” This acknowledges that either technology could present greater risks (or neither) in the future, not that their risks were equal in magnitude.
    All of this contradicts the narrative of many aggressive GE advocates that claims that the NRC has said that the risks from GE and conventional breeding are equal.

  30. This discussion is old, but I keep pointing it out to people about how quote-mining and twisting the words of other people are used to try to win arguments that have essentially already been lost. I would like anyone reading this exchange between Doug and myself to note how I pointed out that Doug was misrepresenting the NAS NRC reports, as he admitted, but in the next breath he proceeded to twist the words from “no strict dichotomy” to become an implication that there is such a dichotomy. That’s like saying turning “I did not assault anyone in 1992 as people have claimed” into saying “well they said they didn’t assault anyone in 1992 but did not say anything about 1993 or 1991.”
    It’s missing the point entirely.

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