Prop 37; Yay or Nay?
by Todd Jones
“Maybe” is the most un-sexy word in the English language. Everyone loves the absolute.
The chart-topper “Call Me Maybe” might be cute and fun, but “yes” and “no” are music to my ears. “Hell yes!” and “hell no!” are better still because they evoke passion, determination, and most importantly, righteousness.
Every time you say “I dunno” there’s a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.
Also, people lose interest.
Uncertainty expressed by a speaker will result in one of two reactions by a listener:
- “This guy’s an idiot. Why should I listen to him?” or;
- “You dunno? So you mean we’ve gotta think? Yuck.”
Each scenario ends with blank stares because thinking is hard. People enjoy being told what to do.
That’s right. You read correctly. I said people enjoy being told what to do.
You had probably nodded along in agreement until that last statement. Everybody fancies themself an independent thinker — just as everyone thinks their skills as a driver are better than average. However, the fact of the matter is that we like to agree with people we find agreeable, and support notions that fit our world view because uncovering the truth is hard. That’s exactly the challenge faced by voters in California.
Prop 37 is a ballot initiative that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled by food producers. Despite the overwhelming confidence expressed by some of its supporters, this is not a no-brainer. I think it’s more a case of potato-potahto; and I say we call the whole thing off.
The primary argument made by Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and others is that people have a “right to know” what’s in their food. And on the surface that doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable; however, as Keith Kloor aptly explains:
The real message environmentalists and foodies are sending by coalescing in support of Proposition 37 is a dangerous one—and not one that will help the food movement in the long run. That’s because Proposition 37 is predicated on junk science and blind, simplistic mistrust of multinational corporations. If the food movement continues down this road, it will soon be as politically irrelevant as the once-promising environmental movement is now.
This is where the conversation usually strays into externalities. Since there’s no scientific evidence to support the claim that GM foods cause direct harm to humans, supporters of the proposition will begin to cite a litany of offenses that have more to do with the industry as a whole than GMOs specifically. Rachael Ludwick frames it perfectly:
GM fears are often a proxy for other concerns: farmers beholden to large agribusiness, scary chemicals in our food and environment, and so on. We should create labels to provide information about the underlying concerns. If consumers are worried about pesticides and fertilizers, then provide a way to choose products that were produced in less harmful ways. If a consumer cares about worker or farmer rights, then provide labels that tell them how labor was treated in production. GM labels are a very poor substitute for real information about our agricultural systems.
A label, without scientific understanding, will not promote transparency — it will simply enable opinion. The standards by which we measure our credibility should not be sacrificed for short-term gain, and tactics used on each side of the debate underscore the fact that California’s ballot initiative is more about politics than science. There’s plenty wrong with our food system and these issues deserve a direct and honest response. We can do better than Prop 37.
This grassroots food movement has been led by innovators and pleasure-seekers from the very beginning: farmers who tinker with diversity rather than mono-cropping, moms and chefs who demand better-than-bland tomatoes, and entrepreneurs who construct new ways to root sustainable food systems within our economy. My objectives, dear reader, are the same as yours; however, I think there’s a better way to get the end result.
What do you think? Is this crazy? Here’s my address. Tell me maybe.