Labels and information.

It’s no accident that a lot of things humans have build resemble natural systems. The internet is a decentralized network of networks, a distributed system. There are networks in nature that are similar. Like packets of information on the internet, information in the form of genetic info is shuffled throughout nature as time goes on. Plants are a part of that.

In the internet age, humans have to contend with more information than ever and be able to filter it. I don’t read software licensing agreements. It’s terrible, but I dont’ have the time to go through every single one. I have to trust Apple, Google, etc. to be expert enough to put in reasonable legalese and that there are watchdog groups out there to keep the software companies from overreaching– I can’t do my work without a computer or the internet. Part of the price of living in modern society is trusting in systems that have been built up over time. And of course, if problems come to light (as they regularly do), they have to be addressed. However, I would assert that it is no longer possible for an individual to be expert in all things we are likely to run across. The Skeptic’s Guide to The Universe podcast– ep 513 actually discussed this this week.

Throughout history, one of the things that was hard to achieve was whether food could be trusted or considered safe– diseases were more common. Food security was not always something to take for granted across the world– it took time to figure out producing abundant and accessible food. For too many still, food security and nutritional security is insufficient. With the challenge of climate change coming as well as other affects humans have on the environment, it’s not always

The video of Pam Ronald’s TED talk has been published and it’s worth watching. She talks about how organic and GM are not mutually exclusive and how modification is inherent in agriculture and farming.

Some consumer groups, and indeed, representatives in government support labeling of products containing modern GM technology, often under the assumption that all GM technology is a problem. However, as Ronald points out, each GM product is distinct, with non-equivalent modifications. The process to create them may be similar, however, the trait conferred depends on the DNA. And traditional modification is actually more extreme than the precision achievable with GM technology.

As I wrote about the other week about the GM sweet potato, the line between nature as genetic engineer and people is blurry.

And as noted in a story on Gawker by Beth Skwarecki, the objections to GM technology often don’t have anything to do with GM technology. For some consumers, knowing everything about their food and where it comes from is really important.

In that light, one idea is if consumers insist on labels and knowing origins of their food precisely is to create a database of all food products– organic, GM, imported, everything. It would be accessible an internet url on the web or through a QR code placed on the products themselves. Nutrition information, farm origin, specific GM modifications of ingredients, selective breeding history/evolutionary roots, patents, the amount of information is limitless and any consumer that desired to could wade through it.

It would be expensive, but the technology undoubtedly exists to implement such a system. How informative is it though? However, limiting labels to one kind of food is

Watch Pam Ronald’s talk and I hope it gets people thinking that something as large as the global food system is not an all-one-thing proposition for creating sustainable and environmentally friendlier food supply.


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