Feb 242012
 

There’s a ballot initiative going on right now in California to finally get food made with any genetically engineered ingredients labeled.  Currently there is no such labeling taking place in the US.  While roughly 9 out of 10 people want to see GMO’s labeled, the industry along with regulators have worked hard to keep it from happening.  But if the option is put on the ballot, it will most certainly become law which would be a major game changer for food manufacturers throughout the US.

A recent article in the Sacramento Bee took smear to a new level against Dr. Mercola who is a major backer of the ballot initiative.  It’s a great propaganda piece that’s full of apologetic opportunity.  All article snippets will be in maroon/bold.

Rich people with a cause cannot seem to resist inflicting their world views on California politics, no matter if they are levelheaded or wacky, and no matter where they reside.

I really don’t know how much of this is the case.  The term ‘rich’ is pretty vague.  The question should arise as to what, in Dan Morain’s mind, constitutes as ‘rich’.  As we find out later, he’s really interested in railing against Dr. Mercola’s $500,000 contribution and the fact that he doesn’t operate in California, but instead of dealing with ‘why’ that’s actually an issue, he takes attacks against Mercola’s operation in order to damage Mercola’s credibility.  But we should think about the opening line for a minute.  Choosing the verb ‘inflict’ in this case is really ridiculous because the term is used to describe a forced unpleasant experience but in the same line he suggests this is the case even if the ‘world view’ is levelheaded.

It’s important to be a detective with what people actually say.  Dan Morain may argue he’s using colorful language to evoke emotion but it’s obviously sided and the reader then needs to recognize this.  In this case, from the very first line, we should note that we have a hasty generalization, vague or undefined terms as well as a contradicting point.  We would be justified in disregarding the rest of the piece on the grounds of it being logically incoherent.

Although there’s no proof that genetically modified food has caused anyone’s nose to fall off, 

It’s not uncommon to see people respond to arguments that no one is making.  This is a good example of exaggeration used to besmirch the opposition.  Of course, the opposition isn’t claiming that GMO’s cause your nose to fall off.   In fact, the whole debate of whether GMO’s are unhealthy or not really isn’t even relevant to the point that people have a right to know if they exist in the food that they buy.  But this much, Dan already knows:

labeling is not a terribly bad idea. People like to know what they’re eating.

Bingo.  And people are much less likely to eat the food that they are eating if they realized said food is largely made with genetically modified ingredients.  I wonder how the public would react to the fact that more than half the food inside the isles of your grocery store would suddenly bear labels indicating the product contains GMO’s?  The very same products they’ve been eating all along.  How many manufacturers would seek to change their recipe’s so as to avoid the label?

Mercola refused to talk with me. Evidently, I have that effect on some people. But that doesn’t mean he keeps his own counsel. Mercola is all over the Internet, offering his world view to whoever will listen and buy his wares.

Not that Dan Morain keeps his own counsel, this could be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  What does Dan Morain think he’s doing when he writes this article (or any of his articles, for that matter)?  But what I find most interesting is Dan’s use of the term ‘worldview’.  In the words of Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I’m tempted to think Dan is throwing the term around because it’s been getting a lot of buzz this past week due to Santorum and his comments regarding Obama’s worldview (or theology as he originally stated).  I don’t know if this is the case since I haven’t read any other writing of his but at least in this case he’s using it poorly.

A worldview is a system of thought.  It is the framework by which we interpret the world around us.  Everyone has a worldview whether they know it or not.  It is not simply an idea or set of ideas but rather a foundational set of principles by which you interpret everything around you.  It is often described as the lens by which you see the world and hence we get the term worldview.

Dan seems to be using the term throughout this article as though a worldview is any set of ideas or opinions and that’s simply not the case since ideas and opinions are actually the product of your worldview, not the worldview itself.

Dan then goes on to list some of the views of Dr. Mercola that he apparently takes issue with.  His setup is this:

But he certainly has a dark world view, particularly when he turns to the Food and Drug Administration,which tries to police outlandish claims by the alternative health industry.

Make note of the use of the word ‘outlandish’.  By listing some of Dr. Mercola’s ideas without actually linking to the information on why he holds them he makes them sound ‘outlandish’ but in reality, anyone who’s invested any time reading some of Mercola’s informative articles knows that Mercola hardly makes claims on a whim.  All of this is great at evoking emotion but we need to ask: is the way it’s being presented a true representation of Mercola’s practice?  Hardly.  In fact, Dan Morain could have linked to some of Mercola’s articles on the topics he brought up but he doesn’t, probably because he knows he’s misrepresenting the claims.  And how hard would it have been for Dan to do?  Well Dan brought up these topics and I’m linking to those very keywords as search terms on Mercola’s site:

That took me about 3 or 4 minutes to do.  I doubt that Dan is too incompetent to do the same.  But he doesn’t stop there.

Recently, he announced creation of an organization called Health Liberty and used the occasion to call for an end to dental amalgam, though studies show it causes no harm;

But other studies show it can indeed cause harm due to mercury toxicity, so which is it?

fluoridation, despite evidence that it reduces tooth decay;

Yet there’s evidence that flouride causes dental fluorosis, so which is it?

and vaccinations, though they have spared countless people from diseases and death.

There’s evidence that vaccinations have also caused countless people a lifetime of illness and even death, so which is it?

Morain seems to have the goal of discrediting the ballot initiative by discrediting one of its major supporters.  In the end, the attempt to discredit Mercola (at least in the article) should be thrown out due to the logical inconsistencies noted from the first line and the misrepresentation given in the bulk of the piece.  But after all of this, what should be noted most of all, is that the credibility of Mercola is irrelevant to ballot initiative.  The issue is whether people want to know if they are eating GMO’s.  Dan then goes on to explain some of his problems with the proposal, one of the most ridiculous is:

However, the wording is ambiguous and could be interpreted to bar companies from calling any product “natural” if it has been subject to “processing such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling.” Think about that one. Rice and wheat are milled. Olives must be pressed to make olive oil.

This simply isn’t the case.  Dan has misunderstood the issue that most processed foods contain GMO ingredients and any containing GMO ingredients should not be labeled “natural”.  Not that processed foods can’t be labeled “natural” because they’ve been processed (especially in the statement made above).

Right now, any food containing soy, corn, canola or cottonseed either as an ingredient or an item that one or more of the ingredients are derived from (that’s the really tricky part) is most assuredly a food that contains GMO’s.  Dan missed the point entirely.  As the OCA explains in their response to this very article:

Morain must not understand what genetic engineering is. He heard that “virtually all processed foods” would have to be labeled and somehow he figured this was because of the way they were processed. Morain doesn’t get that almost all processed foods contain ingredients that are genetically engineered.

The article then goes on the defense for GMO’s.

…though professor Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of Life & Health Sciences Research Development in the UC Davis Office of Research, points out that humans have been modifying crops for 10,000 years.

This is a frequently used talking point.  There is a huge difference between cross-breeding plants and taking specific genes from an animal and inserting them into the seed of a plant in order to create a plant that grows pesticides that kill the insects that eat it.  But again, this is irrelevant.  The question is whether or not consumers have a right to know what food manufacturers are putting into their food.

This issue doesn’t change if we all decided Mercola was untrustworthy.  It doesn’t change if all of its primary supporters come from outside California.  Interestingly enough, it is not uncommon for states to watch legislation in other states before enacting a similar bill.  The question for each Californian is simply this: Do you want to know if there are GMO’s in the food you purchase from your grocery store?

Let’s not forget, Dan started his article stating quite clearly:

labeling is not a terribly bad idea. People like to know what they’re eating.

But then he ends it with:

My suggestion is that when initiative barkers ask you to sign the petition, keep walking.

And finally:

We have our share of nuts, modified and otherwise. We don’t need to import any more.

That doesn’t make any sense since labeling food isn’t importing anything.  I guess it sounds nice but it certainly isn’t thinking critically. How about letting people decide for themselves while helping them get at the proper information they may need to do so?

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2 comments on “Dan Morain and the Art of Avoiding the Issue

  1. I have heard of GMO’s but it seemed like it would be rellay hard to find food without them. I always thought it seemed like a bad idea, but I was told one time that that’s how we have things like seedless oranges. I have to admit, that I rellay love not having seeds in my fruit, but if I thought about how dangerous the GMO’s are, then I’d deal with the seeds. It just doesn’t come to mind when I’m shopping. However, if the food was labeled GMO or Non-GMO then I would opt for the type that was not tampered with.Lisa McLellan

    • Chris on said:

      Fortunately, you don’t have to be wary of seedless oranges (or any fruit for that matter). Seedless fruits are not GMO’s but the industry has definitely propagated that idea because they want you to think of GMO’s as something as normal as an orange without seeds. In reality seedless oranges are typically the result of much more natural processes (hypridization) and don’t require actual genetic tampering to get them. Right now any genetically modified foods come from soy, corn, canola and cottonseed. Any of these ingredients or ingredients derived from these items will almost certainly contain GMO’s unless specifically stated otherwise on the product.