Justin Danhof, The GMO Labeling Debate

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Justin Danhof is the General Counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, as well as Director of the Center’s Free Enterprise Project. Mr. Danhof previously worked as a research associate with the National Center for Public Policy Research from 2008 to 2009. Prior to joining the National Center for Public Policy Research, Mr. Danhof worked in the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office in the Economic Crimes and Cybercrimes Division, for the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development and at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Danhof’s work has been widely published and quoted in major newspapers, including the Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Politico, Bergen County Record and the Canadian National Post, among others.
Mr. Danhof is a member of the Federalist Society and Christian Legal Society. Mr. Danhof is a graduate of Bentley University (Waltham, MA), where he received a Bachelor of Science in economics and finance and pitched for three seasons on the school’s NCAA Division II baseball team. Mr. Danhof completed his graduate studies at the University of Miami School of Law where he received his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws in Taxation. Mr. Danhof is licensed to practice law in New York and Washington, D.C.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Let’s move to my next guest, shall we? We’ve got Justin Danhof. He is with the National Center for Public Policy Research, General Counsel. We’re going to talk a bit about some recent event with GMO labeling. Justin, how are you today?

Justin Danhof: I’m doing well Caryn. Thanks for having me on.

Caryn Hartglass: Tell me—we have an anti-GMO proposal recently and it was denounced at the Safeway Shareholder Meeting. That doesn’t sound like good news to me.

Justin Danhof: I think it’s great news for customers. I think it’s great news for Safeway Shareholders and I think it’s great news for the public at large. What happened was a group called the Green Century Equity Fund had submitted a proposal to Safeway that would have required the company to slap a scary little label on every product containing GMOs–Safeway, of course, one of the largest grocery stores in the United States. The gentleman who actually introduced the proposal claimed that there’s no scientific evidence that GMOs are safe. I got up and I spoke in front of the Board of Directors, the executives and the shareholders and I explained the extensive list of independent scientific organizations that have studied GMOs and found them to be perfectly safe for human consumption. In the end the shareholders, by about a 90 percent to 10 percent margin, agreed with our side of the issue.

Caryn Hartglass: I think the shareholders are mostly concerned with profits and I don’t know that they are entirely concerned about much else. I don’t want to talk about the scientific evidence, about GMOs being safe or not just right now, but I want to tell you why I would like labeling and why I don’t care for genetically modified organisms in my food. I think, primarily, for me, it’s about supporting the current industrial-agricultural process with giant agribusiness. I think it’s bad practice. I think monocropping on large fields and dumping toxic pesticides and herbicides and using petrochemicals, fertilizers which we do not have an unlimited supply of—I think this is not healthy. I don’t think it’s healthy for biodiversity. I don’t think it’s healthy for soil. We’re degrading our soil. We’re seeing a lot of water loss because we’re sucking up all the water out of the aquifers. We’ve got water pollution filled with these toxins from the pesticides and herbicides and we’ve got air pollution. This type of industrial-agricultural—a lot of it—is growing plants, cereal crops and soy and alfalfa to feed animals to feed people. It is very inefficient. What I continually propose and support is an organic system, an organic agriculture, where people are eating more plants, less animals. It’s better for the planet. It’s better for our health. The last thing about GMOs that we hear a lot from the companies that are researching about them and creating them is that it will help with world hunger. If you follow any of the NGOs, non-governmental organizations, that are out there that are supporting the developing nations and their issues with food scarcity, GMOs are not anywhere near the top of the list. They talk about food distribution. They talk about the unfair land distribution where there are a few people that own the land that are growing whatever they want and the people that work on them grow things that end up being commodity foods that are exported and they don’t even have enough food to feed themselves. So there’s a lot of issues that are related with hunger that have nothing to do with the growing of food. The last thing is that GMOs, if they are going to help the developing nations feed themselves, they’re creating a small collection of foods, most of them aren’t what these people are normally eating. They are not culturally based. They are unusual foods and I think it is really scientifically, culturally, ethically going in the wrong direction.

Justin Danhof: OK. I don’t know what to address first because you said we can’t talk about science so I’m not sure why we’re going to have a debate if we can’t bring in the science.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s why I would support labeling of foods because I want to know what has genetically modified foods in it. I also don’t think that the science is very good.

Justin Danhof: You don’t trust the American Medical Association?

Caryn Hartglass: I don’t.

Justin Danhof: OK. You don’t trust the World Health Organization? You don’t trust the National Academy of Sciences? You don’t trust the American Association for the Advancement of Science?

Caryn Hartglass: I question everyone.

Justin Danhof: So who do you trust?

Caryn Hartglass: Me. I trust myself and my own personal researchers—a handful of people that I believe in terms of what their motivations are when they put things out. But anyone who is linked to a great deal of money like shareholders of Safeway—I don’t respect their opinion.

Justin Danhof: You don’t respect their opinion? So if these GMOs are causing such devastation and such harm, Safeway would be smart in a business sense to label them and the shareholders would want it. Otherwise they would setting themselves up for incredible class action lawsuits down the road. Just as the tobacco industry, right? There’s a lot of foresight into this so think about it, these would be the front runners. Here’s my other question: If GMOs are so harmful, why in the heck are we just going to label them? If they’re so bad I don’t want them labeled, I would support banning them.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, me too, but you know I just talked with …

Justin Danhof: The activists only want them labeled… many of them are in the pocket of the organic food lobby that’s the simple truth here…

Caryn Hartglass: No, no. …my prior guest in terms of promoting a vegan agenda. He realized that he cannot make big change so we go for small steps in order to make change happen…

Justin Danhof: No, no, no, you and I both know it’s a sinister ploy by the organic food lobby, right?

Caryn Hartglass: I don’t think the organic food lobby is sinister. I want more organic foods.

Justin Danhof: You scare the American people about GMOs even though they can create a higher yield crop. They can get rid of disease. They can help with world hunger. You scare the people for years on this anti-junk science campaign that’s not based on any facts, not based on any evidence, just based on fear because people irrationally use fear in decision-making, right? And then, step two, slap a label on those products you just scared the American people about irrationally. And guess who profits? The organic food lobby. It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here.

Caryn Hartglass: I think the people who are profiting are the small industrial agricultural group. I mention a lot of points here that I think are really important, that are behind promotion of genetically modified foods which are not related to whether they’re safe or not but there are…The problem is with doing studies is they’re expensive and long-term studies are really hard to do.

Justin Danhof: The Europeans took care of that. They did a ten year study that cost over two hundred million Euros to exhaustively examine the issue.

Caryn Hartglass: And how did they do it?

Justin Danhof: This was 130 research projects, covering more than 25 years of combined research involving more than 500 independent—independent—research groups. They determined that GMOs are perfectly safe for human consumption.

Caryn Hartglass: I haven’t seen any convincing studies that have shown over the long term…

Justin Danhof: Then you’re burying your head in the sand.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m not burying my head…and the other thing is …

Justin Danhof: Type into Google “European Union GMO study”, go look it up. It’s 264 pages I get that it’s a little dense but they have an executive summary. You can read the conclusion of the report. It’s not complicated to find this research.

Caryn Hartglass: We’ve seen research that shows a lot of negative things are happening to bugs because some of the GMOs have pesticides built into them that are supposed to kill and they do kill and then they start subsequently killing other pests. We’ve got a lot of bad things going on at the microscopic level…

Justin Danhof: Let’s talk about killing and death. Let’s talk about how us Westerners who are activists on this issue, the food zealots I want to call them, have scared the government of India into banning golden rice. Let’s talk about that.

Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about golden rice…

Justin Danhof: Let’s talk about children going blind. Let’s talking about children that are malnourished… Vitamin A infused rice…

Caryn Hartglass: Grow foods that naturally contain Vitamin A that aren’t going to give them an overdose of Vitamin A where they have to consume so much rice in order to get a normal level of Vitamin A…it’s just nonsense…there’s plenty of naturally growing plants that have Vitamin A that are native to the area and with just the right amount of technology and financial resources they can grow those plants. They don’t need some high tech food that is alien to them. That’s just crazy.

Justin Danhof: Rice is alien, right…

Caryn Hartglass: The problem with hunger is distribution. It’s not some super food that we have to start giving to the world. I just wanted to mention that in this press release you refer to the Third World. We don’t talk (whispering) about them as the Third World any more, it’s developing nations.

Justin Danhof: Wow, your political correction really is just smugness coming through on such an epic level, but you know, continue.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, it’s…

Justin Danhof: Look down your nose at me while I try to help the developing world and you try and keep your thumb on them with your junk science. I’m going to use real science and real facts to try and help people.

Caryn Hartglass: The other problem is all of the farmers that can’t keep up with the debt that they have to pay for all the seeds to plant these patented foods when they…

Justin Danhof: Are you a patent lawyer? We can debate the patent issue where we want but it’s a highly intricate legal issue…

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah it’s so intricate the farmers don’t realize what they’re getting into when they purchase the seeds. They go into high debt and then the crops don’t yield.

Justin Danhof: Well, hey…

Caryn Hartglass: Too bad for them. We really care about them, right?

Justin Danhof: You want to look down your nose at them too.

Caryn Hartglass: The issues with GMOs. There is the question of safety which many of us have not been convinced of and there are many more issues which is the support of industrial/agricultural procedures which are destroying our soil, too dependent on petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and what about the fact that the GMOs kept telling us it would wean us off of using toxic herbicides and pesticides and yet all the Roundup Ready products need more Roundup Ready every year because the weeds are getting smarter and we have super weeds.

Justin Danhof: I’ll just keep working to present facts. I’ll keep working to present science. I’ll keep working on the promise of GMOs. You can keep spreading junk science. You can keep misinforming folks and we’ll just part ways at that because you started the debate by saying “we don’t want to talk about science”. I listed dozens of independent studies that I hope your listeners go look at even if you won’t to verify what we all know: That GMOs are perfectly safe. There’s lots of other…are you interested in mutation breeding? Because that’s a lot scarier to a lot of people but nobody seems to talk about that. That would involve educating yourself on another scientific angle so I know that’s not up your alley.

Caryn Hartglass: I have a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering and I read and understand all the science. The reason why I said that I didn’t want to touch on the science is because there really hasn’t been a lot of good science in either direction. I’d rather focus on much easier to understand issues that are so important and GMOs support the bad practices of giant agribusiness so I would prefer to have them labeled, to know which products they are so they don’t have to find them.

Justin Danhof: The organic products are labeled so go buy them.

Caryn Hartglass: I do and I wish that there was more government action to make them more affordable for everyone so that we wouldn’t have agriculture that’s based on toxic pesticides and herbicides and petrochemicals. That’s all. It’s been great talking to you. Keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

Justin Danhof: And for those that want to read the other side visit us at nationalcenter.org for those that don’t, keep listening. Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: Bye.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, there you go, wasn’t that fun?

Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly, 8/26/2014

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