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Here is a fun conversation-starter at a dinner-party. Ask the person you are talking to what sexual position their parents used in order to conceive them. I am serious.

What’s the rub? Well, “transgenic foods” (popularly and incorrectly referred to as Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs) inspire much trepidation and one of the common arguments I see in regard to their use and regulation is that consumers have a “Right to Know” what is in their food. I suppose that is the case. But by that measure consumers have a “Right to Know” what is in their crayons, and laptops and so forth. I don’t see marches against Crayola demanding a full and complete listing of every last molecule used to create their Burnt Sienna crayon. When firms and consumers find it advantageous to know, or when regulators ascertain that information in important enough to know, it is usually produced.

The thing about transgenic foods is that this particular form of genetic modification is simply a breeding method. It tells us nothing at all about what is in our food. So, labeling a food that has been produced with transgenic methods tells us not a single thing about what chemicals are in the food or other properties of that food any more than knowing that your parents commenced with the Missionary position tells you what your hair color was likely to be.

Can the fact that a crop was bred transgenically contain useful information? Sure, but that fact alone tells us nothing. You see the same sort of issue arise when it comes to things like “natural/organic” fertilizer versus the stuff that is produced by evil corporations in the lab. But when fertilizer is applied to a crop, a nitrogen atom is a nitrogen atom is a nitrogen atom. It doesn’t matter whether that atom fell from the booty of a ruminant, was trawled from the ocean, or came out of a factory. Thus, a plant on the ground doesn’t care nor does it know where the particular nitrogen atoms it is using came from, they are just nitrogen atoms. The same is true of your food.

Of course, I am sure that somewhere deep in the dark recesses of the 401(k) that I have not looked at in years and spent 5 minutes establishing that I own some small portion of Monsanto, and I am sure that somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my university something that I do came from the support of some other evil corporation. So I am a hack and have nothing to teach you. Pay no attention to me.

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