Ramirez Cartoon: The Revenant
Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.
View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.
Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.
View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.
Last night, like many nights, our family experienced what more and more American families experience when it comes to video entertainment at home: option overload. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. Who wants to return to the days of three major networks dictating the limited number of things we can watch? Today we enjoy a wealth of options unimaginable even five years ago.
Despite our ever-increasing wealth of options, some continue to ignore reality and push for government-imposed regulations that will only interrupt continued innovation and future choice for consumers.
These parties are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revisit an embarrassing chapter in its regulatory past to force a government-approved design for the set-top boxes that allow cable and satellite TV customers to view programming. The FCC’s previous regulation of these devices cost consumers tens of millions of dollars, and never created the market in alternative set-top boxes envisioned by regulators. Specifically, some companies who would like to see the FCC engage in another attempt to “create” a market for their set-top products – products consumers stubbornly refuse to demand — are pushing for FCC regulations that would define the technologies cable and satellite companies use in manufacturing their set-top boxes.
The video marketplace has never had more choices in the number of devices and the number of platforms over which consumers can view video products. There are gadgets and apps available for any number of devices to view any number of offerings, and yet there are those who would lock in the very set-top boxes that may be on their way out if the government would only leave the market to its own devices.
The FCC’s Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC, pronounced “DEE-stack”) issued a report in August which made no collective recommendation for any new FCC technology mandate on set-top boxes. The panel reported what most younger video viewers have known for some time, namely, that there is “wide diversity” in networks, security, and communication technology choices across all pay TV platforms.
Although there is no doubt that interested parties will call for the government to regulate technology for set-top boxes, we urge the Commission to let consumers in the thriving market for video services sort out what devices and what technologies best serve their budgets, tastes, and viewing preferences. To have the government lock in any present technology means cutting off future innovations.
We also need to respect the interests of content providers who have a right to negotiate the terms under which their content can be viewed. And here again, apps can serve an important advancement for consumers and content providers, as the services provided by apps have exploded over the past few years as rights become available from content providers.
Simply put, consumers today are viewing video content using Amazon, Apple TV, Netflix, Roku, Cable and Satellite Apps, smartphones, tablets and web browsers. The video market is thriving without government regulation and intervention.
Let’s hope the FCC can help video consumers by resisting the temptation to regulate in this exciting and rapidly changing world.
Throughout the “Net Neutrality” debate over whether the federal government should begin regulating Internet service under 1930s Depression-era laws intended for copper wire telephone service, we and others have warned that Obama Administration efforts to impose such regulation would dangerously stifle private investment and innovation in the telecommunications sector.
In his weekly “Information Age” column today, L. Gordon Crovitz highlights how quickly our somber prediction has proven true. In “Obamanet Is Hurting Broadband,” Crovitz summarizes how “The predictable effect of more regulation has arrived: Investment is plummeting”:
New data show the Obama Administration’s decision to regulate the Internet as a utility has already caused a steep drop in Internet Investment… [I]n the first half of 2015, as the new regulations were being crafted in Washington, major ISPs reduced capital expenditure by an average of 12%, while the overall industry average dropped 8%. Capital spending was down 29% at AT&T and Charter Communications, 10% at Cablevision, and 4% at Verizon. (Comcast increased capital spending, but on a new home-entertainment operating system, not broadband.) Until now, spending had fallen year-to-year only twice in the history of broadband: in 2001 after the dot-com bust, and in 2009 after the recession.” [emphasis added]
Since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the Internet has thrived and played a central role in maintaining America’s status as the most prosperous, most entrepreneurial and most innovative nation in human history. That didn’t happen by accident, nor was it due to coincidence. Rather, it occurred precisely because the federal government during both the Clinton and Bush administrations refrained from suffocating it with destructive and politically-motivated overregulation. But Obama apparently thought he had a better idea. Unfortunately, we’re already witnessing the regrettable result.
Meanwhile, Gallup just released its annual survey of public approval of various sectors of American life. Standing at or near the top once again are the computer industry, the Internet industry and the telephone industry, all with high net positives. And at the bottom, once again, is the federal government, with an atrocious -29% net negative.
All of this suggests that we would likely be better off if the computer/Internet/telecom industries regulated the federal government, rather than vice-versa.
Charles Murray at AEI has a thought-provoking idea for pushing back against the Nanny State: private citizen defense funds.
“People don’t build tornado-proof houses; they buy house insurance,” Murray explains. “In the case of the regulatory state, let’s buy insurance that reimburses us for any fine that the government levies and that automatically triggers a proactive, tenacious legal defense against the government’s allegation even if – and this is crucial – we are technically guilty.”
Defending the technically guilty is designed to make overzealous regulators think twice before going after someone. The point is to concentrate enforcement resources on the worst offenders – not the weakest targets.
Murray suggests two ways of funding his citizen defense initiative. “The first would be a legal foundation functioning much as the Legal Services Corporation does for the poor, except that its money will come from private donors, not the government. It would be an altruistic endeavor, operating exclusively on behalf of the homeowner or small business being harassed by the regulators. The foundation would pick up all the legal costs of defense and pay the fines when possible.”
But wait, there’s more!
“The other framework would be occupational defense funds. Let’s take advantage of professional expertise and pride of vocation to drive standards of best practice,” says Murray. “For example, the American Dental Association could form Dental Shield, with dentists across America paying a small annual fee. The bargain: Dentists whose practices meet the ADA’s professional standards will be defended when accused of violating a regulation that the ADA has deemed to be pointless, stupid or tyrannical. The same kind of defense fund could be started by truckers, crafts unions, accountants, physicians, farmers or almost any other occupation.”
Though it would be nice if some of the great ideas touching on regulatory reform – for example, the REINS Act – are signed into law someday, the wonderful thing about Murray’s idea is that it could go into effect without any helping hand from government.
You can read the entire article at the Wall Street Journal.
California’s water crisis – and Governor Jerry Brown’s draconian response to it – could go a long way toward uniting middle class and elite urbanites in a revolt against political favoritism run amuck.
As Shikha Dalmia explains, “The best — and most sustainable — solution to California’s water woes would be full-bore markets in which prices can rise and fall with supply and demand. Under such a system, depleting water reserves would have led to price increases long ago, producing an automatic incentive to conserve. More importantly, this would have clearly signaled growing scarcity, spurring new technologies for affordable water generation. All of this would have allowed consumers and businesses to make small adjustments over time without letting the shortage reach a crisis point.”
“Moving overnight to a system of market-based water pricing is probably not doable,” she continues. “But if California has to make emergency cuts, it would make sense to impose the biggest cuts on the biggest users — which means the deepest cuts for fish-rescuing environmentalists, followed by water-hogging farmers, followed by residential users. Instead, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is doing the exact opposite.”
The constituencies being hit the hardest by Brown’s mandatory water usage reduction order are rich enclaves like Beverley Hills and Newport Beach, and middle class urban residents who already pay the highest rates for water, but use the least when compared to other groups.
Those outside California may not remember that what ultimately led to Governor Gray Davis’ successful recall was his support for tripling the annual vehicle license fee. Californians will put up with a lot from politicians, but making it exorbitantly expensive to enjoy basic comforts like driving and water consumption could be just the disruption it takes to break the liberal stranglehold on state government and implement the kind of market-based reforms Dalmia is promoting.
We’ll see if Governor Moonbeam gets the hint, or sacrifices millions of people’s well-being for the sake of his beloved environmental movement. If he indulges the latter, there could be an opportunity for another California taxpayers’ revolt like the one that put a stop to annual property tax spikes in the 1970s.
A fight is brewing in California between state regulators and local water suppliers over how to cope with mandatory water usage reductions ordered by Governor Jerry Brown.
California’s State Water Resources Control Board received more than 200 letters from cities, counties, and water districts balking at the proposed regulatory structure for monitoring compliance.
Everyone in California is feeling the pinch of decades’ worth of neglected improvements to water storage capacity.
Thanks to ‘green’ environmentalism, much of California may soon be brown.
H/T: L.A. Times
In 2006, the last time the Drug Enforcement Agency counted the number of outdoor marijuana plants in California, there were roughly 17.5 million.
Since then the number has likely increased significantly due to lack of enforcement by the Obama administration and the effective decriminalization of marijuana use by lax police departments.
Even so, as Ethan Epstein explains, if we take the 2006 figure as a baseline and add to it the fact that a marijuana plant soaks up about six gallons of water per day during its 150-day growing season, California could have saved 63 billion gallons of water since the start of the drought four years ago.
Imagine the savings if California officials got serious about curtailing illegal marijuana growing today.
If Governor Jerry Brown wants to find ways to reduce unnecessary water consumption he should start by uprooting the millions of illegally grown marijuana plants. Had the plants not been siphoning off a precious natural resource over the course of the drought, California could have saved 15 percent of the total Brown wants to recoup through rationing.
In other words, cut off the crooks before knee-capping the law-abiding.
California Governor Jerry Brown’s new water rationing edict is giving state regulators the cover they need to impose all kinds of nanny state restrictions on law-abiding citizens.
In addition to installing ‘smart meters’ on businesses and homes to monitor water usage and impose fines, the California Energy Commission is using Brown’s executive order to increase the use of low-flow appliances. Beginning in January 2016, all toilets and faucets sold in the state must conform to higher water efficiency standards.
“Wednesday’s vote also sets a 1.28 gallon maximum water flow for toilets, putting in place a limit included in a 2007 law but never formally translated into water-efficiency regulations,” reports the Sacramento Bee.
It’s hard to believe that a state so friendly to the environmental lobby as California would have failed to implement even more restrictions when it had the chance, unless doing so would be extremely burdensome and therefore unpopular. Now, however, they can simply claim an emergency and ignore the outcry.
After announcing plans to confiscate certain kinds of ammunition through a new and textually dubious regulation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is reconsidering. Indefinitely.
“Thank you for your interest in ATF’s proposed framework for determining whether certain projectiles are ‘primarily intended for sporting purposes’ within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C). The informal comment period will close on Monday, March 15, 2015. ATF has already received more than 80,000 comments, which will be made publicly available as soon as possible,” reads a statement from the bureau’s website.
“Although ATF endeavored to create a proposal that reflected a good faith interpretation of the law and balanced the interests of law enforcement, industry, and sportsmen,” the statement continues, “the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study. Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework. After the close of the comment period, ATF will process the comments received, further evaluate the issues raised therein, and provide additional open and transparent process (for example, through additional proposals and opportunities for comment) before proceeding with any framework.”
Though I’m glad to see a federal agency rethinking a bad policy change for the stated reason that the “vast majority” of 80,000 comments oppose the move, I suspect the real reason for the sudden about-face is because ammunition confiscation through regulation is an issue that will make it virtually impossible for Democrats to get elected in swing districts.
Whatever the reason, it’s great to see some level of responsiveness from a federal bureaucracy that ostensibly exists to serve the public.
Texas has long been held up as the free market alternative to California’s regulation-heavy approach to public policy. Companies like Raytheon and Toyota have relocated because of the cheaper price of doing business, as have thousands of individuals.
But the competitive advantage that Texas enjoys over California could come to a screeching halt if the federal government imposes California-style regulations on the states.
The description of a March 12 event in Houston explains the threat.
“California’s tough environmental rules and planning represent the wave of the future to many planners and pundits, as well as to large parts of the federal government,” says the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. “The goal is to rein in ‘sprawl,’ based largely on questionable environmental and urban design considerations. California consciously seeks to impose a high-density, transit-focused future on the residents of the state.”
It continues, “But California’s policies do not just affect Californians. Many federal agencies, including the EPA and US Fish and Wildlife Service, have embraced the Golden State’s regulations on climate change, wetland and endangered species protections, as role models to be adopted nationally. As California-style regulations diffuse through the federal government, Texas business could soon be subject to many of the same programs and policies.”
This is a good reminder that vigilance at the federal level is necessary to protect economic freedom back home.
Nice things cost money, and so too does so-called affordable health insurance.
“More than one-third of all House members have signed onto legislation that would repeal ObamaCare’s tax on insurance companies, which even some Democrats agree is leading to high insurance costs for millions of American families,” reports The Blaze.
People familiar with the logic of doing business understand that private firms don’t pay taxes, people do. So when ObamaCare imposes a tax on health insurance providers, that amount gets passed on to consumers as higher premiums.
With ObamaCare’s second enrollment cycle about to end, many people are experiencing this economic rule up-close-and-personal.
“I hear every day from individuals, families, and businesses in Arizona about the cost of health care,” Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is quoted as saying. “This common sense fix [i.e. repeal] will help lower out of pocket costs for hardworking Arizonans. By working together, we can provide relief for individuals, families, and employers while increasing access to quality affordable health care.”
That’s highly unlikely because ObamaCare’s regulations increase the cost of providing health care, and its complex web of subsidies is designed to hide some of that increase. Repealing a source for subsidies without also repealing the regulations that make them necessary leaves the elevated cost without a means to pay for it.
Still, it’s good to see at least some Democrats in Congress supporting the repeal of at least some part of ObamaCare. Remove enough supports, and eventually the whole architecture crumbles.
As Republicans turn to the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rein in the Obama administration’s executive overreach, they should scrutinize a recent trend to shirk the CRA’s reporting requirements.
In my column this week I explain how the CRA works – a federal agency proposes a rule and Congress gets about 60 days to kill it (so long as the president agrees). Even if the president vetoes Congress’ disapproval, the process helps define each party’s stance on the proper role of regulation.
Importantly, the CRA imposes a reporting requirement on federal agencies to inform Congress about final rule proposals. It turns out, however, that the CRA doesn’t create an oversight process to ensure compliance.
Enter the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ watchdog over the administrative state.
“Shortly after the CRA was enacted, GAO voluntarily developed a database of submitted rules, began checking the Federal Register to ensure that all covered rules were being submitted, and periodically notified the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about missing rules,” says a 2014 report from the Administrative Conference of the United States.
“However, in November 2011, GAO decided to reduce its checks of the Federal Register, and to stop notifying OMB about missing rules.”
As a consequence, GAO lost track of whether federal agencies were complying with the CRA. Between 2012 and 2014, “[m]ost of the 43 missing major and significant rules also did not appear to have been received by both houses of Congress – thereby preventing a Member of Congress from introducing a resolution of disapproval under the CRA.”
Since Congress can’t disapprove what it doesn’t know about, the Republicans that control the legislative branch should instruct GAO to ratchet up its oversight to ensure the Obama administration is CRA-compliant.
It’s not every day that the leading liberal law professor in America calls out the actions of the Obama Environmental Protection Agency as “lawless” and “unconstitutional.”
“After studying the only legal basis offered for the EPA’s proposed rule, I concluded that the agency is asserting executive power far beyond its lawful authority,” writes Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe.
The EPA is launching a “Clean Power Plan” that will require state governments to enact restrictions on local electrical power plants in an effort to fight global climate change. As Tribe sees it, the EPA “would effectively dictate the energy mix used in each state and leave the state with essentially no choice in implementing its plan.” Such an arrangement would violate numerous Supreme Court decisions that prohibit “federal commandeering of state governments” because it “defeats political accountability and violates principles of federalism that are basic to our constitutional order.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time President Obama has exceeded his constitutional authority to implement a controversial policy. It fits a pattern of executive action unrestrained by seemingly any qualms over violating clear statutory limitations.
And even though Tribe doesn’t make the obvious analogy to ObamaCare’s politically corrupt origin, he doesn’t pass up the opportunity to highlight what’s really motivating the EPA’s new regulatory scheme: “The brute fact is that the Obama administration failed to get climate change legislation through Congress. Yet the EPA is acting as though it has the legislative authority anyway to re-engineer the nation’s electric generating system and power grid. It does not.”
Change the author’s byline and this article easily could be written by any constitutional conservative. Realizing that it comes instead from one of the leading proponents of the “living constitution” school, and it’s obvious that Obama & Co. are far beyond the boundaries of what even the most celebrated liberal academic scholar considers lawful executive action.
On Monday, the Obama administration threw out a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that ObamaCare would have 13 million enrollees by February 15, 2015. It also discarded a CBO forecast that the controversial health law would have 25 million enrollees by 2017.
Instead, the federal department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said a more likely scenario would be between 9 and 9.9 million by mid-February – a reduction of 30% from CBO’s calculations. As for 2017 totals, HHS will not commit to any numbers.
“The reduced projection is due to recent data showing ‘mixed evidence’ about how quickly – and how dramatically – people will shift from employer-sponsored health insurance and non-ObamaCare plans into insurance plans sold on government-run marketplaces such as HealthCare.gov,” reports CNBC.
What HHS isn’t saying is how the Obama administration playing politics with statutorily mandated deadlines has fouled up ObamaCare’s implementation timetable. Originally, CBO and others could reasonably anticipate quick and dramatic shifts onto ObamaCare plans because the employer mandate made it financially smart to dump workers onto the exchanges and pay a relatively small fine.
But fearing a voter backlash at such a quick and dramatic change, the Obama administration has delayed implementing the employer mandate at least three times. It now isn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2017 – the first year after President Barack Obama is out of office.
According to an HHS report, “there is considerable uncertainty that a large shift will occur over the new two years”, which, “contributes to an analysis that the ramp up to 25 million will take more than three years.”
In other words, thanks to politically motivated regulators, no one knows when, or if, ObamaCare will meet its most important benchmark – sustainable enrollment.
Doctors who spent heavily trying to comply with ObamaCare’s electronic health records mandate could still be hit with costly penalties.
ObamaCare gives doctors until October 1, 2014, to switch from paper-based to electronic health records. Failure to comply results in losing 1 percent of federal reimbursements for treating Medicare patients.
Here’s the rub.
“[P]hysicians who went electronic for the first time this year are discovering that [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS] won’t be ready to officially register the evidence of their work until mid-October. That means they will miss the Oct. 1 deadline, and CMS will withhold 1 percent of their 2015 Medicare payments,” reports Politico.
That means that a doctors’ group like Morganton Eye Physicians in North Carolina spent $1.3 million to buy and implement new software – and added $250,000 to its annual operating budget – only to be threatened with a $65,000 penalty because the federal government can’t meet its own compliance deadline.
One would think CMS has a moral obligation to waive compliance until the agency is able to do its job, but so far it’s requiring doctors to submit to a cumbersome hardship process. How does a business politely explain that the hardship exists completely because of government ineptitude?
Welcome to ObamaCare’s bureaucratic hell. More episodes to follow.
Conservatives typically – and correctly – fault the regulatory state for increasing the cost of doing business and impeding job creation. But what about the argument that businesses don’t pay taxes (or regulatory fees), people do?
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is making a powerful case that the two go together in a way that could reduce the government’s footprint and decrease poverty.
“The regulatory part of Ryan’s anti-poverty plan goes after ‘regressive’ federal rules – those that have an outsize economic impact on low-income households,” reports The Hill. “Supporters of his plan say regulations are ultimately borne by ordinary consumers and households who pay extra when new restrictions are piled on to the products and services they use. The poor end up spending a greater share of their income to cover the added expense.”
The argument that regulations are regressive – that they take a bigger bite out of a poor family’s budget than anyone else’s – is an especially attractive one to liberals such as Cass Sunstein, the former chief of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House.
In a recent column, Sunstein said Ryan’s regulatory reforms “point in helpful directions, and they suggest the possibility of bipartisan cooperation on some important questions.” Among these is taking into consideration the human cost of regulations on a segment of society that can least afford it.
To be sure, neither Ryan nor Sunstein advocate eliminating all regulations, and how they would implement such reforms would likely differ substantially. Still, the fact that a well-known, serious conservative and his liberal counterpart see common ground on pulling back government and lifting up the poor is a development worth watching.
Recently, Yuval Levin wrote a characteristically sober and insightful post about the structural problems afflicting not just the Veterans Affairs hospital system, but the VA itself.
Amid other obstacles to reform, Levin explains why certain veterans groups share some of the blame for the VA’s managerial mess.
It is impossible to overstate the political power of the veterans’ interest groups over the VA. The simplest way to describe it is that they get everything they want, period. There are many powerful interest groups in Washington, but because their domain is carefully limited and politically and culturally sensitive, the vets’ groups have a kind of command of their arena that I don’t think any other sort of interest group approaches. And this is a big part of the reason why the VA is so dysfunctional, because it is not subject to congressional or administrative oversight in the usual sense. It answers fundamentally to the vets’ groups. They often informally review its annual budget request before it goes to OMB. They are uniquely involved in drafting budgets on the congressional side. They are considered a necessary signoff on every major decision. Their firm opposition to something is the end of the story. Their priorities are the VA’s priorities. And yet they are very well positioned to treat failures that result from their own distorting power over the system as reasons to increase their power.
Every successful interest group enjoys a certain amount of leverage to get what it wants, but the power exercised by veterans’ organizations that Levin describes is itself a scandal in need of reform. Somewhere the public’s commitment to serve those who served all got hijacked by lobbyists imposing policy choices that are clearly having deleterious effects on retired and disabled veterans. Any reform of the VA department needs to include whatever measures are necessary to uproot this latest case of regulatory capture.
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service said Thursday it would start over on its controversial rule limiting the political activity of certain tax-exempt groups, propose a new rule that would take into account a backlash of opposition.
The announcement made official what IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told USA TODAY last month — that the IRS would put out a new proposal and seek more public comments before overturning a 57-year-old precedent allowing certain tax-exempt groups to engage in limited amounts of political activity.
Great news, though, alas, it sounds like the IRS will come back for another bite at this apple. Still, this buys time for those who believe that this entire endeavor is a misbegotten exercise in letting government narrow the parameters of political engagement.
There are few threats to freedom as great as allowing those in power to control what those out of power — which may be liberals one year and conservatives the next —can do or say about politics. Any truly ‘liberal’ society gives the opposition room to flower. May the IRS never complete this exercise.
If President Barack Obama wants to improve income inequality he could start by removing ObamaCare’s barriers to working more hours.
“The savings from restricting hours worked can be enormous,” explains the Wall Street Journal. “If a company with 50 employees hires a new worker for $12 an hour for 29 hours a week, there is no health insurance requirement. But suppose that worker moves to 30 hours a week. This triggers the $2,000 federal penalty. So to get 50 more hours of work a year from that employee, the extra cost to the employer rises to about $52 an hour – the $12 salary and the ObamaCare tax of what works out to be $40 an hour.”
Liberals thought themselves clever by dropping full-time status to 30 hours per week from the traditional 40. What they didn’t count on was that the actual result would be an 11 hour per week pay cut.
From The Hill:
The Food and Drug Administration isn’t ready to embrace mandatory labeling regulations for foods made with genetically engineered ingredients, despite an aggressive push from lawmakers and advocates who cite health concerns.
Testifying before a House panel, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told lawmakers this week that the agency remains comfortable with a 1992 policy decision concluding that food made with genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — is not materially different from other products.
“We have not seen evidence of safety risks associated with genetically modified foods,” Hamburg said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing to assess the FDA’s 2015 budget request.
She said the FDA is working on fresh guidance backing a voluntary system for GMO labeling, an approach critics regard as insufficient.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) criticized the FDA’s unwillingness to impose mandatory labeling requirements, saying the action is the least the government can do to give consumers more information about the food on their dinner table.
“It’s beyond me that we can’t have accurate labeling,” Lowey told Hamburg at the hearing. “The labeling can’t hurt anybody but it’s possible that the lack of adequate labeling could, of course.”
Actually, neither of those statements are true. The labels could hurt people and the lack of labeling won’t.
First let’s get some basics out of the way. What qualifies as a “genetically modified organism”? Have a purebred dog in your house? That’s one. A rose bush in your garden? Yep, that too. In essence, any living being that has been bred for certain traits is a genetically modified organism. What the critics are upset with are industrial processes by which companies can cultivate these traits in the lab instead of breeding for them over the course of generations.
So, is there a reason to be concerned? Over to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Gregory Conko, writing in the Washington Examiner earlier this week:
The primary thing that makes genetic engineering unique is the power and precision it gives us to make those changes and then test for safety afterward. It has also given us food that is both safer for our families and better for the environment. Plants with a built-in resistance to chewing insects, for example, have allowed farmers to use millions of gallons less pesticide every year.
Dozens of the world’s most prestigious scientific bodies, including the National Academies of Science, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, have studied genetic engineering for more than 30 years and concluded that such foods are at least as safe as, and often safer than, conventionally bred ones.
The other thing that makes genetically modified plants different is they are subject to intense scrutiny by three different regulatory agencies in the U.S. alone. It takes an average of five to 10 years to develop and test a crop for consumer and environmental safety. This is followed by an additional two to four years of review by the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. And because most American farmers will not plant genetically modified crops they cannot export to global markets in Europe, Asia and South America, the wait is even longer in order to secure approval overseas.
The regulatory costs alone for testing and getting approval for a genetically modified plant variety average more than $35 million. By the time a new crop makes it to market, its safety has been confirmed by regulators in dozens of countries.
In 30 years of testing and commercial use in more than two dozen countries, genetically modified foods have caused not a single sniffle, sneeze or bellyache. This outstanding safety record is why the FDA does not require blanket labeling of such foods. It does, however, require labeling any time a food differs from its conventional counterpart in a meaningful way – such as a reduction in nutrients, the introduction of an allergen, or even a change in taste or smell.
The science here is overwhelming — and has a decades-long track record. That’s part of what makes the labeling idea such a bad one. Proponents often brush the evidence aside and claim that, even if the produce is safe, consumers should know what’s in their food (though, in many cases, what’s in it is no different with GMOs than organics). But that’s not cost-free. There’s the price, of course, of actually producing the labeling, but the bigger potential cost is the loss of business that would occur if GMO labeling became pervasive.
The point of labeling as a tool of regulation is to increase consumer knowledge. In this area, however, it’s likely that labeling would only fuel ignorance. The public is already poorly informed about GMOs. Mandating they be labeled — which gives the appearance of a warning — would only fuel fears that have no basis in science.
Those who care the most about GMOs are those who are already eating organic foods — foods, it should be noted, that go out of their way to market themselves as an alternative to GMOs. In other words, the market has already solved their problem. There’s no compelling reason — as a matter of science or policy — for them to be allowed to brand the GMOs that feed hundreds of millions of Americans with a scarlet letter just because of their scientific illiteracy.