Our local newspaper the San Luis Obispo Tribune has been publishing Pro and Con pieces on the editorial page lately. Today it was GMOs, with Susan Finston, a former executive director of the American BioIndustry Alliance, writing about why GMO foods should not be labeled so that consumers can make an informed choice. She finds consumers who want labels “naive” and “scientific illiterates,” then wanders into questions of food-borne illnesses, ignoring the actual science thus far reported on GMOs, including such facts as increased use of pesticides and herbicides and resultant development of herbicide-resistant weeds.
WASHINGTON — Traditionally, the government has mandated labeling standards to warn consumers of potential hazards, such as smoking’s link to cancer and lung disease, and a high-fat diet’s link to numerous medical problems. Requiring the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods, on the other hand, is a solution in search of a problem.
Advocates of GM labeling cling to the naive fiction that genetically modified foods are foreign and untested — unnatural products of wild-eyed scientists. The reality is that most of what we eat has been scientifically improved in some way.
In fact, the labeling question was debated in the 1990s and it was determined that labeling of new GM products would be required only if the foods themselves posed a safety concern, not because they differed from more conventional products produced in the usual manner. The first GM products were introduced in the United States around 1994; and by 1999, approximately 60% of all produce found in the typical grocery store was grown using GM seeds. Today, 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries grow GM crops. And numerous studies continue to confirm the safety of such products.
U.S. regulators should not adopt costly labeling requirements just to satisfy scientific illiterates — or to show their solidarity with the heavy-handed regulators in Western Europe, who “manage” their agricultural policies as effectively as they manage their economies.
The European Union, to its discredit, has effectively placed a stranglehold on genetically modified and bio-fortified foods. But it’s paid a high price for its restrictive policies, reducing potential agricultural output by an estimated 440 million to 900 million Euros annually.
The EU also has chosen to forgo two other benefits of GM crops: the fact that fewer chemical pesticides and less mechanical cultivation are needed in their production — both of which have significant environmental benefits. The U.S. has reaped a windfall from Europe’s phobic myopia, as leading European companies, such as Syngenta and BASF, have shifted their GM research centers here.
Many seem to have blinders on when it comes to the health and safety of food, assuming that conventionally produced foods by definition are wholesome and safe, while genomic varieties require extreme oversight. Yet, virtually all of the food safety problems in recent years can be traced to conventional farming, including unsafe feed practices for poultry, salmonella in eggs, dioxin-tainted beef, Listeria-infected yogurt and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (or mad cow disease), which continues to affect trade in cattle, sheep and goats and cost the lives of more than 150 people in the United Kingdom alone.
Even the European Commission, following an independent review, concluded that as of today, there is no scientific research associating GMOs “with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”
Simply put, all agriculture is based on the creation of new and improved varieties. Whether they are developed through genetic engineering or otherwise, we rely on hybrids. New plant and animal varieties happen in nature as well — within and across species — without human intervention.
Medical treatment of bacterial infections with antibiotics, by contrast, directly interferes with nature. Do opponents of genetically modified products reject modern medicine as well?
GM labeling is a solution in search of a problem. It would be far better policy for companies to label the minority of products that appeal to anti-GM consumers than to try to implement mandatory GM labeling. For the conscientious consumer concerned with such matters, that is what they already do.
They print Ronnie Cummins’ essay in favor of GMO labeling:
FINLAND, Minn. — Recent national surveys by the Mellman Group and MSNBC, as well as polls conducted over the last two decades, indicate that 90% of U.S. consumers want to know whether or not the foods they eat and feed to their families have been genetically engineered.
Concern about the health and environmental effects of genetic engineering continue to grow. Yet the biotech industry, large food manufacturers and retailers have so far blocked efforts to require that any food containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled.
The European Union and 22 other nations have GMO labeling laws. More than a million Americans recently sent a petition to the Food and Drug Administration demanding mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
On May 2, a petition was filed by a million registered voters in California that will put mandatory GMO food labeling on the ballot Nov. 6. The law will also ban the routine industry practice of labeling or marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural.”
Why do the overwhelming majority of Americans want labeling on foods gene-spliced with bacteria, viruses, antibiotic-resistant marker genes and foreign DNA.
Because millions of us don’t believe they’re safe. Americans want labels because the FDA acknowledges they conduct no safety studies of GMOs before allowing them on the market, but rather rely on the word of biotech companies that these foods are safe.
Americans want labels because GMO health disasters, emergencies or near disasters have already occurred. In 1989, 39 people died and thousands were disabled from a disease called eosonophil myalgia syndrome, which was traced to a genetically engineered supplement commonly found in health food stores.
In 1996, the government banned dangerously allergenic soybeans that had been gene-spliced with Brazil nut DNA. In 2000, the FDA recalled billions of dollars worth of food products containing GMO corn that was linked to severe allergic reactions.
More than 100 peer-reviewed studies have shown that GMOs damage the vital organs, immune systems and reproductive functions of animals.
A recent study in Canada found that more than 90% of pregnant women had detectible levels of genetically engineered Bt pesticide circulating in their bloodstream, in effect turning their digestive tracts and their fetuses into miniature pesticide factories.
Most countries in the world, including the EU, banned genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone, injected into dairy cows to force them to produce more milk, after it was discovered that a potent cancer tumor promoter in BGH milk caused a higher risk of cancer in humans.
Americans want labels on foods with GMOs so we can avoid buying them. Polls indicate that 40% of U.S. consumers believe that GMO foods are dangerous. Another 40% are unsure. No wonder millions of consumers have switched to organic foods, the only foods in the marketplace guaranteed to be GMO-free.
Environmental-minded Americans are similarly skeptical of GMOs. After more than a decade of biotech industry propaganda, we now find out, that GMO seeds and crops do not increase yields; use more pesticides than conventional crops; do not result in crops that are more climate friendly, do not produce more nutritious foods and, in fact, have no benefits at all — only hazards — for the environment and human health.
Genetically engineered foods are less nutritious, more likely to trigger allergies, and contain higher levels of growth hormones and pesticides. Yet GMO foods aren’t required to be tested for food safety before they end up in grocery stores and restaurants.
Without labels, it’s almost impossible for public health officials and medical practitioners to track their allergenicity, toxicity and carcinogenicity. Americans want labels on genetically engineered foods and we want them now.
Ronnie Cummins is the national director of the Organic Consumers Association. Readers may write to him at OCA, 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland Minn. 55603.