By: Will Coggin
Newspaper: The Oregonian
Recently, a pair of activists argued on this site that Oregonians “won’t be misled” by special mandatory labels on genetically improved foods (GIFs). That’s not accurate: Oregonians will merely know which foods are made with genetically engineered ingredients, also called GMOs, and which ones aren’t.
How meaningful is that distinction? It might surprise readers to learn that a comprehensive scientific consensus holds that the answer is, “Not much, if at all.”
Numerous scientific consensus bodies, including the World Health Organization, the Royal Society of London, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Medical Association, all affirm that GIFs are just as safe as conventionally produced foods.
Normally, the government only mandates labeling if it relates to health or safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires calorie and serving size information on nutrition panels because it feels that consumers can use this information to make healthier dietary decisions. But the FDA, as part of the scientific consensus, does not believe that there is a health or safety distinction between GIFs and their conventional counterparts — if there were, current FDA rules would require disclosure.
Advocates claim there is a “right to know” what’s in our food. This sounds like a compelling argument at first. But broadening a supposed “right to know” to things not related to health and safety, like genetically improved ingredients, creates a floodgate of potentially mandatory — and irrelevant — disclosures. Should milk bottles or cheeses have to list the names of the farms or states that originated the milk product?
And just as there is no “right to know” if your milk came from a certain farm since it is irrelevant, there shouldn’t be mandatory labeling of GIFs.
Now, some people do care (for whatever reason) about what dairy was used or whether their food is genetically improved. But the market offers products that meet consumers’ needs. For instance, there are plentiful options for non-GIF certified and organic products (that cannot knowingly use GIF technology).
So if options are out there for those who want to avoid genetically engineered ingredients, what is the reason behind making GIF labels mandatory? If you follow the money, the agenda becomes clear: Science-denying anti-GIF activists in the organic food industry want to drive up the price charged by their competition, or put a label on competing products that serves as a “warning” since the government wouldn’t label it without reason.
In Oregon, four of the leading donors to the ballot measure committee are out-of-state organic pressure groups and organic food companies. Organic activists also poured millions into failed initiatives in Washington and California.
Typically, they get around the fact that mainstream science finds that genetically engineered foods are as safe as other foods with weasel words, as if to claim they are “just asking questions” about the safety of these foods. One could “just ask questions” about the safety of fluoride in tap water or vaccines — some anti-GMO activists like Joseph Mercola do — and it’d be just as pointless. It’s easy to see why these groups would have an incentive to worry consumers by “just asking questions” about the safety of GIFs. And nothing would give those “questions” the undeserved appearance of legitimacy than a mandatory label, since we don’t typically mandate particular labels except in cases of health and safety.
Maybe you believe that the government should endorse what amounts to a conspiracy theory that has somehow hoodwinked a vast consensus within the scientific community. Oregonians should recognize their “right to know” that no such conspiracy exists.