Spit out this food labeling bill
Spit out this food labeling bill
Genetically modified organisms: Nothing to fear
The proposed state law to require labeling of foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should carry a disclaimer of its own:
“Warning: This legislation will not actually provide consumers with useful information.”
What it will do is pander to technophobia about “frankenfoods” that too often gets in the way of smart decision-making.
Much the same impulse scares otherwise intelligent parents away from vaccinating their children, leading to a resurgence of diseases that should be completely preventable.
Putting a focus on GMOs would also distract consumers from factors that really matter when it comes to shopping for food — such as avoiding too much saturated fat and sugar. The debilitating and deadly effects of those ingredients have been well documented by research — while just the opposite is true of GMOs.
Here’s what the nation’s largest general science organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, had to say when California considered a labeling law in 2012:
“The science is quite clear: Crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”
Also weighing in was the American Medical Association: “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class.”
A 2011 report from the European Union — covering 130 research projects over 25 years — concluded that GMOs “are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.”
Here’s what fearmongers fail to understand: Humans have been manipulating the genomes of plants and animals since literally the dawn of civilization — through cross-breeding that has produced modern varieties of wheat, corn, soybeans, etc., that look and taste nothing like their ancient forebears.
The modern technological leap is to directly transplant genetic material from one species to another — often with highly useful results. It’s not fundamentally different from the techniques used to create life-saving vaccines and cutting-edge medicines. Among the crops engineered are varieties of corn carrying a bacteria gene that produces a natural insecticide. It’s nontoxic to humans and other mammals, yet allows farmers to dramatically reduce or eliminate spraying for bugs.
Food engineers have also come up with a type of rice that’s high in beta carotene — which could help prevent Vitamin A deficiencies that blind and kill hundreds of thousands of children a year.
Before going on the market, these products are subject to review by not just the Food and Drug Administration, but also the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply,” says the AAAS.
They’re also ubiquitous — accounting for some 90% of all field corn and soybeans grown in the U.S., according to Margaret Smith, a plant breeding and genetics professor at Cornell University. Meaning that if GMO labels becomes mandatory in New York, they’ll go on the vast majority of boxes and cans on grocery shelves.
And, as Smith points out, the process of extracting corn starch, corn syrup and soybean oil strips out any and all genes and genetic byproducts: “So there’s no way to test a corn starch, for example, and tell whether it came from a genetically engineered corn or not.”
So the breakfast cereal made with ingredients that started as GMOs — which would be required to carry a label — would be chemically indistinguishable from competing products that do not.
Also, bug-resistant sweet corn raised with reduced spraying would have to be labeled, while non-GMO fruits and vegetables thoroughly doused in chemicals would not. Makes no sense.
The bottom-line rallying call of labeling supporters is that consumers have a right to know.
“It’s just information — and information is what people say they want,” says the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan.
But nothing now prevents GMO-free products from advertising that fact, as the makers of Cheerios have started doing. And consumers who care can always look for the “certified organic” label — which already rules out GMOs, for better or worse.
With polls showing that 92% of Americans support labeling laws, supporters like Rosenthal think they’re giving the people what they want. But they should not kid themselves: They are serving up nothing but empty calories.