Why GMO Supporters Should Embrace Labels

By Keith Kloor | April 29, 2013 8:04 pm

Guest post by Ramez Naam.

Image: Ecowatch.com

 

Keith Kloor has graciously given me the opportunity to guest post here again.  So let me cut to the chase:

I support GMOs.  And we should label them. We should label them because that is the very best thing we can do for public acceptance of agricultural biotech. And we should label them because there’s absolutely nothing to hide.

Let me explain.  First, so you don’t mistake me for a GMO-basher, let me introduce myself.  I’m a computer scientist by training.  I’m also the author of three books, all of which endorse the use of biotechnology to improve the human condition.

In the most recent of these, The Infinite Resource, I talk about the power of innovation to save the world.  In between chapters on climate change and fresh water depletion, solar power and desalination, I make a forceful argument that genetically engineered crops and animals can help us grow more food, with better nutrition, and less impact on the planet.

I believe that.  In the last two weeks I’ve written about the scientific consensus that GMOs are safe and the many reasons that advocates of organic food should love GMOs.  And recently I went on MSNBC to make that case on national television.

In short, I believe in science, and I believe that science tells us that our currently approved GMOs are safe for humans and good for the planet, and that next generation GMOs will be even better.

So why label them?

The short answer is this: by fighting labeling, we’re feeding energy to the opponents of GMOs.  We’re inducing more fear and paranoia of the technology, rather than less.  We’re persuading those who might otherwise have no opinion on GMOs that there must be something to hide, otherwise, why would we fight so hard to avoid labeling?

My conversion to this point of view began in January, when Keith Kloor posted a letter he’d received from Jonathan Gilligan, an associate professor in the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Vanderbilt University. Gilligan made several good points. It’s worth reading the whole letter.

Will Labels Kill GMOs?

Let me add to Jonathan Gilligan’s points.

First, it’s undeniable that a large fraction of Americans want labels on GM food.  An ABC News poll found that 93% of Americans want GMO labels.  A more recent HuffPost/YouGov poll put the number at 82%.

These are overwhelming numbers. They don’t reflect the scientific consensus on GMOs, but they do reflect the very real public fear and uncertainty around the technology. And more than that, they reflect a public view that labeling is common sense.

GMO proponents (including me) look at this and worry, quite frankly, that GMO labels on food will massively drive down sales of genetically engineered foods, which would lead to less planting of genetically engineered fields and less research into new and better GMOs.  If true, this would be a tragedy, for it would undo all the environmental benefits of genetically engineered crops that I’ve outlined previously.

The wrong kind of label. Image from labelityourself.org

And if the labels were warning labels, with a prominent skull and crossbones, they might indeed kill agricultural biotech.  But they’re not.  Or at least, they don’t have to be.  GMO labels around the world are almost exclusively ingredient labels, similar to the image at the top of this post. Those are the sorts of labels that can be agreed on now if the agricultural and biotech industries drive labeling or at least come to the table. Indeed, they’re the sorts of labels that my co-guests on MSNBC – all labeling proponents – insisted they wanted to see.  No skull and crossbones – just something on the package that informed a consumer that GMO ingredients are present.

That’s an important distinction, because the data suggests that GM ingredient labels would not change how consumers shop, by much, if at all.  Experiments with GMO labels in France (PDF link) have shown no detectable change in customer buying patterns.  Other studies in more than a dozen countries have shown the same. Even when a change is found, it tends to be quite small.  For example, a study of GMO labeling of cooking oil in China (PDF link) showed a drop of around 4% in market share of GMO oils after labeling, noticeable but not large. Surveying all the worldwide data through 2011, Elise Golan and Fred Kuchler found that “labeling has negligible impact on consumer choice.”

Far from the end of the world, GMO labels – of the right kind – are likely to have little to no impact on sales of genetically engineered foods.

How Fighting Labels Hurts GMO Perception

On the flip side, I’ve come to believe that the fight against labeling massively harms the perception of genetically modified foods.

First, there’s the impact on consumer fear.  Jonathan Gilligan points out that classic risk-perception studies show that people are less frightened of a threat when they feel that they can identify and control their exposure to the threat.  Science blogger Ed Yong wrote a terrific piece on this topic in 2008, titled “lack of control drives false conclusions, conspiracy theories, and superstitions.”

Do “false conclusions, conspiracy theories, and superstitions” sound at all like the most strident wings of the anti-GMO movement, and the memes they spread through the wider society?  I think so.

While the scientific data shows that GMOs aren’t a threat to people’s health, very few Americans are confident of that.  In the latest HuffPo/YouGov poll, 35% of Americans believed that GMOs are unsafe to eat, and another 44% are uncertain. Among the most hardcore believers of GMO health risks, very little is likely to change minds in the short term.  But among the large set with weak beliefs or uncertainty, the risk perception studies suggest that the lack of labeling has the effect of boosting fear.  And that fear itself is a bigger risk to the future of genetically engineered crops than labels are.  Boost people’s perception of control instead and we may see a reduction in the ease with which false conclusions, conspiracy theories, and superstitions spread into the persuadable middle.

The second way the lack of labeling hurts GMO perception is by deepening distrust of the scientists, institutions, and companies creating and selling genetically engineered foods.  Anti-GMO sentiment is already extremely mixed in with anti-corporate sentiment and suspicion.  Among the many tweets directed at me during and after my MSNBC appearance, the most common themes were “All we want is disclosure” and “If you’re so proud of your GMOs, why don’t you label them?”

A simple argument that’s hard to rebuff. Image from labelgmos.org.

Those are extremely hard arguments to fight against.  Replying “we’re worried that if Americans see a GMO label, they’ll be less likely to buy it” only strengthens the anti-GMO argument.  At best it’s condescending to consumers, sending a signal that ‘we know better than you what you should eat’.  And at worst it adds fuel to pseudoscience and conspiracy theorists who believe that labels are being withheld because Monsanto and other agribusiness concerns know that GMOs are harmful.

Even the reply that states ‘The FDA doesn’t require a label because GMO food is functionally identical to non-GMO, and has absolutely no health risk’ (which I used on MSNBC) falls flat in the face of this response.  Orange juice from concentrate is labeled. Food coloring Red #5 is labeled. Fish are labeled as to whether they’ve been previously frozen. To a consumer, there’s no plausible reason why these factors should be on a food ingredient label while the presence of GMOs shouldn’t be.

Or rather, the only plausible reason most consumers can devise is that information is being intentionally withheld from them.  That’s not the conclusion anyone who supports better crops through biotechnology should want to see consumers come to.

Lead or Be Dragged

Sooner or later, GMO labels are coming to the United States. With an overwhelming majority of Americans supporting labels, with prominent legislators introducing federal GMO labeling bills, as happened last week,  with more than 20 states considering measures to label GMOs, it’s only a matter of time.

The only question now is: Do GMO advocates want to be dragged along in this wave?  Or do they want to help direct it?  There’s a substantial difference between a patchwork of potentially conflicting state labeling laws and a unified system, between a bad labeling measure and one that’s sensible.

The only reasonable choice for GMO proponents now is to embrace labeling and help lead the process.  We should embrace it to help dampen consumer fear of GMOs.  We should embrace it to help shape the labeling system into a sensible one.  And we should embrace it because we have absolutely nothing to hide.

About the Author

Ramez Naam is the author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, a book about the power of innovation to overcome the environmental and natural resource challenges that face us, and the decisions we need to make to win the race between innovation and consumption.

 

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    I think I’ll take “dragged”. I like drag…oh, no, wait…

    I want to see label activists do something incredibly ridiculous–such as “may contain…”, that has no value to the things they claim to care about (allergy, herbicides, patents). And then I want to laugh really hard when they wonder later why it was a huge waste of time and money and they don’t know anything after all.

    And I’m going to laugh again when it backfires on the consumer benefit traits.

  • dogctor

    I agree with labeling, but for different reasons than yours. Having an understanding of biochemical science and medicine, as well as the history of this industry,-which has replayed the same tricks from the same rule book having fought labeling for decades, starting with the first recombinant innovation; I have zero confidence that the currently commercialized genetically engineered crops are safe.
    Zero!

    http://www.preventcancer.com/consumers/general/documents/hazard.pdf

  • http://twitter.com/mmmichael_ mmmichael

    Thanks for posting. I accept the scientific consensus regarding the safety of biotech, thus tend to be vehemently opposed to labeling. You make some very excellent points, though. I’m willing to consider the possibility that I’m on the wrong side of a debate but for the right reasons.

    • dogctor

      The consensus you speak of is a myth. There is no scientific consensus on safety of biotech food among scientists professionally qualified to analyze the impacts of GMO foods on public health: MDs. Go ahead and find me a document that demonstrates a consensus on safety of GMO foods among 800,000 physicians–the closest you’ll get is the AMA, representing a small fraction (approx 30%), which recommended mandatory pre-market safety testing.

      • Jake

        Why on Earth would you insist that the safety of GMOs must be decided by a whole lot of MDs who may or may not know a whole lot about nutrition? I would much rather see biochemists, toxicologists and nutritional biologists making those decisions than orthopedic and plastic surgeons.

        Not to mention that my experience as an undergrad chemist led me to believe that MDs are really not all that good at reading and interpreting raw scientific data and coming to good conclusions. They can apply science and do a good job of treating illness – the end. What you have done by insisting that all the World’s doctors must agree is set up an impossible and nonsensical benchmark.

        Should we also insist that avionics technologies be avoided until the vast majority of kite-flyers approve?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

          The truth is that there are no long-term studies on GMO. The 90-day requisite established is arbitrary and vastly insufficient. The only long-term study is Seralini’s which found much to be concerned about.

          The only human feeding study on GMOs found that the RoundUp ready genetics from GMO ingestions was transferred to our gut bacteria.

          Another study in Quebec found Bt-toxin—claimed by biotech to not cross into the blood from digestion—to be present in pregnant mothers and their fetuses.

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338670

        • dogctor

          For the same reason that the GMO committees are vastly under-represented by physicians, who can indeed hold industries to much higher standards than they would prefer.

          The benchmark are traditional well established medical standards, Jake. There is absolutely no way that an MD would pass the 90 day safety assurance studies on a statistically inadequate number of rats, tested with an inadequate number of parameters, accepting a single data point unless the said MD is utterly incompetent or suffers from a sociopathic disorder.

          You analogy of avionics technologies to kite flyers is just flat out nonsense in the context of judging the science skills of medical professionals. What I’d like to have all plant specialists hear is a lesson i was taught in kinder garden: ” if you aren’t prepared to fix it, don’t break it”. Plant pathologists and agriculture experts are clearly unprepared to diagnose and manage the array of diseases their “creations” might very well be responsible for, especially in vulnerable populations– kids.

          • Jake

            The argument I am hearing is more anti-corporate than anti-GMO. The point I was making regarding MDs is that there are simply not that many specialists that are qualified to make decisions like that on the safety of GMOs – certainly not 800,000. I would not take advice on GMOs from my family doctor or podiatrist .

            I am in agreement with you that the safety assurance system for both food products and pharmaceuticals are littered with problems – primarily that the large corporations pay for and are therefore in charge of the studies – there is a clear conflict of interest. It is also clear to me that FDA funding is not adequate to change the paradigm and that trying to do so would most certainly stifle innovation.

            I do not agree with your notion that a food product should be “guilty until proven innocent” – particularly when the long term studies that the anti-GMO crowd always brings up are correlation studies.

            Personally, I would much rather ingest Bt corn than corn with a slew of applied pesticides – applying pesticides is undoubtedly worse for the environment, too.. The “toxins” associated with GMOs are (1) not bio-accumulating and have (2) low orders of acute toxicity. It would take a pretty large burden of causal and mechanistic evidence to convince me that these agents are causing long-term harm and chronic disease.

          • dogctor

            Hi Jake.

            I would not eat Bt corn because several cry-proteins are immuno-reactive enough as to be useful as adjuvants in vaccines, and your gut makes up >70% of your immune system.

            I am not sure that extra funding of FDA is the answer, so long as the current chiefs ( lawyers) are in control of an agency we, as taxpayers are paying for, which has clearly been stacked against people and for industry.

            Your podiatrist is not an MD. Neither is your chiropractor, your optometrist and your dentists. Different classes of scientists. I believe that public health issues need to be sorted out by professions actually specializing in public health, (MDs or MSPH/ DrPH) and in this case possessing knowledge of biochemistry/ molecular biology would be very helpful. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_degrees_of_public_health

            Notice which profession discovered very potent corn mitogens which raise our risks of breast and prostate cancer.

            http://tinyurl.com/cmffaj2

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

      Mmmichael…I invite you to research the cons to GMO food production. I hope this link registers here.

      Ramez has called it pseudoscience but it is peer reviewed and even at that, it is doubtful that a 124 page document by legit scientists is all false.

      http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.3b.pdf

  • http://pdiff.weebly.com/ Pdiff

    I think many of us expect labeling to come and are now looking at how to get some level of rationality to it. Your point on labeling not being perceived as a warning is completely dependent on the implementation. If, in fact, it were part of the “ingredient list , then yes, its effect would be fairly benign. Recent pushes for labeling, however, have not followed this model. The WA initiative I522, for example, explicitly calls for GM to be prominently labeled on the front of the product, separated from the ingredient list. In other calls for labeling, I don’t know of any proposal that has suggested placement in the ingredient list.

    Other extremes in labeling demands also exist. Again in I522, the tolerance level for GM presence is designed to drop to zero by 2019, which would be effectively impossible to meet and would indirectly position the state into banning GM, which I believe this is the real goal of many behind labeling efforts. These efforts have nothing to do with “right to know”.

    For your proposal to work, both sides must agree on middle ground. It is hard to see where this will come from. Any moves that industry makes towards labeling have been out right rejected. Likewise, labeling efforts have pushed for extremist positions of little to no tolerance. Who do you propose make the first move towards commonality here?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      I very much agree – it’s completely dependent upon the implementation. And without industry backing an sensible implementation, alarmist ones may be forced into place.

      Your point about WA I522 is a great example of what I’m talking about. I522 would be a terrible decision. Yet even now, if food producers came to an agreement on an alternative approach and committed to it, they would have greater ability to combat bad measures like I522.

      I’m curious what industry moves you’ve seen rejected in the past? That’s not a challenge – I’m simply not aware of any.

      In terms of finding middle ground, the three panelists who appeared with me on MSNBC all said (I believe on air, at the end of the 4th segment) that they would accept an ingredient label. Those three were food policy writer Marion Nestle, Union of Concerned Scientists food policy director Ricardo Savador, and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (who’s involved with JustLabelIt.org). Perhaps in reality they wouldn’t accept an ingredient-only label, but it seems an opening worth acting on.

      • http://pdiff.weebly.com/ Pdiff

        Earlier this year, it was rumored that several large companies had discussed the possibility with the USDA. The online reaction to the rumor by anti-GMO advocates that I saw was immediate, implying collusion and conspiracy.
        You are probably right that some would be fine with the ingredient label scheme.
        Tom C. and other celeb chefs positions are not surprising as they and their restaurants are immune from current labeling proposals. I guess my point really is this: Simple capitulation by pro-GM here will not end the debate or objections. It may eventually mitigate the bad image, but it sets a bad precedence for anti-science agendas.

  • lump1

    I think that labeling has one further advantage: it makes it somewhat easier to introduce new GMO varieties, for example, the fast-growing salmon. I think the opposition to all these will really reduce when the anti-GMO crowd can be confident that they won’t accidentally stumble into buying those things that scare them. Sure, they’ll still fight it, but they’ll fight less hard when they have the peace of mind that they can avoid it.

    • dogctor

      I agree with most of your statement, with the exception of your use of the word “fear”. My opposition has nothing to do with fear, but rather tremendous outrage at being coerced to ingest something against one’s will.

      • FosterBoondoggle

        “Outrage” huh… Who exactly is coercing you into buying GM food? There are plenty of organic-only groceries on where you live in SoCal. You are free to stick to them and not be “coerced” into ingesting anything that might impurify your precious bodily fluids.

        • Mitisursis

          there is not “plenty of” organics. the GMO crops are used in almost everything. also, because of federal farm subsidies mostly going to the commodity crops, not the organics, and because of the mountains of paperwork for organics, which is not required for the biotech foods under federal regulations, organics are more expensive. The biotech foods have federal funding and leaner regulations. Controlling a market is coercion.

        • dogctor

          Boondoggle, I am a vegetarian who tends to eat out a lot. Every restaurant I’ve queried so far about GMO soy in tofu-containing dishes, curries, veggie burgers and such- has no idea what I was talking about. So… unless I am prepared to cook all of my food ( which, unfortunately, I don’t have the time for), indeed, I am coerced into eating GMO soybeans with my Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and other vegetarian dishes.
          Professionally speaking–none of the pet foods are labeled. So, once again, my patients are coerced into buying GMO grains.

          • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

            I am vegan who eats out a lot and NONE of my meals are mandatorily labeled vegan. I suspect I am also coerced into ingesting animal molecules through ignorance happenstance or malicious intention. Either way why aren’t my rights to know being advocated for?!

          • dogctor

            All you have to do to avoid animal products at a restaurant is to ask for dishes which don’t have meat, eggs, dairy products and aren’t fried in animal lard. How else is your dish going to be contaminated with animal molecules? And what toxic molecules will those be–prions? We don’t have BSE in this country, have you heard?

            Contrast that with my tofu doused in glyphosate with its toxic adjuvants swimming in a sea of superfluous DNA, who-knows-what microRNAs and 2,4-D in the near future, not to mention my corn dish containing leukotoxin diols and THF-diols active at 0.5ppm -raising my risks of breast cancer and your risk of prostate cancer. http://www.bcm.edu/mcb/?PMID=7702

          • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

            All you have to do is ask for all Organic or Non-GMO Project certified products.

          • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

            So many ways dogctor. From fish, oyster sauce in east asian dishes to chicken stock in rice to lard in beans these are often overlooked. With proper mandated labeling these would not be issues.

            Show me where tofu is “doused in glyphosate”.

          • dogctor

            I am sorry, PythagoreanCrank (do you have a shorter nickname?)…but while appreciating your moral decision very much, I don’t think those substances pose a health risk. Glyphosate and its adjuvants do. It is reported in the literature that crops are often dessicated with glyphosate

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22261298

            This study was extremely limited (20 composite meals) showing wide variation of exposure. Controlled residue studies show that glyphosate persists in food crops, allowing for the potential of a large number of people to be exposed.

            From other studies I know that glyphosate suppresses p450 @ 3.7micrromolar -and in the absence of pharmacological- kinetics studies it is impossible to determine how toxic the amounts reported in the above study really are—especially to a fetus.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      I think those are excellent points. Parents especially are highly cautious with their children. They don’t have the time or scientific background to research and evaluate the data here. If there’s a hint of risk to their children, they’ll avoid something.

      And as you say, we’re not trying to trick them into buying. GM products.

  • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

    It’s a matter of principle for me. I suspect though, that mandatory labels would be ineffective at scaring away consumers like they hope. Still, I cannot concede because I value true transparency and integrity. Where will it stop? It’s a disingenuous campaign and everybody knows it. How can we entertain that?! Capitulating on this misses the whole point and reinforces their framing of the issue. It sets a bad precedent.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      But we’re going to lose. Labeling is going to happen in this country.

      So do you want scary front-of-package warning labels? Or do you want a calm ingredient label?

      Do you want the fight over labels to end with consumers remembering that GMO proponents tried to the very end to ‘hide something’? Or do you want a chance to persuade at least some of them that there never was anything to hide?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

        So duplicitous. What’s the truth, Ramez? Do you care about labels or are you simply, as appears in your comments and column here, simply out to gain whatever credibility you can at the expense of integrity? This further denigrates your credibility as an honest reporter and proponent of GE foods. You want labels just because you are going to lose? Choose labels not as a strategy but because you really believe that labels are important. But, you don’t think labels are important, so why be a bargaining hypocrit and promote them simply as a backdoor strategy to come out somewhat credible in the end?

        The fact is there is something to hide. We think it has to do with the dangers of GMO foods. Biotech is trying to preserve its profits. So, at the least, they don’t want to lose profits and are hiding this. But there is much more to hide; just look at the mounting scientific evidence against GMOs and the collateral damage involved in its implementation.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          I wear my beliefs on my sleeve. There is no scientific reason to label GMOs. But there is very much a consumer perception and acceptance reason to label GMOs. I think I was very clear on that in the article, and my comments are all consistent.

          (I am not, by the way, a reporter.)

      • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

        That’s a false dichotomy. I want science-based policy for mandatory criteria and calm ingredient labels if that fails. I’m not sure how fighting against labels will get us mandated warning labels. If labels go on packages consumers are going to remember yet another example of how industry would rather be disingenuous than stand for integrity. Just like what Organic and nonGMO labeling products are doing right now. Let’s not play their unfair game.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          My belief is that, if industry already had a voluntary ingredient label in place, there would be virtually no movement towards mandatory labeling.

          Even now, getting to a consistent voluntary ingredient label could take the wind out of the sails of mandatory labeling measures.

          • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

            They do, it’s called Organic and NonGMO Project.

    • Mitisursis

      This is really about public distrust of the elites, government and business. It’s not about reality, it’s about perception. So the elites telling the public, “we’ve got a great product but we’re not going to tell you where it is” – doesn’t inspire a lot of trust. And just saying, we know better than you… people do have a lot of historical reasons for being very skeptical.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

        It’s not only theoretical skepticism, there are true dangers with GMOs: from dependence on an unsustainable, toxic large-scale agriculture model to soil run-off, to degradation of biodiversity, to cultural injuries from loss of traditional farming methods and contamination from GMOs to the massive suicide rates in India due to failures of GMOs. The author is a biased biotech buddy, and fails to look at the evidence I proposed to him in another thread on his facebook page.

        Organics can feed the world, and the toxic treadmill of GMO farming has been unilaterally avoided by Mr. Naam in my previous discussion with him. When he did attempt to answer it, he had the facts wrong. His is just another biotech talking head bias.

        • lump1

          How are GMOs different in any of these regards than farming with conventional monoculture crops? This has nothing to do with GMOs. GMOs are all about keeping people from dying due to Vitamin A deficiency, reducing fertilizer and water use, allowing no-till agriculture and other organic farming methods. That’s why we’re modifying plants, so we can grow them more sustainably, leave more unfarmed land as wildlife habitat, and still do a better job of feeding people. GMOs are the *solution* to the problems you’ve mentioned.

          • dogctor

            GMO agriculture is all about making $12 billion for the likes of Monsanto, which is the core motive for modifying plans. If you can find me a Tooth Fairy and a unicorn, I’ll believe in your altruism, as well.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jrayn Jennifer Rayn Hopton

          More false info being repeated from thousands of attention seeking internet writers. The introduction of a crop that can tolerate a weed killer has created a no-till farming system, this has been a great help to PREVENT soil run-off. Do you know what causes soil run-off? or a better term, erosion? When soil is bare, wind and water will cause the soil to be blown or washed away. So that claim is full of false. The suicide rates in India is another false claim that has spread through the internet like a highly contagious virus, its just so dramatic! The truth is, a lot of people from India decided to take a go at farming in spite of their lack of knowledge of farming, because their was a economic downturn, they had no other option for income. Unfortunately, they were not good farmers and their crops did not survive, they did not make a profit, also the loan practices in India are unfair,… there are a lot of issues and the suicide problem continues even though they are not growing gm foods there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers%27_suicides_in_India And The last point I will mention as I am running out of time, organic fields have been tested against conventional and the organic fields averaged 25% less than conventional and some argue that the organic fields were being protected from surrounding conventional farms’ usage of pesticides and there is a good possibility of chemical fertilizer use from organic farmers who are “cheating” or who switch from conventional to organic status, thus they get the nitrogen benefit from the conventional year. I have been organically growing for 6 years, it results in failed crops regularly. I love the idealism of it but it is not how we are going to “feed the world”.

      • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

        What “elites” are telling us that? So far most GMO traits benefit producers. Arctic Apples, a consumer benefit product is doing exactly the opposite. They are completely open and honest about their product.

  • Pierre frenchie

    How about an article about the very possible real danger of GMOs: not on health (it’s silly), but on the environment (horizontal gene transfers…). Thanks !

    • JonFrum

      Yes, the goalposts are constantly changed. No health dangers? What about the butterflies? No harm to butterflies? What about Superweeds? No Superweeds? What about……. it goes on forever.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewadams99 Andrew Adams

    ISTM that people who are engaged in the scientific and political arguments about GMOs see the issue of labelling through that prism – as something which is a “win” or “loss” for the other side. Personally I see it simply as a consumer choice issue, so the relevant question for me is whether there are significant numbers of consumers who want to know if their food contains GMOs. I don’t know if that’s true in the US, here in the UK I would guess that this is probably the case, and if so I don’t see why giving them the information they want could be a bad thing. It doesn’t imply that wanting to avoid GMOs is a rational attitude any more than labelling food as suitable for vegetarians makes a statement about the ethics of eating meat.

    • lump1

      But I’m sure you would feel differently if a significant number of customers wanted to know if black people handled their food, and were asking for a warning label that said “Black people handled this food” whenever that was the case.

      Yes, it’s an absurd example, but why is it so absurd? Because whether or not a black person has handled the food has zero impact on its quality and safety, so it’s not in any way the sort of information that has any value to the consumer. If fringe groups say otherwise, we only have to respond to them with science, and that should be the end of the debate.

      But now we come back to the point of GMOs and see that the situation is basically the same: Zero impact of its GMO origin on the quality and safety of the product. Of course we must study to make sure this is true, but so far the evidence is in no way equivocal.

      • dogctor

        There is absolutely nothing analogous in your example, especially to someone who believes that there is no empirical scientific justification to declare GMOs to be safe. That’s the trouble with your camp– you seem to have graduated with PhD’s in red herrings, half truths, and outright lies.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

          Amen.

        • JonFrum

          All I want is a choice! Why should I have to buy products sold by Jews if I don’t want to?

          • dogctor

            I’ll go with it, so long as you can explain the following.
            How is Jew selling food going to douse it in a toxic product which will inhibit their detoxification system in the liver (p450)?
            How is a Jew selling the food going to cause insertional mutagenesis, introducing superfluous DNA and novel miRNA?

            Yeah, I find this argument just as ridiculous as the GMO-supporters’ arguments that a corp’s liability would prevent it from ever bringing a toxic product to market, cause my amnesia deprived my tiny jewish brain of all memories of introduction of asbestos, lead, tobacco, PCBs, Vioxx etc etc etc.

          • kdk33

            The governing document says all men are created equal. It didn’t say anything about plants, or roundup.

        • lump1

          Did you just copy and paste that comment from climate change denier forums? Your dismissal of people who have devoted their life to objectivity science makes me wonder why your even posting here. I know that there is no research about health safety problems of GMOs, because there have been *no* studies that showed these. GMO vegetables have been subject to the strictest safety standards in all of food, standards that common foods like peanut butter would fail but GMOs pass. Just how much science has to get done before you stop shitting on science for political reasons?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber
        • lump1

          Oooh, a link to a website without data, which defends a conclusion that completely ignores the scientific consensus, without even showing awareness of the data that produced the consensus. Yeah, I guess now I have to take back everything I said!

      • http://twitter.com/andrewadams99 Andrew Adams

        Surely the only person who can say if information has value to the consumer is the consumer himself? It doesn’t necessarily have to be about quality and safety, people might have ethical or other objections to eating certain kinds of food.
        That doesn’t mean that everyone has a right to have their food labelled according to their own personal demands, or that there should not be limits – in your example there are obviously wider moral objections (institutionalising racism) which should override consumer preference. But I don’t see such objections in the case of labelling GMOs and where there is considerable consumer demand (and I accept that defining such a thing is difficult) and in the absence of such objections then I don’t see why consumers preferences should not be respected, regardless of whether one considers them to be rational.

  • Buddy199

    The majority of Americans are obese, a large percentage of their children also. Does anyone really think they will stop eating Whoppers and Count Chocula because of a label, even with a skull and crossbones? Sure, label food. I don’t think it will make any difference one way or another.

  • Kuze81

    It’s a question on the principle of force. Should an individual or company (group of individuals) be compelled by the force of the state to label something and bear the regulatory burden on something that is harmless merely because of popular hysteria? The cost will only be passed to the consumer making food more expensive. This is fine if you’re already a wealthy urbanite who shops at Whole Foods but not so much if you’re a low income family.

    Sure, lots of people want labels. Lots of people want to beat up Muslims after a terrorist attack. The role of the state is not to merely enact what many or even the majority of people want.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      I would hate to see the force of the state applied here. I don’t think the FDA should require a label for something that has zero health impact. Yet the force of the law may be applied (legitimately or not) should industry fail to self-regulate.

      Given the two options, I’d rather industry did this itself, and chose a labeling strategy that *does not* have high cost or high consumer impact, rather than the state imposing a higher cost, and more poorly designed labeling regime.

      • Mitisursis

        You’re both ignoring the state’s use of force in highly regulating organics (tons of paperwork, stringent and costly qualifications for the required label), in providing virtually no farm subsidies to organics (about 5% of total subsidies) whereas subsidies of about $16B / year are paid out for the commodity crops, unknown senators sneaking riders that bar a court finding that biotech crops have a health impact into legislation that must be passed; that the government supports through federal subsidies and lenient regulations a company that has about 80% market share on corn and soy crops, requires farmers to rebuy seeds every year (rather than natural and traditional seed saving).

        This is the government helping a company control a market. That is force.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          I’d be delighted to see all farm subsidies in the US end, to be clear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=634768901 Matt Anderson

    “The short answer is this: by fighting labeling, we’re feeding energy to the opponents of GMOs. We’re inducing more fear and paranoia of the technology, rather than less. We’re persuading those who might otherwise have no opinion on GMOs that there must be something to hide, otherwise, why would we fight so hard to avoid labeling?”

    why? for the same reasons we don’t “teach the controversy:” there is no debate.

    this might be the most bizarre post i’ve ever seen on this blog. your argument is analogous to blaming creationism on atheism. robert wright made this same argument in the atlantic in June of last year, “It’s as if people who had previously seen evolution and religion as compatible were told by the new militant Darwinians, “No, you must choose: Which is it, evolution or religion?”–and pretty much all of them chose religion.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      There is no scientific debate of substance.

      But there’s a very real debate among consumers. And the refusal to label doesn’t look like a stance on scientific principle. It looks like there’s something to hide.

      • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

        Is there a “very real debate among consumers”? Show me. I see a fringe contingent trying desperately trying to stay relevant through FUD, and it’s failing.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          It’s hard to say the FUD is failing when 20+ states have labeling measures (bad ones, in many cases) under consideration, and when popular politicians are introducing labeling laws in the US Congress.

          35% of Americans believe GMOs are dangerous. Most polls show that 90+% want labels. That’s not fringe. Those are dangerously high numbers.

          • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

            I dunno, I take these labeling measures as grasping at straws, cheap appeals. Even if they do win it’s gonna be a shallow victory but I’m glad to help them spend their resources on it.

  • JonFrum

    Left out from this discussion – the day labels are put on foods containing GMOs, the Usual Suspects will announce boycotts of retail chains that carry them. The claims that ‘we only want labels’ are disingenuous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      Probably true. But the hardcore GMO haters are a small but vocal minority. The fact that labeling has lead to negligible impact on sales in other countries (where anti-GMO sentiment is even stronger than in the US) suggests that any such boycotts etc.. will be of minimal effect.

      The real goal here is to take the wind out of the sails of anti-GMO activists by neutralizing the issue they have that is of greatest appeal to the large uncertain middle.

      • JonFrum

        A second concern. As has happened many times, once the government orders labels, the antis screech ‘See, this proves it’s dangerous – they put a label on it!’ File under damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          I’m sure some will. But again, we have the empirical data from other countries showing minimal effect.

  • Skeptico

    If labeling proponents just based their reasoning on ‘most people want it’ then I might almost agree. But that’s not what they’re saying, mostly. What they do is promote and cite pseudo scientific studies, promote half truths and scaremongering, oppose obviously beneficial uses of GMO such as Golden Rice, and make long arguments consisting of just logical fallacies. IOW, the same types of arguments as used by climate change deniers, anti-vaccinationists etc. To people who just want GMOs labeled I have to ask, ‘why do you want it?’ The reason is usually the flawed studies, scaremongering etc. So while I could accept labeling if people want it, I still find myself arguing against the flawed anti-GMO reasoning. If you argue against that flawed reasoning ultimately you’re arguing against labeling.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      Except that the fight against labeling helps that flawed reasoning spread. I realize that this is counter-intuitive. But my view is that more people are swayed by “they refuse to label it, so it must be bad” than would ever be swayed by a small label on the back of the box.

      • Skeptico

        Maybe. I can see the logic of what you’re saying. But I still ask, why would anyone want labeling? Surely it’s due to the misinformation and fear-mongering of the anti-GMO people? That misinformation needs to be answered whether you have labeling or not. And if you do answer all the misinformation, then why do you need labeling?

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          My expectation is that consumers get used to GMOs over time, until they are no big deal. That’s what happens with new biotechnologies in general. Consider IVF – it was a terribly controversial technology when first developed (“test tube babies”) and now it is normalized.

          But the fight against labeling may very well be strengthening consumer fear and boosting susceptibility to the misinformation. I believe it is. If so, it’s in the way of that typical process of habituation to new biotechnologies.

  • Mitisursis

    Overall, I agree. the question then becomes, what gets the label? Beef? Sodas? Milk and cheese? Eggs from chickens fed corn? Tofu? Crackers with partially hydrogenated soybean oil? The point is, unless someone’s strictly organic vegan, it’s in EVERYTHING.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      Yes. I would expect a tremendous number of products to carry a ‘may contain genetically modified ingredients’ label. I think that very ubiquity helps blunt consumer response. People will just get used to it.

      • dogctor

        After the amount of effort and work thousands have put into the food movement, If “may contain genetically modified” is on a labeling bill, I and many many other consumers, will do everything in our power to see to it that a worthless label like that does Not pass.

        • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

          Case in point:
          “After the amount of effort and work thousands have put into the food movement, If “may contain genetically modified” is on a labeling bill, I and many many other consumers, will do everything in our power to see to it that a worthless label like that does Not pass.”

          • dogctor

            I was referring to the thousands of people who worked on Prop 37, which wasn’t worded “may contain” was it?

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            And yes Ena–Prop37 was a “may contain…” bill.

          • dogctor

            Upon re-reading the language of both initiatives, I am sad to say, you are correct. Don’t know why I missed that.
            The federal bill re. mis-branding
            “If it is a food that has been genetically engineered or contains 1 or more genetically engineered ingredients, unless such information is clearly disclosed, as determined by the Secretary” appears more accurate.
            http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1699/text

        • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

          So you would oppose the WA state bill too? Ena–I really never thought there’d be anything we’d agree on.

          Delighted to have you on board.

  • Guest

    I’m going to respond to this as an average consumer. I do have my own opinion on GMOs, but I will leave that out of this response entirely. This entire movement is starting to come down to lobbyists and political corruption. All that matters to the average consumer is that the safety of GMOs is decided by someone who isn’t being paid off. And in the case of Monsanto, working with a senator to sneak a rider into an unrelated bill at the behest of a major campaign donor was an extremely idiotic move. The public is never going to trust anything you say or do when you continually use your money to undermine and cripple them! What the FDA has to say about GMOs will never mean anything considering the FDA doesn’t do their own testing but just reviews the results of testing performed by the manufacturers (who have used their money to cheat right in front of the public’s eyes). Monsanto is a perfect example of what NOT to do when you are trying to gain consumer trust in a day and age when the public (who is mostly broke, sick, and scared of the future) is questioning everything.

    • Mitisursis

      I agree with this too, although I agree that GMO’s are probably not as health-dangerous as the public has come to suspect in this era of corporate-government marriage. You forgot to mention that the FDA is filled with people from industry! Another shock to accountability. Also, I think part of the reason is that the anti-GMO groups are just as if not more concerned about the environmental and anti-competitive aspects of GMO’s, but they get no traction with public concern about those issues, so they focus on the possible health risks, and industry sneakiness. But GMO’s are a weird kind of monopoly. the prevalent GMO’s are glyphosphate resistant (Round-up ready) and those pesticides and herbicides are going to have environmental impacts regardless of health impacts. Most of the follow-up studies on health have been done in foreign countries; they’re concerned as much about being monopolized and the environment degraded. Not to mention that there are alreaddy weeds and bugs becoming resistant, and there have always been agricultural methods nearly as good without these other problems, and not as much risk. But those other agri-practices are not controlled by a corporation and get overpowered.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jrayn Jennifer Rayn Hopton

      I can tell that the information that you are typing is something you’ve read repeatedly on the internet from anti-gm articles. The bill was not a benefit for Monsanto, it was a benefit to farmers. Either people aren’t reading that section of the bill or they are failing to comprehend, I’ve noticed in general there is a lack of comprehension for nonfiction, partially based on biased opinions but perhaps also lack of attention span. I can see how the actions taken by proponoents of gm foods have been easily twisted around, as any action by a politician can be twisted around to sound sinister. What I am responding to is the statement about only the manufacturers testing gm foods. This is not true! There are hundreds of studies available online, unfortunately there are tens of thousands of articles of attention seeking articles that are anti-gm, and these of course succeed in getting the attention, they are so dramatic! Here is an example: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17450390109381977#.UYJyNMrXp8M (NOT related to a biotech company) I’m not going to continue. It is not easy to sift through the garbage that is the internet, but with the correct key words, and knowing that you have to research the organization providing the info, and the authors too, before bothering to read about it, you can find a small amount of reality, that is actually not as full of doom as the internet would make you believe ;)

      • dogctor

        I am noticing the same pretentious pontificating tone characteristic of GMO cheerleaders. As a medical practitioner who has reviewed the literature, I can tell you most decidedly that there is no legitimate science demonstrating safety. Anyone who claims otherwise either has no clue what they are talking about or are outright lying. Which is it?

        • AnonyMLA

          Is there legitimate science demonstrating GMO crops are as a class less safe than non-GMO crops? Unless I am mistaken the answer is no. So ultimately your position is pretentious pontificating. Either that, or it isn’t pretentious if you are a ‘medical practitioner,’ whatever that means.

          • dogctor

            Non-GMO crops have been selected for safety over millions of human years in many different cultures.

            There is a growing body of independent research demonstrating that the currently commercialized GMO’s (BT) and glyphosate crops are indeed unsafe.

            Cry proteins (BT) are immuno-reactive and are thus likely contributing to rising rates of allergies and immune mediated diseases.

            Glyphosate and its toxic adjuvants depress mammalian and bacterial p450, reducing the liver’s ability to detoxify drugs and xenobiotics.

            Depression of p450 might very well be responsible for the rise in IBD in children, adults and dogs- via glyphosate applying positive selection pressure leading to overgrowth of invasive E.coli ( which lacks p450) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21994005

            The above brief assessment is what being a medical practitioner means.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

            dogtor…I am aslo a physician (if i understand you are too) and share similar concerns you do…my patients thrive when i take them off GMO foods…thanks for your comments here.

          • dogctor

            Hi Dr. Weber. Very pleased to meet you!

            I am not a physician– I am a veterinary doctor with a biochemistry degree who loves research, preventive medicine and clinical sciences. My impression over the past 13yrs of day practice ( did ER work prior) that many of my patients improve when taken off GMOs: whether it is GI disease, atopy, variety of hepatopathies ( mostly inflammatory or steatosis which in human medicine would be analogous to NAFLD); or chronic pancreatitis- described in 0.6% of our patients in the 90s and recently reported in 67% of pancreases examined on necropsy of patients who do not drink alcohol :) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17197622 .

            I find comparative medicine fascinating. We have an invasive Ecoli- associated GI disease in my field : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16861666

            There not been a single study on the possible role of GMOs in internal medicine journals, general medicine journals or even trade journals in vet med. I am guessing the human medical profession is likewise ” in the dark”.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber
        • Nerdsamwich

          How often do you eat foods whose genome has not been altered by the hand of man? Unless you live by hunting and gathering in the wild, which I doubt, almost everything you eat has been heavily modified over the course of hundreds or thousands of years of cultivation. For just one example, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens, and kohlrabi are all members of the same species, just genetically modified through artificial selection in different ways.

          • dogktor

            Genetic selection by conventional breeding can not insert a Cp4 EPSP Synthase. So this line of argument is a non sequitor.

          • Nerdsamwich

            The point is that just objecting to “GMO’s” is meaningless. All food organisms are genetically modified. Instead, direct your ire at specific things, not entire sectors of technology.

          • dogktor

            I clearly disagree with the idea that all food organisms have been genetically modified in the same way. I think you are blurting the lines between genetic engineering and conventionally bred crops, which are radically different. In this case, insertion of Cp4 EPSPSynthase , has resulted in a herbicide treadmill, just like everyone familiar with evolution of multi-drug resistant bacteria would expect.

          • Nerdsamwich

            I didn’t say that they have all been modified in the same manner, or even with remotely similar techniques. What I said was that every domesticated organism has had its genome changed by artificial means. That’s kind of the definition of domestication. This is why I object to the term “GMO”. Because it applies to everything. If you must label things, label them with the specific modification that was made to the organism. Otherwise, all you’re doing is promoting fear.

          • dogktor

            I think we are in agreement there.

            Can you believe it?

          • Nerdsamwich

            It’s amazing how many people will agree with you when you present them with specifics, rather than blanket statements. All I ask is that if you have to have labels, make the label actually mean something.

  • http://twitter.com/berniemooney Bernie Mooney

    I have no problem with a label, if it is on the ingredient list, but it’s not what the activists want. They want a warning label. The current bill in the NY State contains this wording: “…“…if it contains a genetically modified material, or was produced with a genetically modified material, unless it bears a label or labeling upon which shall be clearly imprinted the words “this product contains a genetically modified material,” or “this product was produced with a genetically modified material”.

    That sounds like a warning label to me. An activist admitted to helping write the law.

    Prop 37, which started all this nonsense contains this: “…with the clear and conspicuous words “Genetically Engineered” on the front of the package of such commodity…”

    In Vermont? “…the clear and conspicuous words, “produced from genetic engineering” on the front of the package of the commodity…”

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      My point here is that industry has a chance to cut off the bad proposals by getting something out there on their own first.

      The NY State language, btw, is actually quite similar to the language used around the world, which has been found to produce little to no effect on consumer behavior.

      We should fight to stop scary labels and front-of-package labels. But eventually, if industry doesn’t create some sort of label itself, one or more bad labels will be forced onto it.

      • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

        I don’t think that’s the case. I think the goalposts will only get moved. http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_26864.cfm

        They are not going to go for the benign label, and it’s not going to stop.

        I love the part about Japan. I just found out last night that they exempt things like oils and sugar where there’s no evidence of the DNA or protein that’s different. That’s scientifically sound–and bugs the crap out of OCA.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          They’ll try, but more extreme measures will find less support.

          35% of consumers think GMOs are dangerous. ~90% want labels. That gap between those two numbers is the important population. Taking the labeling issue off the table makes it far harder for the extremists to persuade that very large set of people in the middle.

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            Let’s look at the removal of mercury from vaccines. It did not have to do with any safety issues of mercury compound that was in the vaccines. Did that stop the extremists from persuading the middle? How’s that working out for us?

            In fact, they use the removal as evidence that it was harmful.

            Your optimism is charming. I just don’t think it’s realistic.

          • Mitisursis

            the analogy to mercury is a poor analogy because that involved removal of mercury; whereas with GMO’s involves labeling of something still included (and not nearly as dangerous as mercury).

            Otherwise you didn’t really answer the point, that you’re fighting for the middle ground and resisting labeling makes people suspicious. You think agribusiness shouldn’t cave, fine with me, keep looking suspicious.

          • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

            No its not. It’s an example of caving into irrational fears to satisfy the irrational demand of a fringe minority whipping up FUD. That’s exactly what’s going on here.

      • http://twitter.com/berniemooney Bernie Mooney

        Mem-somerville is correct. That OCA link sums it up nicely. If companies do voluntarily label, let’s say, on the ingredient list, groups like the OCA will move the goalposts. From that link it is clear they don’t want labeling if it comes from the companies and if it doesn’t conform to what they want. They want “…meaningful state GMO labeling laws that have real teeth…” What exactly does that mean?

        Their goal is the elimination of gmos and the promotion of organic. From a Cunmmins open letter on Common Dreams: “The burning question for us all then becomes how – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?”

        “The first step is to change our labeling laws…” “to drive genetically engineered foods off supermarket shelves…”

        • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

          I completely agree that hardcore anti-GMO activists have that goal.

          The question is whether labeling (particularly an ingredient label voluntarily adopted by industry) advances that goal.

          The empirical data in other countries is that it does not.

          Moreover, the hardcore anti-GMO activists are a small minority. Our concern should be with the opinion of the large uncertain center. And there, the fight against labeling assists the extremists in persuading the center that there is something to hide about GMOs.

          Don’t think of voluntary labeling as giving in to the extremists. Think of it as taking away their most powerful talking point.

          • http://twitter.com/berniemooney Bernie Mooney

            Unfortunately that minority has a big influence on the uncertain center. When, not if labeling happens, it will more than likely be on the ingredient list and that minority won’t settle for that. They will make all kinds of noise about how they’re “hiding” the ingredients by not prominently displaying it on the label. Can you hear it now? “Sure, you label, but why won’t you prominently display the fact the products have gmo ingredients if they’re so great?” They will then switch gears and start yelling about poison and disease.

  • http://twitter.com/gamoe gamoe

    What we want is CHOICE. I don’t understand why some people are SO adamant about not giving the public a choice. It’s a philosophy of superiority and control.- We know better, so let’s just push this on every one. Let’s not let them have a choice, or they might choose wrong!

    If you want to convince people- then by all means, present the studies and science honestly. Let the people make up their own minds.

    I do find the idea that genetically modifying organisms is the only or best way to feed people more than a little odd. Nature has built a balanced system of life on this planet- one that human beings came from and are part of. Why would we need to modify that system on a genetic level to survive? Doesn’t it seem more reasonable to address the real causes of the problems we are facing- overpopulation and over-use of our resources (in the name of profit)?

    Furthermore, if GMOs overtake natural organisms, isn’t that a permanent change and LOSS for nature and humanity? Or is it that you see no intrinsic value in unmodified nature? In fact, this idea that humans even have a right to permanently change nature’s creations for its own purposes supposes that this Earth is only for us, when indeed we share it with many other creatures. Because we are the most technologically capable does not mean we have that right.

    If some people want GMOs and they can be separated from natural products, then that’s fine with me- we can all have our choice! But if your “enlightened view” is that GMOs should permanently replace the natural and we just have to “get used to it”, then I cannot abide by that.

    Some of us appreciate nature for what it is and don’t wish to change it to be more “efficient” or “profitable”. Some of us care to know and choose what we put into our bodies, regardless of what the often-wrong “experts” say. We should ALL have a CHOICE. And that’s what this is about.

    If some choose to boycott- then what is the problem? This is nothing nefarious. This is a matter of choice. Should vegetarians then be denied information on whether something contains animal products or not, even if you think him “silly” or “unenlightened” for choosing not to consume animal products? Should he not be free to “boycott” those products? In other words- Should people now not be free to KNOW and CHOOSE how to live their lives? Or should we all blindly accept the decisions that are made for us from the top?

    This is a very dangerous philosophy- one of control, not empowerment- which, while you might agree with it on this topic- you may someday find yourself on the wrong side of. Maybe one day you’ll disagree with the “experts” and find yourself wishing to have a choice to reject that advice.

    • Nullius in Verba

      “What we want is CHOICE. I don’t understand why some people are SO adamant about not giving the public a choice.”

      You’ve already got a choice. Introducing labelling is already allowed – no legislation, regulation, or coercion required. Set up a business as a retailer or manufacturer, and slap them on.

      Or all you need to do is label everything that’s GMO-free as such, and then you can treat everything else as therefore implicitly labelled “may contain GMOs”. Problem solved, right?

      Except of course that isn’t what they actually want. The real issue is that tracing, monitoring and auditing labels is an expensive and complicated process, the cost of which has to be added to the price. Producers of organic, GMO-free produce have that as an additional expense, that their mass-market competition doesn’t have to pay. And only a tiny number of people care enough to pay the premium.

      Suppose I ask for any food that contain allyl isothiocyanate to be labelled? Should I be allowed to force all the organic food producers to put the skull and cross-bones on their products?

      Or what about orange carrots? Where do you draw the line?

      • dogctor

        Really? So I can tell by looking at a kernel of corn, whether it is Round Up Resistant or 2,4-D Resistant?

        I would suggest that Mon 603 be slapped on the label if that is the variety of corn in my cereal, or Syngenta NK soybean in my tofu.

        Very very simple!

        Why don’t you want to brand your product if you are so damn proud of it?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

        Poor reasoning here, Nullius…

        You’ve already got a choice. Introducing labelling is already allowed – no legislation, regulation, or coercion required. Set up a business as a retailer or manufacturer, and slap them on.

        IS this true? Even if it is, this is not in the purview of the average person, nor a reasonable thing to expect of any one, or group. There are already labels on some GMO-free produce.

        Or all you need to do is label everything that’s GMO-free as such, and then you can treat everything else as therefore implicitlylabelled “may contain GMOs”. Problem solved, right?

        Wrong. If a food product is not GMO it can either be organic or commercially raised. Also, just because a foodstuff is not labeled as GMO-free does not give the assurance that that product has been scrutinized as specifically having no GMOs. Private labeling does not have the scope or authority to label and regulate all non-GMO foodstuffs; this is nonsense. That power is the purview of governmental agencies and their laws, and that is what we want. And it will come, sooner than later.

        • Nullius in Verba

          “IS this true?”

          Yes.

          “Even if it is, this is not in the purview of the average person, nor a reasonable thing to expect of any one, or group.”

          I agree it’s beyond an individual. But why do you think it’s not reasonable for a group to do it? How do you expect groups like the government of food manufacturers to do it if you think that’s impossible?

          “Wrong. If a food product is not GMO it can either be organic or commercially raised.”

          Yes? So? If it’s not GMO then label it non-GMO. If it’s organic and you want organic to be labelled then label it organic. If the seed was germinated under the sign of Capricorn and you’re a firm believer in astrology, then label it ‘Capricorn’. Whatever you like. What’s the problem?

          “Also, just because a foodstuff is not labeled as GMO-free does not give the assurance that that product has been scrutinized as specifically having no GMOs. Private labeling does not have the scope or authority to label and regulate all non-GMO foodstuffs”

          You do have assurance, because inaccurate labelling would be a violation of product advertising law. False advertising is already banned by the government. You can have as much scope as you’re willing to pay for, and you don’t need any authority. There are all sorts of certification schemes around already – organic foods are one example.

          All the laws you require are already in place. There are already labelling scheme in operation that do exactly the sort of thing you want. In fact, since the organic label already guarantees no GMOs, the labels you want already exist.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

            “I agree it’s beyond an individual. But why do you think it’s not reasonable for a group to do it? How do you expect groups like the government of food manufacturers to do it if you think that’s impossible?”

            Common sense is why. What group is going to have the latitude and power and infrastructure to label all GMO foods?

            “Yes? So? If it’s not GMO then label it non-GMO.”

            You still miss the point: that a no-gmo label does not automatically identify al other foods, per my example.

            “In fact, since the organic label already guarantees no GMOs, the labels you want already exist.”

            You still don’t get it. Refer to my second comment and the comment to which you responded here….learn what “commercially raised” food is, then maybe it will make sense to you and to the ones who “thumbs up” your comments.

            Criticial thinking skills needed here…

          • Nullius in Verba

            You don’t have to label all non-GMO foods. You only have to label enough for the people who want them.

            There doesn’t have to be just one group.

            And you didn’t answer the question – if you think it’s impossible for “groups” to do so, why do you think food manufacturers, who are just another ‘group’ would be able to? It’s logically inconsistent.

            A non-GMO label automatically labels all other food as “May contain GMOs”. Why is that not sufficient for your purposes?

            All food produced for sale, including ‘organic’, is “commercially raised”. That’s what the words mean: raised for commerce. You’re apparently speaking in code.

            Indeed they are…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

      Some good pints here. The author of the article seems to live in a bubble and lacks the ethos of natural living. Organics can feed the planet; it has been shown in many studies. GMO is a profit and pilfer game and those who promote it justify the evil.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jrayn Jennifer Rayn Hopton

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120425140114.htm

        According to this study (and others) “Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture” by Verena
        Seufert, Navin Ramankutty and Jonathan Foley − indicates that organic
        crops yield 25 percent less overall than conventional crops. But
        speaking as an organic inspector, I must report, regrettably, that
        things are actually a lot worse for the organic activist mob.” The article then goes on to explain that the organic fields are surrounded by conventional fields so the organic fields are being protected from pests through the pesticides of conventional fields also, there appears to be a bit of cheating in the organic fields, by the use of chemical fertilizers. GMO companies may profit, but that is only because it is a product that works. There is a place for organic farming, but it can’t feed the world without clearing more land.

      • Kevin Bonham

        What exactly does “lacks the ethos of natural living” mean? Many organic crops are farmed using unsustainable industrial farming techniques. You can blast a plant with radiation or chemical mutagens and then use selective breeding to get the traits you want and still be labeled organic.

        If you use a computer or a cell phone, you’re not living naturally. What’s so bad about using technology to improve the way we grow food?

  • Blade Avuari

    I think that the only problem I would have with lablement is scary decrease of font size on some products.

  • JonFrum

    A somewhat different take on the subject, so I’m starting a new comment thread. In spite of the fact that GM seed cannot be purchased on the retail market, and there are very few GM vegetable lines available. ‘organic’ seed retailers are already advertising their product as ‘non-GMO.’ Here’s one:

    http://www.rareseeds.com/about/

    So they know that there are no GMO carrots or peppers or lettuce, but they use anti-GMO to work up the rubes. I saw a second company doing the same thing last week. These people will not be satisfied with an ingredient label.

  • stellula calliope

    I agree with what you have said for the most part, but I worry that perceptions of GMOs are different between China, France, and the US. As a US citizen, I know many of my friends refuse to believe that GMOs are safe no matter how many times I explain what they are and the benefits or what evidence I supply. They’ve already decided that GMOs are bad, partly because they feel like it’s “playing god” and partly because they are paranoid and distrustful of science. I think that in areas like mine where people can afford to shop around, there is a good chance that GMO labeled products, especially if the labels imply negativity, will lose a substantial amount of business. Hopefully it would be buffered out by less response from other areas in the States.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      Thanks. I think this is a very reasonable fear. That said, the research indicates that consumers in other countries are actually far more hostile to GMOs than even consumers in the United States. So if labeling has minimal impact elsewhere, it seems reaosonable to project minimal impact here.

      • http://www.facebook.com/caroline.chin.779 Caroline Chin

        Isn’t it true that in countries where there are mandatory labeling less than 5% of packaged food in their supermarkets contain GMOs. Labeling in Europe means very little GMO foods.

    • dogctor

      There is a huge difference between “theoretical” safety “in vitro” and clinical safety ” in vivo.”

      Do you have a statistically powered epidemiological study to cite on prevalence rates of obesity, diabetes, renal failure, IBD, eiosinophillic esophagitis, pediatric inflammatory bowel disease, fertility rates, miscarriage rates– being equivalent in populations eating GMOs and populations eating organic foods?

    • gracie08

      you would have more sucess at explaining God than you would
      the safety of GMO foods.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    Saying that we should label GMO food because pro-biotech proponents are going to lose the battle against labeling (as Mr. Namm does in his comment below in response to a reader) is not an honest endorsement of labels. It is strategizing and lacks integrity. Nor is endorsing labels simply because there is nothing to hide (i.e., ) logical, reasonable, or an argument with integrity. Labeling is an effort and there is no reason to exert that effort simply because it does no harm but because it is presumably does some good. The argument for labeling because of nothing to hide is akin, say, to saying that we should put orange stickers on all fruit simply because the stickers do no harm. But why do it all? There needs to be a positive reason for doing so. What Mr. Naam is in effect saying in this article, then, is that from a pro-biotech point of view there is no harm in labeling and because he and biotech supporters are going to lose anyway, they should promote labels, when in fact they don’t believe they are necessary to begin with.

    The fact is that the labeling issue exists because there are significant dangers to GMO farming methods, production, and ingestion and, as I mentioned below, these range from loss of soil biodiversity, adding more injury to the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi where nothing grows for hundreds of square miles, further damage to indigeneous peoples, pollution of waterways, of the air, and untold injuries to human beings, for which we currently have no way to trace illness and degenerative disease to GMOs. Pro-GMO talking heads say that no diseases have been reported due to GMO ingestion (despite so much lab rat indication that GMO would indeed injure humans), but this is a logical fallacy because there is no established scientific means to associate the two.

    All this was made possible under the farce of “substantial equivalence” set forth by Quayle and the noble ex-Monsanto attorney Michael Taylor who colluded to make this loophole in our food security system possible.

    Organics are the answer and always have been, despite the propaganda put out the biotech industry that says otherwise. Here’s just one still relevant document:

    http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4060

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    Mr. Naam, would it not also help your transparency to mention your apparently heavy affiliation with Microsoft? Bill Gates and his world-wide GMO indoctrination plan are not far behind, perhaps lending some bias to your pro-GMO position?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramez_Naam

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      I left Microsoft in late 2009. I have no relationship with Microsoft, the Gates Foundation, or Bill Gates.

    • http://twitter.com/PythaCrank PythagoreanCrank

      MICRO$OFT $HILL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    To promote GMO is a narrow-minded compassionless path, if one cares to look beyond one’s pocketbook and cronies at Microsoft and in biotech:

    Here is the problem facing Mexico with GMOs:

    “https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_Monsanto_in_Mexico/

    And here is the result of farmer suicides in India associated with GMO cotton, after it was suspected that Monsanto untruthfully influenced the results of a study investigating the suicides due to failed GMO crops:

    “The IFPRI’s report has been criticized for relying on Monsanto studies, which conflict with the studies of the Andhra Pradesh provincial government, and for selective use of data.[30]As of August 2012, technical experts appointed by the India Supreme Court have recommended a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM food, as well as the termination of all current trials of transgenic crops.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers'_suicides_in_India

  • http://www.facebook.com/wisefool MC Eschaton

    Monsanto has done significant damage to the public perception of GMO’s, and the fact that they’ve gone as far as to hire THEIR OWN FREAKING ARMY to help them undermine their opposition speaks volumes about their level of morality in dealing with their consumers. Not only do the ends never justify the means, but since they also appear to be in a position to possibly have total control over what the safety test results say, we can no longer have any confidence in what exactly “the ends” may be…But at least this article is honest enough to admit that labeling is a good idea, anyone opposed to sharing such knowledge with the public has an agenda that needs to be uncovered.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.colegrove.94 Chris Colegrove

    Gmo’s are bad,Let’s stick with what we had! Organic culture’s rad,but it isn’t just a fad.It’s taken many,many,years,of toil,pain,sweat and tears.To learn to work with Mother Nature.Instead of trying to legislate her!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    Some science for you:

    “However, a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops:

    Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops

    Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts

    Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety

    Do not increase yield potential

    Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it

    Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops

    Have mixed economic effects

    Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity

    Do not offer effective solutions to climate change

    Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops

    Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.”

    http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58%22%C2%A0

    • http://www.facebook.com/ramez.naam Ramez Naam

      Not a credible source. Compare that to the reports from the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Commission, the World Health Organization, the Royal Society,etc.. All the mainstream, credible science organizations find GMOs safe and a benefit to the environment. See http://rameznaam.com/2013/04/28/the-evidence-on-gmo-safety/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    The GMO game is a farce. GMOs are unnecessary. Therefore, all this to-do about labeling and science for GMOs and the whole agro-business is a superfluous and burdensome weight on an already struggling world.

    GMOs have been foisted upon the world as a burden for the profit of a select few, who concoct phony justifications for their existence, then strategize for whatever control they can maintain, as the author proposes here for labeling, when he does not even think labeling is necessary. Integrity is evidently not in his or biotech’s lexicon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003911485563 Facebook User

    Lead and mercury were once considered safe weren’t they? Considered safe by some of the brightest scientific mind. Be a moron a burn yourself again and again. You better not burn my children though

  • Kevin Bonham

    I’ve thought for a while that companies should voluntarily label their products with something like: “Look at this fantastic corn we used! It’s genetically modified to reduce the need for pesticides!” Consumers like cool technology, and they like buying stuff that seems high tech.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=634768901 Matt Anderson

    “balanced” reporting didn’t do much good for childhood vaccinations, either. i gotta say, though, this piece stuck with me throughout the week. i’ve thought about at length and still respectfully disagree with your proposal.

    http://www.cjr.org/feature/sticking_with_the_truth.php?page=all

    “While it’s somewhat reassuring that almost half the US stories (41 percent) tried, to varying degrees, to rebut the vaccine-autism connection, the study raises the problem of “objectivity” in stories for which a preponderance of evidence is on one side of a “debate.” In such cases, “balanced” coverage can be irresponsible, because it suggests a controversy where none really exists. (Think climate change, and how such he-said-she-said coverage helped sustain the illusion of a genuine debate within the science community.) A follow-up study by Clarke and Graham Dixon, published in November 2012, makes this point. The two scholars assigned 320 undergrads to read either a “balanced” article or one that was one-sided for or against a link between vaccines and autism. Those students who read the “balanced” articles were far more likely to believe that a link existed than those who read articles that said no link exits.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    Here is a neat site on GMO evidence….lots of good studies, including a new one on the toxicity of Bt-toxin:

    http://gmoevidence.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    Here is some good information on why we need labels and why we need them for reasons other than “there is nothing to hide.” There is plenty trying to hide…

    http://gmoevidence.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1704020986 Jack Weber

    And it is not very convincing or trustworthy for a Bill Gates crony (per his affiliation with Microsoft) like Mr. Naam to give an unbiased report on GMO labels.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Take.Me.To.Ur.Leader Mike Militello

    pretty sure the rat with the swollen belly did it for me idk

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

    Labeling simply capitulates to fear, fear driven by non-scientific activists that want to rule by mob force over reason. More information is usually good. The problem here is that even if you use a gentle, informative label it does two things: 1. It says that there’s something you need to know to separate the product from others, when evidence does not say so, and 2. Activists have no problem lying and scaring people. That hurts customer choice, could affect farmers and is anti-scientific. Once that label is on food you’ll see the flood of websites, fake news articles and bad science showing lumpy rats, dead cows and kids with allergies. They are shameless and will use any means to achieve their goal– to smash biotechnology.

    Let’s be wise and make decisions based on science. Let’s listen to independent scientists (like me!) that know this area. NEVER make a decision based on fear. The more you know, the less you fear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Hargraves/1665342655 Robert Hargraves

    Participate in the discussions of labeling choices. This is an opportunity to document the benefits of GMOs. What about the cost of food, $/Calorie? Drought tolerance leading to stable food supply, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Hargraves/1665342655 Robert Hargraves

    The people who fear GMOs are likely the same as fear nuclear power. Education is our best tool.

  • http://www.granitegeek.org DaveBrooks

    Good argument – this GMO supporter agrees entirely. Label them to throttle the conspiracy theorists then do the hard work of informing the public.

    Information is good.

  • McNamara

    64 countries worldwide presently label for GMO

    The “only” reasons that the U.S. does not have labeling, is because of the “hold” the Bio Tech industry have on our regulatory process and the tens of millions they infuse to block every states labeling initiative.

    Simply said, in America: $$$= Outcomes

  • PeterKenneth24

    Good job with the post. thank you for sharing. http://www.john-valenty.com

  • http://beginingsinwriting.wordpress.com/ R.w. Foster

    Funny think about those polls: If you front load it about GMO labelling, of course you’re gonna see 80+% saying they want it labeled. If you don’t, you won’t. For example, if your survey question is: “Do you think GMOs should be labeled?”, you’ll get the 80+% saying yes. If your survey question is, “What do you want to see on food labels that’s not there?” The number goes a LOT lower.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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