Let’s start with the opening sentence:
Ordinary Americans should not be forced to act as human guinea pigs for a real-time study on the long-term health impact of genetically engineered foods.
This human guinea pig trope pops up frequently in the anti-GMO discourse. (I’ll be returning to it in a moment.) Moving on, we come to this gem several paragraphs down (my emphasis):
Industrywide, no long-term studies on the side effects of these foods have been conducted, leaving us with little to no knowledge of the health effects of these foods that are rapidly invading dinner tables across America.
Hmm. There’s something odd about the way that is phrased. In any case, let’s assume the author is trying to say there is a lack of research on the safety of genetically modified foods. I suppose I could refer you to this nice round-up of authoritative statements on the safety issue by Ramez Naam, but it’s more fun to cite Grist:
Is there any evidence that genetically modified food is directly harmful to people who eat it? There’s a one-word answer to this: no.
To save time I’m going to skip over the sillier parts of the piece so we can get to where the author cites a highly criticized 2012 French study, which she says “underscores the need for more comprehensive safety studies into these [GMO] foods.”
Of course! That infamous rat study–no matter how much it’s been discredited— is the gift that keeps on giving to GMO opponents.
Now we come to the end of the column, which is my favorite:
Most of us probably know someone over the past 10 to 15 years who has started to experience a vast array of health issues that appear to be food-related. Every day, I hear more and more people complaining about allergies they never had before. And children, in particular, appear to be much more allergic to a vast array of food items than in previous generations.
I can’t tell you whether this is all because of genetically modified foods. And that’s the point of my legislation — we just don’t know.
Until we do, a simple little label can give consumers the power to make the choice on their own of whether they want to consume such food.
Taken as a whole, this piece–its reasoning–reflects the state of the GMO discourse. This is where it’s at. GMOs should be labeled so people aren’t human guinea pigs. Put another way, here’s a quote from a recent op-ed in Live Science (my emphasis):
“The introduction of genetically modified organisms into the American food supply is a grand experiment,” said Ann Yonkers, co-director of Fresh Farm Markets and a leader in the sustainable-farming movement. “We should be using the precautionary principle with GMOs, and assume that GMOs have to be demonstrated to be good rather than assume that they are good.”
This human experiment frame is popular in the anti-GMO orbit. Here are just a few examples plucked from Twitter:
The only way to opt out of the greatest human experiment that is #GMOs is to have a choice. And for that to happen, they must be labeled!
— Joshua A. Kunau (@jkunau) July 20, 2011
— CARightToKnow (@CARightToKnow) August 11, 2012
GMOs exposed – an experiment on man and nature. http://t.co/NxVkUHhSIF
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStreV) June 24, 2013
This talking point, while increasingly used, is not new. In the mid-2000s, prominent Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki told an interviewer: “We are now unwittingly part of a mass science experiment.”
Today it is part of the standard conversation on GMOs. Here is a recent Larry King segment (post CNN):
This should give you a sense of the anti-GMO hysteria spreading across the United States. There’s a reason why Chipotle and Whole Foods are swearing off genetically modified foods. It’s not because they suddenly realized that GMOs are part of some spooky science experiment. It’s because their customers have been scared witless by the food and anti-GMO movements.