Prominent Biotech Booster: Time to Label GMOs

By Keith Kloor | October 17, 2013 1:52 am

One of biotechnology’s most articulate allies has laid down the gauntlet:

My challenge to the biotechnology industry – the whole food industry in general in fact – is very clear. You have to stop opposing labelling. Instead, you have to embrace the consumer right to know.

To lose this entire debate to a motley coalition of anti-vaccine quacks, organic food charlatans, naturopathic nutjobs and magic soap manufacturers would not just be a tragedy for humanity, it would be frankly rather embarrassing. This cannot be allowed to happen.

The whole speech from British environmental writer Mark Lynas is well worth reading. His argument echoes that made by Ramez Raam at Collide-a-Scape earlier in the year, who wrote:

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?

I’ve said all along that the right-to-know argument is disingenuous. But as Lynas says in his speech, anti-GMO campaigners have “come up with a winning argument,” despite it having no scientific basis:

With labelling the antis have discovered a clever wedge issue that levers ordinary people – who don’t necessarily share the naturalistic ideology and anti-capitalist worldview of the activists – onto their side. It’s a ‘right to know’, one of the most powerful political demands of our time.

It’s time the biotech industry recognize they have lost this battle and came out in favor of mandatory labeling, Lynas says. He makes a persuasive case, but he has his work cut out for him.

On Wednesday I attended a press conference that introduced the three recipients of this year’s World Food Prize. They are pioneering biotech scientists. One of them, Mary-Dell Chilton, responded to a question on GMO labeling initiatives this way:

It will be the death of the technology in a real sense if we have obligatory labeling.

She may really believe this, but Chilton’s ominous fear for the future of her field strikes me as overwrought as the fear of biotechnology that many anti-GMO crusaders have.

UPDATE 10/17: I just caught up with this great NPR piece (listen to the audio version, too) on the GMO labeling debate.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs, select
  • Buddy199

    The only reason the anti-GMO Flat Earth Society is winning the argument is because the left-leaning mainstream media never rouses any compulsion to go after any group or individual they feel ideological sympathy toward. Thus, the mountain of solid scientific evidence regarding the safety of GMO’s just doesn’t fall into the category of what they consider “All the news that’s fit to print.”

    • Eric Tucker

      Well, a lab of very “Renowned scientists” in Ireland was hired by the Irish government to investigate Monsanto’s GMO potatoes. They found the bacteria used for modification posed no harm and that potatoes posed no harm. However, when the DNA of the bacteria was combined with the potatoes for herbicide resistance, it did create a ‘likely’ harmful product. That lab was immediately dismantled and all of it’s previously “Renowned scientists” were fired. Just curious why scientists that believe something harmful must be ‘silenced’ in order to have a fair and balanced debate?

      If GMOs are going to ‘save the world’, why are their makers NOT so proud to advertise them on the package?

      • Loren Eaton

        Citation please. When did this happen?

        • Eric Tucker
          • Loren Eaton

            Top Documentary films??? That’s a reach!

          • Eric Tucker

            A reach? Really? Why does watching a documentary seem ‘questionable’ to you? I took the time to watch it, because I value information. The more of it I have, the more honest my choices can be. If you wish to be imprisoned by a single view, go for it. I believe in knowledge and choice. I am a very well educated person, with extensive experience in electrical engineering, nuclear physics and chemistry, as well as 7 years of teaching computer services technologies at a college. I don’t believe everything I see, but at least I’m willing to watch, listen, discuss and learn. You asked for a citation, watch the film, note the Irish Bio-Chemists, and do your research. I trust that they were NOT just some actors. If you don’t, research them yourself.

          • Loren Eaton

            I have no problem with documentaries…when its actually a documentary and not biased propaganda. The VERY first scene shows the agenda of the producers. “I’m not a murderer.” You can pretty much look at the rest of it with a jaundiced eye. Long on hyperbole, short on facts. A ‘likely’ harmful product? Did they say what it was? Did they go public without proof? If they did then its no better than Pusztai, Carman or Seralini.

          • Eric Tucker

            So, you didn’t watch the documentary. If you had, you would have likely written down the name of the researchers in Ireland and investigated them. Instead, you discount the entire film and every person in it, because you see them as ‘the enemy’ of your beliefs. That is your right, but it shows to me that you are not interested in views that may oppose your own, and therefore you are no scientist or researcher. Nor, are you someone truly open to learning, unless it supports your own agenda.

            It appears to me that you are only interested in ‘correcting’ the views of those that oppose your own. So, my now my question to you is, Are you paid by someone to play on these sites? Are you paid to ‘lobby’ the public to convince us that GMOs are safe and ‘natural’ and that any opposing view to that is “Long on hyperbole, short on facts?”

            Please, show me one study that proves GMO crops are NOT capable of spreading to non-GMO farmer’s fields. Show me that the GMO makers are NOT then suing those farmers into bankruptcy, for having the GMO crops appear in their fields, for ‘patent’ infringement. Show me the studies that the weeds to not build intolerance to the herbicides and therefore even more potent herbicides have to be developed. Show me how that cycle is healthy for the world’s food supply, rather than just healthy for the profit margins of the corporations getting us ‘hooked’ on their products.

            Their are many reasons to oppose companies like Monsanto. GMOs are NOT proven to be safe, either as food or as a species on the planet we ALL must share.

      • Buddy199


        1) A soon as they do opponents in a blaze of non sequitor logic will point to that as de facto proof that GMO’s are dangerous since they require labeling to distinguish them from safe “regular” food.

        2) Once that canard has gained enough traction with the help of the sympathetic mainstream media, Dr. Oz types and hollow-headed Hollywood celebrities, the PR and lobbying campaign will get under way to ban these dangerous products. For the sake of children, of course.

        3) When the polls show that 51% of the public agrees with the new narrative a stampede of politicians will “evolve” to be in favor of outlawing GMO products.

        4) Millions of people in developing countries will lose access to a more robust food supply and the greater ability to move out of subsistence living that goes with it. People in developed countries will pay more for food that isn’t scientifically proven to be superior in any way to GMO products.

        The old “follow the money” rule applies here as well. Who benefits financially from the campaign to extinguish GMO products as a source of business competition? Who raises their celebrity status and income by thumping the tub on the anti-GMO band wagon?

        • mem_somerville

          #1 = exactly right. That’s precisely what happened with vaccines. Removing the mercury compound became proof that it was dangerous. How’d that work out for us?

          • alqpr

            Please don’t use the word “us” around me!

        • alqpr


        • RG

          I think you are absolutely right.

          It is a bit naïve to assume that a ubiquitous label would knock the wind out of folks Mr. Lynas calls “a motley coalition of anti-vaccine quacks, organic food charlatans, naturopathic nutjobs and magic soap manufacturers”.

          I think it would embolden them to move from label
          campaigns to outright banning campaigns.

          As Mr Lynas stresses, there is no scientific case to be made for labeling. In trying to win over the main steam by conceding to an unscientific label it might open the door to restricting the technology he endorses. I’d rather not take that chance, keep our mandated labeling science-based.

        • Eric Tucker

          I do NOT trust companies like Monsanto with my safety. Monsanto has proven time and again that they will deliberately lie about the harm they know their products can and have caused, in order to make a profit.

          I do NOT shop at Walmart, because I do not like their business practices. That is my right and my choice.

          I do NOT want to consume any GMO product produced by Monsanto, because I do NOT trust them with my safety. History shows that they will NOT put consumer safety above their profits. So, I have a RIGHT to know which foods are GMO, so that I can make the choice to NOT support Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, etc.

          The choice should be mine and mine alone, as to what food I want to eat or feed to my child. And, to choose which companies are allowed to profit from my purchases.

          Also, please do not assume I’m just some uneducated liberal. I am a very well educated man that worked for GE Medical Systems as a electronics technician, installing and repairing CAT scan and MRI machines. I eventually moved on to work as a water chemist and radiological controls professional in nuclear power plants. So, although I am no bio-engineer, nor do I have a PHD in biochemistry, I do have the right to make educated choices. And, my education tells me to avoid anything from a company like Monsanto, regardless of how safe they claim their current product to be.

          • itsakerfuffle

            But labeling something as GMO doesn’t tell you whether or not the seed was made by Monsanto, etc. Those companies all make non-GMO seed, too. And to know what companies profit from your purchases, you’d have to have a list of every company involved in every step of every product you buy. I honestly don’t say how a “may contain GMO” label gets you to the goal you describe in this post.

          • Eric Tucker

            It gives me the choice to avoid all GMOs, if I so choose. Does I-522 go far enough? No. But, it is a start.

            I will vote yes for I-522 here in Washington State. And, no amount of money injected into the fight against labeling will change that.

            Do you still believe DTTs, PCBs and Dioxins are safe? I mean, really, their ‘scientists’ claimed they were perfectly safe.

            Just as the Pharmaceutical company that claimed ‘Prempro’ was safe, even though they knew it would KILL women and was the cause of my mom’s breast cancer. They all got rich, no one went to jail and my mom has been embroiled in a lawsuit for almost 8 years trying to recover the $500,000.00 she lost to medical bills, not to mention her breasts, glands and other tissues that were lost. Strange, they admit they lied about their own studies, but continue to fight to deny paying her bills.

            So, do I trust ANY corporation with my safety? Not when their profits are involved.

            But hey, isn’t that might RIGHT? Don’t I have the right to NOT trust companies like PG&E, Dow, Monsanto, SCJohnson, Walmart? Don’t I have the right to ‘boycott’ their products, if I don’t trust them or like their business practices? How can I do that, if they are allowed to put their products on the market under a veil of secrecy?

        • 3Point_Pete1

          The Scientism cult are exactly as you say. Ironically, they themselves are:

          1. Evolution deniers. They long denied that herbicide and insecticide resistance would be the inevitable result of GMO deployment. Then they denied it was happening. Now that they have no choice but to admit it (and celebrate it, since it’s part of their propaganda on behalf of “second generation” HT varieties) they still deny that escalating the number of transgenes will do nothing but escalate the ever-more toxic bioweapons arms race which the weeds and bugs will certainly win once and for all. They also deny evolution in their support for subtherapeutic antibiotics use and the use of antibiotic resistance markers in genetic engineering, since no sane person who understands how microbes evolve resistance to antibiotics would want such practices to exist.

          2. Creationists. The only difference between their theology and that of other creationist sects is that they see themselves or their technocratic heroes as deities in the laboratory, Creating a “true” world to replace this Fallen one. They probably think the Big Bang took place in some vast physics lab, which is ensconced in another, and so on forever. They’re among the most insane and stupid of cultists, real scum.

      • Charles Rader

        I, for one, am rather annoyed that this GMO issue seems to keep being mixed up with a left/right political orientation. I consider myself politically liberal. I also value rationality and honesty. These are two different dimensions. George McGovern was a supporter of the GMO science, as is Jimmie Carter.

        • Eric Tucker

          I agree that it is not about right/left political orientation. It is a consumer rights issue. As a consumer, I have a right to know what I am buying. That is what this issue is about. Those that oppose labeling only seem to have ONE primary argument, “Labeling will make the cost of GM foods go up.” I’m not sure how that will happen, because their secondary argument is that people will ‘irrationally’ avoid GM foods, which would cause demand to go down, which would in fact cause the prices to go down as well. So, in the end, it would seem the actual argument against GM labeling, is a fear that demand and prices for GM products would go down, discounting their argument about rising costs. And, it would seem to me that this would NOT harm consumers.

          • Charles Rader

            Eric, you haven’t exactly understood the argument about GMO labeling and prices. Although, at least you are reasoning about it.

            When you talk about the price of food, you must talk about the price of all food. If we agree that some people will choose non-GMO food over GMO food, that will reduce the demand for GMO food and increase the demand for non-GMO food, tending to increase costs for some people and decrease costs for other people. I don’t pretend to know what the average of these two effects will be.

            But demand is not the only food cost issue. If labels are mandatory and if they don’t simply allow a “may contain” label, then accurate labeling requires segregating commodities that are now co-mingled. That has to impose cost on the supply side.

            But I’m not personally much worried about a few cents more or less in food prices. I’m seriously offended by the anti-GMO propaganda campaign.

            And I sincerely hope that you will agree that a campaign based on a consumer’s right to know should not be allowed to be combined with a widespread campaign of misinformation and deception.

          • Eric Tucker

            I don’t think Pepsi is going to see a decrease in sales, because the GM based corn syrup in their products would require them to label the can, “Contains GMO.” That is the argument so many in the Anti-Label campaign seem to want me to be concerned about.

            As for ‘co-mingled,’ your logic slips by me? Using GM corn to make corn syrup as an example. Either GM corn is being used or it isn’t. If it’s only 10% GM corn mixed with 90% non-GM corn, it still contains GM corn and I believe it should be labeled as such.

            I get that commodities would required to be kept separately to make a product that is not required to carry a GMO label. And, that may add some cost to production of non-GMO foods, in places that also utilize GM products.

            I don’t have a problem with that. As I wrote above, Pepsi will continue to use GM Corn for corn syrup and Pepsi drinkers will continue to buy Pepsi. The only affect labeling will have on Pepsi, is paying an employee (who is likely already on the clock) to type in a few words to the computer that controls their label printer. That cost would be insignificant, just as the impact of a GMO label will be to their sales.

            Yet, Pepsi has pumped millions through the GMA slush fund to fight I-522 here in Washington State.

            Costs of labeling and food costs are just not logical arguments against labeling. Fear of losing customers seems to be the real argument they are making. Which for Pepsi, is the most irrational thing I could imagine.

          • Charles Rader

            Eric you are partway to understanding me, but not completely.

            Assuming that being sourced from a GMO plant is a sensible category, there are three possibilities. A product, say high fructose corn syrup, can be 100 % GMO sourced, 100% non-GMO sourced, or something in between. If Pepsi has the option of labeling the soda as “may contain GMO”, and if Pepsi chooses to do that, then the only non-psychological cost incurred is that negligible cost of changing the label. But if Pepsi is forced to choose between “contains GMO” or “contains no GMO”, as a matter of simple truth it’s necessary to segregate ingredients that it would be cheaper and more efficient to co-mingle.

            You are right that the labeling cost is not the big gorilla in the room. You are right that it is the fear of losing customers to the propaganda campaign. And in the case of something like HFCS, or sugar, or vegetable oil, etc, the propaganda campaign is outright deceptive, because the GMO alternative and the non-GMO alternative are identical.*


            * Well, the products are identical. There are also people whose objection to GMO food has nothing to do with safety, but who want to punish or boycott the big companies behind the GMO. If that is the motivation for labeling, which is an honest issue of consumer choice, such consumers would get some useful information from a mandatory label. But I question whether it is appropriate to mandate such a label. No law should be enacted to assist a boycott.

          • Eric Tucker

            I do not like that you refer to anti-GMO as a ‘propaganda campaign.’ However, I understand your point of view, even though I disagree with one conclusion. The label of “Substantially equivalent” may imply “identical,” but that was the actual ‘propaganda’ initiated by Monsanto in order to fast track FDA approval. There are no long term studies showing whether or not health consequences may exist. And, when it comes to food supply in the U.S., I don’t think Monsanto’s calling something “substantially equivalent” at all equates to safety. Not with their long history of harming people and the environment.

            Perhaps the sugar refined from GMO sugar cane or GMO corn is identical to sugar refined from non-GMO sources. However, I would never trust a corporation that produces a study that promotes its own products. Not with the last 100 years of a corporate history of Profits Before People.


            If Monsanto were in the ‘natural’ seed business, I would not expect to see a label stating, “Made from Monsanto” just so that I could boycott it. However, I do not trust Monsanto or the industry they pioneered with regard to genetic modification. These companies will do whatever necessary to promote their products, including huge efforts to discredit anyone who produces evidence that might harm their bottom line. That is NOT science. For that reason, I want the choice to ‘boycott’ all GMO products, without regard to the actual corporation behind it. Just as I want to see “Made In China” on a product, so that I can choose NOT to buy it as well. You know, a law that was “enacted to assist a boycott,” and encourage buying products “Made in the U.S.A.”

      • Pieter Breitner

        “That lab was immediately dismantled and all of it’s previously “Renowned scientists” were fired.”

        [citation needed]

  • mem_somerville

    Chilton is “overwrought”? Or is she assessing the existing data about places where there are labels? Perhaps she’s looking at the EU, where this experiment has been run. We have the results.

    I have asked before, but nobody will play–what are your realistic predictions for the desired outcomes of labeling 10 years out? Will it reduce allergies/cancer/toxins/autism? Yeah, right. Will it eliminate herbicide? Snorf. Will it destroy patents? As if.

    Will it stop the shouting? Not a chance.

    • Keith Kloor

      Well, I don’t think it will stop the shouting. But I still think the pro-GMO, pro-label camp is making a persuasive case.

      • mem_somerville

        How are you persuaded? I’m persuaded by data, and I haven’t seen any that convinces me this accomplishes anything. Can you show me the data?

        • alqpr

          There are actually values which are more important than to have “increased the utilization of this technology”

          • Keith Kloor

            What values are you referring to? Can you be be specific?

          • alqpr

            Well there are many of course, but specifically as might be impacted by the decision to label, I would say that having people not be denied access to what they consider possibly important information is a big one. It may not accelerate the adoption of *this* technology but it is fundamental to the operation of an open and honest society.

            Secrecy, on the other hand doesn’t just feed paranoia – it also supports the argument that what is called paranoia is not.

          • mem_somerville

            Please give more of the “many”, but I’m particularly interested in those that have analogous labels on products.

          • alqpr

            I will assume that you are asking for consequences of a product labeling policy that I would consider more important than whether or not it increases the market penetration of GM food products. The first couple below are actually reasons why I support labeling, the others are in my opinion NOT good reasons for GMO labeling at this time but they nonetheless do correspond to values that are more important than merely promoting the technology for its own sake.

            The one I mentioned above is meeting the consumers right to know whatever they choose to ask about (if they do so in sufficient numbers to justify the diversion of label space from other matters)

            Maintaining a justified high level of consumer confidence in manufacturer integrity is another one (which has been adversely affected by resistance to GMO labeling).

            Increasing, or at least not decreasing general health is another. In this case not one on which I would expect GMO labeling to actually cause any improvement, but the value it addresses is definitely more important than increasing GMO market share for its own sake.

            Protecting even small at-risk groups from allergenic products is another. Again, *probably* not a factor with GMOs, but in my opinion related to a more important value than the market share.

          • mem_somerville

            No, I’m interested in “values” that you think should require government labels on products. Not safety/health issues–that’s exactly what labels should be reserved for.

            Because I can imagine the next administration could be one that has different “values” from me and wants to label things with their values. Maybe birth control pills, for example. And I don’t think “values” are what the government should be labeling.

            And I’d like other examples of products that we label with values due to government regulations.

          • alqpr

            I think I’ve been quite clear enough to substantiate my claim that there are values which are more important than increasing market penetration of a particular technology – and that nothing more needs to be said on that score.

            But just for interest’s sake let me point out that we also control labeling to ensure that consumers are not misled as to things like provenance (national, regional, and brand for example) and appropriate usage scenarios (eg indoor vs outdoor paint) – which go well beyond mere health and safety issues. In such cases we are not labeling “with” values but are motivated *by* values (such as fairness, economic well-being, etc)

          • mem_somerville

            Indoor paint is a value, and a government mandated label? Wow, I had no idea.

            I think for one of us the world “value” is unclear.

          • alqpr

            I don’t know if your problem is with misunderstanding the word “value” or inability to figure out the meaning of a compound sentence, but either way any further response to you after this would be pointless.

          • Gaythia

            I’d call democracy a very important value. And democracy is dependent on an informed populace by which wise choices can be made. It is because I too can imagine that the next administration could have different values from me that I would want to actively do what I can now to promote disclosure. Because I do fear what could happen behind closed doors.
            “GMO” is not a value. But it is a fairly incomplete bit of food sourcing information. The answer to that is not to shut down labeling but to work towards it’s expansion. That is the process that is taking place with food ingredients labeling. The institution of, and improvements in, food ingredient labeling, has of course been opposed by the same corporatist interests as are at work here.

          • Buddy199

            The consumer’s right to know is a worthwhile goal. IF they are supplied with accurate information. Otherwise the consumer is making a bad choice based on falsehood. The great weight of scientific and public health evidence supports the idea that GMO products are safe and beneficial. But that message isn’t getting through to the consumer because the mainstream media sympathizes with the anti-corporatist bent of the anti-GMO crowd, willingly giving voice and credibility to a lot of their sheer nonsense. It’s not as if the scientific literature on GMO’s is difficult for a reporter to find. But a hammer ignores everything that doesn’t look like a nail, and with rare exception (Kloor) reporters of a liberal bent will not hunt down a story disparaging other liberals, such as the anti-GMO movement, with the same enthusiasm and journalistic ruthlessness that they would show toward, say, Monsanto. Yes, the conservative media very often does the same in ideological reverse, no doubt about it. But in the case of GMO’s there is a scarcity of “fair and balanced” reporting even in what many might consider the center of the media – PBS and many other major organs. They promulgate a lot of unscientific, poorly sourced nonsense as “news” that the public then absorbs as “fact”. A public poorly informed by a sloppy press can’t make an intelligent decision about GMO’s or anything else for that matter, how could they?

          • alqpr

            So, your solution to having a poorly informed public is to keep information from them. ….Real smart!!

          • Buddy199

            If enough people demand that we label products as containing evil spirits does it make sense to do so if there is zero scientific evidence of such? Giving in to goofiness just encourages more goofiness.

          • alqpr

            Don’t be stupid. The GMO labeling demand is not demanding anything but the truth (which just happens to be something *you* claim we can’t handle). Unlike evil spirits, GMOs do exist and no-one is demanding that their presence be indicated when they are not in fact there. That kind of silly response from someone purporting to represent “the science” is a good part of the reason why many people don’t trust the science.

          • Charles Rader

            Actually, alqpr, when you look at the actual texts of the proposed GMO labeling laws, they always include a preamble that explains the purpose the law would serve. And without exception, those reasons are based on false statements. For example, California’s Prop 37, in its preamble, was full of false and scary claims.

            The very least eggregious example I can find is the bill proposed by DeFazio, HR1699, which says only that “the process of genetically engineering food organisms results in material changes to food derived from those organisms”. But this is at least misleading since all sorts of other breeding techniques and growing conditions result in very mach larger changes. And it is outright false for the large majority of GMO ingredients for which it would require labels, highly processed ingredients containing no DNA or protein which are chemically indistinguishable from the non-GMO equivalent.

          • alqpr

            Falsehoods circulated by some supporters of labeling (or by anyone else) should of course be corrected and definitely kept out of any actual enabling legislation. But the demand itself is usually just for the addition of a true fact to the label.

          • Eric Tucker

            So, GMO labeling is equivalent to ‘evil spirits’ labeling?

            Being as companies like Monsanto have a very long history of falsifying data to claim that their products are safe: Dioxins, DDTs, PCBs, Aspartame, etc., they have not earned the trust of consumers and may never be able to do so.

            Somehow though, you equate consumer distrust of the industry they created and lead in as equivalent to someone’s belief in ‘evil spirits?’ Yet, there is plenty of SCIENCE to prove the harm this company has caused people and the environment. DDTs still infest our oceans.

            GM foods may or may not be safe for consumption. What is very clear, is that these GM crops are spreading to, and contaminating, corn that has been naturally bread for over 500 years in Mexico. The GM DNA is appearing, where GMOs are banned. This is science run amok for financial gain. Where is the Jonas Salk in this tale? Where is the scientist that wants to save the world, without asking, “How much money can this make me?” Show me that scientist and I’ll pay closer attention to his/her words.

            Until then, GMOs are NOT scientifically ‘proven’ safe as food or as part of our environment. And, if I want to NOT support that industry, GMO labels would give me that choice.

            I don’t give a damn if that bothers an account or shareholder. I don’t give a damn if someone believes that makes me ‘irrational.’ I have the right to be ‘irrational’ if I so choose. Although, I think anyone who trusts a company like Monsanto, is actually being ‘irrational.’ Tell a Vietnam Vet that his fears of Agent Orange exposure is irrational. Why did Monsanto fight for laws to protect itself from lawsuits from those exposed to Agent Orange? Irrational is the one who trusts a company like this with food safety. Now Dow, Syngenta, et al, are joining the race for global food dominance and expanding profits and those that just want to know, so they can make an informed choice are equivalent to ‘evil spirit’ fear mongers?

            How much do you get paid to troll for the GMO lobby?

      • Jake

        It sounds persuasive if you take at face value that they will give up the labeling issue after RTK labels have been made mandatory. Giving up on the RTK moves the front-lines – does it move it somewhere that is better for scientific argument?

      • MiketheScribe

        I’ve read Lynas’ column, and he does make a compelling case. I’m not convinced it will work, though.

        As Roger Pielke writes in “The Honest Broker,” I think it’s likely that the antis will simply switch their attention to something else. IMHO, they make their living this way, i.e. manufacturing fear so people will donate money to their cause.

        A lot of scary sounding but perfectly safe technologies could easily take GM’s place. Radiation-induced mutagenesis, anyone?

        • Loren Eaton

          Yes. The Euro-nuts call them ‘hidden GMOs.’

        • alqpr

          What do you mean “work”?

      • Loren Eaton

        I’m with mem on this one. Irrational people can rarely be persuaded, especially if they’re given a chance to now eliminate the products they don’t like (boycotts, demonstrations, outright vandalism?!) And I don’t think there is any doubt that the end game here is getting these products off the shelves. When grocery stores see demonstrators outside their doors….who do think will blink first?

    • Gaythia

      Don’t you think that food ingredient labeling, even the somewhat silly “may contain” do help with allergen disclosure? I certainly do.

  • bigcitylib

    In some places, when you do a real estate deal, you have to disclose whether the place is considered haunted. And there was a move afoot in some jurisdictions back in the 80s-90s to require disclosure if the previous owner died of AIDS (don’t know if these actually came to be, however). Lynas is right. And if labeling does cause a crimp in the spread of GMO foods because people resist buying the labelled product, well, you are allowed to be irrational with your money.

    • jh

      You’ve illustrated perfectly why GMO labeling is misguided.

      There is no reason whatsoever that a property owner should be forced to disclose if a previous owner died of AIDS. It needlessly stigmatized the property.Whether or not the previous owner died of AIDS is irrelevant to the health of prospective buyers. You might as well demand that the seller disclose if the previous owner was gay or Jewish or a sex offender.

      You’re entitled to be irrational with your money, most certainly. Call your broker and buy Blackberry if you want.

      But you’re not entitled to force other people to make irrelevant disclosures – disclosures that have no impact on the outcome for the buyer – about the products they sell.

      • Charles Rader

        jh, the right to know is a powerful argument, but it can be intellectually bankrupt or worse when it is in service of a propaganda campaign. I am reminded of the campaign during the mid 1990s to require warning labels on school science textbooks if they contained the theory of evolution.

      • Eric Tucker

        However, if I buy a farm that previously planted Monsanto GM soy beans, it is imperative that this be disclosed. My future non-GM crop could easily be ‘contaminated’ with remnants of the previous GM crop, leading Monsanto to SUE me into bankruptcy. Unlike AIDS, which has no chance for survival outside of the human body, GM soy beans do pollinate and spread. With GMO companies now suing for patent infringements, it puts future growers, as well as neighboring growers, in jeopardy of losing everything even if they never planted GM seeds. So, on that basis, your comparison to AIDS is inaccurate.

        • Charles Rader

          Eric, it is already established law that Monsanto cannot sue a farmer for accidental intermixing of patented and non-patented varieties of a crop.

          You should look up OSGATA vs Monsanto, 2012. A group of organic growers and farmers pre-emptively sued Monsanto, demanding that they be immune from suit about accidental pollination, etc. The judge dismissed the case because the plaintiffs could not provide a single example of that kind of suit ever happening. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal and on appeal, the dismissal was upheld and the judge said that Monsanto didn’t even have the right to bring such suits, having previously promised in public to not do it. (Monsanto can and does bring lawsuits against farmers who take purposeful action to obtain the patented seeds.)

          You might also want to think about this. You have undoubtedly seen several claims about such lawsuits, such as the Percy Schmeiser canola case. Yet the plaintiffs in OSGATA never raised these incidents. Perhaps that is because although they make for successful propaganda, they would never survive the scrutiny of a legal proceeding.

          • Eric Tucker

            As someone with extensive experience in dealing with the appellate courts (I’ve written many appellate briefs), I know that court decisions are often made without consideration of all the facts. Your statement that “Monsanto can and does bring lawsuits against farmers who take purposeful action to obtain the patented seeds” and implying that they “won’t” or “didn’t even have the right” to bring any other type of suit to the legal system is just plain naive or intentionally deceptive. You’re the only one that knows which. But, since that is your opinion, we are likely to never have a reasonable discussion about Monsanto’s business practices or the GMO industry they created.

          • Charles Rader

            Eric, I certainly agree that court decisions are often made without consideration of all the facts, and are all to likely too be wrong, and even overturned. But I can’t quite understand why you have adopted such a hostile tone. You don’t seem to have any quarrel with my statement, which you quote, that Monsanto does sue farmers who take purposeful action to obtain the patented seeds. But I am not “sneakily implying” that they don’t or won’t sue farmers who obtain the patented seeds accidentally. Rather it is Monsanto who says that they won’t sue in those circumstances. Since you know the law better than me, was the Judge in the appeal wrong in declaring that a prominently published promise not to sue effectively eliminates the right to bring such a suit?

            Eric, the purported purpose of the OSGATA plaintiffs was to prevent Monsanto from suing them for accidental possession of the seeds. By common sense they seem to have achieved their purpose even though the suit was dismissed, and yet they are appealing. That makes me think that the real purpose of the lawsuit is something else.

            I certainly have no interest in defending any of Monsanto’s business practices, except for the ones that are misrepresented. The widely reported cases involving Schmeiser and Bowman are clearly not about accidental posession.

  • bobito

    How much of this argument is semantic? I wonder how different the outcomes would be if you ask the following questions to people on both sides of the debate:

    1. Should “Contains GMO Y/N” be part of the standard nutritional label on the back of the package?

    2. Should “Contains GMO” be place prominently on the front of the package.

    I think most pro-GMO people would be OK with #1, and against #2. And most anti-GMO people would be against #1 and for #2.

    I have a feeling there are many on the anti-GMO side that want the label on the front so that when one walks down the cereal isle all they see is GMO labels on every box. This will force people (who wouldn’t care otherwise) to see how prevalent GMO is thus making GMO scare tactics more effective.

    And, with that, the pro-GMO side must fight against labels on the front. Because most people will never notice a line item on the nutritional label on the back so it won’t give any leverage to the anti-GMO side.

    • Charles Rader

      There’s much more to talk about than the front or back of the package.

      First, it’s very misleading to lump together all GMO ingredients as if that was what was important about them. As an analogy, if the people who worry about gluten content were to insist on a label “derived from grains”, that would be implying a potential problem with all grains even though very few grains contain gluten.

      Second, the range of objections to GMO ingredients is very wide. Not every GMO is related to every objection. For example, people who object to reliance on herbicides for weed control are not helped by a label that says GMO because some GMO plants are not herbicide tolerant and some non-GMO plants are grown using herbicides. As another example, some anti-GMO complaints are really about large corporations, or patent policies, and these issues are not new to GMO agriculture in and they also don’t apply to all GMO products.

      Third, in the case of most GMO ingredients, the product is so highly processed that it contains no DNA, no protein, nothing that can distinguish the GMO-derived ingredient from a non-GMO derived equivalent. A sack of sugar contains sugar, and it would be exactly the same sugar whether it came from sugar cane, sugar beets, or even from a chemistry lab. Any proposal requiring a special label for GMO sugar so that people can make their own health choices is intrinsically deceptive.

  • Buddy199

    If the average person saw a food label that in bold red letters read: “CONTAINS OXYGEN DIHYDRIDE”, how do you think they would react? That’s why the “right to know” argument is bogus; labels listing ingredients you don’t understand unnecessarily spook the scientifically uninformed.

    • Loren Eaton

      Hey dude, if I find out that’s the same thing as dihydrogen monoxide..I’m gonna start a riot.

    • alqpr

      If everything that had water in it was labelled that way then I doubt that the label would be a useful discriminator.

  • RG

    While I applaud Mr. Lynas in his swing from anti-GMO to a science-based
    pro-GMO advocate, I think he has let his familiarity with political / misinformation influenced EU labeling color his thinking on this issue.

    In the US our food labels are concerned with science-based safety and nutritional information. Granted GM derived ingredients are ubiquitous
    and the general public would most likely absorb adding GM to a label as easily as red dye #3, but that is not the point.
    If we allow unscientific misinformation and shifting political winds to influence mandated government labeling we all lose. The label would then have the potential to become a meaningless marketing tool for whoever has the best lobbyist. We have to maintain the integrity of our mandated labeling system and keep it science based.

    Now if he would like to convince the food industry to adopt a voluntary
    label I wish him luck. Who knows with the right marketing it could work, look how retsyn helped Certs…

    There is a difference between the right to know and the desire to
    know. I would like to know which products are made from crops that use manure as fertilizer so I can avoid the chance of e-coli food poising, but I don’t think that should be government mandated label.

    Here is a little something on the right to know vs wanting to know:

    • Gaythia

      US food ingredient labeling stared with intentions of being a plain vanilla list of all ingredients. Nutritional information is a fairly recent phenomena. This quickly got caught up in a highly lobbyist influenced cat and mouse game involving the nomenclature with which those ingredients are described, and ho, and how much nutritional is revealed. Calling this process “science based” is a bit of a stretch. But each move to hide is eventual exposed. Overall, public disclosure has lead towards more questions and then to more disclosure. And progress towards a public that is scientifically informed on their nutritional choices is being made.

      I believe that the same thing can happen with regards to food sourcing information. In the modern era, this could easily be done by means of publicly accessible databases. A few years ago, a national listeria outbreak was eventually traced back to a single manure contaminated truck in Colorado. In the meantime, other area canteloupe farmers lost the opportunity to market that year’s crop. So why shouldn’t you have the right to trace back your food sources to see if manure based fertilizers were used? Wouldn’t we all benefit if that sort of information were traceable and accountability could be maintained?

      I believe that the reason that Big Ag and Big Food are pouring so much money into the anti-GMO labeling fight is that they see this as just one battle in a larger one that involves Big Data and who controls it. They fear the loss of power that could come from greater public disclosure in these sorts of cases.

  • alqpr

    I’ve got nothing against GM derived ingredients but I get quite incensed at the notion that an industry group wants to deny me the right to reject them if I want to. I hope any company opposing labeling goes bankrupt and regret the non-existence of a hell in which to burn up all who support them.

    • jh

      You already can: buy organic. If you can afford it.

      • Kirk Holden

        Not a chance there is a controversy about what ‘organic’ on the label means….

  • no labeling

    Lynas is a professional betrayer – betrayed his former anti-gmo fellows when he made his bed with pro-GMO scientists… now he betrays his new fellows (scientists that were supporting his views on GMO) by pushing GMO labeling. We just never know what is in his head…. I wonder if in his next speech he will be talking about boycotting GMO at all..

    • Eric Tucker

      Expressing one’s opinion is NOT ‘betrayal.’ Betrayal is based on your expectation that someone ‘owes’ you something, such as an opinion in alignment with your own. You use this word to try to discredit another, when the reality is, you only lend his opinion more credit, by judging it as ‘betrayal’ rather than actually rebutting it with a concise argument. Name calling is a desperate act of someone without a logical response. You “never know what is in his head” couldn’t be more correct. Your dismay seems to be from not be able to control what is in his head, or more precisely, you cannot CONTROL what comes out of his mouth and that seems to really be the thorn in YOUR side.

  • JonFrum

    Like surrendering to anti-semites and labeling Jewish-owned business products.

  • jh

    The west is going to collapse under the weight of its own stupidity.

  • Thomas Fuller

    Because the anti-GM zealots have repeatedly shown a proclivity to violence and terrorism, I fear that labeling GM products would just lead to their wanton destruction at every point in the supply chain, including on supermarket shelves.

    I believe honest discussion of the pros and cons of labeling should include some consideration of this.

  • Gaythia

    There are scientifically based reasons for support of GMO labeling. In addition to the risk science analysis offered by Davide Ropiek (see NPR link above), we need to be cognizant of the sorts of environments in which science thrives. Science and liberty are linked. Democracy is dependent on the free flow of information with which wise decisions can be made. Scientists are making a big mistake in allowing corporatist messaging in these GMO labeling initiative battles to make it appear that science is on the corporation’s side. This will, in the long run damage the attitude of the public towards science.

    Here in Washington State, Big Ag and Big Food interests are spending upwards of 14 million dollars to defeat a GMO labeling initiative on this fall’s election ballot. Some additional funding was apparently channeled through a secret slush fund which has now been exposed as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Washington State Attorney General’s office:

    IMHO, this money is not being spent because the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and other Big Food corporations think that putting little “May Contain GMOs” labels on foodstuffs would be too expensive. This is, as I see it, part of a much larger battle over information, “Big Data”, and who controls it.

    Food ingredient labeling is another front in this ongoing battle. In the US, water, (discussed in some of the comments here), is already on the label. If it is the primary ingredient it appears first. There is considerable ongoing lobbying as to how ingredients are described and what nutritional information must be presented there. Chemical nomenclature is found to be confusing. More explanations are made. The flip by the Corn lobby on “high fructose corn syrup” is an example I find amusing. This was originally apparently a name conceived by their own organization as a way to hide the presence of sugar in such products as soda. And thus give their product an edge over “plain sugar” in sales to soft drink manufacturers. But now, with high fructose corn syrup seemingly having negative connotations with the public, and total sugar information on the label anyway, they are actively lobbying to change the wording to supposedly more natural sounding “corn sugar” instead. But despite such sideshows, overall progress is being made. The public is getting more informed about and in some cases concerned with, nutritional contents of foodstuffs. Demands from all sides regarding confusions and marketing attempts are leading to changes in the right direction. Discussions of food nutrition can take place on a more informed basis.

    Food sourcing information is already out there, just not in public hands. A listeria outbreak, for example, was traced back to a single manure contaminated farm truck in Colorado.

    As is the case with food ingredient labeling, release of some information is likely to lead to further questions and demands for release of still more information. In the modern era, this could be in the form of steadily expanding online databases.

    But what would happen if that information was public? The next thing you know, corporations are faced with an increasingly activist citizenry with demands with regards to all sorts of food sourcing matters. Farmers who could not be as easily manipulated by the actions of commodities traders. Labor practices that could be exposed and unionization efforts publicized. Environmentalists with concerns about pesticides and monocultures could trace and evaluate sources. Nutritional contents could be compared. As could trace contaminants from soils and irrigation water. And so on.

    And that is really, IMHO, what these corporatists fear, what this battle is really all about, and why they are willing (but preferably secretly) to spend so much money to defeat various forms of public access to food information. Corporatists gain when information is restricted to themselves.

    GMO labeling is a very small but still highly significant first step in
    this process. Scientists could have been more proactive in formulating better and more broadly based food sourcing information initiatives. And in states and countries where GMO labeling has yet to be introduced they still could be. But they should not be involved in blocking this labeling effort, they should be working towards future means of expansion. Information restriction is not the side of science.

  • mbmpdx

    Interesting to read all the fighting back and forth on this issue. For myself and my family, I want to be able to make a CHOICE and not have it force-fed without my knowledge. Nothing to argue, it’s just common sense (which I realize is not so common anymore). I don’t know if they’re dangerous or as safe as the original, but my CHOICE for MY FAMILY is to eat as natural a product as we can. I try to make the same CHOICE with any other produce that can be overladen with pesticides. Not rocket science, my CHOICE. The explosive reactions by some on here that any other direction of thought on the matter is “left leaning” is childish political finger pointing and fairly unnatural for a regular everyday citizen to be making. If you think it’s absurd that a person wants to avoid as much “adulteration” of basic foods as possible is not as intelligent as you are then so be it — but either you are closely involved with the science (and thus the profit/loss fears) or you just have no life and have to come on to discussion boards such as this to scream your frustrations at much more than the topic at hand.

    • DrDenim

      cyanide is perfectly natural, try eating that..

  • Loren Eaton
  • Gurjender singh

    Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading this post. The whole blog is very nice found some good stuff and good information here Thanks..Also visit my page pharmaceuticals jobs .

  • Gurjender singh

    Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading this post. The whole blog is very nice found some good stuff and good information here,Thanks..Also visit my page Biotech Recruitment .,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at

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.


See More

Collapse bottom bar