Commentary: Doing a 180 on GMO labeling
A major new CAST study purports to be the ‘final word’ on whether we have to keep arguing over genetic engineering. But its recommendations need to go in the exact opposite direction.
There are plenty of hotly contested issues facing animal agriculture. But of all the polarizing debates over animal welfare, food safety or vegetarian diets, none seem to evoke more confusion among consumers than GMO labeling.
Some of the most sensible, otherwise intelligent people I know have a blind spot big enough to drive a Peterbilt through when it comes to the genetic engineering of food crops.
Activists have managed to stoke that confusion and generate genuine fear over GMOs based on three perceived problems (in ascending order):
- The fallout from repeated use of Roundup- or pother herbicide-resistant varieties of food crops, ie, “super weeds” are going to destroy farming;
- The impact of ingesting “foreign” proteins in foods made with GMO ingredients, ie, GMOs are going to kill you; and
- The rise of corporate control over the seeds essential to maintain agricultural productivity, ie, Monsanto is the new Dow Chemical.
That last bullet point is what stokes the visceral hatred toward GMOs and drives the fundraising essential to conducting the (so far failed) state referenda that would mandate labeling. What fires up activists and a heck of a lot of other folks is less about nebulous effects of genetically engineered crops on the environment, or even on one’s health, and more about fear and loathing over the potential of Big Ag to control who grows which crops and what kind of foods people will be allowed to eat.
Why rational arguments don’t work
Enter CAST, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, with a new position paper purporting to represent the final word on the validity on genetic engineering.
Don’t get me wrong: CAST is a highly respected, thoroughly professional group of some of the top researchers, scientists and academicians in the country. However, making the “scientific “argument to support a complex technology few people outside of the biotech community truly understand is the equivalent of pointing out that getting killed in a car crash is a lot more likely than dying in an airliner explosion — then expecting everyone to just chill out on terrorism.
Likewise, if the esteemed CAST panelists really believe their analysis to be the final word on GMOs, they’re kidding themselves. For proof, here are the report’s key summary statements:
- There is no scientific reason to single out GE foods and feed for mandatory process-based labeling.
- Mandatory GMO labeling [would] abandon the traditional U.S. practice of providing for consumer food preferences through voluntary product differentiation and labeling.
- Market-driven voluntary labeling measures are already providing consumers with non-GE choices.
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