Commentary: A new counter to GMO haters
Since Vermont passed the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law in April—and Connecticut and Maine followed with passage of similar laws that would take effect if other states climb onboard the anti-GMO bandwagon—industry has pushed back with a court challenge to prevent Vermont, or other individual states, from requiring such labeling.
At this point, it is uncertain whether the Vermont’s law will survive judicial review, In the meantime, it remains imperative for all of the food production and food processing industry to renew its efforts to educate the public on the science—and safety—of bioengineering. GMO labeling laws stem from one primary source: the public’s distrust and paranoia about the science and applications of bioengineering. Period.
It’s not about some “right to know” groundswell. That’s the talking point activist groups have developed to convince otherwise unaware consumers that their “rights” are being violated. We know from mountains of research that only about one-third of consumers actively read the labels that already provide an extensive amount of product and nutritional information. Is it really a critical issue requiring legislative action to add more information to food packaging that two-thirds of people ignore?
Of course not. What’s driving the GMO labeling push is fear, plain and simple. Anti-GMO activists have promoted the Frankenfoods model so long and so hard that even people who tend to be well-informed on issues of science and technology fall prey to the fear-mongering.
That point was underscored in an editorial from an unexpected source, who offered a couple of compelling arguments in support of genetic engineering that I believe ought to be embraced in some form by industry. The first one involves the bioscience itself, but with a novel approach.
“It is no mystery as to why GMOs invoke a knee-jerk reaction” wrote Beau Kjerulf Greer, Ph.D., an Associate Professor and the director of the exercise science and nutrition program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., in a recent opinion piece for the Hartford Courant. “It frankly sounds scary that corn can be engineered to produce its own pesticide—until you know that a regular head of cabbage produces 49 different pesticides of its own.”
I did not know that common vegetables were capable of producing such a wealth of endogenous pesticides, and more to the point, I’ve never heard that argument used as a way to refute GMO’s “scariness.” In other words, genetic engineering mimics the same biological processes that take place in plants naturally. As Greer phrased it, “Creating a GMO is as simple as taking the gene that codes for one of those naturally occurring compounds and inserting it into a different food.”
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