To label or not to label GMOs
Three pro-organic groups have simultaneously launched campaigns to demand genetically modified foods be identified when sold. Two are petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to label foods that contain GM ingredients, and the third is calling on President Obama to follow through on such labeling.
The Right2Know group announced its plans to hold a march across the East Coast earlier in September. The march is taking place Oct. 1 through Oct. 16, covering 313 miles from the United Nations to Washington, D.C.
Just Label It: We Have a Right to Know, a coalition claiming 400 businesses and organizations dedicated to pushing FDA to label GM food, submitted a petition to the FDA for mandatory labeling of GM foods this week.
"We are asking the FDA to change a decade's old and out of touch policy," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety and lead author of the We Have a Right to Know petition. "Today's consumers are more informed than ever, and they have a right to know about the foods they are purchasing and consuming. We want the FDA to require labeling on foods intentionally produced using genetic engineering."
From my view, we can thank Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for inspiring this week’s actions by the pro-organic, anti-GMO crowd. According to JustLabelIt’s Web site, “The Just Label It Campaign was initiated by Organic Voices, which was started in the spring of 2011 when a group of organic stakeholders met in Washington, D.C., to discuss the contamination threat posed by genetically engineered crops to organic farming.”
That timing is not a coincidence. That’s when Vilsack asked members of the organic community to join with production agriculture stakeholders to discuss ways to coexist. Apparently, the pro-organic groups met outside of the Vilsack meetings and devised their own strategy against production agriculture. What’s interesting is that production agriculture did not launch its own anti-organic campaign after that meeting.
The groups would have you believe this is a grassroots, homegrown message, but that is far from the truth.
Helping lead the march is Joseph Wilhelm, president of Rapunzel, and Indian activist Dr. Vanadana Shiva, both veteran GMO campaigners who twice marched across Europe for controls on GMOs and supported GMO labeling, which is required in the EU. They reportedly are being joined at the events in NYC and Washington, D.C., as well as along the march, by advocates, media personalities, farmers and business leaders who will speak out for GMO labeling, including: Andrew Kimbrell (Founder, Center for Food Safety, Frances Moore Lappѐ (Author, Diet for a Small Planet), Michael Hansen (Senior Scientist, Consumers Union), George Siemon (CEO, Organic Valley) and many others.
This march and rally have become battle cries for the pro-organic movement. These groups via their Web sites have stated that they plan to use this march, which culminates on World Food Day in Washington, D.C., to spring board the topic into the political arena.
These groups have made the movement look like they are calling for better transparency. The spin doctors have done a good job. Who would argue against greater transparency in the food system in light of food scares such as listeria in cantaloupes or E: coli in spinach? This movement is designed to separate the pro-organic group from the conventional agriculture group. Vilsack’s attempt at unity seems to have divided the groups further.
Ratcheting up the rhetoric is the group Food Democracy Now!, which offered a video of candidate Obama promising to pass legislation requiring the labeling of GM food. He’s quoted in the video as saying, “Here’s what I’ll do as President. I’ll immediately implement Country of Origin Labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from. And we’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying.”
Labeling of GM food is probably a good move. However, it’s these activist’s ulterior motives that are concerning. They likely will not stop with the mere labeling of GM foods. They are inclined to be politically involved. They are rarely appeased for long. Their movement is a slippery slope to more regulations and likely veils an attempt at banning the technology altogether.
Just consider their definition of GM. According to the JustLabelIt.org site, “Genetically engineered (GE) foods, also referred to as genetically modified, or GMOs, are those that are altered at the molecular level in ways that could not happen naturally. This means plants and animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. These techniques use DNA molecules from different sources, sometimes different species, and combine them into one molecule to create a new set of genes (e.g. mixing of flounder genes into tomatoes so the tomatoes would be resistant to cold temperatures.)”
What’s so misleading about this definition is that tomatoes that contain flounder genes are no longer on the market and were only briefly on the market 15 years ago. That was the only commercial product that combined animal and plant genes to which I am aware. Yet, anti-GMO groups routinely tout this example as the shining example of science run amok.
Also, this definition does not take into effect using genetic technology to speed up the breeding process without adding new genes or genes from other species. Take for example, drought tolerance traits. Most of that work is being done by turning on genes already within the plant.
Believing the altruistic nature of these groups would be foolhardy, despite how much they claim to have your best interests at heart.