A Middle Ground on GMOs
By Jerry Rogers
To date, 50 bills have been introduced in almost 30 states to require the labeling of genetically modified foods, or GMOs. Three states actually have labeling requirements on the books. Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labeling laws that will take full effect after a requisite number of other northeastern states pass similar mandates. Vermont’s labeling bill was signed into law just last month and will be effective July 2016. These three states and the myriad others following suit could upend the nation’s entire food system, from farming to supply to retail.
Why such a flurry of activity? It’s a death-by-a-thousand-cuts campaign of establishing 50 different state-based regimes. The activists’ ultimate goal is not “freedom of choice” or the “right to know” for consumers, as they claim, but to drive GMO foods out of the market. If these activists have their way, the American people will have fewer choices on the shelves, face higher food prices, and be under the intrusive eye of state-based food police.
Their own words betray their true intentions. Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth Europe has affirmed, “If these products all have to be labeled, who is going to put it on the market?” Joseph Mercola, an alternative-medicine advocate, has said, “GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this.” Veteran activist and organizer Ronnie Cummins has called the EU’s labeling laws — coupled with pressure campaigns on supermarket chains — “the crucial blow to GMOs.”
The facts about GMOs and the science of biotechnology are indisputable. In an effort to catalog the science on GMOs, a team of Italian scientists summarized nearly 2,000 studies about the safety and environmental impact of GMO foods. These scientists could not find a single instance where GMO food posed any harm to humans or animals. GMOs are safe and healthy.
Studies over the past 30 years — by such groups as the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Academies of Science — have produced no evidence of health or safety harms. On the contrary, all of them have concluded that GMOs are as safe as, or safer than, conventional or organic foods. Recently, Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project explained on the John Stossel program that “we’ve eaten about 7 trillion meals in the 18 years since GMOs first came on the market. There’s not one documented instance of someone getting so much as a sniffle.”
GMOs now make up a major part of the American diet: 60-70 percent of all food on supermarket shelves is GMO. So the issue of labeling needs to be addressed in a manner that defers to sound science. An alternative to the state-based food police is a national standard. If the activists were truly interested in science and consumer safety, they would aggressively support this approach.
As it turns out, there is legislation, introduced by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D., N.C.), that would preempt state laws and create federal standards for food labeling. Under the bill, companies would have to file a “premarket notification” before selling GMO foods, and the secretary of health and human services would ensure that all GMO foods are at least as safe as their non-GMO counterparts. The premarket notifications would be publicly disclosed, and, while there would be no requirement for companies to label GMO foods, the bill would require all GMO-related statements on packaging to be factually accurate.
But anti-GMO activists oppose this legislation — not only does it fail to require GMO warnings on (perfectly safe) food, but it would nullify their progress in the states. Cummins declared that 90 percent of the American people opposed the bill even before any legislative language had been released. The Center for Food Safety’s Rebecca Spector called the bill the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act,” or DARK, while she was taking a victory lap for GMO bans in Oregon.
The truth is that the activists have an ulterior agenda centered on discrediting and banning GMO science. They believe that what we eat and drink is their business. They are seeking to disrupt the free market and destroy biotechnology by scaring people about what’s in their food.
Jerry Rogers is vice president at the Institute for Liberty and the founder of Capitol Allies, an independent, nonpartisan effort that promotes entrepreneurship, economic growth, and free enterprise.