I just signed a petition asking members of the U.S. House of Representatives to vote down HR 1599, the deceptively named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” which would make it illegal for state governments to pass GMO labeling laws or regulate GMOs in other ways.
The vote is scheduled to occur tomorrow, July 23, 2015.
Here’s the comment I made when I signed the petition:
I am a former genetic engineer, but no matter the subject matter, it is outrageous that the federal government of this great nation is even considering a bill that would negate the will of its people, at the grass roots and state levels, and allow any industry to continue to hide its products from American consumers. It’s supposed to be of, for and by the people…remember?
If you agree that Americans should have the right to know what’s in the food they buy in grocery stores, and when the vast majority of Americans (80-90%, depending on the poll) want to know whether GMOs are in their food labeling those foods should be mandatory, and when the citizens of more than 60 other countries already have this information that Americans should have it too…
then I urge you to let your US representatives know how you feel by signing a petition like the one here.
For more information here’s an article in the Boston Globe supporting the idea that HR 1599 should be defeated and Americans should get to decide for themselves about GMOs via labeling, and another in the Huffington Post by Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appétit Management Company, indicating that labeling GMOs is just good business.
This is not just about GMOs. This is about our democracy.
Maybe it is undemocratic but in this case, when state and federal governments have so many other important priorities that would actually affect peoples lives, is it really worth spending all the time and money on GMO labeling? What is the aim? I’d prefer my state government to work on something useful. GMO labeling is a waste of time and resources. It is a strawman. We all want to know what is in our food. But for a label what is important is what my food is, not how it was produced. I am surprised that you, someone who understands ingredients derived from GMOs are indistinguishable from ingredients dervied from non-GMOs, want to promote a useless labeling activity and divert finite tax-payer resources away from activities that could help people. And let’s not forget, any company is free to add a non-GMO label on their food. This whole thing is a circus.
You bring up several important points.
1. First, I must correct you: Ingredients derived from GMOs are NOT necessarily “indistinguishable from ingredients [derived] from non-GMOs”…not only because of unexpected, unintended changes that can occur in GMOs as a result of various imprecise aspects of the current technology, but also because various extra “ingredients” have usually been added to GE plants. For example, various forms of the insecticide Bt are present in many GMOs; so the GMO sweet corn many Americans are enjoying this time of year contains insecticide, which is “distinguishable” in the GE corn. Please note that the FDA requires food producers to include “water” on a food label if water has, in fact, been added to the food; I think FDA should require “insecticide” to be included on labels for Bt products as well.
2.GMO labeling initiatives that have been put forward in states like California would actually divert very little tax-payer resources from any other activities; companies have to label their products anyway, such laws would give them a reasonable length of time to simply add GMO-related language to their next batch of labels.
What would undoubtedly require substantial tax-payer resources, on the other hand, is HR 1599. As described in its Summary, HR 1599 would amend the “Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Agricultural Marketing Service to establish a program to certify NON-GMO [emphasis added] food;” establishing that federal program would not be cheap.
3. Statements that begin with “Maybe it is undemocratic but in this case…” are the makings of a slippery slope that could lead to the loss of our democracy as we know it, or at least expect it to be, altogether.
Agree that Bt corn is not the same as conventional corn (or organic corn onto which Bt has been sprayed). In fact, perhaps the question we should be asking is why Bt doesn’t appear on the list of ingredients in a food label? That would be much more useful to know than a generic label indicating that transgenic technology was used somewhere in the process.
My original point was that for ingredients derived and processed from the original food (which is where the majority of most current approved GM crops end up), there is no difference. Thus, starch from GM corn is the same as starch from non-GM corn. Starch is starch, glucose is glucose and lovely high fructose corn syrup is high fructose corn syrup, regardless of its source, GM or non-GM.
As for slippery slopes and democracy…As Winston Churchill once put it “democracy is the worst form of government…except for all the others” 🙂
I do think as a person knowledgeable about the area, you have a responsiblity to push for democratic decisions backed by solid science, and in this case I do not see a scientific rationale for a generic GM label. If we are going to label methods of how food is made, where are we going to stop? Labels for seeds that have been mutagenized by chemicals or radiation, using gene editing approaches or crossed using laboratory methods? That is a slippery slope.
No. I say what we need is a label indicating what ingredients are in our food; there are much more serious and pressing issues in terms of health and safety in food and this kefuffle over GMO labels is just a side show.
Also, what is non-democratic about letting companies that want to put non-GMO on their products, do it?
I have mixed feelings about generic (e.g. “contains genetically engineered ingredients”) versus specific (e.g. “contains Bt Cry9C protein”) labeling. But, the facts that: 1) GE organisms are not being adequately tested for possible unintended, unexpected changes that can occur via the biotechnologies that are currently being used to produce them (and neither is the corn starch, etc., derived from them); 2) the biotech industry has primarily utilized these technologies to support industrialized, unsustainable agricultural systems over the last 20 years; and 3) some 90% of Americans want general GMO labels on foods available in grocery stores…make me lean toward generic labels.
And BTW, a GE organism that produces Bt insecticide in every one of its cells is a very different product than an organically produced food that has been sprayed with Bt. Consumers should be informed that Bt has been intentionally added to (and can’t be washed off of) their food in the first case; in the second case…not so much.
The scientific rationale for GMO labeling is that currently used biotechnologies entail more risk for creating unintended, unexpected changes in organisms than do traditional breeding methods and, the U.S. government’s “coordinated framework” for regulating GE organisms does not require adequate testing for such changes. Much, much more testing is carried out on GE drugs and still those products (e.g. GE insulin) are labelled, allowing patients to decide for themselves whether to use them or not.
I never said it was undemocratic to let companies put non-GMO labels on their products.
What I said was that the vast majority of people in the U.S. want GMOs labeled. Their counterparts in 60+ countries already have that right. It’s good business to give consumers what they want. The democratic, capitalist American thing to do is to let Americans vote for or against GE foods with their pocketbooks.
OK my last reposte, and then you can have the last word
Your first two points relate to stances against food production processes in general (which I am not convinced really relate to the labeling issue). I agree it is worth understanding more about long-term effects of consuming food produced by transgenic technology. But you could also argue that we need to understand more about the long term effects on human physiology and the environment of crops that have been bred using other process like UV or chemical induced mutagenesis. Why are you not agitating for labels for that? I am no fan of industrialized, unsustainable agricultural systems, but GM technology is not solely responsible for the business models of big agrochemical corporations.
As for this argument about “the vast majority of consumers want it”. I think there is a very vocal group of people for which this issue is important. Then there is everybody else. Many don’t think about it at all. There are survey that indicate the majority of people in supermarkets don’t think about GM at all when buying food UNLESS someone poses the question to them. Then they care about it. And they care about because they have been conditioned to see anything associated with GMOs as scary.
Fair enough. But should we make a government GMO label that will cost millions (perhaps billions) of tax payer money on the basis that a small but vocal group feels this is important while the majority don’t think about it? Establishing and enforcing a labeling system for staple crops is not just about printing more detailed labels. GM and non-GM foods would need segregation from planting to plating, necessitating intense audits and constant policing to maintain the apartheid during harvesting, transportation, storage, processing and distribution. Do we want to do this because a group of people ideologically opposed to GMOs want everybody to pay for this? I would argue in our resource-constrained world where people still go without food, infrastructure is crumbling etc etc etc, tax payer money could be spent on many other more useful things.
More importantly, why should the whole country pay for a generic labeling system (that is of dubious value) when people who want to avoid GM food can already pay extra to get non-GM labeled organic food anyway?
First of all, please read my posts more carefully. I am not in favor of a government-produced “Contains GMO Ingredients” label! (Nor am I in favor of putting the government in charge of labeling foods “GMO-free,” as HR 1599 would put in place.) What I am in favor of is having the FDA require food manufacturers to add the fact that their products contain GE ingredients to their own labels, like we did at Calgene, Inc. for the Flavr SavrTM tomato, at their own expense (which would be minimal)—no taxpayer $ involved.
And I don’t buy the “segregation is too difficult” argument. Companies are perfectly capable of segregating their GMO from non-GMO ingredients; Kellogg was doing so 15 years ago so that they could send “GMO-free” products to Europe (while still selling GMO-containing products in the U.S.) and General Mills now sells one of their CheeriosTM cereal products without GMO ingredients in the United States (although their other products still contain them). These companies know their ingredients and where they come from…and if they don’t, they should. And while some, like General Mills and Chipotle, are finding consumer demand incentive enough to segregate their ingredients, I’d like to see the FDA provide that incentive to the rest of Big Food in the U.S. by requiring that food producers/developers indicate that their products contain GMO ingredients; Americans, like the citizens of 60+ other countries, have the right to know what they are buying and this is a simple way to accomplish that in relation to GE foods.
The facts that 1) GMO labeling laws have been introduced in so many U.S. states, and 2) 80-90% of Americans, in poll after poll after poll, indicate they want GMO labels on foods in grocery stores, and 3) U.S. businesses are starting to provide GMO information to their customers, is evidence enough for me of what U.S. citizens want when it comes to this issue. (The shear amount of money that Food Biotech and Big Food have been shelling out to fight consumers on this issue could also be construed as evidence as well.)
But while we may disagree about the ease of segregating food ingredients and the level of citizen demand for GMO labels, we apparently agree that there should be long-term studies of GE food crops, and that we are not fans of industrialized, unsustainable agricultural systems. In my mind, these points of agreement are both additional reasons for labeling GMO foods; let Americans vote with their pocketbooks on whether they like the way Big Biotech and the U.S. regulatory agencies have utilized this powerful technology in the U.S. over the last 20 years.
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