I actually thought that the GMO denier arguments were petering out. I also actually thought I could focus on the vaccine deniers, since they’re like cockroaches, hiding in the dark. But I was wrong. The United States Senate, in a rare bipartisan action, wrote a compromise GMO labeling law.
I, and many others, consider the anti-GMO movement to be made up of “climate change deniers of the left.” They both ignore high quality science and the scientific consensus, just to invent their own conclusions. It is frustrating, especially since I expect more out of progressives.
The GMO labeling law is frustrating and confusing. We need to examine it with scientific skepticism.
All about GMOs, Part I
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are simply living plants, animals, or whatever else, that have had their genes artificially changed by one of several means. Artificial selection, which includes waiting for a “natural” mutation to occur then selecting for the new trait, is one of the oldest methods of creating GMOs.
For example, native, non-GMO corn (teosinte) is inedible, at least for humans. It looks like any grass-like plant. However, 10,000 years ago it was domesticated when early farmers selected for traits such as larger and more edible seeds. The same stories can be said over and over about nearly every plant (and most animal) foods we eat today.
Over time, farmers and scientists discovered methods to induce mutations at a higher rate. All this did was speed up the process, since a farmer might have to wait for generations of corn crops to find a beneficial mutation.
Today, we can speed up the process even more. We find genes that confer a trait that we want for that corn, like pest resistance, from other species of plant. Then, scientists can insert that non-corn gene into the corn genome.
Now I know some individuals will employ the Naturalistic Fallacy. These people will claim that all foods “ought to be” developed in some arbitrary natural manner. Theoretically, we could wait 10 years or 1000 years for a mutation to appear that will confer pest resistance to the corn plant.
But, these are still “mutations,” no different than creating a mutation with radiation. Yes, that’s how it was done before gene insertion techniques were developed.
Natural mutations have no special property. Nature has no guidance, it’s random events that cause mutations, and then select for or against those mutations. It is a form of creationism to confer special properties on nature. It’s scientifically offensive.
All about GMOs, Part II
- GMOs are safe to humans, livestock and the environment.
- The powerful scientific consensus states that GMOs are safe and important to feeding the world.
- Modified genes cannot be transferred to humans.
If you wish, you can deny each of those points. You can cherry pick a few studies. You can use logical fallacies. You can invent data that doesn’t exist. You can claim some pathetic Monsanto conspiracy.
But unless you bring the equivalent amount of evidence, of the same quality, to contradict the scientific consensus, then you are considered a science denier. Remember, those climate change deniers? They do the same thing, they cherry pick data, use lame conspiracies, and refuse to provide their own high quality evidence.
GMO labeling law – what’s happening
In 2015, the the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would preempt mandatory labels. That bill stated:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”](Sec. 101) This bill amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to continue the voluntary consultation process established under the FDA’s “Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties.” In that process, the FDA evaluates a scientific and regulatory assessment provided by the developer of a food produced from, containing, or consisting of a plant that is a genetically engineered organism (GMO).
The FDA may require a GMO food to have a label that informs consumers of a material difference between the GMO food and a comparable food if the disclosure is necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label from being false or misleading. The use of a GMO does not, by itself, constitute a material difference.[/infobox]
Now, this bill makes sense, which is quite an admission from me about a bill from the Republican run House. Essentially, the bill states that FDA may require GMO labels if the change may have a health or safety impact. A food product containing GMOs does not constitute a “material difference.” Based on what we know now, there probably will not be a single food that will require labeling, but it’s possible, I suppose.
Part of the reason that the House passed this bill is that a patchwork of regulations were occurring from state to state. Predictably, this would lead to higher costs as each food manufacturer would be required to meet the standards of each of those laws. That would drive the costs of foods higher.
The House bill was sent to the Senate, where it languished for several months. Then, the Senate wrote a compromise bill that requires labeling after two years, which includes time for the FDA to write specific regulations for GMO labeling. Moreover, the bill states that the label can be a code that can be read by a smartphone app.
This new Senate bill will now be sent to the House for a vote, because the changes are so large, that it’s essentially replacement for the House bill from last year. It’s possible that the House and Senate could form a conference to hash out the differences, but that probably won’t happen.
For those of us who think GMO labeling laws are ridiculous, even that’s onerous, the new Senate bill is terrible. It codifies an unscientific belief that GMO foods are somehow different than non-GMO foods. No they’re not.
Why this GMO labeling law sucks
Actually, real economists and scientists have examined the costs of GMO labeling. A Washington State study concluded that it would cost consumers in Oregon (which was considering anti-GMO legislation at the time) US$150 – US$920 million per year. For the 1.5 million families in the state, that could add up to approximately $100 to 600 per year in additional food costs.
Other independent studies have also supported these conclusions. For example, a study at Cornell University showed that if labeling were implemented in New York state, each family would incur approximately $800 in additional annual food costs. Even middle income families would be stressed by such an increase.
Now maybe wealthy science-denying progressives can afford another $100, or even $800, per year in food costs. But those on fixed incomes, like retirees, or those who depend upon financial assistance like SNAP (once called Food Stamps), will be forced to make hard choices, made worse, if one of the consequences of this labeling is that manufacturers stop making “GMO” products.
But it gets worse. Right now, most foods can be labeled non-GMO if they have less than 1% GMO content. Some environmental activists want that to drop that number to 0.5% and even lower. At that point, the costs become almost prohibitive, because it’s pretty close to impossible to remove all sources of GMO crops from our food system.
We would have to create a cost prohibitive dual system of food production, storage, manufacturing, and distribution. It is estimated that just the step down to 0.5% GMO content could add up to 20% costs to food production in the US. So that typical Oregon family will have to spend between $120 to $720 per year in additional food costs, just because a few anti-GMO activists want it.
Once again, all of these costs are being forced upon consumers for precisely zero medical or scientific value.
Of course, the anti-science former Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, is opposed to the Senate compromise bill. He’s not opposed because the bill might hurt the poor, it’s because it doesn’t go far enough. Don’t get me started on his fake progressivism – he lost, I’m over it.
The TL;DR version
GMO foods are not inherently more dangerous than any other food, GMO or not. This has been established by literally thousands of studies.
Moreover, the quality and quantity of these studies is so overwhelming, that major scientific societies across the world have come to a consensus that GMO foods are safe. This is not subject to a scientific debate, but of course, that never stops science deniers.
I hate to be overly cynical, but we all know why there’s a push for mandatory labeling of GMO foods. It’s all about business.
Let’s be honest, Big Organic hates GMO foods because of one thing – they want to increase their own profits. So they push pseudoscience and anti-science, in the form of GMO denialism, despite the huge body of evidence that contradicts their misinformation.
And worse yet, Big Organic pushes this narrative because of “consumer choice.” Let me point out this lie – it’s an aggressive strategy to ban all GMOs in agriculture.
For once, I hope the Republican House follows science, and blocks the Senate proposal. We do need a bill to reduce the patchwork of state regulations, but the Senate bill doesn’t help.
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