GMO’s: Labels, or no Labels?

As the world’s population expands, we require more and more food, which necessitates ever more effective technology and robust yields. In this country, one of the ways we have come to deal with this problem is through Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO’s. But, as with any new “technology” (feels weird to call food “technology”, doesn’t it?), the advancement of GMO’s is pockmarked with struggles to determine the limits of acceptable behavior from the industry. Today, we’ll be talking about a particularly divisive fight within the agricultural and environmental communities; the labeling of GMO’s.

It comes as a surprise to some that GMO’s are currently not required to be labeled as such. This is disturbing to several groups, from those who are scared off by a gut aversion to the words “genetically modified”, to those who take offense by the lack of labeling, citing a person’s “right to know” what they are consuming. To this effect, a group of scientists and physicians have come out and opposed the American Academy for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) recent decision opposing the labeling of GMO’s. The AAAS’s statement insists that pro-labeling movements “are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”

However, at at the heart of the labeling movement is the implicit idea that GMO’s are “bad” for you or “unnatural” in some way. Fueling these fears is a disturbing discrepancy between official health reviews, which typically give GMO’s passing grades, and independent studies, whose results tend to be more dubious. This can perhaps be explained by the FDA’s head-scratching policy of letting GMO testing remain voluntary, instead of mandatory.

In response, GMO producers would say “Yes, but GMO’s have been the most tested crops in the history of our food supply.”

In response to that, opponents might say “Of course, but the FDA makes testing for GM’s voluntary, so of course only known safe GMO’s would allow themselves to be tested.”

As you can see, the subject is complicated. Often, the argument is not just whether GMO’s are harmful themselves, but what environmental effects their life cycle will have. For example, GMO’s are often made to be herbicide-resistant, leading to the evolution of stronger, herbicide-resistant weeds, which in turn leads to increased herbicide use.

And down the rabbit hole we go again.

The board asserts that the labeling of GMO foods “can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers”, which is certainly a possibility, as an uninformed public may well shy away from GMO’s if they knew what they were buying. And this should not be an outcome to be cheered by environmentalists either, as if it is so, then it would be a case of consumers holding an irrational fear towards words, specifically “genetically modified”. What the GMO industry fears is this sort of backlash, against “frankenfoods”, as its detractors so famously like to call GMO’s.

However, in order to get a proper persecutive on this argument, we must separate our gut-instinct reactions to the idea of GMOs, and the objective data as to their safety. The problem is, as is highlighted by the lack of FDA oversight in voluntary, not mandatory, testing, is that the jury is still out on the safety of GMO’s, both on the individual and the environment. Additionally, such a non-sensical policy by the FDA casts doubt on its entire GMO testing apparatus. For this reason, it’s just mypersonal opinion that GMO’s should be forced to carry special labeling, which in itself is not a negative or positive indictment on GMOs, but merely additional information for consumers. It is up to the producers of GMOs, not government bodies, to educate the public as to their safety, if they want to overcome the stigma of their product.