It's hugely important that we, the people of agriculture, understand – and meet – the biotech challenge coming at us head-on. Anti-GMO activists want to ban or at limit biotech's most important tool – genetically-engineered ingredients or genetically-modified organisms.
GMO'ers didn't just crawl away after California's Proposition 37 died. They regrouped and focused on Washington, D.C. And in April, legislation to require GMO labeling of whole and processed foods containing ingredients produced by this biotech tool was filed in both houses of Congress.
They filled the Web (the global library) with extremely biased information, completely unverified for accuracy, let alone common sense. In this surreal cloud world, perception can easily overwhelm reality, science and reason. People believe what they want to believe and damn the truth.
This is the ugly underbelly of those railing against genetically-engineered crops and foods. It's what extremists feed and foment on. And they've sucked in many over-educated consumers, some farmers, and now gullible members of Congress.
Now comes Uncle Sam's monster
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration requires GMO labeling of such foods if significantly different in nutritional properties, contains an allergen, or if it contains safety risks for the consumer. That's not enough, contend anti-GMO forces.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY), normally a champion for agriculture, agrees: “American consumers have made it clear that they want to be empowered to make choices about the food they eat,” says Gillibrand, cosponsor of the Senate bill. “This legislation will deliver the transparency every American deserves by providing clear labeling standards for food containing genetically engineered ingredients.”
Groups urging GMO labeling requirements include the Center for Food Safety, National Farmers Union, Consumers Union, Environmental Working Group, Stonyfield Farms, Consumer Federation of America, National Cooperative Grocers Association and New England Farmers Union.
Truths vs. half-truths
Modern food-producing technology is being challenged by these do-gooder activists sucking on consumer hearts via half-vast facts. Consider these examples:
Half-fact: Consumers are becoming more conscious of and want to know what's in the foods they eat.
Truth: It's true – just not the whole truth and reality. U.S. consumers would be far healthier if they would pay closer attention to the most important nutritional information – fat, sugar, calorie and fiber content. Those facts are well established. Concerns about genetically-engineered ingredients are fact-less derogatory insinuations.
Half-fact: There's no data on the safety of GMO foods. These products are untested.
Truth: This is a myth, not even a half-fact. "There have been 600 studies at last count," asserts Brooklyn, N.Y., based Science Journalist Emily Anthes, "and a third were independently funded. So that's 200, at the very least.
"The European Union has funded research for 25 years on these crops. The notion that there's no data is the most pervasive myth."
"[Anti-GMO] campaigns haven't been about transparency," she adds. "They've been about fear. It's also not clear to me that GMOs are all that hard to avoid if that's important to you."
Half-fact: Consumers are concerned about GMO-content in their foods.
Truth: The real question is: How concerned are they? GMO labeling is way down the list. In several consumer studies ranking food label issue, price is number one. Low sodium comes next, followed by reduced fat, saturated fat content, then non-GMO and organic.
Half-fact: More than 60 countries have bans on GMO products. Why not the United States?
Truth: Sorry, GMO label restrictions and no-GMO imports can't be pushed into one pile. More than 60 wrongs don't make one right. But the most compelling answer comes from the former founder of Europe's anti-GMO movement, Mark Lynas. Read on!
Confessions of the ex-anti-GMO leader
Mark Lynas co-founded the anti-GMO movement in Europe in the mid-1990s by "demonizing" biotech crops. Remember, genetic engineering is a major biotech tool.
But at January's Oxford Farming Conference in the United Kingdom, this recipient of the 2008 Royal Society Prize for science writing publicly apologized for his actions. Lynas noted that biotech "is an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment."
He recently participated in a Cornell University panel on how biotechnology can impact crops in a changing climate. Lynas' remarks are a must-read. They are a powerful indictment on the movement he helped found! You'll find excerpts of his speech at www.farmprogress.com by tapping "change of heart" into the search box.
Bottom line: GMO labeling is an unnecessary "right-to-know" intervention. It would impose even more regulatory costs on the food industry (farmers included), taxpayers and consumers – for no great benefit.
Just what we don't need! Make sure your congressional reps know it!
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