© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
Manufacturers Association is hosting a Washington D.C. summit on July 10,
inviting over 300 companies to discuss the labeling of genetically modified
foods. The meeting is in response to attempts on a state by state basis
to require labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients. In
more than 25 states legislation or initiative petition requiring labeling has
been introduced, most famously in California, where forty million dollars was
spent to defeat a ballot proposal requiring labeling. Two states have
approved labeling, although Connecticut's approval is contingent on neighboring
states also requiring labeling. Although the safety of GMOs is not really
in doubt, and the FDA's position against labeling is well-reasoned and strong,
opponents of the technology will continue to lobby for labels whenever and
wherever they can. The Senate recently rejected mandatory labeling by a
vote of 71 to 27, hence the emphasis on changing state laws.
The organizers of the summit are publicly taking a position of openness,
claiming that the attendees might well choose to double down on their present
opposition to labeling and embark upon a campaign to educate consumers about
GMOs. This is unlikely, given the past record of big companies'
willingness to take a stand on principle. The smart money would be on an
agreement to adopt some form of nationwide labeling. This reaction will
be understandable and perhaps even defensible from the point of view of the
companies involved. Sorting products by state and labeling them in fifty
different ways would be a nightmare of Kafka-esque proportions, which is
exactly why the proponents of labeling have taken the fight to state capitols.
So, the more interesting discussions will be over the contents of the label.
It would probably have to be located somewhere else on the package other
than where FDA required labeling appears, since according to the FDA, there
isn't any difference between genetically modified foods and those food items
developed by conventional breeding. If an industry adopted label is used
and included in the FDA label, then the value of the FDA label will be
lessened. An FDA label will no longer be about science, but rather about
the ability to apply political pressure, state by state.
It will be in the industry's interest to have as benign a label as possible,
while the backers of GMO labeling will no doubt lobby for an iridescent skull
and crossbones. As a farmer who has used the technology for nearly two
decades, my suggestions won't be heeded, but, in order to help start the
conversation, herewith some suggestions, all to be prefaced by the information
that the product being labeled contains GMOs:
“You, as well as 300 million other Americans, have been eating this stuff for
20 years. If there were a problem, it would have shown up by now.”
“We've been selectively improving crops and animals for, oh, 10,000 years or
so. There's nothing natural about this product, or anything else you've
“By consuming this product, you're helping farmers save millions of tons of
“By consuming this product, you're helping farmers to cut their use of
insecticides by millions of pounds. Enjoy!”
“Products without this label may have been developed by exposing seeds to
radiation, and then sprouting the seeds to find out if any beneficial mutations
occurred. Products with this label have benefited from the precise
addition of a single gene. Your call.”
“Critics of this technology point out that the main benefits of the technology
have accrued to farmers and not consumers. The same critics have opposed
the introduction of GM products that can save lives and prevent blindness in
third world children. If this reminds you of the old story about the
young man who murdered his parents and then asked for court's mercy because he
was an orphan, you aren't alone. Avoiding this product will make it more
likely that lifesaving technologies won't be developed/marketed in the future.
Agriculture has managed to increase the food available per person as the world
population has doubled, while at the same time reducing the number of
acres under cultivation. This has been a great boon to wildlife and
forests the world over. This has happened because of the benefits of
agricultural research and technology, including the development of genetically
modified seeds. By avoiding this product, you'll make further
improvements in yield and productivity much less likely.”
“Developers of this technology were recently awarded the World Food Prize.
You can recognize their contribution to humanity by calling this number.”
On second thought, maybe I do have a future as a label writer, and maybe
labeling GMOs can serve a public good. I offer these labels with no
thought of financial gain, and will be satisfied with a small acknowledgement
of authorship on every food item sold.
Hurst is a farmer in Missouri