Proposition 37, the California ballot measure that called for mandatory labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs, was defeated by voters last week, 53.1 percent to 46.9 percent.
If approved, California would’ve been the first state to require such labeling. There is a right to know what’s in your food, but a Los Angeles Times endorsement urging a “no” vote on Prop 37 said it best: “there is little if any evidence that changing a plant’s or animal’s genes through bioengineering, rather than through selective breeding, is dangerous to the people who consume it.”
Foods that contain genetically modified components do not “increase the levels of known toxicants in foods and introduce new toxicants and health concerns,” as the proposition language suggested.
And don’t just take my word on it — that’s coming from the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the American Dietetic Association, and the National Academy of Sciences. Foods with biotech-derived ingredients pose no more risk to people than any other foods (including organic). Plain and simple, a mandatory label implies a difference where none exists.
I know it’s a tired rebuttal, but farmers and researchers have used selective breeding in plants and animals ever since they figured out they could. Through traditional breeding, today’s cattlemen breed for calving ease or sound feet or more milk. Today’s plant growers breed for disease resistance, stalk strength, drought tolerance and increased nutritional quality.
We should stop improving varieties simply because we now have new technology? I don’t think so. What about the greater science benefit that we could gain from biotechnology? From advanced molecular biology?
In fact, DNA technology is used today in conventional breeding and the selection process of non-GMO crops, too.
I don’t think we can conclude, as The Center for Consumer Freedom did, that there is no such thing as the “food movement.” Neither can we pooh-pooh the importance of transparency, ethics and honesty. But this might be the one battle — if it now moves to Washington, as some have suggested — that agriculture should fight like it did in California, because much of the anti-GMO sentiment has been based on faulty science, emotion, a mistrust of big corporations, and even conspiracy theories.
Are labeling proponents fighting for food safety or the environment, or are they fighting against big business? That’s no foundation for sound policy.
Is there a need for labeling? Not for products that haven’t been shown to cause harm.
By Susan Crowell