By: Gary Hirshberg, Chairman, Just Label It
The Washington Post’s Monday Editorial, “Genetically modified crops could improve the lives of millions,” reads like a biotech industry puff piece. It not only recycles biotech’s 20-year-old unproven productivity claims, but also overlooks key facts about genetically engineered organisms and the labeling debate.
It conveniently failed to mention that all the research conducted around the safety of genetically engineered crops has been funded by the GMO patent holders themselves. But while we don’t yet have independently conducted or verified evaluations of how consuming GMOs affects human health, we do know that the cultivation of GMOs has led to substantial increases in the use of dangerous herbicides, some of which have been linked to serious health problems.
In fact, the EPA is currently reviewing an application to deregulate “Enlist”, a new corn variety that has been engineered to be resistant to the potent herbicide 2,4-D. Human exposure to 2,4-D has been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as thyroid, immune, and reproductive system problems. The USDA estimates that deregulation of 2-4D resistant corn and soybean would greatly expand the use of this herbicide on crops to more than 170 millions pounds per year over the next decade.
But the reason that this crop is being proposed is that the proliferation of genetically engineered glyphosate (Round Up) resistant corn has led to millions of acres of glyphosate-resistant weeds, thus necessitating a return to older and more dangerous herbicides like 2,4-D, Dicamba and others. So we are trying to solve a problem by employing the same solution that did not work the first time, only this time with even more dangerous herbicides. This “chemical treadmill” benefits the GMO patent holders at the expense of farmers, human health and the environment.
The Post editorial also restates the tired and disproven canard that GE crops increase productivity. In fact, a Leopold Center report makes a compelling case that using non-GMO crops is the best way to maintain or improve both profits and yields, and the Union of Concerned Scientists also contends that GMOs have failed to live up to their promise of higher yields. Farmers are finding that when growing non-GMO crop varieties instead of GMO varieties they, “get the same or better yields, and [we] save money up front.”
Finally, the editorial misses the main point about the labeling debate: GMO labeling isn’t about technology or safety, it’s about transparency. In the United States if a food ingredient poses a food safety hazard, we don’t label its presence; we ban it from our food. The FDA has established through the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act that consumers have a right to know when something is added to food that changes it in ways that the consumer would not likely recognize.
The FDA mandated labeling of irradiated foods because the process of irradiation caused concern to consumers, not because they deemed irradiated food unsafe. The same determination was made when mandating labeling of orange juice from concentrate, wild vs. farmed fish, and country of origin labeling among others.
The Post refers to concerns over GMOs and labeling as “self-indulgent fretting of first-world activists,” when in reality this is a global issue. 64 countries around the world require GMO labeling including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China. This means that two-thirds of the world’s population already has a right to know if there are GMO ingredients in their food. Polls have found that an overwhelming 93 percent of Americans, regardless of age, gender, income, or party affiliation want to know if there are GE ingredients in their food. Four states have already passed some form of GE labeling, and this debate is now taking place in several dozen others. This is America’s biggest food fight and it is only growing.
GMO’s are certainly part of our modern life, but the Post’s anti-labeling position might have been expected in the 1990’s when GE technology was new and unproven. But two decades later, Americans want and deserve the right to know how our food is grown, and whether it is resulting in herbicide proliferation. It is time to just label GMO’s.