Monsanto needs new argument for opposing GMO labeling

Monsanto is so un-COOL: Rob Smart, aka @jambutter, recently had a Twitter debate with Monsanto representatives about whether labeling products containing geneitcally modified food would do any harm, and, if so, to whom. "Again and again, Monsanto stresses that mandatory labeling for foods continaing GM ingredients would undermine the U.S. labeling system," he writes. Then he points out that the recent mandatory Country of Origin Labeling program proves the exception to all Monsanto's "rule" for labeling. (Every Kitchen Table) Hmm. COOL took years to be implemented: should we get started on the GMO labeling campaign?

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7 Responsesto “Monsanto needs new argument for opposing GMO labeling”

  1. Aimee says:

    According to what Michael Pollan said on NPR last week, 90% of Americans want GMO's to be labeled. I believe that qualifies as an overwhelming majority. Failure to adopt labeling laws that such a majority desire is a clear sign that the fox is running the henhouse.

  2. Anastasia says:

    Labeling is a lot more complex than it seems at first glance. If we label "this product may contain an ingredient derived from a genetically engineered plant", the label is really not very useful unless it says what gene it is. There is a big difference, I think we would all agree, between RoundUp Ready and virus resistance. If we decide to have the GMO label, then should we consider a label saying "this product may contain an ingredient derived from plant line that was exposed to chemical or radioactive mutagens" because research has shown that plants exposed to mutagens have more genomic changes than genetically engineered plants. Then, we might want to label the exact line of plants that the ingredients may have been derived from as well as where they were grown because research has shown that location and genotype have more to do with changes in metabolic products than the addition of a transgene. Then, if we want to label things that *might* have negative effects according to the precautionary principle, we should consider labels for things that are actually proven to be dangerous to human health and the environment. What about labels for organophosphates, atrazine, or even "organic" pesticides like zinc phosphide and sabadilla? I'd love to see a long list of exactly how everything is produced, but it gets ridiculous really quickly. Just my 2 cents.

  3. Anastasia says:

    Just wanted to add that I think labeling is a good thing - only I think it's inappropriate to label one thing and not another.

    PS: thanks for cleaning up that formatting mess that was at the top of my comment!

  4. Labeling polls have also found that a sizable number of people want "hybrids" labeled on their food as well. From a 2001 poll: <blockquote>Many consumers desire information on food labels about how foods and their ingredients were produced. A strong majority wanted foods containing GE ingredients to be labeled, 62% in one question (Question #2) and 70% in another (Question #3). To put those response rates in a larger context, the survey asked about the labeling of other technologies. Seventy six percent of consumers wanted labeling for crops grown using pesticides (Question #3), 65% for crops grown using plant hormones (Question #3), and 56% for crops that were imported (Question #2). Remarkably, 40% of respondents said that they would like products containing cross-bred corn to be labeled (Question #3). Cross-breeding of corn (and every other crop), of course, has been used to improve corn for decades and would have to be listed on every product containing corn. Those results indicate that many consumers would like more information about how their food is being produced — be it through biotechnology, pesticides, importation, or even traditional breeding. Genetic engineering is one of several processes that many consumers say they would want to know about. One explanation might be that consumers, few of whom have ever lived on farms, want labeling for any process with which they are not intimately familiar. The public needs to be better educated about where food comes from, whether or not foods are labeled with process information.</blockquote> Some of the information from the above study as well as others are summarized here, including this interesting revelation: <blockquote>While the majority of consumers consistently say they would prefer biotech products to be labeled, this is a top priority for a relatively small group. Further, only 12% in the CSPI study said they would be willing to pay for labeling of GE foods if it increased the cost of their family’s food by $50 a year or more, but 44% were not willing to pay anything for the label information.</blockquote> This research backs up findings from polls in Oregon when a labeling measure was defeated by the voters a few years ago - the researchers found that desire for labeling fell down to 20% if it cost a couple bucks per person per year. I think there may be a place for labeling foods derived through genetic engineering, but no one has offered up anything that made any meaningful sense from the perspective of informing people about what is in their food. The "contains GMO" label is sought politically as a means to create a consumer backlash, but research in Europe has found that people generally don't even read the labels. Companies offering products both GE and non-GE don't notice a difference in sales. (Do Consumers Not Care About Biotech Foods or Do They Just Not Read the Labels? Charles Noussair, Stephane Robin and Bernard Ruffieux September, 2001) It is interesting that Michael Pollan calls for labels for GE crops, when his most recent book, In Defense of Food, decried the useless labels "sprouting like daisies" in the supermarket. Labels that don't actually help the consumer are a pretty tough position to argue for. As Anastasia points out, why is there no call for pesticide labeling? I don't know about you, but I'd like to know if my strawberries came from a farm that uses methyl bromide (conventional), or if my food was sprayed with Organic Rotenone. Sometimes I despise politics. :-p

  5. Oh geez, why don't html tags work here.... this is a wordpress blog.

  6. Whoops, I forgot to link to the second paper, the one I mentioned summarized some of the previous study:
    http://calag.ucop.edu/0402AMJ/pdfs/consumer.pdf

  7. Me says:

    People make choices for all kinds of different reasons. While the question of whether or not these products are "safe" is often discussed as the center of the argument, it should really about the consumer's right to know where their food comes from and to choose accordingly. Seems to me if the FDA feels it should be mandatory for orange juice companies to inform their consumers whether or not their product is from concentrate or not, we should know whether or not our foods are GMOs - especially since polls have shown this to be important information to the average consumer. The consumer should be allowed to make that decision based on whatever educated or ridiculous reasons they want. I am tired of the FDA argument that "the consumer is confused" - it shouldn't matter to the FDA what my reasons for choosing are, I have the right to "honest and fair dealings", to use their words.

    @anastasia - While it is true that we can't label everything, I don't see this as a valid argument against labeling some things. "If we can't do it perfectly why bother doing it at all" will not get us anywhere.