This November, Californians will vote on whether to require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, as Care2′s Beth Buczynski recently reported. Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), said that defeating the California labeling initiative “is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.” GMA represents the country’s largest food and beverage manufacturers, including PepsiCo, General Mills and Monsanto. In a speech to the American Soybean Association last month (more than 90% of all soybeans planted in the U.S. are genetically engineered), Bailey warned her audience, “if California wins, you need to be worried the campaign will come to your state.”
But why does industry have to be worried? Michele Simon, a public health attorney who brought GMA president Bailey’s remarks to my attention, writes, “it seems rather ironic that the same food makers taking advantage of every inch of food packaging space to convince shoppers to purchase its products would object so strongly to labeling for something they claim is not harmful.”
The fact is, food manufacturers know that sales will go down, and perhaps by a lot. They know about the polls showing how more than 90% of Americans want genetically modified foods to be labeled, and they know that many of them will subsequently decide not to buy them. A poll taken in February showed 91% of voters in favor of the FDA requiring that “foods which have been genetically engineered or containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled to indicate that.” In fact, 81% “strongly” favor mandatory labeling. Nearly all Democrats (93% favor, 2% oppose), independents (90% favor, 5% oppose) and Republicans (89% favor, 5% oppose) are in favor of labeling. “Outside of motherhood and apple pie, few topics in American public opinion can muster over 90% support for a given side,” reads the report issued by the polling agency.
The bottom line is that consumers have a right to know and a right to choose to avoid (or to eat) foods that have been genetically engineered, notwithstanding the industry’s contention that GE foods are perfectly safe. And notwithstanding the policy statement issued by the American Medical Association (AMA) in June, which declared that “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods” because “there currently is no evidence that there are material differences or safety concerns in available bioengineered foods.” But is science-based evidence really the only thing that matters when it comes to what we eat?
As Marion Nestle, author of Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, describes on her blog, people decide what’s safe and good to eat based on science and/or on values. She explains:
1. Science-based. Translation: if the food is safe, it is acceptable. GM [genetically modified] foods are presumed safe; therefore, they are acceptable and any criticism of them is irrational.
2. Value-based. Translation: even if GM foods are safe, they are not necessarily acceptable for reasons of precaution, ethics, religion, culture, or concerns about corporate control of the food supply. Science-based approaches are insufficient; they also need to address such concerns.
In many other circumstances, consumers aren’t begrudged the right to choose not to eat a particular food based on their values. Muslims won’t eat pork, vegans don’t eat dairy and many dieters are against high-fructose corn syrup, for reasons that may have nothing to do with the science on the safety of these foods. Rather, for value-based reasons, they consider these foods unacceptable and choose to avoid them, and they have every right to know if certain products contain them. Likewise, many Californians and other Americans just don’t want to eat GE foods. This is about freedom of personal choice. Without basic information, without GE labeling, that right and that freedom are taken away.
Lastly, let’s consider the industry’s argument that GE foods are safe to eat, a claim that appears to be endorsed by the AMA. But it’s a qualified endorsement, in fact, as the policy statement also calls on the FDA to require mandatory pre-market safety testing before releasing a GE food or ingredient into the market rather than relying only on voluntary safety consultation as it does now. “In recommending premarket safety testing, which is not now required,” Nestle writes, “the AMA appears to be raising serious questions about the safety of GM foods.”
A comprehensive, science-based report on the safety of GM foods, GMO Myths and Truths, was published in June by Earth Open Source. The authors argue that a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that most of the claims made by GM backers about GM foods are not true. They are in fact not safe, not sustainable and do not help to alleviate hunger. Care2′s Cathryn Wellner discusses the report in her post “Genetic Engineers Blast GM Crops.”
Whether your choice to eat or avoid genetically engineered foods is based on your values or the science, the choice should be yours. If you agree, sign the petition below.
Photo Credit: sbassi