Science & Technology

Scientific American: "Mandatory labels for genetically modified foods are a bad idea"


Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

In its latest issue, Scientific American denounces the activist disinformation campaigns that have been trying to impose mandatory labeling on foods containing ingredients derived from biotech crops. The worry is that some 20 states are currently considering such scientifically ignorant labeling mandates. The editorial (behind a paywall) notes:

Instead of providing people with useful information, mandatory GMO labels would only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people's health. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization and the exceptionally vigilant European Union agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared to conventional breeding techniques-which swap giant chunks of DNA between one plant and another-genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, less likely to produce an unexpected result. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tested all GMOs on the market to determine whether they are toxic or allergenic. They are not.

The editors at Scientific American also point out that the anti-biotech activists know all too well that consumers would misconstrue any biotech labeling as a warning labels. The editorial also notes that had California's Proposition 37 mandating GMO labeling passed last year, it would have substantially increased food prices without providing any safety benefits whatsoever.

Private research firm Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants estimated that Prop 37 would have raised the average California family's yearly food bill by as much as $400. The measure would also have required farmers, manufacturers and retailers to keep a whole new set of detailed records and to prepare for lawsuits challenging the "naturalness" of their products.

The SciAm editors further note:

Antagonism toward GMO foods also strengthens the stigma against a technology that has delivered enormous benefits to people in developing countries and promises far more. Recently published data from a seven-year study of Indian farmers show that those growing a genetically modified crop increased their yield by 24 percent and boosted profits by 50 percent. These farmers were able to buy more food-and food of greater nutritional value-for their families….

Ultimately, we are deciding to whether we will continue to develop an immensely beneficial technology or shun it based on unfounded fears.

Finally, the editorial properly excoriates Greenpeace and other activist groups for promoting "misinformation and hysteria" against the development of vitamin A-rich Golden Rice. Consuming Golden Rice could help prevent blindness and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of poor children every year.

For more background, see my column, "The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops."