Label GMO foods? Sure, why not?

Lots of coverage in the mainstream media these days over various initiatives to label GMO foods.   I think GMO foods should be labeled; but not for the reasons you might think.

My personal opinion on GMO foods is that their benefits outweigh the potential downsides.  I think GMO foods should be labeled to make the public aware of how much of our food supply depends on GMO’s and the cost of not using GMO’s.  Obviously this will raise some social justice issues since wealthy people will have more opportunity to opt out of buying non-GMO products than the poor but it’s the same problem we have with organic already and it doesn’t seem to cause much of a stir.  My hope is that once GMO products are labeled we could get to the point where the main discussion on GMO’s focuses on the rational and scientific questions, not the irrational and emotional.  This weekend our Sunday paper included a quote from a local anti-GMO activist who tried to link the rise in obesity to increased use of GMO’s.  How about we’ve become too sedentary and we’re eating too much, period?  Or this from the “Health Ranger” Mike Adams: “Roundup herbicide devastates soils, rendering them contaminated and unable to produce healthy crops using traditional (or organic) farming methods. Once a farm plot is destroyed with Roundup, that farmer is forever enslaved to a chemical-based farming protocol.”   Hmmm… last time I checked farms could be certified organic after three years without synthetic chemicals.

Which is not to say I don’t have concerns about GMO’s; there are issues with any technology.  The largest questions I see, and the ones that are most difficult to answer, relate to unintended consequences.  One of the biggest selling points of Round-up ready technology, for example, is that it enables farmers to manage weeds with glyphosate, a relatively safe product in the world of industrial-strength herbicides, in order to reduce tillage and maintain crop productivity.  But as farmers use more and more glyphosate, they are also selecting for Round-up resistant weeds.  How long until glyphosate is no longer effective? Difficult to predict, but glyphosate resistance has already evolved in many weeds.

On the other side of the equation, the world’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, with a disproportionate increase in the least developed countries.  As the need for food increases, land and water resources will become more limited and catastrophic droughts are likely to increase.  While it is easy to demonize industrial agriculture, it’s difficult to envision feeding ourselves and the world without the technology it has developed.

5 thoughts on “Label GMO foods? Sure, why not?”

  1. Point well taken about labelling GMO’s to raise awareness, however, there is no reason to label them. Non-GMO foods can be labelled as such, much like organic labelling, and be a selling point to those who do not wish to eat GMO. Also, anyone wishing to eat non-GMO can simply buy all organic.

  2. It’s so hard to evaluate all the things you read about GMOs. The For rhetoric is prejudiced by money; the Agains
    t seems to be prejudiced by emotions But the latest I’ve read is that there is NOT an upside; that GMOs don’t produce any more than other seeds, that resistant pests soon develop, and that the genetic meddling may do long-term and unsuspected harm to humans and animals.

  3. Miranda:
    I’d like to see more about what you’ve read about lack of productivity improvement in GMO crops – maybe share a link if you have one. Resistance is certainly an issue and even the ardent proponents of GMO’s recognize this.

  4. I think it would be interesting to design a high school science experiment comparing GMO to non-GMO in some sort of hands on way. Are there are any paired GMO and non-GMO seeds that would be available to study? Any where the differences don’t involve toxic chemicals to expose?

    I’m thinking about experiments for a rural agricultural community, and ways to get them thinking and talking about genetic modification and what it does or doesn’t mean and perhaps a sideways approach to a discussion of evolutionary concepts and the development of resistance. I’m not sure if these can all be tied together in any kind of hands-on way, but it seems like a possible way to engage this community.

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