Fear of the unknown hazards of technology has been the inspiration for science fiction cautionary tales from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Japanese superstar Godzilla. Sadly, this fear extends to the harmless – and indeed extremely positive – applications of science in contemporary agriculture, especially when it comes to producing cheap, plentiful food for people on every rung of the economic ladder.
Modern agriculture’s ability to feed the Earth’s population is nothing short of miraculous. Modern science and practices have enabled the farming sector to raise livestock and grow crops capable of offering inexpensive nutrition to the majority of the world’s billions. One group whom one would think ecstatic at such developments would be the religious shareholder investors at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. The ICCR folk, however, turn up their noses at genetically modified organisms that have revolutionized agriculture over the past 20 years, making it possible to grow drought-resilient and pest-resistant crops.
This from the ICCR website:
More than 60 percent of all processed foods available today contain GE ingredients such as soy, corn, or canola; and because in the U.S. there is no mandate that GE food be labeled, most consumers are most likely unknowingly consuming them. ICCR members call on food and beverage companies to apply the precautionary approach in decision making until such time as science can rule out any harmful side-effects and further advocate for the consumers’ right to know through proper labeling of GMO ingredients in all products. Moreover, seed and chemical companies are asked to monitor and disclose potential health effects, particularly unknown allergenic effects; environmental impacts of GMOs; and respect for and adherence to seed saving rights of traditional agricultural communities.
ICCR has registered its support for a GMO labeling bill currently before the California legislature:
In November 2012 Californians went to the polls and defeated a bill (Proposition 37) that would have mandated labeling of GE food or food that contained ingredients produced using genetic engineering technology. Now, not satisfied with that rather clear outcome, a new bill — SB 1381 — has been introduced by state senator Noreen Evans. This one similarly mandates labeling but differs in that farmers and distributors would no longer potentially be the objects of litigation if foods are not properly labeled.
Despite the fact that billions are being fed efficiently and cheaply through GMOs as well as ignoring the fact that consumers may already discern the difference between GMO-derived and organic foods because the latter are labeled thusly, ICCR persists in its campaign to vilify the former. Scientific research is ignored, but more important so are the tremendous benefits rendered the world’s appetite for plentiful food.
The American Council on Science and weighed in on the labeling issue on its blog this week:
As we noted previously with respect to Proposition 37, such bills are nothing but a ruse to mislead consumers and aid the organic foods industry. Americans have been eating genetically engineered food for nearly two decades, and there have been no reliably documented cases of harm from such consumption — none. Rumors and myths about environmental or fauna disruptions are similarly undocumented by objective observers. But if consumers want foods that are not genetically engineered, there is already a way to obtain them — buy USDA-certified organic products. Such products, by definition, may not contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Why is this bill, and others like it, a ruse? Because such labeling, despite what their advocates cynically assert, implies that non-GE foods are somehow more healthful than their GE counterparts, which has never been shown to be the case.
ACSH’s Dr. Ruth Kava states:
While we do believe a consumer has the right to know what is in their foods, that should refer to ingredients — not to how they’re produced. A peanut-containing product must be labeled since we know that peanut proteins can cause severe, indeed life-threatening symptoms, in susceptible individuals. But that has nothing to do with how the peanuts are produced. And anyone who implies that that is not the case needs some basic scientific education.
A comprehensive review of the last 20 years of peer-reviewed research on the compositional equivalency of transgenic crops — that is, the relative safety of food from genetically modified (GM) crops to their unmodified equivalents — has found that not only are transgenic crops no less safe than their traditional counterparts, but that the creation of transgenic crops is “less disruptive of composition compared with traditional breeding.”
Over the past 20 years, the U.S. FDA found that every one of the 148 transgenic events that they evaluated to be substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts, as have the Japanese regulators studying 189 examples, including foods with combined-traits. These studies spanned a broad range of crops, including corn, soybean, cotton, canola, wheat, potato, alfalfa, rice, papaya, tomato, cabbage, pepper, raspberry, and a mushroom, and traits of herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, virus resistance, drought tolerance, cold tolerance, nutrient enhancement, and expression of protease inhibitors. “Hence,” the authors write, “compositional equivalence studies uniquely required for GM crops may no longer be justified on the basis of scientific uncertainty.” In other words: no special studies are required of GM crops on the basis of scientific uncertainty; unintended health consequences have failed to manifest in GM crops.
Sadly, ICCR disregards these studies in favor of a precautionary principle lesson gleaned from science fiction rather than science fact. After all, Frankenstein’s monster was only Boris Karloff in makeup and Godzilla was just a Japanese guy in a lizard suit.