RHODE ISLAND - A GMO LABELING BATTLEGROUND
Since 2013, several Rhode Island representatives have made it their mission to implement GMO labeling laws in Rhode Island. Naturally, agriculture has fought back. Each year a labeling law, or several, are proposed and shot down, only to be reintroduced the following year. They have continued to be unsuccessful in passing the needless restrictions thus far. Our concern is one shared by many plant geneticists, including Pam Ronald who explained during her Ted Talk in 2015,
“What scares me most about the loud arguments and misinformation about plant genetics is that the poorest people, the people who most need the technology, may be denied access because of the vague fears and prejudices of those who have enough to eat.”
If you have any questions or concerns about genetic modifications, we encourage you to watch her speech on Ted Talk. She touches on many important points that the opposition of GM technology refuse to acknowledge. Now, some of the laws proposed in Rhode Island are more restrictive than others. H 7255 requires food businesses, excluding restaurants, that have gross sales of over $500,000 to display a sign informing their customers that all of their food products contain modified organisms, unless the label says otherwise. This seems to be more of an organic promotion law than a GMO safety one. Requiring a sign does not target those foods with GM technology, but instead promotes those that are labeled organic. We at very least have to stop and question the purpose of the law, often in politics true intentions are hiding behind a veil of fluffy language meant to drum up emotional support. The bill is “scheduled for hearing and/or consideration“ on February 9th, 2016. H 7274 on the other hand, would “require food companies to disclose if their products contain GM ingredients.” If passed, it will be effective on Jan 1st, 2017. The same law was previously presented last year, but the legislature decided to hold back ‘so that more study on GM ingredients’ could be conducted. The nine-page bill laden with false and hyperbolic accusations being thrown at agriculture shows a deeper purpose, and makes it clear that its intention is to further stimulate the fear surrounding a scientifically sound and reliable agricultural practice. To demonize GMOs in such a way would be irresponsible. When singling out one product, despite having the exact same nutrient quality and safety, you are misleading consumers into falsely believing that the product is unsafe. We are fighting an uphill battle. Consumers believe that if GMOs are safe, then there is no real reason to oppose their labeling. However, as soon as we are forced to take steps to label GM foods, consumers will falsely believe that the labels are necessary to distinguish safe from unsafe, which could be detrimental to a vital technology farmers will depend on in the coming decades to feed the world’s ever growing population. We look at one Princeton study of the anti-GM hysteria in Europe, and it is easy to see how the public was misled and fear-mongered into supporting labeling legislation. In fact, the study points out that that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as ‘mad cow disease,’ was the “leading cause for skepticism over GM food in Europe” despite the fact that “the probable causes of BSE are completely unrelated to genetic engineering and GM food.” Anti-agriculture activists used this crisis to further push the irrational fear of agriculture onto their peers in Europe, and largely led to the country’s overly restrictive laws regarding GM technology. This can be attributed to the trend in the EU to have accepted that risk is normative, not scientific – a notion with which we are wholly unsatisfied. Public opinion should not be a factor in determining safety, a solely scientific venture. In comparison, the US experienced a far more dire crisis for GM technology. The study explained how in 2000, “traces of StarLink maize, a GM maize variety approved for use in feed but not in food, were discovered in Kraft taco shells. After this discovery, 51 consumers reported allergic reactions as a result of consuming the taco shells.” Yet, the United States depended on science and not irrational fear. In a 2001 report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they found that after extensive blood testing there was “no evidence that the reactions that the affected people experienced were associated with an allergic reaction to StarLink maize.” When we depend on science, not public opinion, we find that ‘no evidence’ can be found that shows negative effects from GM technology. Dr. Steven Novella, who examined the largest-ever comprehensive study of GMOs yet, puts it perfectly in the results of his data.
“In order to maintain the position that GMOs are not adequately tested, or that they are harmful or risky, you have to either highly selectively cherry pick a few outliers of low scientific quality, or you have to simply deny science.”
As for us, we are not willing to depend on normative risk or, as Dr. Novella put it, ‘deny science.’ Hopefully you understand the importance of refusing to deny science as well. GM labeling laws, like the ones in Rhode Island, are unneeded, add to food costs for families, and create an even larger hysteria around agriculture. The normative approach is wrong, and it certainly will not help us feed the 9 billion people that will be in this world by 2050. If we alienate technology, the very thing that has brought us this far in our development of food production and allowed us to break the barriers of population limitation, then we will have no chance to sustain our population. So when it comes to Rhode Island, we urge legislators to stop adding to this negative atmosphere around agriculture. Being a fear profiteer is not a good look for anyone, especially when the fear you are using is literally taking food out of people’s mouths.