Hollywood star and lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow is set to appear alongside Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) Wednesday to discuss the need for GMO labeling.
We applaud Paltrow for her willingness to get involved in the political process, and think that all Americans should participate as much as they can in putting pressure on their local politicians to legislate change.
But while labels for genetically modified foods might seem sensible — or at the very least, harmless — the issue obscures some very important facts about the GMO debate.
The scientific community agrees: Genetically modified foods are not harmful to human health.
When it comes to scientific consensus on GMO foods, it’s not even close. In January, a Pew poll surveyed both the general public and scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and found that 88 percent of scientists thought GMOs were “generally safe.” To put that in perspective, only 87 percent of scientists in the poll agreed that human activity is causing climate change.
Why do most scientists think this way? Because time and again, scientific research on the safety of genetically modified foods has proven them safe to eat. The American Medical Association states that there is “no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods” and that “voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education.” The aforementioned AAAS has also announced their support for GMO foods, warning that labels could “mislead and falsely alarm consumers.” Add to that list of supporters the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences -- all independent, non-corporate organizations.
That message has not gotten to the public: In the same poll, 57 percent of the American public thought GMOs were “generally unsafe.”
Human beings have been genetically modifying food for millennia.
In their 2013 editorial against GMO labeling, the magazine Scientific American compares ancient agricultural methods like breeding to the genetic splicing that creates disease-resistant crops:
We have been tinkering with our food's DNA since the dawn of agriculture. By selectively breeding plants and animals with the most desirable traits, our predecessors transformed organisms' genomes, turning a scraggly grass into plump-kerneled corn, for example. For the past 20 years Americans have been eating plants in which scientists have used modern tools to insert a gene here or tweak a gene there, helping the crops tolerate drought and resist herbicides. Around 70 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients.
Genetically engineered foods hold a great deal of promise for poor communities.
You’ve probably heard of “golden rice,” a genetically modified food enriched with Vitamin A. It was created for poor communities in Southeast Asia and Africa, where the primary food staple is rice, but children are going blind for lack of essential nutrients like vitamin A.
In April, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded the creators of golden rice with the Patents for Humanity Award, which recognizes private sector researchers for their contribution to global health.
But as William Saletan of Slate notes in his year-long investigation on the safety of GMOs, golden rice still isn’t commercially available, even though it was invented 16 years ago. Saletan attributes this delay to a ferocious anti-GMO movement spearheaded by Greenpeace. From Slate:
Two years ago anti-GMO activists destroyed a field trial of the rice in the Philippines. Last year they filed a petition to block all field tests and feeding studies. Greenpeace boasted, “After more than 10 years of research ‘Golden’ Rice is nowhere near its promise to address Vitamin A Deficiency.” And a million more kids are dead.
Consumers already have a label for non-GMO foods.
GMOs are in the majority of America’s food supply. An estimated 95 percent of sugar beets, 94 percent of soybeans, 90 percent of cotton and 88 percent of feed corn are genetically engineered, reports USA Today.
But foods that label themselves “organic” have to comply with non-GMO rules, and so anyone who is concerned about avoiding them need only to steer himself toward the organic sections of the supermarket.
We'll stick with the scientists on this issue. Wouldn't it be nice if the celebrities and politicians with the privilege of a large platform could do the same?
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