Keep Emotion in the GMO Labeling Debate

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The below article was written by James C. Greenwood, CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and published on October 16 in The Hill.

KARA Staff Note: The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 was introduced by Kansas’s forth district Congressman Mike Pompeo. Congressman Pompeo has been a champion in fighting the efforts against sound science-based biotechnology. The bill was approved by the United States of Representatives in July with overwhelming bipartisan support.  

In the food labeling debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), emotion often drives the dialogue, while science is too frequently disregarded. Unfortunately, most consumer fears about products containing GMOs are based on myths.

I understand that people have questions about biotechnology and GMOs. The Council for Biotechnology Information created its GMO Answers initiative to address such questions. While these efforts have led to a more open dialogue and exchange of views, confusion remains and emotion still runs high.

This is why the Biotechnology Industry organization (BIO) is a strong proponent of the House-passed Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which provides a uniform national standard for food labels with clarity and consistency for American consumers. And this is why we need the Senate to consider similar legislation soon. On October 21, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will hold a hearing examining the federal regulation of agriculture biotechnology.

The promises of biotechnology – including agricultural biotechnology and GMO food crops – can be articulated using science, but also with facts that should evoke positive emotional responses. Perhaps rather that always relying on scientific arguments we should also convey the benefits of GMOs that can make us all feel good and will help consumers understand that what’s really at stake is more than a label.

For example, in 2014, 46.7 million Americans lived in poverty and 48.1 million lived in food-insecure households. For a family of four, mandating the labeling of foods containing GMOs can add an additional $500 per year in grocery costs.

GMO crop cultivation actually helps keep the cost of food down. GMO crops require less water, land, and fewer chemical applications than conventional crops, and they are better able to survive drought, disease, weeds, and insects.

Studies show that the larger, more reliable harvests of food products such as corn and soybeans made possible by GMO crops cost 6 to 10 percent less than if biotechnology were not available. These benefits have allowed farmers to spend less time in the fields and more time with their families and volunteering within their communities.

Globally, farmers choosing to grow GMOs have seen net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $18.8 billion in 2012 alone. This allows small land holder farmers to provide more food, enjoy economic security and even better educate themselves, their families and their villages.

The environmental, economic and societal benefits of biotechnology provide poignant human success stories. But fears about food safety are also at the heart of this debate even when the scientific evidence calls for no such concern.

So it’s important to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Academies of Science, American Medical Association and the World Health Organization – among hundreds of other science and health authorities – have agreed that foods containing GMOs are no more risky than the same conventional and organic foods.

Furthermore, the American Medical Association believes, “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the most prestigious scientific organization in the country believes, “legally mandating such a label can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers.”

So, why do foods containing GMOs need to be labeled differently from other foods if there’s no difference? And why force all consumers – including those who can least afford it – to pay extra for such a label? Especially if non-GMO choices already exist and are clearly labeled?

Consumers with such preferences are free to choose non-GMO and USDA Organic-labeled products to avoid genetically modified ingredients. The non-GMO and organic food industry is growing and is always adding new products to appeal to this market.

Along with America’s family farmers, the food and agriculture industries want to work together to address real problems such as alleviating hunger, mitigating climate change and protecting the environment – not stigmatize a farming technology that can help provide solutions to meet these challenges.

Forty-six million Americans live in poverty and a lot of children go to school hungry. That’s both an emotional argument and a scientific fact.