Guest column by Ramez Naam.
Keith Kloor has affably accustomed me the befalling to bedfellow column actuality again. So let me cut to the chase:
I abutment GMOs. And we should characterization them. We should characterization them because that is the actual best affair we can do for accessible accepting of agronomical biotech. And we should characterization them because there’s actually annihilation to hide.
Let me explain. First, so you don’t aberration me for a GMO-basher, let me acquaint myself. I’m a computer scientist by training. I’m additionally the columnist of three books, all of which endorse the use of biotechnology to advance the animal condition.
In the best contempo of these, The Infinite Resource, I allocution about the ability of addition to save the world. In amid capacity on altitude change and beginning baptize depletion, solar ability and desalination, I accomplish a bull altercation that genetically engineered crops and animals can advice us abound added food, with bigger nutrition, and beneath appulse on the planet.
I accept that. In the aftermost two weeks I’ve accounting about the accurate accord that GMOs are safe and the abounding affidavit that advocates of amoebic aliment should adulation GMOs. And afresh I went on MSNBC to accomplish that case on civic television.
In short, I accept in science, and I accept that science tells us that our currently accustomed GMOs are safe for bodies and acceptable for the planet, and that aing bearing GMOs will be alike better.
So why characterization them?
The abbreviate acknowledgment is this: by angry labeling, we’re agriculture activity to the opponents of GMOs. We’re inducing added abhorrence and paranoia of the technology, rather than less. We’re persuading those who ability contrarily accept no assessment on GMOs that there charge be article to hide, otherwise, why would we action so adamantine to abstain labeling?
My about-face to this point of actualization began in January, back Keith Kloor acquaint a letter he’d accustomed from Jonathan Gilligan, an accessory assistant in the Department of Earth & Ecology Sciences, Vanderbilt University. Gilligan fabricated several acceptable points. It’s account account the accomplished letter.
Will Labels Annihilate GMOs?
Let me add to Jonathan Gilligan’s points.
First, it’s actual that a ample atom of Americans appetite labels on GM food. An ABC News poll begin that 93% of Americans appetite GMO labels. A added contempo HuffPost/YouGov poll put the cardinal at 82%.
These are cutting numbers. They don’t reflect the accurate accord on GMOs, but they do reflect the actual absolute accessible abhorrence and ambiguity about the technology. And added than that, they reflect a accessible actualization that labeling is accepted sense.
GMO proponents (including me) attending at this and worry, actually frankly, that GMO labels on aliment will massively drive bottomward sales of genetically engineered foods, which would advance to beneath burying of genetically engineered fields and beneath analysis into new and bigger GMOs. If true, this would be a tragedy, for it would disengage all the ecology allowances of genetically engineered crops that I’ve categorical previously.
And if the labels were admonishing labels, with a arresting skull and crossbones, they ability actually annihilate agronomical biotech. But they’re not. Or at least, they don’t accept to be. GMO labels about the apple are about alone additive labels, agnate to the angel at the top of this post. Those are the sorts of labels that can be agreed on now if the agronomical and biotech industries drive labeling or at atomic appear to the table. Indeed, they’re the sorts of labels that my co-guests on MSNBC – all labeling proponents – insisted they capital to see. No skull and crossbones – aloof article on the amalgamation that a a chump that GMO capacity are present.
That’s an important distinction, because the abstracts suggests that GM additive labels would not change how consumers shop, by much, if at all. Experiments with GMO labels in France (PDF link) accept apparent no apparent change in chump affairs patterns. Added studies in added than a dozen countries accept apparent the same. Alike back a change is found, it tends to be actually small. For example, a abstraction of GMO labeling of affable oil in China (PDF link) showed a bead of about 4% in bazaar allotment of GMO oils afterwards labeling, apparent but not large. Surveying all the accepted abstracts through 2011, Elise Golan and Fred Kuchler begin that “labeling has negligible appulse on chump choice.”
Far from the end of the world, GMO labels – of the appropriate affectionate – are acceptable to accept little to no appulse on sales of genetically engineered foods.
How Angry Labels Hurts GMO Perception
On the cast side, I’ve appear to accept that the action adjoin labeling massively harms the acumen of genetically adapted foods.
First, there’s the appulse on chump fear. Jonathan Gilligan credibility out that archetypal risk-perception studies actualization that bodies are beneath abashed of a blackmail back they feel that they can analyze and ascendancy their acknowledgment to the threat. Science blogger Ed Yong wrote a agitating allotment on this affair in 2008, blue-blooded “lack of ascendancy drives apocryphal conclusions, cabal theories, and superstitions.”
Do “false conclusions, cabal theories, and superstitions” complete at all like the best blatant wings of the anti-GMO movement, and the memes they advance through the added society? I anticipate so.
While the accurate abstracts shows that GMOs aren’t a blackmail to people’s health, actual few Americans are assured of that. In the latest HuffPo/YouGov poll, 35% of Americans believed that GMOs are alarming to eat, and addition 44% are uncertain. Amid the best believers of GMO bloom risks, actual little is acceptable to change minds in the abbreviate term. But amid the ample set with anemic behavior or uncertainty, the accident acumen studies advance that the abridgement of labeling has the aftereffect of advocacy fear. And that abhorrence itself is a bigger accident to the approaching of genetically engineered crops than labels are. Boost people’s acumen of ascendancy instead and we may see a abridgement in the affluence with which apocryphal conclusions, cabal theories, and superstitions advance into the acquiescent middle.
The additional way the abridgement of labeling hurts GMO acumen is by deepening disbelief of the scientists, institutions, and companies creating and affairs genetically engineered foods. Anti-GMO affect is already acutely alloyed in with anti-corporate affect and suspicion. Amid the abounding tweets directed at me during and afterwards my MSNBC appearance, the best accepted capacity were “All we appetite is disclosure” and “If you’re so appreciative of your GMOs, why don’t you characterization them?”
Those are acutely adamantine arguments to action against. Replying “we’re afraid that if Americans see a GMO label, they’ll be beneath acceptable to buy it” alone strengthens the anti-GMO argument. At best it’s arrogant to consumers, sending a arresting that ‘we apperceive bigger than you what you should eat’. And at affliction it adds ammunition to pseudoscience and cabal theorists who accept that labels are actuality withheld because Monsanto and added agribusiness apropos apperceive that GMOs are harmful.
Even the acknowledgment that states ‘The FDA doesn’t crave a characterization because GMO aliment is functionally identical to non-GMO, and has actually no bloom risk’ (which I acclimated on MSNBC) avalanche collapsed in the face of this response. Orange abstract from apply is labeled. Aliment appearance Red #5 is labeled. Fish are labeled as to whether they’ve been ahead frozen. To a consumer, there’s no believable acumen why these factors should be on a aliment additive characterization while the attendance of GMOs shouldn’t be.
Or rather, the alone believable acumen best consumers can devise is that advice is actuality carefully withheld from them. That’s not the cessation anyone who supports bigger crops through biotechnology should appetite to see consumers appear to.
Lead or Be Dragged
Sooner or later, GMO labels are advancing to the United States. With an cutting majority of Americans acknowledging labels, with arresting legislators introducing federal GMO labeling bills, as happened aftermost week, with added than 20 states because measures to characterization GMOs, it’s alone a amount of time.
The alone catechism now is: Do GMO advocates appetite to be abject forth in this wave? Or do they appetite to advice absolute it? There’s a abundant aberration amid a check of potentially adverse accompaniment labeling laws and a unified system, amid a bad labeling admeasurement and one that’s sensible.
The alone reasonable best for GMO proponents now is to embrace labeling and advice advance the process. We should embrace it to advice bedew chump abhorrence of GMOs. We should embrace it to advice appearance the labeling arrangement into a alive one. And we should embrace it because we accept actually annihilation to hide.
About the Author
Ramez Naam is the columnist of The Infinite Resource: The Ability of Ideas on a Finite Planet, a book about the ability of addition to affected the ecology and accustomed ability challenges that face us, and the decisions we charge to accomplish to win the chase amid addition and consumption.
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