Food scientist Bruce Chassy: Although some GMO sympathizers embrace labeling, it’s a disaster in waiting

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The issue of labeling of genetically modified foods is hotly debated, and not only among strident proponents and opponents of the technology. There are a number of prominent and influential journalists who are sympathetic to the technology, whose views and thoughtfulness I respect immensely, including British environmentalist Mark Lynas, Washington Post food writer Tamar Haspel, risk expert David Ropeik and Guardian sustainability writer Marc Gunther. All but Gunther have endorsed one version or another of GMO food labeling and Gunther believes labeling is inevitable, and soon. Many of them argue that it might be wise for the food and seed industries to throw in the towel and embrace it, believing that activists rhetoric would die down or the public would ignore the noise.

Although I admire their sincerity, on this issue we part ways, on three grounds: Mandatory GMO labeling and most forms of voluntary labeling would likely have a destructive impact on: (1) consumers; (2) supply chain of farmers, shippers, food processors and food outlets; and (3) science and the law. I addressed some of these issues most recently in an article in The HIll. Here is more elaboration:

Consumers

First, it’s important to note that those who are aggressively lobbying for mandatory labeling, despite their high visibility in the press and social media, remain a distinct minority. While as many as 93 percent of people have responded in polls that they believe foods containing GMOs should be “identified”, those were classic “push” polls in which consumers were asked various forms of the leading question: “Do you support labeling of GMOs?” That’s a combination of negative stigmatization and suggestive questioning.

When not-prompted—when asked the open-ended question in a survey released this summer if there was anything not now on labels that they would like to see added—only 4 percent of Americans mention GM labeling as information not presently on labels that they want on labels. Among all respondents, 8 percent wanted additional nutritional information; 5 percent wanted more ingredient information. Some 28 percent reported viewing GMOs unfavorably, but equal numbers of people had positive or neutral impressions. This survey, as many others, have shown that the overwhelming majority of people have little understanding of the technology or its potential impact, good or bad.

I don’t believe there is any question among reasonable people that labeling GMO on foods, no matter what the specifics would create a lot of uncertainty and likely instill unnecessary fears about what constitutes healthy food—fears that those who stand to gain from public concern, the organic industry in particular, would be incentivized to try to exacerbate.

Claims that one study suggests that most consumers would shrug about a GMO label are entirely theoretical. There is no case study for instituting labeling in a country where products have gone unlabeled for 18 years, where labeling creates a stigma that can radically impact consumer behavior, and anti-GM activists would continue to aggressively try to stigmatize products produced by a process that science says has no material impact on the crop or food product.

If a label is ultimately approved, those ideologically opposed to GM foods and crops would likely quickly transmute their “right to know” effort into a massive campaign to associate that label with health dangers and ecological disaster. Some already make such claims. Check out this infographic that the Genetic Literacy Project put together with statements by leading proponents of a “right to know”. It’s clear their goal is to shut down a technology and not inform the public.

They may not be entirely successful, but as I explain below, they do not have to “win”—they just have to slightly impact the balance of conventional and organic food sales. Remember, a loss of a few percentage points of market share for some products and/or companies could dramatically impact the health of a company.

If the pro-labeling forces were not so well organized and influential, particularly in social media, perhaps various stakeholders could be convinced to take that riverboat gamble. But I think it’s presumptuous for journalists or commentators to make the kind of argument that some journalists are now making.

Supply chain

Labeling costs a lot of money. Don’t believe anyone who says it’s only the cost of the ink. Some of the costs incurred by enacting mandatory labeling can be known a priori. The costs apply independent of whether a company is producing GM or non-GM products. They apply to everything moving through the system once labeling is mandatory.

Let’s look at costs that will accrue regardless of what decisions the players make. Once a GM-Free or Contains-GM label is required by law, producers would have a legal obligation to test to determine the GM or non-GM status of what they produce.

Farmers and processors are already paid a price premium for GM free grain and ingredients, which is one reason why foods labeled GM-free are significantly more costly than their unlabeled and presumably GM-containing counterparts.  A recent meta-analysis of the research literature establishes that GM crops increase farmers’ yields significantly often by as much as 10-20%, and lower labor and input costs. This is why farmers are willing to pay a premium for GM seeds.

The economic benefits don’t accrue just to farmers. Higher productivity reduces the cost of animal feed and food ingredients which in turn benefits consumers. Any shift to non-GM varieties by farmers in order to meet demand for non-GM ingredients will tighten supplies and drive up prices for both GM and non-GM whole grain and ingredients made from them. Food companies will either absorb the cost increases— which is not likely — or pass it on to all consumers, not just those who select GM-free foods.

It’s also worth pointing out that the cost of the state labeling laws in Maine and Vermont, and the others being proposed at the state level, would not only (perhaps even not primarily) be born by producers who knowingly use GM ingredients. After all, if you’re using commodity corn or soy, you can be pretty sure you’ve got GM ingredients in the mix. However, if you’re a producer who wants to sell your product as “GM-free” — or even if you don’t care about promoting your product as GM-free but think you’re not using GM ingredients — the burden still falls on you to get written certifications from your suppliers that your ingredients do not contain GM.

Those certifications in turn require the use of more costly raw materials, segregation and testing. It costs money to segregate a GM crop from a non-GM crop. You need separate facilities from one end of the food chain to do that effectively. There is research that shows facilities for separate handling are needed to meet a 1 percent threshold, which is higher than most state initiatives have proposed. Setting a far more liberal level of 5 percent mixing of GM with non-GM using the same facilities—and again no bill has proposed this flexible a level—would make compliance a possibility in theory but a company would need to be very careful.

The biggest cost burden of mandatory GM labeling falls on those who don’t label their products as containing GM. Most people who support mandatory labeling think they’re just putting the burden of labeling on GM-containing foods. The facts are that producers who want to avoid GM have to pay significant costs in order to avoid liability for unintentional presence of GE ingredients. If you’re a grocery retailer who sells unlabeled foodstuffs, and someone ‘finds’  GM content in that food, you’re on the hook for massive fines, penalties and perhaps lawsuits from disgruntled consumers who were actively trying to buy GM-free products. You can be sure that the ‘food police’ will be actively testing products for violations of labeling laws.  In a word, everybody pays for mandatory labeling.

There’s a parenthetical sidebar here that at the current sampling rate the non-GM category in the EU which has a 0.9 percent upper limit for GM has only a 95 percent chance that the product will be between 0.2 and 2.0 percent GM content so the whole idea of GM free is a big laugher.  Some samples with GM content above 0.9% will be accepted and other samples with content below 0.9% will be rejected.

 If this isn’t clear to you, put 11 black beans in a jar with 989 white beans and mix them up thoroughly—that’s 1.1 percent black beans. Repeatedly sample 10 beans and you will see how hard it is to determine if a load of beans meets the 1 percent standard. I’ll give you a clue, most samples will contain 10 white beans but if you label the jar “black bean free” you will have violated the law because the bottle contains greater than 1 percent black beans. And by the way, you will have used up a lot of your beans doing this testing. Not an economical thing to do.

Every company along the supply chain network, from farmers to storage facilities, transport vehicles, processors, etc., would need to test and document each batch that comes to a silo or collection point anywhere in the country. From that point on every time a batch of any grain or food ingredient changed hands, was processed or was added to a product, it would have to be tested and documented.

The lateral flow strips that are used for this cost only $5-$10 a piece and you only need a few for each load to sample correctly. But the number of samples you take and where you take them from determines how much chance there is you get the right or wrong answer—remember the bean example above. This is true every step of the way so multiple time-consuming tests, would be required every time you test to ensure statistical reliability.

Once the grain is transported and pooled and the processing into fractions begins, you would often have to use much more costly DNA tests—about $100 per test. Depending on the raw material and the product just the cost of all the tests would add 10 to 25 percent to the cost of the product. This isn’t conjecture and it isn’t theory. Thus it is quite disingenuous when the pro-labeling people say it costs nothing to print GMO free or contains GM on the label. It is in fact an out and out lie.

What might happen if companies or individuals along the supply chain were found to have violated a set level—most likely 1 percent or less based on current bills. Based on the legislation proposed to date in Oregon, California, Colorado and Vermont, they would be subject to tort actions, which even if not successful could cost tens of million or even hundreds of millions of dollars. The fear of such a lawsuit alone could prompt producers to drop all foods with GM ingredients just as a matter of fiduciary self-protection. If a company should lose such a suit, considering its likely class action status, liabilities could stretch into the billions of dollars, rivaling tobacco settlements. Worse, if different states adopt different standards as has been the case so far with state ballot initiatives, 50 percent of GM-containing products will not be required to be labeled but some products will be considered GM in one state but not in another. This will create legal chaos for the food industry.

Some have asked why food companies spend millions fighting state GM labeling ballot initiatives. For them, the cost of fighting the flawed, expensive, and chaotic state regulations is absolutely peanuts compared to the cost of testing, segregation and documentation forever and ever.

Is it really worth it to force a major shift away from GM crops and force major increases in costs just to satisfy a very small minority who care about this issue and whose needs could be met by the current voluntary labeling system? Remember, there are more than 20,000 certified GM-free products, as well as all GM-free but untested organic products, available in stores today.

Now if the law allowed a manufacturer to say on the label that the product had not been tested for GM content that would change the cost picture a good bit because legally challengeable tests wouldn’t be necessary. It would not resolve the issue of how consumers feel about it but I have always felt most consumers don’t care much about the GM issue and it wouldn’t bother more than half of them one way or the other if the GM status was unknown. My suspicions, however, do little to assuage the fears of food industry executives that such labels will cost them market share.

To date no state has considered a “not tested for GM statement” or even a “may contain GM statement.” The “does” or “doesn’t contain GM” laws that have been proposed to date mean big increases in costs apply. I could add here that if the maximum threshold of GM in non-GM was set at 5% as noted above it would make life a lot easier but no state has proposed that either.

Another alternative of course would be to have those who insist on “knowing what’s in their food” be the ones to absorb the extra costs to the food system. In other words, there could be a label that read “Contains no GMO Ingredients,” with the testing and legal responsibility falling to those who demand such a label rather than forcing the vast majority of those who apparently do not care much about this issue to carry the extra cost burden.

None of these options would be of much relief for food companies that participate in an extremely competitive market and cannot afford to lose even a few percent of market share. Surely different players would likely take different approaches and the cost outcome for consumers would depend on what mix of responses food companies make. The potential impacts of mandatory labeling were addressed in a report published in June by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.

No we can’t predict exactly which brands would lose how much market share but to a food industry executive that isn’t good enough. Good stewardship of brand image and the need to continue to maximize sales will force most of them to switch as many products as possible to GM free status. Those are the market realities and that’s what’s happened in most other countries.

Some companies may not have options because they may not be able to source enough GM free ingredients and/or may not be able to afford them. Without a doubt, if mandatory labeling is adopted the cost of GM-free ingredients will go up—how much depends on how many companies attempt to go GM free. There is not a single executive in the food business that I have ever spoken to who is ready to bite the bullet and put “contains GM” on any of their products and I have studied the food industry since before the first GM crop. Please understand the calculus here. To a bit market player like organic, chiseling off 5% of conventional sales through mandatory labeling laws represents a 100% increase in their market share and to a big food company losing 5% is cause for the Board of Directors to start firing people.

Science and the Law

Under U.S. law labels are required when there is a material or safety difference that consumers would not otherwise be aware of or have reason to expect. Research shows and FDA affirms that there is no safety or compositional difference between GM foods and their conventional counterparts. But a few percent of people believe there is a difference and therefore believe labels are appropriate. At the end of the day, it will be up to courts to decide if there is a material difference to the extent that it trumps the developer’s First Amendment rights which protect them from forced prejudicial speech. State labeling laws have in addition the problem of pre-emption of federal labeling authority so they will be headed to court (Vermont is defending against a suit over their law).

There are other legal arguments against forced labeling. Suffice to say that if the states or federal government pass such laws the courts will ultimately decided their legitimacy. Thus labeling is not about what the people want or what the industry wants, it’s about how the courts interpret our constitution and laws. One role of the court system is to temper public passions. Another is to hold those who govern in check. We are in for a long legal battle on labeling.

I do not agree with those who predict that these state initiatives will go on and on. The Vermont case will tell us a great deal. If the courts find the law unconstitutional it’s going to be very hard for other states to mount ballot initiatives. And if it is expensive for the industry to keep defending ballot initiatives, it can’t be easy for the labeling advocates to keep spending on a losing cause. The most likely states to say yes have already voted no on ballot initiatives so the chances of success get even smaller in each successive state in which initiatives appear on the ballot.

The second thing that might happen—although less likely—is a national law that mandates voluntary labels and affirms FDA’s authority. That would have a chilling effect on state labeling initiatives too. I oppose such a law because I oppose any law that makes GM a distinct legal entity which is different from organisms bred by any other modality of breeding. From a science perspective I don’t like pro-labeling or no-labeling laws because GM is just another way of breeding—all breeding introduces genetic modifications. And it’s a moving target. The technology keeps moving so fast—most recently with the introduction of various forms of gene editing—that last year’s definition of GM won’t capture next-year’s technology.

Labeling would cause chaos in the food industry, raise prices, reward retailers and the organic industry with windfall profits and accomplish absolutely no good. Consumers who can’t define what a GMO is wouldn’t even be told if half the products they eat are GM or not. I am not foolish enough to think that the court declaring mandatory labeling unconstitutional or the passage of a national law against mandatory labeling would stop anti-GM activism. In fact, there is already evidence that activists are now focusing on city and county GM bans and other kinds of local ordinances. It’s a kind of assymetric grass roots guerilla warfare to which the food industry will be hard pressed to respond. I don’t think anything will cause anti-GMO and food and agricultural activists to ‘lay down their arms’ until the people who are advocating vast restrictions on GM products succeed and/or find another issue and another source of financial support for their campaigns. Their agenda is to become a political force and a broader mainstream movement.

As a society we have to decide if we are going to let small groups of well-financed professional activists drive the public policy agenda on issues like the labeling fight. These groups claim to represent the people but they are self-appointed rather than elected. They accuse those who oppose them of being shills for industry but they are in the full time pay of so-called non-profit corporations, particularly in the organic industry, which is poised to reap huge profits if labeling laws are put in place.

There is no mechanism to hold them accountable for what they say. Absent accountability they use misinformation and fear-mongering to whip up support for their agenda. And who funds them? In many cases groups who stand to profit from their activities. I wonder how the voters who have supported what they believed were grass roots efforts to bring “right to know” labeling to their state would think if they knew that the statute that passed in Vermont was written by the notorious law firm Emord & Associates, a Washington DC law firm that represents key players in the organic, dietary supplement and alternative natural products industry—including Mike Adams, founder of the quack site NaturalNews.com—in its drive to prevent labeling of its products. Embord, working with the Center for Food Safety, has been a key advisor to activists drafting anti-GMO labeling initiatives around the United States.

Like the Chinese proverb says “may you live in interesting times.” We do. Yogi Berra said “predictions are hard, especially about the future.” My prediction is that eventually the future will tell us who was right about whether this is or is not a seminal issue, and we will also learn if we did the right things to ensure that 10-12 billion people in 2050 can sustainably produce enough food. I won’t be here to find out but when I think about my children’s and grandchildren’s future, I am not encouraged that we any longer have the will to resolve our differences and move forward. Labeling being just one example.

Bruce Chassy is Professor Emeritus of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

  • Judy Nonarchi

    Excellent and thorough economic analysis! Much appreciated.
    And, remember, the Colorado ballot initiative required evidence that the GE crops were “entirely segregated,” meaning 0%. Imagine trying to parse out the costs of segregation all the way up the line for THAT one.

    A person’s desire to know does not give them a “right” to have the government force unnecessary, inconsistent, and misleading labels on food in a new expensive segregated system that the rest of us have to pay for. If activists really want to “know,” they’ll do the research themselves and find out what % of soy, corn, and other products are genetically modified, and they’ll stay away from food with those ingredients, and they’ll help out the economy by paying more for their organic or non-gmo foods. Much simpler.

    • First Officer

      This is already supported by case law, to wit, the rBST case where Vermont lost. “Mere consumer curiosity”, was deemed insufficient to be a substantial interest of the state and, therefore, cannot be used to limit first amendment rights and compel unwilling speech.

  • Judy Nonarchi

    In my local “health” food store, (organic) there’s a label near the produce that proudly claims “Organic foods contain 20 to 40 percent more cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventional foods.” (oh, really? What scientific bodies have verified THAT claim?) They just make stuff up; it’s all about sales. Labeling strategies: Just follow the money. Big Organic is worth about $35 Billion; a huge industry.

    • JohnDoe

      For sh1ts and giggles, you should file a complaint with the state attorney general for false advertising.

      • Judy Nonarchi

        Interesting thought …. I don’t know if one can prove that it’s false …. but it certainly has not been scientifically shown to be true. It is very annoying to see such blatantly “make-it-up” hype, though.

        • First Officer

          It true they contain more anti-oxidants, on average, but the latest thinking is they may not fight cancer at all and may, in fact, be implicated with cancer in some

          cases. http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20140129/could-antioxidants-speed-up-cancer-progression

          Your suit may hold water after all !

          • NoToGMOs

            That is only for a very small sub-set of the population-smokers- and only in response to two anti-oxidants: Vit E and acetylcysteine. Still early research and definitely does not erase the mountains of scientific evidence for the role of anti-oxidants in cleaning up free radicals and preventing oxidative cellular damage, known to induce cancer.

          • First Officer

            Then those organics should carry a warning label for those who smoke or had smoked, much like the peanut allergy warnings.

          • NoToGMOs

            First, that is very early research pointing to the possibility that two specific anti-oxidant supplements (Vit E and acetylcysteine) suppress the release of one particular tumor-suppressing protein in mice and human cells in a petridish. Unless and until further research is done, especially in actual humans…..to confirm not just that this happens, but how and why and whether anti-oxidants from food will have the same effect (not just supplements, as used in that study), no warning labels will be carried by anything.

            Second, if indeed it is confirmed, the ‘warning labels’ will be on all Vit E-containing foods-both organic and conventional/GMO. And acetylcysteine, a synthetic drug and nutritional supplement, not an anti-oxidant naturally found in fruits and vegetables…..would also carry a label.

          • First Officer

            Hey, label away ! Can’t wait for that further research, PP and all and we need to start long term tracing now cause everyone saves the labels of what they eat, right?

          • Good4U

            No: Perhaps you don’t know very much about the regulatory systems that pertain to transgenic crops (GMOs) that are intended to mitigate (control) agricultural pests. You & some other anti-GMO types out there in cyberspace keep demanding testing on humans. You should become educated & aware of what you are proposing. The U.S. EPA and several of its counterparts in other parts of the world have concluded that TESTS ON HUMANS AND OTHER PRIMATES ARE UNETHICAL. After many years of deliberation they have decided that even if a study on human subjects has been done somewhere else in the world, then such study cannot be used to form a regulatory decision. Only studies on surrogate NON-PRIMATE animals (rat, mouse, etc.) can be used by the EPA to form its decisions on whether to approve or disapprove of a proposed registration of a pest control substance, or pest control GMO as the case may be. Keep in mind that the regulatory framework that pertains to agricultural pest control is not the same as for pharmaceutical drugs, which are intentionally consumed by humans to mitigate disease. There are many good reasons for that distinction.

            By the way, you should change your name to “KnowNothingAboutGMOs”.

          • Dylan Hanson

            What i do not understand about this analysis is the claim that the GM is no different than the non GM but then you go on to say that the GM is considered a pesticide and thus then can not be tested on humans ethically but since its not different than a non GM it can be fed to humans. Huh.

          • Benjamin Edge

            It sounds so funny to hear a GMO critic cautioning about biological relevance and the use of single studies to make broad conclusions, when it deals with potential risks from organic crops. I kind of get a feeling of deja vu, but in reverse.

        • NoToGMOs

          but it certainly has not been scientifically shown to be true.”

          Oh the scientific certainty of the ignorant!

          http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=F3E1C25DD0EEFE8EDB7694E00553847C.journals?aid=9325471&fileId=S0007114514001366

          • Arthur Doucette

            Hilarious

            Limitations

            Publication bias:

            The authors highlight the problem of publication bias but do not suitably discuss what impact this may have had on the results. Generally publication bias is likely to result in an overestimate of the effect size – or, in some cases, finding an effect that is not real. See glossary for more detail about this.

            Heterogeneity (different studies found different things):

            There was a large amount of heterogeneity between the studies for most of the outcomes considered; in other words, differences between organic and conventional crops were inconsistent between studies. The authors discuss various factors which are likely to have contributed to this heterogeneity and highlight the importance of investigating these factors in future studies. Because of this heterogeneity, the average difference between organic and conventional crops for these outcomes may be fairly meaningless, since the actual true difference (as indicated in the paper) varies from country to country, from crop type to crop type and from species to species.

            Some statements are particularly misleading:

            The study does not prove that organic crops and crop-based foods are higher in a number of antioxidants. Statistical tests never allow you to prove something, only to provide degrees of evidence for or against it. In this case there is a strong possibility that the evidence is tainted by publication bias and, as such, should be treated with additional caution.

            “Numerous studies have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.”This is incorrect. There is certainly evidence that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains (which are a good source of antioxidants) is associated with lower rates of chronic diseases. However, although a few trials of antioxidant supplements have shown a benefit for specific conditions, most have produced negative results and some have even indicated that taking antioxidant supplements may be harmful. In addition, a recent meta-analysis provided evidence that taking antioxidant supplements may increase overall mortality.

            http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/nutritional-content-of-organic-and-conventional-foods/

          • NoToGMOs

            So, when does the Biotech campaign to ‘discredit’ and have this study retracted, start? Why don’t you write a letter to the British Journal of Nutrition or have them publish a separate paper outlining your concerns/objections?

          • Arthur Doucette

            No reason to.
            They were open with their methods and the quality of the data. The report is simply a meta-study of a lot of other poor studies most with strong bias towards Organic food, so it is what it is, which is not much.

      • NoToGMOs

        Please do. So we can get our giggles watching them laugh you right out of town!

    • NoToGMOs

      “oh, really? What scientific bodies have verified THAT claim?) They just make stuff up; it’s all about sales. Labeling strategies: Just follow the money. Big Organic is worth about $35 Billion; a huge industry.”

      Apparently your local health food store is much more scientifically well-versed than you are:

      http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=F3E1C25DD0EEFE8EDB7694E00553847C.journals?aid=9325471&fileId=S0007114514001366

      “Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95 % CI 5, 33) %, 69 (95 % CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95 % CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95 % CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95 % CI 28, 72) % and 51 (95 % CI 17, 86) % higher, respectively.”

      • Arthur Doucette

        Hilarious

        Limitations

        Publication bias:

        The authors highlight the problem of publication bias but do not suitably discuss what impact this may have had on the results. Generally publication bias is likely to result in an overestimate of the effect size – or, in some cases, finding an effect that is not real. See glossary for more detail about this.

        Heterogeneity (different studies found different things):

        There was a large amount of heterogeneity between the studies for most of the outcomes considered; in other words, differences between organic and conventional crops were inconsistent between studies. The authors discuss various factors which are likely to have contributed to this heterogeneity and highlight the importance of investigating these factors in future studies. Because of this heterogeneity, the average difference between organic and conventional crops for these outcomes may be fairly meaningless, since the actual true difference (as indicated in the paper) varies from country to country, from crop type to crop type and from species to species.

        Some statements are particularly misleading:

        The study does not prove that organic crops and crop-based foods are higher in a number of antioxidants. Statistical tests never allow you to prove something, only to provide degrees of evidence for or against it. In this case there is a strong possibility that the evidence is tainted by publication bias and, as such, should be treated with additional caution.

        “Numerous studies have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.”This is incorrect. There is certainly evidence that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains (which are a good source of antioxidants) is associated with lower rates of chronic diseases. However, although a few trials of antioxidant supplements have shown a benefit for specific conditions, most have produced negative results and some have even indicated that taking antioxidant supplements may be harmful. In addition, a recent meta-analysis provided evidence that taking antioxidant supplements may increase overall mortality.

        http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/nutritional-content-of-organic-and-conventional-foods/

        • NoToGMOs

          Arthur, Arthur….doing what he does best: pick at straws! Why didn’t you apply similar critical thinking skills to the Snell review, or the Van Eenennaam study? Why the selectivity? I know…. it’s because this study doesn’t support your view, so it must be bad! Why am I not surprised?

          • Arthur Doucette

            Not at all. I read the study first and was unimpressed with its methods. The high publication bias and the poor quality of the data does NOT allow one to draw any conclusions. A little research showed that other scientists had the same opinion and weren’t impressed with the study either. But see we’ve seen this before you are all about FLAWED research to support your goals, Seralini, Carman, Benbrook, Aris and LeBlanc etc etc

  • mem_somerville

    Agree on all counts. People who think labels will stop the shouting are completely delusional. It will only put giant targets on companies that activists can target with their hate campaigns. They’ve told us that. https://storify.com/mem_somerville/gmo-labels-the-purpose-is

    “We are going to force them to label this food. If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it.” –Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety

  • Larkin Curtis Hannah

    Beautiful article. It should be noted that some transgenes close to coming on the market do not produce a protein. In their case the much more expensive and time requiring technique of PCR will have to be used; hence making testing even more expensive.

  • Judy Nonarchi

    “But a few percent of people believe there is a difference and therefore believe labels are appropriate.” This is an excellent point. The legal question this belief raises is, Is a “belief” sufficient to force an act? It certainly has not been shown to be the case in religion-in-schools, or in justifying racism or gender discrimination. “Belief” is not a justifiable standard for enforcing governmental action for the sake of those “believers.” Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Miles Stockdale

    I agree as well. I don’t think that giving in to the crazies is the way to go. People may remember (well, probably not) that many years ago, experts dealing with a rising tide of irrational anti-vaccine claims decided that while thimerosal was safe, why not just remove it any way? The thinking was that, while it would do nothing in terms of safety, if would rob the anti-vaccine mob of the fuel for their pseudo-science fire. Instead it just emboldened them. Giving pseudo-science a win is a loss for science, reason and rationality.

  • Kelly Johnston

    While I don’t entirely agree with everything stated here, this is simply the best analysis of why mandatory GMO labeling is contrary to science, law and public policy, and harms both consumers and food makers alike (other than the contradictory concept of “mandatory voluntary labels”). Well done, Professor. I especially appreciate his debunking disreputable public opinion polls that claim 93% (or more!) of Americans want GM labels. The survey I believe he is citing can be found here, and is very instructive: http://www.foodinsight.org/2014-foodtechsurvey

    • Arthur Doucette

      Unfortunately, in three states where it has come up for a vote, California, Washington and Oregon, the vote was ~51 against and 49% for labeling, so when people are exposed to the ads from both sides and such, the vote has typically been very close. Those of us who don’t want to see GMOs abandoned because of labeling laws are starting to suggest more RATIONAL laws that will prevent that from happening. The key to that is labeling based only on CONTENT and not on SOURCE as all these initiatives have tried to do.

      A labeling law that only requires products to be labeled if they contain unique GMO proteins and above a reasonable percent of the product (1%) and thus exclude all minor ingredients and things produced by GMO enzymes would take the wind out of the sails of all these initiatives and result in the labeling of a handful of products, which I’m reasonably confident consumers wouldn’t abandon (Corn Flakes, Grits and Corn Meal being the major ones)

  • Honestly, that’s your argument? That people don’t REALLY want GMO labeling, because when you didn’t ask them about it specifically, they forgot to mention it? Really?

    Whether people view GMOs unfavorably or not has nothing to do with this. Most people who are neutral or even have favorable views of GMOs still want labeling, because we believe all people have the right to know and to choose. It’s just that simple.

    None of the rest of it matters. We have a right to know. That’s what matters.

    • First Officer

      Your right to know doesn’t mean you have a right to compel speech with out a substantial interest, no matter how heartfelt your concerns may be.

      • Despite recent court shenanigans, a corporation is not a person, and we absolutely have the right to compel speech from them, if that’s what we decide is in our best interests.

        Concerns over GMOs may relate directly or INDIRECTLY to health, they may have to do with ecological concerns, or with political and human rights concerns – it doesn’t matter. People have concerns, and they want labeling. Therefore, they have the right to labeling.

        Because a corporation’s right to do things the way it wants to, do not supersede my right to know what I’m buying. That’s why we have food labels to begin with.

        If I wish to boycott Monsanto or Syngenta by avoiding the crops they profit from, I have the right to do so – and if we, as a people, want everyone to have that right without having to jump through hoops to get the information, then we, as a people, will DEMAND labeling.

        Because corporations don’t get the same rights human beings do.

        • battleshiphips

          Your right to know what is in your food is fully encompassed in growing ALL your own food. Gives you complete control and leaves the rest of us consumers and producers alone. Stop demanding everyone shoulder the costs of your curiosity and beliefs.

          • You seem to be missing a crucial point here. It’s not about what I want. It’s about what WE want. The big we. Most of the people of the US, for one. WE want labeling, and we will have it.
            There is no argument that trumps that. Again corporations are not humans, and do not have human rights. They don’t deserve protection of their special interests over the will of the people. The people are speaking loud and clear on this issue.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Yes, My argument trumps yours. Because there are already 2 labeling systems that you can use in the off chance that your alleged concerns are sincere. Further The WE you refer to is called mob rule. I am a person and I am speaking to you telling you that I will always resist you.

          • battleshiphips

            Wrong, most of the people don’t want what you claim. Which is why labeling bills went down in WA, CO and OR.

          • And a less than 40% voter turnout had nothing to do with that, I suppose? We’ll see.

          • battleshiphips

            Voter turnout in Oregon was 69.5% and 52.4% in Colorado, so no, turnout was not the issue.

          • There are a huge number of people unaccounted for in both those numbers – especially the Colorado one. I suppose you will also say that the obscene amounts of money dumped into lobbying and advertising on only one side of the issue, also had no impact?

          • battleshiphips

            People spend more on snack foods than they did on this election, so yeah, money doesn’t have the impact you think. If people cared so much about labeling, they would have turned out and voted for it. They didn’t. These are vote by mail states. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Is your next argument going to be that voters are too dumb to know what’s best for them?

          • What fantasy world do you live in? I don’t know anyone who’s spent almost 5 million dollars on snack foods, but Monsanto alone spent that on lobbying efforts in Washington. They spent 7 million in California. And that’s just Monsanto, not counting all the other companies that chipped in millions.

          • battleshiphips

            The public spends $124 Billion annually on just snack foods. Lays Potato Chips alone was $1.5 Billion. Political spending on the mid-terms for the entire nation was $4 Billion. The amount spent on politics is chump change. People need to get some perspective on political spending. We spend more on just potato chips (all brands) than we do on self governance. FYI, this information is freely available on OpenSecrets.org and Statista.com.

          • You honestly believe that Monsanto buying elections counts as ‘self-governance?’ Really? With a straight face?

            Sad.

          • battleshiphips

            I’ve been involved in many grass root efforts to make, repeal, or change laws. If people really, truly believed in your cause they would do two things. Contribute and vote. We had an election. You lost because your side could not get voters to do those two things. If they really truly believed in your cause, they would have given you some of their potato chip money. Because no corporation can outspend the grass roots when they care enough to give up their chip money.

          • Your believing that, and others believing it with you, is the reason we’re living in an Oligarchy. I have nothing more to say on this. It’s too sad.

          • battleshiphips

            Yes, take your ball and go home.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Nobody is unaccounted for, not everyone chooses to vote, but no one is prevented from doing so, Since over 50% of the registered voters did show up. And yes the money had an impact, it helped voters to see that the LIES your side was telling, that GMO = POISON weren’t true.

          • NoToGMOs

            No, that is not the reason. The bills went down because of biotech’s and big-food’s scare-mongering lies to the people that the cost of their food would rise dramatically. That is the main reason.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Yes, they are speaking LOUD and CLEAR, which is why;

            Nov 7, 2012 – California voters rejected Prop 37, which would have required retailers and food companies to label products made with genetically modified ingredients.

            Nov 6, 2013 – Washington state voters on Tuesday rejected an initiative that would have required foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled.

            Nov 5, 2014, Oregon and Colorado voters reject initiatives to require labeling.

          • I guess that’s what you get when you live in an Oligarchy.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Hardly, Voter turnout surpassed 50 percent in Maine, Wisconsin, Colorado, Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon.

            Colorado and Oregon said NO to Labeling.

          • Good4U

            Winged: NO, WE DO NOT WANT MORE LABELING of the food items that we purchase. Most of all, WE want NO labeling that puts transgenic crops (GMOs) at a marketing disadvantage. You don’t speak for all, or even a majority, of the people.

          • If knowing that they are THERE puts GMOs at a marketing disadvantage, then obviously people do not want to consume them. If they did, then there would be no marketing disadvantage. This is a pretty amusing argument on your part. You can’t have it both ways. Either people are just fine with GMOs, or they are not. I can assure you, while you may find people who are fine with GMOs, virtually all of the people who say they don’t want to know they’re there, are people who gain their income from them, lol.

        • First Officer

          Corporations are not people but the people in corporations are people. It would be actual people that would be compelled to print those labels. A corporation without people is just a bunch of structures with tumbleweeds in the empty parking lot.

          • This is disingenuous. The people in a corporation are not compelled to do anything – they do not have to sell anything. The corporation is compelled to properly label things if it wishes to sell them. It can choose not to sell them.

          • First Officer

            Really? Who, besides people, does that wishing? Who, besides people, does that selling? Contrary to science fiction films, there’s no Brainiac in the basement directing said corporation. Just people.

          • Pamela Wright

            “Properly” labeling is the issue. There is a difference between telling you what you actually need to know, and telling you what you demand for no good reason. If you can tell me one good reason why you need to know that the processed food you eat contains some tiny fraction of an ingredient grown from gm seed, then I will consider that you have a right to know. There actually is no “right to know” everything. There are many things you have no right to know. You don’t have a right to know how much the company’s CEO makes, for instance. You have a right to know anything you can show you have a need to know, not everything you might want to know regardless of its worth. Even if you know some quantity of GM seed was used to produce your food, what does that really tell you? What ingredient? What percentage? Which method of gm was used? The labels currently being advocated are worse than worthless because they not only convey no useful information, they create needless fear.

  • DNADEB

    Why don’t food companies just decide not to send any products at all to Vermont? That would be interesting!

    • First Officer

      My idea is that suppliers would feign changing their labels but then, at the last minute, declare they changed their minds and obey the law by suddenly withdrawing.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      I have wondered about that possibility. Simply deciding to blow off a market that may not be worth the hassle. Problem is the folks that voted against the labeling would be hurt economically

    • Pamela Wright

      I may be forced to do exactly that if the law doesn’t change, or I can’t find a new distributor that meets all my requirements including quality, cost, and ethical considerations. But remember, even a tiny number of sales can make the difference between being in the black or being in the red for the year. A small company can go out of business writing off a whole state! This really is not an option.

      • DNADEB

        Well I think it is like a poker bluff. If people realize that would be the result, I think they would change their minds about it.

  • First Officer

    There is a way, depending on the said labeling laws, that may not cost the companies so much if they are willing to keep GMO’s in their products. If the laws require that they either be or be not GMO-free, then, somewhere in the process, a GMO ingredient could be spritzed in to meet the not GMO-free truth in labeling. In that case, no need to worry whether your particular loads of ingredients are GMO and keep records. You’ll guarantee the end result will always contain some.

  • Bob Peterson

    Are there any groups calling for labeling foods based on the method of production, regardless of the specific method? Although I don’t think such a labeling scheme is necessary, at least it is more logical than singling out foods made from GE crops. It also would appeal to the right-to-know proponents. The fact that the “mainstream “labeling proponents have no interest in labeling anything but foods made from GE crops is pretty revealing, don’t you think?

  • Pamela Wright

    “There is no case study for instituting labeling in a country where products have gone unlabeled for 18 years, where labeling creates a stigma that can radically impact consumer behavior, and anti-GM activists would continue to aggressively try to stigmatize products produced by a process that science says has no material impact on the crop or food product.”

    I think there is one, in fact. Sacharin has been demonized almost from its inception. Despite years of research showing it is generally safe, “health advocates” continue to claim it causes cancer and other problems. It was labeled following initial studies showing it caused cancer in rats. As a result, most people today believe as a matter of “common knowledge” that sacharin causes cancer. The labels have been removed, but the stigma remains. Sacharin suffered due to this publicity. If it were not for the fact that it was essential for diabetics in a time when few other alternatives existed, it might have completely been run out of the market. As it is, its market share was severely diminished making room for all the later sweeteners, each of which have become tainted by the “artificial sweetener = bad” mentality in turn. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saccharin

    I think this is an important lesson for those of us facing the question of whether we should label or not.

  • Arthur Doucette

    Considering how close the Oregon vote was and that several states have passed Labeling laws in the North East, and the fact that the Anti-GMO fanatics apparently have nothing better to do and are now being supported by companies making big bucks with labeling/testing services, I think Mandatory Labels for GMO are inevitable, and so we should support REASONABLE laws so as to avoid very unreasonable ones from being enacted.

    Face it, those groups pushing for labeling today are pushing slight variations of the exact same labeling laws. All of them require labeling based on SOURCE as opposed to CONTENT. (because they want the labeling requirement to be so onerous that the industry moves away from growing GMO crops entirely)

    This labeling requirement based on SOURCE is the basis for their claim that ~70% of the processed foods contain GMO (and would require labels) because they want products labeled if they include any ingredients that came from a GMO crop, even if they are highly refined such that they contain no proteins and are identical to the same non-GMO ingredient. Thus all products containing Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Canola Oil, Corn Starch, Sugar or HFCS would require labels. Depending on the labeling law it may also apply to Vitamins made via GMO or Cheeses made with GMO derived enzymes. This is also one of the things which would drive up the cost of labeling, because as soon as you have to label based on something you can’t TEST for, then you have to preserve “Identity” back to the farm. OUCH (many of those costs were explored in this article).

    By supporting a labeling initiative that was based on CONTENT, where only ingredients with unique GMO proteins require a label (and can be easily tested for), this would gut the currently proposed labeling laws, and apply (today) to only products that contained Corn meal, Corn flour or Soy proteins, along with whole foods like GMO sweet corn, zucchini and Papaya. The products involved would be a tiny fraction of the packaged products and the cost to implement would be (IMHO) minor and more importantly any attempt by the current Pro-Labeling side to push their view would have to be based on the argument that knowing SOURCE was worth the effort, since CONTENT was already labeled. That’s a tough argument to make as I’ve debated that many times and so far I’ve yet to see anyone put forward a cogent argument for labeling based on SOURCE.

    Finally, by supporting a rational labeling initiative, one could set reasonable percentage standards for what requires the label and what does not and also allow for the “May contain GMO” label, for small producers which don’t want or can’t afford to test.

    What is most telling about who is pushing the current initiatives is that if your product meets the requirements for being labeled Organic, most laws EXEMPT those products from having to say they contain GMO, even if they do.

    Why?

    Because of cross pollination issues, many Organic crops contain some GMO. The USDA apparently enforces a unwritten 1% rule, meaning they don’t require zero tolerance of the presence of GMO in organic grain, and won’t revoke an Organic certification for incidental contamination, but this makes it imperative that labeling laws don’t require ingredients that contain less than 1% GMO to be labeled as such. Thus those without the Organic seal, are treated the same, and zero tolerance is not applied.

    Similarly, incidental ingredients should not require a label, such that if the content of an ingredient is less than 1% of the total weight, no GMO testing/labeling is required. This significantly ratchets down the cost of any labeling initiative, since many packaged products have a half dozen or more ingredients in this category. Producers of Cheerios for instance won’t have to worry that the tiny bit of corn flour they use in making a primarily Oat based cereal is or isn’t GMO,

  • Arthur Doucette

    The Vermont law does allow the “May be produced” clause:

    From the draft regulations:

    2.2.2 Disclosures on packaged, processed foods shall read “Produced with Genetic Engineering,” “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering,” or “May be Produced with Genetic Engineering,” as appropriate.

    2.2.2.1 The disclosure “Produced with Genetic Engineering” shall be used when food was produced with genetic engineering, provided that:

    2.2.2.2 “Partially” may be used to modify “Produced with Genetic Engineering” only when a processed food contains less than 75% food produced with genetic engineering, by weight; and

    2.2.2.3 “May be” may be used to modify “Produced with Genetic Engineering” only when the food’s manufacturer does not know whether the food is, or contains food that is, produced with genetic engineering.

    Note, since the law does not mandate testing, there is no requirement for a manufacturer to find out if their product contains GMO.

    Secondly, I think the AG of Vermont wasn’t too keen on the law, since there is no Scarlet Letter requirement. The placement of this label is as follows:

    Such disclosures shall be in a font size no smaller than the size of the words “Serving Size” on the Nutrition Facts label required by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 21 C.F.R. § 101.9 and in any color that contrasts with the background of the package so as to be easily readable by consumers. …. A disclosure that satisfies the font and color requirements of this rule and is located on the same panel as the Nutrition Facts Label or Ingredient List shall be presumed to satisfy the “easily found” requirement.

    Meaning for most products you would really have to search to find this 4 word disclosure.

  • John

    The author of this post is an imbecile! Labeling is the moral high ground! Period!

    • Arthur Doucette

      And yet in every state that has voted on it, the voters rejected your idea of the moral high ground.

      Too bad.

  • So according to the article, giving (unfair) advantage to organic farming and production is the issue at stake. But my question is simply this: wouldn’t that be a good thing? Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to move towards an organic-based agricultural system? High-yield and single-crop agribusiness are rather ecologically destructive, are they not?

    • JohnDoe

      Farming in general is ecologically destructive. You’re clearing land, planting large amounts of the same crops, using lots of water, etc.

      Organic techniques aren’t inherently different than other types of farming. They merely differ in the applicable forms of herbicides and pesticides. It’s not even inherently ‘safer’, as chemistry can and has provided synthetic herbicides/pesticides which are much safer to people than ‘organic and natural’ herbicides/pesticides.

      • But isn’t organic methodology inherently more sustainable than the current industrial farming trend? Crop-rotation rather than mono-intensive, traditional methods (grazing animals rather than chemical fertilizer) rather than CAFOs and industrial farms, etc, seem to me a better direction to head in than the current paradigm. imho, the anti GMO crowd aren’t scared of being poisoned, rather they want to avoid a future where we have depleted the microbiology of soil, and caused the rise of resistant superbugs, etc.

        • Arthur Doucette

          Inherently more sustainable?

          I doubt it.

          We grow about 240 million acres of Corn, Soy and Wheat in the US. If we wanted to grow that organically just how much manure would we need to get reasonably the same yields as we do today?

          Simply put FAR more manure than we have to work with (since all is now used).

          • Well that’s something I didn’t know. Still, everyone seems to agree what we are doing is unsustainable, so at least we have some common ground.

          • hyperzombie

            Still, everyone seems to agree what we are doing is unsustainable,

            Everyone??? I dont think so.

          • I thought it was common knowledge. I had read this article on the subject a while ago, food for thought? http://nature.berkeley.edu/~miguel-alt/modern_agriculture.html

          • Arthur Doucette

            Actually your article states: the present capital- and technology-intensive farming systems have been extremely productive. Which is very true. The future is uncertain, but those predicting the future will be worse than the present have ALWAYS been wrong.

          • Productivity is not in question (it is indeed impressive); I’m talking about sustainability, long-term. The conclusion of the article is what counts, what you quoted was just one aspect of the premise.

          • Yann, unfortunately because organic agriculture is less productive (20-40% on average), to meet growing food needs, an organic based system would require cutting down of billions of acres of forestry…not very sustainable. It would also be devastating to climate change, as the carbon sink of trees would be removed from the system–not very sustainable. Obviously conventional ag and GMOs in particular should be a large part of the global food security system going forward. Organics has a role as well, but it’s limited, and mostly helpful as a boutique option. But this is worth debating.

          • Thanks for the cogent reply. I agree what is known as organic farming is currently not a solution, but it’s just a niche market fitting into the current agricultural landscape. I’m no scientist, but I do read a great deal, and from what I’ve read, current research in agroecology are proving that conventional ag may give us high yield for some time, but will inevitably lead to serious systemic issues. You should have a look at Altieri’s work, or that of the French specialist in the microbiology of soil, Claude Bourgignon.

          • Yann, most of the agroecology studies have been done by those with an admitted pro-organic and anti-conventional ag bias. Independent research doesn’t support that. The reality is that the really underdeveloped ag areas–which are critical to develop to meet the global food needs– central Africa for example– have really poor soil and can’t support agroecology…not enough nutrients in the soil. They need sophisticated fertilizers. India needed it as well to jump start the Green Revolution. It’s a fascinating and complicated issue, and glad you are engaging it.

          • You really think it’s fair to dismiss swaths of academic research because of assumed bias? I find that surprising, specially for someone moderating a website dedicated to scientific literacy… I think it is fair to say that academic research is the most independent you will find in the current landscape.

          • hyperzombie

            Look Yann, if agroecology methods worked, farmers would use these methods in a heartbeat. No farmer ever says “I wish I could spray more pesticides”.

          • I think it’s more complicated than “works/doesn’t work”. I think the main issue is transition. It will be costly and require rethinking machinery, practices, and there is a natural resistance to this. That’s no surprise. But agroecology should be the core field of research in the modern farming industry, as it’s the one field that attempts to tie agriculture to ecological balance. Yield is only a short term solution, but for our grandkids, equilibrium is the real goal we should be moving towards.

          • hyperzombie

            But agroecology should be the core field of research in the modern farming industry, as it’s the one field that attempts to tie agriculture to ecological balance.

            LOL, like really? Should cups and strings be the foundation of modern telecommunications?

            Look, Agriculture is NOT natural, trying to jam a square peg into a round hole is pointless. We should focus on making Agriculture far more efficient, so we can leave far more land to Mother Nature, this is the only solution. Agroecology, permaculture, biodynamic are all just old fashioned outdated technologies.

          • Jason

            You are right that switching systems is not easy for farmers to do. Mother are generally highly invested in machinery that farms a particular way. But as with most things, there are early adopters a d experimenters in thisgroup that are constantly testing the boundaries of what works. These are the guys I keep my eyes on to really understand what works in practice and what doesn’t. If there is a system that even hints at an ability to produce more, reduce costs, or give them a more stable long term production model, they’re going to,try it and adopt those practices that work.

            I don’t know that equilibrium will ever be the goal of agriculture because, by definition, agriculture seeks to maximize the production of one plant at the expense of all others (in that field at least).

          • hyperzombie

            I hate to be rude but, Wow, even the very first sentence is totally WRONG. Whoever wrote this needs to take a course on the History of Agriculture. There is so much wrong with this article it must be embarrassing to the author.

          • This is a Berkely professor of Agroecology, I’d consider it a reliable source…

          • hyperzombie

            He is an Entomologist, and he obviously knows very little about agriculture.

            Here are some simple facts that everyone should know.

            Pesticides have been used since the dawn of agriculture, and they are far safer today than ever. (older pesticides used copper, lead, arsenic, tar and mercury to name a few)

            Tractors caused farms to get bigger, my small tractor can do the work of dozens of horses and or 100s of men, easy. (and I don’t have to feed it when it is not working)

            North American Farmers rotate crops all the time and herbicides make it easier. Even corn farmers use a 2 or 3 crop rotation. (Note: some places in Europe have grown wheat/potatoes on the same fields for over 150 years, and have you ever wonder what they grow in those asian rice paddies year after year?)

            Crop yields have gone up over 300% for most crops in the last 50 years.

          • Once again, yield is not in question. Sustainability of the soil, the ecosystem, is what really matters, don’t you think? What’s the point in high yield if you end up with sterile land down the line?

          • hyperzombie

            What’s the point in high yield if you end up with sterile land down the line?

            There is no problem with sterile soils, the soil on most modern farms is getting better thanks to modern herbicides and no/min tillage.

            I would be far more worried about Organic farmers soils, they use way more tillage and more non biodegradable chemicals. Plus nothing says I love the planet like an Organic farmers flame weeder…

          • Reasonable question…but see my response about Africa. Most of the places where we need to boost yields are in places where the ecosystem sucks–like central Africa. The choices there are: use cutting edge fertilizers are grow next to nothing. There really is no choice. Moroever, think if you research the newest fertilizer innovations you will see that they do not deplete the soil…they add nutrients to it. The claim that you ned up with sterile land is hyperbolic. Independent research just doesn’t suggest that. Read USDA studies on this and reach your own judgement. Pretty clear to me. Got to go! Have a happy thanksgiving.

          • NoToGMOs

            Where exactly in central Africa does the ecosystem ‘suck’?? And how exactly does it ‘suck’?

          • You could do a little research yourself, but Africa has virtually no prime agricultural lands because of the combination of temperatures and soil quality. That’s one (but not the only) reason organic agriculture has been a disaster in Africa. It produces 1/4th of its potential. Here is a chart of the major African ag regions: https://www.google.com/search?q=prime+agricultural+belts+agriculture&espv=2&biw=1710&bih=723&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=bNd0VNmWMYqBiwKugoAo&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=SRBjBw6X1EnxyM%253A%3BE6ppWrGBwfULhM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.fao.org%252Fdocrep%252F003%252Fy1860e%252Fy1860e07.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.fao.org%252Fdocrep%252F003%252Fy1860e%252Fy1860e04.htm%3B983%3B706

          • NoToGMOs

            Unlike you, I have lived in central Africa and know for a fact that it has a mainly tropical climate with mostly rich soil, good rainfall and temperatures suited for growing tropical crops (of course there will be exceptions to all of this, but I’m talking of the majority of the land). Yes, Africa needs to live up to its full potential….which is to grow the crops that are suited for the region, not crops that improve the potential (and bottom line) of American biotech corporations. GMOs are not needed for this. What is needed is to teach them more efficient, sustainable and organic agriculture that works with the land, not depletes everything from it.

            It is not organic agriculture that has been a disaster for Africa, it is the wars, the poverty and the corruption of their leaders that has prevented Africans from making the most of their beautiful land and its rich resources. Resources that the likes of Monsanto and Syngenta would like to permanently own and control through their actions disguised as ‘benevolence’ and ‘philanthropy’:

            http://afsafrica.org/acquisition-of-africas-seedco-by-monsanto-groupe-limagrain-neo-colonial-occupation-of-africas-seed-systems/

            “These acquisitions follow close on the heels of Swiss biotech giant Syngenta’s take-over in 2013 of Zambian seed company MRI Seed, whose maize germplasm collection was said at the time to be amongst Africa’s most comprehensive and diverse. Taken together, this means that three of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, all now have a significant foothold on the continent in markets for two of the three major global GM crop varieties: maize and cotton.”

            It’s a new form of colonialism and the sooner Africans realize that, the better off they will be.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Just WOW.
            Do you realize how small the cost of Seed is to the value of the Crop?
            Farmers pay more for GMO seed because they make a higher PROFIT per acre.
            Why would African farmers not make MORE per acre as well?

            Look at that map that Jon posted. The central part of Africa is dominated by FORESTS, not agriculture. But look at the HUGE areas that are labeled 7,8,9,10 and 11. All of these are candidates for existing GMO crops.

            Seems the only one who wants to hold Africa back is you.

          • Jason

            “Sterile soil”… This is a common misconception from those outside of agriculture. In reality, crops need healthy soils in order to produce well. We can add fertilizers, but with a poor soil, the chemical reactions taking place that allow forms of nutrients to be converted to plant useable forms would not be taking place. These are neccessary chemical and microbial reactions.

            So the simple fact that crop yields are increasing year after year shows you that the health of these soils is not declining. As with anything, you can find examples on either extremes. There are good land managers and bad land managers. But over all, modern farming practices have increased soil health compared to decades past. See the dust bowl era as an example.

          • Good4U

            Yann, perhaps it is futile to base one’s own opinions on the point of view of one person, regardless of the science he/she claims to represent. The Berkeley campus does have some (few) people who know something about agriculture and sustainability, however the orientation of that institution seems to be more in the direction of the humanities and social sciences. If you really want to know more about agriculture, its impact on the environment, and ways to minimize that impact, then perhaps you should take a short trip up the road to U.C. Davis, or even down to Riverside. On those campuses you will find many, many more credible sources of information & teaching about agriculture than at Berkeley. I’m not from any of those institutions, so I’m not cheering for any particular “team”, but I do have many years of experience in discerning fact from supposition. The fact that you are asking questions, and seem interested in this discussion is a very positive attribute, so I would offer nothing but encouragement to you as you seek your own enlightenment. Regardless of which way you choose, the life course of education & forward thinking will assure you a bright future in service to the protection of human health & environmental integrity. Good4U, and good luck!

          • I absolutely agree, no single voice can be the basis for an informed POV, but I think this debate is a relevant one. I mean we are talking about the food we all eat. I can put my trust in environmental protection agencies and agricultural ministries only to an extent, as commercial conflicts of interest have become endemic in pretty much all sectors of government. I live in France, and here the debate is still relevant at the policy level, and for good reason: there is no scientific consensus, and I think that says a lot. I’ll look into those universities you mentioned. Thanks for the tips.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Actually no, what is impressive is that in the last 30 years, modern agriculture has provided 17% more calories per person at the same time the population has grown by 70%, resulting in far fewer chronically hungry today, then in 1980.

          • Jason

            The definition of what is sustainable varies from person to person. There is little reason to assume that our modern farming practices are unsustainable if you assume that technology and knowledge will improve practices as we. I’ve forward in time, just like they have done in the past.

            In many, if not most, cases people point to one method, calling it unsustainable without providing a legitimate alternative that is any more sustainable. Organic farming is particularly guilty of this. Organic farming relies on marketing to promote the IMAGE of health and ecological benefits while ignoring most of the drawbacks….for instance given the yield capabilities of organic systems, we’d need to bring much more natural lands i to production in order to produce the amount of food we do now.

          • Dylan Hanson

            Fukuoka had the 2nd highest yields of Rice in Japan back in his day and he did not use pesticides, herbicides, compost, or till the soil. He did use some chicken manure, all and all though his secret was a permanent white clover groundcover.

          • Arthur Doucette

            And if other farmers could replicate his yields by his methods they would.

            Farmer’s aren’t stupid or lazy. It isn’t a job where you get paid by the hour, every year they have to succeed at what they do and so they do what works.

        • hyperzombie

          But isn’t organic methodology inherently more sustainable than the current industrial farming trend?

          Nope, why would “Old Fashioned” farming methods be more sustainable? Efficiency is the key to sustainability.

          Almost all farmers rotate crops, There is no where near enough manure to fertilize all the crops, Organic farmers use Mono-intensive farming methods as well.

          imho

          Learn a bit more about Agriculture.

          • Well that’s why i asked. Thankfully you seem to be educated on the subject. Still, not educated enough to be polite, it seems.

          • hyperzombie

            Well I dint mean to be rude, I just don’t get why folks that really know nothing about agriculture have so many preconceived opinions about it.

            Thanks for the questions and have a nice day 🙂

        • Larkin Curtis Hannah

          You really need to spend some time on a traditional farm. In brief there is not enough labor, manure, space or money to convert to organic. Organic does not differ nutritionally from conventional and contains virtually the same pesticides (since greater than 99% of pesticides are made by the plant).

      • Arthur Doucette

        The GOOD news is that because our yields per acre are so much higher today, the actual number of acres being cultivated has not increased in 100 years. The most amount of Corn acres we ever planted was around 1919.

    • hyperzombie

      Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to move towards an organic-based agricultural system?

      Nope, unless you like the following.
      More of mother nature plowed under (Organic yield is 20-50% less than conventional)
      More soil erosion (far more tillage is used in organic farming)
      Far more expensive food.
      More animal suffering (antibiotics are prohibited in Organic)
      Higher greenhouse gas emissions (from land use changes)

      Do you still want Organic farming to spread nation wide?

      The biggest problem with switching everyone to Organic, is that it is just not possible, there is not enough manure, or labour to make the transition.

      • JohnDoe

        To be fair, antibiotic use in animals isn’t primarily prophylactic or used primarily to treat infection. Antibiotics used ‘prophylacticly’ also have the benefit (for farmers) of creating fatter animals faster. As a researcher in bacterial resistance, I’d prefer us cutting back on non-infection control uses of antibiotics, since their misuse is pushing bacterial evolution forward towards more resistance (which will already happen on its own, but we can mitigate the situation a little. And interesting side note, a recent Lancet article found in a frozen bacterial sample from WWI that some common dysentery-causing bacteria found in the trenches naturally had penicillin resistance, 30 years before it’s discovery, and that other, ancient forms of bacteria and unexposed to humans and modern antibiotics have also harbored resistance to antibiotics. The constant battle with evolution!)

        • hyperzombie

          As a researcher in bacterial resistance, I’d prefer us cutting back on non-infection control uses of antibiotics, since their misuse is pushing bacterial evolution forward towards more resistance (which will already happen on its own, but we can mitigate the situation a little.

          I totally and completely agree that we should cut back on non infectious uses of antibiotics.
          That is not the point that I was making. The Organic Industry BANS antibiotics for all uses, if an animal is treated with antibiotics it is no longer Organic. In my opinion this leads to animal mistreatment.

          BTW, thanks for the cool little factoid, I dint know this. Mother nature is full of surprises.

        • mem_somerville

          Oh, it gets worse. Team organic is now trying to ban vaccines. https://storify.com/mem_somerville/traditional-breeding-of-vaccines

          That’s what we call–excuse the technical term–bat-shit lunacy.

        • NoToGMOs

          Not to mention the antibiotic resistance gene used as a marker and spliced into many GMO crops. What’s your take on that?

          • JohnDoe

            I don’t see the relevance, unless you’re trying to imply some sort of highly improbably gene transfer from plants to bacteria. The primary sources for the rise in antibiotic resistance having nothing to do with biotech-enhanced crops.

            There are far more antibiotic-resistance genes already naturally occurring in all bacteria, from efflux pumps, to enzymes that chemically alter or degrade antibiotics, to natural mutations that can arise in the antibiotic target which would make the drug ineffective. Applying evolutionary pressure by overusing antibiotics on animals and people shifts the balance and can enhance the prevalence of those genes in harmful bacterial populations. But to reiterate, that has almost nothing to do with biotech crops.

          • Arthur Doucette

            So is your claim is that GMO Corn is resistant to antibiotics?

          • Larkin Curtis Hannah

            Dear Nono

            You really need to learn something about this technology. Very few transgenes now use antibiotic genes and the ones used are not used by humans.

      • First Officer

        I love the way anti-gmoers are so willing to throw high yield into the trash can. “Sure you’re starving to death. But look how beautiful our farms look now!”

    • Good4U

      Yann, given your premise in favor of sustainability, shouldn’t you be promoting transgenic (GMO) crops and animals? For example, the Innate(TM) potato, which would use much less land to grow it, less energy to plant & cultivate it, less pesticides, less fertilizer, and will cause less emission of CO2 from the digesters (waste treatment facilities) at the processing plants. Aren’t those the very criteria that define sustainability? Yet the anti-GMO zombies out there want to kill the Innate potato before it’s even had a chance to be planted. There are many other transgenic crops and animals that have been proposed for increasing the sustainability of agriculture, yet every one of them has been the subject of vituperative fear-mongering campaigns by vacuous mouthpieces like Dr. Oz, pill-pushers like Mother Jones, and Maharajis with an anti-capitalistic axe in their hand. They don’t care about the sustainability of agriculture, or the wretchedness of the human condition in the underdeveloped regions of this world. They don’t care about poor people in rice consuming cultures who are blinded by vitamin A deficiencies who could be immediately cured with the Golden Rice (beta-carotene) gene insertion. Anyone who truly cared about agricultural sustainability in this world would a) foster efforts to control the earth’s human population; b) support & favor the development and deployment of GMO food plants and animals. The subject of this particular article is “GMO labeling”, but that’s just a sly way of getting consumers to be afraid of what’s inside the package. It’s nothing more than crass “organic” marketeering which would cause their competitors to be at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.

      • You bring up some good points. I am not anti-GMO as a die-hard rule, simply I have trouble putting my faith in a system where the end-goal is not sustainable practices but low-cost high-yield. You forget that despite the laudable qualities of GMO crop, there are some awful sides to this sector: seedless strains, locking farmers into intellectual property contracts, the inevitable reduction of genetic diversity (which is the bedrock of a healthy ecosystem, and I cannot believe that agriculture and ecosystem can simply exist as if separated by some invisible barrier, there is always contamination). What you call fear-mongering is often an informed decision-making process. I think people should always know exactly what they are buying: every time I buy something, I am voting for one system of production, or another. You are essentially saying that you know what’s good for consumers, you know better than they do. I can’t agree with that.

        • hyperzombie

          You forget that despite the laudable qualities of GMO crop, there are some awful sides to this sector: seedless strains, locking farmers into intellectual property contracts, the inevitable reduction of genetic diversity

          There are no seedless GMOs, all the seeds are completely viable.

          Farmers are NOT locked in to any seed contract, they just can’t replant or resell as seed stock. After planting any crop, farmers are pretty much “locked In” for the season.

          Reduction of genetic diversity is not happening, in fact there are far more choices today for farmers. Remember GMO is just a trait not a plant variety. There are literally 100s of varieties of GMOs for every soil and climate type (Dupont sells over 100 types of GMO corn alone)

          (which is the bedrock of a healthy ecosystem, and I cannot believe that agriculture and ecosystem can simply exist as if separated by some invisible barrier, there is always contamination

          Well it has been 15,000 years so far and no serious problems, most crops cant live in the wild, they need people to reproduce.

          I am voting for one system of production, or another.

          A GMO label will not tell you how the crop was produced.

        • Good4U

          Yann, how might seedless strains be an “awful side” to biotechnically modified crops? First of all, there are no seedless strains of any GMO. The so-called “terminator” gene technology, which was originally devised to prevent the proliferation of transgenic cotton into the natural environment, would have produced non-viable seeds from ginned cotton. In my view, and to address your stated concerns about environmental contamination, that would have been a good thing, but that’s beside the point. The key fact is the terminator technology was NEVER DEPLOYED because of the fear mongering over its very name. So your allegation about “seedless strains” is false. There are none.

          As for informed decision making, that’s why we have well educated, competent scientists and risk assessors in our regulatory agencies. The U.S. EPA, along with its counterparts in Canada and in Europe, are making well informed decisions every day, based upon authentic data, not on some allegations made by “organic” marketeers and their ilk who would like nothing better than for transgenics to just go away. I choose to rely upon our best scientific minds to chart the way forward for us as a species, not upon the hysterical (yet entertaining) gyrations of Dr. Oz and other paid charlatans in the public media.

        • Larkin Curtis Hannah

          As far as I know (I am a professor of Plant Molecular and Cell Biology at University of Florida) the only seedless crops on the market are not GMO but rather the result of crosses between tetraploids and diploids, farmers are not forced to buy GMO seeds and GMO use does not cause lack of diversity. Please consider taking some courses in genetics plant breeding, biochemistry and agriculture.

    • Larkin Curtis Hannah

      Actually there are many problems with labeling. It increases the cost of the food (most people don’t care so why should they pay more?), makes absolutely no distinction among the various transgenes and implies a danger unfounded by science. Labeling is also pushed by people who eat organic foods anyway. I think all of these things are self evident to objective people.

  • It’s very good to hear that you oppose a national, voluntary GMO labeling law Bruce. Now all you have to do is convince every major pro-GMO commodity and industry group across America that the bill Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) is proposing is a very, very bad idea. It plays right into the hands of organic activists.

    And on that note, it’s also very good to see you clearly identify the ORGANIC industry as the major force behind all GMO labelling and banning campaigns. They’re the only ones who have something to gain from vilifying the science of genetic engineering, a field of science that President encouraged organic stakeholders to embrace on a case-by-case basis back in 1997.

    • Arthur Doucette

      Mischa, as Oregon goes into a Recount with the margin of victory for the NO side, but ~800 votes, I’m curious what you think of this reasoning that I’ve been floating on several discussion boards:

      Considering how close the Oregon vote was and that several states have passed Labeling laws in the North East, and the fact that the Anti-GMO fanatics apparently have nothing better to do and are now being supported by companies making big bucks with labeling/testing services, I think Mandatory Labels for GMO are inevitable, and so we should consider supporting REASONABLE laws so as to avoid very unreasonable ones from being enacted.

      Face it, those groups pushing for labeling today are pushing slight variations of the exact same labeling laws. All of them require labeling based on SOURCE as opposed to CONTENT.

      This labeling requirement based on SOURCE is the basis for their claim that ~70% of the processed foods contain GMO (and would require labels) because they want products labeled if they include any ingredients that came from a GMO crop, even if they are highly refined such that they contain no proteins and are identical to the same non-GMO ingredient. Thus all products containing Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Canola Oil, Corn Starch, Sugar or HFCS would require labels. Depending on the labeling law it may also apply to Vitamins made via GMO or Cheeses made with GMO derived enzymes. This is also one of the things which would drive up the cost of labeling, because as soon as you have to label based on something you can’t TEST for, then you have to preserve “Identity” back to the farm. OUCH (many of those costs were explored in this article).

      By supporting a labeling initiative that was based on CONTENT, where only ingredients with unique GMO proteins require a label (and can be easily tested for), this would gut the currently proposed labeling laws, and apply (today) to only products that contained Corn meal, Corn flour or Soy proteins, along with whole foods like GMO sweet corn, zucchini and Papaya. The products involved would be a tiny fraction of the packaged products and the cost to implement would be (IMHO) minor and more importantly any attempt by the current Pro-Labeling side to push their view would have to be based on the argument that knowing SOURCE was worth the effort, since CONTENT was already labeled. That’s a tough argument to make as I’ve debated that many times and so far I’ve yet to see anyone put forward a cogent argument for labeling based on SOURCE.

      • Labelling for no good reason will never become “reasonable” Arthur, no matter how many tax-subsidized organic lunatics call for it. We have to stand strong.

        The best way to stand strong is by attacking the enemy. No… not with hyperbole as they attack us. But with hard facts. To wit…

        At present, HALF of all organic food sold in America tests positive for prohibited pesticide residue!

        I guarantee you that the average consumer of organic food is far more concerned about pesticides than the long-term, entirely-theoretical impacts that might result from consuming GMOs.

        Fight back my friend. Fight fire with fire.

        Then, when we’ve got organic activists on the ropes, hit them with the fact that President Clinton gave them the opportunity (as I mention above) to embrace GMOs.

        These two points alone will deny organic activists the lion’s share of their public support. But we have to make these points clearly and without any apprehension, something pro-GMO groups like CropLife, BIO and GMA have thus far demonstrated themselves unwilling to do.

        • Arthur Doucette

          Ok, so in essence you think a strong offense is better than my defensive suggestion. I would suggest that the upside/downsides of our two strategies are quite different. If you are wrong, and these SOURCE based labeling initiatives do managed to get passed, then there is a good chance that GMO will be scaled way back and new GMO crops will be almost impossible to launch, while if we were to go my way, the hit to AG would be modest at best and the chance of them passing a Source based labeling initiative on top of a content based one would be nearly nill. I hope you are right, but I fear what will happen if you are not.

          • It’s already impossible to launch new GMO crops. Alfalfa was the last one… 9 years ago.

            Sure, GMO potatoes recently received regulatory approval, but they’re being rejected by fast-food companies for the second time in 13 years, thanks entirely to the stigma attached to GMO crops by organic activists. So no farmers will grow them.

            Meanwhile, GMO wheat, flax and Golden Rice all sit on the back burner. We already know that a defensive strategy is not working.

          • Arthur Doucette

            I guess I think of that as a different issue.
            I’m all for an aggressive offence to show that the fear mongering from the Anti-GMO side is based on lies. As you know, I spend a considerable amount of time doing just that, but I still shudder to think what will happen if a state the size of California were to pass a Source based labeling law with zero tolerance for content (and of course excluding Organic or products “certified” by the GMO Project from any testing at all).

          • An aggressive approach to show to expose the fear-mongering lies from Anti-GMO organic activists is precisely what I’m talking about.

            Where’s the disagreement here Arthur?

          • Arthur Doucette

            I’m suggesting a Federal labeling law that labels ingredients with unique GMO proteins if they represent 1% of more of a packaged good and the amount of GMO content of the ingredient is over 1%. Thus excluding labeling for anything simply based on its origin, thus no label required for any GMO derived oils, starches, sugars, vitamins or from use of GMO derived enzymes. Nor for any minor ingredients. This would limit the labeling to just a very few products (Corn meal, Grits, Corn based cereals, Soy Milk and Tofu would be about all the packaged foods that would get a GMO tag in the ingredients box), Thus any labeling initiative being pushed by the Anti-GMO zealots would have to focus on additional labeling based on SOURCE because CONTENT would already be labeled. I think that they would always lose that battle, as it is far less of a rational argument.

          • Establishing a threshold level for GMO content would only serve to confirm that there is indeed a potential for problems with GMOs, precisely what organic activists have been saying since Jeremy Rifkin first launched the anti-GMO organic movement in America in the early 1990s.

            Labelling GMOs is only part of the problem. Establishing a threshold tolerance for GMO content is the devil-in-the-detail that would hand victory to organic activists.

          • Arthur Doucette

            I guess I look at it like the difference between losing a battle and winning the war. By giving them this slight concession, I think we undermine their ultimate goal. They don’t care about labels, they want to stop the use of GMO. Giving them a content based label takes the wind out of their sails for their larger goal.

            I hate losing the battle, but I fear losing the war even more.

          • What organic activists want is to vilify GMOs. Placing a threshold limit on GMOs would achieve the same result as a mandatory GMO label.

            Under current organic standards, there is no such things as contamination of an organic crop by GMOs because there is no threshold limit for GMO content as there is for synthetic pesticide residue. My advice to you is that we DO NOT change that.

            Now you know why organic activists have been largely silent on Rep. Mike Pompeo’s plan for a national, voluntary GMO labelling bill. It provides them with a threshold on GMOs, which will be the death knell for GMOs.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Well Pompeo’s plan is a non-plan, Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients, but that won’t stop the Antis because they think the FDA is run by Ex Monsanto employees, so that’s not anything like what I’m suggesting.

            As I understood it the USDA is semi-enforcing a 1% contamination limit for Organic, meaning if farmers crops test over that (not that there’s a lot of testing going on) then the Certification agent will ask for an updated Organic System plan to lower the contamination (buffer zones, some rows not harvested as Organic, staggered planting times, hedgerows etc)

            Anyway, just wanted your opinion.

          • No-no-no. The USDA National Organic Program is SUPPOSED to operate on a 5% threshold limit for prohibited pesticides. Not 1%. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you Arthur, or hasn’t read the standards.

            In any case, as you say, there’s no field testing going on, so what difference does it make? It’s just a big free-for-all.

            But… back to GMOs… unlike pesticides which do start to cause health problems when critical dosage levels are reached, GMOs never cause health problems in and of themselves, which is why we can eat a diet consisting 100% of GMO food and remain perfectly healthy.

            And this is why we should never, ever, establish a threshold limit for GMOs content in food in any form.

          • Arthur Doucette

            I was referring to GMO, not pesticides. I had no idea that 5% prohibited was the threshold for pesticides.

            Mischa, I totally agree with you on the safety of existing GMOs, that’s not the issue, the issue is that it does appear that the Anti’s with the big money support for all their WOO sites (Nat News, Smith, Adams, Food babe, Dr Oz, Vandana and now even people like Bill Nye and Suzuki) I just think that they might prevail in California or Washington if they get it on the ballot again, and what they are proposing is FAR FAR worse than what I’ve suggested, and the impacts to GM in our country could be devastating. I just want to take the wind out of their sales and make them fight a battle I don’t think they can win, labeling based on trace amounts and SOURCE.

          • I know you agree with me on the safety of GMOs. So why do you want a threshold limit on GMOs that will give the impression to the average consumer that there might be something wrong with GMOs when they reach a critical level?

            There is currently no threshold limit for GMO content in organic foods. Yes, there IS a limit for GMO content in organic SEED, and it is effectively ZERO (nil).

            But GMOs do not contaminate organic feed or food crops at any point. And the introduction of a threshold limit will change that. It plays right into the hands of organic activists. And there is nothing worse than that.

            Organic activists already agreed to all of this when they wrote their own standards. Take the wind out of their sails by quoting chapter and verse to them from THEIR OWN STANDARDS.

          • hyperzombie

            I agree, I think the threshold limit should be about 99.9999% afterall they don’t test Organic foods anyway, what is the difference.
            If Organic farmers were really about protecting Nature and using less pesticides, why the ban on Bt cotton? That is just stupid.

            And what is the deal with the 3 year transition? Farmers should be able to switch back and forth if they want to yearly.

          • But if we say that organic foods are 99.9999% GMO free, we’re still saying there is something wrong with GMOs.

            Right now, there is no limit for GMO content in an organic crop for human or livestock consumption. And this is a standard that organic stakeholders already agreed to. Why change it?

          • hyperzombie

            Nope the other way around, it should still be considered “Organic” even with 99.9999% GMO. Organic is a production method, GMOs should not have anything to do with it.

          • Well then yes, that’s what America’s current organic standards actually say, only the limit is 100%.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Sorry guys, but I don’t buy that. From the USDA site:

            Any certified organic operation found to use prohibited substances or GMOs may face enforcement actions, including loss of certification and financial penalties. However, unlike many pesticides, there aren’t specific tolerance levels in the USDA organic regulations for GMOs.

            As such, National Organic Program policy states that trace amounts of GMOs don’t automatically mean the farm is in violation of the USDA organic regulations. In these cases, the certifying agent will investigate how the inadvertent presence occurred and recommend how it can be better prevented in the future. For example, they may require a larger buffer zone or more thorough cleaning of a shared grain mill.

            Consumers purchase organic products expecting that they maintain their organic integrity from farm to market, and USDA is committed to meeting these expectations. No matter where it was grown, if a product has the USDA Organic label on it, it wasn’t produced with GMOs.

            So its pretty clear, the USDA didn’t want to set a specific percent that would cause loss of an Organic Certificate, but the wording TRACE AMOUNTS does have meaning.

            From what I’ve read the “unofficial” limit the inspectors are using is 1% before they make you redo your Organic Systems plan.

          • If an organic farmer uses GMOs he will certainly face de-certification of his crop. But there is no threshold level for GMO “contamination,” comingling or contact with organic crops.

            Where exactly did you see this “unofficial” limit of 1% Arthur? Redoing a system plan is just paperwork, so it seems it’s merely a bureaucratic exercise with no real-world consequences. Please send a link. I’d like to have a look.

          • Arthur Doucette

            From people who claimed they were Organic farmers on various sites, they CLAIMED that they had to make changes when testing showed GMO contamination, and if they are to be believed, it wasn’t just paperwork, one person claimed he couldn’t harvest 10 rows of corn adjacent to a GMO field as Organic. Can I prove what he said was true? No, but his posts did have the ring of truth, as they weren’t unreasonable or hysterical.

          • If an organic farmer anywhere in America is told he can’t harvest his crop and sell it as USDA certified-organic due to GMO contamination, he should hire a lawyer and sue his certifier. And I’ll testify for him.

            Claiming GMOs “contaminate” organic crops has no basis in law, or in science.

          • Arthur Doucette

            And on that legal point I don’t disagree with you, since the USDA has never stated an absolute limit. But it would appear in the real world, that certifiers do insist that Organic farmers make changes to keep inadvertant contamination below ~1%. I would suspect that Organic farmers are much more likely to make the simple changes than take the USDA to court. But Mischa, this has very little to do with my proposal. My proposal is about labeling for crops which are NOT labeled Organic. Not sure why you are focusing on the one group of products that is not likely to be affected at all. Finally note, I’m not saying a product that has over 1% GMO can’t be sold as Organic, as I’m not addressing those regulations at all, just that the Organic producers, like any other producer, would have to label it as containing GMO if it did contain that much.

          • The law is the real world. Organic stakeholders wrote that law. The least they can do is follow it.

            I didn’t say organic farmers would have to take the USDA to court. They would take their activist, for-profit, anti-GMO certifier to court if they were denied certification for alleged GMO contamination.

            You already know organic certifiers are forcing organic farmers to exclude crop from certification due to mere proximity to a GMO field. If you succeed in establishing a threshold limit on GMO content, rest assured, organic activists will exploit it further than you ever imagined.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Well THAT is the position of the Organic Food group, they don’t allow any GMO, They can’t really defend why they do it, but that’s their problem.

          • Organic activists can say whatever they want. But the rules they agreed to are clear: there is no threshold limit on GMO content. In other words, GMOs cannot contaminate organic crops or food. And only an act of Congress can change that… thank God.

          • Dixiecrat racists used to prevent African Americans from sitting at their lunch counters. And they couldn’t defend it either as it turns out.

          • Organic activists wrote, edited and finalized the rules for organic production. They can’t very well change the rules after they’re written.

          • Arthur Doucette

            Not sure the average consumer would get that impression. There are already special rules for ingredients that are in small quantities, and so I think consumers are smart enough to understand that not making something say it has GMO if its in trace amounts is a processing convenience, not because of a safety issue. Indeed that’s the standard in a number of countries, only have to label if it is above 0.9%.

          • During negotiations with the USDA in 1997, many organic activists wanted precisely what you’re suggesting Arthur. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the organic community agreed to write America’s standards for organic production without any threshold tolerance level for GMOs. Why? Simple. Because there were (and still are) no known health risks associated with GMOs at any level.

            As such, America’s organic standards only stipulate that an organic farmer cannot make use of GMOs. However well-intentioned, your proposal would change that, and certainly not for the better. Radical organic activists would essentially be getting their way after 17 years.

            And that, again, is why they’re not vocally opposed to Pompeo’s bill

          • Arthur Doucette

            Again, I don’t agree, because I’m not asking for a “zero tolerance” policy on Organic. What I understand to be the unofficial tolerance level of ~1% GMO in Organic is just fine with me, and realistically the majority of Organic farmers (the few who grow Ag crops) shouldn’t have much problem keeping inadvertent contamination below that level with simple and obvious means.

          • As soon as you establish a tolerance level for GMOs in organic crops or food, you will henceforth open GMO farmers to litigation from angry organic farmers who will be denied certification when their crops exceed that level.
            Keep in mind also that under a system such as you are proposing, an organic broccoli crop could – for the first time ever – become “contaminated” by a neighboring GMO canola crop.

  • Aidan Benelle

    More utter baloney from the GLP

    Europe has been labeling GMO’s since their inception with out all the industry generated ‘fuss’ and ‘fear’ that occurs only in the United States.

    • Good4U

      Hello Aidan; here are some easy questions for you– Does Europe label its “organic” food (whatever that means)? Does Europe label its foods that have been generated via chemical or radiological mutagenesis which causes uncontolled changes to their genomes? Does Europe label the interspecific hybrid food crops that have come about solely via human intervention? Does Europe label the genetic selections of crops that have been bred for increased disease or insect resistance wherein the mechanism for such resistance has been the increased concentrations of toxins produced by the plants themselves, or for that matter wherein the mechanism for resistance isn’t even known? Can you let us know what the proportions of your income are spent on food, as compared with your counterparts in North America? Can you let us know how much food Europe imports from North America in order to feed its people? Can you inform us the proportion of food aid that Europe dispenses, in comparison to such aid as comes from North America, to other regions of the world where people are still starving?

    • Kent Wagoner

      I have a question for you as well, Aidan. Using just one example from Dr. Chassy’s article, how would you suggest that GMO and non-GMO be kept separate without incurring significant costs up through the rest of the supply chain? If it’s “utter baloney,” you must have some idea of how these expenses can be managed so as not to unnecessarily burden farmers, consumers, or all those in between. Or did you actually read the article?

      The idea of the GLP being pro-GMO is simply your opinion. If they actually were so, they would delete anti comments such as yours — just like the anti sites delete pro-GMO commentary. The fact that your comment (along with all anti comments) is left up makes plain the untruth of that statement.

      • Aidan Benelle

        The EU has recognized the consumers’ right to information and labeling as a tool for making an informed choice. Since 1997 Community legislation has made labeling of GM food mandatory.

        If the U.S. had treated GMO’s in the same fashion (as 93% of consumers have stated) rather than creating a bogus industry theory of substantial equivalency you would not have this present concern addressing feeder lines. The biotech industry and its influence upon our regulatory agencies created this situation and should bear the cost for the transition.

        • Good4U

          Aidan, I believe you missed (or ignored) my key questions below. Do you have any knowledge about those issues, or are you simply fixated upon derailing transgenics at all costs?

        • Kent Wagoner

          You say 93% of consumers. I say 4% because the more recent survey released this summer didn’t use loaded questions.

          So with that in mind, your suggestion is that the biotech industry, which already shells out approx. $150 million for development and regulatory approval for each individual genetic trait should also bear the burden of billions of dollars in infrastructure development? All because 4% of people fear what they don’t understand?

          I disagree.

          • Aidan Benelle

            The ‘facts’ state otherwise as clearly shown time and time again in the following ~
            7 consumer polls that follow:

            The New York Times, 07/27/13
            “A recent New York Times poll found that 93% of Americans favor labeling of GE food”

            MSNBC, 2/25/11
            Do you believe genetically modified foods should be labeled?

            Yes – 96% of over 45,000 voters believe genetically modified foods should be labeled

            Reuters / NPR, 10/10
            Poll conducted by Thompson Reuters and National Public Radio finds 93% of Americans believe all GE foods should be labeled as such; only 35% willing to eat GE fish

            Washington Post, 9/17/10
            Should genetically-modified food be labeled?
            Yes – 95%

            KSTP – St. Paul/Minneapolis, 9/21/10
            Should Genetically Modified Salmon Carry a Different Label?
            Yes, Should be labeled as genetically modified fish – 95%

            Consumer Reports, 11/11/08
            2008 Food Labeling Poll found that 95 percent of respondents said they thought food from genetically engineered animals should be labeled, and 78 percentstrongly agreed with this.

            ABC News, 6/19/01
            An ABC News poll found that 93% of the American public wants the federal government to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

          • Kent Wagoner

            I thought perhaps you wanted to engage in an actual conversation. It’s obvious you don’t. If you’re not going to actually read what is said and simply ignore the questions posed, I see no point in continuing.

            Bye.

          • Aidan Benelle

            You stated:
            “You say 93% of consumers. I say 4%”

            I factually proved your 4% assumption was incorrect. I guess you don’t like to deal in facts.

          • hyperzombie

            I guess you are saying that about 50% of folks that want GMOs labeled are too lazy to go vote…That is very sad.

          • Aidan Benelle

            What’s sad is the multi millions spent by your guys to defeat each labeling initiative, The wasted millions would be far better used to create traceability of GMO/non GMO feeder lines.

        • hyperzombie

          If 93% of people want GMOs to be labeled why is Organic and non GMO sales less than 5%?

  • I just recently wrote my own “what if” blog about the segregation of GM and Non-GM food. What a HORRIBLE mess this would be to our industry!
    http://nebraskawheatie.com/gmo-labeling-harvest/

  • C. R. Bhatia

    How far down the labelling would go. While ordering a corn soup in a resturant, will the menu indicate that no GE corn has been used. All crops are genetically modified, only those improved using recombinat – DNA using molecular techniques are opposed. Cellular methods, such as hybridization, were used before the dawn of molecular era.

    The same should apply for chicken fed on corn. Label for chicken soup and chicken sandwitches should say that this is made from chicken fed on non GE corn.

    C. R. Bhatia