A little schizo coverage on GM foods: Good and bad ideas in the same piece

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Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 1.07.00 PMAlthough Ashley Smith, writing in the Times-News, from Magic Valley, Idaho s agricultural heartland, makes some very good points about how to deal with GM food issues, she goes way off track later in the article.

Ms. Smith is specifically commenting on the difficulties facing farmers in Idaho: But America s GMO producers including growers in the Magic Valley are getting slaughtered in the public relations arena. They have to do better.

We could not agree more.

Furthermore, she does a very nice job in summarizing the health effects (none) of GM foods: The National Academies, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the European Commission these are some of the scientific heavyweights that have declared there s no credible evidence GMOs are unsafe for consumption.

Given this, we find it a bit surprising that Ms. Smith essentially contradicting herself recommends more transparency a code word for labelling.

As we have been saying for years at ACSH, labeling products that have been made with GMO ingredients, makes no sense for three reason:

1. Any product produced from a GM plant, such as sugar from GM sugar beets, is identical in every way to sugar produced from sugar cane. To label one differently from another is scientifically irrational. But it is certainly confusing, since if people see sugar labelled simply because it was made in a different way, it will do nothing but frighten and confuse consumers for absolutely no reason.

2. The idea that GM crops are any more or less safe than crops produced via traditional methods is a fallacy. In fact, GM foods undergo extra scrutiny they must be approved by the FDA, whereas other agricultural products need not be.

3. The following argument is ubiquitous (and ridiculous), and is used by Ms. Smith: We believe the consumer has every right to know what their families are consuming. The more information the better.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom draws a line in the sand here. He says, The more information the better is false. This only holds true when the information is pertinent.

He explains, For example, a stick of butter is a stick of butter. But some of it will come from one state and some from another. This is information, but it is useless information. It is just as helpful as knowing the color of the truck that delivered the butter. Should we provide this information on the butter label?

No if this sounds stupid, it is. But it is no more stupid than labeling identical products based on their sources, which is also intentionally misleading.

Dr. Bloom continues, If we all want to be inundated by useless or misleading information about our foods, let s at least be consistent. Should we label various crops, such as seedless watermelons and bananas, which were made by mutagenesis (intentionally damaging DNA to make new hybrids)? If so, then the following label should be on every banana you eat: Mutagenesis creates a mutation in the plant cell through the application of radiation or toxic chemicals to the seed itself.

Perhaps the clearest explanation of the absurdity of labeling comes from the Genetic Literacy Project: "When countries reject or ban genetically modified crops over safety concerns, agricultural companies often turn to developing new strains using mutagenesis wherein plants are subjected to radiation treatments or doused in toxic chemicals that randomly scrambles genes to produce new traits.
Despite the fact that this process is much less precise than genetic modification in which scientists take a gene that gives rise to a desired trait, such as pesticide resistance, and insert it into the target plant mutagenesis is unregulated and widely used.