Gary Hirshberg: Organic yogurt guru s credibility under attack

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153697219In the early 1990s, Gary Hirshberg, chairman and former president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, was a leader of the nascent corporate responsibility movement which in turn helped launch what is now called the sustainability movement. As noted by journalist Jon Entine, Hirshberg was impressive in his adherence to evidence about the ethics of leaders of these movements, encouraging Entine to pursue the CEO of The Body Shop for misbranding her products as natural and actually stealing some product lines.

But now, write Entine and co-author Dr. Bruce Chassy (ACSH scientific advisor and expert on genetic engineering), Hirshberg has deserted evidence-based science in his support of mandatory labeling of GMO foods. In a detailed essay on the Genetic Literacy Project site, they deconstruct Hirshberg s statements about the lack of scientific evidence behind the safety of GMO foods. In particular, they counter his arguments that:

  1. There have been no long-term studies of GMO impacts on public health.

RESPONSE: It is disingenuous to suggest that proper studies haven t been done. There have been many careful studies based on any changes in composition, nutritional value, and allergenicity among other characteristics.

  1. FDA approvals are cursory and based on industry studies, not on FDA-run investigations.

RESPONSE: The FDA review process take multiple years and involves transparent public review and comments prior to approval of any GMO crop. None of Hirshberg s organic products undergo any such similar scrutiny and they aren t required to be mandatorily labeled.

  1. A lack of independent research on GMO crops is blamed on Technology Use Agreements which prohibits use of the seed in research projects.

RESPONSE :[T]here have been more than 1,000 peer-reviewed, published papers from independent sources on GMO plants involving their human, animal and environmental safety and efficacy. The European Union, which nobody can claim is in the pockets of the GMO industry, has conducted extensive reviews hundreds of them and found GMO plants to be safe.

  1. The demands for mandatory labeling are based on people s right to know how their foods are grown and this is sufficient reason for labeling.

RESPONSE: Many people want foods that are kosher, organic or vegan and they can find them because producers voluntarily label their products as such. Consumers who wish to avoid GMO foods can already do so by buying voluntarily labeled foods, or by purchasing organic products.

Dr. Ruth Kava, ACSH Senior Nutrition Fellow, commends Chassy and Entine for their fine analysis, saying These authors have clearly debunked Hirshberg s self-serving description of the status of GMO foods. As we have written, there is no good reason to require yet another labeling law voluntary efforts can supply the information to consumers who for their own reasons want to avoid GMO foods. But we continue to emphasize that these foods are just as safe and nutritious as any other sometimes even more so.