The Idiocy of GMO Labeling Wins The Day | Vol. 3 / No. 36.2

Sugar | Image modified from NEUROtiker, CC0 (Public Domain)

The Vermont GMO-labeling bill came into effect at the end of last week, and right around the same time the US Senate passed a GMO labeling compromise bill that’s made basically nobody happy. Steven Novella argues that this general dissatisfaction suggests it’s a real compromise, but also points out that it frustrates him (and me, and basically every skeptic) that “reason is compromising with nonsense.”

The old bill — the one the House passed last year but which failed in the Senate — would have basically left things with the FDA, and would have warranted labeling if there was any kind of “material difference” between the “regular” and “GMO” versions of a food, “if the disclosure is necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label from being false or misleading.” It was also sure to point out that “the use of a GMO does not, by itself, constitute a material difference.”

This, as you might imagine, was not good enough for the “organic” food lobby, whose goal is to scare everyone enough that they can be justified in selling more expensive but otherwise similar produce. As such, the Senate has sent back a very different bill. Here’s how Novella describes it:

The Senate bill requires mandatory labeling of food that contains GMOs, but it gives the FDA 2 years to write the specific requirements. Perhaps more importantly the bill allows for the use of a text label, an image, or an electronic label. An electronic label would have to be read with an app on a smartphone.

Bernie Sanders and his band of anti-science anti-GMO activists (I mean seriously, Bernie, I’m with you everywhere but this insanity) think this is somehow outrageous and I’ve been bombarded over the past days with demands to support his ludicrous plan to force anti-GMO talking points into the Democratic Party’s platform. Every time I get one of these, I might add, it makes me less upset that he’s not won the primary, despite my dislike for Clinton’s other stances.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the mandatory labeling of GMOs on food. One is that it adds costs and disrupts sectors of the food supply — as has been pointed out with the GMO sugar beet surplus / non-GMO sugar cane shortage despite the fact that both crops produce exactly the same refined sugar in the end. There’s also the fact that the act of labeling something insinuates that it’s a problem — see how hard the sugar industry has fought the labeling of “added sugars,” for instance. There’s also the fact that relabeling is an undue economic burden that penalizes companies for no good reason — why not just allow non-GMO products to label themselves as such (since it’s in their economic interest) and let everyone else just move on with their lives?

But no, we’re going to go the anti-science route, the Greenpeace-fearmongering route, the “organic” lobbyists’ route.

I just hope that when the time comes, all the foods I love come out with a label that says “This Food Proudly Made with GMOs.” I know I’ll buy it.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.