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The GMO labeling debate continued: It’s about the ‘benchmark’

David Zilberman, professor, agriculture and resource economics | June 8, 2012

I was amazed by the response to my previous post – and I will try address some of the main points.

I found three main themes repeating through the comments. First, it is clear that there are many people who are concerned about the side effects of GMOs and don’t trust biotech companies that produce them and the governments that regulate them. These people should vote for the proposition to label GMOs. This is a democracy, after all. I suspect that there are others that may be slightly concerned about GMOs or are indifferent, but they are not aware of the environmental and socio-economic benefits of GMOs and the likely negative implication of the labeling requirement. This is the group that I hope to convince.

Second, do we need labeling in principle? Of course… the public has a right to know. But the key question is the ‘benchmark’ for requiring labeling. Should it be based on findings of modern science or on other criteria? My grandmother would have liked that ‘kosher’ would be the base line for labeling and anything else should be labeled ‘non-kosher’ or even another term with a slightly negative slant. Others may like ‘halal’, ‘organic’ or ‘pesticide-free’ to be their benchmark, and everything else would need to have a label. However, non-kosher is the current norm (or benchmark) and we have labeling for ‘kosher’, ‘halal’, ‘organic’, etc., So I would vote against the labeling of GMOs because in my assessment, the social and environmental cost of having labeling GMO as the baseline (norm) would greatly outweigh the benefits. The big debate is what would be the role of GMOs and other molecular biological techniques in our food future. I think that as long as we have a good regulatory system and sound safety rules are met, they should define the baseline. Labeling GMOs has the potential to marginalize it and reduce the investment in research, development and introduction of new products and slow the advancement of the frontier of knowledge.

A third theme among the responses is the stereotyping. My motivation for taking this a pro-GMO position was questioned, which is part of a tendency of some to view proponents of GMO as people motivated by money while proponents of organic farming are idealists. The reality is more complex. Many pursue a career in science to make the world a better place and find GMOs to be a vital tool for the greater good. Conversely, organic farming can be a lucrative business, especially in California. Another stereotype is that people that care about the environment should be against GMOs. Again, that is simplistic. Personally, I envision a transition for a more diversified farming systems, less reliance on chemicals and smaller environment footprint relying on a range of modern tools of science, including GMOs.

The issue that we face is not freedom of choice, we are all for it. Rather we have to decide what will be the benchmark for labeling requirements. I am convinced that the cost of requiring labeling GMOs to society and the environment will outweigh the benefits and therefore am against it.

To have a better understanding of the impact of GMOs, I recommend the following literature:
NRC (National Research Council) Report “Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the U.S.” which can be found at:

as well as the survey by Matin Qaim, “The economics of genetically modified crops.” Annual Review of Resource Economics 1(1), which can be found at

Articles in Choices Magazine:
• Theme Overview: Genetically Engineered Crops and U.S. Agricultural Sustainability
• Environmental Opportunities and Challenges of Genetically-Engineered Crops
• The Economic Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops
• Social Equity and the Genetically Engineered Crops Controversy
• Can Genetically Engineered and Organic Crops Coexist?
• What Drives Academic Bioscientists: Money or Values?

Comments to “The GMO labeling debate continued: It’s about the ‘benchmark’

  1. Are you kidding? You try to equate a benchmark for labeling “GMO” with the benchmark for labeling “Kosher”? This isn’t about catering to some minority religious group. This affects ALL people that eat GMO food. The bottom line is I WANT TO KNOW IF WHAT I AM EATING WAS PRODUCED IN A LAB. Because humans are FALLIBLE and corporations like Monsanto I do not trust. They are already in bed with the government and the FDA in particular. Why were all commercial farmers in Iraq REQUIRED to destroy all their seeds and to buy them from US Corporations (e.g., Monsanta) [known as Order 81]. I do not trust anyone that tells me I don’t need to know if my food is modified at the genetic level — “don’t worry, it’s safe, we say so..”. NO!

    • So why can’t you just buy food labelled as “USDA Organic”? According to Federal Regulations (National Organic Program, Subpart A 205.2)the following are excluded from use in organic agriculture:

      “cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology)”

      Why do you need ANOTHER, mandatory government regulated label?

  2. Humans have been using intentional cross-breeding for millennia to produce foods that are ‘more desirable’ in one way or another. GMO is exactly the same process but more targeted, more efficient, and more effective.
    What I really cannot understand is the notion that GMO is something fundamentally different from what is going on in the biosphere all the time with or without human encouragement.
    Fools! Is all I can think to say about this.

    • Many GMO’s are not from cross-breeding broccoli with cauliflower, they are taking a gene from something COMPLETELY different, like a bacteria, or a fish, to make it resistant to something else. Selective breeding is one thing, but they are splicing genes from a bacteria that produces a toxin (Bt) and placing into an organism that we are eating. We are eating the toxin when we eat an ear of corn, when really it’s only needed in the organism’s root.

  3. I support the california initiative to label gmo crops.
    To see the legislative agenda of the biotech industry go to

    Why are IPRs at the top of biotech’s legislative agenda?
    Contemplate this If you buy gmo corn seed say with the bt trait spliced
    into its dna, you will have to sign a contract stating you cannot save the
    seed for next years planting. Any improvements you make to the seed go
    back to the IPR holder. A percentage of your profits from the crop you
    raised go back to the IPR holder. Same thing next year and the next.

    Biotech industries are buying out existing seed companies and seed stocks and
    taking them off the market. And not just seeds but animals also.
    Try to debate the point with them and it is all about their investments as if
    we owe them for their bad investments.

    So please consider this. I start with a corn seed and plant it, no biotech company invented the plant but by a little trick called gene splicing all of a sudden after billion years of natural selection and a few thousand years of human selection now the seed belongs to a
    biotech company? The bt gene is a tiny percentage of the dna in the bean. The bean does just fine without patents and other intellectual property rights.

    Beware people the greatest danger to your food security, the environment and what remaining biodiversity that is left on the planet is to continue to allow the current patent law regarding lifeforms. We need an end to lifeform patents, revoke the patents.

    Also again on you will see that the biotech industry is pushing hard for more acreage in gmo corn and gmo soybeans to be used as feedstock to fuel cars. Nice to know they are looking out for the environment and nature.

  4. The World Health Organization has issued warnings on the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in genetically engineered foods.

    Interesting that biotech companies have bought the educational process in most universities. Yours sir, denying tenure to Ignacio Chapela for exposing contamination.

    CBI (Confidential Business Information) in patents on life forms. The most egregious practice and obvious male nature to own food, people, and control.

    • Could you provide a reference for the “warning” that the WHO has provided?

      In the documents I could find it is true that the WHO encourages “the use of recombinant DNA without antibiotic-resistance genes (particularly those that could interfere with human or animal therapies)”. The issue appears to be one of horizontal gene transfer, where they say the “probability of such an event occurring appears to be extremely low” but they encourage the use of non-antibiotic markers because it completely eliminates the possibility. However, if antibiotic resistance markers are used then they recommend that the type be included in the pre-market safety assessment. That is not really a “warning” (for a WHO endorsed “warning” go check out their documents on tobacco use).

      They also state in the same report that “GM foods currently available on the international market have undergone risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health any more than their conventional counterparts.” And those GM foods contain antibiotic resistance markers.

      Ref: “Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: an evidence-based study”; Food Safety Department, World Health Organization (2005).

  5. Reversibility of hepatocyte nuclear modifications in mice fed on genetically modified soybean.
    Malatesta M, Tiberi C, Baldelli B, Battistelli S, Manuali E, Biggiogera M.

    Istituto di Istologia e Analisi di Laboratorio, University of Urbino Carlo Bo, via Zeppi s.n., 61029 Urbino, Italy.

    In the literature, the reports on the effects of a genetically modified (GM) diet are scanty and heterogeneous; in particular, no direct evidence has so far been reported that GM food may affect human or animal health. Hepatocytes represent a suitable model for monitoring the effects of a GM diet, the liver potentially being a primary target. In a previous study, we demonstrated that some modifications occur in hepatocyte nuclei of mice fed on GM soybean. In order to elucidate whether such modifications can be reversed, in the present study, 3 months old mice fed on GM soybean since their weaning were submitted to a diet containing wild type soybean, for one month. In parallel, to investigate the influence of GM soybean on adult individuals, mice fed on wild type soybean were changed to a GM diet, for the same time. Using immunoelectron microscopy, we demonstrated that a one-month diet reversion can influence some nuclear features in adult mice, restoring typical characteristics of controls in GM-fed animals, and inducing in control mice modifications similar to those observed in animals fed on GM soybean from weaning. This suggests that the modifications related to GM soybean are potentially reversible, but also that some modifications are inducible in adult organisms in a short time.

  6. Ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses of hepatocyte nuclei from mice fed on genetically modified soybean.
    Malatesta M, Caporaloni C, Gavaudan S, Rocchi MB, Serafini S, Tiberi C, Gazzanelli G.

    Istituto di Istologia e Analisi di Laboratorio, via Zeppi s n, University of Urbino, Italy.
    Erratum in

    Cell Struct Funct. 2002 Oct;27(5):399.


    No direct evidence that genetically modified (GM) food may represent a possible danger for health has been reported so far; however, the scientific literature in this field is still quite poor. Therefore, we carried out an ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical study on hepatocytes from mice fed on GM soybean, in order to investigate eventual modifications of nuclear components of these cells involved in multiple metabolic pathways related to food processing. Our observations demonstrate significant modifications of some nuclear features in GM-fed mice. In particular, GM fed-mice show irregularly shaped nuclei, which generally represents an index of high metabolic rate, and a higher number of nuclear pores, suggestive of intense molecular trafficking. Moreover, the roundish nucleoli of control animals change in more irregular nucleoli with numerous small fibrillar centres and abundant dense fibrillar component in GM-fed mice, modifications typical of increased metabolic rate. Accordingly, nucleoplasmic (snRNPs and SC-35) and nucleolar (fibrillarin) splicing factors are more abundant in hepatocyte nuclei of GM-fed than in control mice. In conclusion, our data suggest that GM soybean intake can influence hepatocyte nuclear features in young and adult mice; however, the mechanisms responsible for such alterations remain unknown.

  7. Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract.

    Netherwood T, Martín-Orúe SM, O’Donnell AG, Gockling S, Graham J, Mathers JC, Gilbert HJ.


    School of Cell and Molecular Biosciences, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK.


    The inclusion of genetically modified (GM) plants in the human diet has raised concerns about the possible transfer of transgenes from GM plants to intestinal microflora and enterocytes. The persistence in the human gut of DNA from dietary GM plants is unknown. Here we study the survival of the transgene epsps from GM soya in the small intestine of human ileostomists (i.e., individuals in which the terminal ileum is resected and digesta are diverted from the body via a stoma to a colostomy bag). The amount of transgene that survived passage through the small bowel varied among individuals, with a maximum of 3.7% recovered at the stoma of one individual. The transgene did not survive passage through the intact gastrointestinal tract of human subjects fed GM soya. Three of seven ileostomists showed evidence of low-frequency gene transfer from GM soya to the microflora of the small bowel before their involvement in these experiments. As this low level of epsps in the intestinal microflora did not increase after consumption of the meal containing GM soya, we conclude that gene transfer did not occur during the feeding experiment.

  8. I can not envisiou a religious person who would Ever consider GMO’s Kosher. First of all, a religious person would be offended by the arrogance of genetically engineering food. Such a person would find it morally repugnant to feed it to millions of people, effectively turning them into guinea pigs in the most massive experiment ever conducted on the human species. There is nothing Kosher about genetically modified foods. The claims being made of social and economic benefits have never been proven. The beneficiaries are clearly visible–Monsanto et al, not the consumers. There are NO CLINICAL FEEDING TRIAL ON RECORD ON PEOPLE AND MOST OTHER SPECIES. The regulatory system is a sham—the requirement is a 90 day feeding trial on RATS.
    the entire structure is owned and controlled by Monsanto et al. and your argument is fallacious throughout.

  9. In my view, Mr. Zilberman, GMO foods should not be used until there is undisputed scientific evidence by third parties that food is safe to eat. Why do you reject transparency? Is it because according to Monsanto spokesperson, Kelly Clauss, “Monsanto and UC have at least twenty agreements “that include licensing, sharing materials for research, sponsoring research, and utilizing their specialized, technical services.” or perhaps, because UC patents are routinely licensed by biotech companies to develop GMO crops.

    Not only do I demand transparency by labeling GMO food, but I also demand transparency in both your and UC Berkeley’s relationship with biotech companies.

    As for your simplistic argument about the poor, starvation is not caused by a lack of food, but by politics and poverty. We have plenty of food crops in the United States, but we also have plenty of people who go to sleep each night without enough to eat.

    • You’ve just accused a tenured Professor at a prestigious university of being a paid stooge for industry interests. And why? Because his expert opinion is different to yours.

      I don’t know Prof Zilberman but he has an impressive resume (click his name). How about you share your resume with us so we can get an idea of your expertise and possible conflicts of interest?

      • Well it’s true that universities are censoring teachers on the topics of GMOs. My teacher was guest speaking at another school and was specifically told she could not speak about the subject because school sponsors consisted of pro gmo companies. Cool, huh? Yikes…

  10. The question remains as to why so many that know that the heart of science is the free and open exchange of ideas would so strongly object to the sharing of information with the public. If it is as safe as touted, then why not let everyone see it on the label? By so doing it also allows it to be openly tested. This is the very essence of science.

    Or are we dealing with paternalistic corporate technocrats that think the public is too stupid to know what is good for it?

  11. David, you do realize that producers are allowed to label their products as ‘halal’ or ‘kosher’, correct? Please explain why it is illegal to promote your products as ‘non-gmo’. There are glaring and omitted differences in every comparison youve posted on this subject.

    Your comparisons are like apples and oran…… umm…… genetically modified oranges. WAY off base, especially for a scientist.

    • Where did you get the idea that “it is illegal to promote your products as ‘non-gmo'”? Because there are plenty of products in the supermarkets I go to that are labeled just that.

  12. Excellent article Dr. Zilberman. To me it is about dictating policy around a scientific issue by mob rule. Can we get enough people to sign petitions to remove clean energy initiatives from consideration because they don’t accept the science of global warming? Can we get enough people to sign a petition to get a ballot initiative that will employ teaching creation in science class?

    These are two other examples where activists would want to install public policy in a manner that is not scientifically warranted. It is the same with the GMO label. Many I’ve spoken to say that this is not about GMOs, it is about developing a distinct label that can be used to culture fear mongering. That is already clearly a mode of operation for the anti-science, anti-GM interests.

    My solution- label all foods with the number of genes transferred or altered by human intervention. Polyploids = >100k. Traditionally bred wide introgressions =>40k. Mutation breeding = ???. Trangenic (GMO) technology =1 to 3. The first three are completely acceptable to everyone, including organic cultivation, yet are profoundly more potentially problematic and unknown.

  13. I am for labeling food for gmo; i think if manufacturers are so proud of their process they should label it… anyway. but until then i am using this great NxtNutrio iPhone App; I scan the barcode of Food and alerts me if its GMO or Non-GMO.

  14. Isn’t there already a “no GMO” label? I’m fairly certain the USDA Organic standards do not allow recombinant DNA techniques to be used, hence anything with a “USDA Organic” label is GMO-free. There is your choice. The label already exists. Why create another?

    • Perhaps you could explain why it is unlawful to promote your products as ‘non-gmo’? Lobbyists and unproven human science experiments!

      • I don’t understand your comment. It’s not “unlawful to promote your products as ‘non-gmo'”. The soy milk I buy has it clearly written on it that it does not contain GM-soy.

        And it is legal to put a “USDA Organic” label on your product – if, of course, it meets the requirements, one of which is to not use GM technology.

        • Hi Neil, If you what you are saying is True, that all products are either labeled as “Does not contain GM” label or “Does contain GM” label, then there is no argument.

          I would like to know on all products that I eat, whether it has GMO or not. That’s why Yes on Prop 37 makes sense.

  15. Thanks for trying to provide scientific clarity on an issue hopelessly muddied by those with an activist agenda. I never cease to be amazed by the strange juxtaposition of utter suspicion for the remarks of experts, on one hand, and ardent belief in urban legends found in many negative comments here.

    Another oddity of this topic as it plays out on discussion boards is the persistent vilification of seed companies as the prime culprits blocking labeling. Reality is that seed companies are the only ones that already label their products (which are bags of GM seed willingly purchased by farmers).

    Proponents of labeling should focus more attention on the parts of the food industry that have the motivation and economic power to block labeling. They should also stop to consider just how much they undermine their own cause by bashing the regulatory agencies that are actually empowered to protect consumers like themselves.

  16. Almost every company puts out poison, then takes the court libilities and still makes $4 billion profits on poison. Now they want to hide it? Oh, Yeah, UCB helps create these poisons.

    • Riche Robert, I think the problem is that there is no sound scientific evidence that supports your “poison” claim. We should not base new labeling and villainization of good technology based on activist opinions.

      • Hello!

        Most of the genetic engineering of foods entails making them Herbicide Resistant. Who are you kidding?
        What is Bt? An insecticide= toxin–by definition.

        • Bt is the acronym for bacillius thuringiensis, a bacterium that is commercially available for organic farmers to use as an insecticide, google DiPel or Thuricide..or look up the wikipedia page on Bt.

          This means that if you are worried about the toxic effects of Bt (which you shouldn’t be) then you need to be very careful about eating organic food.

          • Not the same Bt at all!
            Here is one example: Dow/Pioneer used recombinant DNA techniques to produce and introduce into corn, a restriction
            fragment containing the cry34Ab1,cry35Ab1, and pat genes from Bacillus thuringiensis strain
            PS149B1 and Streptomyces viridochromogenes, respectively. Expression of these genes by corn
            plants renders the corn line resistant to CRW and tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate.
            Regulatory elements for the cry34Ab1, cry35Ab1, and pat genes were derived from the plant
            pathogenic virus cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV), potato, and corn. These regulatory sequences
            are not transcribed and do not encode proteins. The DNA was introduced into corn cells using
            Agrobacterium-mediated transformation methodology with the T-DNA transformation vector
            designated PHP 17662. In addition to transgenes necessary for insertion into the plant genome,
            the T-DNA vector also contained within the backbone two genes conferring bacterial resistance to
            the antibiotics spectinomycin and tetracycline, and the bacterial origin of replication. The
            recipient corn line used in the transformation was the public line designated Hi-II. Plant cells
            containing the introduced DNA were then selected by culturing in the presence of glufosinateammonium. In addition, antibiotics included in the culture medium killed any remaining

          • This is in reply to “false again Neil” (not sure if the comments are going to nest correctly…)

            Ummm…I don’t see how your comment invalidates mine…? The cry34Ab1 and cry35Ab1 genes are from Bacillus thuringiensis. If you eat organic food that has been sprayed with Bt you will be eating these, and many other (probably-uncharacterized) proteins, from the Bt organism. You will be eating the regulatory elements from Bt.

            Put it this way: if Bt is an “insecticide = toxin–by definition”, then when you eat food from Bt-GM-crops you are being exposed to only two proteins from Bt and their associated regulatory elements. Yet, when you eat organic food you are going to be exposed to every protein expressed by the Bt organism along with all the regulatory elements (and everything else) contained in the Bt genome. Yet the latter is safe and former dangerous? How does that make sense?

          • Have I been eating these cry proteins introduced into the corn genome (in how many copies? with what flanking DNA sequences?)in combination with CAMV, a plasmid with tetracycline and spectinomycin resistance genes and Agrobacterium with my organic food? Was I also exposed to other xenobiotics such as glyphosate, gluphosinate, EPSPS, 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid dicamba and “fops” with all their proprietary adjuvants with my organic food? Was I a fetus at the time?

            I’ll give you a hint, Neil. You will get much closer to convincing me once you have done ultrastructural morphometrical and immunocytochemical analysis, and proteomics ( to check for upregulated and down regulated proteins) in a couple of thousand rat hepatocytes, pancreatic cells and intestinal cells x several generations; as well as a thousand humans.

          • The original comment was around the implied toxicity of Bt (“insecticide = toxin–by definition”). As far as I can see the only sequences within the vector listed above that have insecticidal properties are the proteins encoded by the cry34Ab1 and cry35Ab1 genes. I am happy to address your other concerns, but before we go on, do you agree that the ingestion of the proteins encoded by the cry34Ab1 and cry35Ab1 is safe? After all, people who eat organic food will have been exposed to these proteins, correct?

  17. Hiding behind 15 plus years of consumer deception certainly makes for a strong case for not labeling. The industry benchmark, one of opacity, has been the standard for decades. The true cost for GMO labeling is not in compliance or label redesign but in the cost of consumer blow-back. That’s the true cost. As consumers are awakened to the reality that they’ve served as guinea pigs for an Ag-biotech pesticide-sales & delivery program, I don’t think they’ll take kindly to the industry, and institutionally sanctioned, benchmark all that well.

  18. Although I have the greatest respect for the scientific method, this argument has nothing to do with science but rather intellectual property and how to make the world dependent on a technology rather than your neighbor farmer.

    Don’t buy it

  19. Not all genetic motifications are the same. Non-gmo’s have been the base line for thousannds of years. Traditional breeding will be practiced today and tomorrow. Why would we want to be so short sided to believe todays genetic motifications will be the same as tomorrows. I believe the consumer will want positive changes to there food. Genetic modifications should be justified buy the consumer in there purching power. Higher vitiman content and ways to protect fruit trees from viruses. For many there is intuitive logic that not all motifications are for the good of the consumer. Adding Bacillus Thuringiensis to corn to destroy rootworm or the glyphos gene to make weed controll easier may not be in the best interest for the consumer. Again not all genetic motifications are the same. So they cant be the baseline.

  20. Some additional issues that have not been mentioned in this discussion, but which I think deserve attention and discussion: defects in our intellectual property regime (which also affect open inquiry and science-based critical debate); related political risks of policy influence and regulatory capture; possible imbalances between levels of proprietary research and research in the public interest in our public research institutions. That later point also raises questions about who sets the research agenda (and what taxpayers indirectly are supporting through public institutions).

  21. “Benchmarking” may be a useful way to think about this and approach solutions. I wonder whether many involved in this debate would be satisfied if there were a reliable option for a voluntary “non GMO” label ( perhaps following the example of Kosher or Organic labeling)? Are there any legal barriers to something like a voluntary “non-GMO” label?

  22. Cross-contamination is the main issue here (aside from 19 studies showing health effects like organ damage and infertility!)

    You support GMOs, you TAKE AWAY our right to choose the food we want to eat, the food that has supported all life for millions of years.

    This is about the future of the planet, until there is a real independent study process by an official body supporting GMOs is anti-life on this planet. Who paid you to write this sir?

    You say organics are profitable yet you ignore GMO companies exploiting farmers across the world, forcing them to buy chemicals and new seeds year after year due to termination genes?

    • Hi Nick, The studies you cite are low-impact and frequently flawed. The fact that you accept those data as irrefutable evidence of GMO harm shows the porosity of your evidence filter. This is especially true when you ignore the hundreds of published studies that show no effects or differences.

      Nobody paid Dr. Zilberman to write this. It is the position of just about every scientist that studies this area, including me. Never paid a cent by biotech.

      “termination genes” also shows your knowledge of this topic. You have bought the party line without seeking real information, and it is a testament to the disinformation surrounding this topic. Terminator genes were named that by detractors. It was technology owned by Delta Pine back in the 90’s. They were bought by Monsanto, but that technology was never actually deployed.

      I urge you to keep seeking good information. Ask me specifics. I’m glad to help.

  23. A comment about your second point I’d like to point out is that there is no requirement that any other improvement or plant modification technique be labeled, and from back crossing to somaclonal variation, there are many of these. Hybridization, induced polyploidy, mutagenesis via radiation or chemicals, wide crosses, embryo rescue, ect. How many people know that some of the apples they buy at the store are sports, which is to say, a mutated bud that was discovered growing on a tree then propagated through grafting? Or how many are aware that much wheat has been bred by hitting it with radiation, and then desirable mutants being selected? Or how many people know that some of the crops they eat are produced by taking the pollen of a parent, doubling its chromosomes with a chemical, culturing that cell to regenerated a new plant, then crossing that plant with another that was produced similarly? Not many are aware of it, and none of them are labeled. To single out one technique out of many makes no sense to me, and even if you were to single out genetic engineering, what purpose would it serve if it does not detail what gene has been inserted and other details, and if one requires that, why ignore every other mutation and selected gene? It is rather inconsistent in my opinion.

    Ultimately of course the baseline argument holds. If you want mandatory labels for containing gluten or allergens, that is fine because that is need to know information, but beyond that, specialty information of all sorts should be left up to market demand. If you want something, create a demand for it and encourage the supply. Wanting something is not sufficient for establishing policy, especially when one considers that, with a bit of thought, if one wishes to avoid genetically engineered ingredients it can be done. Corn, soy, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beet, summer squash, and papaya are the only crops in the US that are GE. Avoid them (or choose food labeled as organic or non-GMO), and you avoid GE ingredients. Sure, you will have to do your homework, and avoid some things all together, but that’s the price you pay. Consider vegans: how many of them have to research ingredients or call companies to make sure that natural flavoring isn’t, for example, castoreum? Yet, vegans manage without demanding mandatory labeling. I often think of a time when I was with my Arabic professor at a food shop and he looked at a package of gummies. As a Muslim, he did not consume pig products, and when he picked up the gummies, before doing anything else he checked the ingredients. He noticed they contained gelatin, and because he knew what ingredients were in accordance with Islamic dietary laws, he knew that much of the gelatin in the US is produced from pig bones and therefore he could not eat the most likely haram gummies. He didn’t get angry, he didn’t claim that anyone was hiding anything from him, and he didn’t say his choice to eat halal was being taken away. He simply put them back. Similarly, if you wish to avoid genetically engineered foods, the responsibility is on you to manage your beliefs yourself, not on anyone else to do it for you.

    Unfortunately, so many have heard so much misinformation that they consider genetic engineering to be dangerous (and of course something dangerous would merit labeling if one is unable to secure an outright ban). I agree that labeling will do nothing good for this misconception. Already those opposed to genetic engineering frequently remark that, because they are labeled or even banned in other countries, that is indication that there must be something wrong with them. If they are labeled here, I suspect that would only add to the fear, and we would quickly see the claim that ‘they have to label them, so they must be bad’ emerge.

    • Really? How much more evidence do you need? Have you ever heard of the intertubes? Its a series of tubes that carries information into a google-box in your home. There are hundreds of reasons, proven, why gmos are dangerous.

      Why must we prove theyre DANGEROUS? Shouldnt the companies first have to prove that theyre SAFE?

      Theyve tried, but are UNABLE TO PROVE IT.

  24. To address just one of your points for now: “I am convinced that the cost of requiring labeling GMOs to society and the environment will outweigh the benefits and therefore am against it.”

    Billions are spent by such as Monsanto on labeling and court costs, fines, etc. Farmers being sued, hundreds of thousands Indian farmers committing suicide, and the list goes on. third world countries don’t understand this technology and can’t afford it. It goes against their entire generations of culture and food practices. What is the cost in human lives and culture. Everyone who knows about GMOs now has fear of food. 90% of people don’t want them. I guess that means more will starve…and would prefer to do so than be Guinea Pigs, when sustainable farming practices are available and corruption and waste are rampant. Those cultures already know organic farming but need help and teaching with newer and better methods such as permaculture and hydroponics. No one with a small piece of land available to them should starve.

  25. I don’t think anyone would dispute that GMO crops are more economical to produce than non-GMO, otherwise they would not have had such rapid success and adoption.

    However, cheaper food should not come at the expense of nutrition or health. To state it in economic terms, GMO foods may create external health care costs to society that could potentially far outweigh the economic benefit of GMOs. Nobody really knows, because this is a national experiment with 15 years of limited data compared to thousands of years of non-GMO agriculture.

    At some point, people with the best intentions thought that margarine with trans-fats is healthier than butter. We now know it isn’t, and even though it’s cheaper to produce, can lead to health problems which caused the government to LABEL trans fats and advise against consuming it.

    Let’s not wait for this to happen with GMOs. They may be perfectly safe, I don’t know. But do I want to risk my family’s health as part of the GMO experiment? No. They should be labeled until PROVEN SAFE, which required many years of longitudinal studies, say 30-50 years for something as drastic as inserting DNA sequences from animals into plants.

    • Mario, the difference is that there is evidence that trans-fats are dangerous. No harm from transgenics, at least independently reproducible and in high-quality studies with large numbers.

      Your same arguments were made against Pasteurization and in-vitro fertilization. People said “we don’t know so we shouldn’t”. I’m glad we did. There is no scientifically plausible mechanism for harm through transgenics. It will do nothing but slow useful technology that can help many. I’m glad to discuss any part of this topic. Just send an email.

      • There are indeed scientifically plausible mechanisms for harm. Incorporation of transgenes by intestinal bacteria, and allergenicity of cry proteins as just a few examples.
        Can you point out a single medical institution looking at incorporation of Bt transgene into intestinal microflora in patients with various forms of inflammatory bowel disease ( ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s) immune-mediated hepatitis, pancreatitis as a couple of examples?
        Absence of evidence of medical harm does not equal absence of medical harm, in a world where hundreds of idiopathic chronic medical illnesses sicken humans and animals.

        • Bt is used in organic agriculture as an insecticide. Usually these products contain viable spores of the Bt bacterium. So if you are worried about one Bt protein from GM-food undergoing the extremely low probability event of horizontal gene transfer and incorporating into the intestinal microflora, then why are you not worried about the effect of viable Bt spores on the same patient population? Do you know of studies on the effect of the Bt bacteria on IBD patients?

      • Debate on GMOs health risks after statistical findings in regulatory tests.
        de Vendômois JS, Cellier D, Vélot C, Clair E, Mesnage R, Séralini GE.

        CRIIGEN, 40 rue Monceau, 75008 Paris France.

        We summarize the major points of international debate on health risk studies for the main commercialized edible GMOs. These GMOs are soy, maize and oilseed rape designed to contain new pesticide residues since they have been modified to be herbicide-tolerant (mostly to Roundup) or to produce mutated Bt toxins. The debated alimentary chronic risks may come from unpredictable insertional mutagenesis effects, metabolic effects, or from the new pesticide residues. The most detailed regulatory tests on the GMOs are three-month long feeding trials of laboratory rats, which are biochemically assessed. The tests are not compulsory, and are not independently conducted. The test data and the corresponding results are kept in secret by the companies. Our previous analyses of regulatory raw data at these levels, taking the representative examples of three GM maize NK 603, MON 810, and MON 863 led us to conclude that hepatorenal toxicities were possible, and that longer testing was necessary. Our study was criticized by the company developing the GMOs in question and the regulatory bodies, mainly on the divergent biological interpretations of statistically significant biochemical and physiological effects. We present the scientific reasons for the crucially different biological interpretations and also highlight the shortcomings in the experimental protocols designed by the company. The debate implies an enormous responsibility towards public health and is essential due to nonexistent traceability or epidemiological studies in the GMO-producing countries.

        [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
        Free PMC Article

    • There is significant evidence that GMOs do NOT increase yield, and in most cases force farmers to use more inputs (water, chemical fertilizer, pesticide) with average decrease in yield. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Failure to Yield reviews over two dozen US studies on this topic:

      The failure to increase yield has also been noted in other parts of the world, and has been a cause for thousands of suicides of Indian farmers who believed what they were told about GM seed and faced significant crop failure.

      At the same time, there is evidence, so far ignored or suppressed by the US agriculture community, regarding the health risks of genetic modification, summarized in [PDF] THE GMO EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES

      For those who have done the research and decided that genetically modified foods are dangerous and should be avoided, the expense and inconvenience of locating safe foods is enormous. And yes, certified organic foods are free of gmos, but many organic farmers can’t afford the expense of certification.

      If fifty other countries have found it possible to ban or label GM foods, it’s hard to understand why the US is not able to offer the same protections to its citizens.

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