Why GMO Labeling Will Never Work

Nikon J1 234Would you want to know if your food contained GMOs?

There has been a major push to get foods containing genetically modified ingredients labeled. Some brands have voluntarily done so, but most have not taken that step. Several countries around the world require GMO labeling, including China, Brazil, Japan and many others. While the US and Canada have debated going in this direction, there has been no binding action- yet. A poll conducted by The New York Times found that a whopping 93% of people want mandatory labeling for GMOs.

Some advocacy groups demand labeling because they claim GMOs are unsafe, and we as consumers should know what’s in our food. Even many supporters of GMOs agree that it would be best to just get on with it and label it already; the campaign against it is doing more harm than good, and people will buy food containing GM ingredients if they believe it is safe. While I can see the merits of such arguments, I believe it would be a colossal error to label food containing GM ingredients. Labeling food containing GMOs will ensure consumers avoid them- it’s a matter of simple psychology.

People Fear What They Don’t Understand

survey conducted in January by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics found that over 80% of Americans support mandatory labels on foods containing DNA. For those who don’t remember high school science class, DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is our blueprint- it’s what makes us what we are. Almost every life form on the planet contains DNA. So, yes, all food contains DNA. But, if you didn’t know what DNA was, and someone asked you if you’d want to know if it was in your food, you probably would say yes. Why not? What if it’s harmful? It certainly sounds scary if you don’t know what it is.

Another example of the the general public’s ability to be fooled on scientific wording is the dihydrogen monoxide hoax. It all started back in 1983, in an April Fool’s edition of a weekly newspaper in Durand, Michigan. Apparently, dihydrogen monoxide had been found in the city’s water pipes, and it was “fatal if inhaled”. There have been several hoaxes since, each one stating dire warnings of the dangers of the substance. For instance, dihydrogen monoxide “may cause severe burns” and “has been found in excised tumours of terminal cancer patients” and “everyone who consumes it dies”. What is dihydrogen monoxide? Well, its chemical name is H2O, but it is better known as water.

The truth is, if you frame it right, you can make anything sound terrifying. Take A&W’s new marketing campaign. They advertise their beef as “better beef” because it is produced without hormones or steroids. They ignore the fact that you would ingest more hormones from their fries than you would from conventionally produced beef. But, for the uneducated, why not eat beef produced without those components? It clearly sounds safer.

If you put a label on something as “product x free” or “contains product x” you immediately label product x as something ominous- especially if a quick Google search comes back with dozens of websites claiming how dangerous product x is. I suspect that if we label our foods with many of our breeding methods, we will create fear. Genetic modification is only one way of breeding advancements in our crops. One such breeding method is mutagenesis, which involves using mutagens such as UV radiation or mutagenic chemicals to cause random or site-directed changes to an organim’s DNA. A food product developed under this method can be labeled GMO free. I don’t want to demonize mutagenesis; it is an effective way to develop desirable traits in our crops. But let’s be realistic here; why is genetic modification somehow more dangerous than any other method?

GMOs already have an undeservedly bad reputation, especially considering how safe they are. If the government makes GMO labeling mandatory, the odds are very slim that their reputation will improve.

Are GMOs Actually Safe?

The simple answer is a resounding yes. I’ve heard the claim more than a few times that research on GMOs is scant, and Monsanto is funding a ton of propaganda. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, there are thousands of studies on GMOs. A literature review completed in 2012 delved into 1,783 studies on GMOs over a period of ten years (2002-2012). The authors couldn’t find one credible study proving GMOs are dangerous in any way whatsoever. In their words,

“We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops (source).” 

Another literature review, dubbed the “trillion meal study”, reviewed 29 years of livestock consumption of GM foods. The result? Not one negative health effect. Surely, in nearly 30 years, one animal somewhere must have become sick if GMOs were actually dangerous (read more here). The only studies that have shown dangers to GMOs have been shown to be biased and fatally flawed (an example is the Seralini rat study– it was redacted from its publishing journal).

Do We Really Need GMOs?

If you go to the World Population Clock, you’ll find a number somewhere above 7.3 billion, with over 72 million more added so far in 2015. Our population growth may be starting to slow down, but the reality is that there will likely be 8 billion people on this planet by 2024- a staggering number. How do we feed them all? We will need every tool available to us, genetic modification included. Moreover, it gives us the ability to reduce pesticide use, fortify our foods with essential nutrients (e.g. Golden rice) and grow more food on less land. Let’s try and leave the rainforests where they are. And, more importantly, let’s not let any more children die from Vitamin A deficiencies.

Everyone has heard of GMOs, but few have taken the time to understand what they are. You always fear what you don’t understand; it’s basic human nature. A greater public benefit would come from education on GMOs; what they are, how they’re made, and why we need them. Let’s stop giving people a reason to be afraid of them. Let’s take the unknown out of it. Consumers want to know what’s in their food: instead of giving them an acronym few actually can decifer, let’s explain to them why GMOs are in their food, and why it’s a good thing. If consumers knew the truth about GMOs, there would be no need for labels.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2012. Statement by the AAAS Board of Directors On Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods.

Eenennaam, A. 2013. GMOs in animal agriculture: time to consider both costs and benefits in regulatory evaluations. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology. 

Entomological Society of America. 2014. Insect-resistant maize could increase yields and decrease pesticide use in Mexico.

Gemma, A. et. al. 2013. Plurality of opinion, scientific discourse and pseudoscience: an in depth analysis of the Se´ralini et al. study claiming that Roundup Ready corn or the herbicide Roundup cause cancer in rats. Transgenic Research.

Nicolia, A. et. al. 2012. An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research. Crit Rev Biotechnol.

What’s The Beef? M&Ms and Hormones. 2013. Farm Meets Fork.

6 Thoughts

  1. Lots of disinformation here. Citing Alison with one “L” and AAAS? That’s not science. That is pseudoscience, at best. All GMOs are safe? Yet, each one is unique, unlike any other – that’s why they have patents. Even so, in spite of the WHO’s recommendation that each one be regarded individually and tested for safety individually, no such requirement exists in the U.S. So. Until each and every brand undergoes long-term chronic toxicity studies, there is no way a rational person can say they are all safe. That is absurd. Ask Dr. Belinda Martineau, former genetics engineer who helped create the first FDA approved GMO food in 1994. The title of her article sums it up: The Absurdity of Claiming that “All GMOs are Safe” – by Dr. Belinda Martineau, Biotech Salon. June 16, 2015. [Genetics engineer] >>> http://bit.ly/1W2uDz2 <<>> http://bit.ly/1WmHRMu <<<<

    1. I’m not entirely sure what your issue is with Alison Van Eenennaam and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but calling their work “pseudoscience” is a tough one for me to follow. What more proof do you need than 30 years of consumption and hundreds of peer-reviewed studies confirming the safety of GMOs? Yes, nothing in this world is truly safe; everything we do carries an inherent risk. But the infinitesimally small odds of toxicity from genetic modification clearly do not outweigh the benefits.

      As an example, 3 billion people fly every year, with a few hundred fatalities from crashes (210 in 2013). That is a death rate of .0000007%. Undoubtedly, that is an exceptional safety record. What’s the death rate from GMOs? Quite simply, there isn’t one. The number is zero. In nearly 30 years. To stop eating GMOs due to risk of death is as absurd as not flying anywhere because of the risk of a crash.

    2. Most of my comment has not been posted. Just a small portion. Sad. “So-called ‘Trillion Meal Study’ of GMO Safety is Junk,” by Judson Parker, Examiner; October 8, 2014
      >> http://exm.nr/1XlexBb << . As I said, this was a study about some chickens, and that entire section of my comment was not posted. That's one way to stifle science: don't let the entire comment appear.

      The AAAS is supported by Monsanto. They are completely biased; they are not considered a valid source of scientific opinion by those who know the facts.

      Since GMOs are not labeled no one can say what the long-term health effects are. Suggesting that "no one has died" is absurd: no one has been looking. There are no epidemiological studies over a given population over a period of several years. That's how they found harm from tobacco, trans fats, etc. Since nothing like that has ever been done regarding GMOs, the absence of such studies is used to declare them safe, the absence of evidence of harm is used to spin the idea that "no one has died." That's not science; it's pseudoscience.

      As I said in part of the section of my comment that was not posted: People don't necessarily fear what they don't understand in this case: they fear for the future of the world and generations to come. In fact, I would argue the more they really know, the more the see past the spin, the propaganda, the myths, the lies, the disinformation, the more afraid they are — and that is a sane reaction to an actual danger … Fear is good. Don't mock it: the person who is not afraid of this is completely without proper understanding of these things.

      “If the GMO food industry can't survive consumer choice, then those foods shouldn't be sitting on the shelves of American grocery stores, and no scientist, corporation, political entity or university should stand in the way of that democratic process.” From: “The Health Effects of Genetically Engineered Crops on San Luis Obispo County,” Compiled by Mike Zelina, Teresa Campbell, Andrew Christie, Mark Phillips, Nancy Reinstein, PhD, RD, Elizabeth Johnson, August, 2006

      1. First, let me explain to you how the WordPress comment section works. You post a comment and I have the ability to edit and approve it. Let me just say this: I have never, and will never, edit a comment posted by you or anyone else. There are two caveats to this: 1) spam and 2) a hateful or discriminatory comment that I deem inappropriate. Your comment was posted as I received it. You can choose to trust me on that or not, but if you read some of my other posts, I think you’ll find that I consider integrity crucial to this blog.

        On the subject of AAAS: “supported by” and “controlled by” are two very different things. You’re going to tell me that Monsanto, a medium-sized corporation with revenues of $15.8 billion in 2014 (as an aside, that is very close to Whole Foods Market’s 2014 revenues of $14.2 billion).

        Genetic modification is one way of plant breeding. In fact, you cannot even consider it unnatural. At least 8,000 years ago, bacteria inserted their genes into the sweet potato, which resulted in an increased edibility of the potato root. Obviously, farmers would have selected for potatoes with that trait, and over time, we saw the “GM” potato become the dominant choice – just like we have done with GM crops today. Realistically, Agrobacterium is so ubiquitous in soils all over the world, infecting more than 140 plant species, that potatoes probably aren’t the only crop that this has happened. So, we’ve been eating genetically modified crops for thousands of years- whether it happened in nature or in a lab is, in reality, a tough thing to differentiate.

  2. That’s why seek products that’s labeled NO GMO… even if they are expensive. Investing in our body is our right, what are you putting in your body? What will happen after 10 years? your hair, skin, eyes, bones, skin, your hearing, then Dr will say: You need this Rx.. and this Rx… then after 10 more years you can’t remember any of your children, you can’t recall any names in your previous jobs, you can’t remember simple things…People are not dumb and naive. You probably don’t buy GMO products.

    1. I have stated numerous times – quite emphatically – that I eat what I grow. Yes, I eat GMOs. Where you’ve gotten your opinions about GMOs causing all these ailments I cannot imagine. Where is your evidence for this?

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