What If Labels Could Educate?

Series:  The Benevolent Side of GMOs


I wish I could say this headline is mine:  Embrace The Biotech In Your Basket.   It is not, and I can’t improve upon it.  I found the article for this post in a South African blog called Food Stuff.  It is written by Dr Leon Van Eck, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Genetics (Faculty of Agricultural Sciences) at Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

The whole article is excellent but there is one particular paragraph that I really, REALLY  like.  Even though I left the anti-GMO movement, I’ve maintained the position that labeling is at the very least inevitable.  The cat is out of the bag now.   There is no going back and consumers are going to demand it, but, Van Eck has a labeling idea that could probably win over a lot of folks.  He writes (bold words are my edit):

With the recent rejection of California Proposition 37, labeling of food made from GE crops has gained more media coverage worldwide. Merely labeling a product “contains GMOs” makes it seem like a warning of some sort, and in fact does not allow a consumer to make an informed choice at all. It’s simple scaremongering, and a wasted opportunity to educate. As a consumer, I might want to know that a product is made from a crop engineered to use less chemical fertilizer (that is) bad for the environment, or to require less pesticide that might be harmful to farm workers. Food labeling helps us all make informed decisions, and it’s how that labeling is done that makes the difference.

What I like so much is the idea that a label should educate, not scare people.  Brilliant!  This kind of label could even be voluntary.  Instead of denying consumers their labels, tout what the GM product offers.  So many consumers feel like there is nothing in GM products for them.  Tell them otherwise!

Couldn’t labels be a way to tell the biotech story?  Please, share your thoughts on this.

~Julee K @ Sleuth4Health/email: sleuth4health@gmail.com

Source Article

17 responses to “What If Labels Could Educate?”

  1. I can appreciate this sentiment, but you have to be careful:

    “As a consumer, I might want to know that a product is made from a crop engineered to use less chemical fertilizer (that is) bad for the environment, or to require less pesticide that might be harmful to farm workers.”

    The argument has suddenly taken on the same scary face as the organic movement: “Chemicals,” bad! “Pesticides,” bad! You end up promulgating the same falsehoods that your opponents do.

    Stuck in the middle are the vast number of farmers who a) Don’t farm organically because they can’t or don’t want to; b) Don’t use genetically engineered crops because they’re either too expensive or unavailable.

    Crops genetically engineered to require fewer fertilizer inputs and fewer pesticides are desirable because they cut farmers’ costs and increase yields. It doesn’t mean that the rest of us are damaging the environment and farming farm workers.

    For a long time to come, most farmers will be neither organic nor growing genetically engineered crops. Value them.

  2. That last sentence in the penultimate paragraph should read, “It doesn’t mean that the rest of us are damaging the environment and harming farm workers.”

    • @Mike, the labels could say anything. They could say that such and such a product is such and such percentage less expensive because of GMOs. The “lower input” message needs to get out there somehow. I was in no way singling out only pesticides here (Van Eck happened to mention them so I went with it)… but you have to admit, in our current emotionally charged world of transgenic crops, this would be a beginning.

  3. I agree that educational labels is a great idea.

    I would like to see across the board education in labeling. I imagine a big sign in the produce section of every supermarket, with a take home handout. “Here is a list of the top 20 pesticides and herbicides used on food in the US today. Here is their comparative risk to farmers, consumers, and the environment. This would be followed by a table showing which ones are used by conventional farmers, GMO farmers, and organic farmers.”

    Most people do not know that there is a whole list of herbicides and pesticides that farmers can use on their crops and still use the label – Organic, by agreement with the USDA. Some of these are apparently more toxic than Roundup, for instance.

    Scientist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Nina Fedoroff wrote in her book, Mendel in the Kitchen, how the official label Organic was created. In 1990, Congress passed a law creating the National Organic Standards Board, which gathered info from farmers, consumers and environmental groups for ten years. They could not substantiate claims that organic food was more nutritious nor tasted better. Instead they focused on techniques the public perceived as safe, and limiting the use of pesticide/herbicide substances to those which could be called natural instead of synthetic.

  4. Yes Bonnie, all good points and we need such a sign for ALL food, not just produce because corn and soy and their derivatives are involved in almost all processed foods. I wonder how many of the buying public would actually take a brochure and read it?

  5. I am very disappointed that you took the stance with promoting technocracy & and am backed by so many businesses & plant biotech promoters. However, this post promoting of at least labeling of GMO’s says to me that you are once again coming to your senses. To not have a GMO label is absurd.

    • @Susan. I am not “promoting” anything except common sense. I am not pro-GMO, but I am pro-science, observant, interested in GMOs, and I trust the biology and genetics experts because they live this stuff on a daily basis – hundreds and hundreds of them in research labs in every university (not to mention the hundreds that are employed in the biotech industry, but I’ll leave them out of the discussion for now because of my next statement).

      I have learned that this notion that they’re all shills for biotech is simply not true. The scientists in the world of academia don’t speak for Big Agri. If they wanted to speak for, say, Monsanto, they’d work for Monsanto and make a lot more money doing it. They work in the field of plant sciences because they love it. An acquaintance of mine recently wrote something to the effect that true knowledge dispels fears and I have found that to be true. I no longer fear GMOs. I am discovering amazing things that are being done with them in fact.

      I have also learned that organic farming isn’t the pure practice many think it is. There is a dark side to it and no matter how you farm, you have to deal with insects, weeds and diseases. Organic farmers use “natural” pesticides that are also toxic, sometimes very toxic.

      And yes, I am for labeling but instead of instilling yet more fear into people, labels should educate and empower people. I’m also all about the truth and I believe I’m getting there. Thanks so much for commenting!

  6. A simple small contains GMO labels will work fine. However, the technocrats and scientists here continue to fight this tooth and nail with comments like “can’t be done”, “there is no difference”, etc. Their resistance to a label is fueling conspiracy theories in my opinion & gmo’s have indeed the potential to really help people. (If plant biologists focus on taste & nutrition….just IMO) Your label suggestion (although I like your suggesting one) skews the facts as they continue to be up for debate.

    Communication and the way people talk to each other could be vastly improved.

  7. One more comment. Many academics and biotech people sub. contract out to private companies & work for Big Ag (ie some do work for Monsanto, Dow, etc on a contract level) a bit misinformed here. This is a fact….no conspiracy here. (I am sure you have to be aware of this by now)

  8. niversity scientists don’t want to answer to corporations so that’s why they want to be on their own and publish what they want. If they take on a contract, it’s going to be of limited scope and it doesn’t mean they’re a spokesperson for the biotech industry. University scientists do sometimes also obtain funding from small biotech companies to solve a problem or do research.
    The unknown fact here is that for the most part though, most public university plant science departments are strapped for research cash. Big companies like Monsanto don’t give them money. Research dollars are hard to come by and biotech sci is struggling in universities just as any other research subject and they all scramble for funding. That is a reality that many are unaware of.

    • Julee, not sure where you get your info from but I met a researcher once who shared with me concerns about the funding her Plant Sciences Group received from GMO Corps and how she couldn’t speak up about it.
      But what does tend to happen is that, given potential conflicts, university’s hive off biotech research under a separate ‘Institute’, even though it often still operates on campus and has closes to ties with the faculty.
      As an example I stumbled across, take the funders listed on Stellenbosch University’s Institute for Plant Biotechnology (IPB) website: http://academic.sun.ac.za/ipb/funding.html
      Small biotech companies? I think not. And whilst in this case I cannot speculate on whether there’s independence or incest, it’s something to be acutely aware of.

  9. We will have to disagree on this one, based on facts. Not rationale ….they do push the (whatever) because of being “strapped for cash”. This is a well know fact. But I will leave you on this one.

  10. The notion that GE’s will result in the use of less pestesides is simply absurd.
    BT wheat and cotton produce the BT pesteside in the plant itself. Farmers not planting the required ratio of 20% natural seed to 80% GMO seed intermixed have led to bugs generating its own resistance to the BT toxin requiring heavier dosis of BT pestecides being used as well as other more toxic chemicals.
    Furthermore does the planting of roundup ready seed still require the same amounts of roundup weedecide (glyphosate) to be sprayed. The only diffirence it can now be sprayed ON the corn or soy plant where as traditionally it was used to kill the weeds before planting could commence.

    • Not absurd. It is a fact. Here are the opening few sentences from widely respected scientific jounal “Nature” article from 2012:

      Over the past 16 years, vast plantings of transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have helped to control several major insect pests1, and reduce the need for insecticide sprays.

      Read rest of article here http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v487/n7407/full/nature11153.html

      There are many more sources. It doesn’t get more respectable or highly regarded than “Nature” though. Also, there is no commercially grown GM wheat of any kind currently on the market. Not Bt not RR.

      Round up is applied very early in growing cycle, not onto ripening crop, as many people mistakenly think. I urge you to dig a little deeper into this issue than just a google one-click. There is A LOT of misinformation, hype, conspiracy theory behind the movement for labeling and banning. Good luck.

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