Friday, February 06, 2015

The scientific consensus on GMO food safety - that never was

I was doing some research on an article concerning the Non-GMO Project and noticed something interesting. I had found a Wikipedia article on the organization and noticed a curious statement about it:
Part of its mission is to "educate consumers and the food industry to help build awareness about GMOs and their impact on our health"[5] and the project provides a document on their website called, “GMO Myths and Truths,” which they describe as "an evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops."[6] However, there is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.[7][8][9][10][11][12] (emphasis mine)
It's important to understand that all Wikipedia articles are written by volunteers. Wikipedia is an amazing project of immense depth and scope. Anyone who wants to contribute, can. So when I saw that last sentence in the excerpt, I had to put the question to Google. Is there really a scientific consensus on the safety of GMO foods?

According to the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, the answer is NO. That organization provides a rather comprehensive list of factors to consider in the assessment of GMO safety. From the methods of production, effects on livestock living on a diet of GMO grains to the effects of such crops on the ecosystem, there are countless variables to consider, the vast majority of which are shown to have negative outcomes as a result of the production and consumption of GMO food.

In debates I've had with various opponents on the subject who prefer to promote the idea that GMOs are safe, I've often heard or read them say with complete confidence, that GMOs are safe and that labeling should not be a legal requirement to produce and sell such food. They rest their statement on their belief that there is a consensus on GMO food safety. They also worry that if the food is labeled, who would buy it? But given the lack of consensus and the lack of studies by entities that have no horse in the race, I fail to see any scientific support for GMO food production.

More than 300 scientists from all over the world have signed that document and I'm sure there are many more who would agree with the statement that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMO foods. So if American governments are not going to force food producers to label the food, we can go the other way and look for organizations that voluntarily adopt rules and regulations that ensure that the food in the box or on the produce shelf is not genetically modified.

The question of labeling is not just a question of scientific consensus. The question runs deeper to the politics behind the food. Do I want to support an industry player who prefers to sell food by deception and omission? Or do I want to support a food grower who respects my right to know what's in my food?

The scientific consensus on the safety of GMO foods is not there to support it, yet major food manufacturers like Pepsico, Tyson, General Mills and Kellog would very much like us to support their adventure with farm subsidies. Meanwhile, the rest of us are paying for the health care costs associated with the food since no long term studies have been done.

American conservatives are quick to call for cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, citing the need for personal responsibility. If, as some conservatives say, we should have an ownership society with personal responsibility and strict liability, then that liability should extend to our food manufacturers. The best way to assure that liability for injuries from GMO food is enforced is to label it and provide a means of tracking the food from farm to package.

But I don't see any conservatives calling for the labeling of GMO foods. Do you? Oh, wait. I forgot. Most conservative Congressmen and women are not scientists and are not impressed with scientists or science.
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