Just Label It

Just Label It

Just stick an “Odd Priorities” label on the March 27 opinion piece printed in the Record-Bee,  An Alternative Approach: Food labeling and GMO. You have to have a full belly to worry about labeling the technique used to make a food; especially a food that every science organization in the world agrees is safe. The Economist magazine wonders about these: Every year 3,100,000 children under the age 5 die of malnutrition, and the number of people who die from eating genetically engineered food is 0.[1] In other words, more than 5 children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition every 1 minute of every 1 hour of every day, 365 days a year.

I did my best to ignore “An Alternative Approach: Food labeling and GMO[2]”, however my wife left it out on our coffee table for me to read, and, well, I could not ignore it any longer. It botched too many facts. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”[3] So let me respond to the “facts” in the opinion piece.


  1. According to the piece: “Reliable scientific studies, for the most part, have given the A-OK on the safety of genetically-engineered foods (GE foods). However these studies are based on short-term findings.”

Just label that first sentence: “Close but no Cigar.” All reliable scientific studies have said that transgenically modified food is no riskier than any other identical food. For example GE corn is no riskier than non-GE corn, though there are studies which point to GE corn being safer.[4]

Just label that second sentence about “short-term findings” as “Not Fact.” How about a paper published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology titled “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review”? The researchers found no sign of toxicity in long-term studies or in multigenerational studies. They say, “Effects of GM diets in all long-term and multigenerational studies were analyzed. No sign of toxicity in analyzed parameters has been found in long-term studies. No sign of toxicity in parameters has been found in multigenerational studies.”[5]


  1. According to the piece: “Both the First Lady and President Barack Obama have touted their support for GMO labeling.”

Just label this a “Minor Quibble.” Candidates say lots of things. I could find no evidence of President Obama touting support for labeling of genetically modified food. In 2007, candidate Obama said, “Here’s what I’ll do as president … We’ll let folks know if their food has been genetically modified, because Americans should know what they’re buying.”[6] Organic consumer groups have called for President Obama to live up to that pledge he made as a candidate. While the Obamas may still like GM food to be labeled, since becoming President, both the President and First Lady have been silent on the issue.


  1. According to the piece: “[President Obama] appointed three former high-ranking administrators from big-time biotech companies to the USDA and FDA: Roger Beachy, the former director at Monsanto, was made head of the USDA; Tom Vilsack, creator of Governors’ Biotechnology Partnership scored the position of commissioner of the USDA and Mike Taylor, former attorney and vice president of Monsanto, became the deputy commissioner of the FDA.”

Just label the above sentence: “Mostly Erroneous.”

Roger Beachy was not “made head” of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). From 2009 to 2011, he headed the National Institute of Food and Agriculture[7] (NIFA), which is part of the USDA. Beachy has a PhD in biology, is the former president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri and a professor at the Biology Department at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a pioneer in the genetic engineering of plants.[8]

Tom Vilsack heads the USDA. The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed him as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture in 2009. And other than spending eleven years practicing law in his father-in-law’s law office, Vilsack has spent his career in politics. Creating the “Governors’ Biotechnology Partnership” is not quite being a ‘high-ranking administrator from a big-time biotech company.’[9]

Mike Taylor is Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He is, according to the FDA’s website, “A nationally recognized food safety expert, [who] has served in numerous high-level positions at FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as a research professor in the academic community, and on several National Academy of Sciences expert committees studying food-related issues…Other positions held by Mr. Taylor include senior fellow, Resources for the Future; professor, School of Medicine, University of Maryland; partner, King & Spalding law firm;” and “vice president for public policy, Monsanto Company.”?[10]


  1. According to the piece: “…the FDA continues to ignore its responsibility to provide the public with appropriate information…I struggle to find any convincing reason why GE foods shouldn’t be labeled as such.”

Just label this a “Non-Starter.” The FDA cannot “ignore” a responsibility do not have. At present, the FDA’s mandate requires labeling for nutrition and safety—fear and the “ick” factor do not meet those criteria.

As to nutrition, which the FDA is responsible for, crops raised in different soils and microclimates have more nutritional differences[11][12] than GE food has from its non-GE counterpart.

As to safety, which the FDA is responsible for, even Gregory Jaffe of for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says it is safe: “There is no reliable evidence that ingredients made from current GE crops pose any health risk whatsoever.”[13] Lest you think CSPI is in Big Ag’s pocket, CSPI “has made a name for itself by tackling the food industry’s big guns…” You can look it up. Jaffe says this about labeling, “Consumers should know how their food is made and where it comes from. But as this is not a food safety or a nutritional issue—it’s not like allergens or trans fats—we don’t feel it should be mandated on labels that foods are produced with GM crops.”



[1] http://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/original-size/images/print-edition/20140510_USC830.png

[2] DeAnda, L. An Alternative Approach: Food labeling and GMOs. http://www.record-bee.com/readersviews/ci_25431922/an-alternative-approach-food-labeling-and-gmos Accessed 11 June 2014

[3] An American Original. Vanity Fair. October 6, 2010. http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/11/moynihan-letters-201011 Accessed 28 May 2014

[4] Hellmich, R. L. & Hellmich, K. A. (2012) Use and Impact of Bt Maize. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):4 http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/use-and-impact-of-bt-maize-46975413 Accessed 23 May 2014

[5] Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Volume 50, Issues 3–4, March–April 2012, Pages 1134–114 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691511006399 Accessed 28 May 2014

[6] http://www.politico.com/story/2014/01/barack-obama-gmo-labeling-102266.html

[7] The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers federal grant programs for agricultural, environment and human health research, and education primarily at state universities, and by other approved partner institutions. It does not perform research, only funds research at the state and local levels. The NIFA, one of the newest agencies to be created in the Department of Agriculture, replaced the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, which was formed in 1994.


[8] http://news.sciencemag.org/2011/04/beachy-leave-key-agriculture-research-post-washington

[9] http://www.allgov.com/officials/vilsack-tom?officialid=28839

[10] http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/centersoffices/officeoffoods/ucm196721.htm

[11] Prosser, E. Nutritional Differences in Organic versus Conventional Foods: And the Winner Is… http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/08/11/nutritional-differences-in-organic-vs-conventional-foods-and-the-winner-is/ Accessed 23 August 2012

[12] Bourn, D. and J. Prescott. A Comparison of the Nutritional Value, Sensory Qualities, and Food Safety of Organically and Conventionally Produced Foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 42(1):1–34 (2002)

[13] CSPI: There are concerns about GMOs, but not around food safety. http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/CSPI-There-are-legitimate-concerns-about-GMOs-but-not-around-food-safety-and-labeling-would-be-misleading Accessed 3 July 2013

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