December 11, 2013

Maine Voices: Consider scientific facts, not emotional campaigns, when checking GMOs

Consumers will suffer in the long run because time wasn’t taken to review the evidence.

By Gordon Colby of Union

UNION — A “clumsy, emotion-based campaign to require labeling of selective food products containing genetically modified organisms.”

about the author

Gordon Colby of Union works as a manager in the Maine blueberry industry.

That’s how the editorial page writers of The Seattle Times described the recent failed effort in Washington state by organic food interests to force non-organic food producers to label their products that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The Seattle Times went on to say, “The campaign for labeling regulations defied the reality that these products exist and are deemed healthy by regulatory authorities, scientists and scholars.”

The New York Times editorialized, “The aim of the measure is to discredit crops that use genetic engineering, though the Food and Drug Administration has concluded that there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that genetically modified foods pose any more risk than conventional foods.”

The Los Angeles Times editorial page also spoke out against forced GMO labeling laws, writing, “On genetically engineered food, let the market decide.”

As their counterparts did in Washington, voters in California rejected a referendum to force labeling of non-organic products. When given the opportunity to weigh in directly on compulsory GMO labeling laws, voters have rejected the organic food lobby’s efforts every time.

The reasons are clear. The FDA, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all stated that products that contain GMOs are not more harmful or nutritionally different than organic products. Yet the organic industry persists in its efforts to scare consumers into forced labeling laws.

Why?

Because they are looking for a competitive advantage over traditionally grown food products. Organic producers understand that burdening traditional producers with expensive labeling laws will cause their products to get more expensive. And they understand that a scary label on products, despite the absolute lack of scientific basis for it, will still discourage some consumers from purchasing the product.

Consumers already have a right to choose whether or not to purchase foods with GMOs in them. Organic producers are free to market to these consumers by labeling their products as “GMO-free” or “Certified Organic,” and many do. But by forcing their competitors to declare GMO content, organic producers can achieve this same marketing advantage without having to pay for it. And they reduce the cost disparity between traditionally grown products and their more expensive organic counterparts.

It’s not uncommon for one industry group to try to leverage the legislative process to gain advantage over another. What is uncommon is how the editorial page writers in the Portland Press Herald failed to see through this typical big-business play. Historically, this editorial page has sided with consumers over business interests when they have taken a side. Not this time.

A few weeks ago, this paper’s editorial page (“Our View: GMO labels one more tool for shoppers,” Nov. 20) claimed without basis in fact that in some cases “the use of GMOs could be harmful.” This is an abjectly unfounded claim.

Americans have been consuming GMO products for more than 25 years, and despite billions of portions served, not a single case of any type of health issue has ever been recorded.

Time and again, the institutions responsible for safeguarding our food supply have affirmed the safety of GMO products. Nevertheless, the organic food industry continues its efforts to scare consumers into purchasing more expensive products.

Earlier this year, the Maine Legislature bowed to the well-organized special interest lobby and passed a harmful and unnecessary law mandating GMO labeling in Maine.

Rather than stand up for the voters of Maine who will end up paying more for their groceries every month thanks to this law, the Portland Press Herald has taken a thoughtless position in support of the law, based not on science or fact, but on the propaganda of an industry group trying to get a leg up on its competition.

It is unfortunate for the people of Maine that neither the Legislature nor this paper took the time to review the facts about GMO products. In the end, it will be Maine consumers and businesses that suffer as a result.

– Special to the Press Herald

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