By Samuel W. Anderson

from GeneWatch 29-1 | Jan-May 2016

People get fired up about GMOs. As a GeneWatch reader, you may already know that our contributors tend to be quite critical of GMOs, and there's a decent chance that you are reading this to reinforce your skepticism of GMOs. Or maybe you're a proponent of GMOs reading this to get a better sense of the other side's arguments, or even to get a sort of anger fix, like a Democrat watching Fox News. (We are pleased to report that GeneWatch will spare you from the comment sections.)

But in case you aren't coming in with preconceived notions, given the often heated nature of the topic and the admitted one-sidedness of the articles on the following pages, I think a disclaimer is warranted:

The opinions contained in this issue will, for the most part, lean heavily in favor of mandatory GMO labeling. Quite heavily, in some cases.

But here's the other thing: Plenty of reasonable, intelligent, and very well-intentioned people fall on the other side of the debate. It's not just Monsanto employees and shareholders, whatever some of the more impassioned anti-GMO folks may tell you.

One of the most common arguments against GMO labeling relates to concerns about increased food prices for consumers, including those who already have trouble making ends meet. Bruce Chassy and Jon Entine emphasize this in their three-part Huffington Post series arguing against mandatory GMO labeling, including the argument that it wouldn't just impact genetically modified ingredients: "Without a doubt, if mandatory labeling is adopted the cost of GM-free ingredients would go up."

Robert Paarlberg wrote in The Wall Street Journal that adoption of mandatory GMO labeling may not change much for consumers in rich countries like the U.S., but that by obstructing the adoption of genetically modified crops such as Golden Rice and Bt brinjal, such anti-GMO campaigns negatively impact "the world's poorest and hungriest people." Pamela Ronald makes a similar case - an impassioned plea, really - in her 2015 TED Talk.

And despite all the shouting from both sides, there are still GMO moderates out there. Grist put together a comprehensive series called "Panic-free GMOs" in order to present a balanced, "level-headed assessment of the evidence in plain English." By the end of the series, writer Nathanael Johnson wound up a sort of GMO moderate, settling in the "this isn't that important" camp. Rachel Ehrenberg wrote a boldly moderate article for Science News in January that includes this wonderfully blunt sentence: "The loudest voices on the proponent side are typically cast as shills for Big Agriculture (some of them are), while the loudest on the anti-GMO side are typically cast as fear-mongering luddites (some of them are)."

This is all to say: There is a debate to be had. The articles in this issue mostly present one side of that debate, and of course there's a reason for that. However, if you don't feel up to speed on the arguments for and against GMO labeling, my own recommendation is this: Read this issue, of course. But also look up some articles making the case against mandatory GMO labeling, and if you can manage to find them, some "moderate" articles too. May the best (democratically determined) argument win.

Just avoid the comment sections.

Samuel Anderson is Editor of GeneWatch. 

Search: GeneWatch
The Gene Myths series features incisive, succinct articles by leading scientists disputing the exaggerations and misrepresentations of the power of genes.
View Project
The Gene Myths series features incisive, succinct articles by leading scientists disputing the exaggerations and misrepresentations of the power of genes.
View Project