Scientists weigh in on GMOs; Monsanto once embraced labels

Posted by Ralph Schwartz on October 9, 2013 

When you consider your ballot over the next several weeks and look specifically at Initiative 522, do you really know what you're voting for?

"I just think it's important to know what's in my food," is by far the statement I hear most often to justify what is likely to be a "yes" vote for I-522, which would require labels on food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

I've been down this road before on the blog, trying to get to the bottom of what information is actually presented by the "genetically engineered" label.

It so happens I came across a scientific study, just released by the "unbiased" (their word, but I have no reason to believe otherwise) Washington State Academy of Sciences. Where did I find it? In an email from the No on I-522 campaign.

For balance, I'll also share the substance of an email from the Yes on I-522 folks, also received in the past 24 hours.

The Academy's white paper does not make for scintillating reading. You have to dig to find the kernels of good information. 

The state scientists did a literature survey and concluded that nutritionally, genetically engineered and conventional foods are equivalent. (p. 7)

What does the scientific literature say about the safety of GMOs? Again and again, reputable scientific sources say there is no evidence GMOs are harmful.

The Academy:

"To date, no statistically significant, repeatable long-term adverse health effects from GM products on the domestic market have been documented in the scientific literature. Nevertheless, continued surveillance of long-term health effects from GM foods and food from conventional breeding is warranted." (p. 9)

That last sentence rings a little empty because it calls for continued surveillance of both types of food, GMO and non-GMO. Later in the same paragraph, however, there is a hint of dissent among scientists:

"Some authors argue that most scientific investigations are short-term studies, mostly nutritional studies, with limited toxicological information." The statement goes on to say again that more studies are needed of all kinds of foods.

The white paper also does a cost/benefit analysis. It concludes that requiring GMO labels will cost more to those along the food-supply chain, particularly as they ensure that non-GMO food has no contact with GMO food along the way.

It reports the benefit of GMOs generally, particularly in higher crop yields.

"Benefits to mandatory labeling are harder to assess and to quantify," the report says. "Mandatory labeling for nutrition is beneficial because it is an aid for consumers in choosing a healthier diet." (This goes back to the "I want to know what's in my food" statement made by many voters.) "Mandatory labeling for GMOs is less clear because there are no obvious nutritional differences between GMOs and non-GMOs."

The authors of one study, the Academy observes, "find voluntary labeling economically superior to mandatory labeling."

There's more in there. You should read it for yourself.

Meanwhile, from the Yes on I-522 camp:

Is Monsanto talking out of both sides of its mouth? What does that even mean?

Elizabeth Larter of the Yes on I-522 campaign sent her email subscribers (me included) a story from The Seattle Times revealing that Monsanto was pro-GMO-label in the late 1990s in Britain. In the story, Monsanto tries to make a distinction between what it said was the voluntary labeling going on at the time in Europe vs. the mandatory labeling proposed for Washington. Times reporter Lewis Kamb debunks Monsanto's reasoning, saying there were mandatory labeling requirements in Europe at the time.

Keep studying. Ballots come out in a little more than a week. 




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