Saturday, April 2, 2016


Enclosed is my response to the OpEd against mandatory GE labeling that ran in the Boston Globe on Tuesday, March 29, 2016.  Unfortunately, they didn't include all the hyperlinks I included; only a few of them.

Michael Hansen


Consumers deserve to know what’s in their food

By Michael Hansen   APRIL 02, 2016

TIME AND again, national surveys indicate that upwards of 90 percent of
consumers want foods produced using genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) to be labeled as such — in fact, a recent Consumer Reports survey
placed the number at 92 percent. 

Of course, the right of everyone to know what they are eating is largely
self-evident. But, from a scientific standpoint, is genetically engineered
food really different enough to warrant a special label?

First developed in the 1970s, genetic engineering techniques allow genetic
material to be moved between living things in ways that can never occur in
nature. As an extreme example, human genes have been moved into rice
plants to make the plants produce certain proteins normally found in breast
milk. More routinely, most genetically engineered crops on the market
contain genes introduced from bacteria and viruses. 

A gene introduced into salmon from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout enables
engineered salmon to reach market size significantly faster than
nonengineered salmon.

Consumers have come to expect that their food will be labeled if it is frozen, 
made from concentrate, irradiated, or homogenized — and the law has
delivered on that expectation. All labeling, including required printing of
ingredients, additives, and nutritional content, exists to give consumers the
power to make free and informed choices about what they are putting in their
bodies. Consumers have long prized the transparency that allows them to
make a clear choice between, say, frozen and unfrozen corn. Is it too much
to ask that they are provided with the same level of transparency when
choosing between traditional corn and corn that has been genetically engineered to
express a toxin normally found in bacteria — a much more significant 

Transparency is a value unto itself, but there are other reasons why consumers
might want to know if their food has been genetically engineered. The vast
majorityof soybean, corn, canola, and sugar beets have been engineered to
tolerate being sprayed with the weed killer glyphosate. Between 1996, when
GMO food crops were first allowed in USagriculture, and 2012,
 glyphosate use increased from roughly 20 million pounds to 280 million 
pounds, making it byfar the most widely-used pesticide 

in US agriculture. Last year, the World Health Organization’s 
International Agency for Research on Cancer unanimously
concluded that glyphosate, previously thought by pesticide
regulators to be largely benign,
Widespread herbicide use on genetically engineered crops throughout
the Corn Belt also appears primarily responsible fora large decline in
monarch butterfly populations, due to wiping out most of the 
milkweed on which they depend. These potentially severe health and
environmental impacts are reasons why consumers want to know whether
their food has been genetically engineered. Despite the touted potential for
GMO crops to produce more nutritious foods or to feed the world, little has
materialized so far. Genetically engineered crops have not significantly
increased yields beyond what conventional breeding or improvement in
other agricultural practices have attained, and there are far more cost-effective
and productive ways to address world hunger.

The US Senate acted in the clear interest of consumers when it voted not to
consider a bill that would have preempted Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling
law — a decision that honored Justice Louis Brandeis’s 1932 observation that
“a single courageous state may . . . serve as a laboratory” of democracy. We at
Consumer Reports urge Massachusetts to meet the needs of its citizens by
requiring labels on genetically engineered food in the Commonwealth.

Michael Hansen is a senior scientist at Consumers Reports.

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