Whole Foods got some attention today with an announcement that it will require the makers of food products sold in its stores to state on the label if a product contains an ingredient produced through agricultural biotechnology - a “GMO.” It is giving manufacturers five years, until 2018, to provide the labels.
But the facts don’t support Whole Foods’ new policy. It’s just commercial positioning rather than a scientifically-based initiative.
Leading scientific authorities, including the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academies of Science, and the World Health Organization, agree that foods derived from biotechnology are as safe and nutritious as food manufactured from organic and conventional ingredients.
All methods of agricultural production — biotech, conventional and organic — use inputs to fertilize plants and control weeds and insects. Voluntary labeling of foods that is consistent with the production method used is already available.
Mandatory labeling, however, applies only to information regarding nutritional content or health-related characteristics, such as allergenicity or toxicity, which are not issues that have ever been associated with biotech ingredients.
Labeling of “GMO’s” is thus not necessary for health and safety. It’s just part of the differentiation strategy in a particular segment of the retail industry.
Crop biotechnology is desperately needed to meet problems of drought, saline soils, loss of farmland, rural poverty, and population growth, according to Neal Carter, an orchardist and bioresource engineer who has developed a non-browning apple.
“It’s a huge challenge, and biotech crops are leading the way in allowing us to address it,” Carter said in a talk at a TEDx conference. Carter’s company is bringing out the Arctic Apple, which doesn’t turn brown when sliced.
Carter took on the claims by biotech opponents that the technology is unsafe, pointing out that the food safety of genetically engineered crops has been affirmed by the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, among other distinguished groups.
Biotechnology reduces food waste, makes better use of water, increases yields, improves farmer income, and improves people’s lives, Carter said.
A video of his presentation is available here.
The Board of Directors of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued official statement this week, declaring that efforts to label GMOs are not motivated by scientific evidence, stating that in fact “the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”
The statement refers to the numerous respected organizations that have conducted rigorous scientific inquiries into the safety of ag biotech and found the technology to be safe, such as the European Union Food Safety Authority, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Science and the British Royal society. The Board, which is composed of Nina V. Fedoroff, William Press, Phillip A. Sharp, David Evans Shaw and Alan Leshner, points out that because biotech crops are closely scrutinized while undergoing the United States’ regulatory approval process, “GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply.”
“It is the long-standing policy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that special labeling of a food is required if the absence of the information provided poses a special health or environmental risk. The FDA does not require labeling of a food based on the specific genetic modification procedure used in the development of its input crops. Legally mandating such a label can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers,” the statement concludes. Read more.
The American Medical Association adopted a formal statement this week explicitly opposing the mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods.
The AMA also adopted a report reaffirming that there is no evidence to suggest that the genetic modification process presents any unique safety issues.
In the words of the AMA statement: “Our AMA believes that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education.”
The AMA report is consistent with the findings of a majority of respected scientists, medical professionals and health experts, including a 1987 National Academy of Sciences white paper that concluded there is no evidence that genetically modified foods pose any health risks. The AMA’s report also reaffirms the council’s policy recommendation in a December 2000 report stating “there is no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods.”