Italian scientists recently read and summarized 1,783 scientific studies to conclude that there is, in fact, scientific consensus around the safety of genetically modified organisms. "The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically modified crops," they concluded, agreeing with the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association.
In fact, there has never been a single credible scientific study showing GMOs to have harmful effects on humans, animals or our environment. But scientific consensus hasn't stopped activists from demanding mandatory labeling on all genetically modified foods. Yet there already exists an effective and uniform way for consumers around the country to identify non-GMO products: the presence of a USDA-certified organic label.
Genetic modification is a safe and effective way to make America's crops resistant to drought and pestilence, and it helps ensure the country produces enough food to feed our families and the world, especially developing nations. Simply put, GM technology means that scientists take the naturally-occurring, desirable traits of one plant and add them to another. No chemicals are involved.
Farmers have been using GMOs for nearly 20 years, and between 70 percent and 80 percent of the food you consume contains GM ingredients. The use of this technology ensures farmers can grow more food, fend off infestations and recover from drought faster. GM technology also helps to keep food prices lower. Without it, the cost of key agricultural commodities would go up 15 percent to 30 percent. GM technology is more environmentally friendly as well. From 1996 to 2011, biotech crops have collectively reduced global pesticide applications by 1.04 billion pounds.
Earlier this year, The New York Times profiled the use of GM technology to save Florida's oranges from deadly bacteria that would otherwise wipe out the entire crop. Similarly, scientists could save millions of children from malnutrition by infusing Asia's rice paddies with vitamin A, creating so-called "Golden Rice."
Currently, the FDA does not require foods to be labeled as having been produced with GM technology because it has found that there is no health risk associated with these foods or any material difference between GM and non-GM foods. Nonetheless, recently some groups have put forward state ballot initiatives and legislation to require special labels for products containing these ingredients.
These initiatives – which could mislead consumers into thinking GM foods pose a health risk or are materially different from conventionally produced products – would create an unnecessary patchwork of conflicting state labeling requirements, which would snarl interstate commerce, create confusion and increase costs for consumers.
There is a better way to be open with consumers about the food they eat. The FDA should maintain its role as America's foremost food safety authority and, when food ingredients are proven to impact consumer health, they should use their federal authority to label foods with those ingredients in all 50 states.
The FDA has determined, along with those 1,700-plus other studies, that GM foods pose no risk to America's families and, as such, do not warrant a label. We should follow the science and stop the fear-mongering. We don't need a series of regulations and labels to tell us what we already know: Genetically modified foods are safe.
Pamela Bailey is president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
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