In recent months, two speakers at major farm industry events held in the West shared their thoughts on the proposed mandatory labeling of food products grown with genetically-modified traits.
The speakers included: James Borel, executive vice-president of the DuPont company; and Alison Van Eenennaam, University of California, Davis Cooperative Extension specialist who specializes in animal genomics and biotechnology.
Borel of DuPont weighed in on this issue when an agricultural journalist (moi) asked for his thoughts and solutions on the mandatory food labeling issue. Borel was the keynote speaker at the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers national convention held in Tucson, Ariz.
“We understand that consumers want to know where their food comes from and what’s in their food,” the DuPont leader said.
Yet he noted that some of them have other agendas, including an overall anti-genetic engineering philosophy, the opposition to modern agricultural practices, and a dislike for large companies.
Borel acknowledges (and many in agriculture would agree) that it’s a small group of people concerned with foods produced with GE traits but they are making a lot of noise.
Borel believes mandatory GMO food labeling is wrong since the label itself would imply that the consumption of genetically-modified is a human safety issue. Nothing could be further than the truth.
“We have so much science and so much experience which indicates that technology traits are not a (food) safety issue,” Borel shared with the farm managers and appraisers.
If enacted, he says mandatory labeling could require a different food label for each of the 50 states which could create havoc across the food chain. Borel believes mandatory labels would not only increase the price of food to consumers, but also create a patchwork of labels which would be very difficult to follow.
In addition, the confusion could bring about unnecessary litigation between farmers and food companies.
As a biotech specialist, Van Eenennaam of UC Davis discussed this issue during a GMO labeling seminar at World Ag Expo this spring.
She says genetic engineering offers new positive trait opportunities which can bring or have already delivered solutions for farmers and consumers. These include improved disease and insect control in plants, cloned cattle, the development of insulin years ago for diabetes control, and seedless watermelons.
“As a scientist you look at unique risks,” Van Eenennaam said. “There are no material differences in the products itself…Some consider the insertion of genes harmful but it doesn’t have an effect on food.”
Much of the research on food safety risks is publicly funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration.
“It is a rigorous process,” Van Eenennaam stated.
I personally believe that publicly-funded, third party research findings - not fear mongers who yell wolf - are much more reliable to trust on the safety of our food supply.