Genetically modified foods: Why does California insist on finding a problem where nobody else does?

posted at 7:01 pm on September 15, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

On the state’s ballot in November, Californians will be voting on Proposition 37 — an initiative that would require all foods produced with or from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to carry mandatory warning labels. Oh, sure, it all sounds well and good and simple enough, except that such a measure would impose significant expenses on (often small) businesses; would cost the way-past-completely-broke Californian government up to over a million dollars to regulate the practice; and, oh yeah — is completely pointless because there is not a single documented case of “adverse health consequences” due to genetically engineered foods.

For a group of people who subscribe to the supposed “party of science,” progressives and environmentalists have waged a strange and steady campaign against the very idea of genetically modified foods. These “frankenfoods,” as they’re sometimes dubbed, are supposedly bad for us because they don’t occur by themselves in nature. But, here’s a news flash, greenies: Human beings have been ‘modifying’ foods with agricultural techniques for centuries. We didn’t just stumble upon corn as we know it today, and we make new apple hybrids all the time. Many medicines, I might also point out, are man-made, but we know that medicines can save lives. Tylenol doesn’t grow on trees, you know. From Forbes:

Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables and grains in our diet have been genetically improved by one technique or another – often as a result of seeds being irradiated or genes being moved from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature. But because genetic engineering is more precise and predictable, the technology is at least as safe as – and often safer than – the modification of food products in cruder, “conventional” ways. This superior technology is the target of Prop. 37.

The safety record of genetically engineered plants and foods derived from them is extraordinary. Even after the cultivation worldwide of more than 3 billion acres of genetically engineered crops (by more than 14 million farmers) and the consumption of more than 3 trillion servings of food by inhabitants of North America alone, there has not been a single ecosystem disrupted or a single confirmed adverse reaction.

The advantages are also remarkable. Every year, farmers planting genetically engineered varieties spray millions fewer gallons of chemical pesticides and substantially reduce topsoil erosion. In addition, many of these varieties are less susceptible to mold infection and have lower levels of fungal toxins, making them safer for consumers and livestock.

Not only would requiring these types of foods to carry mandatory labels impose costs on producers and raise prices for everybody, including consumers, they would imply to consumers that they need to be wary of undefined dangers, which in turn limits their choices unnecessarily. Maybe part of the idea is that consumers are supposed to spring for the organic foods as an alternative (which no state has any business doing anyways), except that recent studies have suggested organic food might not actually be all that it’s cracked up to be:

…Stanford University doctors dug through reams of research to find out — and concluded there’s little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics.

Eating organic fruits and vegetables can lower exposure to pesticides, including for children — but the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits, the researchers reported Monday.

Nor did the organic foods prove more nutritious.

Even the federal Food and Drug Administration, normally inclined towards being more meddlesome over less, has declined to require all foods in the U.S.A. to carry GMO labels. Imposing such a mandate in California would create a whole new level of regulation-and-litigation bureaucracy that no Californian food-business or individual consumer could avoid paying for. (For more resources, here’s a great piece from the Volokh Conspiracy on why this whole labeling idea is a possibly unconstitutional farce, and an op-ed from the LA Times on why California’s entire ballot-initiative procedure is a hot mess.)

The hubris of ignorant environmentalist groups never ceases to amaze. Have they ever paused to consider that genetically modified foods can, perhaps, save lives and help lift human beings out of poverty? Maybe? I know I’ve posted this video from Penn & Teller before, but it is great, and well worth the watch (warning: some brief foul language).

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