The new face of the congressional GMO fight is ... Gwyneth Paltrow

It’s easy to overlook with all of the campaign madness taking place, fights over Planned Parenthood and all the rest, but Congress has some other business to attend to when they return for the fall session. One item on the agenda involves questions surrounding genetically modified crops and animals used in our food. It may sound far too wonky for regular consumption, but never fear… a new expert in the field has arisen to lead the charge. Bring on Gwyneth Paltrow. (ABC News)

Actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and her mother, Blythe Danner, took to Capitol Hill today to campaign against a bill that would prevent states from passing individual GMO-labeling laws.

Paltrow, who also runs lifestyle blog GOOP and has written cookbooks, said she was adding her voice to the bill’s opposition because she is a concerned mother, not an expert.

“I’m a home cook and I’m a cookbook author, and I’m a proponent of organic food and healthy food when I can, but we all eat genetically modified food. It’s in the food supply.”

Paltrow, 42, acknowledged there are still open questions about how harmful to humans genetically modified organisms in food are, but that all consumers have a right to be able to know whether the products they buy contain them.

This isn’t even a fight over whether or not genetically modified food should be sold… simply whether the federal government should mandate the labeling of such products and if they can prevent the states from making their own rules. Honestly, the labeling question isn’t a huge one for me. So few people actually read the labels on the products they buy these days that these sorts of laws are largely cosmetic in nature. But I still have remaining questions about whether or not all of the genetic modification going on in the food chain is a good thing.

Writing for MSNBC, Tony Dokoupil weighed in on the subject, talking about the celebrity pseudoscience surrounding GMOs.

All GMO labels do is stigmatize foods made with GMOs. But here’s a snack-sized fact for you: There is no good evidence — none, zero, zilch — that GMO foods are a health risk of any kind. The closer one looks, in fact, the more the GMO labeling push looks like an irresponsible marketing gimmick, one that undermines the market for GMOs at a time when we need more genetically-enhanced food, not less…

Huge majorities of Americans support the call for GMO labels, according to a recent poll by The New York Times. Most of them believe GMO foods are “generally unsafe,” as a Pew Research Center study found last year.

But the problem is, most scientists disagree. That same Pew poll, produced in association with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, asked experts for their thoughts on a number of areas. More agreed that GMOs are safe to eat (88%) than agreed that climate change is human caused (87%).

When you make your case at MSNBC I become a bit skeptical. When you compound it by citing global warming to boot I almost being to tune out. Almost. But it’s a subject I’ve been very curious about. I think there’s an almost instinctual tendency to be skeptical about the ability of scientists to mess with the genetic code of living things in the laboratory (as opposed to doing so through selective breeding) and have 100% confidence in the results. The DNA strings in all of these crops and animals is rather extensive to say the least. How many switches can we flip without producing some unexpected Frankenstein activity further down the road?

And yet there’s so little to go on in terms of proving the dangers. William Saletan published an extensive study on the subject last month and it sounds to me like the jury may still be out, regardless of how much modified food we’re already eating every day. Many, many people are skeptical. But there’s also so much politics and marketing war style intrigue built into the arguments that it tends to obscure the underlying science. And the majority of those studying it seem to either feel that it’s safe or at least claim that we haven’t yet uncovered any solid evidence to prove that it’s not.

If you have the time and the interest, Saletan’s extensive article is worth the time to read. He goes into a number of case studies where GMO food production was studied, challenged and tested. I can’t say that it puts me 100% at ease, but if nothing else there are at least some serious scientists examining the questions surrounding this topic. So should we have labeling? Opponents claim that it’s unfairly prejudicing people against certain foods using “scare tactics.” But this is a case of caveat emptor, isn’t it? Having a label at least allows you to make up your own mind, assuming you bother to read it. (As I said above… big assumption.)

I’d be interested in any other resources you’ve run across on the GMO question. It’s a bit bigger than what I can currently squeeze into my limited brain.