GMOs Demystified- Part 5: Should GM Products be Labeled?

Rural System, above all else, is an approach to land management that emphasizes reasonableness in making management decisions. “How much profit can be made?” is balanced with “How long will profit be made?” “What’s good for humans?” is balanced with “What is good for the ecosystem?” All management decisions are made according to the most recent scientific knowledge on the topic.

The debate over genetically modified food has been extensive and multi-faceted. Like many sensationalized issues, it can be difficult to sort out truth from bias. The series of posts before you is a guide to GMOs based on available science rather than uninformed opinion. Our second question: should GMO products be labelled as GMO?

GMO labeling

Now that you have more information, what do you think? Should GM products be labeled?

At first, for me, this question seems like a no-brainer: of course they should be labelled! Consumers should be informed as much as possible. How can people make responsible decisions or choices if they don’t have all the information?

Well, this is exactly the problem. Knowing that a product contains a GM ingredient tells you nothing about the effects of genetic modification on your health, the surrounding environment, or the market. In fact, labeling something as GMO implies there’s a reason you need to know it’s GMO, which might make consumers think it is dangerous. It is difficult for people to have reliable information on the GM controversy at all. This was the inspiration for these posts.

There is currently a blanket bias against genetic modification. Labeling GM products would have negative consequences for farmers first, and subsequently the biotech industry. Such prejudice could also put a halt on potential, more beneficial applications of GM technology such as crops with higher nutrient content. Or, perhaps, crops that are better able to cope with a changing climate.

But again, people should always know what they are getting… and what it means.

We know from Part One: Basics of Genetic Engineering that the process of genetic modification is highly unlikely to be intrinsically harmful. We know from Part Two: Health Effects that the main risk of GM crops is the introduction of new allergens, and that this risk is monitored closely. Part Three: Environmental Impact tells us that current GM crops are a mixed bag of threat and solution. How GM crops affect the environment in the future will depend on what direction the biotech industry heads and how well pesticide resistance is managed in the meantime. We can say from Part Four: Biological Patents that there is not nearly enough competition in the seed industry to keep costs down for farmers, so if anything the main question regarding GMOs is one of economic utility.

Should consumers know if what they’re eating is GM? Though many of the details and facts are shrouded, there is a controversy around GMOs for a reason. Whether a customer objects due to skepticism about their healthfulness, their impact on the environment, or the many lawsuits over patent infringement, that customer has a right to know and to protest. But then, does that customer have a responsibility to get her facts straight? Will consumers take such a responsibility?

Read the whole series, or pick a topic that interests you:

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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