Caution: GMO Labeling Regulations Could Soon Become Obsolete

Yesterday, there was an article on the opinion page of my local newspaper, the Daily Camera, by Andrew Staehelin, who is a professor emeritus of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology here at the University of Colorado. The piece was titled “Mandatory GMO food labeling — a subsidy for the organic food industry.” Scientist Staehelin has been a staunch defender of GMOs here in my community which harbors many anti-GMO activists.

The whole opinion piece is well-worth reading, but I’d like to point out one sentence in particular, because I think it is so important and unrecognized by activists who want labeling.

It also does not take into account that molecular biology techniques are evolving rapidly, and that there is no guarantee that today’s laws will be relevant tomorrow.

This issue also concerns me as I constantly see new breeding method advancements which are increasingly muddying the picture of what is and isn’t GMO. GMO labeling regulations, if passed, would add a huge level of complexity to our current food system, leading to cost increases for food prices even though there has been no evidence that GMO foods are unsafe. See my article from earlier this year: The Editors of Scientific American Take a Stance Against GMO Food Labeling.

So then what, when no one knows how to comply with the regulations, once they are in place — due to the rapidly changing science? It would certainly drive the science towards the techniques that wouldn’t technically be classified as “GMO,” although they might be very similar in end result. GMO labeling has the potential to become nothing more than additional job security for this nation’s legal profession.

I’ve recently discovered a blog by Richard Ha, a Hawaiian farmer who shares views similar to my own: he is an environmentalist, he is especially concerned about energy issues in agriculture, and he supports GMOs because they help him as a farmer. He reported that the farmers on the island who produce 90 percent of the food there opposed Bill 113 “because the bill was rushed and its consequences were not considered.”

This is what he said after the bill had passed:

People are angry at Monsanto and are willing to punish their own, local, small farmers – their family, friends and neighbors. It’s hard to understand. I am very disappointed that Bill 113 passed.

Smart regulations are important and necessary in our system built upon capitalism, though politically that has been difficult. Smart and good regulations keep the system sane, keep society safe, are in place to protect the things we value, and to keep conditions optimal for our progeny. Dumb regulations, on the other hand, add expensive and unnecessary layers of complexity to our already too-complex systems. Activists driven primarily by emotion need to be careful.

My stance as an environmentalist on the subject of agriculture remains thus: GM technology is advancing rapidly and has great potential to aid in more sustainable and resilient crop production, including for those populations which are the most vulnerable in this world. The anti-GMO activists have misdirected their focus because of their hatred for one agribusiness company, and if they really knew the big picture, they should redirect their activism by opposing our government mandated ethanol and biofuels levels, today’s real gift to agribusinesses and the primary cause of environmental damage happening in our farmbelt. Why these activists do not recognize this is beyond me.

18 thoughts on “Caution: GMO Labeling Regulations Could Soon Become Obsolete

  1. SH

    No need for mandatory labelling, just let the market work. If consumers want GMO labelling they will buy labelled products. If consumers buy those products food companies will follow.

  2. BB

    Labeling should be reserved for ingredients. GMO is not an ingredient – it is a breeding technique.

    We don’t label whether the heifer and the bull really had sex vs. whether the heifer was artificially inseminated. The result doesn’t matter to the steak.

    Neither does the result matter to the corn, or the soybean, etc.

    1. K. McDonald Post author

      Thankyou for that great link. I think that bioterrorism and wingnuts doing synthetic biology in their garages are two rather frightening subjects. So is the ancient and ever present possibility of a volcano erupting which could wipe out the majority of the world’s food production. It seems humanity is working together better and better as we gain communication skills and meet the needs of a greater percentage of people all the time. I see the upside potential for GM technology as being greater than the downside, but I could be wrong. Only fools (like me, occasionally) venture to predict the future.

  3. Brandie

    The only real reason to label these foods would be if people were allergic to them and needed to ensure for their safety they did not consume them. The same as peanuts wheat eggs etc. For me when I eat GMO foods I get fibromyalgia, inflammation in my spine, painful IBS, my neck gets extremely stiff and pinchy making it so I am unable to turn or move my head and my lips swell up to double the size. So to hear that people feel labeling in not needed does not make me very happy. I for one would like to stop being afraid to eat.

    1. Jay

      I’m sorry for your fibromyalgia condition, my wife has it also. I’m also sorry that your looking to blame GMO foods. If you keep looking down that road it’s likely you’ll never find the real cause and relief from the pain.

      I let the media and other uninformed opinionists influence me and I started out anti-GMO. Over time I’ve learned a great deal more about what GMO really means. It no longer scares me, it gives me hope.

  4. Sheryl

    If the author of this article knows so much I wonder how we can ignore that most GMO’s are designed to be sprayed with herbicide and that the use of herbicide has gone up dramatically. Many studies indicate that this is “poison” and I don’t think that makes me a “wing-nut”. The people in Hawaii noticed how sick this was making their children and that fact is also overlooked here. This science is lacking in that once genetic material from another species is inserted into the plant the whole genome now interacts differently. Natural resistance is lost, nutritional changes occur and new proteins appear. Why are we using this technology that is so expensive and after a few years fails to deliver? Because it is a huge money-maker. I personally know many people who have improved their health by removing GMO’s from their diet. Even if you find fault with this study to completely disregard it shows how the pseudo-science of big corporations has taken over those who forgot what science is supposed to be about. All of Monsanto’s studies should fall under the same scrutiny but they don’t. You have bought into the lies about how this technology is going to save us when everything connected to it is wrong. Other safer and cheaper alternatives exist.

    1. Brandie

      There is studies done in Argentina as well. They have gone heavily into the round up ready soy planting 50 million acres. They experienced a 447% rise in birth defects. So they tested the soy and they found that it was coming in at 200ppm of glyphosate. So they then tested the glyphosate and found that at .1ppm it feeds cancer, .2ppm it disrupts the endocrine system, at .5ppm it causes infertility and reproductive issues, and at 2.03ppm it causes birth defects. This does not sound safe for humans or the environment to me. I have spent a lot of time seeking out farmers to ask them questions so I can get the real story and they all say the same thing. They do what they do because it is easy and it makes them money BUT they know it is poisonous so they all eat organic. In fact the only farmers that I have been able to find that eat their own crops are the ones the grow chemical free or certified organic food. Go figure. If the farmers won’t eat what they are growing that speaks volumes to me!

    2. Robert Wager

      Can you explain why every food safety authority, every health authority and every national Academy of Science that has looked at the safety of GE crops and food ALL give a nod of safety?

  5. SH

    I wonder how many of the individuals that commenting for GMO are paid by GMO companies. I was not aware of a pro-GMO support group accept for the companies.

  6. Mmmhmmm

    I’m less concerned about the fact a crop was modified than I am with what it was modified to do. Round up ready crops encourage over use of herbicide, poisoning land and water, resistant weeds. I know you guys are convinced that it’s ok to eat food that was sprayed with herbicide continuously until harvest, but I would like to preserve the ability to not participate in the experiment. At least this way there will be a control group when more meaningful, longer term studies are conducted

    1. C Rader

      Mmm…. I keep hearing about how the herbicide-tolerant GMOs lead to an increased use of herbicide, but I think that’s an oversimplification and it preys on people who don;t know much about agriculture.

      To begin with, one of the most grown crops in the world is corn, and corn is naturally immune to the herbicide atrrazine – not GMO corn, but the corn as God made it. So for many years corn farmers used atrazine for weed control in cornfields. Largely for that reason, atrazine was the most used herbicide in the world.

      Since there are now varieties of corn immune to the herbicide glyphosate, many corn farmers now use glyphosate just the same way they used to use atrazine. But glyphosate is 230 times less toxic than atrazine! So, for corn at least, the herbicide-tolerant GMO corn has resulted in a huge DECREASE in herbicide use. Atrazine is no longer the world’s most used herbicide, not by a long shot. You can make that decrease sound like an increase if you measure it in tons used – the anti-GMO propagandists do that – but the sensible measure is in total toxic load introduced into the environment. Be wary of the propaganda claims that give the use of herbicides in tons used. As a matter of common sense, if one farmer sprayed a herbicide an and his neighbor sprayed the same herbicide diluted ten to one with water, would you agree that the second farmer sprayed ten times as much?

      Of course, there are other crops besides corn and very few of them are immune to atrazine, so when glyphosate tolerant versions of those crops became available, it led to increased use of glyphosate. But that increase is negligible compared to the 230 times decrease in toxicity!

      There’s another factor you should understand. It has to do with wheat and similar crops. First of all, the use of herbicides in fields of herbicide tolerant crops is early in the growing season – one doesn’t worry about weeds a few weeks before the harvest. So at least some of the glyphosate sprayed on those HT crops will dissipate and be mostly gone by harvest time.

      But although there is no wheat that is glyphosate tolerant, a pretty large number of wheat farmers use glyphosate for a different reason. They want to harvest their wheat with a lower than natural moisture content – to prevent mold. So when the grain is ripe, they spray the plants with glyphosate, about a week before the harvest. It kills the wheat and the grain loses moisture. So what you, the consumer, get is wheat that was exposed to herbicide a week before harvest, not months before harvest. If you are really uncomfortable about the residues of herbicide in your food, you maybe should be more more worried about the non-GMO crops like wheat.

      1. Mmmhmmm

        Thanks for the lesson C Rader. Took me back to my days getting my master’s degree in….agricultural biology. I’ve heard your lecture before. But professor, I am still unsure how the effects of my daily dose of atrazine will be negated by getting supplemental doses of glyphosate from other food. Just for the record, I’m not against gmos–for you– I’m just against them for me.

        Your dreams of making agriculture less toxic are great! So great that it got me thinking…what if we made farms NON toxic! Then later I took your idea a step further- what if farms and food were actually health promoting, instead of merely non-toxic.

        I’m curious–as a science lover, how did you like my idea of a a control group and an experimental group for long term studies. You know what facilitates those studies, right? Labeling.

  7. James Coffman

    A small segment of an entire strand of DNA is mutated. This is the first bit of the GMO process that exhibits monumental hubris. It is suggested and sworn to by the manufacturers that they have mastered nature, forced it to conform to their will, and that chaos theory applies to all in the natural world but them. The interactions of these DNA mutations with the remainder of the strand are beyond their interests (that of creating a specific effect) and focus of study, but we should trust their profit motive to be the ultimate arbiter of what’s best for our health. Who could argue with that? Their objective is to get their product approved, not prove that it is absolutely safe. Next we have a series of gov’t agencies that are run and led by employees and future employees of the very companies that are supposedly being regulated.

    The current head of the Feral Dept.of Agriculture, Bill Vilsack, selected “Governor of the Year” by the GMO lobbyist group Biotechnology Technology Organization, has been a huge proponent of GMO’s and ethanol, so I guess we can count on him (a life long political whore) for the truth and nuthin’ but the truth. Guess who figured prominently in funding his election as Iowa’s governor? It’s all pretty transparent, simply follow the money. And now he’s the biggest cheese in clearing the path for GMO’s on a national level. One of his most notorious acts as governor was to be one of the first to fight to stop his State from requiring GMO’s to even be labeled… ever. I wonder what he fears? Opponents of just simple labeling all try to paint consumers as retarded children, too stupid to be able to make an informed decision on their own, so the information necessary to do so should be withheld? Logic has just left the building.

    So, the friends of GMO’s site studies that reflect at best short term exposures to plants that are bred to survive ever higher and higher doses of poisonous herbicides and pesticides, compounds that are proven time and again to persist beyond their maker’s claims both in our soil, water, and ultimately, in our food. The studies are of course funded by groups that front for the industry’s owners and lobbyists, but why shouldn’t we believe their motives are altruistic? So who among them has done any mid or longer term exposure studies… well no one of course. At least none of them. Why should they, they get theiir FDA approvals without so why bother?

    Where longer term studies (some as short as 4 months) have been done, the GMO’s and their accompanying chemical treatments have been shown to cause magnitude increases in cancerous tumor growth. Gee, how did BASF, Dow, et al miss that? It ain’t all abut Monsanto, but they all do operate from exactly the same play book. If ya have any doubts take a look at what their cousins in the fire retardant industry have done to us and sleep in peace. (That’s sarcasm, for the dimmer of wit).

    We also have the disturbing fact that once the mutated DNA crop is planted its pollen will drift or be carried onto fields that don’t have GM crops and infect them. Once this new mutant DNA has been introduced into the environment it cannot be retrieved, so why should anyone be concerned about erring on behalf of caution? Anybody seen my Thalidomide?

    For those too dense to grasp it, that again is satire. There is more to be learned and safely accomplished with naturally occurring beneficial fungi and bacteria than any GMO’s could ever produce, but of course they don’t provide the chemical giants with the kind of coming and going profits that they see now. Lawyers/lobbyists are paid to secure their pimps’ markets through access limiting legislation. As Mr. Bush so famously quipped, “Mission Accomplished”. Government policy should be evaluated from that more candid perspective than one of naively assuming that they actually watch out for our best interests. Never happens and likely never will. Again just look at the money and exercise some common sense.

    I also guess that Europe and Japan are populated by idiots and hypersensitive morons since they want no parts of our GMO experiments on humans for fun and corporate profit. By the by, after their early adoption of the GMO cotton scam even the Red Chinese have begun to rethink the promised benefits of higher productivity through better chemistry. Seems nature has a nasty habit of constantly evolving tougher and tougher pests faster than the chemical companies can respond. Their suggested course of action is to simply keep upping the dose of pesticides (which even Jr. High students understand eventually cause an ever more resistant pest strain to evolve). Gee, I wonder where that will end. So far the Chinese have realized ever shrinking yields that cost more and more to produce, while resulting in more and more fragile crops. Those stupid Chinese actually have the temerity to suggest that they might have been better off sticking with their tried and true natural selections of old. Won’t they be surprised when they find out that their old natural selections have likely been permanently mutated through their exposure to wide spread use of the GMO mutant DNA varieties.

    If ya think that the GMO’s are just fine, then I suggest that you skip the middle men and just start serving a spritz of Round-Up on your kids corn flakes to prove it to the rest of us “emotional” types.

  8. Kim

    My 11 year old daughter has a severe movement disorder that is only evident when she consumes GMOs. After years of suffering, she experienced a 95% improvement within 3 weeks of eliminating GMOs from her diet.

    I believe GMOs are contributing to the symptoms of autism, ADD/ADHD and other movement disorders, as well as compromising our general health. Because they have become so prevalent in our food supply over the last two decades (the same period of time when a rise in these disorders has been seen) you may never realize that your symptoms are caused or made worse by GMOs.


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