When Vermont became the first state last week to require labeling genetically modified foods, it was hardly alone. Maine and Connecticut have already passed bills requiring GMO labeling with mandates that they would not go into effect until other states did the same, and there are 85 pending GMO labeling bills in 29 states. What all these bills amount to is a stunningly anti-science campaign driven by the so-called party of science, Democrats.
Early on, resisting GMOs was often synonymous with opposing Monsanto, the chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation that has made a name for itself in multiple high-profile lawsuits against small-scale farmers and for its questionable ties to the FDA, EPA and even the Supreme Court. That, and the fact that at the time, there were limited scientific studies of health and environmental effects that led to instances of alarming conjecture, were enough to cast doubt on whether the gains were worth the costs.
But what’s important to note is that the arguments for doing so are based on statistics and assumptions that were prevalent 15 years ago. A lot can change in 15 years. And a lot has changed. Recent data shows that Monsanto is not the sole or even primary beneficiary of GMOs — small-scale farmers, particularly in India, the Philippines, and China have noted some of the most significant gains.
And in response to the concerns over lack of adequate information, lots of scientists have conducted lots of studies. There are literally thousands of them. And earlier this year, a team of scientists published a paper summarizing 1,783 of the most in-depth studies. Their findings?
"We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE [genetically-engineered] crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops." [Critical Reviews in Biotechnology]
So, even though the anti-GMO cause may have made sense for liberals 15 years ago, that’s simply no longer the case. For a party that prides itself on adhering to rationality and facts, and derides conservatives for doubting scientific truths such as climate change and evolution, the perpetuation of a vehement anti-GMO stance isn’t just irrational. It’s hypocritical.
In an interview with PBS, Gov. Shumlin (D-Vt) said he was proud to sign Vermont’s GMO labeling law — not because he personally believes that there are any hazards associated with GMOs, but because “consumers have a right to know what they buy. People feel differently about it. Strong feelings on both sides. My view is pro-choice. Let consumers know.”
And this is where most Democrat politicians and centrist left-wing apologists have settled on the issue. If consumers want to know, they have the right to know. On the surface, it’s an admirable — even democratic — sentiment. But at its root, the “consumers have a right to know” argument tolerates and enables the kind of ignorance that liberals resent when it comes from the right.
Individuals certainly have the right to be ignorant, but GMO-labeling inherently implies a reason for that labeling — that there really might be health hazards involved. By giving in, the government would be empowering those who oppose the scientific community and helping further propagate misinformation. With something as seemingly low-stakes as GMO labeling, the impact of that may appear to be trivial. But if this tendency is any indicator of where we allow the power to lie, we’ve got more problems ahead of us than fake health hazards.