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2013 articles

(Un)Scientific American editorial blasted

on .

Unscientific American

An editorial in Scientific American decrying GM labeling has been condemned as sloppy and unscientific.

NOTE: For those who remember when Scientific American's editorial board protested that it was "impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised" because of the biotech industry's "chilling" control over GM research, this editorial is chilling.

EXTRACT: “It reads like the biotech industry handed Scientific American its talking points.” - Public health lawyer Michele Simon

GMO foes blast Scientific American editorial decrying labeling laws

DAVID KNOWLES, New York Daily News, September 6 2013
http://www.nydailynews.com/gmo-foes-blast-scientific-american-editorial-article-1.1448232

The editors of Scientific American wrote a strongly worded rebuke of GMO labeling laws in its most recent issue.

In the growing battle over GMO foods, science is being used as a weapon.

GMO labeling activists are decrying an editorial in Scientific American that takes aim at labeling laws for genetically engineered foods as “unscientific.”

In its Sept. 6 issue, the editors of Scientific American came out against the labeling laws that are currently being considered in 20 U.S. states, and have recently been passed by the legislatures of Connecticut and Maine, because they would give consumers the false impression that GMO’s are unsafe.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tested all the GMOs on the market to determine whether they are toxic or allergenic,” the editorial states. “They are not.”

Stacy Malkan, the former director for Yes on 37, the campaign to pass California’s failed ballot initiative to mandate foods containing GMO ingredients, scoffs at that claim.

“The editorial is sloppy and unscientific,” Malkan told the Daily News. “Saying the FDA has tested all the GMOs on the market is patently false. Each individual company is responsible for testing its own products, and they then decide if they want to voluntarily report it to FDA. But they aren't required to test or report.”

A second contested point in the editorial is the contention that requiring labeling of GMO ingredients will result in higher food prices because genetically engineered seeds can produce higher yields and require less pesticide.

“Private research firm Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants estimated that Prop 37 would have raised an average California family's yearly food bill by as much as $400,” the editorial states.

Malkan calls the study, which was conducted during the heated debate over Proposition 37, “useless,” and notes that it became an industry rallying cry despite being overturned by later studies conducted by the University of California at Davis.

“Let’s get the facts straight,” Malkan said. “Scientific American got seduced into using this bogus report.”

Stacie Orell, the campaign director for GMO Free N.Y., a group pushing to pass a bill in the New York Legislature to mandate labels for genetically engineered foods, felt a similar sense of disbelief when reading the editorial.

Specifically, she noted the inclusion of a passage about the benefits of golden rice, a GMO crop that targets vitamin A deficiency that often leads to blindness in the developing world.

“While I’m not against the idea of golden rice, its benefits in practice remain unkonwn,” Orell said. “These are theoretical ideas that the bio-tech industry often uses to green-wash the issue.”

Public health lawyer Michele Simon agrees that the Scientific American piece had a familiar ring to it.

“It reads like the biotech industry handed Scientific American its talking points,” Simon said in an email.

One of the main claims in the editorial does mirror ones made by GMO seed producer Monsanto—that requiring labels could potentially kill the market for genetically engineered foods in a country where 70% of processed foods already contain them, resulting in less variety and higher costs.

“Many people argue for GMO labels in the name of increased consumer choice,” the editorial states. “On the contrary, such labels have limited people's options. In 1997, a time of growing opposition to GMOs in Europe, the E.U. began to require them. By 1999, to avoid labels that might drive customers away, most major European retailers had removed genetically modified ingredients from products bearing their brand. Major food producers such as Nestlé followed suit. Today it is virtually impossible to find GMOs in European supermarkets.”

To Simon’s ears, assuming the same result in the U.S. is just one more faulty conclusion.

“The European experience would not translate the same way here,” Simon said. “Americans don't reject GMOs, all this would change is labels.”