As the United States and Canada prepare to approve genetically modified Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples, over the protests of growers and anti-GMO activists, Popular Science publishes the latest GMO myth buster story. These stories are oddly similar and predictable. What's the good, clean, and fair response?
First, notice that the proposed apples (modified so they don't brown when sliced) have nothing to do with the "myths" discussed in rest of the article. These apples have not been engineered to "feed the world," to combat plant diseases or pests, or even to enhance nutrition, familiar claims of GMO advocates. Instead, the proposed genetic modification would feed a consumer preference for food that does not look spoiled. Putting Adam and Eve into the story, this new fruit of the tree of knowledge would feed ignorance of natural processes and of warning signs that have protected us since that first bite.
Second, notice that these articles portray opponents of GMO food as anti-technology myth purveyors. They are uniformly condescending. They suggest that GMOs are too complicated for the ordinary Adam and Eve to understand. But, instead of urging caution, they advise us to "Just eat it!" They suggest that those who favor labels, transparency, and the right to choose are fear-mongers.
Finally, the articles do not convey new knowledge and they repeat claims of scientific unanimity and acceptance of GMO foods that are simply false.
Notwithstanding well-financed industry opposition, labeling campaigns are gaining traction in the United States. A GMO labeling initiative has just qualified for the Oregon ballot. In May, Vermont passed and the governor signed a labeling law – the first in the country. Labeling laws passed in Connecticut and Maine will not go into effect until more states pass similar laws. New York, Hawaii, and California narrowly lost legislative battles, forcing the industry to spend millions on their "myth busting." But activists vow to return in 2015. Some 25 states reportedly have labeling proposals under consideration. Other efforts may hold even more promise. In response to consumer pressure, numerous retailers are requiring GMO-free verification or labeling. The demand for GMO-free foods is growing.
We in Slow Food are sharpening up our responses and we're making the fight for transparency a policy priority. These are some of our basic truths:
#1 The solutions to hunger and poverty are not biotechnical. These problems require political and economic reform. GMO's cannot fix the injustices of mal-distribution and waste.
#2 Corporate control of patented seeds and the requirement to use proprietary herbicides strip farmers of their rights to food sovereignty, to save seeds, to choose what they grow and eat.
#3 There is no way to protect farmers of conventional non-GMO or organic crops from contamination by GMO pollen. Contamination has been found worldwide.
#4 GMO cultivation has resulted in increased use of herbicides with associated adverse health impacts on farmworkers, their families and their communities. Resistant weeds and pests have emerged.
#5 We do not know enough about long term impacts on human, livestock, and soil health. Numerous peer-reviewed studies raise serious concerns in all three arenas.
Finally, multi-million dollar campaigns to defeat labeling simply feed distrust. No matter what you conclude about the economic, environmental, social, or human health costs of GMO's, there is no basis basis for denying us the right to know what we are eating.
Charity Kenyon is a Slow Food USA Governor & International Councilor