Labelling GM Foods: the debate goes on
American consumer rights advocate Michael Hansen is in South Africa this week to talk about Genetically Modified (GM) foods. He had this to say:
Why is it that South African law allows shops to label their food as “halaal”, “kosher” or “vegetarian” – yet all sorts of government hurdles are thrown up when people demand compulsory labelling of genetically-modified (GM) food?
Where do I start? Each and every one of those examples cites labelling that is required because of a dietary restriction, for socially acceptable religious, moral, and health reasons. Labelling on food is in place to protect the consumer from foods that their religion, physician or lifestyle dictates they should not eat. When it comes to GM foods, there is nothing to protect the consumer from. Labelling of GM foods will imply that there is some need to protect the consumer, which is rubbish, and may be detrimental to the marketing and sale of otherwise perfectly safe foods. You have to be either a complete idiot or willfully ignorant to miss the point.
Hansen also adds:
We hear so much about GM foods being ‘totally safe’ or ‘good for small farmers’ or even that they are ‘better’ than normal foods. So, if that really is the case, then surely the GM industry would be proud of this and want to advertise these facts?
Oh, sure. In South Africa we have a policy where citizens who were previously disadvantaged by apartheid can purchase land through government grants and enrol in a mentorship program whereby they become sustainable commercial farmers. They are very proud of their accomplishments, but I can imagine the furore that will accompany the labelling of their produce as ‘grown by black farmers’.
There is a long tradition of genetic modification of foods, in the formation of cultivars from cloning and hybradization. Bananas, for example, exist only as a small number of cultivars that must be reproduced asexually. Should we start labelling bananas as Clone Foods?
Hansen, and others like him, think that just because something is created by science, it is somehow different to that created by nature. Their basic misunderstanding of both science and nature only ends up manifesting itself as irrational fear. These are the same kinds of people who, when human cloning becomes a reality, will require that all cloned humans bear a scarlet letter, lest real humans not know they are clones and mistakenly…i don’t know…treat them like people.