To Label, Or Not To Label, That Is The Question

Political “slings and arrows” manifested as junk mail and newspaper, radio and TV ads are raining down on the poor folks in Washington state these days. And “outrageous fortunes” are being spent by opposing sides of one of the most contentious issues to hit the Evergreen State since the legalization of marijuana.

Of course, I’m talking about genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). More specifically, the issue is whether or not to label food products that are derived from GMO’s. Initiative 522 (I-522) on this November’s Washington state ballot would require such labeling. (A nice summary can be found in an article in the Seattle Times: On the Washington state voter’s plate: Genetically engineered crops.)

I won’t bore you with the arguments from one side and the other. For these, please allow me to provide you with the links to the respective websites: Pro I-522 website and Anti I-522 website.

I will mention, however, that one of the main arguments against I-522 is that it will cost consumers hundreds of dollars more each year for their food. The Washington Academy of Sciences has weighed in on this assertion with the following conclusion: “Science panel says GMO labeling would cost — but how much remains unknown” (Seattle Times, Oct. 9, 2013).

Even the editors of Scientific American have expressed an opinion on the issue of GMO labeling. They’re agin’ it: Scientific American editors against labeling GMO foods.

On the opposite side of the issue from Scientific American is my local Community Food Co-op, which sponsored a showing of the new documentary film GMO OMG.

I didn’t get a chance to see the movie, but I read a critical New Yorker piece and also a review of “GMO OMG” on Scientific American website. In summary, their take-home-lesson seems to be that the film is long on melodrama and very short on facts.

What can make this issue so confounding is the use of (often ignorant) scare tactics on the part of both the anti-GMO people (e.g., GMO OMG) and the pro-GMO ads and also the corporate doublespeak often proffered by the pro-GMO side. What’s the average person supposed to think?

Perhaps the answer is to listen to more rational voices with regard to GMO crop plants.

Distinguished Scientists, One Pro-GMO and One Against

One of the 2013 World Food Prize Laureates, Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton was among the first scientists to have discovered how to genetically transform plants, as I have previously described here. In this video, Dr. Chilton remarks on the speed at which GM crop plants have been propagated.

An opposing viewpoint is expressed by the equally scientifically-distinguished Dr. David Suzuki. In this video, Dr. Suzuki also remarks on the rapid deployment of GMO’s and asserts that it’s been occurring too fast to properly evaluate the safety of GMO’s.

Both of these scientists make persuasive arguments on behalf of their views regarding GMO’s.

How would you vote?

So, How Am I Going To Vote?

Though I first genetically transformed a plant using Agrobacterium in 1986, I’m no plant genetic engineer. (I did recently, however, write a a small ebook on the subject, which you can check out here.)

On the one hand, the scientific evidence seems to support that there are no real health problems from eating food from GMO’s. See, for example, Massive Review Reveals Consensus of GMO Safety (see Ref. 1 below).

On the other hand, I am somewhat persuaded by the arguments of David Suzuki and also the editors of Nature, who, in a recent editorial, expressed the opinion that “Research on transgenic crops must be done outside industry if it is to fulfill its early promise“.

Perhaps it’s time to rein in the huge corporate biotech firms like Monsanto and Dupont, though it may be too late for corn, soybeans and cotton in the USA. Passage of I-522 would likely help to do so, and it may even motivate people to learn more about the science of GMO’s. (Wishful thinking?)

Bottom Line: I think that, in most cases, light is better than darkness.

Maybe it’s time for GMO’s to come out of the “shadows” of public misunderstanding and corporate doublespeak and come into the light. Maybe it’s time for biotech corporations like Monsanto to stop spending millions of dollars on advertisements against citizen initiatives such as I-522 and start spending the money, instead, on educating citizens about the nature of GMO’s.

For example, they could sponsor local Biohacker groups, and they could provide scholarships to students, who want to be professional teachers, pursuing science degrees in plant physiology and in molecular biology.


1. Nicolia, A., A. Manzo, F. Veronesi, and D. Rosellini (2013) “An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research.” Critical Reviews in Biotechnology, doi:10.3109/07388551.2013.823595 (Link to Full Text PDF)

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