GMOs in Regulation and the Marketplace: Informed or Distorted By Science?

Saturday, February 13, 2016: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Marriott Balcony B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Steve Strauss, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
The no-GMO label, intended to claim superiority of products to consumers, has proliferated rapidly in recent years.  At the same time, regulations in more than 60 countries around the world require some kind of GMO label on foods when the crops they have been derived from have been subject to any kind of direct genetic modification, even after rigorous safety reviews.  Anti-GMO campaigns can lead retailers to avoid GMOs and to market their products as “GMO free” even when there are very small amounts present, they have substantial benefits to farmers or the environment, or the final products (e.g., sugars and oils) contain no genes or derived proteins.  Mandatory labels have in many places, most prominently the EU, essentially kept food products made with even small qualities of GMO crops off the shelves, reducing consumer choice. 

Mainstream science and the regulatory record surrounding GM crops, in contrast, suggests that as a class they are no different or less safe than other crops and foods.  There is also a great diversity of GM crop types and uses; categorical statements about their safety or benefits have been eschewed by a wide variety of high level scientific panels and societies around the world.  Ironically, no-GMO warnings on some of these products, such as for potato, orange juice, and salmon—even though emerging products can solve major problems, improve food safety, and reduce carbon footprints from food production—also continue to proliferate.  Genetic modification that more precisely modifies native genes and their expression than does conventional breeding, including by gene editing and RNA interference, have also been introduced to the marketplace, and the science on which they are based is rapidly growing.  However, they are, in general, being treated no differently in regulations or in voluntary no-GMO labels. 

I will review scientific findings and the growing use of GMO identification labels and media promotions, and argue that campaigns to avoid and stringently label all GMO crops and food distort the scientific record and represent an abuse of science.  The stringency of regulations and labeling requirements also impose similar burdens on exporting countries, impeding the use of direct genetic modification to help deal with the very serious problems in food production and safety in the developing world.