The argument over labelling GM foods in the US is developing very differently from elsewhere in the world – and the debate is not as simple as it might first seem
Europeans and many other countries scratch their heads over why there is such a big controversy in the US over the labelling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Sixty-four nations around the world have enacted mandatory labelling laws.
“GM foods are not proven safe. Why not just label them and let the consumer decide?” is a common thread on food blogs. “Governments must be kowtowing to the GMO lobby.”
That’s the liberal position: prioritising the consumer’s right to know. Many activist groups lobbying for labelling cite a New York Times poll that 93% of Americans support it.
So why do the leading independent science organisations in the US and the top liberal news publications oppose mandatory labelling?
The US Department of Agriculture maintains that mandatory labelling of GM foods would be “inherently misleading”, on the grounds that there is no substantial difference between GM foods and conventional or organic food.
That’s the strict scientific position. Genetic modification is a process. There is no detectable difference between, say, sugar made from GM or organic sugar beets. The seeds of the GM variety are engineered to contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a common bacterium that is not biologically active in humans but toxic to insects. Bt...