A science-based organization says voluntary labeling of genetically modified foods is a “middle ground” solution to the growing debate over GMO crops.
David B. Schmidt, president and CEO of the International Food Information Council & Foundation, tells Newsmax Health that scientific studies and federal regulators have determined there are no “material” differences between GMO foods and conventionally produced products that warrant mandatory labels.
Vermont is on the verge of becoming the first state to require mandatory labeling of GMO foods. Similar measures are under consideration in other states.
Schmidt – whose organization is funded by agricultural and food companies but does not represent them or lobby on their behalf – takes issue with the term “GMO foods.” He says it is not a scientifically accurate term and suggests it “conjures up negative images with consumers" that unfairly cast such products as different, less healthy or inferior, compared to conventionally grown foods.
“We don’t like the term GMO,” he says. “It’s a largely activist term that is not well received by consumers. The term we would prefer is foods that are produce through genetic engineering or through bioengineering or though biotechnology.”
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He argues that such techniques have improved, not compromised, the safety and nutritional value of food. They have allowed farmers to grow crops that resist pests, viruses, and other threats so that they can use fewer pesticides and produce higher yields to hold down prices.
“We do believe that agricultural biotechnology is a safe and important element of food production, and will be even more so in the future,” he says. “There is really no evidence of safety concerns about bioengineered foods from anywhere in the world.
“I believe one of the main reasons that some of the activists with financial interests are raising concerns is so they can sell organic foods or other products at a higher cost …but it’s really untrue to say bioengineered foods are unsafe.”
The Food and Drug Administration does not require mandatory labels on GMO foods and has taken a position that they are not substantially different from conventional crops. But the debate over GMO foods has expanded in recent years.
In the face of state labeling efforts, large food companies are proposing new voluntary labels nationwide. The food industry and farm groups are pushing Congress to pass legislation that would require the FDA to create guidelines for the labels.
There's very little science that says genetically engineered foods are unsafe. But opponents argue there's too much unknown about GMOs and that consumers have a right to know if they are eating them.
Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the food industry's main trade group, has said the decision on labels should rest with the FDA, which is set up to assess the safety of foods.
Schmidt acknowledges that consumers may be leery of food industry-sponsored organizations’ claims on the safety of engineered foods, but suggests non-biased sources – including many scientific organizations, university researchers, and even the FDA – provide impartial information that can be accessed online.
“I think the No. 1 place to go is the FDA’s website, to the FDA Q&A on genetically engineered food production,” he says. “University sites have great experts out there, too. It is important to look for legitimate sources when you get on the web because there’s everything from modern-day charlatans to financially motivated activists out there. So you have to look at the weight of the evidence on this issue.”
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