More words on food labels – for the sake of fear or fact

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Organic agriculture has started another push to label food products containing GMOs.

Legislators have fallen right in line with the effort, saying the public has a right to be informed about what it eats.

Maybe organic foods should be held to a higher standard as well.

Legislators in the House and Senate have introduced bills requiring manufacturers to label foods that have been genetically engineered. “Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said.

“When American families purchase food, they deserve to know if that food was genetically engineered in a laboratory,” added Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who introduced the legislation in the House with 22 co-sponsors.

Several consumer advocacy organizations, environmental groups and businesses have jumped on the bandwagon, including the Center for Food Safety, EarthJustice, Ben and Jerry’s and the Consumers Union.

This isn’t Boxers first attempt at a GMO labelling law. Last year, Boxer and DeFazio sent a letter to the FDA asking the Food and Drug Administration to require labelling of genetically engineered foods. They wrote, “At issue is the fundamental right consumers have to make informed choices about the food they eat.”

Most everybody knows that the GMO labelling is the pet project of the U.S. organic industry, which for some reason, just can’t figure out how to grow their market without generating hysteria and fear about conventional agriculture and genetic engineering, where obviously, none is warranted.

If consumers really want to be informed about their food purchases, as Boxer and DeFazio suggest, we should take a closer look at a “truth in labelling” campaign for organic foods. Here are my suggestions, some of which were cherry-picked from a blog in Scientific American, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/07/18/mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/.

On organic fruits and vegetable labels:

Labor may have been abused and/or grossly underpaid in the collection of this product at harvest.

Or this: Some of the natural pesticides and fungicides applied to this product are toxic and can cause ecological damage.

There is some solid science behind this claim. According to the aforementioned blog, a Canadian study comparing organic and synthetic pesticides in the control of the soybean aphid found that “synthetic pesticides were not only more effective” than organic ones, but organic pesticides “were more ecologically damaging, including causing higher mortality in other non-target species like the aphid’s predators.”

Add as an advisory on organic fruits and vegetable labels:

 Organic food products have not been determined to be any more nutritious or safe for human consumption than conventionally-produced food products.

A sign above the “Organic Produce” section at all grocery stores could read:

Organic foods may contain higher levels of trans fats and may have higher levels of phosphorus and acidity than foods produced conventionally. Organic foods may also contain pesticide residues.

This blog refers to a study on this.

  If the objective of food labelling is to inform – rather than incite fear – the organic crowd might need to be careful what they wish for with its GMO labelling push.

On the other hand, with so much stuff on labels as it is, who’s going to read them anyway?

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