GMO Labelling
Photo by Alexis Baden-Mayer

Hot on the heels of revelations that the USDA has quietly approved a new generation of genetically modified crops, the editors at Scientific American have penned an op-ed arguing against labeling GMOs in food. Their reasoning? “Instead of providing people with useful information, mandatory GMO labels would only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people’s health.”

The article goes on to assert that genetic engineering is just as safe as conventional breeding techniques and claim that mandatory labeling will limit the options of consumers by potentially driving customers away. It points out that GMOs can be beneficial, as in the case of a new breed of “Golden Rice” that contains added vitamin A.

While it’s true that some GMOs have the potential to help fight nutritional deficiencies in developing countries, decrease the water demands of certain crops, and make plants naturally-resistant to certain pests and diseases, Scientific American is (perhaps purposefully) missing the point when it comes to the real reasons why many people resist these new crops.

In reality, most GM corn and soy is actually being modified to withstand higher amounts of extremely toxic herbicides and pesticides — chemicals which pose a hazard to local biodiversity and the farmers working in the fields. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops have already had some serious unintended side effects: not only has the widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate decimated Monarch butterfly populations, but it’s also resulted in a new breed of super-weeds that infest about half of all fields in the US. Even more terrifying is the fact that Dow AgroSciences is trying to get approval for plants that can be sprayed with 2,4-D, one of the main components of Agent Orange.

To make matters worse, GMOs have also been used to shut down farms that haven’t even intentionally planted them. Monsanto has a reputation for suing farmers whose fields are accidentally contaminated with their patented seeds. These lawsuits have put many small farmers out of business, simply because they had the misfortune of being located next to a field growing GM crops.

In other words: companies like Monsanto and Dow aren’t modifying their crops in ways that help people in developing nations. They’re not creating more robust crops that could survive drought due to climate change. They’re creating plants that wind up doused in cancer-causing pesticides and they’re using their patents to prosecute farmers who don’t want to buy GM seed.

When I go to the supermarket, I don’t look for a “no GMO” label because I’m afraid of scientific progress or new methods of horticulture. I shop for GMO-free products because I believe the companies behind them are dangerous, unethical, and their methods are inherently unsustainable. I avoid GMOs because I don’t want to subject my body to increased pesticide residues and I don’t want to support companies that poison agricultural laborers. I firmly believe that avoiding GMOs where possible is the ethical choice. I trust that other consumers who oppose GMOs are smart enough to make the same decision for themselves.

Alexis Baden-Mayer