The Washington Post’s editorial board came out with an opinion piece last month in opposition of labeling genetically modified foods. They note that proponents of labeling genetically modified organisms demand “transparency about what they’re eating” while also claiming that consumers “exaggerate the worries about ‘Frankenfood.’” In other words, the Post fears that mandatory labeling on the part of any state would imply public hazards that don’t exist, and that grocery shoppers would be scared off from buying foods that aren’t dangerous at all.
But I think that we as consumers deserve more credit then this. Essentially, their editors imply that grocery shoppers are so misinformed and ignorant about genetically modified foods that they can’t even be trusted with the extra information provided by a label. It’s strange to see the paper of Woodward and Bernstein actually argue in favor of withholding information from the public.
But the real problem is that the Post misses the entire point of the GMO debate. It isn’t about “Frankenfood” or accommodating special diets. It’s about providing the public with more information and more choices. For example, why shouldn’t consumers be clearly informed that 94 percent of the country’s soy is genetically modified? Why shouldn’t shoppers be able to easily know what is in the products that they use their hard earned money to purchase? People have incredibly arbitrary criteria in deciding which products to buy, including the name of a brand or even the celebrity they saw on a commercial. Genetic engineering, too, is a viable factor for consumers to consider.
And yet the Post’s editors claim it isn’t, as though anyone has the right to determine how consumers should make their buying choices for them. The paper goes as far as to cheer Congress for a policy which “preempts states from requiring such labels.” They are basically in support of keeping the American public in the dark, which should be an outrage to consumers everywhere.
All in all, the point is that GMO labeling isn’t about the potential of genetic engineering. It isn’t about declaring GMOs “good” or “bad.” It’s about living in an incredibly large and diverse country where people at every level of society, from individuals to cities to entire swaths of the nation, view and interact with the world differently. It’s what makes us “contain multitudes,” as Walt Whitman said, and it’s what makes us innovative in fields ranging from the arts to Silicon Valley. When politicians or major publications simply declare that they know better than the masses and that’s that, they weaken the spirit of self-determination that makes our country unique.
If this is important to you, come to the GMO Free NY Labeling & Rally Day! Take part in a huge rally with an entire coalition fighting for you to know what’s in your food and lobby your own representatives face-to-face. If you’ve ever wanted to get involved in the legislative process directly… this is your chance. Sign up at https://gmofreeny.net/eventscalendar.html
Michelle Rojas is a project coordinator for NYPIRG.