Let the Luddites choke on this: American medics see no merit in GM food labelling

The Greens, agricultural Luddites and fellow opponents of GM foods have suffered a bit of a setback.

In the USA, the American Medical Association has announced it sees no health purpose for labeling genetically modified foods — those made with GMOs (or genetically modified organisms) — as such.

Alf spotted an account of the decision here.

“There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education,” the statement read in part.

But the AMA is not giving cart blanche to food manufacturers.

It has recommended mandatory pre-market safety testing with the US Food and Drug Administration for any modified food.

Under the current regulatory regime, manufacturers are only encouraged to consult with the FDA in advance of bringing a GMO product to market.

The AMA is also urging the FDA to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods.

As The Huffington Post reports, the AMA’s position has thrown a wrench in the plans of several consumer groups that support GMO labeling — most notably in California, where a proposed labeling law will appear on ballots in November.

The Luddites are apt to wail about studies in the scientific literature that suggest genetic engineering could introduce new food allergens, increase the levels of known allergens, raise or lower nutrient levels and have adverse effects on the animals that eat such foods.

But the Los Angeles Times has reminded readers of a 2004 investigation from the National Academy of Sciences into the relative regulation and safety testing of genetically modified and conventional foods.

It found that either method can result in problems like food allergens and pathogens.

“All foods, whether or not they are genetically engineered, carry potentially hazardous substances or pathogenic microbes and must be properly and prudently assessed to ensure a reasonable degree of safety,” read the report, according to the Times.

At Freakonomics (here) the case against the Luddites is reinforced.

A post there says the AMA has long held that nothing about the process of recombinant DNA makes genetically engineered (GE) crop plants inherently more dangerous to the environment or to human health than the traditional crop plants that have been deliberately but slowly bred for human purposes for millennia.

That view is shared by the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the European Commission, and countless other national science academies and non-governmental organisations.

“Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat.” That was the conclusion of a 2003 inquiry by the International Council for Science, an NGO representing the national science academies of 140 countries, including the U.S.

It is a finding repeatedly made by the U.S. National Research Council.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. EPA all regulate the use of genetically engineered plants in the U.S. according to a philosophy endorsed by the scientific community that the content and characteristics of plants and foods should govern their regulatory scrutiny, not the process by which they are made.

Oh, and here’s a good point:

Voluntary certified organic labels already allow consumers to avoid GE foods.

Freakonomics reminds us that Norman Borlaug was the 20th century saviour of the poor and hungry.

Wearing coveralls and toiling in Mexican fields with conventional breeding techniques, he launched the Green Revolution and saved millions of lives, for which he received the Nobel Peace Price in 1970. His 21st century counterparts wear lab coats and stare into microscopes on university campuses and in the research departments of multinational corporations. They advance the same science to which Borlaug devoted his life and do work that he whole-heartedly endorsed unto his death. For many of today’s crop scientists, his goals are theirs. But their tools are better and their potential is greater.

If only Californians will give them a chance.

Under our rules, GM foods sold in New Zealand must be labelled ‘genetically modified’ if they contain DNA or protein from a GM source or they have altered characteristics compared to their non-GM counterpart (such as a changed fatty acid profile).

We have no GM labelling requirements for foods prepared and sold from food premises and vending vehicles, including restaurants, cafés, takeaway outlets, caterers or self-catering institutions.

The Ministry for the Environment website says:

This is the same as most other food-labelling requirements. If you want to know whether foods sold in these places are genetically modified you can ask.

Good advice.

And if the answer was yes, Alf would tuck in regardless.

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