UPDATE: Today’s New York Times has a four-person essay debate on exactly this topic: “Are genetically engineered salmon too fishy?”
Go have a look; the question at issue is this:
Is the F.D.A.’s approval a sign of scientific progress, or a danger to consumers and the environment?
I used to think that if a food was made from a genetically modified organism (“GMO”), that modification should not be required to be put on the food’s label. My reasoning was that such labeling would tend to scare off consumers, and. more important, there was no indication that any GMO was harmful. Indeed, when the first genetically modified animal recently hit the market, a salmon engineered with genes from other fish to grow quickly, the FDA had already ruled that mandatory labeling as a “GMO” was not required, though they did issue guidelines for voluntary labeling.
Now Vermont has passed a law requiring that salmon (and all genetically modified foods) must labeled as GMOs starting in July; and a U.S. district court has upheld that requirement as constitutional. The Vermont law is being fought by a consortium of food groups who think (probably correctly) that such labeling will scare away consumers.
Regardless, though, I am starting to think that all GMO foods should be labeled as such, regardless of the consequences. After all, all foods, even tomato sauce, have to be labeled with their ingredients, including coloring agents, even though we know the ingredients aren’t harmful. Why should foreign genes be an exception? Because the addition is a bit of DNA—one that makes a protein that is ingested—rather than Red Dye #4? Is there a good rationale for making a distinction?
Granted, I am prefectly convinced that GMO foods are safe. But why withhold the fact that some foods contain foreign genome? After all, foods are labeled as “organic” though in most cases there are no problems with the non-organic equivalent. But I’m starting to come around to the view that we should let the consumers make up their minds, and not make it up for them by omitting ingredients because they might scare people away.
I’m not firmly wedded to this view, and am open to arguments to the contrary. I also know that for years we’ve eaten genetically modified plant products without their having been labeled. But maybe Vermont is right, and it’s time to put the GMO label on all genetically modified foods.