The Label It Yourself Campaign

label-it-yourselfAs my regular readers will know I try to keep tabs on what is happening on social media in regards to climate change and global warming. Sometimes because of that I (eventually) notice other odd things that are doing the rounds on social media.

This time it was a Tumblr post talking about the Label It Yourself Campaign that my Facebook friends were sharing. If you’re wondering what the Label It Yourself Campaign is the original tumblr post explains it well enough:

The Label It Yourself (#LIY) campaign is a decentralized, autonomous grassroots campaign born out of our broken food system. We have been asking our government to label food products so we can make educated decisions about what we eat. The government has ignored our requests and so we are taking matters into our own hands.

Get your labels at www.labelityourself.org or create our own!

I’m utterly against what they are trying to do with this campaign. Not because I think they aren’t allowed to know what is or isn’t genetically modified, but because of how they’re attempting to get this information to the consumers.

You’re not hitting the companies that produce the products with this, I doubt that they even notice most of these actions. The people you hit with this are the vendors who you present with the task of removing stickers from their stock. It costs them money and time dealing with this, not the companies you really have an issue with. Not exactly the road you want to go down if you want to get any support or sympathy from the vendors.

Luckily my friends were sharing the reactions to the original Tumblr post about the Label It Yourself Campaign, not the original post that promotes this campaign. My friends recognized that you’re hitting the vendors and not the companies that produce the products. They also know that GMOs are safe for human consumption, despite what a lot of the anti-GMO groups think and claim:

Yes on Proposition 37 to Label Genetically Engineered Food?

It’s this very misinformation and pseudo-science that has made companies so reluctant in labelling the products that contain GMOs. I’m still for informing people about what is in their food, and labelling can also help with combating some of the GMO allergy claims. But this last point is more about public information than research, as research has shown that food containing GMOs are safe.

But how to do this in a way that doesn’t feed into this scare and misinformation?

Now that’s the tough part of deciding if we’re going to do this, as feeding into this misplaced fear is not what we should do. Especially when implementing it can hurt companies that are using something that is safe and are thus innocent of any wrongdoing. So far the only idea I’ve seen that comes close to a reasonable approach to this is the article How To Do GMO Food Labeling Right:

Should food with ingredients from genetically engineered crops – “GMOs” – be labeled?  Many argue that consumers have a “right to know” about this.  Ok, if the real reason for labeling is to provide consumers with knowledge, then the label should read:

“Contains ingredients from biotech enhanced crops approved by the USDA, FDA and EPA”

That would tell people what is unique about these crops.  Humans have been genetically modifying crops for centuries using a variety of methods.  The difference for genetically engineered crops is that they must be fully characterized and tested in order to gain approval from three different regulatory agencies – the USDA, the EPA and the FDA (there is a description of this process below if you are interested).  Crops modified in other ways including those generated by conventional breedingmutation breeding or “wide crosses” or hybrids or doubled haploids don’t have to be tested or approved at all.  The clear, international scientific consensus is that genetic engineering involves no unusual risk relative to all the other methods of genetic modification, but this testing was instituted out of an abundance of caution.  Thus, any label should let consumers know about this extra level of scrutiny conducted for their benefit.

Still, I don’t think with the current amount of misinformation doing the rounds it’s the right choice to start labelling now (although the above idea could very well work). And if you’re wondering why, here’s the reason:

Teen activist Rachel Parent debates with TV Host Dragon Kevin O'Leary on CBC Television

Rachel Parent was very dismissive of entertaining the thought that GMOs might be safe and during the course of the interview consistently went back to the talking point “we have a right to know.” She talks about making an informed decision about what you eat, but she’s not informed. She’s basing her decisions on scare stories and misinformation which she will use to avoid products containing GMOs.

One of the things she horrendously got wrong was what she said about golden rice. Her stating that “golden rice was scrapped because it didn’t work” is wrong. She’s talking about an old variant from which you indeed couldn’t get enough vitamin A. This variant could at best alleviate some of the problems and shouldn’t be relied on alone, it’s complementary to getting vitamin A supplements.

But companies haven’t ignored this weakness, they responded by creating new golden rice variants that address this issue. These new strains contain enough vitamin A that eating just 75 grams of it provides your full daily intake of vitamin A. This gives these new variants the potential for being a very good tool to reduce the 1 to 2 million of preventable deaths that vitamin A deficiency causes. Of course golden rice will not solve the problem of an imbalanced diet for these groups, but it will help and it will make it easier to solve the problems caused by this imbalanced diet.

Anti-GMO advocates like Rachel who spread misinformation are the problem here, not the GMOs themselves. And they are the very reason why it’s so hard to approach this subject in a reasonable way.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.