For the second time, blue-state voters have defeated a ballot initiative to require labeling of genetically modified foods. In 2012, it was California; this week, it was Washington, where a labeling referendum lost 55 percent to 45 percent.
Advocates of labeling may as well suspend similar efforts in other states, because it’s clear that, when it comes to persuading voters, they’re no match for Big Food. In Washington, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto Co., DuPont Co. and others raised $22 million to fight the measure, almost triple the $8.4 million collected by Whole Foods Markets Inc., Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, the Center for Food Safety and other advocates of labeling. In California, the food industry similarly outspent its opposition $46 million to $9 million.
This is too bad, because labeling would give consumers more information about what’s in their food, and polls suggest it’s something almost everyone wants. More than 90 percent of U.S. consumers favor requirements for labels on foods that have had their genetic makeup altered — whether to make corn tolerant of herbicides or to create plants that can secrete their own bacterial insecticides.
But it isn’t the worst thing that could happen to food safety, simply because GMO foods aren’t dangerous. Those self- secreted insecticides, for instance, are safe. And claims that GMO foods cause cancer, genetic defects, infertility or obesity aren’t supported by research. The Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization have all concluded that that GMO foods pose no health risk.
What’s more, genetic modification, by protecting crops from extreme weather, improves food security in the developing world.
The questions about GM crops — whether they may have a harmful effect on useful insects, for example, and whether pests may build up resistance — are important ones. But they have been publicly undermined by some labeling advocates’ fear- mongering.