Monday, January 4, 2016

GMO labeling arguments are not exclusive to GMOs

When discussing labeling, there are many different reasons to want GMOs labeled: some people want to know if something's a GMO because they want to avoid pesticides, some people want to avoid food produced by Monsanto, etc. The issue with every single argument is that it's never exclusive to GMOs. I made the following infographic to outline the more common labeling arguments I've heard, as well as a non-GMO example that matches the criteria set out for that argument. This expands on my Facebook post (you can follow me on my new page!)

Click on image for full size
1) GMOs are made in a lab (i.e. they are not "natural"): this also holds true for many polyploids, such as seedless watermelons. Many mutagenic crops are also made in a lab (to learn more about different crop modification techniques, see this post). So if "unnaturalness" is one's reason to label GMOs, then many other non-GMO crops, include many that are accepted under the USDA's organic label, should also be labeled. 

2) GMOs use herbicides: many argue that GMOs made to resist "toxic" levels of herbicides should be labeled. The toxicity of the herbicides and the amounts used are a subject for a separate post altogether, but when it comes to labeling, there are mutagenic, non-GMO crops that are also made to resist herbicides, particularly Clearfield crops made by BASF which resist imidazolinone herbicides. So if labeling proponents want crops that use herbicides to be labeled, many non-GMOs will have to be labeled as well.

3) GMOs are patented: as I've outlined in the past, many non-GMO crops, including decorative plants and crops approved for use in organic farming, are patented. For a partial list of patented crops, see here. So wanting GMOs labeled to avoid patented crops should result in many, many non-GMOs being labeled, too. 

4) GMOs have genes from other species: not only do sweet potatoes have bacterial genes, but these were introduced using the same bacteria that scientists have harnessed when creating a new transgenic crop. At the same time, DNA from viruses are found throughout most genomes, including our own

5) GMOs are made by Monsanto: if you want GMOs labeled because Monsanto makes them, then some organic crops should also be labeled. Plus, what about all the GMOs that are not made by Monsanto? The non-browing Arctic Apple was made by small company in Canada.

6) GMOs make their own pesticides: all plants make their own pesticides. For example, wheat produces an insecticide known as DIMBOA (wheat is not considered a GMO). This post gives an overview of pesticides naturally produced by quinoa. 

Finally, there's the "right to know". But, again, what is it that you want to know? If you want to know what method was used to generate the crop from which an ingredient was derived, then why not mutagenic crops? Why not polyploids? Why not protoplast fusion? What is it about the method of transgenesis that has driven you to demand your "right to know" that didn't apply in the past for any of these other crop breeding methods? Feel free to comment below.

Updated on January 5th: The graphic had a typo, so I've swapped it with a corrected version.


  1. People will not be able to give you a rational response as to why they NOW suddenly are overly concerned with how their food is modified and grown, because they're basing their fears on irrational and ignorant suppositions. Most people really don't know to what extent food has been altered since the dawn of agriculture. They're okay with breeding dogs or horses to make an animal that they feel is better than their predecessors, and they're okay with cross pollinating plants to make more interesting fruits and prettier flowers, because this is something they've known about all their lives, and they're used to.
    But, many people have taken advantage of the ignorance of the population at large and are using fearmongering and hot button phrases like "frankenfood" to win over the public. But ask the public, do you know how bran flakes are made? Do you even know what bran is? Do you know how rice is processed to make it white? Or even, do you know that rice is processed in order to make it white? Many people don't know such things. It's awesome, in both the great and terrible sense, how many big scare pieces are popping up that are causing people to write their best possible petition to stop food manufacturers and retail chains from processing food in the way they've done for ages, and to stop places from selling food processed in this way. They always think it's a brand new thing, they don't realize that these things have been going on for decades at the least.
    What it all comes down to is that our society has become preoccupied with the food we eat, and coupled with the fact that people are feeling a sense of loss of control in their lives due to many events that have happened during the lifetimes of the age groups most likely to get up in arms about such trivial things as "why are 'greedy' companies selling this abomination of vitamin rich, sustainable rice to starving countries?" Obviously those greedy companies are using those people as test subjects for their new product, and obviously a company doesn't care if they kill off the majority of their customers, why would they, right? Right?! And these are NOT crazy conspiracies, they're true dammit.
    Ugh. Smh. People are looking for some modicum of control, for themselves and their families, and what's something you can easily control but what you put into your body. But they're looking for control in the wrong place. Yes, one of the few things in life that we can control are our actions, but simply controlling actions will not make a person happier or more content. They will still be plagued by fears and doubts. It must begin with controlling our thoughts and reactions to the things that happen to us. We can choose the easy route; a knee-jerk, ignorant, irrational reaction, or we can choose to learn as much about this frightening thing until it's no longer frightening, and we're fully informed and therefore able to make an informed decision. And that means actually learning about these frightening things, not cherry picking our news outlets to feed into our irrational fear and justify it.
    So, kudos to you for trying to spread rational, quantifiable information that can be easily fact checked. Perhaps some of these frightened people will stumble across your blog and learn something that shakes up their worldview. It's not an easy thing to do, people cherrypick without even realizing it, but at least you're giving people an opportunity to look at things in a different light. :)

    1. Thanks! I do hope that some people will read it and at least engage in a discussion.

  2. Yeah? Well.. yo momma!!!!

    Great article.

  3. I have long proposed a mandatory label for Organic produce that is grown in manure: "Grown with Animal Feces." After all, we now that poorly treated manure can (and has) resulted in e.coli0147H7 poisoning, and manure is commonly used to grow organic crops, don't I have a right to know?

    1. I believe that contributed to the problems at Chipotle

    2. "Grown with Animal Feces" I get your point, however it's too vague. Like all the other labels out there, it is open to nitpicking at a level that could go round and round and mean nothing in the end. Vermicompost is worm manure. Would that require the same label as chicken or cow manure? What about hydroponic setups that includes fish waste? What if I don't use fecal matter specifically, but I have earthworms naturally occurring in my garden or a bird passes by and leaves behind its waste? Do we really wish to add more labels to an already ambiguously wordy marketing smorgasbord?

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