A petition was filed yesterday on the White House petition site to Support Mandatory Labeling of Artificially Selected Organisms (ASOs). The petition explains that “we have a right to know how our food is produced,” but notes that we cannot know when plants or animals are “artificially selected.” The petition describes this correctly as “selective breeding” in which the organisms are selected for traits that humans deem desirable, but are not traits that help the organisms survive in nature.
The petition further suggests that by selecting organisms with these traits, we may have been selecting organisms that require use of more pesticides. The point of the petition is that these selected organisms are “unnatural” and thus should be labeled. It also notes that “over 80% of Americans support mandatory labels on plants containing DNA.”
The petition was drafted by Stephan Neidenbach, tongue firmly planted in cheek, to point out that when plants or animals are crossbred to produce more desirable traits, we have no idea whether there is any downside to these new varieties and neither testing nor labeling is currently required. Neidenbach also runs the Facebook page “We Love GMOs and Vaccines,” which itself has satirical elements.
But Neidenbach’s semi-serious point is that there is no required testing or labeling of plants produced by conventional cross-breeding, nor by mutation breeding where the seeds are exposed to radiation or chemicals to induce new mutations. The only breeding that requires testing is that using biotechnology, producing “GMOs,” even though the changes made in these plants are very small and precisely known. Neidenbach posted a somewhat longer version of his argument on the website welovegv.com.
We talked with Neidenbach yesterday about his semi-satirical effort. He said after a number of online discussions, he came to the conclusion that maybe we should “label everything.” He explained that every conversation he has had recently about the advantages of biotechnology keeps devolving to discussions of Monsanto and Roundup, even though Monsanto is not the largest biotechnology company (Syngenta is) and the patent for Roundup expired in 2000. This approach was an attempt to expand the discussion to the overall advantages of biotechnology and compare it to other similar breeding techniques.
He said that he hoped to reach the “people who keep hearing random things, but haven’t formed complete opinions.” He said that he had gone to the “March Against Monsanto” counter-protest in Washington, DC in May, and that over half the people there seemed to be there out of curiosity: “they’re just being told these things and don’t really have a reason to hate us.” He said he didn’t expect to reach the crowd members who “eat organic three times a day.”
On whether he expected the petition to gather the expected 100,000 signatures, he agreed that this would probably not occur, because “skeptics don’t tend to gather in big groups.” And in contrast those that gather to oppose GMOs enjoy these large gatherings and that it was “almost like a cult to them.”
He said that this petition was an attempt to “regain control of the conversation, and not just talk about Monsanto and Roundup but to expand the conversation to other [breeding] methods.
To a large degree, it seems that the “GMOs are evil” view is beginning to fade from the public mind. William Saletan’s extensively researched take-down of the anti-GMO movement Unhealthy Fixation was published in Slate last week and the National Review’s Julie Kelly concluded that we may have reached The Beginning of the End of the Anti-GMO Hysteria. That, and the passage of House Bill 1599 which prevents states from making arbitrary GMO labeling requirements not based on science seems to indicate some slight diminution of the intensity of the opposition.