Gary Hirschberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm, the US’s largest organic dairy sent out an E-mail today claiming that thousands of Americans are voicing their concerns about GMOs and their labeling, but they are being blocked by “the deep pockets of Big Food companies.” Stonyfield sells over $360 million worth of yogurt products each year and ironically would seem to be part of the Big Food companies he is coruscating. In fact, Stonyfield is a subsidiary of Dannon (Groupe Danone), with annual sales (2013) of €21 Billion ($22.8 billion).
Hirschberg wants to excoriate Big Food because he also is the founder of Just Label It, an organization that tries to amp up sales of organic products by denigrating those made from genetically modified ingredients. Of course, every major scientific organization in the US, and worldwide, has stated the foods created using genetic modification is safe and identical to foods created from conventional crops. The idea that there are “GMO ingredients” is in itself nonsense, because genetic modification is a plant breeding process which is much more safe and precise than conventional plant breeding. The resulting crop do not contain anything significantly different and are digested in just the same way as their conventional ancestor plants.
So, does Hirschberg cite any science or any discovered dangers or side-effects? No, because in nearly 20 years of genetically modified crop development there has not been a single verified case of any such reaction. Instead, he has just release a video of vapid “celebrity moms” calling for labeling. None of them cite any science (because there is none) nor do they seem to know any. It is embarrassingly idiotic.
Bruce Chassy and Jon Entine have analyzed Hirschberg’s claims in detail in their article: “The Fall of Gary Hirschberg: from reformer to reactionary anti-science propagandist.’
Hirschberg is upset because the US House recently passed HR 1599 (also called the DARK Act by opponents) which requires that producers submit premarket notification to the FDA of any product with bioengineered ingredients.
- If the FDA determines that there is a material difference between a GMO food and a comparable non-GMO food, the FDA can specify labeling that informs consumers of the difference.
- No food label can suggest that non-GMO foods are safer than GMO foods.
If similar legislation is passed by the Senate, this will pre-empt state mandated GMO labeling, unless the products have such a material difference. This would effectively end Hirschberg’s campaign to scare consumers into buying his organic yogurt.
And Will Saletan has written in detail in Slate “The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors and fraud.”
Consumers really don’t care about this anywhere near as much as Hirschberg foaming at the mouth would indicate. Two 2012 studies in the US and in the UK indicated that if consumers were asked what information should be added to food labels, only 2% suggested genetic modification of ingredients as being important. A more recent study, presented at a NAS Symposium suggested that the number now may be up to 7%.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, a study at the University of Vermont suggested that labeling of GM-containing products did not change consumer attitudes in any measurable way. They really don’t seem to care. Advantage goes to science!