Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Food-labeling initiative would sow confusion: Editorial |

Food-labeling initiative would sow confusion: Editorial |

By The Oregonian Editorial Board 
on July 03, 2014 at 2:22 PM, updated July 04, 2014 at 9:05 PM

You can find a hodgepodge of arguments listed in the text of the initiative and, separately, on the backers' web site. They include environmental concerns, labeling requirements in other countries, a desire to protect organic farmers in Oregon, even consumers' undefined "personal" reasons. All of these serve an overarching principle, which is that "Oregon consumers have the right to know whether the foods they purchase were produced with genetic engineering ..."
The right-to-know rationale does have some appeal and sets the stage for a potentially effective response to the inevitable campaign-spending spree by big agribusinesses. Labeling proponents will say, "See. They're trying to hide the truth from you," as if consumers were unwittingly scarfing down Soylent Green in a corn-chip bag. (Soylent Green is people, by the way, if you haven't seen the movie.)

Clever though the campaign may be, the consequences of victory would be highly deceptive, which is ironic considering that one of the initiative's stated purposes is to "reduce and prevent consumer confusion and deception ..."

The federal Food and Drug Administration does not require such labeling because there is simply no scientific or nutritional basis to do so. This is a point FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg reiterated in March by explaining to a House subcommittee, "The fact that a food contains GE ingredients does not constitute a material change in the product." Corn is corn.

What, then, is a consumer to believe when confronted in a grocery store aisle by a product labeled "in clear and conspicuous language," "Produced with Genetic Engineering"? Probably that the stuff may be riskier to eat than other foods. So why take the chance?

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