What does a non-GMO label get you?

I’m all for voluntary non-GMO labels. They’re a market based solution that meets a niche demand. They provide diversity in the market without raising prices for everyone. Still, I prefer to avoid them (and thankfully in the US, I still have the choice to do so) in large part because I don’t think they’re accomplishing anything useful, especially considering that such products often cost more. That’s my personal choice, though I also don’t think these labels accomplish much for the companies that use them. I’ve got two examples that I recently noticed that don’t make sense to me – maybe you can help me untangle the issues.

Gluten-free waffle breakfast at Silver Diner. Image by Teri Centner via Flickr.
Gluten-free waffle breakfast at Silver Diner. Image by Teri Centner via Flickr.

The first example is non-GMO labels on two ingredients at Silver Diner. Silver Diner is one of my favorite restaurants. They’re a small, local chain that serves reasonably priced, locally sourced, interesting comfort foods. My husband and I went there at least once an month, and frequently took friends and family there. But we’ve since switched our brunch habits to other restaurants. Why? Because I’m frustrated with their marketing.
The Silver Diner menu lists all of the farms in the Maryland/Pennsylvania/Virginia area where they source ingredients, which I just love. I’m a bit busy but I’m excited at the idea that I could visit these farms if I wanted to. The food is fresh, the menu is interesting, they are supporting smaller farms, it’s great. It’s reasonably priced, too.
Some of Silver Diner’s marketing claims are a bit meaningless if not flat out wrong (all-natural, hormone free) and organic ketchup takes 63% more land than conventional, but I could overlook those relatively small and oh-too-common issues because their main goals were so great.
What I couldn’t overlook was the addition of two Non-GMO Project certified foods to the menu. They now serve non-GMO canola oil and non-GMO quinoa. Can you guess why this bothers me?
To my knowledge, quinoa has never been genetically engineered. So calling a particular brand of quinoa non-GMO could be viewed as false advertising (asbestos free cereal, anyone?). And no one in the DC area is growing quinoa – the climate is all wrong (too warm, too wet). Now, quinoa is a very nutritious “grain”, and gluten free to boot, so it makes sense to have it in healthier and allergen-free dishes on the menu. It’s also fairly low-input so could be considered a sustainable crop (although we’d have to look at yields compared to other grains to see if more land is needed, plus there’s the travel cost and energy compared to more local grains). Since there’s no GMO alternative, the non-GMOness doesn’t add anything here but price.
Canola also isn’t grown in the DC area – the climate is wrong (too warm) – so it’s not local either. A local alternative would be soybeans, which make a vegetable oil approximately equivalent to canola. Soybeans are arguably more sustainable than canola, with soybean having slightly higher yields with equivalent inputs, and soybeans fix nitrogen which helps reduce the amount of fertilizer that is needed. The only biotech trait in both soy and canola is herbicide tolerance. In both crops, this trait has allowed more farmers to use conservation tillage methods, which are arguably more sustainable than tilling to kill weeds, and have resulted in both a decrease in total herbicide use and a switch to a less harmful herbicide. In the case of canola, the herbicide tolerance trait may have led to an increase in herbicide tolerant weedy canola, but to call them “superweeds” is a bit misleading. Non-GMO canola doesn’t use any less or better herbicide, it’s just non-GMO. Here, the non-GMOness might have a slight advantage, but local soybean oil doesn’t (GMO or not) and soybeans would meet more of Silver Diner’s stated goals. Other good local options would be peanut oil or corn oil.
If Silver Diner truly chooses their ingredients based on commitments to local farming, neither of these products makes sense.

The second example is a non-GMO declaration on Florida Natural orange juice. I grew up in Florida, with no less than five varieties of citrus in my backyard – orange, yellow grapefruit, pink grapefruit, ponderosa lemons, and a weird tangerine hybrid, plus a neighbor had kumquats – small wonder I grew up interested in plant genetics! I haven’t done a blind taste test but my husband I both swear Florida oj is tastier than juice from Brazil or California. Florida Natural is one of few brands that sources 100% Florida oranges, so it’s always been our go-to brand.

orange juice label
Image by Anastasia Bodnar.

There’s no GMO oranges on the market (just some traits that are still in research), and Florida Natural’s only ingredient is oranges, so I was pretty shocked to see a non-GMO label on the back of the carton when I got it home from the grocery store. It said “NO GMO… oranges grown without the use of biotechnology”. I don’t obsessively read labels, I just idly read everything that’s put in front of me, and I noticed it while I was making breakfast. They seem to have added the label quietly, I can’t find any news articles about it and it’s not in their FAQs.
Why does this matter? As Amy Harmon so beautifully described in her New York Times article US citrus is in danger. Originally from China, citrus greening disease has invaded the US. Without drastic measures, the price of juice is going to skyrocket. And this Florida girl needs her oj! After years and years of research, scientists and many orange growers have concluded that a biotech approach really is the best solution. Even staunch GMO critic Tom Phillpott endorsed using biotech to stop citrus greening. A tiny genetic change can help stop the disease from causing trees to produce inedible fruit.
What is Florida Natural trying to say with this non-GMO label? That they would rather go out of business than consider a biotech solution? As with Silver Diner above, the label just doesn’t make sense.

GMO or not, most farms would still be big monocultures, with seeds (or grafts) bought from big seed companies, using modern agricultural methods including synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. So I’m left wondering what such labels really accomplish. A restaurant that moves away from their stated values to choose non-GMO products is saying to me that they care more about a buzzword than about staying true to their values. An orange juice company that goes out of its way to state that it’s non GMO is telling me they care more about fanning customer fears rather than taking the time to help educate people so that we might be able to save citrus in the US.
I still support voluntary non-GMO labels but boy do they leave me scratching my head.


  1. Excellent post – it should be a WaPo op-ed. Question: Are you sure you want to promote local farming? We shop at the local farmer’s markets too, but we can afford the premium. We are rewarded with the pleasure of market shopping, and (with no data to support it) think certain local items “taste better”.
    Better than what? Well, maybe better than Walmart, but we know from studies that Walmart prices improve living standards for their customers. But there are a LOT of people who can afford nutrition at Walmart. Or shoes, dresses and motor oil. None of which should they try to “buy local”.
    My bottom line: “Local” is fine for rich people who choose to pay. Like driving a Prius, it’s not something we need to be promoting.

  2. Yep, local is a luxury. But it’s also a way for farmers to differentiate themselves and find creative ways to sell their products. They can grow plant varieties that don’t do so well in shipping so they are increasing agricultural biodiversity. And those types of varieties often taste better since they are bred for taste rather than just yield or the ability to be shipped.
    Local food can also be cultural, and can connect people to agriculture. Where I grew up in Florida, I was pretty distant from any real farms but everyone knew when the oranges were blooming or when the strawberries were ripe. Now that I’m in the DC area, we certainly know when it’s blue crab season, but there’s also apple and berry picking and the joy of fresh corn at farm stands. Many parts of the country have their special local foods as well as seasonal foods.
    You know I’m all for efficient farming which means growing things where they grow best. But I think there’s room for a little of the more frivolous stuff on the edges. And I hope people who can’t afford a Prius can still get a taste.

  3. I’m with you Anastasia on the GMO free labels. It’s completely meaningless. We had some local taro company place ads in the paper that it was GMO free. Um, yeah, there is no such thing as GM taro. It really is a marketing tool that is based in fear and misinformation.
    I also agree that local is good if it is affordable. When mainland eggs and milk cost nearly 50% cheaper than local stuff, I have to lean towards what’s more affordable. I feel bad that I can’t support local, but my budget just doesn’t allow for it much of the time.

  4. Steve, I gots to nitpik. At our farmers market you can do both. We have “luxury” and basic staples from a wide variety of growers. A few weeks ago strawberries were a bit of a buy local luxury. Now they are hitting prime season and will be a good deal.Greens and the other cool weather sutff have been a bargain for months now. Big old bunches for a buck fifty. My greenhouse pineapples are just a smidgen higher than grocery store. Season is ending and will start up again in July. Considering you don’t core mine. They are a pretty good value. We are a growers only market. So the farmers are selling to and trading with each other to feed their families. My bet is that they don’t knowingly misuse pesticides because of this. So, When possible look around. It just might be possible to buy local more often and get good value at the same time. Not necessarilt the cheapest. Value is in the long run more important. Anastasia, next time you visit come to tne Alachua county farmers market. You reward for good writing and a balanced view is a 5% discount. Wear your Michigan t shirt or hat during football season and it’s 10%

  5. Eric, That’s great to hear! Where do you buy shoes, jeans and shirts for your family?
    This weekend we’re looking forward to the small farmers’ market in Paihia, hoping to snag some early season blueberries. We’re in NZ so our seasons are “upside down”.
    Choice is wonderful for everybody. Poor or rich.

  6. “The only biotech trait in soybeans is HT…”
    Not for long, as far as I know the first crop of Intacta will be harvested in Brazil this year.
    Non-GMO labels on stuff that isn’t GMO seems a bit odd, I’ll agree – although given the number of people one encounters who think that practically everything is GMO (by the, y’know generally accepted transgenic modification definition) it doesn’t particularly surprise me – they’re all easy marks for a marketing ploy.

  7. Steve, I try to avoid Chinese stuff. It’s rough. As my income improves I will be able to afford more local. Although I may have to define local as “somewhere in the Americas” I have read news stories of more manufacturing lately. I suppose I shgould create a list so that I can find stuff without a riciculous amount of searching when needed. That would certainly make buying local more efficient. The key is value. There is a shoe and boot company from the U.S. that those who use swear by. They insist that once you get far enough ahead to buy them and take care of them you will get farther ahead because of the quality. I hope they are correct cause next time I’m testing them. Also, no family except for the mutts. Ifigure you owe me a couple hundred bucks for not burdening society with more of me. Tjhere, Now I can afford the boots as soon as I receive your check.

  8. Non-GMO project certified canola oil is interesting. I suspect the “non-GMO” canola is IMI canola which is herbicide tolerance developed through mutagenesis. IMI canola is branded as Clearfield. I still think that is one of the “peculiar” aspects of the whole non-GMO certification is that mutagenesis is ok.
    I am not sure how many brands of non-GMO project canola oil there are, but here is one that looks like it is IMI:
    Anyway, head back to the Silver Diner and enjoy the Canadian canola oil. It may not be GM, but it is likely herbicide tolerant.

  9. Yah, I was thinking the same thing about Chipotle’s transition from soy oil to sunflower. Betcha it’s HT sunflowers–sure, some random event, but not a GMO.

    Our goal is to eliminate GMOs from Chipotle’s ingredients, and we’re working hard to meet this challenge. For example, we recently switched our fryers from soybean oil to sunflower oil. Soybean oil is almost always made from genetically modified soybeans, while there is no commercially available GMO sunflower oil.

    Uh huh.

  10. In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask Chipotle if their sunflower oil was from HT sunflowers, so I used this opportunity.
    Here’s where I ask: https://twitter.com/mem_somerville/status/439451549946105856
    And for those who don’t go over to see the conversation, the reason I want to know is because so many sunflowers are grown with ALS class herbicide: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/12/148312077/how-a-sunflower-gene-crossed-the-line-from-weed-to-crop

  11. I like this line in the NPR report “Miller did manage to create such a sunflower — although it took some heroic efforts to get the wild and cultivated sunflowers to exchange pollen and produce viable offspring” …however, this is natural and therefore not genetically modified under the labels we use… Just goes to show the arbitrariness of the non-GMO label. Yes, it was “conventional breeding” that created the IMI resistance in sunflowers, but so was the chemical mutagenesis used for wheat, canola etc. under this arbitrary label.

  12. I totally forgot about that! So the canola oil is herbicide tolerant whether it’s GMO or not. Sheesh now I am really wondering what that non-GMO label gets them.

  13. Interesting. So farmers have to jump though all the organic hoops and then need some sort of non-GMO label too. Kinda sad, it’s so hard for farmers to get ahead and this just cuts more into their bottom line.

  14. The American Medical Association would beg to differ regarding labeling:
    “Mandatory labeling of foods would involve significant costs, especially the costs of testing for the presence of bioengineered ingredients, segregating the crops, and monitoring for truthfulness of labeling and enforcement of the regulations that exist. These costs would likely be passed to the consumer; it is estimated that mandatory labeling would increase the average household’s annual grocery bill by $140-$200 per year. Surveys of U.S. consumers reveal that while some are willing to pay a premium for foods that do not contain bioengineered ingredients, the majority of consumers are not willing to pay for increases commensurate with the costs of mandatory labeling policies.
    “Regarding consumers’ ‘right to know’ argument, courts have found that consumer curiosity alone is not enough to require special labeling. The reasoning behind these rulings is that 1) special labeling places an unfair financial burden on industries that would have to investigate, document, and label the ‘level’ of bioengineering in their product; 2) it may mislead consumers into thinking that bioengineered foods are less safe than their conventional counterparts; 3) it places a burden on the FDA itself, which would have to divert resources away from safety-based labeling to address consumer curiosity; and 4) it places no end on the information consumers could request manufacturers to disclose.”

  15. Yes, the old, “superweed”, saw. No one could ever explain to me how, just by evolving resistance to an herbicide, as they would do in any herbicide application situation, these weeds become super. Perhaps they are able to grow over tall buildings in a single season, stop a speeding combine in its tracks? Or, perhaps, they can file a flawless long form US federal tax return? Now, that would be super !

  16. P.S. I’m a Tropicana man myself ! But the day they slap that, “NO GMO”, on it, I’m switching to the store brand !

  17. They could simply tell the Organic certifier to take a hike. Some are actually doing that and only going for the, “free range”, etc, certs, as it’s becoming impossible to find enough organic feed for the foramlly organic chickens, etc. This has caused a rise in Organic feed prices but, because of the Organic hoops, as you put it, most farmers don’t think the differential is worth it.

  18. I’d suggest that although those now placing non-GMO labels on food that doesn’t have a GMO option is being misleading to make money off consumer ignorance, it does make sense that those who are concerned about GMO who may know little about food production may not have a clue whether that type of product would have GMOs or not usually. I’d rather see them add enough non-GMO labels to things (even if the visibility of those labels does add to the spread of fear about GMOs) as the way to cater to those who fear GMOs than forcing all GMO food to be labeled that way (which we know is of course a scam to they can later pretend it is like a warning label that indicates the government has safety concerns, even though it doesn’t). I’d suggest GMO labeling would spread more needless fear than non-GMO labeling.

  19. This is a little tangential to the topic of the blog post, but I just posted an idea on a local newspaper article related to GMO labeling. I’d suggest that one way to fight the push for GMO labels is to suggest that if they truly are only trying to get information on the product to benefit the consumer, that to be consistent they should insist that certain other information (detailed below) be added at the same time. This idea is this information would likely hurt the organic industry (which is pushing GMO labels in hopes of profiting from the fear they spread). While I don’t think government should require any of this information to be added, if GMO label advocates were forced to see adding labels that benefit them as a package deal with adding information that hurts them, perhaps they would back off.
    If they were truly concerned about getting more information on there for consumers to assess safety then there is other information about more credible safety concerns that should be a higher priority to add than a GMO label. For instance they would want labels indicating what type of fertilizer was used. Natural fertilizer (manure) increases the chance of bacterial contamination, so the organic industry wouldn’t like a label explaining that, even though it is safety concern (albeit a rare one not worth worrying much about, it is still a proven safety issue unlike GMO food). Often natural pesticides are more toxic than modern artificial ones, so I suspect they wouldn’t want information about the toxicity of the pesticides used put on the label since some in the public are completely unaware they are even allowed to use pesticides on organic farms, much less that they could be at all toxic. If this were about getting all relevant product information on a label they would push for that regardless of whether it hurt their profits.
    Organic crops are allowed to be the result of random mutations intentionally induced by chemicals or radiation (with the results not tested the way GMO crops have been), yet I’m sure they won’t want that on the label. I’m sure they wouldn’t want information about the amount of safety testing done on a crop variety in general put on labels since there is less safety testing done for conventional products than for tested GMO varieties, even though (rarely) a new conventionally bred crop variety has led to problems.
    If anyone pushing GMO labeling also pushes for lots of other information like the above to be added to labels as well, then I will believe they are truly pushing for consumers to get relevant information. Otherwise it seems to be basically a scam for the organic industry to profit by trying to mislead the public into thinking the government has a safety concern when they don’t. Perhaps those opposed to GMO labels should push a “full information label” alternative, not intending to see it passed but to see the GMO-label lobby realize that they would have a hard time arguing against providing even more information.

  20. I guess-Never has been GMO-would be a better label…I am for the non-gmo label because it has helped farmers get more for there product or bushell and has caused them to dump using GMO seeds and Roundup pesticides and I am all for that!

  21. A study just came out that showed parents were more likely to reject vaccines for their children if they received information saying vaccines were safe (it’s paywalled, but see this SciAm article).
    I wonder if this type of study has been done on GMOs. Could be interesting.

  22. I personally think a QR code or something that links to a webpage that has a ton of voluntary info about growing practices would be really cool. No need to clutter up a package with this info, but why not make the info public if you have it?
    I’d also like to see some sort of environmental value that does a science based assessment of sustainability (sort of like LEED or other certifications that have a list of preferred practices to get a score). I wrote about this in Toward a better agriculture for everyone (the post is pretty old but I hope you’ll get the idea).
    Care to share the link to your editorial?

  23. Hi Marie, I agree it is nice that farmers have ways to get a higher profit, but keep in mind that refusing certain methods might raise their costs as well.
    Since you mentioned the Roundup Ready (glyphosate tolerant) trait, consider that farmers using the trait have been able to reduce the number and types of herbicide sprays (see this post on herbicides) and amount of plowing (see this post on conservation tillage) that they were doing, which saves on fuel and money as well as providing some environmental benefits.
    The voluntary non GMO label does allow people to avoid buying food made from plants that have this trait, but honestly I don’t understand what the benefit is. The farmers growing for the non GMO market are still using herbicides and in fact they are likely using herbicides that are more toxic than the GMO growing farmers. And to make thing even sillier, some non GMO crops have mutations for herbicide resistance that are very very similar to the genetically engineered trait for herbicide resistance. So you aren’t even avoiding herbicide tolerance with a non GMO label, as MaryM points out above.

  24. I have been guilty of not completely removing all the roots from certain weeds. What has happened is the the ones with meristematic tissue situated lower on the root system have sprouted, gone to seed, and become “superweeds” that are resistant to hand weeding. Therefore hand weeding as a “cruel” form of labor must be banned or the foods should have mandatory labeling. Labeling stuff nongmo that has no gmo version is clearly fraudulent, even though technically true. Quiete frankly I will not get dertified organic because even though I get a bit closer each year the paperwork is not worth the small premium. Also I will not pay a percentage, however small, of gross income. If I work harder or use greenhouses to increase income. I should pay a penalty. This is the same type of regressive thinking that gave us our regressive income tax. I will be glad to take suggestions on tactfull ways to educate folks on G.E. food safety so as to be able to grow them someday when g.e. crops become available that fit my business. Hopefully we in Fl. can avoid a ridiculous, expensive labeling battle.

  25. That is why you look for “Organic” AND “Non-GMO”. Also, just because the vegetable or fruit is GMO, doesn’t mean that pesticides are still not used. The point is that People have a right to know what they are buying. If I don’t want genetically modified food, I search for “NON-GMO”. If I don’t want pesticides, I search for “Organic”. If I don’t want either, I search for both. Consumers have a right to know where there food comes from and how it was produced, regardless if one person thinks it doesn’t make sense.

  26. Darn, only certain bottles of Tropicana are Florda oj. Some are all US, some are Florida only, and some include juice from Brazil. Talk about a need for clearer labeling… at least here there’s a real taste difference!

  27. I hate to tell you something you might not want to know, but organic does not mean no pesticides. In fact, some organic pesticides are more dangerous to the environment and to consumers than regular pesticides.
    I think a more extensive label (like in a barcode or something) that actually tells us about production methods would be great. However, this sort of thing would be pretty expensive to implement so I think it should be voluntary. In case you are interested, I wrote about this here: Toward a better agriculture… for everyone.

  28. Anastasia, We have extensive “living” labels at our market and there are many at markets all over. They are called farmers. They are usually eating and feeding their families what they grow. Also they often trade with fellow trusted farmers for items they do not produce. Many of our farmers have been at the markets a long t9ime and are as tactlessly honest about their methods as I am. Ask they will tell you. Often some of my stuff is pesticide free. Then a problem pops up and I have to spray. I will use nothing that I consider risky to myself or customers. I occasionally lose sales because of this. That is in my long term self interest and that of the markets themselves. For my money the safest way to buy food is at a growers only market. I trust my colleagues more than any certification/labeling system.

  29. Consumers have a right to know where there food comes from and how it was produced, regardless if one person thinks it doesn’t make sense.

    How many people have to think it doesn’t make sense?
    I’m actually fine with having voluntary labelling (so long as it is truthful and enforced) – and it appears that this provides a decent solution for you, although if you’re looking for pesticide free, as highlighted above – you currently *do not have* an option via labelling, mandatory or not – there is no ‘pesticide free’ label, there is, as far as I am aware, no push for same (nor a ‘may contain meaningless levels of pesticides’ label mandatorily applied)
    Given that you *can* find *sort of* what you want through voluntary labelling – how do you feel about demands for mandatory labelling? This could, one imagines, get rather expensive if you’re supportive and actually mean that anything we want to know should be known.
    I’m personally against consuming foodstuffs prepared by minimum wage workers – I’d far rather everyone in the chain from field to plate be paid a living wage – this certainly, in my opinion, could warrant a voluntary label highlighting the working conditions, should it also, given my right to know, mandate that all manufacturers disclose on a label how they treat their workers? “This product manufactured by people with utterly piss poor health plans”, “May contain ingredients handled by employees in a right to work state” etc?
    Same difference, although arguably my concerns have real world impact, whereas being concerned about whether or not your food contains GMOs is, essentially, an exercise in bafflegab.

  30. GMOS have a place if they are labeled(that’s only fair to know that this food has been raised in a non-traditional way),raised in a way not to effect bees, or used for bio fuel.

  31. It has been shown that companies that have the NON-GMO label or never has been GMO label on the product will have a profit up to 30%.

  32. Marie, I agree that companies with a NON-GMO label can increase profits. You seem to think this is a good thing. But when it comes from reducing quality and exploiting consumers’ groundless fears it seems to me like a bad thing.
    Take the example of Post Cereals Company which recently qualified for a non-GMO label by removing a few ingredients from its flagship Grape Nuts Flakes cereal. That’s removing ingredients, not replacing them. But the only ingredients removed were vitamins. At the same time, they reduced the package contents by almost ten percent. We can all see the potential for increased profits there, unless there are enough consumers who would rather have the vitamins than the GMO-free icon.

  33. I don’t understand how fleecing customers by charging more for identical items and preying on irrational fears is a good thing for society but hey this is the free market!

  34. Maybe this is fallout from citrus greening which, as you well know, GE can really help out.

  35. As is common in these debates, some confuse method of production with contents, as in “The point is that People have a right to know what they are buying” (by one of above the commenter). A label that says no-GMO tells you nothing about the nutritional content. People who use such a label to avoid a food containing some GMO content do so based on an assumption that GMO is inherently risky or dangerous. That attitude comes from ignorance and/or irrational fear and/or a distrust of science. That attitude is stunningly common. I even see it in some comments posted to the Scientific American web site. Scary.

  36. It seems to be in direct response to the attention they got after Amy Harmon’s excellent article on greening. I’m guessing they got a lot of comments from customers about how they’re worried about gmo oranges 🙁

  37. I want to know if what i eat has a Roundup-resistant gene spliced into a Roundup Ready seed.
    Everything else is labeled from how your chickens are raised when you go to eat a egg to what kind of fish you are eating wild or farmed.Why so against how seeds are grown?
    Farmers reporting better health for farm animals when given non-GMO
    Interest and demand for non-GMO corn seed among US farmers is growing, according to seed suppliers who say that higher yields and returns, less cost, dissatisfaction with genetically modified traits, and better animal health are driving the demand.
    The cost of all the extra Round Up Ready pesticides(because of the super weeds) and having to buy the expensive seed is now higher for farmers then planting traditional non-GMO seed.

  38. Marie,…Unbelievable, highly biased article from an anti gm website. I’ll leave it to the scientists to do most of this. However the article’s assertion that there is a fear factor influencing farmers is flat out doohunkeybafloovium. I am a farmer. I would not even consider being intimidated by other farmers or seed salesman. In fact as I hear of farmers using gm seed and not rotating or using refuges. I realize that a mix of gm and nongm crops in any given are might well delay resistance buildup, Therefore gm farmers should welcome nongm growers. Embarrassingly, I do know of a few local farmers who remain silent on this issue for because of the possibility of lost sales at market. I understand this, but still speak up, with attemped tact, as I hate it when someone says “why didn’t you warn me?” Also quoting from seed salesman of nongm seed ? What would your reaction if an article quoting rosy comments from a gm seed salesman be? Which variation of the “shill, follow the money” song would you be singing? Animal health? Where is the evidence? a few farmers with their own personal motivations does not constitute news or fact. A poorly researched article for an anti site? Barely.You do accidentally raise an interesting question. Why do people choose to disbelieve science and stick yo agenda driven scientists[?] like Carman? Check out her anti gm website. Then expect others to not see through it?

  39. Anastasia, You are correct, it is not a good thing. It breeds skepticism and mistrust in society. It is a reflection of the argument that it is legal. So it is ok. I didn’t actually lie so it is ok. Well, as you know, those arguments are garbage. People are looking for anfles instead of value to market products sometimes. It’s a Shame.

  40. GMO will never be the same product as conventional grown. GMO corn is made from the genes of the deadly e.coli bacteria.That is a fact not a opinion.
    If you want to eat it and take the chance on your health that’s your choice.I have done my best to inform you of the facts.In the future it will be labeled and this argument will be put to rest.You will be able to cherry pick all the genetically modified food you want to eat.
    I will do my best not to eat it.
    When a flock of Sheep die from accidentally eating genetically modified Bt cotton-There is something wrong with genetic engineering.

  41. Marie, What flock? Where? Are you sure they use deadly e-coli? Can you tell me where you found this out,so I can read it? I wonder why there is no movement to label cheese and insulin. Do you know? What do they use to make insulin? Why aren’t all the diabetics folks dying.

  42. Here is the information you requested…
    “There is a soil bacterium that was found to be resistant to Roundup. Manufacturers cut out that sequence of DNA, mixed it with E. coli bacteria and introduced a soil bacterium that caused tumors (so it would replicate) and forced that concoction into the DNA nucleus of the corn or soy. They could also break into the cells using electricity or a gene gun that has particles of gold coated with the DNA. One of the main concerns of genetically modified foods is the introduction of these bacteria and viruses to get the genes to mix. There is also often an antibiotic marker used to see if the gene expresses. There is a concern about this leading to our increase in antibiotic resistance. Some GMO plants also contain a kill gene, which stops the plants from producing seed for future crops. If this would get into the general food population, this could cause tremendous problems with our agriculture.”
    Information about the sheep and why so many people want labeling.
    Here is the science.

  43. Marie, I think voluntary labeling of gmos is fine (as I said in this article). I just don’t think it’s useful information, because the science has shown there is no difference.

  44. This is an extremely oversimplified explanation of how biotechnology works. There is no E. coli in gmos (well, there might be E. coli in all foods but that’s because E. coli are naturally found in the soil).
    As for the sheep dying – let’s think about it for a minute. If gmos caused animals to die, wouldn’t we see mass unexplained deaths of livestock in the US? We just don’t. The sheep example hasn’t been proven to be caused by Bt. In fact, cotton naturally produces a toxin called gossypol which can be harmful to animals – it’s far more likely that the sheep reacted badly to the gossypol. But that’s not as sexy as blaming it on gmos.

  45. Marie, the following statement is no from your science article and is not true. “Organic food is safer, as organic farming prohibits pesticide use” naturally occuring or derived pesticides can be used. This includes BT. Also manure, if misused can be very dangerous. Please google aflatoxins while you are at this.

  46. Also, Marie please read this. http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-content/genetic-roulette/section-1/1-6bt-cotton-is-safe-2/ I used to believe as you do. I got in a linked in discussion group and stumbled into several who knew the truth. As opposed to what I thought “everybody” knew. Some of the folks who educated me were Debra Carpenter, James Williams, and William Petersen. There were many others. William helped develop bt corn while working for monsanto. Please consider asking the scientists who regularly contribute to this forum questions. Anastasia is absolutely correct in her breaking down the spectacular claim the way she did. When you use this tactic, followed up by your search engine anyone can begin to pick apart the half truths and lies used by the anti gm activists. Please do not allow the sordid history of some of the developing companies to prejudice you against the technology. As for labeling g.e. foods in the manner usually wanted by the pro labeling groups. No, They have spread so much misinformation that these labels might cost people jobs if sales go down as they are often worded to look like warnings. So, no to mandatory labeling. There is not yet any science to indicate that a warning is necessary. And Anastasia’s original point that such no gmo labels are misleading was correct.

  47. I know in some cases natural bug control can be used.
    What is wrong with growing plants in rich natural soil with nutrients-the way food has been grown for ever?Its more labor intensive but easier on the soil and environment.
    I am glad i am able to feed my child organic food while she is young.I need to give her a head start before she becomes a teenager and consumes tons of GMO junk fast food.
    When GMOs become labeled would you buy baby formula stating so?
    Researchers at Stanford University, who in 2012 published a review of thousands of papers about food safety and quality. They found that organic food is 30% less likely to have traces of pesticides.(still not an acceptable study?)

  48. Yes, I have no problem with gmo ingredients. 30% less pesticides is not safer if the crop has been mishandled in some other fashion. It’s the total risk that matters. Again. Do the math. Breakfast… juice, cereal, milk, dairy or say, almond, toast, jam, and butter. 7 ingredients…times 350 million folks…Plus lunch and dinner and snacks. All times 350 million people. That’s roughly the total daily opportunities for food to be contaminated. Your calculator already won’t go that high. Now how many food related ilnesses do you read of daily? Subtract the ones that are caused by mishandling by the consumer. Is there a big statistical risk? No. Are folks getting sick because of the gm ingredients? No, There’s a safe food supply here. Can and should it be improved? Yup. Will gm labeling help that goal? No. The risk to you and your family is very small. You probably have a greater chance of a auto crash than food related sickness. Good night Marie

  49. marie, the reality behind some of your myths.
    The sheep would mostly likely be suffering from gossypol toxicity http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-1952/VTMD-9116.pdf While ruminants can tolerate more gossypol than monogastrics, even they can suffer toxicity if they eat too much.
    No GM crops contain a gene that renders the seed infertile.
    There are no viruses used to make GM crops. Viruses infect all crops and you eat them with your meals every day of your life. There are also no E. coli genes in GM crops, and even if there were it would not matter, because the crop would not be able to produce protein from them. There are however, E. coli genes on spinach, lettuces and many other vegetables you eat. These are in the form of intact E. coli, which can sometimes be damaging, particularly if the crop has been fertilized with animal manure.
    The only antibiotic resistance gene that has been used is kanamycin resistance. 2 to 12% of bacteria in the environment carry the resistance gene to this antibiotic and have done so for at least 2 decades. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/742.pdf In any case, the plant cells are unable to make the antibiotic and only a small fraction of bacteria are ever likely to get it from the plants.

  50. Hi marie, 30% less likely to have traces of pesticides is only an issue if the traces of pesticides themselves are in fact dangerous. Pesticide regulations mean that the amount of pesticide that might be present in food following normal use is below the level that can be consumed every day for a lifetime in the practical certainty, on the basis of all known facts, that no harm will result.
    A 30% reduction in exposure to practical certainty of no harm, is not much of a benefit.

  51. GMO corn is made from the genes of the deadly e.coli bacteria.That is a fact not a opinion.

    No, it is a falsehood. The process of gmo may utilize E.coli *at some point* (generally gene amplification) but the strain of E.coli utilized is absolutely non-deadly – your intestine is already chock full of E.coli – the attenuated versions used in genetic modification wouldn’t stand a damn chance in there anyway.

    I have done my best to inform you of the facts

    Might I suggest you work on informing yourself of the facts first? Given that you seem perfectly comfortable asserting that the E.coli that may be utilized in the process of genetic modification are deadly… this suggests you haven’t really done a very good job, in which case I’d posit that you are not qualified to inform anyone of the facts in this particular arena.

    When a flock of Sheep die from accidentally eating genetically modified Bt cotton-There is something wrong with genetic engineering.

    Were that to occur, and were it because of the genetic modification, you’d be right (for whatever particular genetic modification caused the effect). However as covered it is quite clear that this did not occur as a result of a genetic modification it has utterly no bearing on GM food at all. Once again an illustration that the facts you are presenting are neither fact nor opinion, but lies which you’ve been duped into reciting. One does rather wonder, if your sources have actual solid ground upon which to stand, why they must propagate such a transparent mythology against GMOs so vocally.

  52. this is a very interesting article. Being a small scale berry farmer, and selling to the public. At one time I thought the public would know there are no GMO berries or fruits (other than papaya) in the US at present. Sadly many don’t, even the ones that frequent local farm markets. So it becomes easier to label it, than spending the day explaining or re-educating each customer one at a time. The labels become a necessary evil, like the ones on the airline peanut packages that say “Caution contains nuts” the information is there for those who need it. those that are educated can enjoy the chuckle and choose to purchase the same item from a brand who has not found the need to add the additional label information. There is a lot of myths about GMO as anyone reading this board knows. Until the public is properly educated these labels serve their purpose for many.

  53. I just noticed a “no GMO) label on the bottle of orang juice I was drinking and my perplexed reaction ended me up at this blog post. I totally agree with the points raised in this blog, but I’m also not surprised to see the “no GMO” label on silly thinks. I have also seen “fat free” jelly beans, for example. This is just another reason why you need to think critically and not just ideologically.

  54. Hello, Anastasia and all. When I saw Anastasia’s response to smart Eric. I wanted to refresh my memory. So I went back and read some of the comments. Including some of my typo laden ones. Therefore I “typo” Eric would like to apologize for not taking the time to proofread and correct my errors. Btw spell check did not work on old computer. I would also like to mention how well you folks did at figuring out what I meant. Now I understand what measurable I.Q. means. Thanks for correctly decoding my comments.

  55. I received an e-mail from Baker Creek heirloom seeds. As part of the release of their new catalog. They are encouraging fighting gmos and encouraging labeling. I copied and pasted my response. No to g.e. labeling. You should be ashamed of yourselves for even contemplating supporting the science free agenda. If one wants to avoid g.e. foods just buy non gmo labeled or organic. Simple as that. Do you have any idea the logistical problems in the grain industry will face? All to appease the folks who do not understand the fact that there is no health or environmental threat from g.e. products. Try googling Kevin Folta, The genera list, Anastasia Bodnar, or the genetic literacy project please. Eric Bj.

  56. we must understand that grocery food is cheap for a reason, sometimes it is inferiority, sometimes it is economies of scale, and typically it always is due to the inputs of our tax dollars that allow for cheap food. If we all paid for our food what it cost and where charged less in taxes, local farms would be a more logical option. Does not mean local will always win the price war. But local would see many more victories if we could get government out of choosing winners and losers in farming.

  57. Nate, and you didn’t even mention the percentage the gov’t keeps for overhead. In the long run gov’t choosing costs all of money and freedom.

  58. I have to disagree a bit about the benefits of buying locally. While walmart’s stuff isn’t going to take this value into consideration, there are lots of things that you can buy locally which are also better deals, and better quality.
    Take beer for instance. There are more than half a dozen breweries around me that are close enough to consider “local.” They all make excellent beer which could compete on any shelf with the many other great beers produced in the US today. And style-for style, quality-for-quality, the local beers are nearly always less expensive buy a buck or more per six pack.
    That makes sense, actually, because local breweries aren’t paying to have their beer shipped to me from Maine or Washington State or from overseas. Thus the transportation costs are minimal, and there’s no smoke/particulates belching diesel truck driving across the country just to get me a beer that I already have the equivalent of, produced right here in town. And I’m not particularly worried about freshness, since it’s never been an issue so far. I’d like to think that’s because local providers of beer just keep bringing more when the stores sell out of their products.
    And yes, sometimes I buy non-local stuff. It’s not like it’s a terrible crime. But logically, and economically, it does make sense, and thus I would estimate at least 85% of the beer I drink was produced locally. When it’s excellent stuff and it’s cheaper than everyone else, local should and does have a substantial advantage over imports from distant states or other countries.
    I also think it’s OK to market stuff using local-ness as a selling point, especially in the case for beer, because the benefits are tangible, clear, and real (always fresh, excellent quality, low transportation costs and thus lower prices). It’s a win-win for people to support their communities as well*.
    *hopefully with the caveat that there is NO need for some ill-conceive plan which panders to dangerous unscientific nonsense (i.e. antivaxxers) , pseudoscience (i.e. sCAM, “integrative” medicine, dr oz etc), or, label beers by GMO / Not GMO status (which would be simply stupid, offering little useful insight into the product, but pandering to hyperventilating reactionaries who like to sew discord and panic mostly because cognitive dissidence, and “well some guy on the internet said…”).

  59. If the government weren’t subsidizing commodity crops, there would be no agricultural biotech. Pesticide tolerant and insect resistant commodities make transgenics profitable. If we took the taxpayer money out of commodities and put it into public research for other kinds of GE crops, the biotech landscape would look completely different, and there might not even be a need for a site like this.

  60. The Australian government does not subsidise commodity crops, yet there is agricultural biotech in Australia. They were one of the first countries to adopt Bt cotton and almost 100% of the cotton crop now carries GM traits.
    Cotton farmers adopted Bt cotton so they could reduce spraying of insecticides from up to 12 times a crop to once.

  61. It’s very possible that bt crops would have been developed in the public sector. But there would have likely been more attention paid to environmental effects and development of resistance, both of which were downplayed by the industry and regulatory agencies influenced by the industry. (for example, ineffective refuge requirements) Cotton is subsidized and competes on a global market. The US tax code supports profit in the industry and therefore is a good place for developers to focus. Farmers can pay the increased input cost with help from the regulations which control market prices and support production.
    This isn’t to say that bt cotton hasn’t been of benefit to cotton growers. It’s only to point out that the HT (and IR) commodities are the bread and butter of the industry and if they hadn’t been financially and politically supported by the administrations under which they were developed, I don’t think we’d be talking about these purely social, political issues. In this same vein, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that the public is paying more attention to agriculture. I don’t know that if things hadn’t gone the way they have whether or not we’d really be better off. Because either way, I think we need to come to a place where our food supply is more sustainable. If HT crops have played a role in that, then that’s just a good thing that now needs to be re-evaluated because it’s not sustainable.

  62. Bt crops were also developed by the public sector. CSIRO had an involvement in Australia. However, only large companies could afford the regulatory costs to get these to market.
    In Australia, resistance management plans for GM crops are mandatory. Bt cotton is entering its 20th season with no cases of resistance in insects. Glyphosate tolerant crops are in their 15th season. The overwhelming majority of glyphosate resistance is due to use of the herbicide in other areas, including council roadsides.

  63. Chris, do you live in Australia? I know nothing about Australia’s government or economy. What sort of bt refuge was required at inception of bt crops in Australia? Do they have protections for domestic growers? What generates the regulatory costs? Scott’s lawn care has recently been approved to sell RR bluegrass in the US with no environmental impact assessment. I guess they decided to push the envelope on the vagueness of some regulation.
    It’s an interesting aspect of the GE conversation. It would seem that many complaints about regulatory costs are actually complaints about development costs. If there were no expectation of safety, development would be easier – once you get a viable plant which carries the trait – you’re done! (sorry, I know that’s a little cynical, but I was just reading the complaints made by the Golden Rice project, and it looked like they were all just development steps, I saw no regulatory slow-down or expense except perhaps a delay in starting a field trial at one point. But there was no explanation of why that was delayed, so I don’t know if it was regulatory or not)

  64. When the first generation Bt was released farmers were limited to 30% of their cotton crop area. Most farmers planted that around their house or in their fields near neighbours. The second generation reduced that requirement to a matching area of unsprayed cotton, 10% sprayed cotton or 5% unsprayed pigeon pea.
    The main regulatory cost is for the animal feeding studies and the requirement for additional studies as decided by each market the product may be sold into (e.g. whole food feeding studies required by Europe).

  65. No matter what food I eat, I want to know (to the best of my ability) just what I am putting into my body. GMO, non-GMO, organic… whatever, I want assurance (as best we can) that I know what is in the food… so that I can be basing my food habits as I see fit. That means, that I am all for GMO labeling… but that also means that that alone is NOT enough. Some system needs to be put in place for people to have far better knowledge than the current system practices. That means that our abilities at analytical assessment of chemical constituents that make up foods needs to become very much based upon pointedly investgative, ongoing, and pervasive monitoring. The problem seems to be that industry would oppose or obfuscate such knowledge base effort…why???

  66. Industry??? I would do my best to block such expensive, useless testing. Will you ever quit being such a paranoid worry wart. WHY??? because the poor would starve trying to buy food at the prices your testing and labeling would require. If you want to know all that stuff. Grow your own food. It is the only way .

  67. I do not believe for one second that Industry would oppose or obfuscate efforts to analytically investigate the chemical composition of food at all.
    I believe they’d oppose efforts to make such analysis mandatory without good justification (beyond a subset of individuals wanting it, for instance).
    If such a demand exists then I see no reason why you cannot go out, hire a few analytical chemists, purchase lab equipment, and set up a ISO certified team to investigate to the best of your ability each and every batch of food that comes from each and every supplier in the world. I’m sure concerned citizens will flock to such a service and their monthly subscriptions will no doubt more than cover the costs.

  68. Ewan, I am not sure if you are using sarcasm or not. First off it is Ray, not me that has interest in such labels. And I was commenting based on the labels being mandatory. Which I consider a waste of money. Finally I would not pay the subscription fee. As old as I am and as healthy as I am. I have very few concerns about the foods on the market today.

  69. Reply was to Ray, it appears from the latter portion of your comment however that you fully understand the implication of what I’m getting at.

  70. The US doesn’t require feeding trials. Evaluation of each new trait is done by the industry and that evaluation is reviewed by the regulatory agencies that oversee GE crops. However, since the bulk of GM commodities are used as animal feed, they are typically fed to animals to make sure they don’t hinder growth or reproduction. But as far as safety for consumption, we use “generally recognized as safe” and “substantial equivalence” (no scientific meaning). So, for instance, when Dow and Monsanto came out with Smartstax, which combined several different resistance and tolerance traits, it was approved based on previous approval of each trait. With bt, scientists encouraged establishing 50% refuge requirements. We ended up with 20%. With Smartstax, the USDA lowered the cost of crop insurance for farmers who are growing it, and the EPA said that a 5% refuge is sufficient. So, with industry influence in the regulatory system, there are incentives to develop and grow GE commodities. The costs are met in part by subsidization. So that’s why I say that it makes sense that the US biotech industry would develop as it has: almost all of our corn, soy and cotton are GE, and the traits are herbicide tolerance or insect resistance. And now of course we’ve added sugar beets and alfalfa. These are chemical companies morphing into seed companies. If development were publicly funded, we might see a more diverse approach to growing lots of different varieties suited to various climates and markets. I don’t understand how the cost of regulations is comprised. It’s tough to find a break down on that kind of info. It seems to me that costs are development costs – centered around testing the product to ensure that it’s turned out to be what you want it to be. If it has, then the USDA is going to approve it.
    I tried to educate myself, however superficially, about how our economies compare. I would imagine the information available to me this way isn’t very meaningful.
    It looks like the US and Australia are similar in only a few ways. Australian agriculture relies on exports more than the US does, but might compete for Asian markets in some areas. I don’t see that corn, soy or cotton are major commodities for Australia, whereas here in the US, they are. However in the US (I don’t know how this compares) corn and soy are used mainly to grow meat or ingredients for processed foods. US citizens eat a lot of meat. In fact, according to a study I heard recently, they feel it is a basic right to eat a lot of meat 🙂 This has something to do with our history – readily available game and lots of land for livestock. It’s a reliable source of nutrition – no doubt. In our typical grocery store, which is where you find all the packaged food like cereals, soda pop, cookies, prepared meals, mayo, etc – which have ingredients extracted from the GE crops: sugar, corn syrup, emulsifiers, starches, oils, etc. On the periphery you’ve got meat, produce and dairy (some BGH – which is still used in many cases, despite the health problems caused in the cows). Then there’s the fast food industry – which is basically beef and potatoes.
    Do you have a link where I could learn more about which countries require what kind of studies?
    “While US farmers have some advantages that can appear attractive from an Australian perspective (less regulation, lower labour costs and stronger government support measures), the impression gained is that Australian farmers are in general more resourceful, self-reliant, flexible and business-focused, and probably in a better position to take advantage of future Asian demand growth than their American counterparts.”
    Hmm. Them’s fightin’ words. (just kidding) 🙂

  71. I was at the store yesterday and I looked at the bottles and cartons of Florida’s Natural orange juice. There is no longer a “non-GMO” claim on the labels in my store. Quietly added, and then quietly removed.

  72. Given that it comes from Jack Heinemann I’d be dubious that the results have any meaning at all. First glance I’d hazard the guess that, much like the rest of the anti-GMO brigade, Heinemann is well aware that surfactants and so on interact with antibiotics in different was.
    I see no citation, for instance, of http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1488, which would be pertinent in discussing the effects of herbicides on Cam.
    Likewise effects could go both ways – if the antibiotic is not severely hampered by surfactants then the membranes of the pathogen may well be, facilitating uptake of the antibiotic and increasing kill rates.
    But hey, it’s Heinenmann, so it isn’t really surprising to see such a steamer dropped into the scientific literature once again.

  73. Maybe the cow poop that encouraged antibiotic resistant bacteria in the soil came from cows that ate feed with glyphosate and 2,4D on it. 🙂

  74. Yes, I saw this as well – and the label is also gone from Silver Diner menus! Someday Rose will let me do an update post 🙂

  75. “If confirmed by followup research, it might have significance, no?”
    Because it used formulated herbicides. So once again, unless you are going to go around drinking formulated herbicides…

  76. Mlema,
    Though herbicides are TECHNICALLY antibiotics, that’s not what they are referring to when they refer to ‘antibiotic resistance’. Since herbicides were never intended nor expected to act against bacteria, it’s not surprizing that virtually all bacteria are resistant to them. In fact, glyphosate at least, is avidly consumed by many microorganisms.

  77. Curious.. so, how is this topic ‘off thread’? Out there in the real world, what we cause to enter our foods can bring recognized (and unrecognized) effects, often at chronic low dose accumulative effects. Is that not precisely the subject of the label questions? The active ingredient is only one of the toxicologic agents that a formulation application brings to the food stream. If glyphosate, dicamba, and 2,4,D are going to be the new wave of the future for the next phase of the industrial food production paradigm, then the toxicology generated is very much the point of the label question. With by far the most GMO production being pesticide resistant, what are the ultimate public health implications (recognized, and as yet unrecognized) for the world public? What does a non-GMO label get you???? A hope of just possibly avoiding a hell of a lot of very important data gap risks, because the technology is more profit-driven than science-driven precisely because funding for the science to continue after development of a pesticide product is far more restricted to keep more knowledge from finding possible adverse effects from then being discovered. A GMO label just warns people that there are many good questions remaining that need to be answered for questions of safety.

  78. MayM, How in the world, is the glyphosate-as-antibiotic-resistance possible issue ‘off thread’?

  79. Mlema, re: your quote: “Though herbicides are TECHNICALLY antibiotics, that’s not what they are referring to when they refer to ‘antibiotic resistance’. Since herbicides were never intended nor expected to act against bacteria, it’s not surprizing that virtually all bacteria are resistant to them. In fact, glyphosate at least, is avidly consumed by many microorganisms.”
    What about the beneficial bacteria that utilize the shikamate pathway that is the target of glyphosate toxicity to plants, does glyphosate have toxic effects on them as well as plants???
    Can glyphosate in foods or water contamination transit the gut far enough while still active to alter the gut bacterial assemblage?? Chris believes there would be negligable risk of this, if I remember right. Has this been researched enough to be sure?? What about the bacteria that do use that pathway in soils and the rest of the environment? A lot of those bacteria in soils might provide a lot of ecosystem services to soil fertility, no?

  80. Uh, I believe that glyphosate was discovered because it does kill a lot of bacteria, only subsequently discovered to also be an herbicide. How wrong am I about this folks?

  81. Thanks Ewan, unless it was really discovered as an active chemical prior to Franz working with it as an herbicide, it would be good clarification. thanks again.
    Now, I still want to know if it actually does harm beneficial bacteria.

  82. OGM, my reply was tongue-in-cheek, as I assumed was Mary’s. But apparently she’s serious.

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