News / Science & Technology

    GMO Opponents Take Protest On the Road

    GMO Opponents Take Protest On the Roadi
    X
    August 16, 2013 1:58 PM
    Opponents of genetically modified organisms are gaining ground in state legislatures around the United States. Advocates who want foods made with GMO ingredients to say so on the label scored victories in Connecticut and Maine this year. Facing a growing consumer backlash, the makers of GMOs are pledging to release an avalanche of data that they say should ease concerns about their safety. But they’re facing an energized opposition ready to fight in the statehouse, and on the road. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
    Riding around in a car topped with a giant half-vegetable, half-fish is bound to attract attention.

    As Nikolas Schiller drives past the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., pedestrians gawk, kids point, and tourists snap pictures.

    An oncoming driver pulls up in a stretch of slow traffic and asks, “What is it?”

    Schiller explains it’s a Fishy Food Car and hands the man a card bearing a cartoon that asks, “Are we eating fishy food?”

    It’s a visual pun. For opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), there’s something fishy - suspicious - about putting genes from other species into food crops, and they want foods containing GMO ingredients to say so on the label.

    Labeling laws

    There are no fish genes in the GMOs on the market today, but nearly all of the corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar beets growing in the U.S. contain bacterial genes that help farmers control weeds and insects.

    Schiller’s day job is with a D.C.-based public relations firm. But this summer his fishy apple car will join the fishy corn, soybean, sugar beet and tomato cars driving cross-country to Washington State, where a GMO labeling law is on the ballot this fall.

    Momentum is behind them. Labeling laws were approved in Connecticut and Maine earlier this year.

    Labeling everything containing a GMO ingredient would take a lot of ink. They’re in 80 percent of the foods on supermarket shelves, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, especially anything processed, in a bottle, box or bag.

    Novel food

    But are they bad for you? Schiller acknowledges that the only evidence of harm from GMOs is anecdotal, but he’s suspicious.

    “This is a novel food. Our grandparents and previous generations didn’t eat this,” he said. “And now all of a sudden we’re seeing higher incidences of food and health issues. And so if [GMO makers] are saying, ‘Oh, everything’s safe,’ but nothing’s labeled, we really can’t trace the safety.”

    Health authorities from the U.S. Institute of Medicine to the World Health Organization have said there’s nothing to fear from GMOs.

    And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there is no substantive difference between GMO and conventional ingredients, so it can’t require labels.

    On the other hand, products without GMOs may say so on the label, and these are now some of the hottest items in the supermarket. Last year, sales of certified-organic products grew 7.4 percent, twice the rate of the food sector as a whole. And foods with the “Non-GMO Verified” seal passed $1 billion in sales in 2011.

    'We should've been talking about this'

    This has not gone unnoticed by the biotech industry.

    This summer, the industry-sponsored Council for Biotechnology Information made an unusual, if understated, admission.

    “We recognize we haven’t done the best job communicating about GMOs,” Executive Director Cathy Enright said in a press release.

    She was more frank in person.

    “We should’ve been talking about this for two decades,” she said, adding that in the last few years in particular, social media have taken opposition to GMOs to a new level. “We haven’t even been near social media.”  

    Transparency

    But for opponents like Schiller, it’s not about a failure to communicate. For one thing, he wants to see the results of safety tests the companies submitted to the FDA.

    “And they can say, ‘This is proprietary information. We’ve done our testing. We don’t have to disclose to the public,’” he said. “Anytime you have a veil over something, people are going to want transparency. People are going to want sunshine. And as long as you withhold that, people are gonna think, ‘This is kinda fishy.’”

    Sunshine might be about to break through. For the first time, Enright said, the companies’ testing data will be available online at a new website: GMOAnswers.com.

    “It’s gonna be technical,” she said. “But we’ve been asked, ‘Show us your data.’”

    It’s part of a new pledge of openness and dialogue. Enright said the big seed companies will be opening their doors for people to come and see what they do. There will be dinners where supporters and opponents can sit down and talk. She said a panel of volunteers will be answering any questions the public might have.

    “We believe that if people have the information at hand, that it won’t feel fishy; that they’ll be more comfortable with this technology,” she said.

    But with a growing number of states considering GMO labeling laws, the industry has a lot of catching up to do.

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora