December 11 2013
Biotech’s Mommy Issue
Advertisers and marketing experts know that in the typical household, the woman is the primary shopper. Whether they are selling cars or light bulbs or groceries, they have to appeal to women, their consumer base.
The same goes for organizations selling fear and worry: If they want to attract converts to their cause, they have to convince women to embrace their views and join them in agitating for action. And so it goes for activists opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), who bombard women with misinformation about food safety.
Rather than falling for these tactics, women should take a reasoned look at the facts behind biotechnology and the cost and consequences of the policies activists advance. They’ll find that the anti-GMO hype is the real threat to their families’ well-being.
Radical environmental groups initially led the charge against GMOs, but today, some of the most vocal and influential anti-GMO activists are found on mommy blogs and parenting, cooking, and so-called health-and-wellness websites — all of which are popular with moms.
These seemingly innocuous sources regularly pin a variety of ailments on GMOs: from food allergies and stomach ailments to obesity, infertility, autism, and even cancer. Using Jenny McCarthy’s playbook for creating panic, some well-meaning though woefully misinformed mommy bloggers rely not on science but on emotional anecdotes to promote the idea that humans are in grave danger from GM food. Even more troubling is their inaccurate claim that its safety hasn’t been adequately examined, even though GMOs are among the most scientifically scrutinized subjects. And the thousands of legitimate studies on GMOs tell a reassuring story.
The latest analysis, which examined more than 1,700 separate studies on GM food, was conducted at the University of Perugia and published in the September issue of Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. The researchers found no instances of harm, to humans or to animals, caused by GM food, nor did researchers find any evidence that GM food is toxic or allergenic. Researchers also debunked the claim that GM crops damage the environment. This is only the latest study among hundreds of independent studies with similar findings.
Unfortunately, they make few headlines and are ignored by activists. Moms are advised that when it comes to GMOs, they should subscribe to the “precautionary principle,” which is the regulatory norm in Europe, where regulators don’t actually have to prove a product is harmful to regulate it.
Moms aren’t hearing the whole story and should be aware of the enormous costs associated with these regulations. For example, a dozen states are considering bills to label GM food. That may sound harmless, but labeling mandates will lead to fewer food choices for consumers and will harm the very businesses many of the anti-GMO activists claim to defend: the small farmer and upstart food producer. GMO labeling might be doable for large food manufacturers, but for businesses just starting out, medium-sized food companies, and small-scale farmers, the costs of these new regulations could be crushing. That’s right: Anti-GMO labeling laws will help Big Food by quashing the competition.
Smaller businesses would face a regulatory and legal nightmare just trying to enforce the labeling rules. For instance, who is ultimately responsible for product labeling — the food manufacturer, or the retailer? What if a retailer stocks products that are mislabeled? Is the retailer responsible to certify that the testing carried out by the food manufacturer is accurate? At least one sector will thrive under this policy: the trial lawyers eager to sniff out accidental errors in labeling.
Women should be aware that the market has already devised a labeling system that gives consumers the option of buying food free of GMOs. The “organic” label signals that a product is GMO-free, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors the labeling to ensure compliance.
The food and biotech industry should take notice that, rather than just reacting to misleading information from radical environmentalist groups, they need to do a better job of explaining to moms about the safety of GMOs. This is more than just good business: Women deserve to hear the good news about the studies confirming the safety of GMOs — and the bad news about the costs of needless regulation. Busy moms have enough to worry about and will welcome getting GMOs off their already-long list of concerns.
— Julie Gunlock, a mother of three, blogs at the Independent Women’s Forum and is the author of the new book From Cupcakes to Chemicals, How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back.