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Viewpoint: Anti-GMO movement—and label demands—lose steam under Republican administration

Out: meaningless warning labels. In: science and innovation.

What a difference a year makes.

[Summer 2016], the anti-GMO movement was riding high. The nation’s first GMO-labeling law had kicked in on July 1 in Vermont, forcing companies to disclose whether their products contained ingredients that were genetically modified. A few weeks later, Congress passed — and President Obama signed — a controversial bill requiring mandatory GMO labels for all food products nationwide. The legislation was the result of years of successful lobbying by the organic industry and environmentalists to alarm consumers about GMOs in their food. (Organic food cannot contain genetically modified ingredients; the organic industry wants to make GMOs sound dangerous so people will buy more non-GMO, organic goods.) It was supported by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who starred in a press conference on Capitol Hill to endorse the measure, and it is strongly backed by Democratic politicians including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Even though the bill did not require the on-package label that activists wanted, most figured they would get their way under Hillary Clinton’s Department of Agriculture. (The USDA had two years to figure out all the details before food companies would have to comply.) Many labeling crusaders were Clinton donors and supporters; the main funder of the GMO-labeling movement was rumored to be vying for a top post at the USDA. With GMO foes populating Clinton’s USDA, FDA, and EPA, activists would have the power to demonize and perhaps even halt progress on this promising technology and necessary agricultural tool. Their future looked bright.

Then November 8 happened.

gmo labelSince the election, the anti-GMO movement here has mostly fallen apart, though it is still strong in Europe. Their dream of using a government-sanctioned, GMO warning label to scare consumers into buying organic food has been crushed. President Trump’s USDA is already delaying the label’s timeline; the agency has posted 30 questions seeking input from “stakeholders” and has now extended the deadline for replies into late summer. The final rule might require companies only to print a QR code or a 1-800 number that consumers can use to get information about GMO content, a far cry from the skull-and-crossbones symbol that activists envisioned. There is even a slim chance the law could be quashed entirely thanks to Trump’s pledge to drastically reduce federal regulations.

That would be a major blow, perhaps even death knell, to this anti-science, anti-farmer, anti-common-sense crusade. Yes, there are still plenty of GMO-related tags on everything from orange juice to popcorn, but it is becoming so ubiquitous that it’s essentially meaningless. It could be the least useful and least informative label on the market. Many products that have a non-GMO label, such as canned tomatoes and even salt, have no GMO alternative — so the label is akin to marketing water as “fat-free.” Processed goods, such as soup and cereal, could have several ingredients sourced from genetically modified crops, including corn, soybean, or sugar-beet derivatives, and a GMO label does not indicate which ones are GMOs. Despite the pro-labeling faction’s claim that people have a “right to know what’s in their food,” the label as it now stands largely fails to tell consumers anything.

Companies disingenuously use a GMO label to virtue-signal to consumers that their products are GMO vs non genetically modified broccolihealthier and safer, even though every scientific study affirms that GMOs are safe and pose no threat to human health. Most consumers could not begin to explain what a GMO is, nor do they care. According to a Pew survey last year, only 16 percent of adults in America said that they “care a great deal about the issue of genetically modified foods.”

So after nearly a decade of activism and tens of millions of dollars spent on a politically motivated fear campaign to demonize a perfectly safe technology, the anti-GMO movement has come up empty-handed. They can expect more troubles ahead as the Trump administration pushes GMOs here and abroad. In April, Trump announced via executive order the formation of an “Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity,” headed by USDA chief Sonny Perdue, who is a strong proponent of genetically engineered crops. One goal of the committee is to “advance the adoption of innovations and technology for agricultural production.”

It is also tasked with making sure “regulatory burdens do not unnecessarily encumber agricultural production, harm rural communities, constrain economic growth, hamper job creation, or increase the cost of food for Americans and our customers around the world.” Supporters are hopeful that the

GMO-free salt.

approval process for new genetically engineered plants and animals, often delayed under the Obama administration, will now be accelerated.

The FDA is preparing to launch a public-awareness campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of genetically engineered crops and counter misinformation about the technology. More than 60 business and agricultural groups have applauded the move: “Dedicated educational resources will ensure key federal agencies responsible for the safety of our nation’s food supply are able to more easily convey to the public science- and fact-based information about food.” (Although the $3 million price tag should be picked up by industry, not taxpayers.)

And under a new trade agreement with the Trump administration, China will expedite its approval of several genetically engineered seed varieties; four have already been green-lighted, and four more are under consideration. This has international consequences because many countries follow China’s lead on accepting GMO seeds.

There were plenty of political losers after November 8. Fortunately, the anti-GMO movement is one of them.

Julie Kelly is a National Review Online contributor and food policy writer from Orland Park, Illinois. Follow her on Twitter @julie_kelly2.

Related article:  Talking Biotech: Corporations corrupt science research? What are real conflicts of interest?

A version of this article appeared at The National Review as “Trump’s Win Squelched the Anti-GMO movement” and has been republished here with permission from the author.

54 thoughts on “Viewpoint: Anti-GMO movement—and label demands—lose steam under Republican administration”

          • That is what I am saying, the consumers are demanding it the companies are reacting to that demand. Free market at work. And yes you do need some govt regulation cause you know robber barons and all.

          • The organic industry is loaded with “robber barons” and anyone unable to see that is unfit for government regulation. Biotech has the moral imperative in resisting organic influence peddling.

            I say let the market decide. If the market demands non-GMO, it will get it.

          • As you know robber barons are not limited to one specific type of one specific market.
            Yes consumer demand is driving the non gmo market. Once consumer demand stops driving that market you will see less non gmo and organic food stuffs.

            Maybe Ketchum needs to rethink its strategy.

          • And the anti-GMO organic companies donate to numerous PR firms operating as non-profit environmental firms. They appear to be generous supporters while their contributions are entirely self-serving.

          • Yes most companies hire pr firms. And yes having nice sounding names is not limited to the agriculture and food stuffs sector.

    • In marketing school they teach you how to create consumer demand. You do that by trumping up a fake problem, then touting how your own particular product (the one they want to sell to you) will solve that problem. Marketing students learn quickly that the most exciting issues they can gin up pertain to human health, meaning they can make a lot of money by scaring the living feces out of their audience. Secondary issues such as saving the environment are less attractive as money-makers, but they can be useful if played effectively along with the first. Hence the emergence of labels on food products such as “non-GMO project”, “organic”, and “wild caught” (as in salmon). Effective marketeering starts by enlisting circus-like TV personalities with strange accents telling us about how bad technology is, how much better things are in other countries, and reminding us of how serene and bucolic life once was, before all that scary technology came about; failing to remind us about how most people once were quite hungry and sick, and didn’t live very long in spite of their back-breaking labor and toil. Don’t forget that the TV personalities who ply their wares are paid for by advertisers….mainly those who want to sell you their own health foods and elixirs of life.

      Effective marketeers don’t really care about accuracy or truth. They just need to know that they can scare the bejeebus out of you.

  1. The same USDA that Sam Clovis, climate science denier, has been nominated to lead under trump? The same one the trump admin directed to stop sharing science-based news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content with the public until further notice? The same with the proposed $275 billion budget cut over 10 years in funding for farm bill programs, rural development, inspection and marketing services, and nutrition assistance? The one with the proposed $40 million dollar budget cut specifically to the FDA for the next fiscal year?
    Keep your politics out of science, Julie Kelly. This administration is no friend to agriculture.

    • We do not even have 1% of the data needed to conclude the earth is warming. We have SURFACE temps from satellites for a few decades, and SURFACE temps from the ocean for a short period of time. Every scientist agrees that we need long term ocean depth temps, long term atmospheric level temps, long term soil depth data. We have none of this. The science is far from settled.
      YOU are the one playing the politic card, there is no science behind your argument.

      • The scientific consensus is in and it says global warming is real and it is man-made. No one has more to lose than American farmers if global warming continues. Stop your amateur efforts to misinform people here.

        • No scientists would agree that we have enough temperature data to conclude without a doubt.
          Surface temperatures do not even give us 1% of the entire earth’s spatial temperature.
          AND is is 100% wrong to assume that we have had temperature sensing devices in place over the entire globe for 125 years that have the accuracy of .1 degrees.

          • ‘….. conclude without a doubt.’
            No scientist would use that phrase in a scientific manner.
            Absolute certainty is not a position that real scientists hold.
            That’s a strawman you are constructing.
            Those people who work in fields assosciated with climate change (a very wide range of specialties and disciplines) overwhelmingly agree on climate change being real.
            The scientific consensus is in. Last I heard, every national and international scientific organisation does not dispute cimate change (the last ones to join that level of consensus where those associated with the petrochemical industry. Further, the vast majority of these scientific bodies actively agree that AGW is real.

          • This is fascinating. When the anti-GMO crowd invokes the precautionary principle to claim there can never be “absolute certainty” that GMO food is safe, we call them out on it. Now you are using the same standard to buttress your claim that climate change science can never be “…conclud(ed) beyond a doubt…” GRH is absolutely right. Those scientists with expertise in the climate field (and many, many in related fields) overwhelmingly agree that climate change is real and it is “extremely likely” man-made. A good start for your reading would be the Wikipedia article “Scientific Opinion On Climate Change.” Please don’t reject Wikipedia out of hand. It can save you a lot of embarrassment in the future.

          • Your link states – “Water vapor is the big player in the atmosphere as far as climate is concerned.”
            So, what’s your point? Water vapour plays a role in climate change.

          • Your refusal to read the Wikipedia article shows you are not interested in learning but instead clinging to political doctrine. I will readily admit that GRH (and all the scientists in the scientific consensus) are far more informed on this subject than I am. You should do the same and accept their findings. We can’t pick and choose which of the scientific findings we accept just on the basis of their conformance with our political views. As a liberal, I am ashamed how many liberals oppose the science of biotechnology on this dogmatic basis, yet readily accept the science on global warming. We must be consistent and accept the scientific consensus no matter where the chips may fall.

          • To believe in AGW you have to believe in all of the following:
            1. There is 125 year old temperature data (with .1 degree accuracy) on every square mile, at every soil depth, every atmospheric elevation and every ocean depth. 0% of scientists agree with this.
            2. There has never been a time ever in history that there was a natural .6 degree change in global temperatures over 125 years……ever. 0% of scientists agree with this.
            3. CO2 only captures heat and never reflects heat from the sun. 0% of scientists agree with this.
            Therefore, 0% of scientists believe in AGW.

          • Hey, Farmer’s Son, who appointed you arbiter of what it takes to believe in man-made global warming? The scientists know and you don’t.

          • Real scientists have not concluded on anything. And will not until the other 99% of the data needed is gathered.

          • Who appointed you the arbiter of what a “real scientist” is? Do you even have a scientific background or do you just repeat silly arguments you found on some anti-AGW website? You probably even believe in “creation science.” “Real scientists” are real and their verdict is in: global warming is real and it is due to mankind’s burning too much of everything. You are a complete amateur who has no business lecturing them or us on “real science.” Do you also reject the scientific consensus that genetically engineered foods are safe for human consumption? No, you believe in “all the news that fit your views and reject the facts that stop your acts.” Spend an afternoon at, you might learn something, then again YOU might not.

          • I am a degreed scientist.
            Have been working in the scientific field for over 30 years.
            I prefer to make my own scientific evaluations, not what the press has concluded as scientific consensus.
            We cannot make AGW conclusions when there is not enoigh data to come to that conclusion.
            I debate with science, you debate with press conclusions.

          • If you are a scientist, why are you sniping at other scientists here at GLP under an anonymous name? Are you a scientist in the field of climate science? Have you submitted and published any scientific papers in legitimate scientific journals on this topic? As a matter of fact, I think you are lying. I suspect you are woefully unqualified in this scientific field and just pushing a political agenda. You have the ability to prove me wrong about your credentials, but I doubt you will.

          • I am an Agronomist.
            Most of my posts concern agriculture and the environment.
            You on the other hand did not even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

          • And: “Satellites do not measure temperature. They measure radiances in various wavelength bands, which must then be mathematically inverted to obtain indirect inferences of temperature. The resulting temperature profiles depend on details of the methods that are used to obtain temperatures from radiances. As a result, different groups that have analyzed the satellite data have produced differing temperature datasets.”

          • …. oh wow.
            And what IS temperature?
            When atoms/molecules gain energy (e.g. get hot) they move faster. Electrons are promoted to a higher energy state. When those electrons collapse to a lower state energy is released at very specific wavelengths. There is a whole field of specialties called spectroscopy of which I am familiar with only a couple sub specialties (and there are dozens if not hundreds of these sub-specialties).
            Do you think that the only way to measure temperature is by placing a thermometer directly in contact with the substance? Even by doing that you can get different results depending on how it is measured (e.g hysteresis effects).

          • And an instrument can ALWAYS measure temperature accuracy within .001 degree accuracy from over 1,000 miles away?
            You really need to look at some practical reasoning here.
            Satellite temperatures are an estimate at best.

          • Okay, I think I see where you are coming from. You are obviously NOT a scientist and you don’t understand scientific terms. This current one is agreat example of that.

            YES, the instrument CAN measure accurately to within 0.001 degrees (may I assume Celsius?).
            However, there is a vast different between ‘accuracy’ and ‘precision’.

            I’ve used mainly 4dp balances (grammes being the unit). The readout give me 4 decimal places of the item I am weighing (typically up to 100g max). I use the same balance when weighing out other materials to minimise inaccuracies. I also calibrate as necessary (according to SOP) to minimise some inaccuracies.

            If a scientist is reporting raw data and the instrument used gives a reading to 3dp, it is expected (again, a scientific methodology) to report all the figures and not to round out.

            Measurement erros can also be calculated and error bars provided (simple statistics – another tool that scientists use on a frequent basis). Other inaccuracies can be adjusted for up to a certain level and these are commonly understood (at least by those who are scientifically trained and experienced).

            I see that you are attempting to use a language that is unfamiliar to you and so the words may seem to be mean one thing and yet they mean another. May I suggest you take a 101 type science course, or open a basic level science text book. You will find all sorts of useful information.

            ‘Satellite temperatures are an estimate at best’
            Okay, so we’ve already covered this one earlier. Everything in science is an estimate. There are NO absolutes. Obviously this needs repeating from my comment (ad others) above. Do you expect to take a reading from a common thermometer (e.g. the ones with a red liquid – typically an alcohol, or a silver one – mercury) and be absolutely accurate with that? Or do you take an estimate within certain error margins based on the necessity you are using it for?

            Why do you think size matters? Asking for a friend. (A thousand miles or six inches – whatever.)

          • Seriously???? What a ridiculous question. Please, find a basic science text book and read up on some basic info. You are revealing such a gross lack of understanding of science (on this and your other ‘points’, it’s quite disturbing).

          • Afraid to answer the question?
            Again…why can’t these scientists predict tomorrow’s high temperature within .1 degre accuracy?
            Are you trying to tell me that there are way too many unknown variables to make a prediction that exact?
            Then I agree 100%.

          • I answered your ridiculous question as it deserved.
            Check out any weather forecast, they have temperatures listed. Add an extra point if you wish to make it 0.1 degrees. What is the value of being able to predict to such a level of accuracy? (None – and as such why bother?)
            If you are then going to make the connection between being able to predict temperatures in the future, then – again, it IS being done and the models are being improved all the time and becoming more accurate.
            I smell another strawman coming, full of stuff that smells.

          • When I was teaching science in schools (UK) part of the syllabus was to comment on the lack of absolute certainty. Talking with teachers in both Canada (where I lived for several years) and in the US, both groups had similar syllabi. My own education throughout all levels also included the understanding (and discussion when necessary) of the lack of absolute certainty.
            This point about there being no absolute certainty is so ingrained throughout science and has been for so many centuries, the roots are so well obscured due to time and general acceptance, there can be no direct proof – except that just about every scientist, is highly likely to explain this lack of absoluteness if pushed for a definition beyond general conciseness of speech (and inherent reduction in accuracy).

          • If your comment was about proving the second point I mentioned (and it would have been nice if you could have specified which point, or both points for clarity), then here are a few links.
            (97% consensus on global warming)
            (Scientific opinion on climate change)
            …. and one from NASA on US scientific bodies

          • Scientific Consensus has nothing to do with the opinion of scientists and everything to do with the amount of evidence.

          • Just been reading a post on scientific consensus on ‘A Tippling Philosopher’.
            Quality and quantity of evidence is one factor. Opinion by acknowledged experts in the field (interpretation of said data, subsequently reviewed by other experts who are trying to find flaws in the interpretation) is another.
            The weight given to poor quality and insufficient data is far less. Weight given to opinions given by a graduate of Google University as presented by a nonreviewed blog post is also less.
            So I would suggest that scientific consensus does have a significant (but not sole) amiunt to do with opinion.

            It should be obvious that I am defining opinion as being an assessment of the data (be it partial or complete data).

          • I understand that, but often people use a poll (80% of scientists say…) as their basis for belief on whether or not something is true. That is not always the best way to judge accuracy of facts.

  2. Yes, Ms. Kelly of the National Review, for once told the absolute truth: “There were plenty of political losers after November 8.” But every disaster has a silver lining and it appears the biotechnology sector (Yay!) was one of the few winners. Let’s hope the new winds blowing in the sails of biotech science are strong enough to survive any impeachment proceedings.

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